Sunday 7 October 2018

The Marble Run & Adult Conversation

We have returned from our friends' delightful farmhouse, having had a lovely time and a 28 hour fast from the internet. B.A. doesn't have much energy these days, so he sat in sunbeams or by the fire and read "The Spectator" magazine while I cuddled the hens, or read Polish, or went for a walk, or discussed the stages of apple cider brewing.

While we were reading, a young family turned up, and eventually I found myself upstairs with a four year old, a two year old, and torture device called a "Marble Run." The torture part of the device is putting the blasted thing together.

Downstairs the young mother of these handsome children was having a chat with our mutual friend at the farmhouse kitchen table, and as I struggled with the not-particularly-helpful blueprints to the Marble Run, I was reminded of my mother's deep longing, in the 1970s, for Adult Conversations. 

Not to brag, but I have Adult Conversations all the time. These are usually work conversations, but before I had daily work conversations, I could pop across the Historical Fields to a similarly underemployed neighbour's house for an Adult Conversation about European travel, poetry in translation, or what have you.

My mother would very much have liked to have locked us all up in a closet and gone to a neighbour's for Adult Conversations, but she wasn't that sort of mother, so she didn't do it. But she did moan about how boring childish prattle is, and I admit that it can be, especially when you think of children not as children but as very short and obtuse adults. 

The way forward, I feel, speaking as someone who spends almost no time at all with them, is to remember that children have their own weird psychology, and if you can't put together the ghastly Marble Run, they will not hold it against you for life, or mention it at the next dinner party you're not invited to. 

In fact, a two year old and a four year old can be fobbed off for a pretty long time just with rolling a marble along a piece of plastic track, which in itself seems to be impressive. What children apparently want, besides telling you how old they are and what their parents' real names are (i.e. besides Mummy and Daddy), is a friendly adult person to entertain them with bits of plastic. 

Still, it's hard to lose the feeling that you're letting down the adult side by not being able to construct a Marble Run. By the time supper was announced, I had had quite enough of not being able to fulfil expectations of adult competency. I took comfort from the thought that the children would forget as soon as they had something to think about, i.e. supper and which parts of it they wanted to eat. 

The point of playing games made of plastic with children, I thought, is really to give their parents some time off, so that they can have some Adult Conversations, perhaps with other parents. But then I got my own reward, which was the feeling, after dinner, when we were still all around the table, of somebody under the table trying to remove my slippers. 

Paradoxical as it may sound, two year olds and four year olds do not try to steal the slippers off the feet of adults they don't like. No, they save such felonies for adults that are worth bothering about. It is thus a wonderful compliment to discover that some pint-sized sneak is removing one's footwear. And it is also an opportunity to play my favourite game with children, which is "I'm A Scary Monster Who Has Got Your Leg and Is Going To Pop Off Your Head." 

Naturally I thought a lot about Booklover's plight of wanting to make friend with Catholic mothers and have proper conversations with them that do not involve children. But I also thought about Catholic mothers, and how lonely they can be from day to day, and how little time they have to have any Adult Conversations at all. 

There were more young families at Mass today than usual (hooray!), and the young mothers and fathers, who seemed to be covered in children, talked happily together. I chatted briefly with a university student, a grandmother, a young mum I hadn't met before, a young dad I hadn't met before,  an old bachelor, a pregnant married lady who (alas!) is going back with her husband to their native country, her husband, her mother and her father.  And B.A. and I got a ride home from Mass from our  hostess, so we had another lovely conversation with her. 

I think one of the solutions to the no-Catholic-female-friends problem, as annoying is this will sound, is patience. When I first arrived as a bride in Edinburgh almost 10 years ago, I had no female Catholic friends here. But now I have many and a bunch of acquaintances that might also become friends, if and when they have time for Adult Conversations. Sometimes it just takes time. 


  1. I want to echo your sentiments that it takes time. Over 20 years ago I was asked to join a prayer group consisting of four women from my Parish who were all mothers, but whose children were either teenagers or had left home. They, too, wanted adult conversation. I was childless but was asked to join the group after one of their members, sadly, passed away from cancer. I think it’s important to keep showing up not only to mass but other Parish events so that people can get to know you. My prayer sisters ended up asking me to join the group because they got to know me not only by seeing me at Mass but also by attending the yearly women’s retreat that occurred at a Dominican convent. We met every other Friday night (the kids were old enough to have plans!), and whoever hosted made dinner, including dessert (unless it was Lent). We talked, we ate, we shared, and at the end we prayed. We still meet, not as often, but the fellowship is strong. These are the women I call when I need someone and my mother is 600 miles away. They are all grandmothers now! So be patient, as friendships take time.

  2. Well, that is lovely! Thanks for this.