Health and Fitness

The bill for our scrambled eggs arrives. We quickly remortgage to come up with the cash – The Irish Times

I met up with a pal for breakfast in the city centre recently. We ate some lukewarm scrambled eggs served with a single tooth-chatteringly chilled cherry tomato on the side, accompanied by two pale slices of toasted sourdough bread and a mug of bitter coffee.

Although we’d kept in touch over Covid, we hadn’t seen each other for about three years. He was looking well, trim, focused, younger-seeming and happier than on our last encounter. He’d been looking after himself, he told me, travelling less, dividing his time between city and country.

The bill for the cold plate of greyish eggs arrived. Scanning the eye-watering total, we quickly remortgaged, sold our firstborns and auctioned a smattering of our essential organs to come up with the cash, and then, limp with financial shock, decided to go for a walk to aid our recovery.

There was a freedom available to my generation, especially in our 20s, to live and grow in the capital. We were free to make work and friendships and mistakes and spaghetti bolognese in damp flats on sunlit streets

We walked through St Stephen’s Green, looking at ducks and tourists, each species intent on making the most of the sun and dappled shade. Winding on around the southside Georgian squares, we talked about work and money and parents and offspring and the progeny, too, of our mutual friends, many of whom seem to have been afforded a level of financial and emotional protection that wasn’t necessarily available to us. (We long ago discovered that we are children of parents who struggled with repetitive tasks, such as matrimony and making a living.)

My friend ventured that, by and large, our children are a bourgeois lot. I didn’t know if I agreed with him about that; it seemed like an off-key assessment. I certainly wouldn’t like to be beginning again in Dublin now. I couldn’t imagine trying to make a creative life in this city of overpriced eggs and aesthetic clinics, big data and even bigger rents. There was a freedom available to my generation, especially in our 20s, to live and grow in the capital. We were free to make work and friendships and mistakes and spaghetti bolognese in damp flats on sunlit streets and squares like the ones we were walking on now, cast in shadow as the morning lengthened. There was a privacy, too, back then, when you could only be reached by a public telephone at the bottom of a shabby stairway — or maybe I’m romanticising; maybe my memory is fraying. Nevertheless, the cohort I hung about with in the 1980s had independence, which is, in my estimation, a greater privilege than any gift an anxious parent might now bestow.

Cutting down a laneway in an attempt to access the main thoroughfare, my pal and I stood back to look at a terrace of discreetly tucked-away mews houses, covetable pieds-a-terre that, with today’s property prices, presumably house some fairly well-shod thoroughbreds.

Splashing around in the deflated paddling pool of parenthood, I’m beginning to remember a different self, a young woman walking down Baggot Street who wouldn’t have recognised a gumshield if it bit her on the backside

I harbour a fantasy about moving into the city centre again, now that my children are grown and the years of driving around suburban football pitches and queuing up in shopping centres with book and uniform lists have passed and my calendar is free of parent-teacher meetings and PE days. Splashing around in the deflated paddling pool of parenthood, I’m beginning to remember a different self, a young woman walking down Baggot Street who wouldn’t have recognised a gumshield if it bit her on the backside.

How much do you think somewhere like that would set me back, I asked, imagining myself arranging my organic kumquats on those awfully fine window sills. My friend didn’t bother dignifying the question with an answer.

I don’t think our children are a bourgeois lot, but I do think that many of them have been hobbled by their parents’ expectations. Whether those notions are born of a desire for our progeny to conform to the new societal standard — perfect teeth, perfect education, perfect careers, perfect marriages furnished with complicated coffee machines — or simply from a wish to provide them with lives more secure than our own, the outcome is, I think, pretty much the same.

I kind of believe, I said to my companion as we walked on past the pretty dolls’ houses I’ll never be able to afford, that, as parents of young adults, we have to let all our expectations go, everything. We have to relinquish control, learn to walk away. The only gift worth giving is probably benign neglect.

We parted at the end of Grafton Street and agreed to meet again in the park in the autumn. Given the price of our scrambled eggs and taking inflation into account, we’ll probably need to bring a sandwich and a flask in our pockets.



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