The vapidity of these days is, I suppose, to be expected.
Christmas is over. Done. We’re in that strange in-between time. School and work have yet to recommence and the days pass now with none of the intoxication of before. I feel trapped in their dreary emptiness while simultaneously dreading the crushing, imminent return to grey normality.
It’s always like this in the early part of January. After the interminable build-up Christmas passes as fast and slippery as a young fish and all that is left is some familiar sense of desperate regret over the inexorable, grinding progression of the clock.
Those who are attuned to the fragility of a healthy mental state will know of the danger of the dark, January days. In December the bleakness of the cold, red morning horizon is filled with enchantment. In January it can reek of hopelessness.
Perhaps this is because the defences have been temporarily lowered, the mind and body surrendered to a state of abandon. Perhaps it is simply because endings are easier than beginnings. Whatever, the worries and responsibilities seep back into my thoughts, spreading like mould.
The new toys are still scattered on the carpet of the good room. The Christmas tree is there in the corner. I haven’t found the will to take it down but have no desire to see the lights. That’s where I am, stranded, unable to summon the energy to do anything new even though I am tired of what has gone before.
As I said, it’s a dangerous time and I know the trick is to bring focus and order to the mind. To give myself a task. To bring some mystical, awful importance to what would otherwise be inane. Don’t let the sense of rot set in.
Today it is the bins. The glorious comforting dependable routine of the bins. Sorting the surplus of rubbish into piles for the green, brown and blue receptacles. I’m tearing cardboard boxes to pieces and crushing cans and plastic bottles as I challenge myself to fit more and more in.
I find myself slipping into a familiar obsessive state as I go through every individual piece of waste, making sure it is in the right bin. Soon I’m removing labels from plastic containers and washing them, taking time to ensure that every small particle of food is removed from the most elusive corners. I think I may even be smiling as I consider that basically what I’m doing is washing my rubbish.
It’s just my son with me in the house today, mummy has already returned to work. We play superhero games which consist of me chasing him around the house only to be bashed on the head with a pillow when I catch him. It seems to go on for a long time. In truth the game feels a little bit flat and I wonder is it possible that even children can grow tired of having too much empty time.
Then he wants to watch a film so I leave him in the front room while I go upstairs. I try to read but find I cannot concentrate on the words. I’d love to write something but I know that it’s when I struggle to reach a creative state that I’m least likely to find it.
So instead I just lie on the bed, wandering somewhere deep inside my own mind. I know I’m not depressed or anxious, I’m just concentrating on being self-aware. Trying, as ever, to understand all of the layers and processes. I can’t stop thinking about how thin the lines are.
Then I hear him coming up the stairs. My first emotion, I’m ashamed to say, is one of weariness. I’m anticipating another long bout of superhero role playing. ‘Aw, buddy, just let daddy have five more minutes.’
But when he enters the room his face is flushed and serious, like a child trying to replicate an adult expression. I sit up immediately as he begins to speak.
‘Daddy, there’s something I have to tell you. Something I need you to check.’
‘What is it buddy? Are you alright?’
His face is creased with the effort of processing new thoughts and experiences.
‘Daddy, I think I might have a wobbly tooth.’
He wants me to look in his mouth. Eventually I manage to persuade him that he needs to remove his finger and move his tongue and then I see it. A tiny pearl tooth in the bottom row which is dangling by a thread. It must have been loose for some time but he has only just realised what is happening.
‘Yes buddy, you definitely have a wobbly tooth. That’s going to fall out soon.’
And then it begins. The pleasure overtakes his tiny body and he begins to bounce, as he always does when excited.
‘I can’t believe it daddy. I can’t believe I have my first wobbly tooth.’
He talks like this with animation for some time. He begins to tell me about every person in his class at school, naming them individually as he recites how many wobbly or missing teeth they have. A complete juvenile dental record of all of his friends. He has never spoken to me of this subject before but now I’m aware of how it must have dominated his thoughts and discussion in the playground. How often he must have wondered when it was going to be his turn. Children’s minds, just like those of adults, are full of suppressed mysteries and surprises.
We talk of the tooth fairy and I find his joy and wonder spreading into me like a contagion. It’s only a tooth but it means so much more to him. He seems to be more excited in this moment than he was at any time over Christmas. Perhaps more excited than I’ve ever seen him before.
He keeps repeating a couple of lines over and over.
‘I can’t believe I’ve got a wobbly tooth. I’m a big boy now.’
Perhaps there should be some pathos in this process, as my boy takes another step towards growing up, another step away from me, but I can’t help but be carried along with his excitement and pure, undiluted joy.
He is desperate to tell mummy. In his world no experience is complete unless it is shared entirely with his mother. I tell him I’ll get her on the phone but he wants to wait. To tell her in person, to do it properly and with due ceremony.
So we wait and play more games, but now the elusive animation and adventure has returned. Occasionally he stops just to give me one of his smiles and I’m aware of how the romantic has swept away the cerebral and how much better I am for it.
Eventually mummy comes home. I have to bring her into the front room and ask her to sit down so my son can make his announcement. There are tears and hugs.
Mummy puts him to bed but it is some time before he is calm enough to sleep. Later she tells me that he kept repeating the same two lines as he lay, over and over, in a whisper.
‘I can’t believe I’ve got a wobbly tooth, I’m a big boy now. I can’t believe I’ve got a wobbly tooth, I’m a big boy now….’
There is momentary panic the next morning. The tooth is gone, leaving only a dark gap at the bottom of his mouth. Soon mummy finds it on the mattress. She holds it in the palm of her hand and we stare, astonished by how small and white it is. Like a delicate jewel or even a tiny, distant star.
Tiny and white, but able to illuminate the depth of night and to brighten the darkest of days.