School is back! The manacle of school holidays thrown off! I reflect; something about the cessation of the term is always bittersweet, mornings spent in pyjama’d free-fall, with too much TV and a messy house. It’s necessary and well-deserved for all of us, but after over three weeks, I am longing for routine again. I now have two teenagers in the house as my son turned thirteen this month. Hormones run high; theirs as they surge towards adulthood, mine for different reasons. Moods fray. Creative work does not get done. It takes a week or so to reacclimatise once they’ve gone back, and now I am alone in the house once more. Order restored.
Who’d have thought that my life would be so closely linked to term time, even though I am no longer an academic? Who’d have thought – and I texted this sentiment to one of my old university friends just yesterday morning – that our lives would have become interminably busy? I don’t recall this busy-ness being an issue in our twenties and thirties. I was the first of our group of friends to have children; the pioneer, a trail-blazer. I now look at women who are 26, as I was when I had my daughter, and I think: I was a child. Twenty six. It’s no age! Not for this sort of serious shit. Parenthood loomed up with a banner that said ‘it’s not about you (anymore)’ and I spent the best part of seventeen years absorbing that new and all-encompassing fact.
I hear adults talk about their childhoods. I have a particular penchant at the moment for listening to couples counselling on podcast – utterly fascinating, and makes me want to retrain as a psychologist. Oh no, wait, I’ve already retrained once *grimace emoji face*. The last thing any toddler wants is for their parent to tell them his or her problems. Double that for a child, quadruple for a teen. For teenagers, adult problems are just embarrassing and awkward and the last thing on earth they want to deal with. Feelings are the domain of the young. Is it that my contemporaries and I are expected to navigate life without having feelings, as feelings have become treacherous territory? I therefore make a point of asking people ‘how did you feel about that?’ in conversation, in the style of the podcast psychologist, a gentle lilt to my voice, and I find people surprised, wrong-footed; ‘what do you mean how do I feel?‘
The teens and I sit each night and eat dinner, a table set where I am often the only adult. My son plays offensive rap music during the meal and we argue daily about who is going to wash up. They do it. I assert the rules. We discuss injustices and daily events and the need to develop strategies for managing the future. The future feels awash with the great unknown and I wonder if they regard me with interest. I dispense advice and opinion and they look at me clear-eyed, dispassionate. What do they see? A woman who inflicts too many vegetables on them (chickpeas, aubergines, cauliflower and broccoli in one sitting), and wears slogan sweatshirts that she finds ironic, but they don’t understand. Woke up in Paradise. Give a Damn. This Ain’t No Disco.
I smile to myself and feel grateful. Life is good. I get to wander around in the daytime and ponder my writing. I get to browse the web without limit. I get to make plans and make beds. When driving, my son comments that I have a free life and I agree. I explain to him that I have many responsibilities, it’s my job to hold everything together. He nods and says sagely; ‘it’s like you’re in a cage, but you have the key.’
Yes, I say. It’s just like that.