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  • jdettmann

Area of Particular Interest

Twenty-three days from now, I am going on a trip, without H or May Blossom or Garnet, to the other side of the world. This makes me, according to my calculations, the worst mother in the world. To make matters worse, I am going on this trip with my friend Jess, and thus I am an accessory to depriving her children of their mother for two and a half weeks, which is an infinitely more serious crime since she is a significantly better mother than I am.

That aside, we are really very extremely excited. We are going to Finland, Sweden and Denmark. The trip has come about because Jess is a teacher and very interested in the schools in that part of the world, which are apparently better than ours for reasons that will be revealed to me as we go along. I believe it has to do with starting school a bit older and not having homework and maybe also herrings? To be confirmed. Anyway, Jess wants to visit some schools since that is her Area of Particular Interest and I thought I would go too since shirking my maternal responsibilities is my Area of Particular Interest, and what better way to do that than to bugger off up to the frozen north for several weeks, where the aquavit is cold and the living is easy.

Since we are going to Finland, I decided I ought to cultivate a more location-specific Area of Particular Interest. I’ve chosen saunas. Jess is being very accommodating and treating it like it’s my genuine hobby, so we are working our itinerary roughly equally around school visits and saunas. Because my other area of interest is not dying, we are skipping the sauna I discovered in my research that is in a ski lift. A smouldering wooden cabin, swinging hundreds of feet above an icy hill? What could possibly go wrong? We are restricting ourselves to ground-based saunas. The same goes for schools: strictly terra-firma educational institutions.

Interspersed with this will be train journeys, a ferry trip across the Gulf of Bothnia, some stays in Air BnB apartments where everything is white, and, obviously, some very long flights.

We are flying in Parent First Class, which is the same as economy but without your children in tow. That means there will be sleep, wine, hot beverages, proper movies with sex and violence in them and conversations with people with the ability to regulate the volume of their voice even when wearing headphones. There is a much reduced likelihood of having orange juice poured in your lap and even less chance of your seatmate loudly announcing they need to poo every time the seat belt sign comes on.

Reactions to our plans have been mixed. Crucially, the reactions of our husbands has been positive, which is handy because they will be the ones looking after all the kids for a period we call just over two weeks and they call almost a month. The kids themselves have been a slightly harder sell.

I was worried about telling Garnet because he is has been very clingy of late. He cries when I go out, won’t go into another room by himself and he sleeps with at least one parent because he gets too lonely otherwise. While I know he will cope fine with my absence, I also know that thinking about it for too many weeks beforehand will cause him anxiety and sleeplessness. We are quite alike, the littlest catastrophist and me.

I finally told him a few days ago and as predicted, he was less than keen on the idea. To his credit though, he listened to my explanation of where I am going, and then thought quietly for a while.

Eventually he said I could go, but only on the condition that I do not see the Northern Lights without him and that I bring him back some reindeer jerky. It seems there is something he loves more than me, and it’s exotic dried game meats. Sadly, I think the terrifyingly named Border Force will have something to say about the jerky, but I have at least promised him that we won’t go far enough north to see the Northern Lights, and that if I do notice something greeny and light in the night sky I will cover my eyes at once.

I told May Blossom weeks before Garnet because I know she really likes keeping secrets. She was doing a drawing at the kitchen table, and I just dropped it into conversation, casual as anything.

“I’m going to Scandinavia,’ I told her. ‘I’ll be gone for about two weeks. One week of school and one week of holidays.’

‘Who’s going to look after us?’ she said, without looking up.

‘I thought Daddy might be a good choice for that,’ I told her.

‘Who are you going with?’

‘I’m going with Jess, but it’s really for work. Jess is researching schools and I’m going to write. I might write a book.’ She looked at me in the way I look at her when I know she’s lying.

Please don’t ask me what book, please don’t ask me what book, I thought. She held my gaze for a disconcertingly long time. Then she went back to her drawing. She agreed it would be best not to tell Garnet yet, and I thought that was that. She was fine. I was off the hook.

So once I had told Garnet and he took it well, I felt okay; like maybe it was going to be all right to leave my family for a little while. Until last Monday afternoon.

That was when May Blossom revealed the ace up her sleeve.

‘Hey Mum,’ she said, ‘you know that song from Matilda? Your favourite one? Yeah, “When I Grow Up”, that’s the one. The one that makes you cry every time you hear it because it’s all about how kids think life is for adulta, and think it’s all climbing trees and eating sweets? The one that makes you weep because you think Tim Minchin has captured the way you, and only you, never really feel adult? The song that makes you astonished than someone managed to read your soul and translate your exact feelings into the lyrics about how you sometimes don’t feel like you are strong enough to carry all the heavy things you have to haul around with you when you’re a grown up, and you don’t think you’re brave enough to fight the creatures that you have to fight beneath the bed each night to be a grown-up? The one that as well as making you cry for the half-arsed adult you’ve become, also makes you cry for the child you were who you have let down because now you are grown up you never climb the big trees or stay up late and watch cartoons, like you though you’d do? That song? Well, my class is performing that song at the end of term assembly. The assembly that’s halfway through your trip.’

She went on to assure me that it was absolutely fine that I was missing the assembly, and that Daddy would be there and I wasn’t to beat myself up about it in any way, and that I must of course go ahead and enjoy my “work trip” (and yes, I could hear the inverted commas in her voice) as best I could with my bleeding and broken heart lying in a fetal position in my chest cavity.

God. What can I do?

I think the best thing, the only thing really, is to make the most on this trip. I will have treats every day, like the song says. I will go to bed late every night and I will watch cartoons until my eyes go square (well, Nordic police procedurals anyway, which is the same thing more or less). It’s what my inner child would want.

And I suspect it’s not far from what my outer children want too, and may very well get to do in my absence.

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