Being a parent is a curious thing. Curious in the way that you move the wheelie bin and something strange and slimy is hiding there, and you pick up a stick to poke it, because you are curious… just perhaps not curious enough to actually touch it.
One of the most curious things about being a parent is the gradual erosion of your own identity. My borders are constantly dissolving, grain by grain, into my children. I am a large soluble paracetamol, gently fizzing away in a glass of children. Except I am more likely to cause a headache, rather than relieve one. And I don’t come out of a box. Nor can you buy me from a chemist. Apart from that, it’s a bang-on metaphor.
Where once there were dinner parties (I know, get me, we used cutlery and everything) there are children’s parties in soft play centres, where my lunch consists of the crusts of slightly dry cheese sandwich and half a carrot stick, or whatever else my son has deigned to see fit not to consume. I seem to have swapped my social life for my children’s, to the extent that now their parties are my social life. I talk to other parents: about kids, or schools, or places to go to exhaust kids sufficiently that they will sleep, or a number of other conversational topics that are me, but not-me.
I was not often without a book on the go before kids. This has not changed. In fact, I have more on the go now. It’s just that now, they are Matilda, That’s not my Tractor (so stop fucking touching it) and Billy Bean’s Dream. Which in and themselves are not all bad, particularly Matilda, as Dahl rocks a good insult (I am so going for ‘you empty-headed hamster’ next time someone pisses me off), but plots can generally leave a little to be desired and character development is often a little overlooked.
And apparently, your first name is made redundant the moment you become a parent. Staff at nursery call me “mum” in conversation. E’s friends call me “E’s mummy.” The GP calls up and asks for “E’s mother.” (They never call up for me: I rarely bother calling them with my ailments. I call on more or less a weekly basis to enquire after the seriousness of gunky eyes, red rashes, raspy lungs and toe splinters on behalf of my children, I cannot bear to call them again with a trifling matter such as my tibia is sticking out of my leg. Okay, I am not that stoical, I may call them for that one). Conversations at home involve other parents not being called by their proper name, and any vain attempts to do otherwise are pointless:
“I saw Karen today.”
“Karen. You know, you met her on the High Street.”
“No I didn’t”
“Yes you did. Joe’s mummy.”
“Oh, yes, Joe’s mummy. I know her. Why didn’t you say that in the first place?”
“I don’t know, maybe because I was trying to stop every parent being defined purely by their offspring and reclaiming their right to a first name.”
“Alright, mummy, keep your hair on.”
I am not me: I am defined in relation only to my offspring. I refer to my husband as ‘daddy’ when we are en famille, a habit I never consciously started and now can’t stop. It’s got so bad that I found myself calling M ‘daddy’ when the kids weren’t even around, and neither of us thought it at all strange. Which it most definitely is in my book, which is a thick volume entitled ‘Things I will never do when I become a parent’. The entry about never calling my spouse daddy is right there, alongside never sniffing your baby’s arse to see if they’ve had a poo and never bribing your kids into good behaviour. Yeah right.
And if I ever labour under the illusion that I am my own person, the fact that I am used as a human climbing frame / adventure playground / mode of transportation puts paid to that. If I am not heaving my one year old around, I am sitting on the floor with him pulling at my clothes to aid his standing, or he is barrelling across my lap as crawling round my legs get to the other side obviously seems like far too much effort. Or it’s E, hanging off my arm, or pushing me from behind, or asking for a piggy back, or rolling on top of me when he comes into the bedroom in the morning. I have no concept of personal space. These days, when travelling on the tube without the kids, it takes all my will power to resist asking anyone if they want to sit on my lap, so used I am to having someone squashing my thighs or rubbing the back of their head into my face.
Even the most personal of activities is no longer a solo gig. Even when I am on the loo, me time is out of the question. In they wander, the eldest looking for a chat, or to just see what is happening, the youngest to try and get his hand in the toilet or to pull at my knickers. Now, I know some people think having a shit should be a social activity. I have seen bathrooms kitted out with a pair of toilets, side by side, so the shitees (I may have just made that word up) can have a nice chat, or play chess, or play Top Trump Turds, or whatever the hell it is they do when engaged in simulshitting (ditto) but that, alas, is not for me. I have always enjoyed the solitude of a bathroom, which has only been heightened now I lock the door and put an immovable rectangle of wood between me and the kids. But even then, there is something curiously off-putting about someone rattling the door handle for the entire time you are in there. I find it takes the edge off the relaxation.
It seems that there are no corners of my life safe from the creeping osmosis of children into my identity. Even when they are not with me, my brain has been sufficiently occupied that I am still consumed by my role as parent. I went to the theatre a few months ago without the kids, in a rare grown-up outing, and loud music suddenly started. Half of my brain went into panic mode and I looked round to see if the boys were alright, as I know E is not a fan of anything louder than a fairy’s sigh. At a meeting, someone had a small crumb on their face. I actually put my hand in my pocket to find a tissue before I realised that it probably wasn’t that socially acceptable to wipe the face of a man you had met just five minutes previously with a spittle-dampened tissue. Quite an ice breaker though. In some social circles, I am sure it passes as a chat-up line, but for me, it was the sad realisation that conversion to Mum was almost complete.
Once there was Me, defined by my personality, my life, my job. Now there is Me.2. Now on the face of it, this is definitely a software upgrade. But with any upgrade, it does cause much consternation at times, it can be more than a little baffling, it’s cost you a whole heap of money, you can stare for ages and still not know what the fuck is going on and sometimes it can cause the whole system to freeze. And I have the very occasional urge to press Ctl, Alt, Delete. ..