In French, there is a great expression : « Qui aime bien, châtie bien ». This directly translates as « the more you love someone, the harder you are on them », but it is generally translated into the English expression « spare the rod and spoil the child ». This is particularly true in my case, and on the rare occasions that I’m in a paddy with P.F, my revenge can be terrible. Before we got married, I was so mad with him that I waited until he was fast asleep then took a handful of shaving gel and gently smoothed it up his lower leg before shaving a strip wide enough for a Boeing to land on along the length of his shin. Needless to say, he couldn’t wear shorts for a while. Other favourites include drawing on him with marker pen and putting ochre coloured pine cones that strangely resembled cat poo under the quilt on his side of the bed. M.M is one volatile chick: get her angry at your peril.
One weekend back in December, P.F was in the dog house for reasons that will not be explained here, but have nothing to do with buxom blondes, betting or swapping my mother for six camels. I was so majorly miffed that when I stopped the car at a red light and saw a beaming bride in the car next to me on her way to her wedding, I was inches from dragging her out of the back seat and telling her to hitch up her soft, ivory silk meringue and run as fast as her legs could carry her in the opposite direction. Yep, I was mad.
My revenge tactics have mellowed with time and three children, so come evening, I decided to gather up the three P’s ( my pride, my pillow and my PJ’s) and relocate with them to my daughter’s bedroom. The classic withdrawal tactic, in every sense of the word.
I would remain there until I found the infamous flegme britannique the French mistakenly think is part of my genetic make-up. This term has nothing to do with coughing up phlegm, as we could believe. It in fact refers to the British reputation for being cool, calm and collected, having a stiff upper lip, and otherwise keeping our emotions in check, with dignity, whilst the world goes to pot around us. You know, the behaviour associated with the handlebar moustache-toting, G&T drinking, croquet-playing colonial Brit who is capable of walking on a mine, picking up the leg that’s been blown off and popping it under his arm saying « I’ll sew it back on later, old boy. Now, shall we join Brenda and Rory for a cup of tea? ».
Taking refuge in Little My’s lair was not my most original solution for revenge, but getting mad had made me tired, the leather sofa was cold, and smelly dog’s basket was too small for the two of us. Little My was delighted to have company, and we had a girly nail-varnish session before tucking ourselves into bed. After the light had been switched off, we chatted for a while. The subject was fear, on her initiative. It was the second time she had asked me what my biggest fear is, apparently not having believed my initial reply a few months before that parents aren’t scared of anything, because it’s our job not to be sissies. We grab our trusty swords and barge right into battle, defending our kids from everything from monsters under the bed to Gargamel’s bad moods and zombies climbing up the façade of the house. Like the wish you make when you get the biggest bit of the wish-bone in Sunday’s roast chicken, I was going to keep it for myself. But Little My was intent on sniffing out my Achilles heel, and went about it with more determination than Rupert Murdoch on a hunt for a headline.
She insisted, her little voice carrying clearly through the dark, stable as a rock and pitched with seriousness. I deftly returned the ball with another question: what was her worst fear? Her answer surprised me : « Being the last survivor of our family. I’d hate it if you were all gone and I was on my own ». We’d already been down this road once as we drove through the winding Esterel mountains (see here for details).
Dammit, I thought, as I snuggled her in my arms under the Babar quilt. In the end we both have the same fear, that of outliving those we love. Our reasons were different, though; a ten-year-old imagines the terrifying concept of being alone. Parents imagine the suffocating pain of not having been able to protect their child. So I finally bit the bullet, and admitted to Little My that my biggest fear is to outlive my children. She was satisfied, said goodnight, and the page was turned.
The very next day, a young man entered Sandy Hook school and killed twenty children and six adults in a senseless killing spree. I thought of the parents and families of these twenty-six victims, for whom my own fear has become a reality. Our overwhelming instinct, the pit-of-the-stomach, primitive impulse of parents to see our offspring survive and have a chance to grow old, is frustratingly not enough to protect them in the world we have built for them. I yearn for a world where I can believe in the reassuring, story-book normality of being parents who can disappear from the picture knowing that their children have become self-sufficient adults. Unrealistic, yes. Puerile, yes. I miss that time when I had no knowledge of how unfair life can be, when my memory was untouched by the knowledge that humanity can be so cruel and twisted.
Then came the sudden, sobering realisation that petty squabbles and momentarily distancing yourself from someone close is a reckless thing to do, as it would be terrible to never be able to say it didn’t matter. So now however mad I am, I’m sleeping in my bed. Time to check out some tribal patterns to shave on P.F’s shins, I guess…