KITCHEN SINK DRAMA
Let me introduce you to Imaginary Iarla. Imaginary Iarla is the little boy I never had. He has huge brown eyes and a mop of soft, curly dark hair. He is neither as tall nor as lean a child as his (real) older brother, but he’s smart and he’s funny and he has this thing that he does where he can look as though he’s half asleep even when he’s absorbing every detail of what’s going on around him. Because of the yawning age gap between Imaginary Iarla and his older siblings, they tend to indulge him a little too much — a happy situation which Imaginary Iarla milks for all he’s worth.
I never used to think about Imaginary Iarla at all. Back when the obstetrician told us that it wasn’t safe for me to have more than three children, Imaginary Iarla never crossed my mind. I had always wanted five children, but in those days of chaos, three under the age of five seemed enough — sometimes, more than enough. But over the past few years, I’ve thought about Imaginary Iarla a lot.
I’ve named him, obviously, and chosen a name that works beautifully alongside the names of the three real children. Sometimes now when I say their three names aloud, it sounds to me almost like an unfinished line from a poem. Iarla completes it: he is the swirl at the end of a beautiful sentence, the round of applause at the end of a performance.
He is so fully formed now that there are plenty of times when he feels just as real as the other three. Honestly, I can picture him in my mind just as readily as I can summon up the three faces that actually exist.
When I walk past the all-weather pitch in the park during the nursery sessions, I can see myself back in there, standing patiently on the sidelines while Imaginary Iarla learns to hold a hurley (he will, of course, like his namesake in the Ardrahan GAA club way out west, become a gifted hurler in time).
The rational part of me reckons that Imaginary Iarla has shown up now because I am (or so the calendar would suggest) coming to the end of my fertility. Also, there are two relatively new people in my extended family now, and when I take the older one by the hand
When I’m awake at 1.30am, waiting for The Teenager, I think of Imaginary Iarla. Life with him would be so, so much simpler
or cradle the baby in my arms, my heart aches for my fictional boy, and the uncomplicated relationship he promises. When I am falling asleep on the sofa at 1.30am, waiting for The Teenager to come home, and cursing her for having no phone credit, I think of Imaginary Iarla, fast asleep in the little bed into which I tucked him, with stories and kisses, six hours earlier. Life with Imaginary Iarla would be so, so much simpler.
And then I’m left in charge of the bigger of the two little people for a few weekends and something strange happens. Slowly, the sheer boredom of caring for young children comes back to me — but it is an unwelcome memory and so I shoo it away and give yet another episode of Peppa Pig my full attention. But it won’t stay gone — and when I bring her to see Peppa Pig in person (ish) at the Olympia, I watch all the other mothers helping their toddlers onto the toilet, wiping them, washing them, feeding them, cleaning them, comforting them, pleading with them, reasoning with them, spending every single minute of their day in service to them, and suddenly I don’t miss Imaginary Iarla at all.
I watch one smiling mother lovingly film her child — whose proudest achievement would appear to be remaining upright — and I wonder if Imaginary Iarla was also inspired by the hours of footage we shot when the kids were little and good things were happening. We never filmed the washing, the wiping, the tears, the tantrums, the accidents, the repetition, the tedium — and perhaps if we had, Imaginary Iarla might never have laid his small hands on a hurley.
I still reserve the right to daydream about him. But last week I went to see Peppa Pig with a three year old and next week I will go to see Twelfth Night with a 16 year old. If I am totally honest, I know which parent I really want to be right now. And I know there will still be plenty of days on which Imaginary Iarla will be my favourite child, simply because he is the only one of mine who is absolutely perfect. The clue, you see, is in the name.