Yesterday Motherload led me to commit a bad thing.
Like that’s unusual.
No, hear me out, this is what happened.
I was running late to collect the children, because I’d been working very hard on something… for the children (go figure). It was pouring with rain, and everyone else had also decided to drive to school. The reason I was increasing the world’s carbon footprint was because we have to get to a swimming lesson within half an hour on a Friday, and the only way we can do it is in the car.
Plus, frankly, I’m always running late, because I’m always trying to snatch a few seconds extra from the jaws of the playground wasteland. Those futile minutes spent just… waiting around for your children to come out of school, because, these days, you HAVE to be seen by the teacher so that they will release your kid (as otherwise they are bound to be snatched/run over in the gap between the school gate, and your waiting arms). Minutes usually taken up with sub-competitive nonsense with other parents, very few of whom seem to have remembered that a playground is in fact a social space, and not a gladiatorial arena. Or perhaps it’s just me?
Anyhoo, I was late, but the dog had eaten my homework, it was pouring, people were dithering about, the minutes were ticking past, and I could feel that tight band of panic rising in my chest. I saw a space, shoved the car in it, bit my bottom lip and crossed my fingers as I realised it was a disabled parking spot, and ran for the school. We were out, running, within five minutes. I have never parked in a disabled spot in my life.
You can guess the rest. An irate older man was glaring at me as we raced up. He had arrived seconds after me, needing to drop off the person whose disabled bay it was. As it happens, there is a second disabled bay two spaces down, and so he had parked there. He said, “I’ve taken your number, that’s a £200 fine, you know. I’ve had to use someone else’s bay”. The tight band of panic dissolved into welling tears — I found myself following the man, pleading with him, “I’m so sorry, I would never normally do this, | was late, I had to get the children, it was raining, please believe me, I would never, never do this normally, I was desperate”. He looked at me, could see that a grown woman was about to cry in front of him, and relented, grumbling, “All right, ok”.
I got back into the car, and sobbed uncontrollably in front of the children, all the way through the wind and traffic, to the wretched pool.
What on earth made me so upset? I think it was because this unbearably trivial incident triggered the whole long list of other pointless, aggressive driving-and-parking-related incidents that have arisen through living in London with young children.
I can remember being given a parking ticket, because I stopped the car in driving rain to see whether I was allowed to park at that particular time (I wrote the most furious letter I have ever written, and was graciously excused that one).
I received a parking ticket for going to a shopping centre with my four-year-old daughter, having lunch with her there, and wandering round the shops, which took us a few minutes over the time the car park had designated ‘normal’ — I’d had no idea there was a limit. It was like being told you could only have your table in a restaurant for one sitting. Not that we go to restaurants any more. Or shopping centres.
And it’s no better with public transport. There was the famous incident of the bus driver who called the police because I wouldn’t fold my pram, as the bus was half-empty, and my baby was safer in the pram than out of it. Or the time another bus driver rammed on his brakes so hard that she went flying onto her head into the bottom of the bus. Because she wasn’t in a pram…
Or there’s the complete lack of provision for people with prams on the underground. Often’s the time that I’ve found myself feeling as though having a wheeled contraption automatically places one in the disabled category, whether its occupant is able-bodied or not.
Yet even my list of transport-related ignominies don’t seem really enough to cause what amounted to a flood inside the car as well as outside, at 3.45pm yesterday.
I think what really made me cry was my shame at being judged to be a bad citizen for taking up the space of a disabled person. Of course I knew I was parking in the wrong place, but I reasoned, as I ran, that it was only for a few minutes, and that surely no one would arrive at that time. They did, and I was caught out.
I still cried at what felt to me like the injustice of it all — I was racing flat out because I’m trying to be a good citizen all the time, as a parent. I took a risk which amounted to a five-minute felony, at school pick-up time. The man must have known that we were right by a school at 3.30pm, which is why there were no other spaces.
He too had the choice not to react as he did, which was just to lash out at me with a hostile blanket judgement and a threat, without any understanding of the context. Clearly he barked at me because this must happen to him all the time, and for him, the injustice to his client is greater than the injustice done to an able-bodied woman, always in a rush because of the demands placed on her.
Ultimately I was crying because I was ashamed that I had cried in order to move a man out of his snap judgement. I wasn’t consciously trying to manipulate him with my “womanly emotions”, it all happened much too quickly for that (the whole encounter couldn’t have lasted a minute, and we still got to swimming on time). I just reacted exactly as I felt — desperate. But that’s what it must have looked like from the outside, just as I must have looked like a nasty, pushy middle-class mother, doing anything for her kids, to hell with anyone else, by parking in a disabled bay.
My tears shamed him into relenting. I had to make a visible, visceral display of my sincerity in order to win him over.
I felt like Shylock.