My daughter’s behaviour has been a little challenging of late. Well, challenging if you define occasionally-kicking-Daddy-accurately-and-painfully-in-the-shins-when-trying-to-get-her-own-way as being “challenging”.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “well, she is at that ‘difficult’ age” which, yeah, I got that already. Thanks again.
But that got me thinking… surely every age can be classed as ‘that difficult age’?
Herewith is my evidence that all ages are a challenge (according to my own limited experience… I accept that not everyone is male, goes to university, or has constant and epic sex aged 18 like what I did*):
*Yyyyes. Like I “did”
You are a screaming shit machine. You are a tit-leech. You have just pummelled your way out of your mother’s womb, and you are furious about it. Everything is responded to with either WAAAAAAH! or the creation of shit. Often both at the same time. Sometimes there are gurgles and giggles, and bizarre facial expressions, but shit is probably being created, and WAAAAH is never far away. Parenting is ideologically progressive, in accordance with ridiculous amounts of fluffy “How-To” guides for parents now stuffing the bookshelves. No access to sweets, all food is organic, and there is limited exposure to television and computers. Added to this, you are not terribly intelligent or communicative, so you might as well be angry.
Difficulty rating: 8
Attempting to walk. Attempting to talk. Poor kid, it’s hard bloody work. There are still significant amounts of poop and screaming and falling over. There is far too much putting obscenely poisonous/sharp/potentially choke-able things in mouths, and shoving sticky fingers in power sockets. Fluffy How-To guides now binned as there is realisation that most of what is written within is a load of Liberal Wishful Thinking, and just a money-grab for writers to make a fast buck out of terrified debutant parents. Progressiveness of parenting occasionally falters and kid gets ice-cream (the look on the kids’ face at the first taste of vanilla is too much to bear and the parent then takes a billion photos and shoves them up on Facebook to the delight/annoyance of all). The child is still a blank canvas though, still not very smart, and behaviour cannot be defined as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. However, child begins to be properly stimulated and influenced by television, music, and social interaction. The damage is now irreversible.
Difficulty rating: 6.3
2 years old:
Rage. Running into roads. Smashing things. Screaming. Hour-long tantrums. Totally unable to communicate in a coherent fashion or see reason beyond a few choice words, most of them being variations on “NO!”. Introduction of Naughty Step. Progressive, yes, but with added Disney and occasional bank-holiday relaxation of the “no TV before 5pm” rule by sellout parents who just want a quiet life.
Difficulty rating: 9
3 years old:
Testing boundaries. Now you are properly a child, and you’re realising kicking can hurt whoever is in your way. Asking WHY about everything, from why mud is brown, to complicated questions about metereological phenomena (Where does snow come from?) and biology (awkward sample question from 3-year old girl: “Why don’t I have a willy?”). It is, of course, very tempting for the parent to answer simply “Because.” and “It just is” to every answer but parent, you must resist! Child is now answering back in a really lame fashion, trying to imitate the parents’ own rules and responses; for example: “Go to bed”, “NO DADDY! Get what you’re given!!”. Naughty Step far too much fun. Introduction of Naughty Corner.
Difficulty rating: 7
4 years old:
You are entering the stage of childhood where lifelong memories are made. Child is beginning to be aware of peer pressure. Language skills really taking off. Lengthy conversations between parent and child now possible. There is awareness of advertising campaigns and social status. Progressive parenting is now seriously in trouble as Mummy rewards with chocolate, and Daddy allows episodes of Spongebob Squarepants. Naughty corner totally ineffective due to child legging it out of there at the first opportunity, introduction of the coal cellar as New Naughty Spot.
Difficulty rating: 6
5 years old:
Now at school. You’re being bullied. You’re probably channeling your rage by bullying the class “spanner” on the quiet. No longer accepting babysitters’ authority. Parents having to put foot down. Early attempts at swearing, lots of songs about bums and poo. Coal cellar full of friendly rats, introduction of attic.
Difficulty rating: 7.3
You are now articulate and surprisingly insightful at times. At others, you’re an arse. Sometimes you are properly using swearing on occasion (sometimes getting it a bit mangled, but the message is there, for example: “you utter bloody cripple-knickers fuckface”). You want to stay up really late because that’s what older kids do. Also, life is fun and you want to explore the unknown bits. Night is an undiscovered country!
