Friday, May 14, 2010

Laura Norder

My first real job, I was hired to get arrested. The deal was, I worked for a nightclub as a barman. We didn’t have a liquor licence. What we did have was frequent raids by teams of cops. They’d send in a decoy, who would buy a drink with a marked note, and then the rest of the team would storm in and take all of the booze and money, and arrest the manager. The manager would be fined an admission of guilt fine, and then the club would be up and running again. A manager could get two fines before he had a proper court case, so there was a rotational management team- we took turns in getting bundled into a van, fingerprinted and fined.

It seemed to work, and generally the whole process was done out of obligation on the part of the police. Sometimes they’d even let us know they were going to raid so we could hide the drinks in the ceiling or toilet cisterns.

I was arrested a couple of times. Once on my eighteenth birthday. The next time, I was locked up for five days over a long weekend.

So I served drinks and waited for the police.

That was a long, long time ago. I no longer wait to be arrested, or try and find loopholes in the law. My career path has become legit, like a mafia don.

But I am in the business of arrest. I don’t wear a uniform or sit in an unmarked car muttering into a Dictaphone. I don’t storm drug dens with my pulse battering the inside of my ears and my trigger finger twitching.

I write. My job these days is to arrest you. To let you partake in the criminal pleasures of reading, escaping, learning, dreaming, and then, just when you think you’re getting away with it, to throw you to the ground and in an instant change your life. With words.

Arrest isn’t always a bad thing. For a kid drifting away from the too-distant or too-close care of his parents, arrest can redirect his waywardness. Wake-up call.

Same with cardiac arrest- provided it doesn’t leave you gasping like a landed fish, clutching your chest and watching the world fade to a blur, once it’s over, and you’ve survived, you can appreciate sunrises and sunsets, tastes and even pain, with a renewed, almost rebellious, sense of passion.

So I’ll be there. Watching you. Finding out your habits and your delectations. Waiting for the right moment to slip the cuffs over your wrists, and keep you captive in my world for a bit, until you can look at life with an altered perspective. I hope you enjoy the experience.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Fragmented Families Can Be Good

You can have extended family begging you to “stay together for the kids”, but sometimes, a marriage ends. Not always. Some couples manage to find a calm channel through the currents that overwhelm others. Some couples cope with living past each other, others seem to be able to hold hands until arthritis makes it difficult to do so. But when a marriage ends, it’s not the dissolution of a couple when there are children, but an entirely new dynamic of shared responsibilities.

It’s really hard sometimes to think about how many days I have missed of my children growing up and experiencing new things. Sometimes I discover new developments in their lives by default, as they babble happily on about new friends, or a sport they have taken up in the new school term. I manage to mask my surprise and dismay, and look for clues about how they decided to do this, and whether it shows some of their future personality in the choices they are making now.

Of course I’m supportive- anybody would be; it doesn’t make me an extra-special dad because I want to hear about who they are. That’s one of the basic rules of parenting: Listen to your kids. And on reflection, when I was parenting as part of a marriage, huge swathes of time could pass in a blur of breakfasts, laundry and distraction without me noticing a change. Perhaps it’s not so bad, then, that I see them every other week- when they are sick, or sad or talking about something new, I’m that much more able to see it.

It’s a little like maintaining a house- you have a series of spotlights in the ceiling, and one goes out, and unless you sort it out immediately, it can peer blindly down at you for months before you have a bit of home-making epiphany, and find the five minutes it takes to replace the bulb. Or going on holiday and looking at things from a different perspective. Children can be like that. When you are with them constantly, it’s possible to start to miss the microscopic changes, and sometimes even the most fundamental ones.

I’m not advocating spouses separating, or divorced parenting as the better choice, but what I am saying is that rather than sit and mope about what I’ve missed, I’m going to think about all the changes I have been fortunate enough to see, and how my children never look at me as less of a parent because I feel like one. And you can be just as observant within the context of a marriage, of course.

And I do get cross with them, sometimes. And shout, and react rather than respond, and get irritated at mealtimes, and so on… Cos I’m their dad.