I just got irritable at Alice. I properly shouted at her.
It was before heading off to school. I was on the loo, making myself lighter, and she came upstairs and started gabbling at me. Annoyed at having my one moment of isolation interrupted, I snapped through the door to leave me alone. She cried, yelled “Well… leave ME alone!!” and stomped off into her room, sobbing.
“Can’t I have one moment of privacy??” I pleaded with her, after things had cooled down.
“You get privacy at work!” she responded. I work in retail, in a store with hundreds of employees, and with many thousands of customers per week. I am surrounded at all times by many people. She knows this. As comebacks go, it’s one of the most bizarre.
Now at this point, you’re thinking this is a blog entry about my toilet visits being interrupted by my offspring. It’s a classic parent trope, isn’t it? The fact you cannot go to the toilet by yourself anymore? Hilarious! But I fancy wrongfooting you today, and I hope it has worked. On the walk back from school, I started thinking about how this blog doesn’t always express the pride I have in her. And it’s about time I should do something about this. Hopefully, I shall do it in a way that doesn’t make you sick.
Before we go any further, I don’t want you to think that I’m going to gush proudly about Alice in blog format, and then not tell her to her face how much I am proud of her and her achievements. I DO tell her. I tell her a lot.
I’m proud of her for many reasons. Not just that she’s good in school – of course, I’d be bothered if she wasn’t, but I’m more concerned with who she is as a person, not a test score. The fact that she’s doing well in school is a happy coincidence, and I am proud of that, but to me, what really matters is who she is turning into. And I like that person a lot.
- When she spontaneously does a lot of tidying without complaint. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I’m delighted. Just yesterday, she announced that she was going to be “super-helpful!!” with audible exclamation marks. So she helped me with the shopping, helped me pack it away when we got home, and then tidied the living room.
- When she talks with confidence to people, especially adults. Sometimes she says too much, or talks out of turn, or gives out too much information, or just babbles. But to just have the ability and willingness to attempt to converse with the adults she meets with me, instead of hiding behind my legs, is something I’m really pleased about.
- When she can stand up in front of an audience and not feel any fear. So many adults piss themselves dry at the thought of public speaking. Alice revels in it.
- Seeing her interact with other children, when she’s in a strange place or in a strange situation, is always rewarding. She makes friends easily.
- The other day, she announced that she hadn’t watched enough news. So she watched some, because she realised she needed to know what was happening in the world. You go, girl!
- After three and a half years of primary school, and lots of gentle cajoling from teachers, she just transformed her handwriting. What used to be sentanceswithnospacesorpunctuationwhatsoeverinaspideryhand are now flowing and neat, and written in an elegant and slender gothic script. This is something I’m not just proud of, but slightly jealous about. I still have appalling handwriting.
- Alice is good at science and has an interest in the scientific method. I’m not particularly, and neither is Sarah. Recently, she has developed a fascination with the periodic table. Despite me knowing next to nothing about the periodic table, I am keen to foster this interest.
- Alice is good at maths. I most definitely am not.
- Alice told me she wants to challenge me to a geek trivia quiz. I told her that I would beat her, hands down. She put her hands on her hips instead, and firmly told me I would lose. I said, Oh yeah?, and asked her what Deep Thought calculated was the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. She didn’t know, and asked me who Deep Thought was. OK, so I proved my point, but I’m really pleased that a) she is interested in geek trivia (and was both confused and amazed at the answer 42, and wanted to know more); b) she actively seeks a quiz on geek trivia; and c) that she thinks she can take me on.
- Alice doesn’t take shit from me. She really doesn’t. Much as I would like her to obey every command without question, and follow every instruction, and not be so cheeky as to answer back, I am still really pleased she stands up to me. If she can stand up to me, she can face up to bullies, abusive boyfriends, and crap bosses.
- When she stands up for herself, in school, in the face of some quite nasty behaviour from her peers (they’re 8, they do that, even the lovely ones, and most of her classmates truly are lovely, but sometimes they can be horrific to one another), or when someone continually picks on her. She doesn’t realise this, because she gets upset and feels helpless, but I’m really proud that she does the right thing: She doesn’t hide from the confrontation, she calls them out on it, she challenges their attitude towards her, and she tells someone about it – a teacher, a friend, Sarah and I. By contrast, I really wish I had done that so many times in my life, up to and including last week.
- Alice wants to watch films. She wants to go to the cinema with me. The other day we saw Beauty and the Beast (the new live-action version with Emma Watson) at our local flickhouse. It was rubbish, but we had a lovely afternoon of me and her, and she loved it, and we did popcorn, and afterwards we held hands and skipped through the cinema foyer. A gang of teenage girls looked aghast at this sight, and one sniggered in a nasty way. Alice didn’t notice and I didn’t care. Even seeing a bad film with Alice is good fun.
