Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Routine

I arrive at school at about half past 5. The gulag infants have been marched to the exercise yard for evening calisthenics, watched over by two moody teenagers in parkas. It's still light and there is a tiny softening in temperature which makes for an atmosphere of decorous Soviet celebration. Fingers spots me and comes wheeling over. As he gets close, he stops to do a careful but modestly showy knee glide. We hug. I love this moment. I am genuinely delighted to see him. He is one of my very favourite people.

"Quelquechose à la machine?" he asks breezily, like one of my more socially accomplished tutors at college offering a small dry sherry.

I acquiesce and hand over a euro for him to select, always, a Kinder Egg from the vending machine while I fetch his brother. Over in the junior bloc, a handful of stragglers are drawing pictures of Stalin and composing pastoral odes to mother Belgium. Lashes is bent low over his desk, absorbed in drawing monsters. A small acolyte is watching, and giving suggestions that he is ignoring. Around him, spread liberally over four or five desks, lie a jumble sale of his possessions. It takes both of us, plus several helpers, to round everything up. Lashes accepts this entourage of assistants as his due, busy explaining why he is wearing a whale on his head on the jetpowered skateboard in the corner of the monster meisterwerk. I give him a surreptitious stroke on the neck if none of his mates are watching. He is another of my very favourite people. We squabble a lot at the moment. He's a smart arse and he has to be right about everything, a bit like me and a lot like his father. But he is funny and full of clever badness, just like all my other favourite people.

After several false starts - coat lost, bag lost, vital papers mislayed, we go and find Fingers. He is sitting on the lost clothes hamper, cross-legged like a grubby pixie, dissecting the contents of his Kinder Egg. Lashes doesn't want anything from the machine - he's saving for another soft toy. I get to carry everything - both their schoolbags, my handbag and big green bag of shoes and make up, a handful of drawings, the Kinder Egg detritus - as they belt down the hill to the tram stop.

"Slow down!" I shout ineffectually. They always manage to stop, just, braking wildly at the last minute. Often one of them falls over. We wait at the tram stop.

"Can I play with your phone?"

"No"

"Why?"

"Because you are really, really dirty".

They chat and chat, whilst we get on the tram, both of them always managing to be in the way of, or to bang into, the other passengers. Who to invite to Mexican wrestle, films about dentistry, what qualifications Lashes needs to be a vet slash stuntman. Fingers is anxious. It's his default state. Currently he's anxious about his future career:

"Je sais toujours pas!"

"It's ok. You're six. Honestly, you have plenty of time to decide what you want to do when you grow up".

On it goes - how many times you need to turn the key in the lock, why wheelie suitcases are a good idea, 800 reasons why I should get them a new comic book - we stagger off the tram in a messy caravan of bags and coats and wander up the road. Fingers hangs off one of my arms and jumps. Lashes walks zizagging, stumbling, precariously, his head full of stuff. We walk along the street, lighter and busier every evening at the moment, turn right at Neuhaus. Fingers puts his hands out for the keys and sprints ahead. Lashes ambles beside me chatting. When we reach the front door, Fingers is still struggling with it. He can't quite do the third half turn yet. Give him a couple of weeks. We go in to see what fresh atrocity the weepette has perpetrated on papery things.

And so it goes, every evening, except imperceptibly it evolves.

Over 7 years ago I was rushing out of work and sprinting through Liverpool Street station to pick up a sweetly furious baby up from nursery in the evenings, red and raw with eczema, having to stop as we walked along Chiswell Street to Barbican tube and take him out of his pushchair as he rubbed frantically against it, making his back bleed. I remember carrying him on my hip, pushing the pushchair with one hand through a morass of commuters. All those steps down to the platform, and his instant, Pavlovian demand for a snack as soon as the doors opened. Feeding him pots of jelly until Great Portland Street. His careful intoning of 'Plaistow' a few months later, and 'Royal National Institute for the Blind'.

Five years ago we were just back from Paris and I was collecting the two of them from that same Spitalfields nursery - a cock of the walk three year old, swaggering around with his gang, and a mad fury of a one year old - a child so small yet so imperious, that walking into nursery and gauging his mood would decide the evening for all of us. Him head banging and me in the bathroom crying? Or a festive screening of 'Here Comes A Digger?' A last-ditch ice cream run to Patisserie Valerie, or a roll around the grass in Folgate Street? I never knew until I opened the double doors and spotted him, uproariously cheerful, or flushed and angry.

Three years ago I would walk into the gulag every evening in holy terror of what story of un-Soviet behaviour would be reported to me, praying we could avoid another trip to Stalin's office for remedial parenting lessons.

And now, this. My pockets have been filled, variously, with rice cakes, plush animals, plastic lizards, diggers, Pokemons, Gogos, Xenox warriors. Always a hand snakes out to bestow a gracious fistful of rubbish on me. But always a hand or two sneaks out to grab mine too.

Sometimes routine feels like it's burying you alive. Sometimes, like today, it makes sense of everything.

46 comments:

littlebrownbird said...

What a beautiful post. Loved it. So touching.

LBB

Julia Ball said...

Bless your heart Emma XX

Johnners said...

This is a simply gorgeous piece, thank you.

