I was about four or five when one of the most significant and briefly happy events in my childhood occurred. I had been building up to it for weeks, if not months, in my mind, at least.
It all centred on a fantasy that had been fuelled by television programmes, those wholesome ones from the US where the kids all have enormous bedrooms and spend lots of time playing basketball with their parents in the front yard. And it involved a comic called Twinkle, otherwise known as “the picture paper specially for little girls”.
Comics were very big for the six children in my house, just as newspapers were accorded all available respect by the adults. Each child was allowed to buy one comic per week and it was an extremely exciting day when I, the youngest, became old enough to join the order at the local newsagent.
I chose Twinkle mostly for the freebies. These were “dainty” rings and “pretty” bracelets of the type that turn green as soon as the wearer walks near a water source.
The only problem was that my reading skills did not yet match my superior plastic jewellery styling abilities. And help was not readily available, especially not from older brothers who were probably still in shock that a girl had joined their household a handful of years earlier.
My poor mother was the obvious next stop. Mammy to six and housekeeper from the second she woke until the second she went to sleep, reading comics was not factored into her day. There was no downtime, no me time and definitely no time to sit with individual children to ensure their leisure time was educational, fruitful and entertaining.
This mostly worked to our advantage in that we had the kind of freedom that allowed for the consumption of lots and lots of television, including the aforementioned US programming featuring idyllic family life. My impressionable brain took it all in.
Even in my childish self-absorption, the tiredness on her face was hard to avoid
The result was that after finagling the purchase of Twinkle, I also needed my distinctly non-US mother to sit and read it with me, both of us smiling fondly all the while in case a television camera wandered into the livingroom. Without this, my whole childhood would be ruined, my adolescence scarred and my future career prospects irretrievably dashed . It was time for a campaign, which in the mind of a small child equates to much whining – the kind of whining that bores a tiny hole into the parental head and takes up residence in the form of a constant low-level buzz. I know this because I have my own children now, albeit not on the same mass scale as my parents.
You’ve probably worked out by now how things went. As usual, I won – my mother agreed to sit down with poor neglected, sad me after tea to read my comic. My selfish excitement built through the day as the landmark time approached. The sofa was the designated location for the magical event, my legs not long enough to touch the floor as I awaited the gush of Twinkle love that was about to make my life complete.
But of course it didn’t. The moment my mother sat down, I could see how exhausted she was – simply shattered with all of the work a large family will bring, day in, day out. Even in my childish self-absorption, the tiredness on her face was hard to avoid. The effect was that the unfounded guilt she had felt at not giving me enough time was replaced with mine for nagging her over something so inconsequential. I can remember the moment of realisation still.
This dawning came back to me a few weeks ago when my own daughter was repeatedly asking (I was going to write plaguing, but didn’t, super mother that I am) me to join her in making bracelets from embroidery thread. She was practising a new and quite impressive skill learned from TikTok, but it was one I knew my firmly uncreative fingers would struggle to master. Plus, I had laundry, cooking, hoovering and tidying to do. I put her off and put her off, eventually giving in late one evening and making a bad job of the whole business. She was disappointed, I was disappointed and much embroidery thread had met a needless end, creating a rainbow cemetery of regret on the rug. And just as I never asked my mother to read Twinkle again, my daughter has not yet asked for the destruction to be repeated.
What I hope she realises, and what I worked out a while after the Twinkle incident, is that the reason these manufactured moments of togetherness don’t always result in overwhelming Twinkle- or bracelet-fuelled love is that much more real love is there all the time, just in a more subtle, reliable and unquestioning form. And hopefully, this is a love that does not need the influence of a US television show or TikTok to prove itself.
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