3 AM Saturday 31 March 2012 Nunhead Heights
Yesterday was my birthday. I am 55.
I saw my two sons – aged 9 and 11 – for a few hours. They gave me handmade birthday cards and a gift of potted plants to adorn my veranda at the Priory – my council estate and not the drug and alcohol rehab center. The name is a built-in reminder of the place I am going to need after I develop late-onset alcoholism. Last night I had two glasses of wine and one pint of beer. That’s a lot for me.
You should see me with my boys. People think I may be a good person when I have my kids around. I think they think that but most likely the English people think I’m a nut for paying so much attention to them – or for trying to pay so much attention.
In years past I would have spoiled the day with anger and recriminations: “Why didn’t the mother let them stay over with me on MY BIRTHDAY?” I would seethe. I love to seethe.
American children spend a lot of time with their parents – I remember it that way.
By the time I was grown I was sick of my parents and they were sick of me. When I had my kids I thought the point of parenting is make your children bored of you and for you to have your fill of them so you can send them off into the world without guilt. You want your children to fly off to create iPads, Mad Men, or achieve peace and prosperity to Iraq and Afghanistan.
In England – and that includes the territories of Scotland, Wales, and Ireland – one commonly sees grown adults drinking with their parents in pubs and clubs. I never saw that in America. I surely never hung out with my parents in Great Neck.
The English originated the English nanny so they wouldn’t have to deal with the mess of babies. The English invented the English boarding school to look after them when they’re older. They developed prams or strollers so they could wheel babies around like toxic waste, early education to socialize them, television and the Teletubbies to keep them quiet, and the Boy Scouts to keep them busy. The English are world leaders in the art of ignoring one’s children.
The mother of my children wanted to raise them as English children with pushchairs, au pairs, and school at 2. I wanted them to spend every waking hour with us. We fought a battle. I lost.
I didn’t seethe yesterday. I know the boys are doing okay.
They have their own stuff to do and I have my own stuff to do. And the time we spend together is enough. I don’t need them to spend my birthday with me. They don’t need to spend my birthday with me. It has to be that way.
This is the first year I have said that and believed it.
My sons are English children. In less than ten years I will have two sons who will come to the pub, have a pint or two, and get to know the man who claims to be their father. I hope that is me. And I will have two sons who will share my ten-year-old alcohol problem.
In the meantime, I get taken out for a birthday dinner by a friend, don’t have to find or pay for a babysitter, and get drunk – or what I consider drunk.
If you knew me in America, you’d say “Damn, Lewis! You’ve changed.” Yes, indeed. “I’m 55.”
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