A young woman is doing my nails and we’re having one of those odd conversations you have when you’re spending a long time one to one with someone you don’t know. She mentions her kids, and as a parent I know we’re now on the safe ground of shared experience.
But we’re not, not really. I became a dad at 34. She became a mum at 18. I didn’t separate from my wife until I was 44. She was a single parent from the get-go. My kids were born into a two car family. She doesn’t drive.
We talk about our kids, about the cost of extra-curricular clubs and the problems of buying uniforms or kit for clubs the child might suddenly decide to quit. We talk about the lack of provision in her part of town, the binary choice of dancing for the girls and football for the boys. Her boy did hip hop dancing, just like my daughter, but he was teased for it and quit.
I ask her what her son is called, and she tells me. It’s one of _those_ names, the kind that tells you everything you need to know about the parent. The kind of name that makes you roll your eyes when it’s yelled across a soft play by somebody who’s having a much worse time than you.
That’s a nice name, I tell her, although I don’t really think it is. Was it something you arrived at quickly, or did you spend forever in baby books?
There’s a pause, and then she tells me.
They told her he was dead. A miscarriage. She cried, a lot. And when she went in for checks, checks to see if there was anything of him still there, they found a heartbeat.
There were other traumas, other indignities. But she left hospital with a miracle, a beautiful baby boy. A boy they said she’d lost.
Her family don’t like the name. They think people will judge her, and one day judge him. Sometimes she worries they’re right. Sometimes she is right. But when she sees him, her beautiful, strong, happy young boy, she can’t imagine calling him anything else.
I think it’s a beautiful name, I tell her. And this time I mean it.