Mona's Meals | Sunday, 29 March 2009

Now I know

Very happily, I do not have any children of my own. So I borrowed one for a few hours last week, just to see what it would be like. It worked in much the same way as those American ‘real’ dolls they give to teens to show them how parenthood functions.
At the risk of gushing like a new aunt, which I am, the specimen I chose is a polite, calm and endlessly joyful two-year-old boy. Nevertheless, those four hours opened my eyes to a whole new world; one I decided I will leave to his parents to explore.
I now know why my peers, who are all having children or have had children, are continuously frazzled, sizzled and swizzled. I know why putting on mascara is one of my best mates’ favourite pastimes (it takes all of one minute and means she’s going out), why my very pregnant sis-in-law insists on going to Pilates while on the verge of giving birth (it takes 45 minutes and means she’s going out) and why after the first few weeks of awe, new dads absolutely adore the workplace (it takes at least eight hours daily and means they’re going out).
I now know why all my friends’ cars are choc full of biscuit wrappers, broken off bits of stale cracker and all kind of crinkly wrapping lodged between the back and the seat, strewn all over the floor and in parts of the child-seat one never knew existed: it is because when your child is howling in the back, the soporific effect of a moving vehicle not having worked its magic, you are throwing things at him from the front, trying not to crash and hoping that one of them, rather than you, hits the spot. I now know that a ‘Child in Car’ sticker is a warning not an appeal for clemency.
I now know why so many parents end up resorting to their bestest friend ever, Micky D’s, thus ensuring a lifetime of addiction for their offspring: if the biscuits and crackers have not worked, and said child is still howling fifteen minutes after setting off, then obviously the only thing that will make it ‘happy’ is a terrifying clown and a Made in China toy. Anything will do at that point.
I do not know how or why child seats became the prisons they now are, but considering that the child is strapped in tighter than a pilot in an A380 on landing, I know why most mothers give up on getting their hair done, or even having any hair past their ears at all: you need your wits, and nothing to get in the way, while you struggle to combine the five hundred bits of metal and plastic necessary to ensure the tiny tot does not fly out the window as soon as you turn a corner.
“How on earth did we survive every time our parents took us out in the car?” I asked TW as he, mechanical savvy as he is, also failed to strap the poorly, struggling, flu-ey child who was probably wondering what on earth we were trying to do to it. In the end, we both wiped his snot on his mum’s adult seat, shrugged dejectedly and I rode in the back, placing myself like a shield between the child and the passenger seat. Now I know why so many mothers are sitting back there, feeling sick.
I now understand why parents give up on clearing up - if the child is quiet, who cares if it has taken 27 different kinds of crayon, twelve colouring books, an antique wooden toy, a little furry zoo, a talking dog and a peeing doll to ensure that that has happened? Who cares if the carpet is stained and the sofa has acquired a whole new ‘design’, not available in any other home? No wonder celebs get themselves 24-hour help. Everybody would if they could afford it.
Even if they try very hard, new parents stop having adult conversations: forget reading a book, having a bath, or doing anything that needs more than twenty seconds from start to finish. How can you when you have ten kilos of stuff hanging off your side, dribbling doo from his nose and oozing a hot whiff, obviously in need of a clean nappy? In fact, I am trying to type this using one finger, and with my left hand because every time I remove my right from around him, he starts to bawl and I can’t handle the guilt.
All the theories and the baby books fly out the window as you scramble for five minutes of peace and a (by now) freezing mug of tea. Of course, once parents have tortured themselves like this for a couple of years, they go off to have a dirty weekend break for the first time in yonks, have sex once, and end up expecting again. The joy.
So we took the baby back to his mum; this normally wonderfully happy and calm bundle of joy who chirps “I love you!” every five minutes and already knows how to flirt, made sobby and slobbery through illness. We held him out to her and pleaded for understanding: please give us our lives back.
We went back home, in our clean car, making adult conversation and jokes a child would never get, left the television in its huge black silence devoid of colourful, singing creatures and underwater sponges who are friends with squirrels. I grabbed my Grazia, my OK!, and for a couple of seconds considered Proust. I luxuriated in the most wonderful sound of all: silence.
In the evening, I put on the most uncomfortable, highest-flower-shaped-heeled pair of Miu Miu platform shoes, a totally un-mummy-like pair of cigarette slim pants and got my hair done. Then I whizzed off to meet the Gay Best Friend in a very un-child friendly restaurant. I do not mean this as an insult: The Blue Room is very adult, with décor so chic it warranted an entire ten minutes of awe-struck discussion between me and the GBF upon our entrance. Apart from my bright red lipstick, there were no primary colours whatsoever. What a relief.
In fact, this general redecoration at an old Valletta dinery was what attracted us to it in the first place. “It has a wonderful chandelier,” I had pleaded with TW. “I don’t care” he replied, “every time we went there, the food was awful; I’m not paying just so other diners can enjoy wallpaper.”
In fact, the wallpaper is fabulous, being, as it is, made out of some kind of animal hair. As soon as you enter, there is a wall of Chinese woman’s face, replicated Warhol style, in black and white. The seats are new, the tables are new, and the cutlery is new.
Does that explain why there are no chopsticks? No it does not. Does it explain why, when those finally turn up, after diners ask for them, they are from Chinese Story, a now defunct restaurant which once belonged to the same owner, and are cheap and nasty?
Does it explain why there is only one waitress, who takes her own sweet time to jot down orders, no matter how many diners there are? Does it explain why the menu is still exactly the same; that it is boring and unimaginative; and that it could have been filched “from any place in Chinatown, London” as the GBF remarked? No.
Will we ever know why the Barton et Gaustier ‘St. Emilion’ is marked at more than twenty freaking euro? The last time we had this industrial plonk was at Da Nino and we all know how that ended. We changed our choice quickly to a bog standard ‘Bordeaux rouge’; it was unremarkable except in price: €19. The wine list is shameful.
The pork in coconut was three dried pieces of fillet deep-fried in desiccated coconut accompanied with watered down, manufactured sweet chilli sauce. The deep-fried moon cakes were acceptable in texture but devoid of anything else and so large that no amount of chopstick dexterity could handle. The ‘dumplings’ were meant to be ‘home made’; they were chewy and gummy and had as much flavour as my nails during a scary movie.
The only acceptable offering was the lemon duck which smacked of manufactured flavouring in the lemon side of things. The soy sauce noodles were dull and the ‘spicy’ sea-food was so incredibly awful, rubbery and cooked straight from the freezer that it would have been preferable, not to menti on healthier, to eat the chandelier.
The GBF’s lychees, fresh out of a can, cost €3.50. He ordered a shot of vodka on the side and doused them in it to remove the metallic taste; at least, that was his excuse. My ‘green tea’ ice-cream was artificial, manufactured, powdery and dry.
Dinner for two at an exquisitely decorated restaurant with terrifyingly bad, pretend-Chinese food: €93.65. The cost of a night out without children: priceless.

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