KITCHEN SINK DRAMA
Screens. They were everywhere when we were on holidays. In every restaurant, around every pool, under every parasol, there were children watching screens. Smartphones, tablets, iPods, Nintendos, portable DVD players – there seemed to be a small screen for every child in Spain. In one restaurant, we snooped on an extended Irish family – six adults, ten children, six glasses of wine, ten screens. They were undeniably all having a lovely time.
We missed the deadline for screens. On our first holiday with The Small Girl, The Husband and I used to take turns walking her in her buggy along the seafront while the other one ate dinner. She was a howler, that one, who simply refused to sit in a parked buggy and read a cloth book about a duck. As a result, on that holiday, we didn’t have a single meal together. But it was in the car that we really could have done with screens. In fact, when newer, younger parents complain to me about any aspect of child-rearing now, I refuse to have any sympathy for them whatsoever, because they have never known the stress of travelling by car with children who do not have screens. Colic? I laugh at your colic. Eczema? A stroll in the park on a summer’s day. If you haven’t driven to Kerry with three small children in the back of the car and not a single screen with which to sedate them, you have not been to parenting hell, my friend.
The Husband, to his credit, maintained that it was worse for me because I was the frontseat passenger. He, the designated driver, could always zone out a little from the back- seat mayhem. I, though, genuinely found it so stressful that for a couple of years, I simply refused to travel with them. It was the bickering, the squabbling, the endless ‘move your leg’, ‘stop touching my foot,’ ‘he ate my crisps,’ ‘she spilled my juice’ that drove me so close to distraction. For a couple of years, The Boy, bored senseless by the long journey and the business of being a boy, used to punch The Youngest in the arm about ten times an hour, causing her to (over) react by yelping like a strangled puppy. Sometimes, to distract them
I’d try to get a game of I Spy going in the car – a game that would then effortlessly descend into recrimination
from each other, I’d try to get a game of I Spy going in the car – a game that would then effortlessly descend into recrimination and carnage. ‘I spy with my little eye something beginning with T,’ The Youngest ventured one time, when she was about four. ‘A unicorn,’ came The Boy’s considered guess. ‘Correct,’ said The Youngest. That was the level of it.
We tried loads of things. Counting cars of different colours – a game that always involved whoever hadn’t chosen red or silver collapsing into tears. Saying the names of the counties aloud from reading the reg plates – a very, very limited pastime on a motorway leading out of Dublin – and a game called My Gaff, invented by my friend Robbie and me in the 1980s, which involves pointing to fancy houses on the side of the road and shouting ‘my gaff,’ then pointing at wrecks and ruins and shouting ‘your gaff’ (actually, this is far more fun than it sounds, though still probably not as much fun as watching back-to- back episodes of Dora The Explorer on an iPad. Also, there are no gaffs on motorways).
I remember once talking to my Dad about all of this, and he reminded me of the exquisite torture the four of us used to administer to our parents on long car journeys. Admittedly, most of these journeys did begin with my brother announcing aloud his intention to ‘ tease, thwart and torment’ my little sister all the way to West Cork – and then being as good as his word – but as I pointed out to my Dad, at least there was stuff to see out the windows then. In the case of our family, this did facilitate my older sister reading aloud, from The Shell Guide To Ireland, descriptions and histories of every town through which we passed, while chaos reigned on the seat beside her – but My Gaff would have been brilliant back then.
Now I have teenagers and, finally, screens. And because one of the former is six foot tall, I now sit in the back of the car for the trip to Kerry, sandwiched between two screens showing films I don’t want to watch. Not for the first time in my life, it occurs to me that my timing sucks.