In general I am not a fan of the idea that you can only understand something if you have personally experienced it. Always seems like cliquey unimaginative nonsense to me. But, there is something that I think you can only understand if you are a parent. And that is the way that you would simultaneously happily die on behalf on your adored child, but are also ready to die WITH GRATITUDE if someone trustworthy is willing to take them away for a bit.
All week long I have been giddily boasting that the small dude will be spending a few days in Cornwall with his Grandparents. I have been jumping up and down with excitement. ‘Child free,’ I’ve been shouting whilst waving my arms in the air, ‘Child free.’ Parents look at me with molten envy dripping from their eyes. Non-parents smile weakly, ‘That’s nice,’ they say and shuffle off thinking that I’m either insane or a bad mother (or both.)
We both went to the pub on Friday night with work chaps and could both lie in on Saturday morning. We only got up when we were hungry and decided to go out somewhere where they would be no children. We thought we’d remember what it feels like to not be in thrall to a tiny person.
We wandered down into Chiswick.
‘Let’s go to Cote,’ I said. I’ve been there for lunch before but E hasn’t and I couldn’t imagine there would be children there. I was wrong. The place full was full of kids. I backed out, dragging E with me.
‘This is no good,’ I hissed, ‘The place is full of kids. It’s packed with kids. There are kids everywhere. Let’s get out of here.’
A woman on her way in with a buggy gave me a dirty look.
‘Nooooo,’ I wanted to shout, ‘I don’t mean it. Not all the time. Only this weekend. Usually we go to Giraffe because they have crayons and balloons…’
So, we’ve been boozing, lying in, going out after dark. The other thing I’ve been doing is reading.
As I fessed up in my last post, I read a lot when I should probably be doing other things. I am an expert at grabbing a few pages here and there, a couple of chapters on the tube, audio books for driving and domestic chores. I’ll have one book by the bath, another in my bag and a few on my bedside table. I read quickly, I skim, if I like something I’ll read it again.
What I used to do a lot and rarely manage now is to read a whole book in one go. The small dude usually need some type of servicing that means the book has to be put down for a while.
Ha ha, not today.
I read the whole of the new Lee Child in the bath this morning. The Affair is a prequel and tells the story of how that magnificent loner Jack Reacher left the army. It is a total page turner and I just kept going, even managing to turn on the tap for my top ups with my big toe. Murders, corruption, a fair bit of sex and violence, I rattled through it at high speed.
Then, very clean but rather hungry I dried off and dressed. E brought me a bacon and egg sandwich which he went out for – we aren’t doing anything dull like grocery shopping this weekend – and I settled down on the sofa with The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. Oh, the heartbreak. I nearly drowned in my own tears. It starts off with a sort of numb intensity that I really respond to in damaged first person narrators. Victoria is 18 and about to ‘emancipate’ which means leave the care home where she has lived for most of her life. The story unfolds in alternate chapters, one stand looking back to when she lived with Elizabeth when she was ten and the other strand following her attempts to live in the outside world and to come to terms with her past. I worried at one point that I was going to find it too distressing and it does have its bleak moments but it is ultimately uplifting as Victoria finds a way to live.
I do think one of the saddest things in the world is to imagine what it is like for a child to live without love, the terrible psychological consequences of a child living without love.
My small dude has no worries on that score. He is being very well-loved down in Cornwall. And well-missed here. The other thing that I think only a parent could get is that I am simultaneously delighted to have my feet up buggering about reading and writing about books and also missing him madly. Every so often I wander into his bedroom for a little mope…I might read my next book lying in his bed and cuddling some of his toys. Soppy.