When my son was a baby we used to holiday in the same place in the French Alps several times a year, renting an apartment. We continued to do so until he started school. In fact, as a 'family', we even once had a trip there after we had separated. It was difficult.
That was three years ago, and the last time I went to the little town I loved so much. My memories of it had been sullied by that last visit and my earlier, happy memories were mostly too hard to bring to the fore, too full of the baby I would never hold in my arms again having his first taste of so many things.
But last week, after a difficult summer, I needed to get away, so I returned to my little French hang-out and tried very hard to exorcise all my demons. I wanted to go back and see it and experience it with fresh eyes so I could once again take my son there, and not constantly think about what we'd once had and what could have been.
I don't know if it is ever a good idea to try and make things live up to our rose-tinted visions of the past, and I was determined not to do this, but on the other hand, sadness had kept me away, and I was scared it would also overshadow this latest trip.
It turned out to be easier than I expected, simply because life goes on and things change, and since I had last been there with my family, life had not been suspended in time. The coffee shop where I would visit daily with my son as a babe in arms, later a toddler in a pushchair, and then a robust reception year schoolboy, had changed hands. Same exterior, but new tables and chairs, new canopy, all serving, visually at least, to erase those memories of it being the place where he had his first taste of Minute Maid and his first mouthful of chocolate brownie.
I sat there last week and drank a hot chocolate, staring out over the town square, and instead of crumbling inside over years' old memories of times I would never have again, I instead wanted to share all the newness with my little boy.
Wandering around, I discovered the little playground where he had to be prised off the pirates' ship climbing frame was also gone. And even the apartment which I rented so often that it felt like a second home was no longer a holiday let, just a regular flat in a residential block.
But some things remained unchanged; I ambled along the river and through the woods and remembered pushing his buggy over the rough terrain. Yes, tears did prick my eyes momentarily, but breathing in the wonderful air, and squinting through the sun at the mountains beyond, I instead imagined him how he would be if I brought him now - hurtling alongside on his bike, climbing trees, jumping over fallen branches. I saw things through new, fresh eyes. Things that I had never done with my son in the past because of his age would now be appropriate for him.
I had worried I had come back to my special place to finally let go and probably never return. But somehow it served as a lesson in putting things to bed and starting anew.
And cherishing memories rather than buckling under the strain of them or re-angling them. Something I know I need to do more often.
We used to talk of buying a studio flat in the town, spending entire summers and all the school breaks there. A joint dream that I had cast aside with my relationship, but one that's now been rejuvenated. Just now, it is mine and mine alone to bring to fruition.
Do you avoid certain places or situations because they bring back too many memories of happier family times?
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