When Mummy was afraid of the dark

by Julie Alpine-Crabtree

Yes, I did make them myself. From a packet mix. Which, on my second day in a row of having been up from 4.45am, is the culinary equivalent of climbing the Shard in spike heels after having necked three fig martinis and begged a couple of tokes off a stranger’s spliff.

The cupcakes, plus Milo, have now been safely delivered to nursery, leaving me to return home under a heavy, grey sky to an apartment that looks like it’s imploded. Nini is alternating between banging two wooden spoons together and trying to eat bits of fluff from the floor, wearing a sleepsuit that may have once been cream but is now banana-stained, brown and sticky. My To Do list is long and everything on it remains To Be Done.

Who knew banana stains were so hard to get out?

In my head buzz all the threats I made this morning, threats I failed to carry out; worse, had no intention of carrying out. “If you snatch that toy/throw a blanket over your sister’s head/shout at me while I’m on the phone one more time, you won’t go to your nursery Halloween party.” I mean, please. Even Nini knows carrying out that particular threat would have been counter-productive.

But at least my Halloween horrors are of the common-or-garden toddler variety.

Last week I went to see We Need to Talk About Kevin. One week later – unusually for someone with a memory as pitiful as mine – scenes from the gut-wrenching, jaw-clenching, visually awe-inspiring  Lynn Ramsay-directed adaptation of Lionel Shriver‘s novel still haunt me.

It’s not just Kevin, the psychopathically-lacking-in-empathy, sexually knowing, some-might-say devil child, played to such chilling effect by Ezra Miller. It’s the layer upon layer of worst-fears-about-motherhood realised: the giving up of everything from smoking to impromptu exotic travel, the erosion of one’s professional identity, the inevitable, reluctant move to the suburbs, the annihilated sex life, the marital difficulties, the sibling rivalry, the violence, the mess, the way it always falls to the mother to clean up…

And it’s the detail. At one point, the long-suffering Eva, played by Tilda Swinton, catches sight of her son, Kevin, checking out a shop window display featuring her latest book, a sign inviting the public to come and meet the “Legendary Adventurer”.

I was a Legendary Adventurer once.

Weren’t you?

On a bad day, it’s easy to feel my wings clipped, the walls closing in, restricted. To feel short on energy, high on anxiety, to look back in anger.

On a good day, the kids are part of the adventure. The most daring part yet.

When I read We Need to Talk About Kevin, it scared me. It echoed my fears, validated them. I was not the right kind of person to have children. I would regret becoming a mother. My experiences would echo Eva’s. I would be doomed.

But the novel is fiction; its author doesn’t have kids. Learning that fact alone allowed me to breathe easier. I could handle these horrors of gestation and beyond if they were no more than an educated guess. A fabrication. A literary coup.

There was also, of course, an opposing fear. Not having kids and living to regret it. Like the 47-year-old woman who opened her heart to me, briefly, last Friday, as we chatted on the No.205 bus between Regent’s Park and Angel.

No, this Halloween, two-and-three-quarter years into being a parent, while I have a dead-eyed stare about me, the zombie look down to a fine art, no costume required, if you knocked at my door and posed the question “trick or treat?” I’d answer, without hesitation, “treat”. Indeed, motherhood has been a fucking revelation.

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