This column was first published in Practical Parenting Magazine, April 2016
Recently I took my seven year old son T-Bone on a solo date. The day was equal parts charming and exasperating, because, like me, T-Bone lives a significant portion of his time immersed in his own daydreams and regards the actual, practical world as a bit of an intrusion.
We are both, in some ways, like heads on a stick, and I have to tell you, my friends, I have huge sympathy for my own mother now that I am engaged in the everyday work of raising that kind of airheaded child.
T-Bone combines his father’s scientific precision and logic with his my own enthusiastic absent-mindedness. He is, possibly, your classic nutty professor. This is wonderful, of course, and in my greatest dreams I stand, a proud mother, at the side of the Nobel Prize stage as I do up my middle-aged son’s shoelaces and ask him if he needs the toilet. In everyday life, however, raising T-Bone can be very tiring. Like so much of parenthood, it is bittersweet. That invisible string between mother and child is so profound, so gratifying and, sometimes, such a painful tether. It forces me into my better self, as I swallow my rage and frustration, look for the comedy in it all, and learn the art of patience.
T-Bone is both diabolical and brilliant. In the car on our date, he suggests a game. ‘Mum! Truth or dare?’ ‘Truth’, I say. ‘In the future you will die,’ he says. ‘I don’t think you understand this game,’ I reply. Next, he sings to me. ‘If you’re happy and you know it, pull down your pants! If you’re happy and you know it, blow up the universe and everything in it!’ He asks me about babies. ‘Mum, you know how little babies cry in the night and you have to feed them?’ I remember, I tell him. ‘Well, can’t you just put them on an IV drip?’ he says.
When we get to the shopping centre we are halfway through the carpark when I notice T-Bone is wearing only one shoe. ‘What are you missing there, T?’ I ask.
‘What?’ he says.
‘You all put together there for shopping, buddy? Missing anything?’
T-Bone looks down at his outfit. ‘My book?’ he says.
This is a standard conversation with Ted, who is a clothing-optional sort of person. He will appear before me totally naked. ‘Mum, I’m cold.’ ‘Well, put some clothes on!’ ‘Where are my clothes?’ ‘In your drawer.’ ‘Where is my drawer?’
At the end of our shopping-date, which is packed with comedic highs and frustrating lows (T-Bone! Don’t touch that! T-Bone! Get off the road! T-Bone! Put your book down!’) I try to validate our parking ticket. To my consternation, the machine jams when I insert my card. I spend some minutes doing that unsatisfying young-child-present swearing: ‘you…bugger! What the…. far OUT!’ etc, until I realise I have been forcing my credit card in the wrong slot, and seem to have broken the machine. I apologise to the long queue that has formed behind me, but T-Bone doesn’t notice. He’s too busy trying to read ‘Zombie Bums From Uranus’ while he walks up the down escalator.
I am he, and he is me, at least in terms of this particular aspect of his genetic inheritance. I hope, at the very least, that I’ve also gifted him with interpretive dancing and lasagne-making skills, as well as woolly-headedness. And the patience I am learning through mothering this unique person is his great gift to me, in return.