There are certain conversations that just don’t go down well in a public forum. Naturally, once one has children any embarrassment about, for example, shouting “POO!” randomly at frequent intervals seems to dissipate. Not so, however, with certain other conversations, such as the one I found myself having at swimming today.
“Daddy, daddy, daddy!” my son is shouting happily.
All those daddies, taking their children swimming. All those conversations the children have about their daddies, as they find themselves musing upon why they find themselves with Mummy in a different changing room. “My daddy,” says one; “No, my daddy,” says another, seemingly puzzled at how they could both have daddies in the same building at the same time.
“Daddy!” shouts Piglet.
“No Piglet, you don’t have a daddy.”
The changing room, usually full of chatter and small children talking about their daddies, has gone quiet.
They are all going to be discussing it amongst themselves once I am gone, I think, as I take care to put Piglet’s jumper on extra slowly, to deny them the opportunity. All those middle class mothers with the husbands and the conventional Topsy and Tim-style set ups.
As we leave the pool, two men come in with a baby. TWO DADDIES, I think triumphantly. The perfect opportunity to point out to Piglet that not everyone has a daddy, but not everyone has a painfully conventional Topsy and Tim-style set-up either. Every family is different.
“You know, Piglet, not everyone has a daddy,” I say once we are safely down the street. Piglet looks up from his pushchair expectantly. He appears to be more interested in this conversation than I had anticipated.
“Some people have just a Mummy, and some have just a Daddy, and some have two mummies or two daddies. And some don’t have ANY PARENTS AT ALL and have to be raised by their grandparents. I think that baby we just saw has two daddies, for example.”
Piglet nods his head in agreement, and turns back around, apparently satisfied with this answer, and now ready to turn his mind back to the usual thoughts of breadsticks, lions, emergency vehicles of all stripes and the amazing feat of engineering that is a car transporter lorry. I breathe a sigh of relief.
I’m supposed to have an answer prepared for these situations; a speech all ready and raring to go. I’m supposed to have been telling Piglet all about his donor from the moment he popped out of the womb, apparently. Gone are the days when having anything but two happily married parents was to be glossed over and never spoken of, and thank goodness for that. Now the prevailing wisdom says we should tell our children about how they were made from the moment the event occurs, preferably using picture book explanations of IVF and euphemistic talk of eggs and seeds, but I just can’t do it. Piglet is just like any other child. His unusual genesis doesn’t make him some sort of special snowflake who needs to be reminded about his conception as often as is humanly possible. Precisely no one wants to have the circumstances of their own conception explained to them, no matter how euphemistically, and besides, Piglet’s donor is not all that interesting to me. I’ve never met him, and wouldn’t want to. What if his values don’t align with mine? What if he’s only donating sperm for the money and not out of the pure motive of altruistic love of creating alternative families for those who are denied children via more conventional means? What if he voted for Donald Trump? He’s from the South, goddamit, that is almost certainly a thing. And then what? Could one’s political leanings be somehow genetic? Is Piglet going to rock up one day in a Make America Great Again hat, hollering about a wall? When I tried to explain to a mewling newborn Piglet at 4am in a hospital ward full of crying women and babies about how he was donor conceived, believing that this was what I now had a solemn duty to do, I ran up against a blank, and instead found myself whispering desperately that if he kept crying I might have to send him back to America (in my defence, at that point Obama was still president).
Piglet carried on crying and flailing his tiny limbs about, and I was wracked with guilt. First, I had created a baby with the sperm of an American I’d never met, and then I’d considered sending him to America via Parcel Force, all wrapped up in a little bit of brown paper and a note saying “return to sender,” because he cried a lot, as newborns are prone to do, and I wasn’t sure I could do this whole mothering thing.
I decided it was probably best if I forgot about trying to explain the American connection and just concentrated on nailing the mothering thing. It was certainly a more pressing concern, and with any luck, he wouldn’t ask where his daddy was anyway and he wouldn’t care, at least not until he could speak.
Fortunately for some, Piglet has not been quick in that regard, and only learned the word “Daddy” a few months ago, when he alarmed me one bedtime by suddenly randomly shouting “Daddy, daddy, daddy!” as I quietly despaired, wondering where he had learned this word, this dangerous, subversive idea, and wondering if I could have prevented it by having the eggs and seeds conversation every evening since his birth. Had he learned it at nursery? From other children? From Charlie and Lola? No, not Charlie and Lola. They don’t have any parents. Charlie is raising Lola single-handedly like the plucky hero of a novel about nineteenth century street urchins.
Or was it from the book my mother had inexplicably brought home from the library, the one called “Amazing Daddy,” which I sneakily tried to change to “Amazing Mummy” when reading it, on the assumption that Piglet could neither read nor tell the difference between male and female fictional pandas.
“Daddy, daddy, daddy!” cried Piglet as I opened the first page, before flinging himself at my brother, who happened to be passing at the time, and calling him Daddy too.
So has Daddy taken on the meaning of any male human, or panda? It’s hard to tell at this stage, but sooner or later the conversation will have to be had. Just preferably not in the swimming pool changing rooms under the glare of middle class judgement.