In the run up to Christmas, Lucy considers giving up.
I’m sitting in bed with a cup of tea making a mental list: buy bathroom light and lampshades, get shower door fixed (again), order blinds, drill large hole in wall so that tumble dryer can be used. Ring Malcolm as I need to find gigantic ham boiling pan (in storage). And bed (also in storage). I’m interrupted by Will popping his head round the door: ‘I’ve got a few things I need you to do today.’ Oh? ‘Register me with a doctor, buy a Do Not Bend envelope, ring the police. I’ve put my washing by the machine. I’m a Working Man. I’ve gotta go.’ He feels it very keenly when he’s dressed before me.
December means deadlines, so that ‘hang pictures’ nestles beside ‘order turkey’ on the To Do list. Everything you’ve been meaning to mend, source or find in the past six months needs to be done in the next two weeks. But this morning, it became clear that I also have the deadlines of the Working Man and these are possibly more pressing than mine.
The Working Man needs a doctor so that he can get jabs before leaving the UK in the first days
of 2015. He needs a criminal record check so that he can work in the childcare centre in Brazil. He needs the Do Not Bend envelope for his exam certificates, which need to be stamped by his school, then sent to his university of choice. Now.
I ring the plumber and the electrician, but they explain that I’m joining a long queue behind other people’s deadlines and they doubt they can get to me this year. ‘Do you actually have the fitting?’ they ask. ‘Yes,’ I lie. Next on the list is Malcolm, the man at the removal firm who has been our North Star, the rock of common sense around whom the chaotic eddies of our various house moves have swirled. He’s the man who listened to our plans for getting sofas and chairs from house A to B to C and then said, very kindly: ‘No offence, Mr and Mrs Baring, but most people would do all of that the other way round.’
I dial his number and can feel him hide under his desk while waving at the secretary to Not Put That Woman Through, but she does and I ask after his health because Malcolm doesn’t sound himself at all. This, I learn, is due to an unfortunate incident with a plate-glass window resulting in several stitches. I explain about needing the ham pan and a bed, but Malcolm isn’t making any promises.
I review the other deadlines and pick up registration forms from the surgery. I return to the surgery with forms, via the bathroom-light shop, where I bump into a neighbour who is also buying a bathroom light. When I get back to the car, Fletcher, the dachshund, has hopped onto the passenger seat where he has sat, wetly, on the forms, which are now unreadable. I go back and get dry forms, fill these out and return them, whereupon I’m told that the surgery no longer does ‘gap year’ jabs.
A friend arrives as I’m looking for a passport photo of Will for the criminal check. She sits on what I had thought was our only good chair, but falls through the seat of it. I bump ‘get chairs mended’ up the To Do list, then remember there are a couple in storage. Before I can ring Malcolm again, I’m elated to find a Do Not Bend envelope in the bottom drawer.
The Working Man returns and I wave the envelope at him, bristling with efficiency. ‘It’s too small,’ he says. I suggest that I take his certificates to school for stamping tomorrow. ‘No offence, Mum, but you don’t seem to have a clue about my university application, so I think I’ll take them myself after work.’ Malcolm and Will seem to preface most remarks this way and am I offended? I am not. I’m utterly consoled.
I give up on my deadlines, but tick something off the list far more important than picture hanging: as soon as your child thinks you’re incompetent, your job is done.