I’ve had to stop following the news (even when my work depends on me doing so). Listening to a morning radio bulletin while waiting for the kettle to boil means that, before I’ve even sunk my first coffee of the day, I’m already loaded up with reports of massive human suffering, the creep of fascism, and depressingly frequent instances of unimaginable violence.
Being a parent adds a thrilling new dimension to this unpleasantness. Because, just as when you buy a red car you suddenly notice every other red car on the road, now that I have kids I see how riddled the news is with tiny children in all sorts of heartbreaking situations. Abducted kids. Kids fleeing violence only to be met with indifference. Kids preyed upon by the wicked. Kids ripped from the arms of their families on a day out at the museum.
And in the modern parlance, I just cannot. Because every one of these news stories now features my own tender-hearted sons in the starring role. And for the briefest of moments, I inhabit the mind of that child’s parent and experience a small (but still overwhelming) wedge of what they’re going through. It’s exhausting, especially when three such stories can pop up in the time you spend browsing your phone in the supermarket queue.
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The problem is, it’s not just the news. It’s books, too. Recently I tried to read a thick primer on climate change – but nope. The book essentially predicted the apocalypse, and imagining my sons having to become Mad Max just to survive scared me so much I tossed the book under my bed, where it couldn’t see me.
It’s also prestige crime dramas, because – guess what – they all feature children in peril, too, sometimes as a plot point, more often as lazy historical padding for a brooding main character. Even nature documentaries are off-limits. What’s that you’re burbling about soothingly, David Attenborough? A brace of gambolling baby rabbits? Oh, how lovely. But wait – what’s that in the grass, coolly waiting to strike? Oh yeah, a bloody python.
The other morning, I was dropping my four-year-old at nursery, and he ran up to several little boys and girls in his class with breathy, excited greetings. And you know what? None of the mouth-breathing little ingrates even acknowledged him. I had to physically stop myself hulking out, chucking every mini chair in the room out of the window, before home-schooling my son forever and making all his clothes out of bubble-wrap, so no one makes the light go out of his excited little face ever again.
Parenthood destroys you.
It also, of course, rebuilds you. To be a parent is to walk around with your insides on the outside, raw and aching over how innocent and vulnerable your kids are, while the world around them is something cruel and carnivorous, waiting with open mouth.
“Parenthood destroys you. It also, of course, rebuilds you.”
When you face a threat such as this, you adapt. Despite my long history of people-pleasing, I now frequently say no to potential drains on my energy, because they impact on my family. And, surprisingly for a tiny woman with abysmal upper-body strength, I will protect my children without hesitation.
Once, a fight broke out in the street when I was out walking with my baby, and somehow I developed the muscle to hoist baby and buggy up in the air, and sprint away to safety. And when a man in a van followed my (then) newborn son, his toddler brother and me down the road, shouting racial abuse and rape threats, I laughed it off. I laughed it off for my toddler, who was terrified; I laughed while filing the police report; and I laughed when we went out for a family lunch. I laughed until my son laughed, despite the fact I was as frightened as he was – and furious, too.
In total, I think parenthood has changed me for the better. Less tolerance for rubbish, more appreciation for my fellow man. But still, would someone please make a season of Broadchurch that’s just heartwarming moments and lovely sunsets and everyone working through their problems? Seriously. Because I’m a mum and my heart is constantly breaking, which means the only thing I can watch these days is Countryfile.