Part of the job description of being a mother is that you have to be organised. Not only do you have to manage your own life, but the lives of all the other members of your family. Like a spider at the centre of a web, you have to weave and spin the endlessly fluctuating basic needs, appointments, wardrobe and the social engagements of 4 people. The only way I manage to do this is by keeping a kind of sacred notebook which contains many, many TO DO lists.
The problem is that fairly often I lose the sacred notebook. At this point, in a panic, I start another list and add at the top ‘Find List Notebook!’ Because my dark secret is that I am really a total scatterbrain.
At school, this was no secret and I was labelled a dreamboat – ‘Hopeless Poppy’. I was always having to wear the spare gym kit, which smelt faintly of mould and urine. It was humiliating, but I never seemed to learn. My problem was that I loved reading and disappearing inside my own head. It was my own space, as being the eldest of 5 children I was always trying to carve out a solitude that didn’t exist. I read on the loo, a great family tradition, that my son carries on to this very day. I read in bed, late into the night, with a torch hidden under the covers and would turn up to school everyday with greeny blue circles under my eyes. In the holidays, with my mother busy bringing up yet another baby, I would take out the full quota of 8 books from the library, take them up to my eyrie on the top bunk, and read the whole lot. I would read at school whenever I could. The sewing lesson was my prime reading time – it took me over a year to finish my embroidered bookmark.
My son is the same. I watch him emerge in a happy dream from the school building, with his glasses perched at an angle on his nose. He never has his reading record book, I never hear any news of what’s happening at school and his knack of losing uniform is quite an art. If you give him a new book, he sits down exactly where he is, usually in the dark on the bottom step, curled over it, locked into another world. He is uncontactable. ‘Move Daniel,’ I urge him, ‘there’s no light there’. ‘Come and sit on the sofa’. But he doesn’t hear me.
My daughter’s relationship with reading is totally different, although of course that may change with age, but at the moment, reading for her is pure theatre. If my husband happens to be home in time he has to audition for the job of bedtime reading. ‘Do a pwincess voice,’ she orders. He complies. ‘No – THAT’s not a very pwincessy voice!’ and he is banished. Sometimes even Mummy isn’t up to scratch, and she demands that I am quiet for the dialogue, which she fills in with lisping flamboyance.
If we only knew, as children, what it is to be free, free to think and be, free from the tyranny of the lists.