Last night the children had a sleepover at their aunt’s house. This is all of 50m away, just down the hill, but is a major step forward on the road to independence, when up till a year ago the girls had never spent a night away from us.
Over the last year they have evolved their own traditions for the sleepover. In the morning the girls go in to town with their aunt and choose a movie to watch that evening at the video rental shop. They generally return with three, having not been able to decide on just one. Sometime in the afternoon the girls solemnly pack a black bin-bag with their essentials: duvet, pillows, slippers, soft toy, book, angel painting, pyjamas, spare clothes for the morning, tooth brush, favourite knick knacks etc. They then lug them down the hill and unpack them neatly onto a side table or chair by the bed. Our son will, a bit later, casually sling his duvet over his arm along with pillow and a spare pair of underpants and saunter down the hill, returning for forgotten necessities like pyjamas if reminded.
While they are feasting on roast chicken and roast potatoes and then trying to cram all three movies into the evening, then morning, tv-watching slots, we are rattling around in the unaccustomed silence of our house, trying to get used to just being us. The first time it happened we were completely at a loss, the house felt empty and echoey, two dimensional and flat, but this weekend we expanded to fill the empty space, with music playing and a Thai green curry on the menu.
The spectacular sunset, with whirls of rain capturing rainbows in the mid distance lured me away from the kitchen, calling to my husband, who raced back for his camera, and we stood out on the lawn in front of our house revolving 360 degrees to catch every shade of the sunset’s progress: pink glowing mountains, followed by clouds laced with pink edging in the east; rain showers creating a vertical section of rainbow suspended in the sky; sweeps of rain capturing a burnt orange hue to the west over the hill behind us. Changing every few seconds the colours held us out there for almost half an hour, until the show ended and the clouds returned to uniform grey as darkness fell. I returned to the kitchen and began cooking our supper.
The dogs are completely distraught by the sleepover concept, especially the two male border collies. Restlessly they run back and forward between the two houses. How are they supposed to guard their family when it is split in two? As soon as they come into our house they scrabble at the door to be let out again and end up sleeping outside – one by the cottage containing the sleeping children, the other on our stoep.
We lit a fire, ate our spicy supper by candlelight and settled down to watch Bourne Identity: a thriller instead of our usual chick flick (going wild without the restraining influence of children in the next room!) then slept for once undisturbed by sleep walking, sleep talking children and restless dogs.
The next morning I lounged in bed, with a cup of tea, trying to finish the fifth Artemis Fowl book. My husband is next in line to read it and itching to get his hands on it. One by one the children returned from their sleepover, and came in for a hug with reports of the entertainment: The movie was good – Firehouse Dog – the best yet. Someone snored last night. They managed to watch all three movies. Bin bags are unceremoniously dumped beside their beds and they slot back into their normal Sunday activities.