Last week was an unusual but satisfying one for us due to one rather unusual factor. We had someone else living with us. Just for about a week, admittedly, but there was another living, breathing human being in our house at bedtime and in the mornings and through the day. We are used to people being with us at weekends of course, but for an extended period? No, this was something new.
And something good too. One of our God children was staying with us while the rest of his family were otherwise engaged, so we had the joy of taking a thirteen-year-old for waffles, milkshakes, Roman ruins and watching 1980s fantasy/science fiction movies with popcorn in the evenings before bed.
I am not sure who was enjoying themselves more if I have to be entirely honest.
Now reflecting on the experience, it has taught me several things about myself that if you had asked me before I probably would have not considered. For example, I always thought of myself as being relatively patient; now I know that I can be remarkably impatient at times – good to know, easier to manage when you’re aware of a flaw. I also thought that with children, I would be the soft touch that would let them get away with anything. No, wrong again. I’m much more of a rule based disciplinarian than I thought I was, and the Lovely Wife turns out to be the good cop (I will say, as his parents will be reading this, bad cop wasn’t needed as he behaved impeccably, but I suddenly understood the terrible truth).
Of course, the most interesting thing was that, for a short time at least, we had acquired a child. When we started going out we were clear that we both wanted to have children. I was always convinced I was going to have a couple of daughters. I do not know why; it just was that way in my head. I even know what I would have called them. After we were married we were both convinced it could only be a matter of time. Life up to that point was a blessed one, with lovely things happening to us at what seemed exactly the right time. So, I was convinced that this would be no different and soon we would be worrying about schools and the like.
Then, after a while it became clear that nothing was happening. But we prayed, and we took it further practically by going for IVF. Walking through White City to the Hammersmith hospital became a regular appointment.
After the third failed cycle of treatment it was clear it was not going to happen and there is a point where you must consider the health of the adult over a diminishing chance of success. Even at this point we still had some hope – stories of couples conceiving after giving up because of the sudden lack of stress of expectation kept the flame alive for a while.
But it was not to be, and we had to face the fact that sometimes you do not get what you want, no matter how hard you try. Sometimes you want kids and will not get kids, just as the dream spouse may remain just that – a dream – for some people. That’s a hard thing to get hold of, especially if you have a faith. We struggled and still struggle. It is something you never get away from, it does not and cannot ‘heal’. You work around it. Luckily for us, we had each other and because it hurt us both badly it meant our relationship remained strong (I would also note the support of our friends and family through this; sometimes in unexpected ways.)
Being childless does have its benefits. As with the visit of our God son we find that many of our friends want us to be involved in some way in their children’s upbringing (ensuring that our diary gets increasingly complicated, if only so we remember all their birthdays). Working with the youth at church not only gave us contact with some lovely young people at exactly the most stressful part of the whole process, and has unexpectedly led to some very special – and sustained – friendships that we cherish (not to mention the pride and joy of seeing those young people excel and develop in their own lives and feeling we have at least some little assistance in that).
Not being worn down by the more tiring aspects of bringing up children means we have the energy for it at friends and family gatherings – rare is the case that a summer BBQ does not end with me buried under a pile of giggling children (it just always seems to happen).
What we have and what we have been given to work with is still a lot – in the end we are still very blessed. We will continue to love other people’s children who are entrusted to us when we can. We can joke about having all the fun with them and then giving them back when they get tired and emotional.
But when I see a little girl clinging to her father with utter love and trust, I cannot help but cry a little inside that I will never experience that very special kind of love.
It is true however that if that little girl happens to glance over at me it is almost certain that I will pull a silly face and probably stick my tongue out at her. You cannot take the child out of the man, thankfully.