Several years had 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 vaguely resembling 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, looking at her and her child.
“You can’t just have one,” one of the other 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,” 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, cleanish. 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 either. Her private life seemed to be up for discussion by every Tom Dick and Harriet. Work colleagues, friends, even her own family 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.” At which point she was often tempted to reply, “Nor are you. Anyway, I’m not planning on any more, 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 Sod off and mind your own business.
The phrase “Just the one” began to 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 that, 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 spend all my money on myself.”
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 a 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!