Croatia, People, Travelling with Children
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Friendship, a story (For Julia)

At first glance, we may not be an obvious match. She, with one more child than me and therefore two years extra sleep deprivation, always looks a million dollars. I favour the dishevelled look. Her home is spotless, with shiny crumb-free surfaces and clothes smelling laundry-liquid-fresh. Even before my home was a van, my hygiene standards were ‘relaxed’. She moves quickly and busily, I slower and more ponderous. It’s no surprise that her thyroid is over-busy and mine can’t be arsed.

She and I met when we were pregnant, her body coping well with the extra demands of gestating a life, mine struggling to support my disproportionately massive belly and the behemoth growing inside. It was at an antenatal class which fortunately turned out to be full of people who got along. We were but a roomful of innocents, our heads still full of fuzzy images of snuggly sleeping babies and ‘family’ times. We couldn’t have known that we were standing at the threshhold of a world full of chaos.

In those first awful weeks and months of being responsible for keeping alive an entirely unfathomable being, the tentative friendships that were forged at that NCT class became as necessary as breathing. Us women forged an alliance of survival, meeting at least once a week with food and understanding. Together we shared the bewilderment and frustration of new motherhood, our stories of sleeplessness and struggles with breastfeeding, the sorrows and the gut wrenching love for these tiny new people in our lives.

Her baby and mine were born within a week of each other, and even when we didn’t meet as a group she and I could often be found together, drinking endless mugs of tea and coffee on her sofa. Our menfolk usefully got along too, and we spent weekends and holidays in each other’s company. They were always generous, always welcoming.

In the wonderful way the universe sometimes works, we became pregnant a second time unknowingly within a week of each other. The day after I birthed Monty at home, she came to visit and on their drive back, her contractions started. The day after that, her second child was born, also at home.

For both of us there were dark times to follow. Anxiety and depression for me, thyroid issues for her. Our newly formed families came under strain, our fragile sanity was threatened. There were a few people that acted as life rafts for me at that time and she was one of them.

Now, our friendship is eight years old and has become like a a loved item of clothing; not quite so sparkly and novel as it once was but comfortable and familiar. During those years we’ve both moved house, grown up (a bit) and drifted a little in geographical terms. There have of course been difficulties -differences of opinion, times of emotional distance and occasional pain – but we’ve weathered them and so far, we’re still friends. I am inspired by her in so many ways, her dedication to an active life of exercise, her enormous generosity of spirit, her sense of fun and the support that she offers to friends and people in her community, even in the midst of the craziness of her own life.

When she and family came out to visit us on our travels recently, I was struck again by how absolutely reliable and steadfast her, and her wonderful husband’s, friendship is. A constant in our lives no matter what, even if we do buggar off in a van for a year.

What a gift.

*While Phil, Julia and kids were with us we stayed near Pula in a place called Banjole at Camping Indije. The place was perfect for kids, with a beach just a few paces away*

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