Last Friday provided two pictures that contrasted sharply, and beautifully summed up how my and E’s lives, and perspectives, have changed over the last 18 months.
Friday was Youngest Daughter’s Year 11 Prom. Like Oldest Daughter’s moving into University for the first time, this was another moment that I had just assumed E and I would share as parents. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel odd without him, but it provided memories that will last me a lifetime – and yet another milestone memory for the kids that he will never be part of.
After what proved to be a record number of dress purchases – three of which were identical (one, bought in a sale, had a tiny fray, the next, bought online, ripped, the third, also bought online, was never put on ‘in case it ripped like the other one’), Youngest Daughter eventually chose a beautiful red dress ON FRIDAY MORNING (Oldest Daughter and I are still suffering from slight palpitations about this – neither of us are capable of leaving anything until the last minute). My credit card may never speak to me again (apart from to mutter “how many prom dresses does a 16-year-old need, exactly?”), but by Friday afternoon I was so grateful that the dress was sorted that I didn’t even check how much it cost.
I didn’t miss E, or feel things were lacking without him, but I couldn’t help but contrast Oldest Daughter’s pre-prom experience three years ago with Youngest Daughter’s. With Oldest Daughter, E came home from work early and the whole family went to her friend’s house (narrowly missing running Oldest Son’s friend over, who was cycling on the pavement and fell off his bike and rolled in front of our car), where the parents had wine and food, whilst Oldest Daughter and her friends got ready. By contrast, with Youngest Daughter it was all very low-key. Whilst I was grateful for the fact that this prom didn’t involve almost flattening one of Oldest Son’s friends, the fact that I was at work all day meant that I couldn’t do much to make the pre-prom special for her. When I got home, about 45 minutes before she left, Oldest Daughter (who had done a sterling job, taking her shopping that morning) had poured her sister a glass of something fizzy and mildly alcoholic and was doing her make-up. Apart from the pile of seven inquisitive foster kittens, and the occasional pleading of Oldest Son for a Dominoes delivery “because I’ve almost finished my mocks” (which were met with a hard stare and a firm ‘no’), it was all quite quiet and calm.
Before Youngest Daughter left for the prom Oldest Daughter took pictures of her in the garden and I was struck afresh by what incredible young women they are. If they felt the lack of their Dad that evening they didn’t say anything, in fact if anything I was more aware of was the closeness that’s grown between them since he left than of anyone missing. Obviously, like all siblings they get on each other’s nerves and argue, but E’s departure, and the reasons for it, has meant that our family dynamic has shifted and my kids have had to reply on and support each other at times where they’d usually expect their Dad to be there. On Friday I could really sense the bond between my daughters and I was so proud of them.
Youngest Daughter looked absolutely stunning. Anyone who knows her fiery and intense nature will know what a perfect colour red is for her and, despite the tears and stress about finding a dress earlier in the week, in the end she radiated happiness and looked like a young woman with the world at her (scarily high-heeled) feet. As I watched her walk down the road (accompanied by a male friend in a very smart suit) my heart felt like it might burst with love – my complicated, argumentative, stubborn firebrand of a daughter had made it through an incredibly tough year and there she was, all grown-up, heading out into the world with confidence in her steps.
It was a bittersweet night, made more so by the fact that, with his usual sense of timing, E had chosen this particular evening to add another picture to his WhatsApp profile. I assume his timing wasn’t deliberate (surely nobody would be so monstrously insensitive as to deliberately post a picture they know will upset their daughter on the day she has her prom?), but it had it the effect of imposing him and P onto our lives again.
It might be that we’re now all getting used to him doing this (which I assume is his aim), but this latest picture was greeted with rolled eyes and slight derision from everyone who saw it. It’s a black and white picture (he’s finally realised what middle-aged women all over the world have sussed – that this is generally a good look for people of our age), however, whilst the filter is more flattering that a colour one would be, it’s a bizarre image. It features mainly P’s rather magnificent boobs (leading many of my friends to speculate that she obtained them ‘under anaesthetic’) which, due to the angle they’re sitting at, are bouncing away at the front of the shot. P looks, as ever, gorgeous (although, and I’m going to sound like her Mum here, I would love to see her eyes without the thick Cleopatra-style eyeliner she always wears – she’s a pretty girl, she doesn’t need all that make-up), but, oh dear, oh dear, poor E. When she texted me the picture, Oldest Daughter commented that ‘it looks like Dad has mumps’ and I can see what she means; because of the leaning back angle they’re at, his double chin has kind of slipped to one side and is resting, goitre-like, on his shoulder. I’m not sure if he thought this was a flattering picture of him, but to everyone who’s seen it, it screams ‘trophy wife’ and ‘mid-life crisis’ (as well as ‘potential thyroid problem’). I await the next picture – doubtless of him on a motorbike, with his hair combed over his bald patch, wearing a leather jacket – with interest.
In a funny way, those two photographs summed up where we are now as a family. Contrasting the jaded black and white cynicism of E and P’s picture with the blaze of youth, colour and vitality in Youngest Daughter’s picture, I realised how proud I am of my children and how lucky I am to share their lives and to live these special moments with them. The picture of E and P brought home how far away he is from his kids, especially his daughters, these days and made me wonder if he appreciates how very much he’s lost. The terribly sterility of his picture, compared to the incredible vibrancy of Youngest Daughter’s, made it clear that he has very much drawn the short straw. As a result of E’s infidelities, I’ve spent a lot of time feeling ‘second best’ over the last decade or so, but on Friday I felt like the luckiest, most loved woman in the world – because, despite the messy, chaotic, argumentativeness of living with four kids (and a million cats), and living in a house that’s falling to bits, I’m surrounded by the kind of extraordinary love that most people can only dream about.
The picture of E and P will soon be forgotten, but the image that will endure and that will forever sum up my family in 2018, will be the picture of my Youngest Daughter, fresh and beautiful and stepping into the future, forever resplendent in her red prom dress.