Straight Into Darkness – Dudelet, Balka and me

Dudelet and I have been having one or two issues lately. Actually, supermum’s had one or two strained moments with dudelet this week, as has little elf. To be honest, I think we’re all taking chunks out of each other on a regular basis. The flat is too small, the neighbours are regularly complaining about the noise of the children running around above their heads (and as luck would have it, they seem to be constantly working from home) and my search for a new job, the deus ex machina supposed to engineer an escape from both small flat and increasingly anally retentive neighbours, keeps running into rejections or deadends. There’s a bit of an atmosphere, a sense of ‘between stations’ and children pick up on that sort of thing.

More disturbingly, dudelet’s had a few sleepwalking incidents, something classically associated with stressed children. Little elf seems relatively untouched but her insistence on doing everything herself and ‘owning’ particular bits of floor or furniture, or the whole of our bed is driving the other three of us to distraction.

So supermum took LE swimming this morning whilst dudelet and I stayed behind. I initially banned TV – we were going to find more creative outlets – and we built railway tracks, raided the freezer, made smoothies and drew. Then dudelet, who refused to countenance leaving the house, went into pester overdrive to at least play on the GameCube. After some debate, we struck a deal. He’d get to play Zelda for 45 minutes then we’d pack up and head for the Tate Modern where he’d spend an equal amount of time trekking round the exhibition of my choice.

And that’s exactly what we did.

I wanted to see the Van Doesburg exhibition but before that, we tackled the current big installation in the cavernous space of the Turbine Hall – Miroslaw Balka’s monstrous steel box of darkness, 13 metres high and 30 metres long.

Dudelet wanted to see it (he loves the big exhibits and Louise Bourgeois’ Maman is a touchstone for both of us) but was scared – it literally feels like one is walking into a wall of darkness. So I carried him and we slowly walked up the ramp into the immense steel box, a giant’s freight container. To me, it was nowhere near as scary as it might have been. It was too crowded and after a while, one could make out white shirts or scarfs hovering like after-images in the blackout. But the sense of lost or incalculable space was intense. I couldn’t see or sense where the darkness ended in walls and the ceiling might as well have been a night sky devoid of stars or light pollution. We were at the bottom of a huge well, surrounded by other blinded, shuffling, giggling denizens. I moved forward slowly, dudelet in one arm with his legs wrapped around my waist whispering a running commentary, and my other arm stretched out ready to encounter a wall or The Other. When I finally met the end of the box, I almost jumped. The wall was velvelty, almost warm. Dudelet could see a faint crack of light from an imperfect seal to our right so we made our way south untill I met another wall with the same faint shock at the unexpetedly soft texture I encountered. Then we turned east, looking back the way we came. The illusion vanished instantly. It was a dull light but all the people entering the open end of the box were silhouetted against it. Dudelet let me put him down and we made our way out.

It’s a piece of art that references many things – the cattle cars and gas chambers of the Holocaust, the simply unknown – but on a crowded Saturday afternoon, it offers more simple lessons about the tricksiness of the spatial and how my beautiful boy still trusts me enough, despite all the shouting and strife of the last couple of weeks, to let me carry him into darkness and out again.


28 responses to “Straight Into Darkness – Dudelet, Balka and me

  • Ally

    See, that’s what’s been missing on my blog-reading moments, the eloquence of DWW. The descriptions of the darkness and it’s possible interpretations are fab, but it is the end of the post that reminds me why I enjoy your posts so much :)

    I’m also quite jealous that I can’t get to London to experience the giant’s freight container!

  • lifeslightlyused

    Thats amazing – amazing stuff – beautifully written too :)
    much empathy for flat living – it is driving us up the wall aswell…

  • J

    Love it in its entirety.

    I sleptwalked a lot in the most stressful year of my childhood. Also had incontinence problems that I had long outgrown. Difficult year.

    I hope that times get less stressful as time goes by. Talking, exercise, and lots of sleep help a LOT.

    • dadwhowrites

      He’s just gone to bed and last thing, let us know that he woke up to a damp patch, forgot to tell us and never got around to changing it. Poor dudelet. But we had a nice day today, despite a slightly shouty beginning. A lot of exercise and, hopefully, a lot of sleep…

  • TheMadHouse

    You are so right about the trust that child have in us at Dudeletts age. I hope you find a solution to the other issues

  • Chic Mama

    I’m sorry things are tough at the moment, the job issue is worrying. I know from your tweets you do so much research and work for the interviews/applications. :0(
    The exhibition sounds interesting. We went in something ‘similar’ but with mirrors, a very strange experience not knowing where the mirrors ended.
    I hope Dudelet’s sleepwalking stops soon, that’s stressful in itself.

    • dadwhowrites

      Thank you – I know we’ve got it comparatively easy compared to the situation you’re in – hope your weekend’s been okay…

      No sleepwalking for the last couple of days so fingers crossed it’s been a brief phase.

  • bwakeling

    Last time I went to the Tate it was when they had the massive sun in the turbine hall, with the mirrored ceiling. Me and my mates chilled out for ages, it was ace!

  • bwakeling

    PS. Excellent post. Your writing style is brilliant!

  • wafa'

    the ending is amazing. You always have great ending in your posts.
    That’s what count actually, how much does your kid trust you :)

  • Beta Dad

    Wow. I’m so happy I stumbled onto your blog. It’s really a pleasure to read. I hope spring brings you some good luck with the job hunt and some fun times outside!

  • Achelois

    You are an amazing writers and even a more amazing father. In my opinion you are the ultimate dad, someone all dads should emulate.

    “my beautiful boy still trusts me enough, despite all the shouting and strife of the last couple of weeks, to let me carry him into darkness and out again.”

    This line brought tears of unknown joy in my eyes.

  • Mwa

    Now there’s a way to spend the day!

  • dadwhowrites

    It was. Today wasn’t bad either.

  • Lat

    Loved this.We always learn something valuable from children and parenting involves lots of trust.Dudelet knows this,as evident from your writing,and may he develop that trust and love with you further in future.And thank you for the Balka news.That’s amazing.If I was going thru all that darkness,I’ll probably be banging on others and stepping on people’s toes till I emerge on the other end.

  • nonlineargirl

    Sounds like you had a good day all around. Those kind of trade-offs are very useful, both because it does something for the parent by getting the kid out of the house, but also because it gives the child a chance to control part of the bargain. Doesn’t hurt that they usually end up liking the adult’s end too.

  • Selina Kingston

    See this is why your boy is so bright!
    You and supermum offer the chance for both your children to get special one-to-one time with each of you and you take time to do fun things from raiding the freezer to building railway tracks. And then there is learning the art of negotiation and then he gets to experience the latest installations at the Tate and he gets to remember that his daddy will always be there to protect him no matter what happens or how he behaves. And even the stresses of life serve to make him understand (maybe in later years) that life isn’t necessarily easy but it’s how you handle the hard bits that counts.
    You’re such a great dad!

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