I close my eyes and enjoy the sun on my face (which is probably slowly turning lobster red by now). The cold beer in my hand provides a delightful contrast. The thought of that perfectly chilled Desperado and lime filling up my mouth makes me enjoy it even before it actually touches my lips. It has been forever since I’ve done this. Not the beer and sun thing, but the closing my eyes part. Even blinking is something I have to do calculated and fast most of the time. Ninjablinking. Seriously, you wouldn’t believe the distance a toddler is able to cross in the blink of an eye. Literally. When we are at home I can get away with ‘listening’ to what he is doing. But when we are out and about I have to have my eyes on the price at all times. Making sure he doesn’t run off chasing some unknown toddler of the opposite sex to the other side of the country (you can never start too early I suppose). It’s either that, or he is climbing a huge rock, thinking he’s Spiderman. All jokes aside though, I think my son might be Spiderman.

But today is a toddler free day. I have the whole day to myself. And it feels soooooo good. No worries, I still love my son to bits, but I also still love my friends. They too deserve my undivided attention every now and then. And that is why today I am here in the sun with a beer in my hand (the sacrifices I make), at my favourite bar in Berchem. De Wattman. I used to work just around the corner and come here quite often. A lunch break with colleagues, or a dinner with a friend. Good times. They sometimes feel like they’re from another lifetime. Before moving to the other side of the ocean, before motherhood. Friendships used to be easier back then. They used to be just a “what are you doing tonight” text message away. Now everything involves a bit more ‘planning’. Which I still try to avoid because I just think life is so much more fun when decided in the moment. So to honour those days that I thought I was “wild and free” (even if it was all just in my head) I decided to spend my ‘free’ day with friends. This morning I went to Mechelen to have lunch with my cousin and finally visit her amazing Winebar “Unwined”. Seriously if you’re ever in Mechelen, I highly recommend it. The gorgeous tiny blond woman running the show is my cousin (she said proudly). We hadn’t really talked in years and had a lot of catching up to do. But you always have a few people in your life with whom it always feels like you just talked the other day, even if it’s been forever. She’s one of those, so catching up was easy and uncomplicated. It also made me realise how much I got stuck in that motherhood bubble, not knowing what was going on outside. Missing out and being missed. At the same time that bubble showed me which friends were there to stick around regardless. And it’s for one of those friends that I traveled this way. My BLF (best long-distance friend). We both used to live somewhere around here and then both moved to another country. I moved to London, she moved to New York. She moved back here not too long ago, but I don’t think she really spends that much time here. A proper globetrotter this girl. And with proper I mean backpacking through Asia kind of trotting.

She parks her bike under the bridge across the street. I can see her insecurely scanning the tables, searching for me. I put my hand up and wave. A bit too enthusiastically I realise when people around me suddenly turn their heads. I wanted to scream as well, but decide to spare her that embarrassment. Instead I give her a big hug and tell her how absolutely gorgeous she looks again. Which she always does. I often refer to her as “my photo model friend”. Not the mainstream kind of beauty, but the kind that you ‘own’. And she absolutely owns it. Besides being pretty she’s also an amazing person and friend. We don’t manage to meet in person often enough, but we always stay in touch. Even when we’re travelling the world. And even though I haven’t always been able to be there for her when she needed me, she never judged me for it. She always supported me in my choice to move to London and my choice to be a dedicated mom.

Three years after moving to London and two years after becoming a mom I’ve lost quite a few good friendships. Of course I also met a lot of new people that have become an irreplaceable addition to our lives in this new country. But I find it hard to build up strong friendships. I could blame it on the fact that I find it hard to make proper time for friends. But in the end it’s a choice. I chose to move away from my family and friends, and I chose to put being a mom first at all times. We don’t have any family living close by (or in the same country) who can help take care of our little man and give us a break every now and then. And I’m also not a big fan of leaving him with friends or a babysitter for more then a few hours just yet. So instead we try to take him with us wherever we go. It has the advantage that we now have a child that adapts to new places and people quite easily. But that of course means that even though I’m trying to be part of a conversation, it never has my undivided attention. There will always be the occasional “excuse me I have to go and get that knife from my son’s hands” interruptions. So my dear friend “I am sorry”.

I’m sorry I wasn’t there when you were feeling a bit lost, I truly am. But I’m not sorry that instead I was there to help my son find his place in this to him completely new world. I’m sorry I wasn’t there to make you smile with one of my badly placed jokes, but I’m not sorry I was there to share his giggles and laughs. I’m sorry I was an absent shoulder to cry on, but I’m not sorry I was there to dry his tears over and over again. I’m sorry I wasn’t there to support you when you were disappointed, but I’m not sorry I was there to teach him to overcome disappointment. I am sorry, I really am. I know I missed out on a lot of things. But I hope you understand and I hope you’ll be patient with me while I try to find my balance between being a good mom and being a good friend.

And to those friends (new and old) who are still around, thank you, you will be generously rewarded in due time.