Either you are reading at far too high a level, or you are not reading at all. The latter causes progressive parents some worry, so they introduce Harry Potter far too early and the child is freaked out by story element e.g. Dementors. You demand quite expensive toys for Christmas, and this is where your future expectations for Christmas presents are properly formed. You are also getting adept at nicking sweets out of the cupboard, amongst other minor felonies. There is some sort of legal hoo-haa about shoving kids into the attic, so it’s back to the naughty step.
Difficulty rating: 5.8
Child now not accepting grandparents’ authority. Parents suggest grandparents treat child like it were “back in our day”. Grandparent agrees. Sudden reacceptance of grandparent’s authority (if grandparent plays ball and becomes horrifically draconian) OR grandparent now ultimate soft touch (if grandparent wusses out or insists on being “progressive” themselves. Bloody middle-class generation-spanning hippies). Parental authority now totally meaningless, despite renewed attempts to re-engage with disciplinary steps, thinking spots and naughty corners after watching one episode of Supernanny and feeling guilty. Reading level now suddenly scary and advanced.
Difficulty rating: 6 or 7
All-out sibling warfare (if you have a sibling or two) OR all-out classic only-child isolationism. Rejection of teacher’s authority. Gang warfare in playground. Girls officially have fleas, and boys apparently smell of sick and poo. Progressive parenting now thoroughly and rightfully seen as bullshit. TV on at all hours. Sweets consumed with reckless disregard. No reading whatsoever.
Difficulty rating: 9ish
Time to shape up, young man/lady! All-too-late attempts to introduce table manners, etiquette, “please” and “thank you” into your life by progressive parents who suddenly realise their non-heavy, softy-softy, approach to parenting has actually been lackadaisical and indicative of a laissez-faire attitude. In short, you done bin lazy, you twats. Congratulations! The result of this namby-pambiness is that your little sparkling, “alternative”, young Siddhartha-like, wondrous, free-spirited, progressive and modern child raised in an atmosphere of love and understanding can actually be a bit of an arsehole. Subsequent attempts to introduce old-fashioned discipline and motivation fail totally, and is too-little-too-late. The child is also feeling the onset of early, confusing hormones. Earliest pangs of relationships as girls approach boys for illicit stolen kisses, boys fall over themselves not to be kissed, otherwise they would be seen as “gay”. Progressive parents, frustrated by everything in their lives, completely lose their shit, and scream words like “bastard!” and “bitch!” and “see you in court!” at each other. Yeah, that’s not going to traumatise the kid at all, is it? After all your “hard” work…
Difficulty rating: 13
You are on the cusp of some major changes, and you start to get in trouble. Bullying of younger kids now rampant. Divorced parents summoned to school after ‘incident’, which briefly ignites child’s hope at their reconciliation. Doesn’t happen, so hooray: It’s time for more incidents! There is open contempt towards the Naughty Step, and it is actually regarded as a bit patronising by both parent and child. Reading is suddenly out of control (Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco??). Probably trying to sneak a look at forbidden material: For boys, this means discarded porn in bushes (a bit old-school. Nowadays it’s more likely to be bewilderingly extreme BDSM on the ‘net); for girls this means either edgy teen dramas involving periods, discovering yourself, and glowering and inappropriate boyfriends; or horror films (usually something involving quite horrific misogynistic violence, but really ought to be the John Carpenter version of The Thing, or at the very least, the original version of Poltergeist). In any event, such experimentation is briefly traumatising. SAT exams in school, so all proper education is binned, lessons become irrelevant, there is “exam-training”, and the net result is the lifelong fear of exams and failure now drilled into child’s head (congratulations, modern education! You have traumatised a generation! Well done you!). You are now Off To Big (scary) School and the being bullied starts again (by the people who bullied you five years ago, who left your primary school and just waited for you to rise up to secondary school). Consequently, you are bidden to behold the ‘Blue Goldfish’ by some of the bigger kids.
