Ruth Fitzmaurice: We clink cans, feeling ageless and happy to be going nowhere

Middle-aged people are beaming ear to ear carrying trays of plastic-lidded pints

‘Doing a whole bunch of nothing,’ my significant other calls it, as we buy two takeaway cans and sit outside. Photograph: Leah Farrell / RollingNews.ie

‘Doing a whole bunch of nothing,’ my significant other calls it, as we buy two takeaway cans and sit outside. Photograph: Leah Farrell / RollingNews.ie

 

These children of mine look like angels, but often they behave like hungry ghosts. Fixed eyes have a needling quality, designed to unnerve me. They keep asking for stuff. Treats, merch, squishmallows, a swimsuit with a pug barfing up rainbows, whatever the demand, they want more of it on a whim.

This is a generation of thin-lipped fidget spinners. They chant and rechant wants like holy prayers. “Pleeaaase” they beg, pale faces upturned, sharp little noses nudging at me, the one in charge. The one perplexed.

I am their chief and they are a different race. Help me, Carl Jung. I think of his conversation with a native American elder who said, “How cruel the whites are. Their faces furrowed and distorted by holes. They are always seeking something. What are they seeking? We do not know what they want. We think they are mad.”

Middle-aged people who should know better are beaming ear to ear carrying trays of plastic-lidded pints. Lounging around on grass. Next thing they’ll be loitering with intent in Tesco car park

We escape into town without the children. I mean the village. On the Dart line, town means Dublin city. Only culchies like me say into town meaning local. I have middle aisle fatigue from a gluttony of random purchases and five hungry children. It’s not raining and post lockdown, such Saturday conditions are enough to warrant pure revelry. The village is acting like a bunch of teenagers. What are we seeking? Exactly this.

Middle-aged people who should know better are beaming ear to ear carrying trays of plastic-lidded pints. Lounging around on grass. Next thing they’ll be loitering with intent in Tesco car park. Jazz music hangs in the air as we pass a cafe and, all knees and elbows, an elderly gent is dancing a jig. His grey-haired audience claps and whoops.

“Doing a whole bunch of nothing,” my significant other calls it, as we buy two cans and go sit on the beach. Takeaway pints look fun but they’re not IPA, says the beer geek. He plays me Simple Man by Lynyrd Skynyrd, to capture the mood because he’s midwestern American, so it’s nostalgic and sweet.

I tell him a story I just read called The Other Side of the Hedge by EM Forster, about a man busy walking on a dusty main road lined with dead hedges. “My pedometer told me I was 25,” says the man because on the road, with everyone in a collective hurry, pedometers count years instead of steps. “That’s deep,” says the beer geek, swigging his can. He’s into it, so I continue.

The man on the road gets tired and stops to look into the hedge. Seeing a chink of light, he moves through to find a land of lush wide open grass and sunshine, people sitting around doing a whole bunch of nothing. “Where does this place lead to?” he asks. Nowhere, they tell him and he objects because everywhere must lead somewhere. They all laugh because he is a product of the road while they are just happy.

Now that we’ve all seen through the hedge, has bustling along the road become altogether pointless? I take my own slurp of beer. It tastes better on the beach. Everything does. Cheers. We clink cans and watch a hazy line of blue sea, feeling ageless and happy to be going nowhere.

Wandering back into the village of revelry we spot a sporty man, stern in the mouth running along the main road. His skin looks shiny with purpose. I wonder what his pedometer told him. A carload of his friends drives by hanging out windows honking and cheering him on. Energised by their greeting he laughs, air punches and proceeds to bounce along like a hero. For the brief moment they pass, he’s not thinking about the pedometer. Fortified, we walk home to deal with hungry children.

Dump them in a forest and even the most reluctant child is bound to forget their wants

The next day is windy and grey, so mothers arrange to meet and save our querulous children with a walk in the woods. Dump them in a forest and even the most reluctant child is bound to forget their wants. They are following a nowhere trail of leaves and marvellous sticks. Simple. We reach a clearing piled high with felled trees and branches.

Observe what happens when you play in the forest with a mother who is also an architect. Gentle, curious, she considers branches and leans them against a tree, building the spine of a dwelling. No one speaks. Uncoaxed, the children begin to help her. For a whimsy of hours, adults and children think of nothing except the size and weight of tree limbs. We build a mighty fort with walls and a window. I mean it’s awesome. Like a giant beetle crouched in a clearing. Heads empty, we want only the task. Fortified within our new fort, we sit for a while, then we abandon it and go home.

Brighter eyed after the forest, I am approached by my son. This one has a pedometer reading 12. He’s the dangerous one with a poker face. “Just sit and watch,” he says, arranging the iPad screen. He has made an illustrated Powerpoint presentation on why I should buy him a backpack shaped like a cheeseburger. Here are his reasons.

1. There are three pockets with two zips on each which would be very useful for school.
2. The bun has a second pocket.
3. Even the cheese has pockets.
4. It’s made of 100 per cent polyester.
5. All reviews are five stars.

He ends with a review. “I am consistently admiring the carrying capacity of this amazingly made backpack. I keep telling people it was totally worth the price.”

How cruel. He had me at cheese pockets. The boy blinks at me and he looks like an angel because that’s exactly what my children are. Now all of us want a cheeseburger backpack and we are very happy to buy one this instant. I think we are all mad.

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