Madam, Your Husband…

4 Jun

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]motorbike cylinder with frangipani flower.“Madam,” said the chap on the scooter, eyeing the motorbike erratically parked some distance from the wrong hire shop (and, indeed, the pavement) with a sort of bemused, yet ineffably polite contempt, “Your husband has asked me to come and find you…”

Now, I guess this sort of “women drivers, pshaw!” shtick happens all the time to married women. And, much though it offends my feminist sensibilities to admit it, I am, sadly, pretty much your stereotypical woman driver, with absolutely zero sense of direction to boot.


Given that neither Z’s father nor I have ever been married, and certainly not to each other, given, in fact, that we’d known each other for about two seconds when we conceived the boy, the phrase “your husband” adds a sort of extra special level to the everyday vehicular humiliation I am familiar with as a regular patron of emergency callout services in the UK.

You know. “Well, I don’t think there’s a mechanical fault. I’m pretty sure it’s not starting because I forgot to switch my lights off again,” “Is that the AA? Yes, I’m afraid I’ve locked my keys in the car,” “Excuse me, Mr. Traffic Warden. Do you know what this red light means? It went on and told me I should pull over, then steam started coming out of the engine and now the car seems to have sprung a leak…”.

S has been with us for the last fortnight, and the last week has been pretty much full of “your husband this”ing and “your wife that”ing. Basically, everyone on Cat Ba island made the entirely natural assumption that the giant Western parents of the giant Western child who were sharing the family beach hut and the laundry, chucking their offspring around the sea, hiring junks, etc, were, well, married.

This has probably been weirder for S than for me. I have, after all, been travelling for over four months, and fielding queries about my husband’s whereabouts with reference to his throughout that time, while, as a non-resident parent who looks younger than he is, the default social assumption is that he is free of bonds either parental or marital.

Z, as ever, has taken it all in his stride. We have always spent time together as a family – we’ve spent Christmas together, go to the cinema together, to picnics together, etc. — so it’s not the first time, for example, that Z has walked with one hand in each of his parents’ hands.

It is, however, possibly the first time he has observed that a deserted hilltop would be a good place for people (in general, naturally, certainly not his parents, oh no) to “snog”…

All in all, the experience has tended slightly to the surreal. And that’s without the added bad-Hollywood-romcom-weirdness of spending the night on a junk in one of the world’s most dazzling environments without, well…, without getting laid. Or the prospect thereof, for that matter.

So there we were in a restaurant, sat by the fishtanks watching my dinner grappling with its blue nylon string bonds and speculating how long the parrotfish had for the world, while looking out over the fish farms, sampans and neon-clad floating restaurants of Cat Ba port.

The owner pops over, and we are having the usual conversation about how old Z is, how many brothers and sisters he has (single-child families are a real novelty all over Asia), when the guy enquires, “Only the one? You don’t want more?”

S and I look at each other. “I don’t know, darling,” I say brightly, channeling a spritely 50s housewife, still on the bennies but due a Valium to take the edge off it just as soon as she gets through with vacuuming the soft furnishings. “What do you think?”

“Well,” he says, solemnly. “We’d like a little girl, of course. But it’s difficult to find the time. You see,” he continues, warming to his theme, “I’m very caught up in my career…”

After the chap leaves, Z asks, “Why don’t you just tell him the truth?”

“It’s complicated to explain,” I say. “It’s just like we talked about when people ask me where my husband is, and I answer with reference to your dad.”

“But why don’t you just say, ‘She’s NOT my wife!’ and explain what you mean,” he asks his dad, using the intonation he uses when correcting vocabularily-challenged strangers with the stern admonition, “I am NOT a baby!”

I am trying to think of a delicate way to phrase an explanation when S spares me the trouble. “Like, ‘She’s not my wife, she’s the recipient of my sperm?’” he says.

“Exactly what I was thinking!” our son exclaims approvingly.

I am simultaneously pleased that Z has fully processed the story of his origins – he’s been told since he could talk that he was the best surprise either of us ever had – and frustrated that I didn’t formulate the phrase first.

Unfairly, perhaps, given that I had been thinking along the same lines, I am also mildly cross with both of them for… well, I’m still not sure if it was precisely rude but if I’d said the gendered equivalent it would have been offensive in the extreme.

Anyway, it has been odd. We have genuinely had some amazing times. But the husband schtick has been very, very odd.

