I think I’ve discovered time travel.
Inside an unassuming suburban house in England, I’ve found a portal all the way back to, ooh – picks date at random – 1989.
Temporarily, while our possessions are en route to our new life in Qatar, I’m re-living a very old life barely a mile from my own house. Yes, I’ve moved back in with my parents.
It doesn’t matter that most of you reading this won’t have met them. This post isn’t really about them as the rounded, interesting, socially active people they are.
It’s more about the ancient struggle of trying to forge your own identity in the face of someone else’s (often wildly conflicting) rules and structures.
Basically, it’s all the fun of being an awkward teenager again, with a day job and added childcare responsibilities.
So, having previously discovered that I am about to become nothing more than a clichéd expat, it turns out I can’t even escape being a cliché at home, either, because seemingly every late 20- / 30-something in the UK is getting ready to move back in with mum & dad. One writer called Nat (before you ask: nope..) has even gone as far as drafting a survival guide to this trend.
(Warning: before you all rush off and miss the point, it’s supposed to mildly humorous. And there’s acres of fun to be had in the 250+ comments below the line, ranging from introducing the concept of the ‘floordrobe’ – where stuff is, you know, hung up on the floor – to: “Mum and Dad – if you’re reading this – thank you very much for allowing the ‘few months till I sort myself out” to turn into six years”, via all manner of inter-generational, cross-cultural, class war ding dong…)
For a few weeks, three generations of Little Cities are bundled together like an N64/Gamecube/Wii job lot on eBay. My folks have lost the freedom of their house, as I have mine. And I’ve gone from my starring role as Master of the House to the that’s-me-in-the-corner supporting role of ‘Youngest of Three’.
The oddness is exacerbated by the fact that the house we are now living in is just that – a house. It’s not our childhood home; I’ve never lived here before. To me, it’s just ‘where my parents live’, nothing more, nothing less.
The kids, sharing a room and living out of suitcases, are muddling along. After all, what’s one more change when your mum’s now a flickering face on a laptop, your house is in a crate on a ship headed for the desert and your friends have all vanished into the ether in a puff of proverbial smoke?
(For Kid A, the end of term was every bit as traumatic as her mum’s departure, amid cries of “I’m never going to see any of my friends again”. I really can’t revisit it, I don’t have the strength.)
For reasons known only to themselves, the kids don’t view this part of their summer as a holiday. Despite not being at school… despite staying somewhere that isn’t home… despite the fact that we have holidayed in the UK every year since Amnesiac was born… none of these make a difference.
Maybe it’s because we’re still living in the same town. Maybe it’s because they’re still seeing friends at Holiday Club and for playdates. Whatever; as far as they’re concerned, holidays start next week, firstly with a trip to Big Sports Day, and then flying to Granny’s.
All they really want to do is take a short dog for a long walk (memo to non-British readers: this is not some clever-clever metaphor; my in-laws live dans le middle du nowhere and have just such a pet, which they gleefully knacker out on daily hikes)
So for now, I’m in various kinds of limbo:
A professional limbo, where I’ve handed in my notice, but am still working full time.
A personal limbo, where there is an unchartered adventure waiting to begin in a few short weeks, but one which for now remains tantalisingly out of reach.
And a domestic limbo, albeit one with mildly elevated stress levels, in which I am both parent and child, and where three generations are trying to temporarily tolerate each other’s foibles*.
I know it will pass, and that it’s not forever. But last week, Kid A said that if she could press a fast forward button and jump straight to September – to having moved, and arrived, and being reunited as a family – she said she would, and I talked her round from it.
*Listing those foibles is pointless, as my parents are no doubt as infuriated by mine as I am by theirs, but I will make one small observation: I still really, really hate Radio 4.