A school-run mum hits back - think before you hate me
"What?" I demand of my husband.
It comes out like a squawk: What?
"Sometimes you stop breathing when you're asleep," he repeats. "I have to nudge you so you turn over and start breathing again."
I'm gobsmacked. This is big news to me, the person whose subconscious apparently has a hit out on itself. We've spent almost every night together for more than six years, and he's telling me now?
"I thought you already knew," he says. Which would be reasonable, if I was ever awake when this happened. But I. Am always. Asleep.
I'm telling you, the surprises keep on coming in your 40s. Middle-age is as unpredictable as a thermal mud-pool: little bubbles, little bubbles, little bubbles, BIG FAT ANGRY BUBBLE, BET YOU DIDN'T SEE THAT ONE COMING, I'LL BE BACK AND I'LL BRING MY FRIENDS, little bubbles. It's more eventful than it has any right to be.
* Leah McFall: The Lost Generation
* Leah McFall: Climbing Accident
* Leah McFall: State of the Arts
For example, I'm a safe driver. I'm probably safer than you, because I did a defensive driving course in the sixth form and I maintain exceptional travelling distances. I continually scan for hazards; I use my headlights in the daytime. I'm neurotic so you can be irresponsible, and that way we both get home in one piece. Everybody wins!
And yet, in the past month, the weirdest thing. Everybody hates me on the road. After years of driving without incident, I'm getting tooted all over the shop (pip-pip-pip and sometimes, the angrier paaaaaaarp! when they use the heel of their hand for emphasis).
My very existence seems to infuriate people. I made a turn at a mini-roundabout only last week and the driver who had to let me pass was apoplectic. He honked, his face contorted and if a speech bubble had appeared above his head with emojis inside, these would have been: Frowning face. Red angry frowning face. Skull and crossbones. Monkey with hands over its eyes. Poop. Poop. Poop.
I glided past him, avoiding eye-contact, just as Morning Report ended with the bird call. Crawk! Crawk!
"Kaka," George said solemnly, from the back seat.
As I drove on to kindy, it dawned on me why I was so vastly, suddenly, unpopular. Of course! I'm on the school run!
A mother on the school run is about as welcome on the road as Joan Rivers used to be on the red carpet. All the stars knew she was a necessary part of the entertainment machine, but they resented the space she took up. She reminded them that yes, they were gilded and beautiful but their time was inexorably ticking, ticking, ticking toward irrelevance. Soon their star would fade, and Joan knew it. In this way she was like Death, ruining their party in a fur wrap and heels.
Mothers running their kids to school, often in an SUV, with several kids and a poodle mix in the back, clog up the roads at rush hour. We infuriate everyone.
Why can't she walk? Why does she drive so slowly? Why can't she parallel park neatly, in one move, and let me quickly pass? Me, who has a video conference at 9am, and always leaves the house at 8.30am, not a minute earlier, not a minute later, even though this happens every freaking morning, all these big-ass mothers on the school run, dragging on my speed?
Immaterial that there might be a baby or toddler in the back of that car, she might have shopping to do or errands to run; she might walk with a stick, or she must drive to a distant office after this; that it's raining hard; that you could flip this whole thing, and consider there'd be no congestion at all if the suits got off the road and marched to the office in a walking bus, but no. Your Time Is Precious. You probably bill every six minutes.
Oh, if only it were Saudi Arabia, and no women could drive! (Scratch that. Then who'd take all the kids to school?)
It's on mornings like these, when I get honked, or moved along (you can't stop there!) a suspicion nags me that we, in New Zealand, don't value children very much. We don't want them inconveniencing us, taking priority during rush hour. We don't want them beside us on planes, at the next café table, in cinemas or at shows.
And yet, here I am, unpacking children from my car, growing them up to take over when you're old.
These kids might one day bring you a meal on wheels. Check on you after a quake. Top up your morphine as you lay dying, or fold your hands neatly in your coffin. If you make room for us, you ultimately make room for yourself.
Isn't it the least you can do, to give way?