If you have to go abroad then just don't come back with a one-year-old like Madonna did

K. and I know too many people, although probably few for our demographic, who confuse an extended (possibly busman’s) holiday with actual emigration. I blame gap yars. A recent post by she-of-simian-fingers juxtaposes this half-seriously with child rearing, eliciting in turn a half-pred answer from the Botley Massive. Also half-serious, I assume, as self-fulfilment alone does not make so-called emigrées return after what’s essentially spring break.

(There should be a law that, if none of your friends have changed their facial hair and/or head-hair colour by the time you send round an exclamation-dotted invitation to your back-in-the-UK party, you have to fuck off again for twice the length of time you’ve just clocked up. And don’t you dare bring us back yet another round of dream-catchers as souvenirs.)

With friends who don’t have children younger than (say) two, I generally have conversations about pretty much anything, with shared points of reference even if an only nugatory overlap of preference: music, books, gigs, culture, food, scandals, events in the news, politics, shared friends, technology and various uncategorizable squee. The only conversations I’ve managed to have with people who do have offspring at that age revolve around, er, raising children.

I understand why, and I do actually want to oblige, because it’s such a clearly important aspect of that person’s life. I find I can do so for perhaps the first half-dozen encounters. But I don’t have two years’ worth of interested-sounding questions to as- er, opinions to volunteer about it, any more than I have two years’ worth of conversation stored up about making scale models out of matchsticks, Now That’s What I Call Hurdy-Gurdy or the benefits of voting UKIP. It’s like suddenly you and the friend belong to different and coincidentally disjoint hobbyist societies, for that two-year window, and it’s hard not to drift apart during that time.

Some friendships do survive a period of separation, of course. They’re strong enough to, say, weather a good six months of refusal to communicate (sorry, j4). But generally if people were to emigrate, or—worse—move to Cambridge, then a couple of years of unshared experience and communication lack is more than enough to kick over the traces of a merely casual or genial friendship.

Monkeyhands and I don’t have very much social patience in this area, I agree, and we’re trying to get better at it (with the awkwardness of someone on the autistic spectrum learning neurolinguistic programming, I admit). But what social contract are we expected to fulfil here: what are its obligations, and what are its recompenses?

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2 Responses to If you have to go abroad then just don't come back with a one-year-old like Madonna did

  1. hatmandu says:

    Interesting stuff. On the (proper) emigration front, I find it really hard for some reason to keep up with people as much as if they’d just gone to Cambridge – almost as if I have some lurking prejudice about betrayal of the motherland, which seems an odd notion. But then – when you eventually do see those people on a rare visit, and they’re true friends, nothing’s been lost after all.

    shared points of reference

    Yeah. I find all this stuff disconcerting, standing as I am right now at the edge of the precipice, looking into the fathomless vortex of parenthood. They really do seem to be different universes, and it sounds like there are some fundamental ways in which are no shared points of reference. A lot of new parents also Just Don’t Have Time to idly watch the latest floppy-haired indie band or play with the latest exciting RSS tool. Small children need phenomenal amounts of input and that inevitably takes priority. Sometimes they really are all the parents have done.

    Most of the parents I know we see less often, and of course there’s a lot of baby babble – but they’re also still the same interesting, witty, intelligent people they always were.

    Obviously I don’t want the monoculture to happen to me, and hope to keep a Geiger counter trained on the background radiation (oops, mixed metaphors). But maybe everyone says that. I do know we’re going to have very little money spare, and gawd knows about time. But hey, we just have to jump now.

    I hope we still see you on the other side, and not everything is pink or blue, and the soundtrack can have more than nursery rhymes to it. We’ll see!

    Maybe I can send a postcard from the other side – though everyone says that, and perhaps that’s what ghosts are.

  2. sbalb says:

    I know we’ve discussed this today on Jabber, but thanks for taking this in the spirit in which it was intended: neither as a personal nor a demographic slight. Well, if it was insulting a demographic then it was really insulting two that refuse to talk to each other, the unmentioned one being our own barren fate.

    This is a hard thing to grapple with, really, without treading on the toes of bystanders and spectators. There’s taboos everywhere you look, and maybe for good reason. But if the common thread really is us, then we want to fix whatever it is, now that some of our best friends are either soon to have a baby or are considering starting the whole process.

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