A few days ago, we went to a small rural village, near where my superb Mothra-in-Law lives. It was evening, and there was a small gathering of people by the village Christmas tree. People were singing carols by candlelight. A few people had instruments. Under the crisp, clear sky, ‘neath the winter constellations, my beloved family was gathered to sing of peace and goodwill to all, honouring our most treasured celebration of love and joy.
The gathered choir sang as if it were times past. The village centre glowed with illumination from the windows of the church, and all around were cottages with windows full of decorations and colourful lights. The stars shone overhead, and the timeless Silent Night was sung. In the crisp Midwinter air, as the last notes of the beautiful carol died away, Alice suddenly called out: “Nana! Guess what? I’ve got RINGWORM!!”
So men in power apparently abuse their position to grope women and indulge in some major sexual harassment on an industrial scale? Who fucking knew??
Seriously people, is anyone really all that surprised? I mean, it’s surprising that these scumbags have gotten away with it for quite so long. It’s surprising that they have committed these crimes – and yes, they are crimes, and they should be punished for it – with the full knowledge of their peers and colleagues and nobody has challenged them. Well, money and influence seem to be more important than human rights, decency, and the law. Actually, I shouldn’t be surprised at all. We’re a disgusting species sometimes. And we disparage the way animals behave? Sheeeesh!
Hollywood is driven by sex, from the way stars are marketed, to the content of the films. And why not? Sex is fun and great, and we’re far too prudish about it. The prudishness around sex is why they’ve gotten away with it of course, because the victims are shamed into silence by the people who surround the perpetrators. That, and everyone in Hollywood is beautiful. Well, not Weinstein. He looks like Jabba the Hutt’s acne-scarred brother, but money buys a lot self-confidence I suppose.
I can’t open my eyes without seeing every single flat surface covered by images of the beautiful. It’s on every bus, every magazine cover, every single screen that is switched on, for the flimsiest of excuses. I’ve just been looking to get some firewood, and I found a UK firewood supplier’s website, and for some bizarre reason they’ve got pictures of their net bags of seasoned logs lovingly caressed by a shapely young lass with a winning smile and slender legs, as if that’s going to make wood more appealing to me. It adds a new meaning to the phrase “Got Wood?” I suppose.
So I’ve got to explain all of this to my innocent little Alice, and it shits me right up. For one thing, we’ve had the awkward “What is Sexual Harassment?” talk as a result of all this being in the news. Well, if I’m honest, it wasn’t me dealing with it. Poor Sarah happened to be the one to deal with it, which has obviously led on to all sorts of tricky conversations about Alice and her ownership of her body, and how people could abuse her, and what’s appropriate or not. On one hand, I kinda feel that we’re being rushed into telling our darling daughter about things that she’s too young to fully understand… but on the other, it’s never too early to tell children (boys as well as girls) about such essential concepts: consent, abuse, ‘wrong-touching’, harassment, groping, sexism, misogyny, domestic violence… not so much how to stay safe, but more about how to not put up with abuse, sexism, violence, misogyny, and being groped for ONE SECOND.
I hate that my daughter is growing up in a world where at some point in her life she will get catcalled, risk getting intimately touched without consent, or have some massive arsehole leer at her. We’re a more enlightened civilisation now, and we’re better than this, right? Apparently not.
She is also going to have to live with the fact that at some point she will hate her body, not because anything is wrong with it, but because society has told her she must assume she is inferior. And unless she is incredibly, almost unrealistically fortunate, she will not meet a man (I’m assuming her default setting will be hetero, but I’m happy to be proved wrong) who will love her unconditionally, and respect her boundaries and her body for many years yet. I fear she may have to kiss a few frogs, and I’ll be angry on her behalf several times (from sympathetic comfort eating, to me passing on my inadequate advice about such things, and wishing I could beat up some troublesome, pestering rodent who bothers her, to telling her over and over again that she is beautiful and her body is normal) before she truly meets someone who will treat her the way everyone should be treated.
It’s an uphill struggle, to be honest. Whether it’s the overwhelming barrage of glamorous imagery in advertising, or the almost hyper-unreal bodies of celebrities in magazines, or the way women are portrayed in films and television programmes. I want to show my daughter positive female role models who aren’t slender and gorgeous. I also want to show my daughter films where men aren’t fucking arseholes to women all the time.
