The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

LIBBY’S LIFE #35 – A big piranha in a small pond

Even a week after the ultrasound, I can hardly take it in. Twins? Me?

I phoned Mum to tell her about it, of course, and regretted it immediately. She means to be helpful and encouraging, but it never works out that way.

“You’ll probably have a Caesarian,” she said, sniffing. “Everyone does in America, from what I’ve read. But it runs in families, you know, twins. Auntie Doris, my grandmother’s cousin, she had twins. At least, I think she was a cousin.”

Or possibly not related at all. Grandma-Great was from a generation that called all older females Auntie.

“Was everything OK?” I asked. “We must be talking pre-National Health Service here.”

“Heavens, yes. Auntie Doris outlasted Grandma by ten years.”

“I meant the twins.”

“Oh, I see! Well, it was New Year’s Eve. The midwife had had a bit too much gin by the time she got to Doris’s house, and passed out on the floor at a critical moment. Uncle Harry was down the pub, as men did back then, so he was no help, and the twins didn’t survive into January. But since yours are due in May, I’m sure they’ll be fine.”

You see? This is my mother’s idea of making me feel better. I can never decide if she was always like that, or if forty years of marriage with dad has taken its toll.

“It’s OK, Mum. I don’t think nurses are allowed to turn up drunk to work nowadays, whether it’s a bank holiday or not. They get sacked, and sued, and stuff like that.”

“You say that, but only last week in the Daily Mail, I read about a Romanian nurse in London – ”

“If you’re going to start quoting Daily Mail hysteria at me, I’m going to put the phone down. I need to take Jack to nursery school anyway.”

“How’s he doing there? Does he like it? I don’t think it’s right, sending little ones off to school when they could be at home with their mummies.”

I rolled my eyes and started to tell her that of course he liked it there – then stopped. Last week he’d twice had a tantrum when I left him there. And yet before Christmas, he was going happily. Maybe it would take him a few days to get him back into the routine after the Christmas break.

“He’s fine,” I said, crushing the little niggle of doubt.

All the same, I thought, as I put the phone back in the charger, I would have a word with Patsy, his teacher.

* * *

I’ve tried to avoid Patsy as much as possible since Jack started at nursery. It’s partly because I still have nightmares about being roped in for Play-Doh sessions with Playgroup Mafia Mums, and partly because I sense she doesn’t like me. Or at least, she thinks I’m not worth spending time on.

How do I know this? Because I know the sort of girl that Patsy Traynor used to be at school.

She was the one with lank hair and unfashionable clothes, who used to tag along with the pretty, popular, calculating girls. She’d hang on their every word, laugh at every unfunny, airhead comment they made, massaging their already inflated egos and trying to be their best friend. In return, they would let her think she was a friend, but in reality they were keeping her on a string, waiting for the day when she might be useful in their social-political games. The sad thing was, everyone knew this except Patsy.

Now that she’s grown up, you’d think she might be wiser – but no. She has her favourites among the mothers – those who are disgustingly well-off, those who display potential PTA leadership qualities, those with interesting quirks to set them apart (but only in a good way; tattoos and body-piercings don’t count except negatively) – and as I have none of these traits, I’m an also-ran in Patsy’s eyes. Thankfully, Jack talks about “Miss Patsy” with enthusiasm, so I hope her disdain for mediocre parents doesn’t extend to their mediocre children.

When I arrived at the school, she stood in the classroom, chatting to another mum. I caught her eye, mouthed “Hello” and raised my eyebrows to indicate that I needed to ask her something, but my body language was lost on her. She had already turned back to the mum who, even by looking at the back of her perfectly highlighted head, I could tell was just the type with whom Patsy would have ingratiated herself thirty years ago.

I helped Jack take off his coat, but instead of wandering across the room to play in the toy bus as he had done before Christmas, he stayed close to me, staring warily around the classroom.

“Don’t you want to go and play with your friends?” I asked.

He clutched the hem of my jacket and shook his head.

I bent down to his level. “Why not?”

He glanced around again, put his mouth to my ear, and whispered, “Tom.”

“Tom?” I was bewildered. Tom was a little fair-haired boy with glasses and a lisp, incapable of anything more frightening than swatting at Jack with a Milky Bar. “What has Tom done to you?”

Jack shook his head and wouldn’t elaborate further.

What on earth am I doing, having two more children? I can’t comprehend the one I’ve already got.

I decided to be firm.

“Whatever Tom has done, I’m sure it can’t be that bad.” Could it? These boys were only three, after all. “And if you have any trouble with him, you tell Miss Patsy. That’s what she’s there for.”

