Part 21: Out and About

She gnaws the sappy goo about in her cheek cavities with excessive vigour. “Where’s the after party?” fixing us with lengthy-lashes. One raised, cropped eyebrow.

“WE HAVE CHILDREN!” Clifford blurts, loudly out of no-where, causing us both to spring back, twitchy.

As well as being factually incorrect, this is also not the first time Clifford has very noisily and publicly broadcast this to random strangers while we’ve been out. I wonder if he’s forgotten where Frank is, expecting him to pop out from my inner jacket, all golden halo curls and innocent soul-searching baby-blues; “Daddy! What are you doing?”

The girl looks faintly disturbed, but mostly due to Clifford’s unorthodox approach at conversation. She shrugs, probably can’t fathom it, hasn’t the energy to try and blinking, a giraffe swatting away a fly, she leaves us to what I can only assume “people with children” would do now; go straight home, get toasty, drink water with paracetamol then camomile, cuddle your baby.

That’s what I should do. I need rest. I need a fucking time out. “Stop making plans!” Clifford barks, on multiple Saturday mornings, fuzzy and slurping coffee. “It’s overwhelming.” Time on speed and not enough of it. We step back in, blank squares that were endless are now chocker with nowhere left to scribble. Frank has his own social diary, his own appointments, and when he stays at the grandparents we don’t rest, we go out out.

We crash into 8pm and my mental capacity is blitzed. I hug a tea or wine, gawk towards the air. Books lay unread while the TV fizzes, some bullshit that makes my brain fluffy. I hear crying where there is silence, examine specks on the carpet and wonder how long since it was hoovered. Notes sit lazy, dormant on my laptop, all 0s and 1s. Time doesn’t give a shit or any allowances for my creative ideas. I blink and what happened to September?

Maths Question; Your kid is up for 12 in 24 hours and you’re expected to be at work from 9am to 6pm and you travel 1 hour each way. Dinner, bath and bed takes at least 1 hour. Breakfast and getting up takes 1 hour. Nursery will look after your child from 8am until 6pm. After 6pm they charge 1 pound per minute. Nursery pick up takes 0.5 hours and drop off takes 0.5 hours, unless you have the car. You have no fuel. You would like to at least have 1 conversation with your child per day and 1 cuddle, each a minimum of 0.5 hours. Play time is an extra hour. What is life? Go figure.

“Alight Frank? What you been up to?” his smile is a kind one as Frank waddles over, offering rice cakes. They met in circumstances that usually wouldn’t fly. One afternoon, a few weeks ago, Frank approached in the pub garden, unseen and poked this man, who he didn’t know, right in the belly. Poked and laughed. Luckily this unselfconscious guy, instead of feeling fat shamed, had embraced the cocky and very forward initiation of conversation and the pair had become friends. “Have you guys met Frank?” he introduces Frank to the table of lads gulping beers, while Frank holds out the rice cakes to each in turn. “Ah, we’re alright for race cakes thank you mate but can I buy you a drink?”

Ethics Question; There are 20 toddlers in your kid’s nursery class, 4 of them have a viral infection, 3 of them have hand, foot and mouth (it’s unrelated to the animal disease, although confusing). You and your partner work 40 hour weeks standard to make rent. Your child is contagious, they picked up an illness from the breeding ground of nursery. They seem just well enough to go to nursery and nursery says, come on down, rub your rash about and cough in the faces of these other snotbots. You have a job and work to do. Your partner has to work. You have already exhausted the grandparents. This is the seventh time this month your child is ill on a nursery day (they only go to nursery two days a week!) and the fourth ailment – viral infection, bad cough, conjunctivitis and Hand, Foot and Mouth (all in one month!) All the kids’ immune systems are low, they can’t seem to fully recover before the next thing hits. You still pay for nursery when your child is not there. Nursery is fucking expensive. These illnesses can be caught again and again and again and again. The chemist says do not send your child to nursery. What do you do?

“Nana,” Frank demands, burning and grouchy, the word on repeat, another banana, meal times and healthy eating have departed, along with routine and order. At the moment whatever he will eat is better than nothing so I give him another. TV is on tap, the faucet that was once controlled is now free flowing Peppa Pig along with milk bottles he’s probably too old for. When you’re poorly anything goes but when your illnesses go back to back, a few days becomes a week becomes a month becomes the way of things. Now Frank doesn’t understand why he can’t just have a banana whenever he feels like it, why he can’t just eat the whole bunch.

Sociology Question; who are these hipster parents who turn up with casual cappuccinos to drop-off and then saunter back at pick-up still together? Tearing up to nursery and conducting a hasty, three point pram wheelie, hair feral, in thrown-on leggings and a breakfast-stained hoody, I think, I am not about that life.

If I say Raver, you say Tots! Raver, Tots! Raver, Tots! Frank paints himself with Mr Whippy then, buzzing, climbs from the pram and, dropping to a mid-swat, shakes what his Mumma gave him. This is what it’s all about. The sun blazes as a rarity, the music booms, Frank parties. A huge inflatable dinosaur thuds past us and Frank trails off after a backing dancer who looks like she should be at carnival. He pulls the old on-the-phone trick, anything that looks like a mobile can be, in this case a train ticket. He starts up the usual animated, babbling banter, an absolute torrent of delightful sounds densely peppered with “Mumma’s” and “Dadda’s”. Frank’s a flirt, he makes pretty girls clutch their ovaries and giggle. “How old is he?” they coo and I think, do you want his number?

As Frank’s world opens up, he teeters on the verge, on the edge of it all, chuckling madly and dangling one foot over. Even with the illnesses, he takes it all in his tiny stride, he’s out and about now, this is life. The good and the bad, Frank experiences it all. He checks his pockets for rice cakes, making sure he has a stash in-hand. He wavers but only for a second and then, spotting his carnival dancer queen, he flashes her a grin and he’s off, he’s jumped all-in.