Wrinkly Fingers

     After a long bath I rub cream into you. You are on the cusp of turning four and the last remnants of your babyish traits are fading away. Your limbs are stretching. The roundness of your belly and cheeks is receding. You say ‘oh my god’ now in a comically theatrical tone. You hold your hands up in front of your face as I do your legs. After being in the water the tips of your fingers are wrinkled and white. You make a small distressed sound as you notice them.

     The word consequence is taken from Latin consequentia, from consequent- ‘following closely’. The idea of all of your actions being followed by a reaction, a
consequence.

     Here’s a consequence for you son. When you stay in the water too long your skin turns into wrinkly dough. The more things you do the more consequences you will be confronted with, and life experience brings an awareness and an anticipation of those consequences. Now I am in my forties, every move I make is governed by what will happen after. But it wasn’t always this way.

     It starts with being born in a woman’s body. I imagine the word ‘consequence’ is cross stitched through the lining of my uterus in thread veins. Bleeding from between my legs for a week out of every month is a consequence of being born female. Long insidious aches in my insides for three days of every month are a consequence of my periods.

     And missing that pain, oh how I didn’t even comprehend I could actually miss period pain until my first pregnancy scare, missing that pain and falling pregnant is a consequence of having unprotected sex. That is something you will have to learn about. Perhaps you will be attracted to men or women or both. You will need to learn about whether to believe your partner in their assurances of their being on the contraceptive pill, or that they’ve been tested for STIs. You might be drunk, or out of control. You might be flailing around in the dark, trying to do the right thing at the right time and you might forget about the protected part. If you do, and you stay with your partner and if she falls pregnant, then you will witness the consequences of pregnancy on a body. You will observe your partners breasts swell into bowling balls, watch her free falls into daytime naps, take cover from her pendulum-swinging hormones. She will eat like a horse. With you I had an insatiable hunger for ice cubes. I chewed on them all through the days of my pregnancy, even taking a bowl of them to work with me in the car so I could chew them on my journey in.

     Then there’s the children at the end of it too. Your father stuck around but a lot of father’s don’t. And when they don’t, it is with the assumption that the children will be the mother’s consequence to manage. I can’t tell you to stick around. But I can tell you to give her, whoever she might be, if she exists, all the support you can and then some more. Give her all the breaks. Be sensitive to the fact that she has been through an overwhelming physical and mental overhaul and she is off her face on Oxytocin. And when she comes down she might not recognise who she is.

     Ah yes us women are the Queens of consequence. I’ve often wondered about the gendered nature of the concept of the ‘mental load’. The question of why it is that in every cis heterosexual household I know where there are children involved, the woman of the household takes on the scheduling. The dentist trips, the present buying, the thank you notes, the homework hand ins, the school communications all pre-empted and project managed by the woman. Why do we assume this role? Is it because we are forced to be aware of consequences raining down on us from puberty? We live under their cloud. We know to use umbrellas and buy coats with hoods.

     If you’re like me, you will find that growing older has a direct correlation to your relationship with consequences. As a young adult, I wasn’t that far removed from you with your wrinkly fingers. I didn’t even think about consequences until I was knee deep and wading through them. In my twenties, It took a long time for me to own up to the consequences of my late nights. Eventually I had to accept that if I was still raging around in a strangers house when the sun had come up, I was going to feel horrific for a couple of days. But there was no compromising. I became shrewd. I found that the worse the hangover was, the more I would deny it. I would go to work the day after a big night wearing full make up and a flashy outfit. People would say you look great! I would bashfully smile and soldier on through the hangover, going to the bathroom every hour to hold on to the sink.

     I crossed the threshold into my thirties and I was still out, raging around, chasing the night for people and fun. My job was made for it. I wouldn’t go back to any old person’s house in my thirties. I had my own flat. I could bring the party back there. The problem was there was no one to kick me out of my own house. There was a tenuous surface level to the fun after a certain point in those nights and mornings, as deep down in my psyche I knew the ghost of consequence was waiting to pounce out of the shadows as soon as I climbed into bed.

     Son. When you go out and want to lose yourself, remember this. There will always be consequences. You are tampering with the natural processes in your brain and it will take time to feel like yourself again. If you’re not fully sure of who you are in the first place that can be a dangerous game. It’s important to think of your motivations for losing control of yourself. And important to stop sometimes, and weigh up the time you are having real, belly laughter type of fun against the time you are filled with regret and self loathing. If the regret outweighs the laughter, then allow yourself time to figure out what it is you really need. Don’t let the consequences flatten you.

     Love will come too. The consequences of it are immeasurable but of course you will have to learn that the hard way. Heartbreak is necessary pain. It’s important to know that everyone is not going to love you. And conversely, it is important to know who you don’t want to love. I think of Beth Ditto when I interviewed her for my podcast. She said it’s not about what’s for dinner, it’s about what’s not for dinner. Over time you will learn who you don’t want to share your heart with and that will leave so much more room for finding someone who fits you. When I met your father he was a lanky lovable man-boy, who existed in a tornado of chaos. I worried about the consequences of our seven year age gap. But I wanted to love him. He said age doesn’t matter. He was right.

     Then I got pregnant and we saw the consequences of our actions or inactions played out in front of us in the form of your brother as a baby, screaming in hunger or tiredness or over-stimulation, and our lives became a relentless exercise in trying to think ahead enough to make sure he had everything he needed, all the time. When it clicked, I felt like a black-belt in karate, kicking and swiping away potential meltdowns with every packed nappy bag and timed nap. It’s a wonderful feeling, when you understand your child’s needs, and an even better feeling when you can deliver those needs before they scream.

     Now as an adult I think three steps ahead like a snooker player. There’s comfort in always knowing what could fall on me, and always being aware of what direction I need to step to avoid being crushed. I have become a person that is totally in charge of my short term destiny. But looking at your wrinkly fingers, I worry that I have become too dependent on my three steps ahead. I plan everything meticulously, even my days off. Washing the uniforms before school, booking in the babysitters, planning meals and school lunches, everything is forward momentum. Don’t put them there because I have to clean there, don’t eat that now because you’re having your dinner in an hour, working now so that I can have a project finished by the end of the week where I would really like to be in the present but where I won’t be because I’ll spend the morning planning the afternoon planning the dinner dreaming of the evening where I will lie in bed and remember things that I still have to do and furiously scribble lists by the side of my bed to expel this forward momentum out of me. For god's sake get out of my head.

     I wonder about my need for control. I think something there comes from my fifteen years of gallivanting around the world, where the differences of night and day didn’t matter. I lived in big splashes of now. It was a whirlwind. In the seven years since I had children I have been so determined to learn how to stay upright, to hold down my career and my household and not let anyone down, that I’ve gone too far in the opposite direction. Now we’re in lockdown, the lack of moving around so much and the lack of meetings and the lack of momentum in general has meant a lot more of just, being. That, and the inability to plan beyond a day at a time, has been good for me and my obsessive need for prediction. I think I would like to use this new stillness to find space in my head to step out into the wilderness again. To see what comes my way. To experience the consequences as they happen.

     And you. You stand in front of me now, with your wet curls and your peachy skin, in a world where consequences are no more than tiny glimmers on your horizon. You might spend the rest of your life chasing that feeling of freedom. Consequences will creep out around you as the years go by. Pick and choose which ones to heed. But for now, let me wrap this towel around you. It will make you feel warm and safe. That’s the only consequence you need.

Here's some text about this photo.
Here's some text about this photo.

Annie Macmanus

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Wrinkly Fingers