I am not the sort of mother who feels sorry for people who don’t have children. Not even in my most smug moments (literally, only fleeting moments) do I think “People without kids are missing out!” or “People without kids must be so sad”.
I think, quite honestly, if I hadn’t had kids I would have been alright. I would have done something else, been someone else. I would have bred Shar-Peis or collected guns or become a foreign correspondent or something else equally child-unfriendly. But it would have been alright. I wouldn’t have been sad. I would have Christmassed in Barbados and spent Sunday mornings browsing in foreign antiques markets. I would cook more elaborately. I would read a lot of books.
But there is one area in which my heart does go out to the childless and it is this: they have to pretend, especially women, to like children they are not related to. They either have to pretend to like them, or self-defensively announce loudly that they are not “crazy” about kids or they are “bad” with kids or turn it around and claim that kids don’t like THEM. (It’s not me, it’s you.)
The plain fact is that it is hard to immediately take to strange children. Your own are fine. Your nieces and nephews are delightful. But other kids? Well, they’re just… whatever, really. Not repulsive or anything. (Although sometimes yes, totally repulsive) But mostly you just feel… nothing.
Unless you get to know them of course. Any child, once you get to know it, becomes the world’s most precious thing. But unless you see each other reasonably often, it’s hard to go wild about them.
This is a perfectly okay attitude to have if you already have children. The other day a friend whom I was supposed to be seeing for coffee asked at the last minute if she could bring both her kids. Both of mine would be occupied elsewhere. “No,” I said, guiltlessly. “Let’s do it another time.”And her children are perfectly nice. Any other time, when I also had my kids, they would be welcome at my house to smash the place up – we would all put funny hats on and sing songs and have a wicked time – but spend time with her kids, on one of my kid-free mornings? No. Unthinkable. Never.
But you can’t say that if you haven’t got kids because people go hmmmmm and think Oh, she doesn’t like children. Like one of the Witches in Roald Dahl. And it’s not that, s/he just doesn’t really like children she doesn’t know. She doesn’t hate them!! Just doesn’t really want to socialise with them. They operate at such an odd tempo, do little kids, and unless you are tuned to it, it can seem bizarre.
It’s all the interrupting that the childless can’t cope with. They probably think you shouldn’t let your children interrupt you, that Kiddo ought to just sit in a corner eating PVA glue while you gossip on for 3 hours about someone’s hideous new kitchen extension. They think you, the mother, ought to turn and say NOT NOW I AM TALKING.
Or, worse, they do that thing where they reach over to stop the hand of an eight month old who is banging a spoon on a table, because they believe that you are not stopping the child from making this awful noise because you are blinded by love or helplessly out of control.
(The fact is that there is so little joy and light in an 8 month-old’s life – can’t speak, can’t move, probably teething – that why shouldn’t the poor little bugger have a bit of fun banging a spoon about?)
Before I had children, all those utterly bizarre things kids do used to do my head in and I thought I didn’t like kids, but now I know that 1) you don’t really like kids you don’t know and 2) I didn’t understand them.
Now I don’t even notice when I am interrupted. In fact these days I am quite grateful for it – I talk so much and so fast that I can really wear myself out if left to rattle on unchecked.
And anyway I am usually just sitting in my kitchen with Becky B – in the middle of saying something scandalous – and I will be dragged hither to clear up a spill and she will be dragged thither to look at a Peppa Pig rocket and when this strange little ballet brings us back to within shouting distance of each other, we pick up where we left off. That’s just how it is. We don’t care. We usually manage to cover quite a lot of ground that way.
But when you don’t have kids you don’t GET to not want to be with them. People act like it’s “good” for the childless to spend time with their own ratbag kids to “get practice”. Me? I never expect anyone to want to spend time with my kids if they haven’t got their own. Why would they? Moreover, why would I? If I am going to see a friend who hasn’t got children I want to sit about in clean, fashionable (?!?!?!) clothes drinking alcohol and talking, uninterrupted, about that hideous kitchen extension.
Which brings me rather abruptly to lamb meatballs. Things have been a bit hair-raising round here the last few weeks. One of those times in life when eating, let alone cooking, sort of goes out of the window. We’ve been getting a lot of takeaway or having things that I can cook from memory, which only require 1 stale cabbage, some nutmeg and pre-grated Cheddar (strength 2).
But the other night, despite feeling pretty sorry for myself, I did have the chutzpah to conjure up a BRAND NEW THING, which are these cheese-stuffed meatballs. Not as hard as they sound and actually really unusual and delicious, sort of half-Greek, half-Indian – like a really beautiful supermodel.
So here we go, this would serve 4 people with sides.
500g best lamb mince
1 small onion, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 small bunch coriander
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
1/4 tsp coriander seeds
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds (leave these out if you don’t have them)
1/2 small pack of Feta cheese
salt & pepper
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 pint chicken stock
1 large handful medium Matzoh meal
groundnut oil for frying
1 Put the onion, garlic, 1/2 the bunch of coriander and all the spices into a whizzer and whizz. Don’t clean the blender out.
2 Add these to your lamb mince and smoosh around with your hands for a bit. Then throw over the matzoh and the egg and a large pinch of salt and smoosh about more to combine. Try not to think about how cute lambs are.
3 Put a non-stick pan on over a medium heat with some oil in it and while this is heating up start shaping your meatballs in the usual way but put in a pinch of feta cheese – about the size of a small marble, and pack the mince around it. You will discover the best way of doing this by trial and error – by the third meatball you’ll have nailed it. It is easiest to work with mince if you have wet or damp hands.
4 Fry off the meatballs for about 15 minutes, turning so they are nice and crunchy on the outside. Keep the heat at a medium, at no point out blue smoke to be anywhere in your kitchen.
5 While these are browning, whizz your tin of tomatoes in your dirty whizzer, then scrape it all out into a casserole dish or any pan with deep-ish sides. Add your stock and a large pinch of salt and about ten turns of the pepper grinder, stir and bring this to a simmer.
6 Add in your meatballs as they seem browned on all sides (some may open up to reveal the cheese within, don’t worry about this) and cook the whole lot on a simmer for about 45 minutes until the tomatoey sauce seems to have reduced and thickened. Tinned tomatoes are vile and it’s only by cooking them and reducing them that you can turn them into anything edible.
7 Sprinkle over with fresh coriander and eat at dinnertime after the little weasels have gone to bed and you finally get to finish a bloody sentence.