Monday, 16 May 2016

The Lawnmower

Yesterday, I came home from scotch eggs and slabs of carrot cake with the children and my husband, eaten outside at the local farmers' market, in the May sunshine, to discover that my son had chopped up the cable to the lawnmower.

I'd gone to the shed for something else, the kneeler, so that I could do the weeding. I confronted him immediately, not even entertaining the possibility that the cat, my husband or my daughter might have committed the crime.

He stood in the tall grass and weeds at the back of our garden, his mother lowering at him from the shed door, holding out flailing snakes of orange flymo cable at him with trembling hands. He looked up at me, and didn't try to deny it. 'Yes,' he said, 'I did it.'

I set off into a furious tirade, appropriate to the occasion, utterly outraged and disbelieving, aware that the neighbours would be sticky-beaking each side of our tiny garden.

In my head were mad images of corpses, severed limbs, my son the future axe murderer.

I stormed off inside. I did not know what to do, with him, with myself, with the maimed lawnmower. I rushed back outside, and manhandled the thing through the house, dumping it by the bins.

Then back inside, to shout some more at my son, by now playing lego indoors, and defiant.

'Why did you do it? What on earth possessed you? Don't you realise it's a CRIME? That if a man was caught doing that, he could go to prison?' I flung the words wildly at him.

'I did it because I was angry with you. I did it the Wednesday before last. I did it because you'd taken my pocket money away for something –'

'I don't remember anything about that – if I did, it was for some other thing you'd done WRONG. What is wrong with you?' His face was furious, closed. He stared at me.

Pokers of fury were thrumming in my head. Incandescent, I smacked him, said, 'I'm so angry I could kill you' – dimly heard myself, quoting Helen from the Archers, and forced myself to leave the room.

I snatched the computer, brushed past my daughter, who was trying to tell me she'd written the thank you cards, and pounded upstairs. Throughout my crashing anger and bellowing, another voice had been quietly saying to me, 'Ingrid, you could probably buy a new cable. Ingrid, can't you see that it's quite funny?' But I shoved that voice down. I couldn't calm down, didn't know how to – for me, my son's action was terrifying – a sign of mental disturbance – an extraordinary sin. I couldn't even summon enough rage to show him how big his misdemeanour was – I was left gulping and grasping for words vast enough to encompass the transgression and its epic consequences, like a fish flopping beside a lake brimming with crime.

I sat on the floor in our bedroom, helplessly talking to myself, tears everywhere, possessed. 'I hate you, I wish someone would take you away, I wish you were in boarding school, how could you do this to me, after everything I do for you, you appalling child, you foul creature…' I don't clearly recall what I said, but along those lines. Spitting out the words that didn't seem to belong to me, foam-flecked.

At some point, my husband came in. Sat quietly on the floor. Listened as I poured out bile and invective against our child. He didn't say a word. I gradually became aware that my head was exploding in pain, that I felt physically sick. He took me downstairs and gave me a glass of water, rubbed my back as I took paracetamol and couldn't stop crying.

*

Some minutes later, my son came to me, his small face full of worry and apprehension. He reached out his arms for a hug. I knelt down so that my face was level with his.

'What you did frightened me, my darling. That's why I got angry. I think you were very brave to tell me the truth, when you knew I would be angry. When you know how angry I get.' He sat down on the cool floor of our dining room, sunlight making a window-square across him. We looked at each other.

'I get scared when you're cross, Mummy. I didn't do it to get back at you. I was just doing an experiment. I wanted to see what would happen.'

We hugged. We apologised to each other, he for cable-cutting, me for fury-frightening. I explained how terribly dangerous it would be if something were plugged in and he cut the cable, that he might get an electric shock, and could even die. We agreed that he had enough money in his account to pay for a new cable. He ran to get his money from his piggy bank. I ordered the part online.

My migraine gradually subsided. All evening I felt dizzy and shattered, white and fragile. I had plugged myself back into my past, and given myself a terrible shock. When things went wrong as a child, my father was instantly, scaldingly incandescent with rage, roaring in the house, a huge foreign presence. Countless evenings ended in misery, storms, shouting. I tried so hard to be good. I wanted so much to make it better, to make him happy. Nor could I contain his misery – it would burst out of me at endless meals, when he would either eat in heavy silence, or there would be some argument, something to wreck it all. I would run away from the table, go to my room, cry and cry and cry. Much later, my mother would come up, and try to calm me down.

*

My father was never prouder than when he rode around the lawn on his sit-on mower. He would dress in full-length overalls, a baseball cap on his head, with one of his hankies, legionnaire-style, fluttering behind, and he would steam up and down the grass. We had a large, beautiful lawn, ringed with dwarf apple and pear trees. My mother tended to her vegetable patch, and my father mowed the lawn. The sit-on mower transcended the older petrol-driven red-hubbed push mower, which he kept in the barn, as if in a rural mower museum, using it to trim the front lawn. The retired Royal Dutch Shell engineer, with his two solitary engines, stranded in the back garden of a former farmhouse near Norwich.

*

Yesterday one wire was severed and another connected. I fell into my past and was electrocuted, but managed to spew up most of the pastwater, clamber out, come back. My husband, with the infinite love of husbands, saw me across the divide. My son, with the infinite love of children, welcomed me home, and I, with the infinite love of mothers, saw the funny side of what a little boy had done, just to see what would happen. I short-circuited the past, and came back to the place where I have it in me to keep things in proportion, where not every unfortunate incident requires a tribunal and an exorcism, where sometimes a cable is just a cable, and not a metaphor for a grisly crime-stained future.

I'm not sure what possessed my son – but I'm completely aware of what possessed me. Those minutes spent in our bedroom yesterday afternoon were the same attempt to purge myself of pain as the bulimia I had when I was desperate to leave home, get away from my father, and wasn't quite ready. With each day that passes, I am better dispossessed.

1 comment:

litlove said...

It's incredibly hard to give children things that we didn't get ourselves as children. Somehow if you don't get the early download, it's a huge effort of will, almost beyond us, to alter the default pattern. Anger was never allowed in our house (except for my mother - she got all the household quota and used it), and I found it very difficult indeed to deal with my son when he got angry. I remember one time when he had to sit a French exam again and he hated French so much (yes, I know!) that he was literally beside himself. He wanted to break things and I was following him around horrified and refusing. Eventually, I realised I really wasn't helping and let him smash up an old computer keyboard. I can still picture the keys popping off and zinging around the room. I was completely exhausted afterwards, like I'd run a marathon. These situations are SO tough. You did great - apologies are wonderful things and I can't think of anything better to download to your child.