I've lived in Merthyr for coming up on 13 years now. Ten in a village on the outskirts, and the last three within spitting distance of the town centre. But it's only been in the last year or so that I've started to feel like I belong here, to feel at home.
It's a weird thing, belonging. And I don't mean it in the sense people use in this town, to say being related to someone. It's something that comes from deep inside. I felt I belonged almost straight away when I lived in Yorkshire, but it's taken me much longer here. I'm quite a private person, and that goes against the Valleys (especially the villages) ethos of everybody knowing everybody's business. I guess maybe if I wasn't shy, I'd've fitted in much faster, because people actually are really welcoming, and knowing every last detail about you is their way of accepting you. But I don't work like that.
That said, Squeaky has helped me. Initially to get out and meet anyone - through ante-natal classes, breastfeeding groups, baby massage, mum & baby groups - PirateGirl's mummy is one of the best friends I could ever ask for, and that's exactly how we met. Then, as Squeaky got older and went to nursery & I went to work, I got to know more people, in work, through work, and through the nursery (in fact, there's a former Welsh rugby international with a child at Squeaky's former nursery, that was quite a surprise!), both parents, carers and colleagues. Bizarrely, when I first started in my job, I knew 4 people in the office, directly through taking the young Squeaky to baby groups. My icebreaking introduction was that half the office had seen my boobs and I wasn't even drunk. But enough said about that.
Fast forward to today. After 13 years, I've started to discover that I know people. I go to Zumba twice a week (let's not mention those days when I don't, childcare can be a pain sometimes), and I've recently joined a line dancing class. Squeaky goes to swimming, gymnastics and dancing lessons. And of course, there's school and work.
I discovered a little while ago that the receptionist at my dentist goes to my Zumba class. Then I learned she was the sister of someone I work with. One of the swimming mums (and a former mums & babies mum) goes to line dancing. My next door neighbour's son works with a former colleague in her new job. My other neighbour's son is in Squeaky's year at school. My boss's son was in Squeaky's swimming class last term. And the list goes on.
It seems that wherever I choose to go, someone knows me, or knows someone who knows me. In the village, I would have found this suffocating. But having been here longer now, and living in the kind of street where people keep themselves pretty much to themselves (curtain twitching aside!), it's almost comforting. I'm beginning to feel that I should know people, that actually, yeah, I do belong here.
I might not speak a word of Welsh aside from cwtch, but I've as much right to be here as the next person. It's not about how long you've been here, but what you've made of your home. And this IS my home, it's Squeaky's home, and I'm only now starting to realise it and recognise it for what it is.