Life & Culture

What will we do without the kids?

A child-free break in Marrakesh offered a glimpse into the future


Main square of Marrakesh in old Medina. Morocco.

I had a glimpse into the future the other day. My wife and I were in Marrakesh. As you do. Well not really as you do, we were sans children, a feat that required an actual spreadsheet, and the calling in of every favour from a web of family friends and neighbours, with our five children criss-crossing one another, fed and ferried across north London for three nights.

Waking up after a late travel day, eerily of our own accord, we emerged blinking into the souk, distracted by all that was new as we walked and talked through the sights. After placing a few stones at the striking Jewish cemetery, it was lunchtime.

At which point, sitting across from one another, on a roof overlooking the chaotic medina, Monique and I were at last, for the first time in for ever, alone.

No children, no distractions, no waiter. And 30 minutes later (after giving up and going down to give our order myself) with the extortionate mobile data charges preventing phone use, and the subject of our children long since exhausted, we settled to properly enjoy one another’s company.

Monique took off her sunglasses, moved the plate, put her hand across the table. And laid down her head and went to sleep.

Now there’s an argument that being able to sit silently in the company of another human being is an indicator of security, comfort, even intimacy. But I’m pretty sure for that to be true, the other person has to be conscious. Upon announcement of our trip, people had jokingly asked what would we talk about without the kids, and I guess I now had the answer.

Monique and I are ensconced in what my good friend wisely calls the “meat” of life. This is it, the substance, chomping through it — work, kids, work, kids — seemingly never ending no matter how stuffed you are, until suddenly it is, the kids have moved out and on, and then you’re left what… sated?

Starving? It’s a strange thing to suffer from nostalgia for a moment you’re living in, but slightly panicked how the whirlwind is temporary, this notion provokes a reminder to try and take stock as much as possible, and get my bearings before this particular part of the ride stops.

What I’d never before considered was what the reality of the next stage of Monique and my journey actually entails, I’d only vaguely hoped that being blessed enough to reach it would be the reward in itself. So is this what awaits us then, dribble?

Judaism, the guidebook for life, has a pretty well-laid-out map of its different destinations and how to best navigate them — birth, childhood, bar/bat mitzvahs, marriage, parenting — but what exactly we’re meant to do after the “fruitful and multiply” bit doesn’t get much airtime. Be fruitful and multiply and then go on a couple of cruises and die? Be fruitful and multiply and stick close to the kids just in case they need you to cover the school run?

The lives of our matriarchs and patriarchs offer a clue. Sarah and Abraham were late bloomers, Abraham not getting his act together until 75, having Ishmael when 86, then Isaac at 100. That’s probably the way we’re going as a society, have your kids late and the question of what comes after is moot.

But Abraham ended up living until 175, the only person in the Torah whose fate is to be “old and contented”. What was his secret? For Moses it was about throwing himself into his work, leading us to the Promised Land at 80, and spending the last third of his life forging a people while repeatedly answering, “Are we there yet?”

Perhaps the reason for this lack of focus on getting older in Judaism is because being a parent is never really meant to end, there’s no retirement from caring for your family, no absconding from contributing to the world.

As Solomon said, “In the morning, sow your seed, and in the evening, do not withhold your hand, for you know not which will succeed, this one or that one, or whether both of them will be equally good.”

Sounds to me like someone’s hedging their bets with their kids, but it indicates how you always have a role to play, can still make an impact.

The joke of Maureen Lipman’s BT ads, the stereotype of the interfering Jewish (grand)parent, is just them keeping the ride going, rather than getting off.

Saying that, perhaps the kids are a bit too dominant, and Monique and I need to carve out more time together.

I’ve booked a dinner out for just the two of us next week. She could do with the rest.

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