I had a small epiphany this week. Actually, I had two.
I realised that “Questions I have been asked today” is going to be a lovely way to remember very particular moments of the children’s growing up. Writing a new one made me go back and look at the earlier two posts, and reminded me of now outgrown
But I also realised, possibly somewhat late in the day, that my children are people. I love my children. I just sometimes have a problem with people. Or, to be more precise, with lots of people, in large doses, for long periods of time.
If (or when) there was one of those personality-divining quizzes on Facebook when determines which room in a house you most resemble, I would not be a salon, with its overtones of sophistication and civilised intercourse. I wouldn’t be a kitchen, despite all the time I spend in it. Nor, even given my perma-longing for sleep, would I come up as “bedroom”. No; if it worked properly, it would diagnose me as a library. I am happiest engaging with the world in silence. I like quiet, order, peace (and books, obviously).
This is the bit which I didn’t foresee about parenthood. The constant noise. It’s morphed from crying and formless whinging into a steady din of happy nonsense, low-grade squabbling and occasional gale force ten rows. Snatches of songs real and imagined, tuneful and otherwise; humming and chuntering through mouthfuls of food at the table; the volume cranked up to full on any TV or music player within a hundred yards. I didn’t realise that “I can’t hear myself think” is no empty wail; it’s a literal truth that the brain seems to stick in first gear when it’s trying, consciously or otherwise, to process audio-clutter.
No1 got a reflex-testing game for Christmas, and when I tried it the first night, cava intake notwithstanding, I did quite well. I tried it again the next day while the children, wired on chocolate and presents, were around me and I scored zero. I get that there are practicalities involved, but it seems a nonsense that driving on your phone is verboten while driving with a carful of small noise polluters is positively encouraged.
There are times – driving, certainly, but during the school holidays too – when I feel beleaguered by company. Dusting the bookshelves in No1’s room yesterday, I realised that my youngest was sitting on my feet, his big brother leaning against my left side, his sister perched on the desk chair mere inches from my right. All three of them chattering to (or at) me, on three completely different subjects. And despite my gratitude at being able to choose to spend my children’s early years at home with them, despite my genuine love of their presence, I saw it, as I stood there wild-eyed and surrounded, suddenly like a scene from a sub-Hitchcock horror film. The Words.
Shortly after I had No1, my mum told me that when she was at home with us as babies, she had welcomed my dad home from work one night with a ten minute rant on the increase in the price of mushrooms. There are days when my husband comes home and I can’t even rise to that; I just stand in a corner of the kitchen gazing at the wall and mechanically eating crisps, while the inner workings of my ears recalibrate to the quiet. When I imagine heaven, now, I am lying for all eternity on a shaded beach with an endless supply of reading and my children playing happily, in full sight and easy reach, but just out of earshot
I fear, too, that so much time spent almost exclusively with children has started to ruin my capacity for conversation. I try to talk like an adult, but my brain still sends off runners and riders checking for potential pitfalls and hazards and “Oh look, a fire engine!”s. I try to listen like an adult, but I’m smiling and nodding and saying “that’s lovely, darling”, while mentally going through the freezer and deciding what we’ll have for tea. Maybe these long years of being the only adult I see all day (that, and the 140 character limit on Twitter) have permanently changed how my mind works so that I can only operate now on the shiny shallow level of damage limitation and constant distractions.
I’m using whatever is left of my capacity for sustained thought to hang on to one concept, though. That they’ll be teenagers one day and I will long for the times when they saw in me a permanent opportunity to bubble out their secrets and dreams
and general crap. I can’t quite believe it right now, but I will miss these days. And I’ll have The Questions to comfort me in the sulky silence.