Back to Reality

In the week since we’ve touched down on UK soil I’ve been back to work, travelled (again) up to London and attended a book launch. It’s fair to say it hasn’t exactly been an easy transition.

I was expecting the tiredness. I was expecting the excitement at seeing faces I had missed for so long. What I wasn’t expecting was an emotional surge which has left me teary over the slightest things, and a general uneasiness.

I can’t quite put my finger on it. Whether it’s relaxing in the garden, chatting over lunch or catching up with colleagues, there has been a nagging voice in the back of my head. It starts ‘you should…’ and never gets any further. So how does my subconscious think I need to be spending my time?

Just last week the view was quite different

It could be the sudden lack of agency. While it’s been a busy week, there have been lots of moments of calm, lots of time to sit and ponder, lots of questions asked about my trip which allow me to reflect on our adventures. But there’s also a distinct lack of planning and momentum. No more looking at accommodation, no more searching for a good local restaurant, no more scanning the guide books to figure out how we’ll spend our days. We’re simply living, just as we used to. My brain hasn’t quite caught up with my body, it’s still travelling the miles without me.

With this being the case, you would expect that I would be infinitely capable of performing tasks that used to be second nature. Apparently, even though I’ve just finished touring the world, the judder of being back has rendered certain faculties useless.

All I had to do was go to the shops. Buy a few things that we had run of out on the way, along with some extra bits for the baby. A simple five-minute car ride, quick dash round the shelves and then back. No more than half an hour, at the most.

The nagging feeling of having forgotten something has been present all the time, so it didn’t occur to me that I should actually listen to it while I was strapping her into the car seat. Only when we got to the supermarket did I realise what it was – I had no means of paying for anything.

There’s still the local park for amsuement

Our finances have been watertight. Each country had a daily budget, we used the fantastic Revolut card which saved any bank charges for overseas, and everything was logged on the Tripcoin app as soon as it was spent. But that was how it worked on the road. Back home, I always had a handbag with a wallet in, which provided the means to buy stuff. Unfortunately, these things are still in the loft, along with everything else I own.

Feeling sheepish, I turned the car around and retraced our steps. No problem, just an extra ten minutes or so. Shoving my bank card in my pocket, we headed back out.

It was an enjoyable trip. The baby hasn’t had much experience of being in a trolley, and she was thoroughly enjoying the sights and sounds. She grabbed the bag of crisps and crinkled the packet between her hands, she chewed on the packet of naan breads. All was well. I even stopped by the clothes section just in case there was something decent in the sale. After all, the only clothes I have are the same tired selection that have followed me around the globe.

Pleased with my success when I’d been feeling so uneasy, we wheeled our way to the cashier. I’d even brought bags. It was only when I took the card out that I experienced a sinking feeling. Just put in your pin, said the lady, a simple task that I had performed numerous times, without even thinking.

And new toys!

Only I couldn’t remember it. I hadn’t used the card since we’d left, so those vital four digits had scurried away, and were certainly not going to make themselves known while I squirmed under the cashier’s gaze, a queue forming behind me.

Feeling pressured to act fast, I tried one combination, then another. No luck. She smiled and passed my bags over to Customer Services, making sure I could have some time to think. But it didn’t work. I eventually phoned home, feeling ashamed that I had been caught out in my failure. That would have worked, only he didn’t know it either, as it was my card.

So, for yet another time, I strapped her back into the car seat and drove back. When I finally went back to pick the shopping up with a different card, I didn’t take her as she’d been stuck in the car for so long.

All the way back, I felt ashamed. How was it possible? Having achieved this momentous trip, having coped with all the challenges of taking a tiny baby around the world, I had failed to go round the corner and buy some groceries.

Grandparents buy the best stuff

Perhaps my capacity for coping with things has run out. My body and brain have decided that enough is enough, and they need a break. Could it be (and I really don’t think so) that the hormonal changes from having a baby have somehow rendered me useless in everyday situations? Attuned to more challenging tasks, my body is just not prepared for the mundane.

I think it’s something else. This role, a mother at home with her daughter, is one I’ve never had to play. We left so quickly, I had barely begun to discover who I was at home with a child. Thrust back into this unfamiliar place, I simply wasn’t able to follow through the mental steps necessary for success.

At the time, I was so cross with myself. But I think it might be a good time to allow a few slips and muddles. I’m treading in unfamiliar shoes, and I haven’t worked out quite how they fit yet. Until I do, it will be best to be kind to myself in terms of my expectations. Ordering a new bank card isn’t a bad idea either.

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I'm a writer, teacher and drummer based in London. Short fiction and reviews are my main staples, along with some dabbling in novel writing.

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