Ebony and I didn't spend a night apart until she was three, and then it was really only because the umbilical cord rotted and fell of (jokes. Sort of). I’m actually weirdly proud of this commitment. When Ebony was so tiny that I wouldn’t have left her for more than 10 minutes even if you’d offered me a million pounds, I stumbled across the advice online. Apparently three year olds have the conversational skills and understanding necessary for such a separation. In reality, I’m sure Ebony would have been fine earlier because she’s good with the words, but alas, my mind was made up.
And so, the week of her third birthday, she spent the night at my parents’ house in Burnley. One whole hour away. She was fine, obviously. Didn’t even ask for me. Though this could have been to the exhaustion she experienced after staying up so long after her usual bedtime. Or maybe it was down to the vegan ice cream related sugar rush. Who knows. She turned up at dinner time the next day, slightly delirious from exhaustion, and very excited to see us, but equally as excited to tell us about all the fun things she did. She was pleased to tell me that she didn’t miss me once (ouch), and kept asking if I was sad without her (no, unless sad actually means busy sleeping for eight consecutive hours).
Since then, she has stayed over a few more times. The lure of homemade chocolate ice cream is oh too powerful. They still haven’t managed to get her to bed at a decent hour, but we don’t hold that against them while we’re busy enjoying a full night’s sleep (safe in the knowledge that they almost certainly aren’t). She sleeps in my old bedroom at their house, it almost got redecorated at one point but a last minute guilt trip secured the survival of my 6ft high rainbow painted on the wall (I can hear all the interior stylists breathing a collective sigh of relief there).
She sleeps on my old bed, some bunk beds that my dad made for me years ago. My mum decorated them, burning my favourite characters from books onto them. Going up the rungs of the ladder there is a quite poignant poem about taking care of the environment. The bedroom is filled with toys, my parents have never thrown anything out, so Ebony can spend her visits playing with bald barbies, scalped Playmobil men and a selection of half chewed plastic animals. The bed is covered in soft toys and teddies from my childhood; the hand knitted seven dwarves, the care bears and the world’s creepiest clown.
Downstairs, there is more fun to be had. Robin, our old rocking horse, resides in the hallway. He is a little worse for wear these days, and shakes a little if you go too fast, but Ebony loves him. She can climb on herself now she tells me. Behind Robin is a mountain of forgotten toys recovered from my parents’ loft archive. A huge plastic play kitchen from the mid 90s, a box of stickle bricks, a bag of hideous noisy toys.
They needn’t bother with the toys though, their house is filled with enough excitement without the need for age appropriate pastimes. The cuckoo clock in the kitchen can hold her attention every fifteen minutes, with particular excitement on the hour. We once waited ten minutes to watch it only to discover it wasn’t wound up (or whatever the right phrase might be there), then she sat for another fifteen minutes to see if it worked the next time. Ebony could happily spend an afternoon playing around with their recliner chairs, pulling the lever to make them recline, and then lying back with a satisfied grin.
My sister is back from Canada and living with my parents for the time being. This makes a trip over to Burnley ever more exciting. During her last sleepover, Ebony played with Rosie right up until bedtime (Rosie’s, Ebony doesn’t believe in bedtime when you’re having a sleepover). I know that as Ebony gets older she will learn to love my parents’ house even more. It is the perfect place for a game of Hide and Seek, and the cupboard under the stairs is the perfect spot for a quick game of Narnia. It is the perfect childhood home, and I’m glad Ebony gets to experience a little bit of that from time to time.