Today one of my friends has taken his daughter to see Frozen on Ice, another has taken her children to a pantomime, and a third has gone to some other child-oriented Xmas extravaganza. I hope they all have a lovely time, and that — even if they don’t enjoy the shows themselves — their children’s delight more than compensates for any intrinsic boredom they may feel.
Yet again, though, I am so glad I decided not to have kids. So very glad. I could not sit through these things — and not even the weirdo sprogs I would have been bound to have had could have been guaranteed, at the ages of seven and five, to indulge mummy by watching and, if necessary, feigning enjoyment of Macbeth, ideally produced, directed, acted, or generally overseen by Crystal frère and Crystal fils in the original pronunciation, or all fifteen glorious hours of Der Ring des Nibelungen, or even a nice gory, low-budget, slasher-zombie flick.
I am already shaking my head sadly at the disappointing lack of intellectualism and tendency to nightmares shown by these non-existent children of mine — they’re such a disappointment to me. Dashed are my hopes of their completing their doctorates before they’re 20 or finding an affordable and easily administered cure for AIDS, Alzheimer’s, and cancer (it’s an all-in-one thing, a bit like the MMR jab) or winning an Oscar for the best screenplay. No, I must resign myself to (not) having ordinary offspring who like ordinary children’s entertainments, believe in Father Christmas, and probably cry, get ill, and even on occasion misbehave.
When I was of an age at which having children was still an option (without recourse to fertility treatments, IVF, surrogacy, and whatever else these post-menopausal women who make the tabloid headlines employ when they decide to have babies), people always said ‘You’ll change your mind later’ and ‘You’ll regret it when you’re older.’ I never wavered in my resolve – no, that’s badly expressed – it implies it required some mental effort and strength of will not to give in to temptation. It didn’t. I never wanted kids then and, the older I get, the more cock-a-hoop I am that I always knew my own mind.
My friends, as mentioned, have taken their sons and daughters to these child-oriented events. They’ll sit there for however many hours, probably wanting the torment to end. I could be wrong: the performances may be genuinely entertaining or their children’s laughter and enthusiasm may be adequate recompense; but what if that’s not the case? What if those poor people have not only to endure this thing this year, but know that there’ll be another one next year, and the year after, and the year after that… until the child is old enough not to believe in (stage) magic?
I just couldn’t do it. I’d walk out after 10 minutes. I have no stamina. The management of the theatre would probably take a dim view of my sloping off and leaving the kids behind, so I’d have to drag them (the kids, I mean, not the management) out with me – kicking and screaming and bawling and generally making me wonder why I didn’t just keep them in a cage in the attic and feed them on stale bread and cat food.
Obviously the thought has crossed my mind that it might not be so bad if I had the sort of partner who enjoyed such activities, or if they didn’t enjoy them, could at least be cajoled, bullied, bribed, or otherwise coerced into tolerating them. Partner could go on these excursions and I could stay at home and enjoy my freedom for a few hours. But that wouldn’t work. I don’t think I could live with someone like that, someone who actually took pleasure in such activities or who didn’t but would allow blandishments, threats, rewards, or blackmail to compromise their integrity. I’d always feel they only tolerated Shakespeare and Wagner in the same way and for the same reasons.
Maybe, though, my kids would have friends whose parents would take them to such things. That might work.
Sprogs: Mummy, mummy, Bobby and Georgie’s mummy says we can go to see Cinderella with them. Can we? Pleeeease? Can we?
Me: You’re sure you wouldn’t prefer to go with me to a lecture on Piaget and Vygotsky’s theories of semiotic function? No? Very well, off you go to the panto, but be sure to consider the implications the comedic subversion of the patriarchal hegemony represented by Baron Hard-Up and its acceptance and normalization inherent in Cinders’ marriage to the handsome young prince who saves her from poverty and oppression.
Which’d be all well and good until I’d racked up favours with all the parents of all the children in my kid’s class. Then what? Would I have to take 30 sprogs to see ice extravaganzas and circuses – and, worse, have to come back with the same number I started out with?
And what about football matches and school concerts and all that kind of thing? Standing out in the freezing cold and getting excited, ostensibly at least, because my son or daughter had made contact with a ball and kicked it somewhere? Or smiling proudly because they hadn’t totally buggered up ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ on the recorder?
Until today, when these three friends mentioned their plans for the afternoon, I’d never considered these further ramifications of parenthood. I’d dwelt often on the unpleasantness of having to act as if I were deeply chuffed and enthralled as I read about some thieving runaway stealing the poor bears’ breakfast and generally making herself at home, or the total inability of 66.67% of pigs to follow even the most basic of building precepts, but actually going out and paying money to be tortured had somehow passed me by.
The Victorian upper classes had the right idea. Let the governess do all that kind of thing (or its nineteenth-century equivalent) and for the first ten or twelve years of the childen’s lives, just present them, clean and on their best behaviour, for an hour or so a day to the parents. Actually, though, maybe an hour’d be too much. Better make it half an hour… or a quarter, yes, a quarter would be better. And every day might be a bit excessive. Once a week would probably suffice. Or once a month… or a year… And better make it till they’re sixteen, or maybe eighteen, or possibly – yes, that’s it – a fifteen-minute visit, once a year, when the kid is all grown up and has left home. Perfect.