An ex-lover asked me the other day what it was like having children. It’s so tempting to screw with people before they become parents–just mentioning ripped perineum or baggy labia can put them off for years. I managed to contain myself.
“I never knew I could feel such extreme love AND irritation,” I told him.
That’s parenting to me. I’ll come home from work at 6.30pm, desperate to see Bob and the ‘Dactyl and hear all about their day and read stories and snuggle on the couch and sniff their ever-so-sniffable heads, yet by 7.30pm at teeth brushing time, he’s yelling she kicked him in the butt and she’s yelling he called her a snothead and I’m yelling at both of them to GIVE EACH OTHER SOME SPACE and I wonder how long until bed time.
The brutal part I admitted, is how they highlight inadequacies.
Every morning–as long as I haven’t drunk too much wine the night before–I like to get up early and sneak out for a walk. This is apparently one of 22 signs of middle age, but it’s my time to clear my head, have some peace. Down at the beach I throw my big hairy dreams and doubts into the surf and come back feeling happy. Alive. I’m up for anything. Breakfast tastes amazing. Nothing’s a burden.
If I don’t get out then I spend the day plotting how to which drives me, and the Dimple, nuts. It’s not a cherished trait but there it is, my bossy little truth.
Interviewing another awesome ex-bulimic this month, we talked about our respective obsessive-compulsive tendencies. “I warned my boyfriend I’m like a dog,” she told me, “I have to be exercised every day or I go mad.”
“Same!” I said. Sometimes I wish we had a dog to hide my compulsion.
Both our chaps have quietly lamented: “Couldn’t you have picked sex?”
A couple of stormy Saturday’s ago Bob wanted to come on my walk. I didn’t like the idea as I wouldn’t be able to jog, which I like to do on the beach. Or meditate, which I like to do if nobody’s looking. Or think about my latest story, which I like to do when I can’t seem to meditate.
From the comfort of bed the Dimple helpfully said, “Great idea, take him.”
Walking down to the beach Bob talked non-stop about what his diamond armour could do. Fucking Minecraft.
Honestly, he only plays it during the weekend (for my friends fortunate enough to not have children or sons, Minecraft is a game) but he thinks about it every single moment. Hitting the beach my body wanted to jog but he wasn’t into it. Then came an emergency poo and we didn’t have time to backtrack towards the toilets so hid behind a large rock. He crouched while I hunted around for some smooth leaves. Waiting for him to finish–it’s never a fast process–my frustration rose. He’s totally cramping my style.
We ascended Lion Rock ever so slowly; a crab could have overtaken us. At the top I tried to sit and be calm but Bob was talking about creepers (Minecraft) and the storm was so fierce I worried about him being blown off. I can never stop being a mother.
Once back on terra firma a pile of washed-up storm foam, white and full of mischief, raced by. Laughing, Bob chased it.
“Get it Mum!”
Stomping hard on the foam was surprisingly satisfying and it sent two smaller piles of froth racing across the black sand. Splitting up we took out one each. Then more and more froth came off the waves and we were hooked, darting about chasing and squashing them.
After thirty minutes I was pooped. Boot camp Bob style was way more fun than jogging.
On the way home he slipped his hand into mine and asked if life was a dream. There it was: his beautiful young mind. My grumpy middle-aged brain forgets to engage with his sometimes. We decided that if life was a dream then death must be when you wake up.
Then he looked skyward, “If that cloud was a tidal wave what you do?”
My heart thumped my chest–for years I had a recurring nightmare that a tsunami was chasing me.
Bob’s got my eyes and pasty skin but he’s also inherited my obsessive-compulsive side. His Minecraft fixation, I’ve realized, annoys me because it reminds me of a weakness I deplore in myself: addiction. Cigarettes, running, red wine, bhuja mix, bikram yoga, beetroot–you name it, I’ve had a fling with it.
My hand gripped his tightly and I wanted to whisper that life is not always dreamy. Sometimes it can feel like a nightmare having to face hard stuff, routine stuff, sad stuff, heartbreak stuff, fear stuff, shame stuff, stink girlfriend stuff, not-getting-that-job-or-gig stuff, and to remember that when it feels scary we always wake up to a new day and getting lost in destructive addictive stuff only numbs the feelings, it doesn’t make them go away and that the only thing to always remember is that he is loved and the most amazing intelligent awesomest kindest boy in the world.
But I said none of that; I don’t want him to inherit my fears too. I told him the only solution I ever come up with for the tidal wave, “Jump on a boogie board, darling.”
The rest of the way home we made up a story about a mother and son who fought creepers in the bottom of a volcano. We came home alive. Happy. Breakfast tasted amazing. Bob didn’t pinch, tease or punch the ‘Dactyl for at least thirty minutes and my heart felt bigger than Lion Rock.
The final thing I told that ex-lover was, “They force you to stop being such a selfish git.”
*This isn’t my line, I heard it on the radio the other day and it instantly made me leaky and I couldn’t wait to get home and hug Bob and tell him I loved him, and when I finally did he said, “Mum, I found an emerald today!!…”(Sigh. Minecraft…)