Difficulty rating: 24
Christ, where to start? Puberty, shouting, doors slamming, things not being “FAIR!!!”, spots, pustules, all that fucking hair, monosyllabic grunts, swelling in embarrassing places, bras, ugliness, peer pressure, hilarious octave-bashing voices (boys alternate between choirboy and Doom-Metal vocalist, girls alternately shriek or sulk a lot), and the complete fear of social ostracisation over tiny social misdemeanours. Confused attempts to discover ‘style’ – which results in much teasing from other teenagers who are also desperate to discover their own style, but hiding insecurity through massive amounts of front – leads to initial sorting of musical belonging (emo, mosher, indie-kid, folky-fairy, jazz-snob, b-boy/girl, raver, or one of those weird teenagers who lacks imagination and “only listens to the charts” etc). This engenders sudden discovery of angry shouty music (as if this particular generation invented angry shouty music!). Social tribal belonging also begins. You are now irrevocably down the path of being a jock, a geek (or more terrifyingly, a nerd), a wallflower, townie, swot, chav, WAG, bloody hippie, goth, nutjob (e.g., the kid who eats entire cloves of garlic for lunch), future shrieking feminist or bullying MRA, following in Daddy’s footsteps, and worst of all, future politician who is slick, refined, wears a suit at 13, has a cold stare, and everyone really hates.
What else? There are your endless phone calls, your demands for latest gaudy bling and gadgetry, and the conviction that the world cannot understand you. There is so much confusing anger. Parents now basically food providers and transportation and someone to lash out to. Parental advice is ignored or sneered at. Naughty step now just “go to your room” which is actually an idyll in chaotic household. Indulged middle-class teen now views supportive parent as lifelong nemesis. Your life is played out on social media, which is a minefield of etiquette, manoeuvring, and bullying from anonymous, castigating, etheric voices that is quite horrific, psychotic and vicious. Your friends are routinely hostile to you for their own amusement, the opposite sex finds you repellent, but on the upside, the incoming new kids haven’t seen the Blue Goldfish! Crap and very brief relationships inspire rotten poetry and songs, and the your entire existence is defined by many things: The music you have latched on to desperately, the clothes you wear, your ongoing war with the parentals at home, the everyday ebb-and-flow of the relationships with your friends and the people you’re forced to attend school with, stomping, slamming and more shouting. In short, angst.
Difficulty rating: 4 billion
Like 12-15 but with more alcohol, pus, early fumbling attempts at sex and relationships, some more clearly defined musical tastes, and life-ruining exams (sorry to generalise, but teenage years require entire books to describe, so I’m summarising for space here).
Difficulty rating: 4 billion and one
Inexplicably now classed as adults, lanky streaks of piss now clog up everything and everywhere with their youthful braying (according to me, aged 38): Pubs, clubs, cars, schools, museums, universities, libraries, shopping malls, railway stations and parks. Oh, it all felt so big and adult at the time, but look at 18-year olds when you’re over 26 years old and you realise just how fragile, thin, tiny, fresh-faced and childlike they all are. First job (glass collector in local pub, petrol station attendant, or – if you’re me and awesome – earning just enough pocket money playing in bands. Strangely, that last one is rubbish for getting future employment and doesn’t look all that good on a CV). Constant fumbly sex (not fumbly if you’re me and awesome *see above). If you’re very fortunate, your parents either buy you a tiny little scrote of a car, or they give you their knackered Volvo estate car, which is great for driving 11 of your mates to parties, or packing your band and gear in for gig in the next town, or are surprisingly comfy for trysts in laybys, until a frightening encounter with a number of scary men makes you realise you’ve been frequenting some locally notorious dogging spots, and that you’re actually a bit naive.
While you’re sitting/recovering from A-levels, your family relationships change. Parents, until recently just a pair of bellowing life-ruiners, now basically just check on pulse if you’re crashed out on the sofa, or dishes out discipline by “having a chat”. Sometimes it degenerates into good old-fashioned screaming matches, which somehow feels right. Then, just as you’re flapping clumsily from the nest, you realise how much you rely on them. Off to university!
