Once you’re a par­ent for­get look­ing se­ri­ous

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - Ring o’ Roses. Ring o’ Roses Ring o’ Roses @su­san­reuben

WHEN I was 15 years old, I was trav­el­ling up the mo­tor­way with my sis­ter-in­law Naomi and her three small chil­dren. We stopped at a ser­vice sta­tion and one of the lit­tle girls de­clared that she wanted to play

“OK!” said Naomi, and there, right in the middle of the con­course, they all joined hands in a cir­cle and started to sing. “Come on!” one of them said, hold­ing out her hand to me so that I had no choice but to join in.

It was the most ap­pallingly em­bar­rass­ing thing that had ever hap­pened. I thought I might ac­tu­ally die. If this is what you have to do when you have chil­dren, I thought as we all fell down, then I will never be­come a mother.

Fast for­ward 15 years, and I be­came a mother. It took me only a mat­ter of days to lose all in­hi­bi­tions about look­ing fool­ish in pub­lic. in a ser­vice sta­tion now seemed like noth­ing. I would quite hap­pily have per­formed a one-woman cabaret show in the middle of Ox­ford Street if that was what it took to keep the baby happy.

Not only did I be­come per­fectly san­guine about do­ing a whole range of ex­tra­or­di­nary things I would never have con­sid­ered in the past, but my abil­ity to nav­i­gate the or­di­nary adult world be­came com­pro­mised in all sorts of un­ex­pected ways, and re­mains so to this day.

For ex­am­ple, I will find my­self sway­ing gen­tly from side to side be­cause some­one near me is hold­ing a baby; wait­ing for the green man be­fore cross­ing the road, even though I am by my­self and there’s not a car in sight; mov­ing a cup away from the edge of the table, when it ac­tu­ally be­longs to my hus­band who prob­a­bly al­ready has the cup sit­u­a­tion un­der con­trol.

I am far from alone. One of my friends, for ex­am­ple, has un­think­ingly cut up the food on the plate of the grown-up sit­ting next to her; and I’ve lost count of the peo­ple who have ex­claimed ‘Look, a plane!’ or ‘Look a dig­ger!’ and re­alised they were talk­ing to an­other adult — in one case to a gov­ern­ment min­is­ter out­side the Houses of Par­lia­ment.

Small chil­dren and the bag­gage that comes with them take up such an ex­tra­or­di­nary amount of phys­i­cal and emo­tional space, it’s scarcely sur­pris­ing that they mo­nop­o­lise even the parts of the day when you are try­ing to be a per­son in your own right, as op­posed to a par­ent.

When I used to work in an of­fice, I would reg­u­larly reach into my hand­bag and pull out some­thing com­pletely in­con­gru­ous — a toy car, for ex­am­ple, or a half-eaten bag of fruit flakes, or once, a whole car­rot. This did not en­hance my rep­u­ta­tion as a ra­zor-sharp pub­lish­ing pro­fes­sional, which may have some­thing to do with why I’m now a free­lancer. It’s much less dan­ger­ous to work from home where no one looks askance if I fail to no­tice that I am still wear­ing the necklace made out of pasta that my daugh­ter gave me that morn­ing.

Nat­u­rally, the more se­ri­ous and for­mal a job one has, the more po­ten­tial there is for em­bar­rass­ment when your ef­fi­cient ve­neer is shat­tered be­cause of your chil­dren. My bar­ris­ter friend Adam, for ex­am­ple, turned up at court once with a Mr. Tickle sticker at­tached to his suit.

Adam has a Twit­ter account on which he de­bates the press­ing le­gal, po­lit­i­cal and hu­man rights is­sues of the day. His tod­dler daugh­ter re­cently sent a tweet to his 30,000 fol­low­ers, in which she shared a link to a Gi­ant Dis­ney Princess Ra­pun­zel Cas­tle.

This shows that even if we our­selves are able to sep­a­rate our fam­ily and work lives suc­cess­fully, our chil­dren tend to make sure that doesn’t hap­pen. Mo­bile phones are a clear source of peril, be­cause they bridge the bound­ary be­tween home and work like no other ob­ject. One friend’s child changed her ring­tone to a quack­ing duck, which then went off at a meet­ing at which 12 MPs were present; an­other used her iPhone in front of her col­leagues, only to dis­cover that her kids had se­cretly re­pro­grammed Siri, chang­ing her name to Id­iot. “Hello Id­iot,” said Siri.

It seems to me that there is an ob­vi­ous les­son here, which is to stop pre­tend­ing that there is an ar­ti­fi­cial bound­ary be­tween be­ing an ‘adult’ and be­ing a ‘par­ent’; be­cause there isn’t, and pre­tend­ing that there is will only make us look more silly.

Naomi (of fame) car­ries wet wipes in her hand­bag at all times. This wouldn’t be wor­thy of com­ment, ex­cept that her youngest child Anna is now a 28-year-old rab­bini­cal stu­dent.

Once Anna has semichah, I don’t know if Naomi is go­ing to of­fer to wipe her hands and face be­fore she gives a ser­mon — but I do hope so.

My friend cut up the food for the grownup next to her

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