For Tinker’s last birthday, we bought her a new movie; The Princess and the Frog. She’d never seen it before, and so was excited when we settled down to watch it together. As the credits rolled, she asked me if I had never seen it either? I thought for a moment, and then remembered that it was, in fact, the first film I’d ever watched with her. She was three weeks old and it was on TV; I smiled as I recounted the memory. Tinker, understandably, looked confused.
“No… I’ve not seen it!” And then, as if to test me; “What was I doing?”
“Well,” I explained, “for the most part you were asleep; and for the rest you were drinking milk from my boobies!”
Noooo! First aghast, and then in hysterical laughter, she told me off for being silly. (I suppose it is a little silly, when you put it like that.)
So I laughed along. I laughed and I thought about how funny it is, that these first few years are full to the brim of foundational, life-giving moments… And yet she will never remember any of them. And I guess in some ways that’s a little sad; but to be honest, it’s also a little reassuring! All this time I’ve bumbled along; sometimes getting it right, often getting it wrong; safe in the assumption that by the time she’s aware of it, I will have this mothering thing sussed!
Only now… she’s three.
I, personally, have vivid memories of three.
I also have nothing sussed.
Sometimes, when I allow myself to think about it, I really do worry about which memories she’ll select for storage. I mean, I know what I want her to remember; but which bits will actually stick?! The Topsy and Tim moments? Baking and reading and fort-building with Mumtastic Mummy and her pearls of perfected, parental wisdom? Or the really stupid stuff? Like that time I absent-mindedly gave Toddler my purse to play with, and we had to retrace our steps; crawling round the aisles of Pound Land, looking for my bank cards?
Stuff like that.
I mean obviously, it’s better not to think about it, isn’t it? You just get on with your awesome days and your awful days and try not to imagine counselling sessions with a teenaged toddler. Obviously. But sometimes, in the deeper moments, I really do feel the pressure to perform!
Once upon a Monday, not long ago, I discovered that Husband had cleared all the cds from the car; and so, for the first time in forever, I put on the radio. Naturally, it is tuned in to Radio 1, as Husband still likes to think he’s street. (You know, the kind of ‘street’ that thinks Radio 1 is ‘street’.) Anyway, this thoroughly unstreet wife manages to leave it on just long enough to be told that my touch makes a hot girl sweaty; and so, in quite a fit of excitement, I decide that’s probably not a conversation for the car! Swiftly switching to Classic Fm, I am delighted to hear the theme tune to The Little Mermaid. Thank goodness, I sigh; that’s a much more appropriate level of wetness! Tinker pipes up that this is “ballet music” and we settle into talking about the imagined storyline and her ambitions to wear a tutu. Right now.
Right now, however, I am feeling very much like Mumtastic Mummy, with our our ballet music and deep chat. Oh yes; today is memorable.
There’s always a but.
Mumtastic’s big fat BUT…
The music changes. The bumbling begins; and Mumtastic spirals out of control; buried faster than she can dig.
The soundtrack is a tune from West Side Story, and Tinker asks me, “what’s it all about?” I begin, with confidence, about the Sharks and the Jets, and the boy and the girl. And then… I forget. I know it’s based on Romeo and Juliet and so I begin to piece it together out loud; bumbling; blagging; and momentarily forgetting that I’m talking to a three year old.
“And so all that happens… And then they die.”
“They die?! How Mummy?!”
“Oh… Oh they…” (Oh sh*t. How did I forget about this bit?!)
“Well, they die of broken hearts.” (Nice recovery!)
“That’s nasty. That’s so sad…”
“Yes it is, really… Oh no! Don’t cry!”
I look in the rear view mirror to see a sulking Tinker wondering how, of all the storytellers in the world, she got stuck with this one. Honestly, how did I forget the most famous tragedy in the world was so… tragic?! So I try to tell her about the ending; about how the sad bit actually has to happen for there to be a happy bit, because everybody makes peace. She continues to stare out of the window, and so I continue to dig my hole; determined to make a good point, while hoping and praying and begging that she really won’t remember this exchange for life.
“So, you know,” I drive round the houses and finally park in a location I’m somewhat happy with; “sometimes things can be a bit sad and a bit happy, all at the same time. You don’t always feel just one or the other. Do you know what I mean?”
“There’s an aeroplane! ”
“Oh !” (Of course… You’re three! How long have I been talking?!)
Intensely thankful for a change of subject, I jump on this… And straight down the next hole…
“Well, that’s something exciting this year isn’t it, going on your first aeroplane holiday?!”
A post-training gift; booked months ago. We haven’t told her yet. Pants.
“Me? On holiday? ”
Pants. Oh well. Go with it.
“Yes we are going to go on holiday, just the four of us!”
“Oh no, darling, later.”
“Oh no, there’s lots and lots of other exiting things to do before then. We have to go to ballet, and see your cousin, and have Easter eggs, and move house…”
Havent told her that either. Pants, pants, pants.
I’m telling my child, who is forming memories for life, that she is going on holiday for the first time and is going to have to move house. All through the rear view mirror of our car.
Big fat pants, for my big fat untastic BUT.
I should leave it there. Change the subject. Move swiftly on.
But… What would Mumtastic Mummy do?
“Yes… we’re moving house… just like Topsy and Tim!”
“Oh YES! We can build a robot!!”
Amazing. Right. Change the subject. Change it !
“And guess what? Mini Mate is moving too!”
What now?! Just gonna take everyone else down with you are you, Buthead?! Quit talking!
“And we’ll be near our other other family, with the trampoline and the dog, (the kamakaze stairs and all the wine!)… Near baby T, baby J, Aunty Dee and Uncle Moo..”
Tinker is now excitedly animated, clapping each name I reel off with glee; lulling Mumtastic Mummy into a false sense of security. Thankful that we bagged ourselves a return ticket, back from whence we came; I continue to list our friends, name by stupid nickname. And, for the fifth time in a row. .. I should have left it there.
BUT (whoop there it is!); I’m a teacher, by trade; and I still can’t resist a plenary…
“So you see Tinker? Some things are happy and sad. We’re going to be further away from some people (you know; your grandparents, favourite aunty, only cousin..) which is sad; but closer to all these other lovely people; which is happy!”
She stops for a moment; a real, heavy silence; then says, in as straight and dry a tone as you can imagine from a three year old human:
“Mummy, that’s not very nice. Don’t you ever say that again.”
Oh. Pants. Grown-up Pants.
I watch her in the mirror as she stares moodily out of the window; and my heart breaks just a little bit. This time I keep my mouth shut; because in my head there’s a big fat but. But, I think, I will say it again; now and in years to come. For this is the first move of many, my love; the conversation is far from done.
It’s just that, in future, I’ll pick my moments,
Yes…next time that we go through it…
It’ll be perfectly, expertly delivered…
I know this; cos Dadtastic will do it!