Who Knew? Life is Supposed To Be Hard.
When I was a teenager I was convinced that my friends didn’t understand me, that I was going to fail educationally and end up homeless, and that no man would ever love me. I have the poetry to prove it. I would look at my parents with envy. They had it so easy. Working their jobs, not having to worry if the phone never rang and all their friends were out without them. Already found a life partner. Adulthood to me was the culmination of the journey of adolescence, and once through the acne, the exams and the uncertainty, adulthood meant that you could kick back and enjoy the fruits of all your teenage labour.
So strangely enough it hasn’t worked out like that. It turns out that while adolescence certainly doesn’t have much to recommend it, on certain days, neither does adulthood.
I’m Gemma and I write about living an ordinary life that conforms to absolutely none of your expectations. Never in my wildest adolescent dreams did I imagine an adult life as a stay-at-home mum to six little kids, while my husband, Ashley AKA Creative Genius, tours the world as a stand-up comedian. And what kids they are. My first and third sons, His Royal Autistic Majesty (14) and Alien (10), have autism. My second son, Psycho Pre-Teen (12), is the pre-teen from hell. My fourth son, Lego-Freak (8), is constantly in the grip of an overwhelming obsession. My youngest daughter, BABY (4), is the tween ruler and queen of our family and her pre-school. Oh, and I forgot to mention, we have a beautiful 9 year old daughter, Soroh, who we adopted seven years ago. She has Downs Syndrome.
It’s a rare sunny day in London. Creative Genius is performing in Ottowa. Or is it South Africa? All I know is that he’s not around and I’ve been awake for the past 89 hours.
‘Let’s go to the park!’ I say to the kids, hoping that the fresh air will stop the incessant requests for drinks, crackers and Youtube. Majesty raises his eyes from his phone. ‘Does that mean leaving the house?’ he asks. When I confirm that unfortunately the park is not actually inside our living room, he decides to stay at home. One down. Five to go.
‘Is the park that thing with the grass and the swings and the flying beasts that sting you?’ Alien wants to know.
‘Absolutely not,’ I tell him, bundling him into the car, shoving aside the plastic bag full of Lego men that Lego-Freak has hurriedly packed for the five minute journey.
Soroh excitedly gets into her car seat and straps herself in. BABY, a marketing man’s ideal fantasy child, parades down our driveway in Peppa Pig sunhat, Minnie Mouse sunglasses, sparkly princess high heels that I don’t remember buying, twenty My Little Pony bracelets on each arm and a neck loaded down with Frozen chains. ‘I look so, so stunning Mama,’ she informs me, showering sequins and glitter as I strap her in, ‘you don’t.’
‘This had better be the park with the kosher lollies,’ growls Pre-Teen as he climbs into the front seat, ‘or you’re dead.’
Our local park has a café that thoughtfully provides kosher ice-lollies for the Jewish population of Edgeware. That’s good because I personally love to get our fresh air and exercise with a hearty dose of sugar, chemicals and food colourings thrown in. We play in the park for an hour. I look longingly at the other mothers sat in the shade on the bench. When, when will my children ever play without constant hands-on attention from me? If anyone knows exactly how to achieve this, please let me know so that I can cross ‘read novel and have coffee like a normal adult at softplay while my children enjoy themselves independently’ off my list of life-time ambitions.
It’s ice-lolly time. We queue for ages at the café. As we get nearer the counter, I can see to my horror that they have changed their brand of ice-lolly. We were hot, tired and thirsty before. Now, we’re hot, tired, thirsty and about to be angry, spoiled, entitled and sugar-crashing. A nuclear combination. ‘What happened to the kosher ice-lollies?’ I ask the lady behind the counter. ‘The new ones are vegan,’ she suggests helpfully. I’ve often thought that life would be totally perfect if vegan equalled kosher, but as I am experiencing, life is very rarely perfect. Crying is happening around me and I believe it is coming from my children. Even Soroh is pointing hopefully to the freezer, signing for a lolly.
‘Only ten hours until you can put them to bed,’ whispers a kind lady behind me.
I bribe everyone with a neon coloured fizzy drink that we are absolutely never, ever allowed except for emergency situations like this, and we all collapse by the fish-pond. ‘Is now a good time to ask if animals can sleep with humans?’ asks Alien, who has recently learned the facts of life and still has some outstanding issues. I sympathize. I’m 43 and I also have some outstanding issues in that area.
‘Does this look like a good time?’ I growl back at him, knowing guiltily that he does not know the answer to this question. My phone pings with a text from Creative Genius. ‘You all ok? Just managed 14 hours sleep!’
I sip my coffee and the kids try to spear fish with sticks and feed them pretzels despite the signs banning both such actions. I wonder when things are going to get easy. I decide they are not. Although I imagined my parents lived on easy street, they must have faced the same worries, fears and doubts that I do. But I realize that a life that’s hard isn’t flawed: you haven’t taken a wrong turn and ended up with a bargain basement version of the luxury item you were supposed to receive. You’re living life as it’s meant to be lived. With all its inherent struggle, pain and dashed hopes of kosher ice lollies. The real struggle is to find try to find the beauty in the chaos. My phone pings with a text from Majesty. ‘When U coming home?’
‘You miss us?’ I text back.
‘No. Hungry and can’t find my phone charger.’
I start to gather up our discarded drinks cans. Life is in those times when we can see the extraordinary in the ordinary, take heart, and wearily carry on.