I have started on a redecorating kick with something of a passion.
It started with the recent birthday. In lieu of a gift, I asked the Father and the Brother to build me a dresser I had purchased. Hemnes, eight drawer, your classic Ikea.
I think I had a clearer idea of what they were in for than they did. Between the collecting, the building, the ancillary trips to the hardware store to purchase not included dowels, and the including of the three-and-three-quarter-year-old in the process (her specificity, not mine), the whole thing took three days. Throughout which time they all kindly assured me they were not hating life or me, a kindness that was a gift in itself.
Herself, displaying a keen enthusiasm for the DIY project, took to proudly announcing ‘I did that, Uncle Daragh and Grandad just watched’. The encouragement has gone to her head and she has taken to banging random surfaces with her mini hammer. When I object, she tells me ‘but I’m very good at hammering’, with the self-satisfaction only a three-year-old can muster. It kick-started something though, this most minor of building projects.
So far, the redecorating has been low-lying stuff. The odd new cushion, a few vases. No surface is safe from being liberally draped in fairy lights. I install the Photobox app and go from barely printing off a picture since her birth to ordering her lifetime’s worth. I then discover the polaroid frame option and reorder the lot.
I come across a piece by author Deborah Levy on her separation (it is possible I have read the entire internet on the subject of marriage break-up), and she mentions the idea of setting up a new home for her and her girls after leaving the family home.
We are lucky; there is no moving for us. More reconfiguration. But it gets me thinking. Nice to embrace the thing. Is it shallow to admit that a small part of me is relishing the extra wardrobe space, the fact of having finally solved the dilemma of where to put all my shoes?
“You’re battening down the hatches”, says a friend. The storm has passed though. If anything, the hatches are being uncovered; danger of capsizing has passed. It feels more like nesting. Me with my fairy lights and pictures of everyone we love, Herself with her hammer; we are building a new nest for ourselves.
The last time I did this was in preparation for her birth. I can still remember the overwhelmingly compulsive feeling of needing certain, wholly un-baby related things around the house to be done. The front door had to be painted. A gate built for the front garden. My mania knew no bounds; the Mother eventually downed tools on a bank holiday Monday over blackout curtain lining, telling me, before walking out on strike, that if she did finish the project it would be for my husband and her unborn grandchild, and that she wasn’t quite sure she even still liked me at this point.
I Google nesting after separation out of curiosity, expecting lots of Mumsnet type threads. It turns out it is an actual strategy of co-parenting after a break-up. The children stay in the family home, the parents each have a separate abode and take it in turns to spend a week with the kids. It sounds exhausting, and I am deeply grateful we have managed to come up with our own, very tight-knit, but less hopscotchy arrangement.
“It’s like something from a teenager’s bedroom” my ex says of the new dresser, which I have decorated with lamps, jewellery, photographs and make-up. He is right. I remember doing this sort of thing as a young teenager at home in my parent’s house. Staying up into the small hours dragging furniture about the room, changing the layout of Blur, Oasis, and dolphin posters. Maybe this sort of physical rearrangement of one’s space comes with the territory of entering a new phase.
Living without another adult takes some getting used to. At times, it is necessary to plan ahead more than you might have, to avoid potholes of loneliness. The first few Saturday evenings feel like they have the potential to become a bit melancholy. I come across an article by the journalist Sali Hughes in which she describes how, after her separation, she started a tradition of movie nights with her children on Saturday nights. Pizza and popcorn for dinner in bed whilst watching a movie. Now, she cannot imagine going out on a Saturday. I instigate it, and Saturday evening no longer feels like a clock watch until bedtime, but one of my favourite parts of the week.
Similarly, I have a loose arrangement with the brother that if we are both in on a Friday, we do a movie and takeaway. Someone you can happily sit on the couch with in silence, half watching TV, half phone scrolling. You need that. When I bought our house, it was with the intention of it being a starter home, to be eventually sold, or kept and rented out when we inevitably moved to a three bed semi somewhere else. Do not judge me-it was 2007 pre-crash, we were all property developers manque then.
Now it looks like being my forever home. And I am increasingly fine with that.