Context

Sitting at the table, watching my son, my mind is full of problems. The child is eating, doesn’t see my clouds. Hunger drives him, leads him on, while my thoughts have well and truly ruined my appetite.

I have finally chosen to tell her I am leaving. The arguments have gotten acrimonious, it is taking us longer to mend broken fences, and we are no longer sticking to our cherished (and long-promised) mantra of always resolving our differences before we drift into sleep. As a result we are drifting apart, slowly but inevitably, and as the divergent experiences increase, it feels (at least to me) like a wedge is being driven between us, a solid, hard, pointy wedge that can no longer be dissolved, no matter how hard I try. Food stains and remins stubbornly cling to the cooking pot, no matter how long the dishwasher is left to run.

I envy my son his world at this moment. Every child appears to me to be like a new start, the proverbial blank slate. The child does not know the pre-history (although my son can perhaps sense some parts of it, with that mysterious childhood intuition, the ability to see), does not know why we’re sad, or stressed, sees only itself and cannot grasp the context of the adult. The child starts from a fresh baseline, but the child’s baseline is already deep into experience territory for the grown-up.

By the time the child arrives, the adult already has years of climbing and scrambling behind him. And experience doesn’t need to be a positive thing, either: it can be something to build on, something to repeat. It can be a lesson, or simply baggage, something it would have been better off not knowing in the first place. Sometimes, when one doesn’t want to know an answer, it’s better not to ask a question in the first place. There is a certain emptiness, a lack of understanding, a desire to know the full story: but sometimes this itch that can’t be scratched is better than the infliction of a wound that comes with knowing the truth, or a real reason behind a context or an action.

My friends (always a few years ahead of me in the parenting game) had joked that you always think carefully about having that second child. The first is a blank page for the parents, too, and everything appears wonderful, no hurdle is too large, and any challenges (sleepless nights, work-life balance stress) along the way are pinned like war medals to the chest. By the time thoughts of the second child arrive, usually as a consequence of the rapid growing up of the first one, the doubting questions start to arise, however: can I really put myself through that again? I can deal with one, but two? Will two kids be less than twice as much work as a single child, or more?

But regardless of these thoughts, which will now most probably not lead to a younger brother or sister, what has caused my stomach to turn is whether the little figure at the table, engrossed in book and cornflakes, will understand what has happened, what is happening. How will he construct a plot to understand the events around him, what kind of a framework will he build, in order to somehow create a tapestry into which all the disparate pieces of the puzzle fit? Will he eventually realise that context works backwards as well as forwards, that in terms of hindsight there is a foreword, an introduction, a pre-story, that is read completely differently at different times of the year? My mind wanders away from the family for a moment and onto a larger historical canvas, touching on how a single sentence can mean nothing (or something radical) to a new generation, and everything (heavily loaded, dripping with residue) to an older one.

But I have made up my mind that that sentence will come today, later when he is in bed and sleeping, when I only have to fight on a single front and not grapple with my guilt. When you say something, as I am about to, you unleash a chain of events, release a genie that can’t be put back in the bottle. Paths diverge in a way that they no longer have any chance of meeting, asymptotic, never quite merging or crossing again.

I don’t need to lie. I can, and will have to, live with the consequences, and so can she.

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