There’s something comforting about being read to. We don’t have it often outside of childhood. After work I came round and read to a three year old until he fell asleep. He chose his moment well. The little bear in the book was about to ask mummy bear if she’d still love him after she was dead. I maintained my soporific tone while simultaneously blessing and cursing the writer. Blessing her for subtly preparing young minds for the inevitability of loss. Cursing her for blindsiding me in the process. I inevitably thought of my parents, and my progress on the universal road from innocence to experience.
That’s the first bedtime story I’ve read for years. I’ve always managed to be busy when Ivo needed babysitting in the past. And most mothers wouldn’t let me within three streets of bedtime in case I microwave the baby, get the pajamas on the cat and put the milk out for the night. But it went pretty well. I ran him ragged playing “chase Al round the house instead of the cat.” Then I fed him fish until he was glutted. He can eat vast quantities of fish, it seems. But we got there in the end.
There was a momentary altercation regarding milk temperature. I don’t know proper procedure. I knew I was winning though as his eyes were drooping even as he threw up problems. There was a brief concern about whose job it was to hold the toothbrush. Ultimately I was a fool, a madman and an evil swine for choosing red pajamas. How could I be such a pig. I found blue ones instead.
But once we’d sorted out these important details all it took was a few pictures of monkeys, an emu and a book about mortality in bears. Now he’s flat out and I’m sitting surrounded by dinosaurs. It’s not a bad life being three years old.
I can’t say I remember much from back at 3. Who does. I was in Jersey, in Les Silleries, a little white house on a hill with a big garden. My mother was mostly looking glamorous and my father was mostly looking elsewhere. I have loose happy memories of sunny days in that garden: long grass, butterflies, blue skies and empty space. Occasionally cows would get into the garden from the field next door, which pleased me as much as it angered my parents. If my memories are anything to go by I never really went inside the house unless it was Christmas.
The house itself as it used to be was knocked down years ago and rebuilt as the fever dream of a varnished banker, complete with clocktowers and oozing flatulent piles of architectural guff. The garden was turned into a monstrous folly. Huge sapphic fountains and clocktowers. The bramble path from the road was replaced with a paved avenue lined with lamps. The copper beech tree where my mother dreamed her childhood and I dreamed some of mine was uprooted many years ago to make room for some godawful wank of a statue. I suspect someone who made a fortune in something unkind exists there, oozing a trail of grief and crushed up notes while wetly encouraging his guest to appreciate the life size statue of Venus: “The sculptor was Italian, you know.”
Bear in mind if course that they could have done anything with that house and I’d have been disappointed and vitriolic. Early childhood can be a sacred, safe place. That house as it was will always exist in my memory as a place where the colours were right, and all was as it should be. I’ll still have those innocent memories, and on days like this I can go out and feel the sun on my face and the wind in my hair and vaguely remember that lack of complication.
Meantime the least I can do is read someone to sleep and make sure they don’t worry while their mum IS GOING TO BAT OUT OF HELL!! She’ll be back soon I suspect. Then we can have some gin.