Saturday, January 05, 2008

University friends - and their children

I have three university friends that I still see. Three is not accurate, I have four, two are married to each other. But I don't know that I would be in touch with him if I did not see her, ....more to follow on this couple.

With two of these friends, I did the same degree, and with two of them, I shared the same hall of residence for two years. They all live and work in the south-east of the UK now, ie London and the home counties. They are, to all intents and purposes, "comfortably-off, successful, happy families". We have all been married for a similar length of time, ie more than 20 years. They all have two children, one of each, naturally.

So Friend A, ie the married couple. When I had business trips to London, I would invariably stay with them. It was a great opportunity to catch up - it cost the firm less (no hotel fees), and I got a small allowance that I could use to buy them a present or put towards a meal out. Often we never went out, it would be a meal at their lovely home. Usually better when he cooked tbh.

Once, she was in hospital overnight at the time of one of my visits, and her husband and I sat up merrily drinking red wine, well into the second bottle. I don't even think my presentation the next day suffered. He is a great guy and I really like him, which is why I would be sorry if I lost touch with her. I am not sure he would keep in touch with me, even though we went to the same university, shared the same hall of residence, I was a bridesmaid at their wedding, we went to his very chic 40th birthday has always felt like the main contact has been her.

Anyway, in her 30s, Friend A finally had a son. A couple of years later the daughter followed. A cutie. I guess her mother must have been similar. We spent a New Year's Day at my friend's parents and I played with this tiny little girl who was crawling on the floor. I had a fun time.

A few years later, the toddler had grown up enough to want to climb up the Land Rover and onto the roof. "Help me," she said assertively. "No," we all said. "When you can get up there yourself, you will be much safer." Of course, the little monkey climbed right up. She took after her tough mother, although I didn't realise it at the time.

Suddenly this blond ringleted girl started growing up. On one of my last business trips to stay with them she had a hamster. Mum and Dad were out at squash or pilates or something and I was in the house with the two kids. We played with the hamster, she wanted to drag the cat from under the bed and play with that too, but s/he was pretty old and I drew the line at that. Let sleeping cats lie. We painted glitter polish on our nails. Hmmm, don't know how that went down at the meeting the following day. She was great company.

Friend B has children of a not dissimilar age. He got married when I was abroad so I didn't get to his wedding. I met his wife not long after we returned to the UK. We all went into journalism after university, so there was something in common immediately. I've always liked this guy, he has been a great friend and never failed to keep in touch. I've stayed with him at his parents' previous house, but never stayed with him and his wife in London.

Last time I went to the UK, I decided I really should make the effort. "Of course you can stay," he said, despite the fact I had not seen him for zillions of years. He met me at the tube station, and said "I recognised you straightaway." As I did him. He was always quite dark and good-looking, and to me, he really had not changed much.

We walked to his detached four-bed house, with large garden. Good one, bro. I am so pleased for you that you have got somewhere in a competitive and difficult industry. His wife was as charming as ever, and did all the cooking while we prattled on aimlessly. After dinner we - obviously - swapped stories about university friends, and looked at old photos, including their wedding ones which I had never seen.

Their daughter is in her late teens. It was the first time I had met her. Super, very confident, and a lovely face. The son had decided to clear off to do other things. But the daughter, like the one of Friend A, was great company. Older, but quite happy to spend Saturday evening chatting with one of dad's university friends. We talked a lot about what she wanted to do, and which university she was going to choose. Things that are mega-important at that age.

Friend C has younger children. I met up with him again on the same trip. I got the same response - "Of course you can stay" and when we missed each other at busy Euston on a Friday evening he rang me on his mobile. Whereupon he said promptly "I can see you. Stay right there." And like Friend B, he looked pretty much the same too, a few years older, but instantly recognisable, and also just as good-looking as when we were at university together.

We did the same degree together (with Friend A). On one of my London trips I stayed with him and his girlfriend. Some years later, Partner and I went to their huge wedding. We kept in touch but apart from a couple of brief meets at Friend A's home, we didn't see each other.

His wife met us at the railway station - it was pouring with rain - and off we went home. Funnily enough, they lived about 15 miles away from where we had our first house, north of London. They had a lovely dreamy Victorian house and a gorgeous garden with superb views of the rolling hills.

Their children were younger than those of my other friends, can't remember how old but nowhere near double figures. What I really remember was sharing a Saturday family breakfast with them - lots of pots of fresh coffee, fruit juice, fresh mango, croissants and pains chocolate, crumpets ....mmmm....... a weekend family treat.

I spent Friday night and most of Saturday with them, it wasn't planned, it just happened that way. I'd never really had chance to talk to Friend C's wife much before and, as we both come from Yorkshire, we swapped stories of our similar upbringings.

Walking by the Grand Union Canal on Saturday

All my friends appear to have these amazing children. Interesting, well-behaved, polite, friendly, articulate and intelligent. In every family, the children were treated as equals. Maybe things are different when I'm not visiting, but there was no feeling of "Go and be quiet in the corner" as Friend C's wife and I exchanged about our childhood.

I've never been interested in the idea of having children. Nine months of wandering round like a bloated water-melon followed by x hours of agony and years of responsibility just never did it for me. People would say to Partner that he would make a great dad, whereupon he nearly puked. Nobody ever told me I would make a great mum.

I never felt old enough or responsible enough to be a mother. A couple of work colleagues had children in their mid-late thirties, and I vaguely thought for about 30 seconds - Perhaps I could manage that now - and then gave it no more thought.

But I do admire my university friends. They all seem to have brought up nice children, they treat them as individuals, and with respect. The children are an integral part of the family and also happy to be polite to mummy/daddy's old friend.

Wow! I just could not, ever, in my life have done that.


Ruby Bleu said...

I can totally relate. I really love my friends children and my nephew, but I never thought I could do it...I can barely take care of myself and the dog!

Peanut said...

Like you I never wanted children. Unlike you I now have two. The first one was a surprise but the second was planned. Raising them is honestly the toughest thing ever and some days harder then I can stand but to watch them figure out who they are as people is the most joyous thing ever. Seeing them come into their own skin is amazing. I can only hope I am doing a halfway decent job and haven't screwed them up to badly.

The Brat Pack said...

All of my old friends are married with children, it seemed to be the thing to do after everyone was out of school. Even if I ever had the urge to have a bio child, there's just no way. I yak at the smell of a doctor's office and although you always get that line of "it's different when it's your baby" BS I don't buy it. Besides that, the idea of being the sole responsibility for another human gives me hives.

I'm still screwing up my own life so how could I guide someone else? ;)

Jeannie! said...

I think I always knew I wanted at least one. But I was darn scared of the actual giving birth stuff.

One came along sort of a surprise, then the others happened.

My Ma was 39 when she had me, although I loved her dearly, there was a huge age gap. Totally different generations and outlook, made for some difficult times when I was growing up.

Much less with my kids and me, now they have grown up, youngest is 19, we are all very close, more like friends. The age gap is quite small I guess compared to me and my Mum.

The thing which shocked me once I had my first one, was the knowing I would be responsible for her for the rest of my life. Even when she was an adult, I would still worry about her, and want the best etc. It totally stunned me, at that time - I too could hardly look after myself and (the cat who owned us at that time!)

I can remember being totally terrified!

Like Peanut, I just hope I am doing a halfway job and not screwed them up!

love and light, Jeannie xxxxx

Flowerpot said...

I didnt want kids until I was in my forties when it hit me like a sledgehammer. Unfortunately it was not to be, but I would have loved to be a mum.