Everybody’s got a thing, but some don’t know how to handle it.
Parenting is a slog. A testing, draining, frustrating, sleep-deprived, impoverishing, wrinkle-inducing, physically and emotionally exhausting slog. There is no ‘but’ incoming here. Parenting is all of those adjectives and more. It just is, and there’s no need to soften it. Of course it is all the of the lovely, fluffy things too: rewarding, privileged, illuminating, satisfying- you get the picture. But mostly, can we just agree that it’s a slog? Raising and co-habiting with one/two/three/ten other humans that share some trace of your DNA as well as a fair bit of their own personality thrown in is a challenge, and one that I am told doesn’t end when they have finally flown the nest. But, as the stranger in Pret-a-Manger so eloquently reminded me some years ago: If you can’t handle it, love, you shouldn’t have got pregnant in the first place. What a sage gentleman he was. And of course, this is the comeback to any parent who may momentarily lament the current predicament that procreation has thrown their way: picking wayward faecal matter from the stair carpet, say, or refereeing a 4 o’clock wrestling match in the front room.
What we forget however, both as parents and non-parents, is that allowing anyone into our lives enough to care about them, is to a greater or lesser extent all of that list of adjectives above and more. And if we are willing to care, or dare I say it, love, then we expose ourselves to all of the consequences of that love.
Perhaps what parenting allows is a propensity to drop back into a moment of reflection on life more frequently. (Something my Pret gentleman-friend could possibly have done with). Particularly as a second/third/tenth time parent, when we notice sibling resemblances in our children’s faces and habits, or when we come across an item of clothing that encapsulates a moment in our child’s development that sits so strongly in our memory. For me music so often triggers recollections that have been silently stitched into the fabric of my experiences and remained preserved in 3-5 minute chunks of sound.
Music has the power to instigate time travel in the millisecond it takes to play a single note. There are times in my life that are intrinsically linked to songs. The Cranberries, Linger: sharing headphones with my big sister. Eagle Eye Cherry, Save Tonight: a first kiss. Toplaoder, Dancing in the Moonlight: sharing blankets during a cold a November Reading Week. Roger Sanchez, Another Chance: drinking pints in hometown bars. I could go on. None of these bands or songs are particularly reflective of my music taste, but hearing them takes me straight back to that time and place. Music, with its transportative qualities can also serve as a reminder that as individuals, we are not just the here and now version of ourselves, but made up of tiny fragments of our experiences.
This September has been a fresh chapter in so many ways: a new job, new work schedule, new house renovations, new school year for my boys. After a summer of intensive counselling, I have washed off the last of the lingering bereavement trauma and feel untroubled by symptoms that even 6 months ago still hovered over my day-to-day life. I am embracing my role in a new school and enjoying being in the driving seat in the classroom once again. It is a watershed in other ways, as I have stepped back from looking after my 3 year-old during the day and come to terms with the fact that this marks the start of at least 13 years of full-time education for him.
On my commute to work 3 days a week, I have been enjoying some time alone by catching up on podcasts and enjoying the freedom of playing my own Spotify playlists without any direction from backseat music critics. But just as so many parents will attest, habit has it that sometimes you can turn on the television and inadvertently watch ten minutes of Mr Tumble before you realise you are in fact home alone. And yet what a pleasure it was last week to be halfway to work when the Sing movie soundtrack started playing on my Daily Mix and Stevie Wonder’s, Don’t You Worry ‘bout a Thing came blasting out. Instead of looking through the windscreen across the undulating hills of West Yorkshire, I found myself transported back to my front room, madly jigging and piggy-backing my toddler around the rug as the winter sun came through the windows at two in the afternoon; or found myself the front-seat co-pilot to my husband, navigating through Teesdale on a family holiday as our boys were glued to the DVD in the back; or tucked up on the sofa with the curtains shut and the fire on, the night drawing in as my children sat two inches from the TV as they watched the film for the 50th time. But unlike the Mr Tumble moment, this time I revelled in the experience and the memories it brought with it.
Life as a parent is a slog, and just like Marmite it’s not for everyone; luckily I happen to love it.