There is so much I have to write about our anniversary weekend away in Paris. But first I need to start at the end of it. We were on the Eurostar home to London, not yet back on British tracks, and I said to Tony that we should go away for our anniversary every year. Just for one night. It had done us so much good. We felt so rested and like we’d had a proper break – not just one night away.
We hurtled through the channel tunnel and once we were on the other side, I called my mum to ask about the children. She was on her way to A&E with Milin.
The guilt hit me.
Milin was sick. He was going to hospital without his mummy.
I’d been cavorting round Paris with little more to worry about than whether to have pastries for breakfast, and I was now drinking wine and eating macaroons on the way home.
The last hour of the journey was unbearably slow. I went straight to the hospital while Tony went immediately home to Jasmin.
Milin had only been there since about 6pm and it was now 7pm. We spent the next few hours waiting to see a doctor. He alternated between having cuddles with me and being quiet, and playing relatively cheerfully with the truck and grabber we’d picked up for him at a market ten minutes from the EIffel Tower that morning.
“Mummy did you go on holiday?” He wanted to know about it.
Jasmin, meanwhile, screamed for an hour for her mummy who still hadn’t come home to put her to bed.
Milin has a chest infection and he has been struggling to breathe. The official diagnosis is a viral-induced wheeze. We must give him an inhaler every few hours and he has some antibiotics he detests. He is, however, a million times better and brighter today.
I thought the guilt lessened as they got older. I thought I’d found ways to push it to the back of my mind. I was wrong.
Milin and I stayed in that hospital until close to 2am when I carried him out, half asleep, into the dark. He didn’t say a word, until we got home and he was sick all over the carpet next to his bed. Then he cried.
He’d been so good all evening. He’d been so brave.
And as I lay on the floor of his bedroom incase he struggled with his breathing again in his sleep, I went through again and again how he must have felt in the afternoon. He’d been unwell, feverish, chesty, and breathless. He’d not seen his mummy for a day and a night. I still wasn’t there.
The guilt never goes away, does it?
You can teach yourself to do things without them or send them out into the world for a little while. You can train yourself to avoid the mummy guilt by making little adjustments to the things you do and when you do them. You can talk yourself into believing you don’t feel bad.
This was mine and Tony’s first night away from our children.
The guilt was there, creeping into my sleep. How was Jasmin I had wandered? In her own cot? The guilt was there, when I watched other children going about their day with their parents. What were my two doing that moment?
Parenthood is about compromise – and this weekend has reminded me of that in a way that’s hurt me. It’s about accepting the guilt that comes with letting go a little. It’s about knowing you won’t be there every minute. It’s about not being able to shift the heavy heart that comes with being apart from your child when they ask for you.
Tony and I had a wonderful weekend in Paris. It was one night.
Milin was sick and he missed us.
No matter how many hours I think about this for, no matter how many times I acknowledge that we were not gone for long, that the children were ridiculously happy with my parents, in their own home, that I recognise that we were back very quickly after he became unwell… no matter – the guilt stays.
You can’t have it all. If you want to be you a little again one day, something has to give. And that will hurt and it won’t feel like a choice.
But this is the guilt that comes with wanting everything for your child without erasing yourself. This is the guilt that comes with with watching them grow a little on their own. This is the guilt that comes with being a mother.
It’s guilt combined with love and protection. It’s guilt combined with needing, maybe once in every four years, to be a little bit selfish on your wedding anniversary. And then wishing with all your heart you hadn’t been. It’s guilt combined with knowing that what you did will never change in the eyes of a little boy who wanted his mummy.