Several years have passed, and the Mother was finally on an even keel again. She had lost her baby weight, was working full-time, had some savings and even something which she could loosely call a social life. The baby sling had gone, along with the cot, the Phil&Teds pushchair, even the punk rock lullabies CD. Some mornings she actually woke up and cried when she realised that the hardest part was over, or at least that was what she naively thought. It was then that she started to hear the rumour, a whisper at first, but gradually that whisper got louder.
The first time she heard it properly was in the park, there were murmurs in the trees, and then parents chattering. Gradually she was able to decipher what they were saying as they glanced over at her slyly.
“You can’t just have one,” one of the mothers said.
“I’m sorry,” replied the Mother, not quite believing what she was hearing.
“Oh, I’m sorry, how rude of me. What I meant to say was, have you just got the one?”
When she replied with,
“Yes, just one, a boy,” (although that was kind of obvious) the lady nodded in a kind of sympathetic, patronising way. As if she knew something that the Mother didn’t. What the hell?! The Mother didn’t like where this was heading. She particularly didn’t like the “just” either. Wasn’t one child ample? Didn’t she have her work cut out already? She and her partner were busy bringing up a well-balanced, happy boy. They were both working, they kept the house clean – well most of the time. Christ, they’d even adopted a cat, wasn’t that enough? According to this bunch of know-it-all mothers, no, it wasn’t.
And it wasn’t just them saying it either. Her private life seemed to be up for discussion by every Tom Dick and Harriet. Work colleagues, friends, even her own relatives got on board. At family gatherings, she’d be asked, “When are you planning to have your next one?” or sometimes less formally, “You’ll have to get a move on, you know, you’re not getting any younger.” To this she was always tempted to say
“I’m not planning on anymore, I don’t want my child to have a sibling. I want him to grow up spoilt, lonely and egocentric.” But instead, she just told people to sod off and mind their own business.
The phrase “Just the one” began to be bandied about in her direction so often that she felt like she had some kind of illness or condition. Often, she felt obliged to explain herself to other people, to defend her decision. Even to people she barely knew.
“Oh, yes, I just have the one. After my son was born I gave all my other eggs away to charity,” the Mother would tell people. Or: “Well, I did want another one, but they are so bloody expensive, and I want to actually spend some of money on myself. I really want to treat myself to some new clothes. My winter coat has seen more blizzards than an Estonian dog walkers.
To top it all off, who were the worst offenders, the most vocal of all the “You can’t just have one” mafia? People who had no fucking kids at all, that’s who.
Eventually, of course, the Mother made the fatal mistake and asked, “Why, why, why can’t you just have one?” Of course, she’d wish she’d never asked.
Check out my blog tomorrow to find out why you can just have one!