There’s a saying in my part of the world for when somebody is late coming home or going somewhere they are supposed to go. It goes “Let’s hope it [what happened to him] is what his wife is thinking and not what his mother’s thinking.” It implies wives always think their husbands are cheating on them when they’re late, while mothers worry they may have had an accident. A horrible accident. Yeah, I know gender stereotypes and stuff but it’s the bit about the mother I’m interested in. Because I only recently had to unique chance to Part With the Kid for More Than a Couple of Hours For the First Time. And I remembered why I didn’t want to have any kids before.
You want an apocalypse? You could have found it in my head a couple of weeks ago. She went to stay overnight with a family friend in a town 15 minutes from our house. We took her there, told her for the 100th time to always, always, always look in both directions before she crosses the street and to never, never, ever lose sight of Maria. Maria is our family friend. I believe everyone should have a Maria in their life, regardless of the role. It’s nothing to do with religion, it’s just an observation I can’t explain rationally.
So, we hugged and kissed, I said that boring thing about looking in both directions and staying close to Maria once more for good measure, the kid rolled her eyes at me and we left. Now, I have dreamed of having her go for a sleepover at a friend’s house so her father and I could have some QUIET time but these have always been abstract dreams, dreams I knew would only come true in some distant future when she’s 10 or something (she’s seven now). Reality was brutally different.
We went back to the house. On the way I visualised her falling from the balcony of Maria’s apartment, getting hit by a car while crossing the street because She Did Not Look In Both Directions, and, of course, my favourite, getting lost and wandering the streets of the town because she doesn’t know where to go. I repeatedly asked my husband “She won’t get lost, right?” and he confidently responded with “Of course she won’t.” Not that this put my mind at rest, of course.
By the time we got back I’d reached the next phase, of berating myself and her father for being the most horrible parents in the world. How could we let her go to a strange town (okay, not “strange” but you know what I mean, it’s not HER town) without a phone and our numbers on speed dial? Yeah, sure, when we were seven there were no phones and she could live without one for another couple of years but… Can she? Can she really?
What is wrong with us, leaving her with someone other than ourselves, who could lose her if she gets distracted by a chance meeting with a friend or something? The kid knows her home address and she knows the name of the village where our house is but is this enough? There are no police on the streets in this town (or any other town, really), she couldn’t find a police officer if she tried. What are we going to do?
A couple of hours later as I sat, smoked and tried to pretend I was reading I found myself Expecting A Call. I was expecting a call from Maria who would through tears and sobs tell me she had lost my precious daughter. Well, she did call and, through happy squeaks and chirping, told me she–the precious one–had fallen in love with a dress and may we please buy it for her. Only… it’s pink. Fine, whatever, have the dress, I said, so relieved as if I’d passed my Historical English Grammar exam all over again (I got a D and was damn proud of this accomplishment.)
So by the early afternoon she was alive, well and with Maria. One would think that should have put an end to the horrible thoughts and that I’d get a chance to enjoy the quiet I’d been missing for the past seven years. Fat chance. If they were in a shop, then they were on their way to somewhere and this way was fraught with streets and idiot drivers, and friends of Maria who could distract her from my precious. Or she could simply fall at the playground and break her neck, there’s always that possibility, after all. A parent’s imagination is limitless.
By the evening I’d gone through another, even more horrible scenario, in detail. Maria is 64. She’s healthy but What If She Suddenly Dies? It’s just the two of them in the apartment. What if she dies during the night and my little girl is left alone with the body of someone she loves and she can’t call anyone because her flipping stupid parents have not yet taught her how to operate a mobile phone (on purpose!)? Seriously, how dumb can you get?
So, I called, of course. They were at the playground (at 9 pm!), my precious was bumming Maria for coins for a ride on some rocket or car or something, and everything was well. It was surreal, I tell you. They were both alive and well, they were having fun, my kid had not got lost, and they were happy! We, meanwhile, were trying to pretend we enjoy the quiet but we didn’t. We missed the constant chirping and the “Look, mum, LOOK!” and “Daddy, can you come see something?” You think smoking is a bad habit? Try parenting. You get used to the weirdest stuff.
Of course she asked to stay another day. Of course we said yes. It was a tiny little bit better the next day but I drew the line on day three. We missed her too much. We’ve agreed to let her stay with Maria for a week next time, though. You have to let go at some point, as the wise ones say. Perhaps eventually I’d come to enjoy the quiet and rediscover the concept of personal space. What a lovely thing that would be!