- Alice likes music, and is happy to be introduced to new sounds. It has to be done the right way. You can’t just play Alice a song, or a band, and expect her to like it. Hearing a song on a film soundtrack is a good way to feed her new songs. Or hype up a band over a couple of weeks until she demands to hear it. Thanks to the teaser trailer for the upcoming Thor Ragnarok which employs effective use of Immigrant Song, Alice has developed an enthusiasm for Led Zeppelin. WIN. Now I’ve been telling her about Stairway to Heaven and – crucially – not playing it to her. Now she really wants to hear it. The other day, I casually mentioned Pink Floyd and her ears noticeably pricked up and she asked me who they were and what they sounded like. Sometimes she does surprise me. Not long ago, I played an old Genesis album in the car, to Sarah’s mild annoyance. From the back seat, a small voice piped up “I’m feeling this, Daddy!”. Now Genesis are one of her favourite bands, even though I’m slightly embarrassed about it.
- Alice doesn’t care what other people think of her music taste. I think this is great. With her burgeoning enthusiasm for Zeppelin, and an established love of Bowie, Kate Bush, and AC/DC, I do worry how her peers would react to her tastes, as mine did back in the day.
“What if they tell you that you’re not cool enough, and the music you like is uncool and sad, Alice?”, I asked her.
“I don’t care”, she answered, blithely. “It’s my music, and I like it, and that’s that.”
That got a high five.
- Alice cares about other people. She has empathy, particularly when other people are upset. She has signed up to the school program to be a ‘playground buddy’, which means she will be looking after the small kids, or anyone who hasn’t got a friend to play with.
- Alice reads. She reads story books, Harry Potter, graphic novels, kid science books, magazines… now while reading is one of those things all kids are expected to do, I did get a bit worried a year or two ago when Alice just didn’t seem to enjoy reading all that much. She could do it quite easily, she just didn’t seem to get a thrill out of it. Now she does it a lot more. Authors are beginning to attract her attention. Obviously JK Rowling gets a mention, and Roald Dahl of course, but she’s heard a few short stories by Terry Pratchett, and is keen to read more. She still won’t read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory though, and still describes it as her worst fear (usually whilst shivering and quaking theatrically). Although, a few weeks ago, she announced she had started reading it, and would probably skip the scary bits.
- As previously mentioned on this blog, we recently bought a Playstation 4. Alice loves it, and has enthusiastically started getting into gaming. She has, with Sarah’s help, built her own world on Minecraft, filled with very Alice things. It’s a town called Poppitron, and there’s the mile-high bridge that goes nowhere, a lava fountain, the most opulent railway station in the world made of emerald and gold, a school made of glass, a permanent scrapyard fire-pyramid, a vertical football stadium, a movie studio called Pollywood, a tower of carpet, a giant clock tower, a duck farm.
- She sings her own songs, spontaneously, and with gusto. Some of her compositions are charming, and not many of them are about poo or wee, as all of my songs were when I was aged 8.
- She wants to be an author (blimey, who doesn’t around here?) and she has started writing her ideas down in a notebook. Some of them have genuine potential. What I’m really proud of is that a) she’s taking it seriously; and b) she’s actually developing good discipline and practice.
- She’s good with names and imaginative ideas. She has had, since the age of three, an imaginary country called Mongray, and the citizens of Mongray speak a language called Chiksh. The language, mythology, and geography of Mongray is always evolving. Her various worlds in Minecraft have great names – Floransems and Efammubi for example. By contrast, my latest character name for Call of Duty is Ultra-Dan Megaskillz.
- She’s a smart, clever, funny girl, who likes conversation and interesting things. She cares for other people, and is interested in how the world operates. She likes words and numbers and science. She can play imaginative games by herself, and she likes joining in with other people. She loves school. She loves family. She likes doing stuff with Sarah and I, and we have fun together. She doesn’t ask for material things very often, and certainly isn’t interested in current fads, trends, must-have toys, or the latest ‘thing’ very much; and she doesn’t care what other people think of her.
I’m not complacent though, and there is room for improvement. There’s still a lot of parenting by myself and Sarah to do, and Alice has to make the effort as well. But really, it’s on us. For example, she has never made toast. She has never crossed a road all by herself without me or Sarah looking out for her. She can’t swim all that well. She has never ridden a bike. She has never bought anything in a shop all by herself. She still uses her fingers as a piece of cutlery. She sometimes doesn’t know when to stop talking, and sometimes she doesn’t have that filter between brain and mouth.
She is, however, remarkable to me. I never can quite get over that really not that long ago, she was a cluster of cells, and then she was a baby with a formless mind, and then a toddler, and now she’s a proper person. With thoughts, and ideas, and dreams, and opinions. She’s growing up to be more than I could ever wish for, and sometimes more than I can bear. I’m so totally, utterly, properly, ultrally proud of her, that I just make up words sometimes. Rather like she does.