The telephone rang at 11.30 pm on Friday. The Husband was working a night shift and my son was at his father’s house. I know that when conducted with genuine cooperation shared care is best for the children of separated parents, and my son has shared his time between his father and myself since we separated eight years ago. For most of those eight years, however, I have felt as though something has been ripped from me when he is not around. I appreciate the opportunity for solitude -I am happy when in my own company - but the solitude is often tinged with an underlying fear for his safety: he is not with his mother and therefore he is not safe. (His father, I hasten to add, is a fabulous dad and I couldn’t wish for him a kinder step-mother. My fears are entirely irrational.) So when the telephone rings so late at night it means Something Terrible Has Happened.
I answered in a panic. It was The Mother. My immediate thought was that The Terrible Thing had happened to The Father, who doesn’t enjoy the best of health.
“Don’t worry, nothing’s wrong,” were her first words. (She knows that late night phone calls generate panic. She should know, as it is one of the many faults she has filled me with.)
“I just wanted to know if you are okay?” she said.
This knocked me sideways. The Mother has not actively enquired after my well-being since I was old enough to change my own nappy, and that was approximately 38 years ago. So why on earth was she ringing me at 11.30 on a Friday evening to ask if I was OK? I rifled quickly through my mental filing cabinet to work out what the hell was going on. Nope, no joy there. In the absence of a framework with which to make sense of this strange occurrence, I chose silence. ( Thankfully, I stopped my sarcastic self from replying I’m fine thanks, B.…I managed to somehow leave school with four A levels and got myself into a Good University entirely by accident [I liked the fact that it had a beautiful Minster and a pretty town; I had absolutely no idea it was a Good University]; I have had disastrous relationships with a string of unsuitable men and women, serious bouts of depression, including post-natal depression that left me feeling suicidal at times, and have dealt with the utter terror I have felt at the responsibility of being a mother myself. I am now happy and settled with a beautiful family thanks to an extended period of psychotherapy that enabled me to resolve my deep seated insecurities and attachment issues. But thanks for asking, anyway.) Fortunately, The Mother is an expert at holding both sides of a conversation so she failed to notice that I hadn’t actually responded.
“Well, thank goodness you’re okay” she said, before launching into a long story about how Sister #1 has a new boyfriend and how he sounds very nice, unlike the last one, etc etc. One half of my brain was still desperately searching for a frame of reference for this conversation whilst the other was noting with amusement that she appeared to have all the facts about the new boyfriend entirely correct, suggesting that she does actually listen even though all the behavioural indications are to the contrary. I made a mental note to tell Sister #1.
“Thank goodness you are okay anyway,” she concluded. “I have been so worried about you.”
I grab my opportunity.“B – what have you been worrying about?” I ask.
“Well, the snow!” she exclaims, as if it is glaringly obvious.
I glance outside and there is a very light dusting of snow on the ground. This could only cause me problems if I had a serious snow-phobia (chionophobia, apparently) and a cruel and vicious husband who made me stand in it for kicks. Given that I have neither, I still couldn’t see the point.
“The snow?” I enquired.
“Yes, the snow!!” she repeated. “I was watching the news and the M62 was just terrible. Blizzards, freezing fog and probably black ice too. I’ve been so worried about you!”
Things started to fall very slowly into place.
I haven’t worked in