At Edinburgh Station the other day, among the harrassed mothers and hustling commuters, a young couple caught my eye. Not so long ago, they might have been us. Their clothes were clean and lacking streaks of Weetabix or smears of regurgitated milk. Her hair was long and wavy through design, rather than through not having been to the hairdresser for over a year. They were dawdling for pleasure, not because they were impatiently waiting for a toddler to come in the same direction. But what struck me most was that they were teasing one another and laughing, chasing the pigeons and laughing, touching one another and laughing. How long is it since we laughed, really laughed, together? I’m not sure watching repeats of QI really counts…
Sometimes it seems we don’t have much to laugh about. I’ve spent the last few days filling in a 31-page form to tell the Disability Living Allowance people of a ‘change of circumstances.’ This is one of the more depressing things parents of disabled children have to go through: describing in detail everything Benjamin cannot do and all the extra care he requires relative to another child of his age, something most of the time we try not to think about. Our change of circumstances is two-fold. Firstly, Benjamin is feeding (even) more at night, frequently from eight o’clock until one o’clock or three o’clock in the morning. Secondly, he’s (unremarkably) got older. So his care needs, relative to other children of his age, have increased. Having looked after Benjy since he was born, we’ve grown used to the sleepless nights and endless feeding, supporting him in every position and doing everything for him, but when you take a step back it’s clear this isn’t normal for a 16-month old. As our social worker pointed out, we are in fact providing both day and night care and this should entitle us to the higher rate care component of the allowance.
When we’re not feeding Benjamin (and sometimes when we are) our conversations revolve around the practical (“How do we get Jackie to stay in her own bed?” “Will you be in for dinner tomorrow?” “Who shall we approach for quotes to fit a radiator in the kitchen?”) and the serious (“Are we going to have another baby?”). Even the topics that should be fun – “Where shall we go on holiday this year” – seem to degenerate into project management: when and where can we go that will not be fraught with difficulty carrying a lively three-year old and 10 kilos of high-calorie formula?
Increasingly we do things separately: one looking after the kids while the other gets on with some task, or one taking Jackie while the other cares for Benjamin. And when we are together, traditional times for banter such as mealtimes are now taken up with cajoling, comforting or just corralling uncooperative children.
So when can we laugh together? Can we still laugh together? The toll of tiredness is that emotions are raw, tempers frayed, self-consciousness heightened. Poking fun at one another becomes a risky business all too easily taken the wrong way. Should we pull some Christmas crackers, get out the old Fawlty Towers videos, or book ourselves tickets for a show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe?
Actually I’m quite tempted by the Fawlty Towers idea but I’m home alone (with the kids) tonight so that kind of negates the point. As usual I turned to Google for solutions, and found an article entitled “The 30 best jokes from the Edinburgh Fringe”. Perfect: I can text hubby one a day for a month. It may drive him insane but it might put a smile on our faces. Here’s my favourite, from Sara Pascoe:
“You can’t lose a homing pigeon. If your homing pigeon doesn’t come back, then what you’ve lost is a pigeon.”
PS. What actually made me laugh more was that, searching for a photo to accompany this piece, I found a website devoted to “free photos of pigeons for download.” Some people really do have too much time on their hands…