The departure hall at Heathrow Airport is normally a joyous place. Families off on their annual summer holidays, students travelling to far flung places in the hope of enlightenment, OAPs spending their children’s inheritances on extravagant vacations.
But in July 2013 the mood in the Departure Hall changed. The buzz of excitement in the air had been replaced by dread. The dreading of that final moment when you know you have to say goodbye to your parents. You are moving 10,000 miles away. And if that wasn’t bad enough, you are taking their two precious grandsons with you. You feel like you are destroying their world.
When my husband got offered a fantastic job opportunity in Australia we knew we couldn’t turn it down. Our lives for the past six years had been a series of moves to new places. I was born and bred in the city of Plymouth on the South coast of England, a place where I had spent my whole life until I met my husband.
After we married I moved to Blackpool, then onto Sheffield where I fell pregnant with my first son Walter. Then it was back to Plymouth for the birth, then onto Bradford, with a short stay in London. We moved back to Plymouth for a third time for the birth of my second son Sid, albeit only for nine weeks, and then onto The Netherlands.
As you can see we were well accustomed to travel. But moving to Australia felt different. It felt final.
In between the move Down Under and our 10 months in Holland we lived with my parents at their family home in Plymouth, Devon. My two boys, now aged 3.5 and 19 months, absolutely adored their grandparents. It was my parents’ house that we moved into after the birth of Walter, and then again 22 months later after the birth of Sid. My boys were incredibly close to their grandparents, even living in Holland my parents would regularly make the short trip over to see us.
Living with parents or in laws may cause some people to have sleepless nights but this was never the case for us and the boys. We loved living there. My mum would regularly get up with the boys in the morning, feeding them their breakfast whilst helping my younger brother get ready for school. She would help bath them every night, revelling in the opportunity to smell their freshly washed hair.
Walter would quite often accompany his Grandad to golf, hitting a few balls on the driving range, coming back home with the biggest grin on his face. As a mother of five my mum was well versed in the role of parent. But it was as ‘granny’ where she really thrived. Granny spoilt the boys rotten in our two months living there, but not with material things or food, it was pure, immeasurable love.
Walter and Sid would regularly follow their granny around the garden, helping water the plants. A trip to the supermarket became a fun game – how many things can we put in the trolley without granny noticing. However the most important thing that my boys’ granny did was to help their Mummy become a better mother, after all, who better to learn from?
I learnt that looking after my boys isn’t a chore, it’s not a race to bedtime – that this is my life and I should embrace it and enjoy every moment. That I didn't need my mobile phone attached to my hand to while away those spare minutes when the boys were occupied playing together, that I should use that time to just sit and watch them play, marvel at the beauty of siblings enjoying each other’s company without the need for a referee.
I learnt that you can never give enough cuddles. Even my younger brother Fred at16 still likes a big hug from his mum. I learnt that life is what you put into it.
After just over two months of my boys having four parents instead of two, we were off to start our new life a whole world away. The trip up to the airport was a sombre affair, the boys were too young to understand the finality of what we were doing.
But I knew. And so did my parents.
We had arrived at the airport. Passports had been shown and bags were checked in. Then the slow walk to passport control. No one wanted to be the first one to say it. But this was it. My parents couldn’t come any further.
I knew saying goodbye would be the downside to this dream move to Australia, but I never realised how hard it would be. A quick hug doesn't seem to do a ‘goodbye’ justice. No physical act can equate the love a parent has for their child, and in this case, grandchildren too. We shuffled through the line, Walter and Sid’s grandparents looking on with tears falling silently down their cheeks.
And then we were at the desk. This was really it. And it was time for one last look. And that final look in their eyes as they waved us goodbye said more than words ever could….Look after our boys.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem