The Stephen Fry of the playground

I’ll admit it. Young children bore me. Up until they reach the age of about seven, I couldn’t be less fascinated by what they have to say. The_Thinker_Rodin-2

They undoubtedly feel the same way about me though, so I don’t feel too guilty about the admission.

(I refer to my child here, by the way. Yours might be the Stephen Fry of the playground, in which case I’d love to buy them a latte and have a chat.)

But is a five-year-old child capable of introspection?

Last night mine interrupted Masterchef to tell me she was going to the bathroom in order to have a think about Daddy.

“About who?” I asked, distracted by the pannecotta on the screen which looked indisputably like a breast with a huge nipple. (Greg’s grin when he saw it suggested he thought so too.)

“About our Daddy, what died,” she replied.

Off she tootled to the john and shut the door behind her.

She was in there a long while. After Greg had sampled the breast (predictably, he LAHVVED it), I knocked and opened the door.

“Get out!” she barked. “I want to be on my own so I can think.”

When she came out I asked her what she’d been contemplating.

“I was thinking about when Daddy died,” she replied.

“Oh. And did you feel happy when you thought about Daddy, or sad?”

“I felt happy and sad.”

Like Dianne Weist in Parenthood trying desperately to connect with her surly hormonal son, I found myself saying;

“I’m here if you want to talk. Or if not, talk to Mrs X at school. Or perhaps Mrs Y. Or Grandma! Or Aunt!”

She nodded at me like I was deranged, then asked for an Oreo.

Finally I find myself genuinely interested in something she has to say, but unlike her views on Barbie and the Secret Kingdom, she is suddenly unwilling to share.

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Left Central Incisor: A Lament

Today I am in mourning.imagesCA951OM4

For a tooth.

My daughter’s left central incisor, to be precise; in the space of a few more wobbles, it will be the first to succumb to the Tooth Fairy. (Who now charges upwards of a pound for collection BTW. A pound! In my day etc, etc).

As the mother of an only child this is a new experience for me, but I imagine the departure of a first baby tooth is a milestone for most parents. But this loss signifies more than just a quid from my wallet.

Mark and I heralded the arrival of each and every one of those baby teeth with the zeal of Percy Thrower and his first runner bean shoots.

“Come and feel this!” I’d shout, forefinger jammed between the poor bairn’s drooling jaws. “What do you reckon? Tooth… or bit of biscuit?”

We watched as she went from gummy, gurning toddler to a little girl with a full set of perfect, Haribo-chewing gnashers.

The smile she has now is the same one He knew, the teeth the same ones He helped nurture and clean. But not for much longer.  For incisor will follow incisor, canine will follow canine, and before long she’ll have a new set of tombstones which will completely transform her face.

The loss of this incisor signifies that she is growing up. And with tragic, wearying inevitability, He is missing it.

 

 

Following behind with a defibrillator

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The auburn curls.

Everyone believes their spouse to be exceptional; as a lover, perhaps, or a parent. Or a bore.

My husband was exceptional in many ways, right down to the exceptional nature of the genetic affliction which eventually saw Him crashing out of life in an exceptional manner one unexceptional Saturday in February.

Genetic science has not evolved enough yet to understand why Mark’s aortic dissection happened in the first place. They’re saving His remaining DNA for a point in the future when somebody in a lab coat and big glasses is able to work it out. (The geneticist did explain it all to me, but my brain reacted as it always does when confronted with science – implement the shut-off valve and begin thinking about wine.)

The fear now is whether my daughter may have inherited whatever rogue element was to blame for her daddy’s death.

Most of the time, I am able keep my fears in check. I watch her running full pelt down the road and manage to stop myself from following behind with a defibrillator, ‘just in case’.

Yesterday though I had a moment of tear-filled panic. I was brushing her hair and noticed a couple of depigmented strands in amongst the auburn curls. Three or four white hairs, like lengths of cotton. I admit that I am apt to overact, but hear me out on this.

Mark too suffered from hair depigmentation – it ran in a line, starting in the hair on His head, down through an eyebrow, the wiry hairs of one nostril, on through His beard and into His chest hair. Use your imagination for the rest.

After His aortic dissection, the geneticist suggested this depigmentation might be significant in why it happened. A tenuous connection to the Neural Crest Mosaic, which links the cells responsible for the development of pigmentation and the aorta in a growing foetus. Or something equally baffling to a simpleton like me. It sounded convincing at the time though.

So yesterday, I found myself plucking the offending strands from my daughter’s head, examining them in the sunlight, placing them against my black jeans, mentally preparing a frenzied email to Mark’s geneticist.

My daughter is exceptional – to me, at least – but I hope to Christ this is one area she remains run-of-the-mill.

The Dirty Protester

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That’s him – the dirty protester.

The dog staged a dirty protest yesterday, all over my good rug.

Furthermore, I stepped in it, thus trailing shit and its offensive effluvium throughout the rest of the house.

And of course he had to choose that afternoon to defecate indoors; the afternoon that I had invited  a crowd of mummies and their kids to come back to ours to make cookies. My one attempt to prove that I am a fun, interactive and creative parent, scuppered by a dog turd.

He knew he’d done a naughty. He looked at me from beneath his eyebrows, awaiting my reaction.

“Bad dog, Brucie!” I said, scrubbing at the rug as a row of repulsed mummies considered how they might politely tell me they no longer wished their children to make cookies in this shit-smeared midden.

But I forgave the perpetrator almost instantly.

Thing is, we have developed an understanding, he and I. We spend pretty much all of our time together. He was pissed off because I’d been out on a rare shopping day without him. His tiny brain had clearly been working overtime to come up with the worst possible offence in order to serve me right.

