I had to ring my son’s school this morning to clarify something. It was a perfectly reasonable request to find out more information and work out which form went where and how much do I pay. Sporting event, you know the drill. I found myself saying things like ‘I’m sorry to bother you.’ And ‘I’m not very good with forms’ and even a ‘silly me’.
Sorry to bother you – the woman works in the school office. She’s used to being bothered, she’s even paid for it. I’m not very good with forms. What do I eat them instead of filling them in. Have a panic attack every time my sons bring one home. And as for silly me – am I a little girl being told off by matron? No. I’m a woman who’s approaching fifty with a whole wealth of experience. Of using the telephone, having adult conversations and yes. Filling in forms.
I was wondering if this is an English thing, a woman thing or just a me-thing. I swear I came out of the womb apologising. “Oh excuse me Mrs. I hope I didn’t cause you too much pain. I’ll try and make it up to you by not waking you in the night for the next five years.”
Possibly it came from my parents who were huge on being polite and deferential. There were so many rules. Give up your seat to someone younger, older, fatter, thinner than you. Walk on the outside of the path, nearest the scary road with the big lorries, so other people can walk on the inside and be safe from certain death or a least a puddle being splattered all over them. This was when I was five. It just got worse after that. Let everyone choose from the tray of cakes first, even if you are left with rock cake while all the others are now tucking into chocolate éclairs and meringues. You have done the right thing and you should be proud.
Please and thank-yous – I was trapped in their merciless prison. The first six or seven things I said to anyone especially grown-ups, was ‘please, thank you, please, thank you, please.’ Quite frankly it made me a right pain in the arse. Would the stuttering child with an attack of over-politeness please stand up! But of course I couldn’t. I was too shy, too nervous of getting it wrong. So I hid at the back.
I was prone to tears and would always stand at the back so as not to draw attention to myself. I’m surprised I didn’t wet myself but the fear of bottle green tights was the dominant fear. Then everyone would know and perhaps I would have an unfortunate nickname, like pissy pants, which would stretch into adulthood.
Nervous-Nerys turned into Wilma-Worry. In the old days it was straightforward things like will I fart in front of my gorgeous new boyfriend, will my hair get any curlier? Does everyone’s intimate body parts look like this? To bigger things such as being so terrified of falling under the train that I might just jump as a way of getting the ordeal out of the way. I should have started therapy earlier.
All those worries paled into insignificance when I had my first child. This tiny scrap of human life was completely dependent on me for his very survival. Holy crap. There was so much that could go wrong. There was no instruction booklet. Scrap that. There were zillions of books that all had conflicting advice. I liked the pictures in Miriam Stoppard’s books but she was even scarier than my parents. “To get your child to eat his or her dinner, make the different items of food into an interesting scene. A smiley face, a flower or a scaled down model of the Houses of Parliament.”
I read all sorts of stuff. When despite breast feeding my baby, the clinic advised me to feed my child water. He didn’t like it so the nurse suggested putting sugar in the water. I didn’t like the sound of that so I read a health magazine, I read a lot of those in those days, which suggested using honey instead. That sounded good but I was out of honey. Next time I visited the clinic the nurse said that children shouldn’t be fed honey until they are one years old because of botulism. I had nearly inadvertently poisoned my baby.
The list went on. SIDS, sharing the bed with your cherub, let alone dropping them. We had a three story house with open plan stairs. Well, he survived. So did his brother. But I lost touch with my sanity somewhere along the line.
Anyway, I’m off for a coffee. If that’s okay with you. Thank you, thank you. (Moving deferentially from the room so as not to turn my back to you).