Difficulty rating: 7
Parents now contactable on phone, and their influence is somewhat limited. Hurrah! FREEDOM!! You were regarded as a child until about two minutes ago, but now you are now a laughably responsible adult with voting rights, and you are unleashed onto an uncaring world. If you are at university life becomes weird mix of academic rigour, and a scary nocturnal existence with anecdotes not unlike those of deranged rock bands of the 1970s. In short, some lectures and essays amidst a whirlwind of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll; with added shenanigans, capers, near-death experiences, hi-jinks, missions, alcoholism, illegal habits, late nights, very late mornings, hassle from “the man”, breathtaking displays of callousness with regards to the opposite sex, development of angry ideological opinions about the World’s unsolvable problems, catastrophic work failure (“oh man, I’ve got a 400-word essay to hand in next February. It’s, like, totally barbaric and inhumane of them to do this to me”), relationship nonsense, and a failure to adhere to basic domestic hygiene routine. Student life is fucking great. One or two of your friends will go from being a free-spirited life-and-soul party animal to eternal fuckup, and will eventually crash out of life worryingly early.
Oddly enough, despite utter chaos of life, from the perspective of any older person who deigns to tell you (and if you’re actually prepared to fucking listen to their advice without rolling your eyes), this is the most straightforward age to live with. You have reasonable lack of responsibility, commitment and pressure, a lot of comparative freedom, and society cuts you a lot of fucking slack (no pension contributions; no tax; no mortgage; lots of cut-price deals for booze, travel, socialising, and clothes; no actual vital need to get up in the morning).
If you are not at university, either lifelong slide into unemployment, alcoholism and depression begins here, or the eternal drudge in a series of horrid jobs commences.
Difficulty rating: Feels like 28, but is actually 2.8
Spat out of university or apprenticeship, flailing around for job/accommodation/relationship/loss of innocence. You move back in with your parents, and although it’s a bit of a curb on your excesses (sex, drugs, etc) you’re quite matey with them, and it’s all very convenient, until they get all unreasonable and put their foot down, and demand you pay rent. So you suddenly scrape your shit together and move out. You are embarking on living on your own in your first adult home. It’s a shoebox or hovel, either in a shit part of town, and you are at the mercy of bastard landlords; or you are living out on the fringes and at the mercy of bastard landlords and all the excitement is a massive bus ride away. Still trying to have it large, but beginning to have mighty hangovers. Fear, trepidation, and you are now paying tax on income. Your parents are now rather like embarrassing but affectionate distant older mates. Your old friends from school are a bit crap, your university friends lose touch, so you make new ones in your workplace. You make some quite poor mistakes, live in horrible places, get bullied by all and sundry, genuine cynicism creeping into outlook on life, years of recreational drug use is now a contributing factor to your suffering from mild depression. You suffer your first real breakup from a partner – the ones in your teens being big in the emotional sense, but this time round it involves dividing up belongings, and probably moving out of your shared home, and is properly upsetting. You refuse to vote in elections because “it makes no difference”. You have bought a series of unremarkable rust-buckets which are hilariously regarded as cars, but you dream of driving something fast and exciting. Someone you know – possibly even someone of your own age, or your family – will die unexpectedly or tragically.
Difficulty rating: Several thousand
Anxiety, societal pressure, self-esteem issues left over from childhood, unrealistic expectations of teen dreaming (aged 15, your career was intended to be “gonna be a playa”) now realised as depressingly mundane life with mundane life bullshit to go with it, beginnings of serious but also seriously disappointing “career”, heartbreak, doubt, new relationships with potential future spouse, and the end of old relationships from early 20s. Multiple relocations to new homes, nobody buys a house at this age anymore (even though you’re expected to), and you continue to chuck £FUCKING.THOUSANDS into various bottomless “rent” pits that you will never get any financial return on. You totally fail to sort out pension plan. You start to actually do some sort of mature thing, like voting in elections, but you’re still idealistic, so you vote Green/Labour/Lib Dem. You’ve bought a 3rd-hand Ford Focus to drive. Parents now turned to for advice. Advice now actually listened to and parents respected – only took 25+ years!
