Adharanand Finn steps off the conveyor belt of life for a halycon morning to enjoy his children
I TURN AROUND TO SAY GOODBYE. TWO of my kids sit in the back seat. My eldest daughter, who is 11, and my son. He looks at me, accepting, smiling, reaching his hands out playfully. It’s just another week and I’m off again on a trip. Every week I spend a couple of days away from home for work. It’s the payoff for living in the countryside. I go to work in the city, we get to live in a nice house with a big garden. I’ve been doing it for years, yet I’ve rarely felt this reluctant to get out of the car and on to the train. A bus is waiting behind us. We’re blocking the road. I need to leap out. Constantly harried and hurried and bustled along. That’s how I feel. Life like a conveyor belt of activities and meetings and shifts and trains all rattling along under me as I attempt to stay upright. But it’s somehow worse today. It’s my little boy’s birthday. He’s six. He’s not so little anymore. I want to stay home and help him make his birthday Lego. Or kick a ball around with him in the garden. But the bus is beeping. Move, move. I have to go. The conveyor belt never stops. I hop out. He waves to me through the window and they drive off. This column is supposed to be lighthearted and funny, and often that’s what family life is like, packed with tears and laughter. But sometimes, it stops you, the poignancy, making you crumble quietly inside. Those children like sand slipping through your fingers, growing up, moving further away, into their own world, where you begin to become a peripheral figure. You, who was once so important to them, so vital that they’d cry if you even moved out of sight. “Don’t change, don’t go,” you want to say. “Stay here forever.” But the ground under us is moving. And the world keeps throwing us balls to juggle, so we can’t even step back to watch them growing up. Instead we look suddenly and they’re gone. The baby, the little boy. Gone. So I’ve been trying to take time out. The emails stay unanswered. Even those sent twice. “Just checking you got my email ...” Yes, I got it, but I was offline. For a few seconds, I stepped off the conveyor belt.
Last week we went sailing. My two eldest,
"IN ALL HONESTY, I WAS FINDING IT HARD TO IMAGINE,
MY TWO GIRLS SAILING, ALL ALONE. REALLY?"
after reading Swallows and Amazons, took a sailing course. Apparently they were great, and loved it. I say apparently, because I wasn’t there. It’s what I was told. Then I signed them up with the local sailing club.
The first time they went, they were apparently flying back and forth across the estuary, just the two of them in the boat. I’ve been hoping they would discover a passion for a wholesome, outdoor pursuit at some point. For a while things weren’t looking great. Regular readers will know they don’t much like walking. Or running. Or surfing. Or playing tennis. But here they were, yelping with delight and begging to go back the next day. At least that’s what I heard, but again I wasn’t there. In all honesty, I was finding it hard to imagine, my two girls sailing, all alone. Really? I’ll come next time, I promised. And so I did.
I hadn’t sailed since I was a teenager, back in the late 1980s. I wasn’t sure I could remember how to do it. My middle child said she’d take me out. It was a bit blustery, but she seemed confident. We pushed off and I slid into position holding the main sheet. But suddenly we were going about, spinning in a violent circle. “Careful!” I yelled, as the boom swung over. I leapt across the boat but the main sheet got wrapped around my neck somehow. My daughter couldn’t get the tiller down. I tried pulling it for her, but the boat swung wildly around again. The sailing club’s safety boat was hovering close by, watching us. Yank, this time the tiller pulled down into the water.
“Drop the daggerboard,” said my daughter, moving the boat into a starboard tack. I shoved it down, untangled the sheet from my neck and sat back.
“You OK?” she asked me. She’s only nine. Yes, great thanks. The safety boat followed us for a while, but we were soon flying along, my daughter telling me when to lean, and yelling excitedly as the water sprayed in our faces, the surface racing by under us.
“Ready about,” she says, before the boom swings over and we neatly turn around to head back up the estuary again. We sailed for an hour before she said she was getting cold. Let’s go in, I said. We pulled up to the shore and quickly turned into wind, stalling the boat, like seasoned veterans. I leapt out and pulled the bow in as she wrapped up the sail. We had come a long way in one hour. It’s funny, time. One minute it can be racing away with you, and then another, it seems to let you be. As though you’ve found an escape hatch. I realised it was still only midday. “Hot chocolate?” I suggested, to a beaming smile. The world could wait a little longer, I thought, as we waded back through the water to the cafe.
Adharanand Finn is the author of Running with the Kenyans. Find him on Twitter - @adharanand
AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2015 www.thegreenparent.co.uk