Mummy, what would be a good comeback to “fuck off”?”, says my straight-faced four year old to me at breakfast this morning. The inherent strength in his voice commands the attention of our posh, middle-aged table neighbours and I immediately feel the chill of their judgement heavy breath. I keep cool and resist the urge to laugh, even though my pupils feel as though they’ve just perforated my corneas. I had been explaining to him what a ‘comeback’ was that morning. My previous example had been the obvious toddler relatable comeback: “in a while, crocodile!” Clearly, I had forgotten for that moment what sort of toddler I was dealing with. I’d love to lie (as I often do) and tell you that my four year old is the perfect innocent sampling of child purity. Never exposed to cursing or scary adult TV, crude hip-hop lyrics or the occasionally inebriated mummy and daddy. But the truth is, my son is the perfect innocent sampling of childhood purity, living in the real world; my world. Now before you go thinking I’m this negligent parent running my kid around town barefoot and taking him to Kanye West concerts after a few pints, let me remind you that I am similar to you, perhaps – a parent that cares. I’ve read the books. I’ve had plenty of sleepless nights, shed many a tear and spent an absurd amount of hours on mumsnet making sure I’m doing it all correctly. And let’s face it; sometimes I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. Because what first time parent ever does? The one solid certainty that unites us sometime clueless, helpless, lost mothers is that we love our children to no end and we want the absolute best for them despite our over-cluttered, fast-paced lives.
Ok, so going back to the “fuck off” comment over breakfast cereal (gluten free breakfast cereal, obviously!). I’m sure you’re wondering where he would have heard something like that before? Well, the simple answer is: I don’t fucking know. We live in London, where we’re surrounded by herds of people on a regular basis. He goes to a state school, where older pupils are the soap to his spongy soul. His dad works in the music business and regularly tests out the quality of newly written (not always clean) pop songs on our son’s youthful ears. I’m in the beginnings of a career in film and could be mostly known for my heavy-handed preference to write and direct dark character dramas, often set in heavily dismal worlds. So, I guess the better thought out answer is: he could have heard it anywhere. Does this make me a bad mum? Am I not safeguarding my child enough? Is there even such a thing? I mean, I guess I could quit my job and aim my twisted hand at cbeebies pitches instead of channel 4 and confine him to the four walls of his room for most of his young life. Or I guess a more sensible, realistic approach would be to move to Barnes??? Fuck, wait; we already did that. Ok, so I guess I could start pretending to believe in God, join the local church, home school him, only associate with school mums that look like they haven’t bathed in four days but at least they don’t smoke, curse or have lives outside of their children.
But really, what’s more important to me? The preservation of my son’s short lived innocence, or the preservation of what’s left of ME after my parental responsibilities? And by the way, did I mention I’m pregnant? The cool, selfish me thinks I shouldn’t have to choose or give up my personal life and aspirations to settle and JUST be mum. But, of course, there is no way around the sacrifices you have to make to be a GOOD mum. And for me a GOOD mum means spending at least one hour a day cuddling, kissing, tickling and showering my son with affection. No more than 1 hour a day of TV (ok, who am I fucking kidding, 3 sometimes 4 if it’s the weekend or I’ve got lots of work to do) Regular, impromptu, aimless excursions to satisfy our need for adventure (granted sometimes we end up in the pub at the end of them, but at least our imaginations have been stimulated and I’m a terrible cook). Before school every morning we play loud music and practise silly dance moves. And lastly, we laugh. We laugh A LOT. See I’m not trying to raise a perfect child. I’m trying to raise a happy one. And it just so happens he’s pretty badass as well. And by the way, I might have stuck my tongue out at the stiff, old couple on our way out of breakfast that morning, because my answer to the “fuck off” question was, “Clever and mature comebacks always win.” And clearly I practise what I preach!
Nicole Albarelli is an American writer, director and filmmaker living in West London with her soon to be husband, 5-year-old son, Dylan and newborn son, Ashton. She currently runs independent film production company Anomaly Cinema and has just completed her debut feature film entitled, TO DREAM.