Difficulty rating: 15 or so, in a fairly resigned fashion
Career now on track to be terminally unfulfilling, but you might actually get to BUY A HOUSE with gigantic fucking mortgage that you’re not sure you’ll ever repay. Everyone gets married/has children (taking everything into a new dimension of HOLY FUCK!) and circle-of-life now beginning to repeat (complete with self-made promises of progressive parenting: Ha-ha losers! Yeah, we’ll enjoy seeing how long THAT lasts). You are driving a Ford Mondeo and it’s a little bit sad that you like the heated front windscreen on cold days. Your parents now totally enjoying retirement, although will help out with funding your wedding/giving you some money for your first house/babysitting… and that’s when you discover exactly how awesome your parents have been, and how hard they worked to try and keep you happy and secure for later life (or discover they were always just as massive a disappointment as you’re finding yourself to be, in which case, good luck putting up with them for the next 30 years).
Your friends are now vaguely competitive with you over parenting styles, or career, or money, or car, or a combination of all of those things. Some people you know have major life crises, breakdowns, early divorces, or even pass away suddenly. There, but for the grace of God… and so on. You are aware that young people have started using words and phrases that are alien to you. You believe that modern pop music isn’t quite as good as pop music when you were young (you’re actually wrong: Pop music has always been terrible. Listen to the charts, particularly the lower end, from thirty years ago, and you’ll realise the horrid truth). You vote in every single election, local and national, and are quite lefty and opinionated about it. Your life is played out on social media, and that is how you keep in contact with everyone from your past and present, but the pressures and bullying are a lot more subtle and insidious now. Sudden panic about a pension you haven’t contributed to. Sudden panic about your chosen career. You begin to feel you’ve made some wrong choices in your life. Start talking to your friends about mortgages/insurance/weather/last night’s TV like every other cunt.
Difficulty rating: Moderate with showers
Mid-life crisis. Pathetic attempts to re-capture youth despite first warnings of mortality (obesity, high blood pressure, threat of type-2 diabetes, threat of cancer, low-level heart problems, doctor tells you to cut down on cholesterol). Arguments with your spouse, and your children start to be irritated by you. Buy stupid car (Porsche Boxster, which you can’t really afford – have raided pension pot to put deposit down). You have wistful thoughts of past lovers. You have an affair. Divorce. Your children begin their decade-long hatred of you. Reform your teenage band for a couple of shockingly bad gigs to try and recapture… what, exactly? Do something utterly irresponsible, e.g. Quit flagging career to become a fucking goat farmer somewhere for six months until you come to your senses and slink back to your job claiming you were on a “sabbatical”. Vote Tory for the first time like a cunt. Get married for the second time. You see your parents often. They’re invaluable people to know. They provide both money and emotional support, and you reciprocate by showing up on their doorstep with the entire family on little or no notice. You describe them rather condescendingly to other people as “Yeah, they’re doddering along”, whereas in truth you’d be fucked without them.
Difficulty rating: In direct inverse correlation with salary
If you were thin when younger, you now look scrawny and like a tortoises’ scrotum. If you were fat when you were younger, you’re now much fatter and wobble a lot and have some quite worrying health issues. Balding. Playing golf like a cunt. Career now in permanent doldrums which you cannot get out of. Should be boss by now, but you’re not. Boss now younger than you, and you remember giving him/her their first break (ungrateful, ambitious bloody intern wanker). Genuine fear of not having enough money to retire on. Angrier, more Tory, properly intolerant of modern world, car not as stupid but still a bit stupid (two-year-old 5-series BMW). Your children are now pent-up balls of rage who spend years listening to unfathomably aggressive music, loathing the very sight of you, constantly dismissing your every utterance, treat every offer of financial and emotional advice with contempt, and are slowly turning into sullen 18-year olds who think they’re Bertie Big-Bollocks and suck you dry of money/emotion/patience. Eventually, they fuck off to university and have a much better time than you ever did, at your considerable expense.
The house seems empty, a metaphor for your whole life. Your parents (probably down to one by now) are now infirm, and need financial support from you. At long last, you’re paying them back. Your second spouse is not as exciting as your first spouse, with whom you’ve finally become very good friends with. You actually forget how to have sex. Go to doctor. Doctor prescribes Viagra and sex life rediscovered – at least, that’s the theory (or what probably happens is sex life fails to recover, near-constant sexual rejection now unhealed bruise that will last and last). Sudden and very serious health scare. Not so invincible now, eh?