A. x

Dig said...

Wonderful.

Titian red said...

I wish I had learned to love mine this much when they were young,a beautiful piece (still, loving teenagers is quite a skill and I like the fact wv is "sated", seems right somehow)

Caroline, No. said...

Gosh, you're a good writer.

IsabelleAnne said...

Exactly right. And so sweetly poignant. Thank you

Dainty Ballerina said...

Beautifully moving & touching post which made me endlessly nostalgic for my own teenager's now vanished childhood. It coincides with a chance meeting I had today with the new mother of a one-month-old girl. We chatted in line at the Post Office. Her baby fast asleep, she rhapsodised about motherhood, reminding me just how wonderfully precious those early years are, and just how swiftly they pass. I'm feeling a pang.

Em said...

Thank you for that - what a beautiful piece of writing. Gorgeous.

Bryony said...

truly beautiful writing - thank you bx

Sarah said...

Beautiful post. Thank you for this.

Anonymous said...

This made me want to grab your keys, shove you under a tram and steal your identity.

Fran

WrathofDawn said...

That was simply lovely.

The WV is flingur which I can't help feeling is some sort of conglomeration of Fingers and Lashes. Or possibly a name for the detritis they generate in your pockets.

WrathofDawn said...

Okay, blogger's just taunting me now. The next WV is mulammau.

I mean, really.

Happy Frog and I said...

Lovely :-)

Cath said...

This is very possibly the best post you have ever written.

Helena said...

I was going to say 'beautiful'. But then it looks like everyone else already did.

nappy valley girl said...

Fantastic post; beautifully written.

Cakeface said...

Just lovely. You make me see things about my own sons which I've always known but never realised.

soleils said...

Soupir de bonheur... I am all the happier I played my little men Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" before they went to sleep.
Thank you, with all my heart, for this blissful read.

soleils said...

and then I saw your twitter message about being an idiot for not going to bed earlier (my own feelings exactly) and the word "Headslap" made me laugh so bloody hard inside. Guess I should really go to bed. Bonne nuit.

karen said...

Thank you so much for this post. Just what I needed to read after the drama of a school morning, to remind me of what's really important :)

Laurel said...

Yet another person to say, how lovely and beautiful, and thank you.

My son is three and my daughter is one and it is so strange to watch them grow up and realize, over and over again, that things won't be like this forever, that in fact in a year they will be entirely different. The definition of bittersweet.

the polish chick said...

lovely, waffle. almost makes me want to have some. almost.

but it definitely makes me even more excited about the little niece or nephew the stork is bringing late this summer.

thank you.

GingerB said...

Today in my pockets I had beads, ribbon, a blob we made in our art class that might go on the bead necklace, a dirty kleenex and a wooden disc termed a "treasure" and I was adorned with snot on my shoulder, white paint on my lawyer clothes sweater, and an actual mouthprint or food/spittle on my thigh. I have girls, you see.

I love you.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely marvellous post, thank you. It's your writing that makes sense of everything,for yourself and for so many readers.
You're a wonderful mother to your boys, it shines through your writing.

Alison Cross said...

oh, this is lovely. You've made my eyes go all moist and pink.

They sound like two brilliant little guys.

Sneak hugs at every opportunity, that's what I say :-)

Ali xxx

awhirlinlondon said...

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. Thank you. I'm blessed to have found you.

London City Mum said...

You do them proud. Despite what you may say or write at other times, you are a terrific mother and I take my hat off to you.
Gorgeous post, definitely one of your best ever.

LCM x

Anonymous said...

Awww. Such lovely fluffy comments. It makes me want to say something really really mean. Or pinch someone.

Fran

Knackered Mother said...

I had one of those tea/bath/bed nights last night when I rushed my three through it, just wanting to get to the end. Reading this pulls me up short.

Clever you, thank you x

redfox said...

Oh, this is lovely. I refuse to wish any of our lives away, because this is lovely too, but I am so looking forward to when Jane talks and laughs and sounds like she is offering someone a sherry.

redfox said...

In conclusion, "this is lovely". Sigh.

Anonymous said...

I have spent the morning panicking that although my husband wants children I never want the responsibility or the physical inconvenience. This has helped: all may not be lost.

irretrievablybroken said...

Verily, you speak the truth.

Lisa-Marie said...

This, to me is a picture of what life should be like.

Léonie said...

Beautiful, thank you xx

3limes said...

Lovely. Good to read you enjoying the moments in life, that strung together make it all worthwhile.

Iheartfashion said...

Perfectly written.
You are a wonderful mother.

Jan said...

Love this - you paint a great picture with words - keep on being you

A Woman Of No Importance said...

Best writing ever. Heartfelt, touching, true, sad, funny, incredible - Hugs x

FlossieT said...

I loved this so much - thank you.

Anxious said...

Is anyone paying you to write yet?

They jolly well should be.

x

LRizzo said...

Exactly right on. Beautiful.

bevchen said...

This is excellent and makes me really, really want to be a mother.

Laura Jane said...

Oh Waffle, this would have to be one of my favourite of your posts.

Such perspective. I hope your pockets remain filled with something whimsical forever.

(ooh, WV is whish, spooky)