Life begins at forty, or so the saying goes. What is the origin of this expression anyway? I expect it has its roots in the time when people married right out of school or university, and started a family immediately, so by the time a fortieth birthday rolled around, the oldest kids were ready to leave home, or at the very least were self-sufficient. I turned forty at the end of July. Some friends threw me a surprise b-day BBQ and I endured the usual teasing about when was I going to get married and the tick-tock of the biological clock, but they know me and they know I’ve come close on two occasions, but… Anyway, in my case, rather than watching my (non-existent) kids prepare to leave home, I’ve suddenly inherited a family tree full of parents, grandparents, siblings, nieces and nephews!
Then, just as I was coming to terms with all that has happened, Iris phoned me last week to let me know that Jim had died. I was very grateful that she remembered me at what must be such a difficult time for her, and we had a nice talk at the end of which I invited her to come stay with me any time. I’m near enough to Liz and Anthony that we can visit or meet up somewhere so they don’t feel they have to host a houseguest. I don’t have particularly strong feelings about Jim, as we’d only just met, but I don’t think his quality of life was great these last few years, and I have a soft spot for Iris (I just know she and Mom will get on like a house on fire – although when I said that aloud at Mike’s last month, I’m sure April snorted and pretended it was a sneeze – what was that about?).
I listened to Liz’s phone message several times and began to wonder if she just needed someone to talk to, so called her back and said I’d be happy to babysit. I’ve been over a few times now. We are still relative strangers (that is, strangers who happen to be relatives!) but I think she’s just happy for some company. It sounds like she and Anthony have their share of problems, but she did say that he was being really supportive of her decision to give James formula. She was really struggling with breastfeeding and was surprised that he seemed to understand, but it seems that his first wife went back to work not very long after having Francie and Anthony bottle-fed her. It’s impossible to know exactly what is happening in someone else’s relationship, but despite all the difficulties they face, they have at least found some areas of agreement.
Francie is quite proud of her little brother and tells me how she helps Liz give him a bath and how she wants to share her toys with him. There was a brief awkward moment where she boasted in front of her father that James looked like her instead of like Daddy and Liz, but like most children she moved straight on to another topic without pausing for breath. She’s a sweet little girl, although not quite as precocious as I was led to believe: some of the stories I’ve heard had me thinking that she would be speaking the thoughts of a grown woman, but she seems pretty much the way I’d expect a four-year old to be. I took her to the Vancouver Aquarium last week to give her parents some time with the baby and we saw some strange man doing all kinds of facial contortions in an attempt to mimic the belugas (I think) while his poor son stood there looking embarrassed. Francie said that she was glad that that wasn’t her father acting so silly.
Anthony booked flights to Toronto for all of us, which was kind of him – the flight isn’t too long, but it’s their first with two kids and I don’t mind helping out. They’ll be staying at Mike’s place but I declined Mike’s offer and booked a hotel room. It might be a bit too crowded at the house and I like my privacy. Also, it’s nice to have somewhere to retreat after the funeral, since I know my mother is likely to be there. Liz said that I look a lot like her – our – mother used to. I didn’t see any resemblance but Liz says I should ask Mike to dig out the old photo albums from around the time Elly and John were in university so I can see what Elly looked like not long after I was born. I have to admit, I am curious. Maybe Frank has some old yearbooks.