I was a bad parent last weekend. I confess: As my child sat screaming in terror, I was laughing so hard that incontinence was a genuine possibility.
Ok, so it starts like this:
It is Sunday, and we are about to head home from Rangiora. With our children loaded in the car, Thomas and I have a brief little bicker about who gets to drive, and I give him ‘the look’. You know, where I lower my chin to my chest and raise only my eyes to stare unblinkingly at him. I think it makes me look sinister, but there is the slightest chance that it simply makes me look a little…unhinged.
But anyway that’s not really my concern, because Thomas rewards my unusual behaviour by retreating to the passenger seat, and I do a little jig as I start the car.
The half-hour drive is pretty uneventful and the day is getting late as we are near our suburb, when Thomas loudly whispers: “Shall we get F&Cs for dinner?”
“FISH and CHIPS?!!” screeches Mr 5, and the crowd in the back goes wild.
“Can we eat in the car? PLEASE?!” They beg.
“Well…ok”. I reply, having dreamy visions of a happy little family experience.
So we get dinner and I drive to a spot beside the Avon River where the abandoned, earthquake-shattered streets afford us a peaceful place to clog our arteries with salt and grease.
After handing out dinner, cleverly separated into brown paper bags (to minimise any scrapping in the ranks-how clever I believed myself to be!) we settle quietly to watch the waterfowl gliding along the river at dusk.
See how peaceful I am wanting this to be?
But it isn’t long before I feel a drip of something on the back of my neck.
Followed by a small thud, and a chip tumbling over my shoulder.
The Baby is smiling cheesily as I turn but I barely notice, distracted instead by what is going on further back in the car. Thing 1 and Thing 2 have released themselves from the confines of their seat belts, and are maniacally smearing their greasy hands all over the windows.
They have a strange glint in their eyes, and are making little “yuuuuuum…..YUUUUUUUUM….” Gremlin-type sounds as they slither their creepy little hands all over the glass.
Normally I would reprimand this. Strongly.
Maybe it’s the fading light, or perhaps this is the moment where they finally ‘wore me down’, but I just stare at them vacantly, eyes wide, unblinking.
Mr 5 is screwing his oily paper bag into a ball and, looking out of the window says to his brothers, “You see that black swan over there? I am going to throw this paper ball and see if I can hit it on the back! Hahaha!”
Still unblinking, eyeballs drying out, I tell him slowly “You know…. you want to be careful doing mean things to swans…….they can be a bit vicious…”
“What does vicious mean?”
“It means they bite, and bite hard,” I finally blink, focusing my gaze on him. “They stick up for themselves.”
“Oh.” Mr 5 says nervously. He looks at his open window, at the empty air between the swan and himself and says “I am going to throw a chip to it to see whether I have made it mad or not.” And so he does, a long throw that lands it in the water. The huge bird lunges at the chip, and gobbles it up. “See?” says Mr 5 smugly, “It’s not mad at me at all.”
And then it leaps out of the water and starts climbing the bank.
The reaction is instant.
“Start the car!” Mr 5 screams, terrified, “Mum! Drive NOW! MUM! IT’S COMING FOR US! QUICKLY! WE NEED TO GET OUTTA HERE! MUM!”
He flaps his hands for emphasis, tears beginning to run and I know that for him, this is like a scene from a horror movie; but I am completely helpless, folded over the steering wheel and laughing so hard I have tears of my own running down my face. I glance at Thomas, and he is in the same state.
The poor kid is panicking and his parents are doing nothing but laugh at him, ha-ha-de-hardy-ha…
The swan is standing by his door, watching him with a beady eye.
I pull myself together and try to reassure him that it is merely looking for more food, but he is having none of it so I open my door to get out.
Thing 1 and Thing 2 join in the screaming chorus, shouting “Mum! You’re putting yourself in DANGER!”
I step out of the vehicle and walk around to where the baffled creature awaits a free meal. As I feed it the remainder of my fish the children begin to settle, warily eyeing the scene from the safety of the car. Tentatively they throw food to the geese and ducks that have gathered around us, and eventually I return to my seat and start the engine.
“You shouldn’t be mean to animals,” I tell them. “You know how scared you were just then, when you thought that swan could hurt you?”
“Yes,” they say quietly.
“When you are mean to animals you can make them feel the same way.”
Moral of the story delivered, I turn on the headlights, and drive the car away into the night.