When I started having kids, I received a lot of advice, suggestions, tips and tricks. What to do, what not to do, how to sleep when they sleep (yeah, right), when to get them to sleep, when to feed, how to feed, how to feed myself, how to do baby sign language, how to keep my last shreds of sanity intact. I took notes, made spreadsheets and I had a pile of books on my dresser waiting to be devoured; Happy Mum/Happy Baby, Gina Ford: Make Your Baby Conform With Military Precision, Baby Whisperer, Idiots Guide To Babies, Annabel Karmel: How To Puree Whilst Dressed Like a Sexy Secretary… you know, the usual stuff. We’ve all been there, I swore up and down that my kids would be well-behaved magical creatures that would dress in colour-coordinated outfits and not bite me in public. And as far as them getting older, it was hoping that I could talk to them about anything, and ensure that they would be good, loving humans. Easy.
I soon learned that raising humans had a mountain of unscripted grey area. There were deviations from the ‘plan’: like my daughter poking holes in bags of marshmallows in Sainsburys, or my son shouting ‘WHY AREN’T YOU WEARING KNICKERS TODAY?’ whilst I was standing in the queue at the post office. I realised that kids are weird little humans with their own irritating way of interfering with my excel-organised world. I had to stop expecting things to be routined and perfect. I set out to create a happy middle ground, determined to roll with the punches. I mean, there wouldn’t be anything that would really flip my switch, right? I was ready for it all, and I would talk to my kids about it all.
Until one of my kids found my drawer. My drawer.
Hang on, I’ll give you a minute. Wait for it.
Yeah, that drawer. Power tools and clever accessories for personal DIY. The long day at work, can’t be bothered with too much effort drawer. Most women have one, but no one talks about it. It’s very shhhhh luv, English people don’t chat about sex, ever, unless we’re completely smashed on prosecco and trying to make out with our best friend on a random Wednesday. But hey, I’m a mother, but I’m also a girl that has a drawer; also, I had never thought it important that the drawer doesn’t lock (IKEA needs to rethink their MALM range).
Anyway, it was a completely innocuous Saturday a couple years ago, my husband and I were spring cleaning (not a euphemism), and the kids were roaming around the house, pretending to help, but mostly finding immense joy in emptying out wardrobes and cupboards and creating more mess.
“Mummy, what’s this…?” A little voice asked from the other room. It was coming from my bedroom. I walked in, completely unprepared for what I saw: My nightstand had been emptied and rifled through, books and notebooks and pens and sudoku pads, as well as the contents of that drawer mixed all in, displayed on the floor like some kind of perverted (yet oddly intellectual) crime scene. My child was waving around one particularly interesting item. “What’s this for? It’s big and PINK and looks like a rabb–“
“LAAAALALALAAAAAA SHHHHH” I just basically let out random monotone sounds, to stop the questions. I sounded completely mental, but it worked temporarily. In the resulting silence, I closed one eye, squinted with the other one, hoping I could unsee this somehow. I think I lost feeling in my face at one point. “Ummm… huh. Oh… that’s ummm…” In my head, it was more like oh fucking hell, I am *that* mother, damn you Gina Ford, why didn’t you tell me this would happen?! You probably never had a drawer, Gina, arrgh, this is not part of the routine!! I looked over at my husband in desperation, but he had conveniently magicked up a pile of laundry in his arms and clattered out of the room mumbling ‘good luck with that’. I was on my own.
No one warns you about this cringey, detailed stuff. No one tells you how to deal with the fact that your kids will embarrass you with unexpectedly personal things at every turn. You never know how to answer them, because depending on what they’re asking and what context it’s in, you try and encourage a healthy dialogue. Communication is important, and no subject should be off limits, really, if they’re curious. I totally get that.
But this…this was uncharted territory and not something that needed any explaining. I felt like I was on some kind of stage and I had 6 seconds to escape a crystal maze. I was still rooted to my spot, and now I was sweating. Play it cool, you can think of something clever, you’re a writer, for god’s sake.
“Okay, this is my stuff, ahhhhh hahahaha it’s all just… stuff…” I rushed forward, kneeled on the floor, grabbed whatever I saw and threw it (a bit too forcibly) into my nightstand. I didn’t care what the hell it was, if it could disappear, it was ALL GOING IN MY DRAWER IMMEDIATELY.
‘What about this thing?” Shit. I’d forgotten about that. The child held the discovery aloft and pointed it at me. Pointed it at me.“What do you use it for?”
This could not get any worse. “Oh, jeez, ahh…(I thought I could deflect the attention away from me by using my husband)… Daddy..”
“It’s Daddy’s?” It is SO not, this is getting weird.
“Sure, yes, Daddy uses it for…” Quick, I thought. Think of something useful, something that any father would do!
“…Daddy uses it for HAMMERING.”
Oh my god. I just made it worse.
“Oh. Okay.” And just like that, she dropped it (both the conversation and it) and left.
I sat on the floor, weary from a 30-minute episode of What Is This Pink Thing* and asked myself what any normal mother would, in this kind of situation: Is 9:55am too early for scotch?
So, that, my friends, is how I learned that kids wonderfully and unabashedly treat the world with an all-access, grey-area unpredictable pass, and whilst their curiosity is natural and healthy (and sometimes white-sweat-terrifying for adults), the universe invented padlocks and 7-foot tall shelves for a reason.
*In reality, it was more like 48 seconds.