What parenting has taught me: hell is other people’s children – The Guardian

One of the things no one tells you in advance – probably because you wouldn’t believe them – is that the worst thing about having children is other people and their children. Before, children were annoying but avoidable, and now they are not, and I can’t even be sour about it. My children can be pretty annoying, too.

It’s the pretending not to mind that’s the killer. Anyone who spends time in a children’s playground is aware of the charade that takes place between parents lavishly feigning tolerance of each others’ kids. At a play space near my apartment at the weekend, a boy several heads taller than my daughter shoved her roughly aside and she fell down. “Hudson, honey,” said his mother, looking up limply from her phone, “that wasn’t nice. Say sorry.”

“Don’t worry,” I said, magnanimously, “she’s fine.” I looked at Hudson and thought: not only is your name ridiculous, but your trousers don’t fit and your mother’s an imbecile. Meanwhile my daughter played the scene for all she was worth, lying on the ground screaming, “give me space! Give me space!” (In 1978, when I was running around Bishops Park at her age, I doubt I was screaming “give me space”, but what can you do? Times change). Her twin stood on the sidelines, thoroughly enjoying the spectacle.

The point is, I thought having kids would make me feel warmer towards children in general, but the opposite has been true. I can’t stand them: in the street, in the playground, thundering around with their bad haircuts and loud voices. I can’t stand having to interact with other people Doing Parenting in my direction, and I find my own theatrics on this front absurd.

At the play space, I sat there thinking dark thoughts until I noticed an even crosser-looking woman standing off to one side and realised it was Chelsea Clinton with her kids, so as well as everything else I was trying to do in that moment – pick up one screaming child, keep an eye on the other, maintain a sense of injury – I had as a matter of urgency to text my friend Oliver and ask him to find out if Chelsea Clinton still qualified for secret service protection.

“The web implies no,” he texted back, three seconds later, “or maybe they’re just really well hidden.” As I looked around for men with discreet ear pieces, Hudson toddled off in the Clintons’ direction. Go on, you little oaf, I thought; I dare you and let’s see what happens.

Jog on?

A close-up of a young man jogging in trainers



Photograph: Alamy

Have you heard the news? That coconut oil, the wonder substance of 2014 and a staple of such blockbuster diets as the Whole30, is now out? Last month, the American Heart Association reported on findings that coconut oil is higher in saturated fat than butter or lard, and as a result, encourages “bad” cholesterol, a cause of heart disease. It also flagged up discrepancies between the percentage of the general population that thinks coconut oil is healthy (72%), and the number of nutritionists who do (37%). There was immediate pushback from the diet gurus and now the fight is on.

While this was going on I started reading lots of pieces in the press saying that running is the worst way to get fit, because it knackers knees, and doesn’t improve overall strength, and that instead we should be doing circuits and resistance training. All this has required some adjustment in my life. Instead of not running, I am now deploying my displacement activities in the avoidance of weight training, and when I fry things in vegetable oil, it’s the olive oil that gives me a dirty look from the cupboard.

Best of booth

A man in a telephone booth in NYC



Photograph: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

I walked through a recently refurbished hotel lobby this week and noticed some puzzling empty booths to one side. They were, I realised, old fashioned telephone cubicles with the land lines ripped out, but left intact, so guests could use them as private rooms for phone calls. Perhaps the era of having intimate conversations loudly in public is finally coming to an end.

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