For example, I’d love to show my daughter James Bond movies, but this is problematic for two reasons:
a) He’s a fucking louse to women. OK, in the later years, this was sort-of addressed in a jokey way (and Daniel Craig’s version of Bond is certainly less of a prick), but to show Alice the early Connery movies means that she will see him slap women about a fair bit. And in Goldfinger, he is not exactly consensual with Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore (oh yeah, gonna enjoy explaining that to Alice). Roger Moore is as bad, if not worse. Just forget that in the later ones he’s a creepy, crinkled, walnut of a man, cavorting with willowy 20-somethings, OK? I’m thinking of the moment in Moonraker where he arrives in Brazil, gets shown to his hotel room, and then – within seconds – starts to undress some girl who was nearby. Because that’s how men should treat women in real life, yeah?
b) Alice doesn’t like the Bond films anyway.
We love our pop-culture movies in the Phnut household, and as has been written before, we’re keen to show Alice some of our favourite movies. But this is seriously problematic. Any pop-culture film made between 1970 and 1990 has some tricky issues to cover. Back to the Future deals with incest and a near-rape – the former being handled in a funny way, the latter most definitely not, but it’s still hard to explain to a kid. Bill Murray’s character in Ghostbusters, if you look at it through 2017s less rosy spectacles, sexually harasses Sigourney Weaver in a really creepy, manipulative way. I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but he does. His behaviour towards her warrants a restraining order from the very first meeting. I know it’s one of your favourite films from the 1980s, but if this is the way Hollywood treats fantasy, are you really that surprised that the reality is so foul?
Even Star Wars is not immune. The Empire Strikes Back sees Han Solo behave like a Tinder-stalking wanker to Princess Leia, right up to the very moment she suddenly decides to fall in love with him. Eww. Raiders of the Lost Ark has a really disturbing sub-plot about Indiana Jones having an implied relationship with the under-age daughter of his mentor. These are two of my favourite, top-ten films of all time. I mean, I like films with an edge, but it makes Marvel’s ‘hey let’s not make a film with a woman as the prime hero’ policy look somewhat progressively Feminazi by comparison.
(Empire and Raiders are still in my top-ten, by the way. I may see subtexts and sexual politics differently these days, but a fucking ace film is a fucking ace film. Likewise, Kevin Spacey is a brilliant actor. He is a sexual predator who has escaped – for now – from facing justice by having “treatment” for his appalling behaviour. What a fucking coward… But he’s still an amazing actor. It’s a contradiction, I know)
Closer to home, casual sexism is all around us. I work in retail so I encounter some lovely people. I also encounter shits. There was the couple where they bickered in front of me, and then he faced me, and in full view of his wife, said: “I should have left her by the side of the road when I had the chance”. Or the man who stopped his wife speaking by shoving his hand over her mouth. Or the man who, when I asked him what he was looking for in home furnishings, replied: “I dunno mate. I’m not the one in charge, am I? She is. [pause] What a bitch.”, and then laughed in that blokey way when men expect a kindred response. I was revolted.
Closer than that. All around our family, in fact. Couples we know well where the woman is expected to clean the house, or prevailed upon to cook, or do the bulk – if not all – of the parenting, even on weekends or family holidays. We say nothing, or very little.
It gets closer still. Alice has started to get it in the playground of her school. Some of the boys are under the impression that they’re automatically better than the girls. One boy in particular has decided Alice is his girlfriend, and when Alice has asked to be left alone by him, has been possessive, jealous, and manipulating. If he were 18, I’d be all puffed-up, manly, and confrontational with him. But he’s not. He’s 8. At this point, I’m loathe to fall back on what we all know boys will be (answer: they will be boys), but I’m awkwardly balancing between taking this far too seriously, and not taking it seriously enough.
Closer to me: Male friends of mine who put the quality of a woman’s tits before their personality, intelligence, or talents as a pre-requisite to a relationship, or a working creative partnership. I’ve said nothing to them. Sarah has been yelled at in the street throughout her life – I still get furious about it – and even then she still didn’t feel the need to hashtag “me too”, because she feels it doesn’t compare to what some women endure.
My one contribution to standing up to this onslaught of human shittery was when we had a family friend, who was close to us and a regular visitor around the time of Alice’s birth. A depressive lonely guy, but a pleasantly conversational geek who shared interests with us. Ostensibly a really nice guy. But his facebook page was a litany of pop-culture references, a stream-of-consciousness about his misery and loneliness, and daily mentioning of breasts, boobs, tits, jigglers, jugs, whoppers, bouncers, mammaries, ta-tas, and female lady-nipples. It got tiresome; tiresome enough that Sarah began to complain vocally about it to me.