There are roles you default into as co-parents. I find myself saying things like, “I’m not sure, why don’t you ask your father?” “Your dad and I have both told you that you can’t jump off the kayak because of the jellyfish. Now, get back in the boat AT ONCE.”…

S carries things for me. Which is weird for me. When he gets a sinus headache, I go into maternal fussing mode, which goes beyond weird to virtually doing his head in, without the comic impact of Z rushing in with a thermometer and endeavouring to insert it under his tongue.

And when I am on the wrong end of a quite phenomenally discomfiting seduction attempt from a chap at the beach huts who barely comes up to my shoulder and looks young enough to be my son – long story – the phrase I find myself squeaking piteously is: “But my husband! My husband! I need to go and find my husband!”

More weirdly still, I do go and find him.

Anyway. We’re back in Hanoi. In separate bedrooms again. And, lordie, did THAT take some explanation when S first arrived at the guesthouse…

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14 Responses to “Madam, Your Husband…”

  1. Gretchen June 4, 2010 at 10:37 pm #

    Theodora – I love this story! It definitely falls within the “Singe Mummy Stuff” category and (as always) I admire your candor. Say hi to Zac for me. (You’ll be hearing from me soon too.)

  2. Gretchen June 4, 2010 at 10:38 pm #

    Bad editor! Can’t even spell “Single” correctly… :-0

    • MummyT June 6, 2010 at 12:24 am #

      Very good editor, thank you 🙂

  3. lainie June 5, 2010 at 3:58 am #

    I just nearly fell off my chair, so happy to have found you! Our paths run parallel it seems, both traveling single moms to smart, witty boys, who remain good friends with our ex’s and both of us appreciate the satire of the pill-popping 50’s house wife. What are the chances? My son Miro and I have been on the road for 11 months now and in a short time, we are welcoming his father, here to Guatemala, for a short visit. I anticipate the same questions, the same assumptions as we often walk together holding hands. In anticipation of being called “husband” and “wife” I will now, not hesitate to use the phrase “I am not his wife, I’m simply the recipient of his sperm!” Thank you kind woman for the material. Thank you.

    • MummyT June 6, 2010 at 12:30 am #

      And thank you for your great site. We were in Guatemala when Z was five or so, and loved it… Told S, who is still with us, that you would be using his “recipient of his sperm” phrase. He was amused …

  4. jessiev June 5, 2010 at 6:36 am #

    this just makes me laugh. the stuff life throws at you…

  5. Caroline June 5, 2010 at 6:45 am #

    “But my husband! My husband!” Hilarious!!! I will not let either of you live this one down 😉

    • MummyT June 6, 2010 at 12:32 am #

      Yea, yea and yea… He made a friend at the Museum of Ethnography today. One of those practice-English friendships you get in these parts… He, S, proceeded to ask if he (friend) were married, then explain how we got married in 2002… Large, beachfront wedding… Is eagerly hoping to have the opportunity to explain to anyone who asks that “The secret of our success is lots of time apart. LOTS of time apart…” xxx

  6. anna June 6, 2010 at 2:14 am #

    I love your blog, but not sure if I’ve commented before – this post drove me out of lurkdom – so funny & so open. Spoke to me as a surprise myself (broken condom 3 months into dating, so my mother tells me).

    • MummyT June 6, 2010 at 2:34 am #

      Gosh. How lovely to hear from someone at the other end of the surprise… Did it cause you a lot of angst? Or were you relatively relaxed about it? When were you told? I know one surprise who felt terribly, terribly guilty for aeons because her parents went and got married (then divorced). But I don’t know any surprises who were raised as a lifetime surprise. There must be a lot of accidental families out there. More now, I would guess, than a generation ago. But most of the single parenting literature deals with planned parenting, rather than surprise parenting.

      • anna June 10, 2010 at 9:20 pm #

        Hey – it never caused me any worry at all. I remember asking once, “well, why did you choose to have me?” (I come from a pro-choice family, & was aware that abortion was an option for my mother), & my dad said “because we knew it was going to be you”. Unbearably cheesy, but I always felt that I was the best thing that happened to my parents (!). They went on to have 2 more children, but separated after 25 years. I’m not sure if they would have stayed together without the glue of children, but I don’t feel any guilt about that – we were a great family & still are. Anyway, my own daughter was a surprise (diaphragm)…

      • MummyT June 10, 2010 at 10:24 pm #

        That’s good to know. I don’t think Z is bothered about it at all… And, isn’t it funny how high fertility (or being crap with contraception) seems to run in families? Mind you, I’m sure one is more likely to make a positive choice — I’m pro-choice, too, but do see abortion as a very, very major step (because it’s terminating something that is on its way to becoming a person) — if there are accidents or surprises in the family.


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