Sighing, I prepare to text yet another friend to tell her that I can't make a night out.
"Sorry" I say, "but I've got no childcare."
Sound familiar? It didn't used to.
God, how I used to grit my teeth as those apologetic, hurried texts from friends with children came pinging in, delaying brunches, days out, nights out, lunches, because the kids were ill, or they couldn't get a sitter, or the sitter had let them down. It all sounded rather dull. Well, now it's my turn.
Just as dull, it turns out, as it can be to sit on your own after a day with a toddler whose new favourite word is "no" with only Coronation Street and an M&S ready meal to look forward to.
Because one thing I am finding out in this still relatively new world of child rearing, is that one way (or, indeed, the only way) to get a night out is for you and your husband/partner/whatever to take it in turns, like hurried harried people in a weather house. One in, one out.
Gone are the hours of feeling giddy in the lead up to a big night out, scouring town for something new to wear, making hair and nail appointments and having hours to look and feel like the belle of the ball. There's a ticking time bomb toddler sitting in the pram, and time is allocated into chunks. Their boredom threshold is as low as your blood pressure is high as you hurry hurry hurry, and try to beat the clock.
I can now get ready in well under an hour: quick shower, grab a dress, accessorise with an enormous pair of internal-organ crushing pants, pull dress over head, and I'm ready. I was surprised to discover at the last night out I went on (after Middle East style negotiations over calendars) that I don't even think to bother with make-up any more; not that anyone's going to be looking at the 37 year old with hair badly in need of a cut and colour in a sea of taut-skinned, Lipsy dress wearing twenty-somethings.
The realisation is dawning: like my hair, I just don't cut it any more on a night out. I feel slightly invisible,much the way I sometimes do as I push my buggy, avoiding people and obstacles, pattering through town in flat shoes and a sensible coat, brandishing muslin cloths, snacks and drinks like weapons. Some days, despite my love of brightly coloured clothes and shoes , I feel like the world has passed me by. I've dissolved like a tissue in the rain, edged blurred, fraying.
"Sorry" I say to people barging through the front doors of shops which I have a perfect right to go through as well. I've even apologized to racks of clothes. Possibly even mirrors.
Don't get me wrong, I don't feel sorry for myself. What I am writing about is a feeling, an experience, a tiny bite of regret (like the taste of a bitter lemon) that my old life has slipped away. It went quietly, it left the room without me noticing, like a dress slipping from a hanger that is crowded between others in my wardrobe. Sometimes, it still whispers to me, beckoning in my mind like a glamorous ghost.
So, I wear it, this new cloak, of motherhood, and I still feel some days, like I am trying it for size.
I don't have a better life, I have a different life. I have a love I have never known for my daughter, so large it could fill a reservoir, so powerful I feel it's force could send whole armies into battle. A strength of which I am proud. I feel the same but different. If I'd read this blog before I was a parent I'd have rolled my eyes and laughed. Stupid cow, writing about the fact she feels a bit left out.
Milestones now are not mine. Heady nights out and spontaneous meetings with friends are few and far between.
There are new ones though. New words, new skills. Laughter and wonder as for the first time my daughter discovers sand, soil, friends, water, toys, puzzles, bath times, people and me. "Kiss my owie better, mummy" she says, holding aloft a plump finger nipped by a clothes peg. She doesn't want anyone else for that.
And then it makes makes sense, because to her I am complete, I am whole, and it is enough. In fact, it is everything.
I think my cloak just got a little bit more comfortable. But sometimes, the old outfits still need a night out.