I’ve always loved the lull between Christmas and New Year. You can take stock of the old year (though let’s not dwell too long there – good riddance, 2016) and make plans for the future, but without that self-imposed pressure to crack on, which comes with the arrival of the new year.
This sense of looking in both directions is especially marked for me this year; I’m moving house at the beginning of January, so Christmas has been spent clearing out cupboards and making trips to Oxfam – many of them with bags full of my son’s childhood toys, which has been every bit as harrowing as Toy Story 3. And the sense of change is still more dramatic because I’m moving from one kind of life to another: after 15 years as a twosome, my son and I are moving into a family home with my partner.
It’s a big deal for all of us, in our different ways. I’m looking around with seismic pangs of nostalgia as I prepare to leave the flat my son and I have lived in together for 10 and a half years, just the two of us. When we arrived, he was a bouncy four-year-old whose first act in his new room was to make beds for all his bears among the boxes. Now he’s 6ft 2in with a man’s voice; I still catch myself coming through the front door and wondering who the massive size-12 Timberlands belong to, before I remember they’re my little boy’s.
It seems strange, even to me, that I should be about to turn 43 and never have cohabited with a partner before, but that’s largely because, for the past 15 years, I’ve been living with this other small bloke who demanded all my time and attention. My son’s father had baled out while I was pregnant, but I was fortunate to have amazingly supportive parents; I moved out of London to live near them, so my son has grown up with a stable family around him.
We’ve taken things slowly. It’s as much of a leap for my partner, to become part of a family; he’s three years older than me and has not had kids of his own
When he was three, I was in a serious relationship for a couple of years and, after it ended, painfully, I made a deliberate choice to be wary about allowing partners into his life in future. I didn’t want him to look back on his childhood and remember a series of temporary stepdads he got attached to for a while, but who then disappeared. If I was going to introduce anyone into his world, I would have to be sure they’d be sticking around.
So, I dated over the years, but found myself keeping that part of my life separate from the life I had at home and, after a while, that came to seem normal, even if it was not always comfortable. As a result, I think I opted for the kind of relationships that would stay on the surface; I was unwilling to let anyone disrupt the life I had built for myself and my son, in case things didn’t work out. But I became aware that, in trying to spare my son the disappointment of a relationship ending, I was also denying him the chance to witness me being happy as part of a couple. So, when I met my boyfriend, just over two years ago, it seemed natural and right to introduce them to one another fairly early on and they hit it off from the beginning.
We’ve taken things slowly, though. It’s as much of a leap for my partner, to become part of a family; he’s three years older than me and has not had kids of his own, so he’s been thrown into this parenting malarkey at the deep end (I point out that he dodged the toddler tantrums only to turn up in time for the teenage ones). But the timing has worked out; my son is learning to share me at just the age when he’s becoming more independent anyway and needs my attention less – or at least in a different way. And my partner can offer him insights and advice that I lack, having the advantage of knowing what it’s like to be a teenage boy.
I’ve had to acknowledge that I can’t protect my son from heartbreak any more than I can protect myself. Love is complicated and risky, whenever you find it, but it’s also brilliant and life-changing – you have to be willing to gamble. Last New Year’s Eve, my boyfriend and I turned down a party in London to stay at home with my son; the three of us cooked together, played poker and danced around the kitchen, and it was the best New Year I’d had in years. So we’re taking the big leap in 2017, figuring out our version of family as we go along. It’s our way of being optimistic in an uncertain world.