Paul told me a bedtime story last night. It went a little something like this.
“So, there was this old woman, right. Like, maybe 102.”
“Tell me more.”
“Right, and she was sitting on her doorstep.”
“Yeah. Except maybe not her doorstep. Anyway she was sitting. And she’s all, like, old and alone, ‘cos everyone she knows is dead. And this guy walks past and goes, ‘You’re all old and alone and shit.’”
“I’m not sure this actually happened.”
“Yeah yeah, it did, I saw it on Facebook. So this guy goes to the old lonely lady, ‘You’re really old. What’s been the best bit of your life?’”
“Yeah, good question. And the old lady thinks for a bit, and says, ‘The bit when the children were little, and I was needed. That was my best bit.’”
Well, that floored me. True or not, Paul’s story hit me like a small child’s kick in the ribs when they take over your bed at night. Because maybe – just maybe – THIS is the best bit. Maybe this is what we’ll miss when we’re 102 and sitting on a doorstep, all old and alone and shit. And maybe – just maybe – I choked up a little bit. Remember, this was at night. The kids were in bed, asleep, and causing no bother whatsoever. If Paul had told me this story as I was making school lunches and unknotting dreadlocks, I’d have probably flung a piece of ham at him and sent him to fuckery. But they weren’t causing havoc. They were being all asleep and cute and shit, and I started thinking about the day we’d just had. Yeah, there’d been tears. Of course there’d been tears – I have three wild children who take enormous pleasure in tormenting the fuck out of me – but amidst the tears, we’d also laughed a little bit, too. Frankie had called Ben a rubber chicken, which had made me laugh so much that I had to sit down in the shower. Alice had walked around the shops with her hands framing her face, exclaiming OH MY GOD breathlessly at the Christmas decorations – even the shitty bits of tinsel at Red Dot. This had made me laugh. We had to drive three times around the roundabout in our estate to look at the inflatable Santa coming down the chimney, and wave and cheer each time. This had made me laugh. Alice gave Frankie a flower, and Frankie asked Alice to marry him in return. This made me smile. And then, while grocery shopping in an empty supermarket, we’d walked hand in hand around the aisles singing I LIKE BANANAS, MONKEY NUTS AND GRAPES, AND THAT’S WHY THEY CALL ME TARZAN OF THE APES. It was harmonious, wondrous and spirit lifting, and I laughed.
Having given the matter a great deal of thought, I’ve realised it’s entirely possible I’ve been taking this whole parenting gig too seriously. I’ve let the little fuckers get to me, when I should’ve been enjoying them. It’s easy to say that when they’re cute and asleep – it’s another thing entirely when you’re being accused of ruining Christmas because Santa ain’t bringing an iPad Mini. Or an iPad Maxi, for that matter. Or even a lump of fucking coal and a sugar cube, if a certain 10-year-old’s behaviour doesn’t start to improve.
I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions – I never did learn to crochet, and I’m yet to appear on Gogglebox – but I reckon next year I’m gonna go back to parenting basics. As in, I’m gonna stop sweating the small shit. Enjoy the little things. Laugh a bit more. Cry a bit less.
Okay, here comes the sentimental shit: Ben nearly died this year. He came as close to death as a person can physically get without handing back the keys and switching off the lights on the way out. It’s kind of hard for me to write this. But – there’s a but! – he didn’t die. He survived. As we drove home from the hospital a week later, I asked my 10-year-old son how it felt to nearly die. Ben told me that – as he lay on the hospital bed, struggling to breathe –he started to see pictures of happy memories. I told him that was called your life flashing before your eyes, but that I didn’t know it was a real thing. He said yeah, it was. I asked him what he saw. He said he saw our wedding day. He said he saw his newborn brother and sister. He said he saw me taking him out for churros and hot chocolate.
In a decade of life, the event that stood out to my son was the day I took him for Spanish donuts. Fucking hell, the kid’s been to the major cities of the world, had the most extravagant gifts lavished up on him, experienced elaborate and expensive days out, and his most precious memory is just me and him, eating donuts.
It kind of puts things into perspective; because when I’m 102 and sitting on my doorstep, that’s the shit I want to remember, too – eating donuts with my kids, and enjoying their weird little company.
I’ll probably also remember the time Frankie shat in the park – but that’s by the by.