Little Children

Politically they’re puritans.
They gasp at nudity like it’s 1912.
They’re shocked by minor offences
such as chip stealing. 98% possess zero faith
in the concept of rehabilitation for adults.
As far as little children are concerned
forgivable mistakes occur before sixteen,
after that you’re on your own. Their stance
against marital infidelity is Victorian and their
position on divorce aligns with the Vatican City.
Nuance is irrelevant to the infant moralist.
They sit in plastic umpire chairs at the dinner table
shouting out unintelligible scores. They’re violent.
They’ll head-bang a breast or stuff a sticky hand
up a skirt then just amble away
like raging misogynists. They won’t even allow
their mothers to bring home a sexy stranger
on a Friday night. They disapprove of drugs
like Tory neighbours. Their standpoint on drunkenness
is predictably brutal, especially for women.
It’s like the sixties never happened. They believe
every adult should be locked into a sexless yet eternal
marriage, never slip up or forget
even a lunchbox, and be completely transparent
and open to feedback 24/7. They’re hypocrites.
They spy on you in the toilet. Parents aren’t permitted
even the smallest private perversion yet a child
can secretly urinate in a drawer for three weeks
until the smell warrants investigation.
Their relentless indignation! Their fascist vision
of the perfect family! Little children are like
the tsarist autocracy of pre-revolution Russia.
Their soft hands have never known work.
Their reign is unearned.

On behalf of my younger self I apologise
to my parents for the simplistic, ill-informed
and ignorant questions I hurled concerning
their romantic and sexual life choices.
How could you do that to dad?
How could you do that to mum?
I was operating under a false consciousness,
responding to an imagined society governed
by laws I’d gleaned from picture books
about tigers coming to tea. I had no right.
No credibility. Imagine bellowing criticism
from the stalls after seeing two minutes of a play!
Imagine expecting universal loyalty whilst flinging
spaghetti hoops at the wall! Imagine having such
confidence in your innate philosophy of love!

We kneel to tie the laces of their unfeasibly tiny shoes.

“Little Children” from The Air Year by Caroline Bird. Used with permission of the publisher, Carcanet Press Limited. All rights reserved.