On the fourth weekend after we move to Folkestone, my friend Sofia invites me to swim. Sofia is the reason that we moved here rather than to Margate; we think of her as the fairy godmother of our relocation to the coast and have benefitted from her wisdom and her kindness almost daily since we became friends in January.
We leave early, before the weight of our children’s needs and expectations and love settle upon us for the day, when they are still too sleepy to protest too hard to us leaving. And I am almost giddy with anticipation of the water, of swimming at last in a sea that I may call home.
The sky is forgetmenot blue and the water is as smooth and as clear as ice. “You just have to go for it,” Sofia tells me, when she turns around waist-deep and catches me, hesitating, as the feeling begins to drain from beneath my knees. “It won’t feel cold after the first thirty seconds.” She is lying, and I know that she is lying, but I would rather plunge face first into this breath-stealing water than retreat and I can’t stand like a tit until she has finished swimming so I duck my shoulders and go in after her, shrieking and laughing and oh – so cold! I thought that I was a decent swimmer but the temperature saps my strength; after a few minutes my arms and my legs feel as though they have weights attached and so I float onto my back and gaze up at that unbelievable sky and I cannot believe, I cannot believe, that we live here.
The house smells like sugar and cinnamon; I baked breakfast before I left, to assuage my guilt for choosing to swim without them. Still, they gaze reproachfully at my dripping hair, they take my hands and ask me to please take them to the sea. And joy tightens the back of my throat as I agree, because now that we live a short walk from the water we can do that, we can visit the seaside twice in a day if we would like. When I kiss their heads, I breathe in sun cream. We feel reborn; we watch them expand, as though to fill their new space, and we wonder whether they had intentionally kept themselves small when they were five children in a three-bedroom house.
We are embracing our love affair with seaside life. We watch Moana and The Little Mermaid, and we walk down to the water whenever we are able – gathering seaglass and shells in our buckets as we meander across the shore. The children have adopted me for their own seaside donkey; on all fours I trudge into the water until froth splashes up my nose, and they sit on my back and squeal and laugh. Little Embla surprises me; she tells everybody she meets about the time, back in January, that she fell in the water but whenever we return to the beach she takes my hand in her small one and asks to go back in, trembling with cold but her eyes bright and shining. The boys dare the waves, hurling in stones, chasing the sea, and she follows them, her face is pure euphoria when they laugh. Olympia finds the water ‘too wet’ but she is happy with her treasures, she likes to collect. We find pebbles from the beach tucked in her palms long after she has fallen asleep.
We have a routine. Saturday mornings mean a walk to the Harbour Arm, for bread. By the time that we arrive the children are beside themselves with excitement, dancing in their line of paperchain children, holding hands, taking in great gulps of air that smells doughy and slightly burnt. We buy sourdough for lunches and, because they can never bear to wait that long, a baguette for the way back; we sit on the beach and I watch them chew, meditatively, the wind playing games through their hair.
The walk home takes us past Steep Street, the coffee shop with a selection of vegan cake and chalkable tables, where my children take up space beside quiet women with laptops, friends chatting softly, dogs curled beneath tables. We walk past Moo Like a Monkey; we love Moo especially because the children are welcome to go in and play without pressure to buy, though we often emerge clutching a paper bag with another, precious book. With every art gallery we pass, the children press their faces against the windows; “You could do that,” I say, “you could be artists, and sell your work”. We resolve to break out the crayons and pens when we get home, to cover the dining room table and draw. At the top of the Old High Street there is a slide; the children whoosh at breakneck speeds to the bottom and then chase each other the hill, laughing, whilst I sip my coffee.
At Country Fayre, we stop for home-made ice lollies; £1 each. The man behind the counter offers extra napkins, nonetheless by the time that the wooden sticks are licked clean, their sleeves drip and their hands are sticky. People sometimes ask why we don’t sell their secondhand clothes, but my children aren’t the sort to keep their clothing clean. Just before we cross the road, we stop at the secondhand toy shop. We don’t go in every time, but when they have a little money to spend this is usually our first port of call; for a pound or so they can take home a small bag of plastic figurines and this delights them for hours.
The house itself still looks exactly the same as it did when we moved in to it, albeit a little dustier. In spite of our best intentions we haven’t redecorated the children’s bedrooms in time for the start of school. In fact, the move itself cost more than we had budgeted and whilst we’re comfortable, financially, we don’t have the money to decorate their rooms right now. They don’t seem to mind, but there is a part of me that feels a little ashamed; that worries that people will find us negligent or uncaring, or that we should put it on a credit card. And we could, I suppose, but the idea makes me nervous. I’d like to focus on meeting our new financial commitments for a few months before adding any more to the list. Deep breaths and we will get there. A project for autumn; for rainy days whilst the children colour and build and play downstairs.
We are excited to see what the changing season will bring.