Very early this morning I heard my name called. Well, I heard the word "Mummmmmyyyyyy!" and that's as good as.
The voice that called it was fraught with fear. In that single word all the hope in the world that he could be saved.
It was Little Lad. Writhing in his bed, eyes still squeezed shut and skin clammy to the touch. Blankets twisted round his little limbs and gasping for air that wasn't coming quickly enough. "I'm having a nightmare!" he shouted.
"It's ok, I'm here." I like to think I was crooning lovingly but I hadn't had my morning coffee yet. So maybe not. "I'm here. Tell me all about it."
"It was my tablet. I couldn't switch it off!" Already this was beginning to sound like my nightmare, not his, but he carried on . . . "I tried to play Roblox and I logged in like I usually do but the pictures on the screen got really scary and they wouldn't stop. I thought I wanted to play that game, I really did, but it suddenly got so scary with dark colours and nasty people and horrible sounds that shouldn't have been there and they wouldn't go away."
"Ssssh. It's ok. You're awake now and we can get you all snuggly in front of the fire and have some cereal together . . ."
"But it wouldn't switch off though! I realised the game was evil and I tried to close it and switch the tablet off but it stayed on. I could hear the sounds all over the house, even when the screen was black, I knew they were still there behind it - making everything scary!"
I sighed and pulled my sensitive little beast in towards me, feeling the warmth of his trembling body and smelling his delightful morning breath. He had yet to put on his glasses and his huge, dark eyes stared up at me, foggy with sleep but still brown and beautiful and framed by sickeningly long lashes.
A single tear rolled over my cheek which he didn't notice. Good. I didn't want to explain right now that I was scared for his future. That I was worried he might not be able to feed his children one day. That perhaps he or his family wouldn't be able to get well when they were sick, or warm when they were cold, or safe if they were at risk. I didn't want to explain that there were already people like that. In our town. Down the street. In his classroom.
Right now I didn't want the fear to roam any further than his delinquent tablet. Because a blank screen with scary voices behind it is bad enough . . .
* * * *
I'm not the most political of people but I come from a family of people who are impressively so. My mum and dad were members of the Labour Party as I grew up and I remember going on rallies with them, feeling the exhilaration of something important and inclusive and big. Me in my little red twirly dress and all these massive grown-ups with billboards and smiles. It felt friendly, exciting, wonderful. Oh for the perspective of a child.
And my mum and dad were kind and intelligent and worldly and well-educated. How wrong could they be?
Now, as a barely-making-it-adult, I lean on my brother for political info too. He's a master at navigating the complexities of ongoing political change. His Twitter account alone keeps me schooled on such things. Check him out at @MattBarpea.
And me? Well I just know what I think is right and wrong. I may not be the best informed of us, but I am capable of reading policies, understanding them and applying them to my moral compass. And all I know is that my heart is made of red and green (apt for the festive season).
I am also capable of seeing what's going on around me. The stories of real people every day. The stories of my friends. And the word 'stories' just doesn't cut it. It makes it sound a bit emotionally cut-off. Too far removed. Something to be read or double-tapped or emoji-ed. They're not stories. They're real.
The last can of soup.
The letters in forbidding red print.
The misty breath in front of your face when you're indoors.
The ever-increasing holes in your shoes.
The relentless pain you can't get treated.
The misery of proving yourself to be ill to a stranger.
The prospect of a cold doorway for the night.
The school trip that's just a penny too far.
The zero hours that you really need to be forty.
I'm naturally empathetic. And that make politics hard. I know that most people could tear down my political stance with a flick of their intellectual tongue and I'd probably just have a cry or something. But I know kindness. And I know fairness. And that's not something I'm seeing with a Tory government.
And this morning, when I rose with a thudding heart and a dry throat to switch on the telly and find out what kind of country I was living in (long before the nightmarish tablet scenario), I realised I had to now employ that kindness and fairness like never before.
My phone pinged with bitter reactions from all sorts of people in my life. My Facebook feed was flooded with contradictions . . . anger and elation, sadness and satisfaction, confusion and clarity. I wanted to join in, to fasten myself into the digital flow of heart-felt headlines and be carried away on a current of fervour. And I probably did for a while.
After a post or two about moving to Turkey (the hubby's native homeland which, to be fair, is just as, if not more, politically shady at the mo) I grasped at my tried-and-tested, go-to emotional resources and posted this as my profile picture:
Like Little Lad, I want to switch off what's happened. I want to mute the voices behind the screen and feel I have some kind of control over what's happening. But I exercised that small amount of control yesterday at the polling station and evidently it wasn't enough.
So now I go back to good old kindness. I (somehow) accept that this is the result of a democracy and that these are strange times indeed. I show my children how to steam ahead despite not getting what you want, and still show warmth to those who made it so - because, at the end of the day, we are all human.
And I begin with that cuddle in Little Lad's bed. The assurance that his tablet is not out to get him. The suggestion that we eat some cereal in front of the fire. The secret smiles we exchange. It's all in there. What we need to move forward.
Go well (and I mean that a little bit more today),
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