Jack nodded uncertainly, then wandered off to the Transportation Play Area (translation = toy cars on a frayed rug) where, to my exasperation, he began to race Hot Wheels cars with the very child he’d complained about.

But since I was here, I’d have a quick word with Patsy and mention my concerns about Jack’s reluctance to go to school. She was still chatting, and as I lingered nearby waiting to speak, I realised the other mother had an English accent.

Patsy glanced at me and I heard her say, “This lady here is also British. I think I’ve seen your son playing with her little boy.”

The mother turned around, and I saw with a shock that it was Caroline, the pregnant tiger-mom discussing 4-carat diamond earrings at a coffee morning last July, whom I’d last seen at the Christmas party looking puffy and tired.

No puffiness now, though. She could have been an advertisement for Chanel’s Spring Maternity Collection.

“We’ve met,” she said to Patsy. “Two British mums, both expecting! When are you due, Libby?” She shot a look at my stomach. “Very soon, I do believe…next month, is it?”

You know, it’s fine for me and Oliver to make fun of the size of my bump. But it’s not at all fine for some superior tiger-mum to do it, especially when I distinctly remember telling her my due date at the Christmas party.

I smiled with as much sweetness as I could manage. “May.”

“You poor thing! So huge, and still four months to go! You should get your husband to send you to this marvelous spa in Vermont that I went to at Christmas. I went there with swollen ankles, had seaweed wraps every day, and came out ten days later like this.”

She pulled her trouser leg up a little way to reveal one defined, bony ankle above shoes that she and only Victoria Beckham would wear in late pregnancy.

“I’ve only got another three weeks, thank the lord. I think I’d kill myself if I had four months to go.” She laughed, then abruptly stopped as a small boy charged across the room and head-butted her three times in the thigh, making her wobble slightly on those ridiculous heels. “Dominic, sweetheart, remember what we talked about this morning, about making good choices? Do you think that was a good choice?”

“Yes!” the monster shouted, and raced off again.

“Oh dear.” Caroline sighed. “He’s so boisterous. But I believe in letting children be children, don’t you?’

Umm, no. Children are like weeds. Without due care, vigilance, and regular cutting back, they grow out of control. But you can’t say things like that any more, otherwise you’re not being “supportive”.

Pasty put her hand on Caroline’s arm. “Don’t worry about it. Or, you know, the other issue. The other mother was quite certainly exaggerating, and the school felt they had to make an example of him – quite wrong, in my opinion. Bullying isn’t a problem among three-year-olds. It’s always the parents, believe me – certain types of parents, anyhow. I’m glad you chose this school for him. He’s settled in very well.”

Interesting. Could I infer from this that Caroline, a new parent at this nursery school, had been forced to withdraw her child from another? She’d be all right here, I could tell. She was on Patsy’s list of VIP parents already. Amazing what a big rock in each earlobe would do.

“Libby, did you want to speak to me?” Patsy asked. “We can talk briefly now, or if it’s not urgent I’d be happy to see you after school one day next week.”

Caroline didn’t attempt to move away, and I didn’t feel like discussing Jack’s problems in front of her. “After school on Monday would be fine,” I said.

As I turned away, Caroline’s monster-child ran up behind her again, this time knocking her into Patsy’s arms.

“Dominic!”

It wasn’t quite a shout from Caroline, but it wasn’t far off. She went a little red, presumably embarrassed to be caught not allowing her child to be a child.

“Boys will be boys!” Patsy sang. “Well, time for school. Goodbye, ladies.”

As Caroline and I walked out to the car park, Caroline said, “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t mention anything about what Patsy and I were talking about. To the other Brits, I mean. Some of those women like nothing better than to bad-mouth Dom. Jealous, I suppose.”

Jealous of what? I wondered as I watched her drive away. Diamond earrings that could be cubic zirconia? Give me a break.

Then something else registered. Tom…Dominic…Dom. Dom? Is that what Jack had been trying to tell me, that someone called Dom was making his life hard?

I wasn’t on Patsy’s VIP list. With her shiny hair, sparkly earrings and posh accent, on the other hand, Caroline most definitely was.

Oh dear. Poor Jack.

To be continued next week

.

Next: LIBBY’S LIFE #36: Filthy cash, dirty deeds

 Previous: LIBBY’S LIFE #34: Shadows on a screen

Click here to read Libby’s Life from the first episode

STAY TUNED for another post from TCK Lawrence Hunt.

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Image: Travel – Map of the World by Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigit

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