Age doesn’t necessarily bring anything with it, save itself. The rest is optional.
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
Last week mainly took me to places I didn’t want to go.
It took me to being 37, the age that for the longest time I have not wanted to be because at some point being 37 will mean being older than my father was when he died. I used to be suspicious of people who were 37. They were never as grown up as I thought a 37-year-old should be. They didn’t have all the answers any more than I had all the answers, but I knew that they should have them because they were 37. Then, once I was in my 30s, I realised the impossibility of being as wise and sure and grown up as a 37-year-old parent is to an eleven-year-old child, which is, of course, wiser and surer and more grown up than any 37-year old — or at least this 37-year-old — actually is to themselves.
The day after I turned 37 I found myself sitting on a kitchen chair in the garden holding the Moose on my lap while B called 999. The Moose had fallen asleep on the sofa just before tea time. He’d been feverish and snuffly all day, but woke struggling to breath. He stayed calm for so long as B talked into the phone and I told him again and again that the paramedics were coming to help him. I watched his ribs sucked right back to his spine with each croupy breath as we waited for help. I rubbed my hand up and down his thin t-shirt, feeling the smallness of him, the bird-like bones of his ribs. I talked to him quietly, a litany of motherhood, I’ve got you, I’ve got you. It’s going to be okay. Then the rusty noise of his breathing stopped for a moment as he mouthed at me, Get help, and my own calm was nearly undone.
The week took me riding to hospital in an ambulance, now rubbing the Moose’s blue socked foot and still talking to him all the time as the paramedics nebulised a second set of steroids into his oxygen mask. It took me to a calm tableau in A&E: five of us standing round him, an anaesthetist explaining to me what they would need to do if the third dose of steroids didn’t work; the consultant so steady, watching and waiting. Almost imperceptibly his breathing started to seem slightly better and the Moose, still pale and struggling under his mask, suddenly did his characteristic double thumbs up and we all laughed with relief.
It took me to a night of endless kindness in children’s wing and an early morning standing in the doorway of the hospital looking out into the pouring rain. Standing there, holding his hand in mine, I felt the enormous, dizzying relief that I felt after each of them was born and we were allowed to go home with this tiny, precious life.
It took me to a week at home with feverish, coughing boys. Long days and sleepless nights, and being grateful simply to be able to leave the house twice a day to drop T at school and pick her up again later.
To a weekend of snuffles and sneezes when a trip to Ikea for breakfast seemed like the very best adventure we could manage. (Where, incidentally, we met the Moose’s teacher and another set of parents from his class — clearly Ikea is the place to be on a misty Sunday morning.)
And then back to the start of it all. To the realisation that I’m 37 and I have three children and I might be required to hold any one of them in my arms while they struggle to breath and look at me with desperate eyes. Or I might be required to test times tables each morning after breakfast as I plait hair into two neat braids. Or I might be required to sit patiently while someone sounds out the word raft eight times in a fourteen page book. And from there it’s a short step to admitting that I am as grown up as I might once have expected a 37 year old to be and only as old — and as wise and sure — as I need to be.
Which is too neat, but will do for now. Because for now I’m counting the months. Because for now I’m still eleven months younger than my father. Because for now I’m looking at myself from the outside in, not the inside out. Maggie Nelson again, nailing it in an aside,
(presuming one ever becomes an adult, in relation to one’s parents)
because I guess, whatever my age, I never will.
September is one of my favourite months, but this year the days are rainy and grey instead of blue-skied and crisp as I like them: sandals and jeans weather. But I’m hoping that this week will bring fewer surprises, more rhythm, a settling in to autumn — maybe even an Indian summer.
Photo: At the coast for my birthday we happened to see the Red Arrows performing overhead.