It’s been such a long time since an old lady had a go at me in public for my terrible parenting. I was beginning to think I had this gig objectively nailed, but that, alas, was not to be the case. On Monday, the newly arrived-from-Auckland-via-Hong-Kong Otis and I went out to Waitrose to buy some stuff. He didn’t want to wear a jacket, and I said:
“You have to wear a jacket or you can’t come”
and he said:
“No. I won’t”
and just like that I relented because WHO CARES and you’ll never learn anything if your mother shields you from atmospheric conditions by insisting on weather-appropriate clothing all the time. And if you can’t don a long-sleeved t-shirt and jeans for a five minute walk up the road after a 30 hourish-long flight, then what do you really have in this world? You have nothing, is what. So he and I wandered up with the dog and the baby hanging off me in a sling and we went inside to buy whipped cream from a can because Otis said that was the only thing he felt like eating, and, although it wasn’t my usual choice of lunchtime food for an offspring, I went with it.
After we came out, me laden with two big heavy bags of shopping (not all whipped cream cans, mind) and with the big sling-bound baby which is convenient but eventually feels like your shoulders are breaking, I went to the bike racks to untie the dog. As I did, the bags beside me, the dog’s lead lying on the pissy ground, the baby straining his head back to get a better view and nearly falling out from the effort and the gravity and Otis beside me in his long sleeved shirt, looking quite excited about the whole whipped cream from a can thing, I heard a muttering behind me. I turn and there is an old lady, long hair in a grey braid, small and dressed in that ashram kind of way that you see sometimes, and she is muttering intently and staring at me. I strain to hear (while still trying to untie the dog, keeping the baby from crashing to the ground with one cupped palm and attempting with my feet to keep the bags from spilling out onto the pavement) and I hear her. She is saying:
“…something..something….NEGLECT….something…I should call the police…no child should be outside without a jacket….what kind of mother are you…something, something….shocking…poor boy, so cold…”
And I am a bit over all this by now. Like, quite a bit tired of it. Fairly unwilling to take the criticism on the chin because I am doing my best with only two arms (with scabby eczema hands) and I’d been looking after five kids and the dog with no husband or help for two weeks (and a constant stream of couch visitors, but that’s another story) and I thought I AM DONE.
I looked at her, straightened up and said, quite calmly:
“Lady, what is wrong with you? Why would you say those things to me? Can’t you see I am trying really hard and I am struggling with too much stuff? What’s the problem here? What do you want from me? And SPEAK UP, I can barely hear your nutty observations”
and she looked at me, smirked a little and said:
“Oh, I see! You’re AMERICAN” with what felt like some self-righteous joy to have ousted me not only as a Bad Mother but also from the US of A.
I pretty much ran into her then as I advanced, shoulders aching but squared, shopping bags gripped into my eczema-bleeding hands, baby shoved back into safe bosomy place, dog lead short and tight so he couldn’t trip me up on his way to smell some old dog piss, and I said, quite loudly:
“YES THAT’S RIGHT I’M AN AMERICAN WITH A NEW ZEALAND ACCENT” and I rolled my eyes in a very theatrical way and she hurried to the other side of the corner to get away from the big angry lady with a dog and baby and cold son and lots of cans of whipped cream.
It wasn’t my greatest comeback. I know that the poor old lady might have some sort of dementia or maybe she has just gotten to that age where, as a woman – when you’ve been serving everybody and getting them cups of tea for 50 years and you’ve had enough of wiping the toilet seat for specks/streams of wee every time you go and no one has thought to clear the table after dinner ever and the whole family suspect you do nothing all day but when you’ve run out of cereal or forgotten to put lunch money into their biometric account they get furious – well, maybe she decided not to shut up any more. Maybe she decided that being accommodating all your life is a bit shit and the alternative is enormously liberating?
Even so. Otis was fine, because a little bit of cold won’t kill you, and READ THE ROOM, lady. I needed help, not a whispered lecture and a very bad unprompted interpretation of my accent. AM I RITE?
Now, here is a lovely thing, because the world is full of lovely things as well as mean old ladies. Barnaby made Remi a cardboard car and then he made him a cardboard house. (In viewing the video, please don’t be alarmed at all the stuff in my hallway. Eight people, two rooms, a dog – and one of us is a hoarder. It’s not all Bafta screenings and trips to Soho House, you know):
House construction underway:
Happy baby moves in:
Likes his north-facing view:
Here are Ned and Barnaby at the Tate. Guess what one of them drew on the walls?
And here is me, in one of my awful attempts at bathroom selfies. I only include this because I am wearing a secondhand Chanel jacket from my beloved eBay. It’s very very very 80’s with the definite musty whiff of a long time in storage and puffy shoulders but it has lion’s head buttons and racing stripes. I think I love it but I can never be sure. I would canvas for opinions but I don’t take well to hearing other people’s, so let’s just go with it being awesome and challenging-in-a-good-way, shall we?