KITCHEN SINK DRAMA

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - CONTENTS - FIONA LOONEY

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.

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