Less than 24 hours after our belongings leave London, they arrive into our second-floor Amsterdam apartment, through a temporarily removed window, via a mobile escalator. My Lawyer parks our bikes with what he calls “Amsterdam-standard” locks, because apparently our London locks, with their London Ways, were nowhere near adequate. Incidentally, in case you were wondering, the transition from London Wanker to Amsterdam Wanker takes approximately five weeks.
The same men who dismantled our furniture in London just rebuild it nonchalantly in Amsterdam, without instructions, like Lego Movie master builders. I receive updates and queries from My Lawyer throughout the day:
“It’s a ten person beach wind-breaker.”
“Why did you pack-“
“I’VE BEEN LOOKING AFTER THE CHILDREN FOR FIVE SOLID WEEKS ON MY OWN AND-“
“Ooooh, the angler fish costume!”
Having been living in an empty flat for a month, our home resettles around My Lawyer, and he quickly settles himself into our superking bed. On his own. He has to set an alarm to wake up each morning. Sometimes the birds in the trees outside gently lull him from his slumber. On weekend mornings, he might just turn the pillow over to the cool side and to go back to sleep. What a bastard.
Meanwhile, the kids and I settle into my mum’s house, where we will live for the next two months, before joining My Lawyer and the subjugated bikes. The dawn chorus here is more of a multi-sensory assault. I’m sharing a room with the three year old. Each morning at 5.30am, he suggests that we have a snuggle, which sounds nice, and he’s very cute, so he gets into bed with me.
Then he suggests he might hide somewhere.
Then he suggests bouncing.
Then he suggests iPad.
Then he suggests Mummy stops closing her eyes.
I think of My Lawyer in Amsterdam, an hour ahead, still asleep. Whatabastard.
It doesn’t take long for the three year old to decide that Nanna’s House is now Our House, but the seven year old is struggling. He likes it here, but after saying goodbye to My Lawyer after another short weekend visit, he has “had it with Daddy coming and going.” He knows that we’ll all be together again soon, but right now he misses his Dad and he’s miserable about it. Plus: he actually does feel sorry for My Lawyer, all on his own with only a handful of cool, empty beds for company.
The six year old has been mulling things over from a slightly different angle, and asks me out of the blue if My Lawyer and I are getting divorced.
“No!” I gasp. “Why would you think that?”
“Lucy at school has parents that gotted divorced, because they live in two different places, and she has this HUGE toy box at her dad’s and this HUGE toy box at her mums!”
I break it to the six year old that we are not getting divorced. She takes it pretty well.
I decide now is a good time for a chat with my friend Genevieve, who is a child psychologist and author of a book about mindful parenting.
Gen reassures me that these responses are fairly typical of their ages: the average three year old lives very much in the present, so living at Nanna’s house has very quickly become the new normal. So too, then, are the 5.30am starts, and just like general elections, they did not hold much charm when they were more infrequent.
The older kids are experiencing more complex emotions about our drawn-out situation. The empathetic seven year old hates goodbyes, and keeps asking how many more times he’ll have to say goodbye to Daddy before we’re in the same place as him for good. The six year old is still the centre of her own universe, and likes labels. Living apart? That’s called divorced, and as far as she knows, it means two toy boxes to fill. Result!
“They’ll pick up on your feelings too,” says Gen. “Are you feeling stressed?”
I close my eyes to assess this, and fall asleep for a micro-second.
“I’m possibly very tired,” I suggest.
“Just keep talking to them about why this is happening. Otherwise they’ll start filling in any gaps they have themselves.”
Shortly after the six year old serves us divorce papers, My Lawyer travels to San Francisco for two weeks with work, and so we hardly speak to him at all. The time difference is 8 hours and our simultaneous access to decent wifi signal is scarce. My Lawyer and I visited San Francisco together twelve years ago, when My Lawyer was merely my Law Student Housemate Who Stole My Cereal, and we travelled north for one night to camp in the Redwood Forests. It was the coldest, most sleepless night of my life, but my Lawyer slept soundly (whatabastard), awoke with renewed energy and went for a five mile run which he still maintains was the most invigorating of his life. We each made lifelong vows on that trip; he, that he’d marry me and one day return to this forest so rich with life and promise. Me, that I was never going fucking camping again.
My Lawyer, then, sees an opportunity for a hitherto-vetoed camping trip to Yosemite. He books a one-person shack for more money than you might expect a shack to cost. Having left our superking-sized bed in Amsterdam, he now abandons his hotel bed in San Francisco, and travels to a tiny camp bed on the edge of a bear-infested creek, down-grading bed after bed like the world’s shittest Goldilocks.
“I can’t believe you have three beds to your name,” I text.
“Four, actually – my hotel room was upgraded so I have two queen-sized beds in there! For no reason! I wake up in bed, looking at another bed! It’s kind of lonely!”
People sometimes ask me how I manage not to resent My Lawyer in these circumstances, and probably some shit about empathy should apply. But in my experience, it’s much more affective to simply google one-star Trip Advisor reviews of wherever your partner happens to be, especially when the Insta-perfect whatsapp images start rolling in:
Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.
We finally speak again when My Lawyer gets back to his two-bedded hotel room. For him, it’s 10pm on Sunday evening. For us, it’s 6am on Monday morning. The three year old is somewhere in my bed, reciting Moana.
“Was it worth it?” I ask. “The camping?”
“I’m glad I went, yes. But I got a tick.”
“I think the head is still in me.”
“What are you doing tomorrow?”
The three year old emerges from under the covers and shouts in my face, “COCONUTS.”
I think: it could be worse.
“Sleep well,” I say to My Lawyer, and the three year old and I start the day.