Often, Primark seemed to bring the worst out in the mothers of these kids. A girl sobbing in the queue after a fight with her brother was viciously shouted at by her frustrated mum and sent to stand elsewhere. Kids would be dragged and pushed and shouted at for crying. It would be easy for me to be overly judgemental but these were genuinely sad moments. Another time an exchange between two teenage brothers and their mother had me in stitches – the older boy leant forward as his mother waited for me to scan her day’s shopping and pretend-whispered in his brother’s ear, “I could kill you on the way out and no one would ever know. I would just say you were trampled to death by a stampede of Christmas shoppers.” When he cheekily replied to his mother’s dressing down she asked him, quick as a flash and with a deadpan delivery, “How about you get adopted?” It was a wonderfully Belfast moment and all good natured. When I commented that she had an impressive way with her children she said that as the mother of seven boys she had had to learn fast.
What took me somewhat by surprise was when I was wheeled in, dressed head to toe in authority figure black, by mothers in need of a last disciplining resort: “You’d better stop crying or that man will throw you out!” I was suddenly, unexpectedly, with my hands full of half folded towel or the latest batch of snowglobes, “The Man”. I was not a fan of being pointed at in an effort to strike fear in to kids but what you gonna do. One mother commented to me, “I really need to stop doing that. The poor girl is going to grow up with a terrible fear of men!” The “best” example came when a lady was trying to get her little girl to settle down in her pram. In what I deemed a gentle voice she knelt down and said, “Look, we’re going to go to the McGee’s in a minute”. I assumed she was telling the child that her shopping was almost over at which time they would both go to the McGee’s, a family friend perhaps, where the little girl could rid herself of the pram and run free and play with the McGee’s stash of exciting toys. She turned to me and said, again in what I took for gentle tones, “You know the McGee, don’t you?” I was taken by surprise at my sudden inclusion in the conversation and replied in what I thought was the sought after “Sure everyone knows the Fun McGees of Fun Street where every kid loves to go and will sit quietly in their pram until they get there because its worth the wait” jovial tone, “Of course I do!” Then I realised that I had slightly misheard. The child’s mother had in fact asked me, “You know the Witch McGee, don’t you?” I had in fact assured mother and child, with a smile no less, that I was well aware of the evil witch and what she did to naughty little children who don’t sit still in Primark...
I am a huge fan of kids and am bowled over by how amazing – in exciting and challenging and terrifying and heartbreaking and awe-inspiring ways – it must be to be a parent. I hope to be a good one (In the future future future). But doesn’t everyone? I saw two beautiful examples of family on my recent trip to America, one new and working it all out as they go and another older and going through the challenges and enjoyments of seeing the children become adults. When I was last in America my friend Kyle was recently married and the conversation at the dinner I shared with him and his wife revolved around my fascination with the wondrous concept of marriage. This time I was introduced to their baby boy and I had the privilege of seeing their small family “be”. As the time came for his young son to hit the hay, Kyle invited me to come and watch them put him to bed. It would feel wrong to share the details of this most moving of goodnights but I will unashamedly say that as I stood in the doorway, my head resting against the frame and being treated to a beautiful vision of what family means, I felt like weeping. The older family, that of the girl sometimes referred to as The American, I shared a Sunday afternoon with. I watched a father wrap up his now grown “little” girl next to him, embracing her with a heartbreaking gentleness and enjoying her conversation and moments of wit. An unspoken understanding existed between the two and a beauty hung about them. I wondered if people saw that in my family's interactions. I hope so. I know the weirdness of family too, the hardness, the strife. I don't mean to over romanticise it. But I am a firm believer in its wonder.
I don’t know if I’ll ever work with kids, if I’ll ever father any or if I’ll just occasionally kick it with them. But they amaze with their vision of what we once were, perhaps how we wish we could be.
Children of Primark I salute you and thank you for dancing in the aisles. Long may you continue.