Eleanor is ten. On 20 November, 2006 somewhere after 1am she arrived red and lustily howling at the world. Her first act in my arms was to loosen her bowels. It was love at first sight.
Her present today is her own room; one more thing in that series of steps to becoming an independent person: having your own territory. That series of steps that seems – when you are young – like it has an end, a final destination where you know exactly who you are, but as you get older seems more like a process without an end.
In November 2006 I was in Term Four of my first year of teaching. The students I taught that year are 23 to 28 years old now. And I am 43. And Eleanor is 10.
In a sleight of hand that Rosamund hasn’t noticed, if Eleanor gets her own room it means that Rosamund does too: by default. I’m not sure that she really wants one. She’s six, and has spent six years sleeping in the same room as her big sister. I reflected on that fact as I put them to bed last night in the same room for the last time. Of course there will be times when they share a room again, but not in the same way.
I hate last nights. I can remember my last night before leaving New Zealand to go to Japan. It was like being on death row. Sleep is impossible and although time goes slowly from 1am until dawn, it never goes slowly enough. The mind is rarely concentrated enough to notice the darkness gradually lighten on the wall by the edge of the curtain. As I lay in Eleanor and Rosamund’s room last night I thought about that night, some time in the future, when Eleanor would be leaving home.
Someone like Richard would tell me something like: “don’t worry, they’ll be back!” and he would be right. Like he would be right that you never stop worrying.
I don’t remember much about being ten myself, about 1983. My mother threw a good party and did a fine line in good cakes. It’s useful for me to think back on being ten because I’m glad I’m not ten anymore. I’m glad I left Scots and went to Kapiti, and met a different bunch of people, I’m glad I got into the guitar, and went to uni, met Cathy, went to Japan, and wound up a teacher, married, with two daughters. Because I am prone to melancholy it is important for me to remember that and keep the balance right.
Each year is the opportunity for the accumulation of more layers of yourself, and with friends and family there is the sweet, tart of seeing that process in others too. Eleanor has been one of my greatest teachers.
Happy birthday, Eleanor.