“Noah! Joseph!” I call to my beloved offspring.
They grunt in response, without looking up from their video game.
“I’m writing a column for the magazine, about mothers. What does the word ‘mother’ mean to you?”
“It’s someone like a father, but they do more cleaning,” Joseph observes distractedly.
“No!” I howl. “That’s not what I’m looking for. All the other parenting columns are about how great they are. Why do we always have to be the dysfunctional ones?”
“I dunno, genes?” Noah suggests.
It’s clear I’m not going to get any sense out of them while they’re on the PlayStation, so I order them to do the washing up and hover around them with a notebook and pen.
“Tell me about your mother,” I say, sounding like a psychiatrist in a 1950s melodrama.
“She always needs to be doing something. There’s no idle time with her.”
This is better, but it’s hardly ‘world’s greatest Mom.’
“Can’t you gush more?” I say. “Be more sentimental?”
Joseph starts running around whooping, with a tea towel on his head.
“No, doofus,” Noah says. “He said ‘sentimental.’ Not mental.”
I try a different tack.
“Tell me what’s great about your mother,” I say.
“She’s not mean like some people, she doesn’t make her sons do boring chores,” Noah grumbles mutinously.
I try to point out that this isn’t strictly true, but Joseph has cottoned on to me.
“This is a chore,” he says, “writing your column for you. You’re always making us do your work for you, and we’ve had enough!”
“Yeah! Workers of the world unite!” says Noah, who has recently discovered politics. “Viva la revolucion!”
I try to placate the young rebels through negotiation.
“All right,” I say, “here’s a piece of paper. I’ll let you back on the PlayStation if you write some things about your mother.”
“Finished,” Noah says, before my back is turned. He hands me the piece of paper, on which is written:
some things about your mother
“That’s no good,” I wail, “I wanted you to fill the page!”
Joseph takes the paper, turns it over, and writes “SOME THINGS ABOUT YOUR MOTHER” in enormous letters.
“There, we’ve filled the page. Now we can play video games?”
“No.” I produce my trump card: the power cable for the PlayStation. “You’re not getting this back until you write something nice about your mother.”
I leave them muttering to each other. I can’t hear what they’re saying but I’m sure it’s mostly about giving the old man what he wants and getting him off their backs. A few minutes later they approach, shove the paper in my hands, snatch the cable, and run off.
I look at what they’ve written.
My mum is so great tigers refuse to eat her,
her heart is made of gold.
And if not I had her sweet embrace,
oh, how my soul would be sold.
OK, that will do. What? No, I’m all right. We’re English, we don’t do sentimentality. Just got something in my eye, that’s all.
About the Writer
Andrew Killeen is a novelist and creative writing teacher. Originally from Birmingham, England, he studied at Cambridge University and now lives in Beijing with his wife and two crazy boys, Noah (age 12) and Joseph (age 9). In between, he was at various times a DJ, festival director, positive parenting practitioner, and homeless support worker. His critically acclaimed historical novels are available from Dedalus Books.