"Brad - shut your gob! And Keanu, you idiot, you're not getting your DS later!" A mum on the bus ride home yesterday, exasperated by her hyperactive, snot encrusted offspring, desperate to prove to the rest of the passengers that she is big on discipline and cares about our comfort.
Both kids stand on the seats, a pet hate of mine, particularly in areas with disproportionate levels of doggy doo and gob on the pavements. I glare at Brad, a scary looking toddler with a bad crew cut, shaving bumps and a stick on tattoo (I think it was a scorpion. Very wrong.) He glares back at me, our eyes locked for a moment in mutual disgust, while he continues to bounce on the seat in front of mine, shouting swear words over and over again. His brother picks at his mucus-filled nose, examining the green globules between his fingers before wiping them on the windows and handrails. Mum is disgusted but silent, as am I. If you will insist on calling your child Keanu, don't be surprised if he ends up painting with his bodily fluids and refuses to submit to authority. In the mum's defence, it's clear that, even though not much bigger than his deviant pre-school brother, Keanu was conceived in the much anticipated run up to The Matrix. His uniform gives his age away, and had mum realised how mind-numbingly boring and jaw-droppingly pretentious the sequels were going to be, she might have called her new bundle of joy something more fitting - like Jordan, or Brandon. Facetious? No, just a little bus sick, and these musings stop me from a) vomiting when turning corners on two wheels and b) picking up a missile of some sort to topple Brad the Baby Bruiser from his platform. I imagine pinching him when his mum looks away, then guiltily pick up the Metro to occupy my itching hands and interrupt my parenting/crap movies/snot train of thought (Almost instantly, I feel Brad's eyes burning through the layers of newsprint. I smell sulphur.) My eyes fix on an article. It's about a new superbug that is, according to the experts, transmitted primarily on public transport through bodily fluids, sneezing, even touching handrails. Worse still, there is no antidote, no magic pill to deal with the symptoms or cause. Phrases such as 'flesh-eating' and 'epidemic' leap off the page, and I go dizzy, then cold. Keanu is flicking bogies at his mum. Brad is jumping in front of me and taking the Lord's name in vain. I repeat his words in my head, a silent prayer. Within moments, Keanu presses the stop button, and I make a mental note, just in case, not to do the same. The boys make their way to the front of the bus, followed by Mum who we can now see is sporting low-ride velour joggers revealing a rather hirsute butt. A collective whimper is heard across the bus, a sigh of relief at their leaving mingled with compassion and fascinated horror, all transmitted towards her. She appears to slump, as she reads our minds. Two brats and a bum beard. How sad. But maybe not. Maybe she has better things to do with her money than wax her backside, like feeding her kids, or paying for bus fares every day. For the rest of the journey, I write some notes. A story is being crafted in celebration of all the ordinary mums, the strugglers, the survivors, the ones who get up day after day and love their sometimes difficult kids, buy food with coppers saved in a jar, put on clashing colours because it makes them feel a bit better about themselves, even if it means they have to face the judgment of others. Thanks for the inspiration. Maybe that's the key, an ode to bold single mothers, a kind of antidote to sameness and quiet compliance.
Though seriously, your kids scare the crap out of me.