Since Mark died, Brucie has been a bed mate, a couch-cuddler, a sounding board, a reason to get out and walk for a mile each morning.

And the other day he showed me an act of compassion which proved he is capable of offering comfort too.

Caught out by an unexpected jag of grief, I found myself crumpled on the floor of my bedroom, howling in pain for my lost love.

The dog flattened himself down on the carpet nearby and watched. He continued his vigil for a couple of minutes, then something compelled him to intervene. He approached me and placed a paw on each of my shoulders. He then licked my eyes and nuzzled his head into my neck. I pulled him closer and we held each other until the moment passed.

He was probably only after a dog biscuit, (in which case – RESULT BRUCE!),  but the gesture merits my forgiveness for the dirty protest all the same.

Supermarket Sweep in the wine section

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Mark and his daughter

When I was eighteen I took my first boyfriend home for the University holidays. He was American and probably wanted the cultural experience of a north-east outpost for his scrapbook. Besides, he had nowhere else to spend the six month break.

On arrival at my Dad’s, we awkwardly took our bags upstairs and paused on the landing. The cold side of the corridor beckoned for the boyfriend. The pillows in the room next to Dad’s were plumped for me.

I shouted down, “Where are we sleeping?”

“I don’t want to know,” came the response from deep within a newspaper.

I have reflected on this many times since, especially now I have become a parent myself.

Dad must have been munching on his knuckles at the thought of his youngest daughter arriving with her goatee-bearded Yankee lover, but his reaction was worthy of the Modern Parent Award for all-round coolness. The Yank tucked his pyjamas under the plumped pillow next to mine, scarcely believing his luck.

Of all the aspects of Mark’s death which saddens me the most – and picking just one is like playing Supermarket Sweep in the wine section – the relationship He has been robbed of with our daughter is the one which gets me the hardest. And, of course, the relationship she will never have with Him.

For aside from the piggy-backs and tummy-tickles of childhood, He will not be there to guide her, faux-coolly, through the muddle of first boyfriends and other miniature disasters as she grows.

Moreover, the conundrums of liberal Modern Parenthood will be mine alone to mull over.

Ehem. Where’s that newspaper?

Next weekend – it could be you!

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We Were Fam-i-ly

Weekends to widows are what weddings are to singletons.

But rather than trying to pair you off with the perennially single ‘old friend’, in widowhood everyone looks at you sidelong, hardly daring to ask how you’re going to fill that huge 48 hour void until work-time comes around again and they can stop feeling awkward about the fact that they’ve got heaps of fun stuff planned with their family.

This weekend I was mainly alone with my daughter. Unfortunately my mother (my weekday partner) has a life of her own, and sent me a text from somewhere on the Northumbrian coast to say she wouldn’t be home until tea-time on Sunday.

“Cool!” I replied. “Enjoy!”

The void loomed. I tried to convince myself that it didn’t.

Hey, LOADS of parents are alone with their kids this weekend, it’s not just me! But the evidence suggested otherwise. Everywhere I went, kids with parents. Two of ’em, scurrying round after their progeny with ‘We Are Fam-i-ly’ as a backing track .

On Saturday, I tried to be a ‘good’ parent. I took us for a day out. We got accosted by nature do-gooders and I wound up with a membership to the Wildlife Trust.

Can I be honest here? The reason I did it was not for my love of squirrels, but because the kindly old man showed an interest in us and was nice to my daughter. He showed her a blackbird’s nest and woodpecker feathers. He was a grown, adult male and had engaged me in conversation.

“Family membership is it?” he asked, pen poised over the ‘family’ tick-box.

“No. Just me and her.”

I kept the poor bastard chatting for twenty five minutes, and we were possibly the most grateful new recruits the guy had ever had.

Then came the evening. My daughter and I ate our meal. We went to bed, together, at 11 pm. She high on Toy Story, me low on booze.

And then … Sunday. With Mother not back ’til teatime, how would the day take shape? Friends stopped by. They asked me (sidelong) how I was planning to fill the day.

“My sister has asked us to go to the park!” I replied, gleefully.

Don’t worry, I wanted to say. I know this is awkward for you. But someone else has taken up the slack this time.

But next weekend, look out – it could be you!

We’re (not) going on a Summer holiday…

English: Victorian postbox Second one seen tod...

English: Victorian postbox Second one seen today, on a pebble-dashed wall in Upper Chapel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everyone I know is either a) on holiday or b) going on holiday shortly.

It’s the school summer break, see. And the law states that families must ‘vacate’ in some shape or form during this period.

My line is: “I don’t like holidays. I’m frightened of flying, so I’d rather stay at home.” And I’m sticking to it.

(The truth is, I’ve got no-one to go away with, even if I wanted to. Which I don’t, right, because I don’t like holidays and I’m frightened of flying, so I’d rather stay at home. Who wants an Italian piazza when you’ve got a row of pebble-dashed houses to look out onto whilst drinking your vino tinto?)

I probably sound ungrateful. Lots of people don’t have a chance to go on holiday, even if they have a spouse to go with. But the fact is, I don’t give a shit. I’m full of red wine and self-pity tonight, and this blog is GETTING IT.

I don’t want to go to Corfu with a friend. I don’t want to ‘do’ a Haven holiday in Whitby. I want to be doing anything, literally, anything, with my husband and my daughter. Even looking out on a row of pebble-dashed houses together would be peachy-keen.

The ‘holidays’ stretch out before me; a flabby surplus of time. Friends and family are fucking off to have fun with the people they love most in the world. They’re packing suitcases, ulcerating over whether they have enough swimming attire, running to Primark in a panic to get their last-minute lounger-wear.

Me? I’m happy to stay at home, because did I mention that I don’t like holidays and I don’t like flying?

I also love pebble-dash.