November is the month of birthdays in our household. It is both a pleasure and a burden. Half the members of my immediate family of six were born in November. The rest are spread more evenly in February, June and September. November is also the month in which my husband and I chose to get married. The month before Christmas, it signals the beginning of a long line of celebrations.
I have always maintained that birthdays are important. It is the one day of the year when you can really be celebrated. We all need to be celebrated from time to time. We all need to feel special from time to time. We all need to take centre stage from time to time, but how easily it is frowned upon.
When I was a child the nuns described the naughty disobedient ones, generally the boys, as ‘notice boxes’. I conjured in my mind then the image of a red letter box, a letter box with its wide slit in the middle like a hungry mouth waiting for a letter to drop in. Were these naughty boys then like letter boxes, waiting for letters, waiting for attention?
I have a friend, a child psychotherapist who observes the increase in situations where small children, again most often boys, are being diagnosed as suffering from attention deficit disorder. She wonders, she tells me, where is the attention deficit actually located.
This is not an attempt at parent bashing. Think again of Phillip Larkin’s poem: ‘They fuck you up, your mum and dad./ They may not mean to, but they do./ They fill you with the faults they had, /And add some extra, just for you.’
I wonder sometimes whether as a society we suffer a sort of attention deficit disorder across the board. I’m the worst of all when it comes to this – head buried in a book or at my computer screen.
Just now my attention has been taken away by my daughter who is busy making a lemon meringue pie at the request of her youngest sister whose birthday was yesterday but which we celebrate today. She cannot find the lemon zester.
‘Can I lend another pair of eyes?’
Do you find this? You’ve lost something. You’ve searched all over the house and still cannot find it. You ask for help and the second pair of eyes sees it instantly. I found the zester in the cupboard with the juicer, where it should not have been.
And now I’m distracted still further by a conversation with my husband in which we have decided yet again we must do something about getting the dog groomed. His coat needs a cut; his claws need clipping. So I will make that call now to a visiting dog washer because, if I do not, another week or two or three will pass and the dog will get shaggier and shaggier.
This is the life we lead, attention deficits abound, distractions as Damon Young calls them. And yet there is something inherent in these distractions that I also love. They remind me that I am alive and I’m thankful for them. I imagine when I’m dead they won’t touch me anymore.