When I was around seven years old I remember sitting in the backseat of my parents’ car as we drove through Croydon. I was sat there thinking about what I wanted to be when I was older and I said to my mum ‘when I grow up I really don’t want to be selfish’.
That’s quite an interesting thought for a seven-year-old to have but I remember it so clearly. I would watch kids’ TV shows and EastEnders and the characters just seemed so awful and selfish and it seemed to me that if they all stopped focusing on their own needs and started looking after those around them, things would in turn improve for them.
As I’ve grown I have been plagued by this thought. I see the pain and suffering in the world as well as the greed and inequality and I can’t help but think that if we all just gave one hour of our time a month to helping someone else, the world would be a much happier place. Let’s be clear, I’m not trying to preach or tell you to go out and start volunteering right now. I know I don’t do that. I’m not perfect by any means but selfishness and selfish thoughts have always troubled me and so as I continue to amble through life I am trying to be a little more selfless.
The biggest change in my life has been going from being single, free lacking in many responsibilities to becoming a mum and wife. When I first met Nick he was in a pretty dark place and I was just coming out of one of the darker points of my life so he was a great opportunity for me to put my problems and self-centred thoughts down and care for someone else. Of course I liked him from the moment I met him, well before I knew of his problems and I got the opportunity to fall in love with him before he let me in on the pain he was feeling but fairly soon into our relationship he did let me in.
It’s not my place to write here what he was going through and the feelings he was coming to terms with, it’s not my story to tell, but I can tell you that at best he was broken and needed a chance to heal.
Nick is one of the most selfless people I have ever known, particularly when it comes to mental health. He has supported me more times than I can count and I know he has done the same for previous partners, but until I met him, I don’t think he’d given much attention to his own health. Before getting together I had moved into my first flat so we had a place to go that was quiet and safe and it was in my living room, lying on the rug that we discussed it all. He told me everything that hurt and I listened. It was difficult and challenging but I think we both came out of it better people. He was calmer, happier even and I felt better for the simple act of just listening to someone else. I didn’t try to fix anything. I couldn’t fix anything. You can’t change the past as much as we may want to but we can make the present and future better and by just hearing him, holding him as it poured out did change the present. It was the first time I can remember where I wasn’t so caught up in myself and instead cared more about someone else.
I titled this post ‘You can have the window seat’, and there is a good but slightly long winded reason for it so bear with me. There used to be an advert on TV for a branded chocolate which asked if you loved someone enough to give them the last chocolate in the pack. Well, I was never a big fan of those chocolates, they were nice but not my fave so I didn’t have to love you that much for me to surrender the last sweet. However, there is one act for me which does compare to the act of giving someone your last chocolate and that is letting someone else have the window seat on a plane. I have always loved the window seat and with an older brother I was not guaranteed it in my childhood, but as an adult I could check in early, grab that window seat and happily wile away every flight staring out into the blue abyss. It was heaven and I loved it. But then I had children.
Having children changes how you look at everything. Nick had for the most part been an equal priority to myself when it came to decisions and focus of attention but with the addition of our children we were soon relegated to the back of the line. I would even go so far as to say that I found myself at the very back. No one else put me there, Nick certainly prioritised me and my needs far more than I did but in my mind no one ever came before my kids. This may not be the healthiest mind set and I am always the first to admit that I don’t value myself as much as perhaps I should but I have never felt so much like I was doing what I was meant to do as when I became a mum.
We recently went on holiday as a family of four for the first time and I did not get the window seat but in fact it would have been completely impractical to do so. I was constantly standing up to get drinks, snacks, toys and other distractions from our hand luggage. I also escorted Rufus to the toilet when he needed it and walked up the aisle with Eloise when she was bored. Had I been in the window seat I wouldn’t have had a moment to enjoy it with all the interruptions and that is what it can be like regularly as a parent. Gone are the leisurely brunches and quiet interludes of solitudes and instead I don’t even get to visit the toilet on my own. The joys of selfish adulthood are just not possible anymore but my kids are happy, they know they’re loved and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
The thing is, I don’t miss the window seat. I don’t miss the selfish, irresponsibility of my youth. Of course it would be nice to have a day where I only have to think of myself and leave the house 2 minutes after deciding to do so but I love my kids. It’s just that I’ve moved into another part of my life that revolves around my family and it’s actually pretty awesome. To feel needed by other people can daunting but it gives me purpose and a reason to make an effort.
As soon as I became pregnant with Rufus I started to take better care of my physical health. I don’t have a perfect diet but I just knew that I had to start focusing on eating more healthily because not only was I feeding myself, that nutrition was also growing a child and I didn’t want to birth a block of lard, but a healthy human.
Now don’t get me wrong. As much as I cater to my children’s needs as first priority, I don’t want them to think that they are the only important ones in the family. I want them to care for others the way I care for them. I guess I’m hoping that I’m modelling the right behaviours but maybe I should model self love as well. I’m still getting to grips with all this.
So what I’m saying is that the title of this post is sort of a metaphor for what it means to be a parent or member of a family. You will sometimes have to give up the things that once mattered most for the ones you love and that you will actually do it willingly.