Friends, friends, friends. Ever since we left our ‘normal’ life, Lulu has always missed being in a regular group of friends. She still has a few friends from attending primary school in Aberystwyth, but it’s been patchy. Definitely not the same. This has been the tough part of our travelling. It started almost a month after we’d left Wales three years ago. We’d just anchored off the little Madeiran island of Porto Santo, roughly a thousand miles away. Despite the clearest water, sunshine and a new place to explore, ten-year old Lu kept talking about her friends like she was going to see them tomorrow. I remember how my heart had stopped when I first heard her speak. ‘Rachel’s one of my best friends but I also like playing with Mia.’ I gulped like a fish. Uh-oh.
From that moment on, sailing for Lu has always been a something of a dilemma. From Madeira, we sailed on to Las Palmas in the Canary Islands. The four months we spent there was a largely friend-free zone for the girls. Luckily, Delphine doesn’t suffer from the same pain as Lulu when it comes to this matter. Delphine is like a self-sufficient smallholding farm.. a few fruit trees, a couple of sheep, an allotment of vegetables and she’s done. She’s not so much unsociable as selective. If Delphine doesn’t meet the right people for her, she’s quite happy to do her own thing. Perhaps there’s a sister rule that means they have to mirror each other and produce the opposite emotional response but Lulu likes people around her. And the more the better too.
In the end, Las Palmas did generate friends. Local Canarian kids from Lulu’s dance school started to admire the blond, street-dance loving kid in their class. One mum even approached me and asked if Lu could help her pleasant-looking, slightly embarrassed son with ‘English conversation.’ But I had to say no. We were just about to leave for the Caribbean.
‘Don’t worry,’ I said later to the hip-hop, checker-shirted Lulu, ‘we’ll meet lots of cruising kids in the Caribbean. After all, that’s where cruising kids tend to gather.’
Lu glared at me. ‘You promise?’ She pointed at my finger, then to my chest.
I sighed and did the crossing over my heart. ‘Sure.’
Did it work out? Well, kinda. We did meet a lot more kids after crossing the Atlantic. There was definitely an armada of fellow kid boats during our hurricane season spent anchored in Grenada. In the most kid-friendly anchorage; Prickly Bay for example, kids scooted along all day in dinghies, picking each other up and heading for the beach. It was like watching children drive themselves around in floating cars. Minus the need for a driving licence..
The parents congregated at nights in the bar.. and to be honest, hanging out here made me miss Wales too. It was strange. We’d spent years planning our trip and the whole time, I couldn’t wait to leave, to go sailing. Now finally we’d made it and people were nice enough in these sailing ‘kid camps’ but I felt uncomfortable. I didn’t want to wear a kind of group t-shirt that had ‘running away’ written on the back. In the end, we selected the friends we liked (or perhaps Delphine did) and Lulu joined in.
Now, in the Marriott Hotel I could see the same worry on Lulu’s face from three years before. Will I make friends? This time though, the worry was underneath all the make-up she was putting on. Her internet school masquerade ball was set to start downstairs in the conservatory in half-an-hour. In our hotel room’s large bathroom, one layer of make-up went on. Followed by another. And then another.
‘Lu,’ I ventured, ‘I think that’s enough make-up now.’
She shook her head. ‘I need to put my mascara on.’
‘Ok, but I think the amount of eyeliner is good. You don’t need any more of that.’
She shook her head at me. ‘But the eyeliner needs to go with the mascara. If you knew anything about make-up, you’d know that.’
Why do I put myself in a firing line? I’d love to know this. And willingly too. I have a number of much smarter friends who’d walk away at this point. Who would let their daughters draw themselves into Frankenstein bride because they realise the underlining insecurities going on and respect their daughter’s need to make her own mistakes. I have to honestly confess that I am not one of those mothers. I’m just not a big fan of walking away.
I saw it streaking down her face after the first hour. I saw Lulu’s new InterHigh friends shooting looks at her. I saw the insecurity running away with her in a palette of bronzer and a bucket full of lipstick.
‘Lu, you don’t need all that make-up. You’re beautiful without it.’ Sure enough, Lulu’s shoulders curved inwards.
It didn’t take long after for the tears. It probably didn’t help either that Jack initially took Lulu’s side. Her eyes lit up with his support and she started swearing at me. This was turning into a beautiful moment indeed. In a complete state of male confusion, Jack did the only thing he could think of doing.
‘Your mother’s right,’ he muttered, ‘take the make-up off.’
In the middle of this sudden Ormerod chaos, I felt the crossroads. Lulu is our boat girl, advanced junior scuba diver, surfing enthusiast and slightly lonely, unsure-of-the-world kid. But if I didn’t stop the make-up trowel at this point, then well, it felt like a precedent of sorts. She didn’t need to cover up who she was.
I remembered a tip from hanging out in close proximity together for the past three years. ‘Everything is going to be ok, Lu,’ I said. ‘I promise.’
Deep breath. She took the thick make-up off. Put a thinner version on. We helped with her gold lace mask and she looked back at us with red-rimmed eyes. And then she went downstairs, danced all night and made loads of friends.
We waited in our hotel room for the ball to finish. Laying prostrate on the huge comfy bed, I picked up the remote. TV again! The news, a travel cruise ship programme with a cheery, middle-aged woman who liked to sing starring in it.. this was heaven. Next to me, Jack had long fallen asleep from the emotional exhaustion. Poor captain. Boats are just easier. Meanwhile, Delphine was watching a programme on her iPad on her bed.
‘Will you go to the ball when you join InterHigh, Delph?’ I asked her gently.
She shrugged. Kept watching. ‘I don’t know. Maybe.’