Family & Education

My brain’s a sieve but the kids are (just about) OK

Susan Reuben might have broken the cardinal rule of parenting books - don't forget about your kids - but she's not too concerned


The other day, I forgot one of my children. It was only a temporary aberration, but still… I’ve read a lot of parenting books, and not one of them says it’s acceptable to lose track of your offspring — even very occasionally.

I had arrived home late after a particularly busy day at work, and went to greet the kids who were being looked after by our au pair. Every time I’m reunited with my children at the end of the day, there’s a halcyon period during which we’re unequivocally delighted to see each other. They haven’t yet whined or made any demands; I haven’t yet snapped or asked them to stop with the questions. Sometimes this period lasts no more than ten seconds, but I always appreciate it, however brief.

On this occasion, the boys were in the living room watching The Simpsons.

“Where’s Emily?” I asked. They just looked at me blankly. Then I remembered: she was at her art club. What’s more, her class had finished half-an-hour ago and I was supposed to have picked her up.

It is, I think, really difficult never to drop a ball in this parenting game. My friend Yzanne, for example, took her first baby to the doctor’s for the official six-week check and forgot about her on the way out. Entirely understandable, really, given the sleep deprivation and the fact that she had only been responsible for another human being for a few short weeks. But again, the parenting books definitely don’t recommend it.

One of the favourite books in my family is Ctrl-Z by Andrew Norriss — a wonderful, and rather overlooked children’s writer. The title refers, or course, to the computer command that allows you to undo your most recent action when you make a mistake. In the story, a boy receives the gift of a computer with magical properties. Whenever something in his life goes wrong, he just has to press “Ctrl-Z” to go back to before it happened. This, surely, is an innovation we could all use from time to time.

For a Jewish mother, an even worse crime than forgetting to collect your children is forgetting to feed them. When our oldest, Isaac, was very little, we had reached the end of a hectic day and it was his bedtime at last.

“Off we go upstairs,” I said.

“But I haven’t had any supper,” he replied.

“Don’t be silly!” I said, trying not to laugh at this new and innovative way to avoid going to bed. “I’m not being silly,” he said, indignantly. “I haven’t had any supper!”

I thought about it, and realised it was true. For years and years afterwards, Isaac would say loudly in public places, “Mummy, do you remember that time you forgot to give me any supper?”

It’s surprising that the Jewish community is still prepared to associate with me.

Even the most practical and grounded among us do stupid things from time to time, but I think I’m particularly prone to it because my mind tends to be elsewhere. I’d like to claim that my brain is operating on a higher level, constantly distracting me from the mundane realities of daily life. Perhaps I have a tendency to wander around contemplating Heschel’s writings on the Jewish prophets, or pondering the benefits of solar power as a source of renewable energy.

In reality, however, I’m more likely to be planning something amusing to write on Facebook, or thinking that I must ask my husband to buy some more bananas next time he passes Tesco.

Cars are another problem area for me and my most idiotic car-related incident happened when I wasn’t even in the driver’s seat. I’d picked up the kids from school and we were heading back to where I’d parked.

When we reached the car, I pressed the button on my key to unlock it, then started loading bags into the boot while the kids got in. A moment later, I heard Isaac exclaim, “What’s happened to the inside of our car?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

There was a silence. Then he said, “Hang on… this isn’t our car!”

I looked at it more carefully. It wasn’t our car.

To be fair, it was exactly the same colour, make and model as ours — so the only mistake I had made was in the detail of it not actually belonging to us. I hustled the children out at top speed, anxious to avoid the difficult explanations if its real owner turned up — though frankly, given that they’d left it unlocked, I feel they only had themselves to blame.

Once one has taken all of the above into account (and there is more — much more), forgetting to pick up my daughter begins to look like a relatively minor mishap.

When I finally arrived at her art lesson, I found her quite unconcerned about having been abandoned. She was joining in the teen session that followed her own — curious about where I’d got to, but not unduly worried. Her teacher was very nice about it, too — though perhaps she was just relieved I’d turned up at all.


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