Now that Arnie and Ray have reached the giddy heights of being mediocre at swimming, it is Mini’s turn to learn. I loathe taking the children to the pool. As well as the heat and the smell, there is, of course, the pathos of the abandoned armbands, the way the children’s ears don’t know whether to go in or out the swimming hats and worse, the way you are just composing a text when they come out shivering and needing a wee. So when my husband offers to take Mini to her class I am thrilled. Dad is at my sister’s for the weekend so its officially ‘time off’. Whoop.
One hour later, husband comes back whey faced. “Mini came out the pool and I didn’t see her. I found her crying alone in the changing rooms. She said, ‘why did you go away?!'”
I don’t do the ‘how the hell did that happen?’ because I am now a kind wife and I can see he is upset. Plus, it makes me like myself more if I hold back. Criticising him on this would be as easy as shooting ducks in a tin or something.
Husband is very upset. I feel his agitation is a little disproportionate to the incident but I pat his shoulders absently. “there, there.”
“She just cried and cried,” he says. He looks at me anxiously. “It might be her first memory.” And there’s the rub. We read somewhere that memory starts at about three so since Mini’s last Birthday we have been extra nice to her. This incident will go against everything we’ve achieved.
“No,” I say regretfully, “I’ve got the first memory covered.” A few nights ago, Mini fell out of our bed. It was somehow more poignant because she didn’t cry. I know she remembers it because in her book – A Bear’s Life – Parker tumbles out of Oscar’s bed and she pointed to it and with a heavy sigh said, ‘I fell, Mama!’
Ray’s first memory is getting stuck in a toilet with his cousin. Two little cousins stuck in the lavatory – how hilarious – I find this a painful one though because I wasn’t there. It was shortly after me and Ray’s Dad split up. I’m not even in my son’s first memory! I don’t know which is worse: letting my daughter fall out of bed, or not being there at all.
I ask Arnie for his first memory but the kid doesn’t even remember how old he is. I wonder how easy it would be to plant a trip to Lapland in his maleable little head. ‘Oh don’t you remember, the icicles in Santa’s beard? The beautiful reindeer…the lovely presents…’
My first memory is of having a nappy change, (Over here, Freud!). The other early memories are a blur: an uneven timeline of disconnected events. I remember leaving my mum in the playground on the first day of school. I remember getting out the van and waving at my dad. I remember shutting the front door and running to see a friend. So many walking aways.
I was once told that all stories can be boiled down to one of two types. One is the leaving home type of story – going on an adventure, a search for something, ‘an external quest’, and the other type of story is trying to return, to get back home, to restore what has been lost ‘internal quest’. I wonder if our early years are spent on one and then our later years on the other.
Later that evening, in bed, husband is retelling the swimming pool drama and its the fifth time and in this retelling Mini’s sobs are howls, the floor is as slippery as an ice rink, and every other waiting parent is thinking: ‘Bad dad, bad dad’.
I say, “Why are you telling me this again?” and he says, “I need to get it off my chest, I feel so bloody awful. Once I found her, she was so sad, she wouldn’t even meet my eyes.” And I can contain myself no longer. I say, “How the bloody hell did you miss her? you stupid oaf. That’s never, ever happened to me.”
There is a third story type: Revenge. Punishment or retribution quest. I will be taking Mini swimming next week.