Difficulty rating: I cannot be bothered to calculate
Everyone starts dying in dribs and drabs. Your parents have shuffled off by now, and more than a few childhood friends have gone. You are three years off retirement when the government (Tory, of course. Hey, you voted for them, you cunt!) suddenly decides to raise the retirement age by another four years. You really haven’t saved up enough in your pension fund. You are now driving a Toyota. Your children return from university and shack up with you, because they cannot afford to live independently. You are living with dependent children again, yet they start talking about work and career and being a bit more matey with you, but you note they’re not paying any rent, so you put your foot down. All of a sudden, you’re being “unreasonable”, but they somehow find the money to pay for rent SOMEWHERE ELSE. House now cold and empty once more. You downsize to a much less pleasant house, but you’re still driving that Toyota because they’re “reliable”. Children keep coming back and demanding things – money for their own house, money for a wedding, and ultimately, free babysitting with wondrous grandchild. They sometimes seem to be grateful. You grow a beard and finally people seem to stop telling you that you look older with a beard. You grow a ponytail like a cunt.
Difficulty rating: Disappointing
You are now officially old. You can’t run anymore. You can’t really do anything, in fact, without there being some pain involved. Your kids are turning into decent enough people, who come to you for advice and support (or more accurately, money). On the upside, you’re a grandparent, and the grandchildren really are lovely until they realise you’re a soft touch. You bypass the naughty step and go straight to the coal cellar. Bingo! Instant respect, although your own kids are a little bit horrified at your hard-line attitude to discipline. Should’ve done that thirty years ago to scare the fuck out of them. You’re retired. You do boring old-people things, like enthuse about steam railways, take up pottery, try your hand at watercolours. Spouse dies. World falls apart.
Difficulty rating: 500/1
Loneliness. The emptiness of existence. You’ve moved out of the rather shabby house you haven’t maintained properly into whatever sheltered accommodation your meagre pension can afford, and you’re surrounded by photos and, if I’m honest, regrets and bittersweet memories. FINALLY, your kids start paying you back by chipping in to help out. Your children are now divorced parents and your grandchildren barely look up from their sparkly widgets when they come to see you. They communicate in grunts and loathe their parents, who are now looking defeated. You feel a little bit sorry for them (both your children and your grandchildren), but only up to a point. Your body begins packing up in very significant ways. You try and keep yourself busy, but how? You can’t drive anymore and you sold the Toyota to someone in their early 20s who complains about the rust in order to renegotiate the price. Your mind is occasionally vacant, your friends are dead, you can’t talk with the passion and intelligence of before, and everyone tells you that your opinions are a bit reprehensible nowadays. You can literally sense Death tapping his watch and looking at you meaningfully. You play a lot of chess, and cards – although by the time I reach my 80s, I’d probably play console games, seeing as that’s the equivalent past-time for my generation.
Difficulty rating: Can’t remember
If you’re alive and capable of sitting upright, you’re in an old-people’s home (if not, you’re in a hospital. Bad luck). Welcome to the Void. All you do, all day, is watch very loud television. You are basically looking forward to mealtimes and sleep, and that’s about it. If you try to resist, then you’re being awkward, and people talk to you firmly and quietly (or if you’re very unlucky, they’ll abuse you in humiliating ways). In the inside of your head, you rather wish you were back at university. This is the time to take shitloads of LSD, because let’s face it, what harm can it do now?? One night, you dream of a long tunnel and eternal rest, except TA DAAAAA! It wasn’t a dream and heaven is just as you imagined it from when you were aged 12, in my case full of naked women on trampolines.
Difficulty rating: 1
So with this in mind, by the evening my daughter and I were on better terms. It is a long road, and I hope we see it together, as much as we can. Yes, it’ll be occasionally rocky, but in the long term, it will be worth it. She is, after all, along with my wife, the best thing that has ever happened to me, and I love them both.
It was my turn to put her to bed. She looked down as I was putting on her pyjama top and she sighed.
“What’s wrong, Alice?” I asked
“One day, I’m gonna have boobs”, she said.