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6 May 2008

The joys of parenthood

The wages are terrible, the job is 24/7 and you're contracted in for a minimum of, ooh, 18 years...

By Richard Herring

Parents should get much more credit than they do. The problem with having children is that it is a twenty-four hour job, seven days a week for (at least) eighteen years and the wages are terrible. You have to pay for the privilege.

Oh, of course, you get the joy of seeing the course of a new young life and the triumphs and disasters that will ensue. But when you’re tired and pissed off and have just done your weekly shop and have been queuing in Sainsbury’s for ten minutes, it must be difficult to remember why you wanted to be responsible for another human life in the first place. Not just another human. A really stupid human who doesn’t know anything and can’t do anything for themselves. What were you thinking?

This is the vibe that I got off the exasperated woman in front of me at the supermarket today. She was frazzled and weary, but was accompanied by her alert and curious (maybe) eight year old daughter. Now this girl was very sweet and was well behaved, not making trouble in the slightest, but even so her mum was getting to the end of her tether.

The girl spotted a magazine with Courteney Cox Arquette on the cover. “Mummy,” said the girl, pointing at the picture, but the woman pretended not to hear. “Mummy,” she said a bit louder. But Mummy was trying to unload her trolley and again feigned deafness. “Mummy,” insisted the girl, quite politely, “It’s the lady out of Friends.”

“Mmmmm,” agreed her mother, feebly pretending to be interested. Although the girl was satisfied with this, it was quite clear to the casual observer that the mother’s “Mmmmm,” was quite clearly intended as a sarcastic “Oh, is it really? I would never have recognised her if you hadn’t pointed it out. How incredibly bloody interesting.”

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It’s a shame that as parents we’re not allowed just to say that sort of thing occasionally. But no, we have to nurture and reward, so a half-hearted “Mmmmm” which might mean “well done”, but could mean “sod off” is a much better option.

The mum just wanted to get her shopping checked through and get out the supermarket, so she could get home and make her family dinner, then get the kids to bed and maybe get half an hour to herself before falling into an exhausted sleep, but her child needed stimulation. Shopping is boring. She’d got that right.
She was investigating the empty till next to her and found an advertisement competition scratch card that had fallen out of a magazine. You know, one of the ones that always wins, but you have to ring up and spend £5 to discover you haven’t got the £25,000, but instead have a voucher entitling you a trifling sum off the price off a holiday that you don’t want.

“Aren’t I clever, mum?” opined the girl, seeking the approval that her mother was reluctant to give her, “I’ve found this.”

Again the mother hovered between the parental duty of counterfeiting interest and the temptation to say “And how does that make you clever exactly? It makes you nosy. In a sense it makes you a thief. That promotional leaflet belongs in a magazine that you haven’t paid for. At best I might say you were lucky to have found a worthless bit of paper on the floor. But if you were clever then such an item would have no interest for you whatsoever. I, for example, am clever and find your discovery extremely dull.”

What came out of her mouth was another “Mmmmm” and then a “let’s just try and get out of this shop.”
But the girl was excited. She had found a scratch-card which promised her the possibility of wealth beyond her tiny dreams. “Can I have a coin, mummy?”

The mother didn’t reply. She carried on putting her shopping on the conveyor belt. The girl was not discouraged, “I can use my finger nail. I’ll use my finger nail.”

Possibly relieved that this would keep her spawn quiet for a few seconds the mother let her get on with it.
Eventually the shopping was going through the till, and the mum was trying to pack the bags, but the child was excited. Unsurprisingly, she had won. “Look mummy, I’ve won.”

Everything in the woman’s demeanour suggested that she was thinking, “Of course you’ve won. It’s a promotional leaflet. They all win. It’s a scam to make you ring up an expensive phone line to discover that you haven’t won a cocking thing of any value. Why can’t you just notice that I am beyond the end of my tether and give me just a second of peace. Just a second. You parasitical, attention seeking piece of crap.”

But instead she mumbled, “That’s good!”

She was aware of her motherly duty and I felt was doing the bare minimum required to demonstrate her love and approval of the adorable (though admittedly annoying) child by her side.

Had the child been more alert she may have picked up on the weariness and the insincerity and said “Listen mum, I never asked to be born. If you didn’t want to have to humour me through my difficult childhood days then maybe you shouldn’t have let daddy put it in you. Or at least he could have worn a johnny. So get that surly look off your face and look more interested at this wonderful period of curiosity that your child is going through.”

But for now the girl was satisfied and totally unaware of the fact that her mum was suffering or of the notion that this woman might be a human being in her own right, who might have a life beyond caring for her and her insignificant concerns.

Tonight, why don’t you ring your parents and say “thank you”.

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