As far as I am concerned, my son is the perfect child. Even I, though, will admit that his speech is not quite where it should be. At two and a half, he can’t manage to form sentences, and when he does speak, it’s odd; sometimes a shout, sometimes a whisper.
Then, there’s his pronunciation. ‘Please’ is ‘peas’, which is invariably adorable. ‘Th’ defeats him, so he substitutes an ‘f’, and the letter ’n’, when mid-word, sometimes gets left out entirely. And so, last week, when his special helper at nursery left to start a new job elsewhere, she made him a card, which she gave him on her final day. ‘Peas,’ he said, tiny fingers reaching up. And then, when the envelope was safely in his grasp and everyone’s eyes were moist, he smiled into her adoring face and said, ‘Fuck you’.
‘Fuck you,’ he tells the man in the shop when we go to get milk. ‘Fuck you,’ as I give him his dinner. It turns out that the situations in which ‘fuck you’ and ‘thank you’ can be used interchangeably are by no means abundant.
Still, and glacial though it has been, my son’s language has been one of the very few things to make any kind of progress this year. This wretched year. The other day I was talking to a friend, more upbeat than me, who said, ‘Come on, there must be something about 2020 that’s been good.’ We both thought. I’m still thinking about it now.
Honestly? I’m fine. I’ve not been ill, I’ve not lost anyone close to me. Most people have had it far worse. It’s still been shitty, though. My marriage has been strained, my relationship with my kids has suffered. Most of all, my sense of what is safe, what is home, how to move through the world, how, simply, to be, the whole lot has been smashed, again and again, and now it’s December and the shards fill my hands.
I’ve never been one for nostalgia. When asked which period I want to live in, the answer is always, now! Now with my own credit card, with birth control, decent medical care and the right to an abortion. Screw the hairdos and ropes of pearls. Still, I’ve always wondered how I’d be in a proper crisis, and this year has shown me the answer. I have not been brave, I have not been been strong. I am weak and I am angry and I am tired and I want a life that is ordinary, that is flat, tedious to the point of inanity. It’s not an especially pleasant revelation to have about oneself. Still, there it is.
Remember how we moaned about 2019? Brilliant, lovely, free 2019! Never again will I take for granted the carelessness of a crowd, of stepping in from a crisp night to a room hot with boozy breath. The life I had, and will soon have again, is a lucky accident. I know that, now. Next year will be better. It must be. We know about loss. We know what we have. We are better, now. I must believe this, and I think that I do.
There’s something else, though, that I know now. Something shameful, something I do not want to face. But if I am going to be better, I must not allow myself to put it to one side.
Remember back in the summer, when Wiley spent a couple of days filling twitter with hate? And so many stood up and said no. No safe space for Jew hate. No more to this. We see, now. This must stop.
It was a hard week. I am careful never to look at what I know to be out there, the tough skeins of desire to see me and my family gassed that thread social media, always just a click or two away. That week, they were there for all to see, because for every person saying no, there were more in his support. I looked. I shouldn’t have done, it was foolish of me, but I did.
That wasn’t the only reason I found it tough. So many stood up and said, enough. While I was relieved, another part of me did wonder why it had taken so long, why it had taken this, when social media has always been an entirely safe space for Jew hate. Why why why?
Then it occurred to me that I am just the same. It should not take a man dying with a knee on his neck to teach me about white privilege. My gratitude for the NHS ought not to rest upon tens of thousands of people dying, working around the clock, putting their loved ones at risk. Yet this is exactly what has happened. I have been so blind.
With this in mind, my resolution for 2021, if it isn’t too grandiose, is to try to be better before I am made to be, without my hand being forced. I am determined to remember to be thankful, to reach out to neighbours and friends before it becomes apparent that they need it. I will endeavour to question my privilege, speak out even when I want to remain silent, listen even if the voice in question is little more than a murmur.
How much of this I will achieve, I don’t know. I fear it will not be anything like enough. I will, at least, try.
Which begins, I suppose, with trying to foster some kind of appreciation for the harvest of 2020. My friend was right, really. In amongst all the death and despair, there has been so much that is good.
Am I grateful? Maybe. But I won’t say thank you for this past year. I’ll let my son do that.