Before I had my own, I was quite into other people’s kids – entertaining them, playing with them, chasing the mad ricochet of their conversation.
I even had somebody say (it was at a get-together at my mum’s) Do you know you’re unusually good with kids? I did know but feigned polite self-deprecation. Did you ever consider working with children? they continued. So long as I could cherry-pick which ones! I joked, exuding serenity. I followed up with a vague reference to not managing stress well. How little I knew.
I kept it in mind though. Have always, in some way, kept it in mind.
Soon after, my own kids came along. The first was a boy. He was ‘healthily attached’ and acutely introverted. He liked me to read him at least thirty stories a day. He liked to engage me in games on thin but inexhaustible themes – the more repetitive the better. He didn’t like other people’s kids. He didn’t like to walk. He didn’t like football or bikes, labels, rips or crowds. He was quick to anger and reassured by Old Testament justice. He fell apart when other people did not adhere to the rules.
I did my best to protect him from chaos and change, my own bad moods, other people’s kids and the mercurial ways of the human. By and by he grew. Found his groove, discovered his people. He identified activities – even sporty ones – that he actively enjoyed.
The second was a girl. She was wild and joyful with scant regard for her own mortality. She liked me to play ‘crawling baby’ to her ‘bossy gym mum’ or have me sink once more to hands and knees to simulate ‘wayward pup’ to her ‘exasperated owner’. Ideally I would engage with vim and vigour in at least twenty small world scenarios every day. Routine was boring. Rules were for suckers. Did I mention she did not listen to a word I said?
I did my best to protect her from injury (challenging), my own bad moods (impossible, for by now my patience was Rizla thin) and children even more feral than her, lest she may wander yet further astray. But she survived, thrived in fact.
What I’m saying is this: I poured it into them, my love, my patience, my good humour – every liquid ounce. And all the while I leaked out energy, sanity, identity, perhaps, if you’ll allow, my very soul.
And I am replete in my love for them. I am swimming to brimming with kiddy-fix. Set. For. Life.
Now, when I think of other people’s kids my heart deflates like a faulty whoopee cushion. I feel my tiredness billowing out from my heart-space, filling me like sloppy cement.
I still appreciate them, of course: the good ones, the fun ones, the kind and curious ones. Regards the bad ones, like most parents if they’re honest, I observe them, tight-lipped, and consider the corrective measures I would apply in an adoption scenario. From here, I helter-skelter towards the familiar abyss of self-loathing. I scrutinise my own parenting: the general approach, the behavioural management tactics deployed and, naturally, every tiny mistake I’ve ever made.
For this reason, can I politely suggest you ask someone else to look after Orin after school next Tuesday – and not just because he’s a nasty little shit.
Lucy Goldring is a Northerner hiding in South West England. She has been shortlisted by Flash 500, the National Flash Fiction Day (NFFD) and Retreat West and recently won Lunate Fiction’s monthly comp. Lucy was nominated for Best Small Fictions 2020 by both NFFD and 100 Word Story. Tweets @livingallover