So, when he one day announced it was Topless Tuesday, and that the women on his feed should take pictures of their norks and publish them for the world to see, between myself and a close female friend, we called him out on it. The result was predictable: First there was a denial, then an angry insistence that if we don’t like it, we shouldn’t look at it. Then it was just a bit of harmless fun. Then there was the grovelling but insincere blanket apology to all womankind for all his crimes. He vowed to never post about boobs again. Then he finally threatened to commit suicide. I walked away from the conversation at that point. Then he unfriended me.
He didn’t commit suicide in the end. And a whole bunch of his loyal Facebook chums, some female, told him not to worry, and that I was a bullying arrogant prick, and they knew he was just having a bit of harmless fun. He swore he was done with such behaviour. Three weeks later he commented about a female musicians’ breasts and how comely they were. That was when Sarah gave up on him. This was a guy who used to buy Alice presents (a few too many, if I’m honest) when she was a baby. I’m glad he’s not part of her life now.
I write all of this smug, virtue-signalling pontification, knowing damn well that at times I’ve been part of the problem. I have, with almost complete certainty, done things that do not make me look good now. Inappropriate comments? Sure. Disrespecting boundaries? Yup, I’m fond of a hug or two, and I’m sure I’ve given out some when they were not wanted or solicited. Creepy behaviour? Yes. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve bombarded girls with texts back in the day. I daresay there is one – maybe more – woman from my past acquaintance that equate my face with creepy loathsomeness. I’ve commented on the attractiveness of women’s bodies on television (or even in the street when I hoped they weren’t listening), sometimes to myself or with leery, beery, rowdy, bellowing mates.
I know I have to explain this to my daughter over the coming years. This very morning I had to explain what pornography was, thanks to a news report about a politician who enjoyed looking at smut during work hours. Ah, parenting.
I have to explain the shitty things about growing up in a world where women have less value than men. I might have to confess about my past antics, and she will undoubtedly witness things about me and my behaviour that will disappoint her. I am a father, but the job description more or less says I should be perfect, and I know I’m not. There’s plenty of evidence to support this.
And hope she becomes a better person, who has sincere, respectful loving relationships with better people than me. And that she can walk the streets any time of day, wearing whatever she wants, without fear of attack or being shouted at. I dunno, maybe I’m being unrealistic.
But then, I recall this story, told to me by someone else: A girl of his acquaintance was out at a local nitespot, quite a few years ago, where she was accosted by some random arsehole. The conversation went something like this:
Arsehole: Hey, nice tits!
Girl: Excuse me?
Arsehole: Aww, I’m just having a laugh
Girl: No, what did you say?
Arsehole: Look, it’s nothing, really
Girl: Good. Because if you say I have nice tits again, I’ll break your fucking neck.
[Arsehole slinks away]
^^^This. This is how I want my daughter to react. I’ll be telling this story to her sooner rather than later. Ah, parenting…
Thank you for your recent visit to my daughter’s school, and for once again taking pictures that make our children look weird. You have delivered a work that your forebears and colleagues would be proud of.
Of course, I myself remember the visits of the school photographer with fondness (if you confuse fondness with nausea). I don’t know how the school photographers of my youth managed it, but they captured every awkward phase of my childhood. In almost every photo, they uncovered a new detail of my hideousness – the sheen of scalp grease on my hair, the oily pores of my skin, that nose, the fat, the stupid derpy grin, etc. They managed to capture the exact moment where my haircut would be particularly tragic. They made parts of my face larger than in real life, particularly my nose.
In one photo, I appear to have a cow-lick that was never seen before, and has not been witnessed since. In other photo they managed to give me a receding hairline, which in my 40s I don’t have, but for years I worried I would develop. They captured the exact moment that pus erupted out of my face in new, oily outpourings, like NASA’s photos of volcanoes on the Jovian moon of Io. They made teeth huge, smiles wonky, acne obvious, ‘invisible’ braces visible, eyes dead or terrified, facial features distorted and unnatural; and above all, each school portrait photograph made me look like your typical Jewish boy. I’m not Jewish.
(OK, some of this is my responsibility. I never liked combing my hair, and for about three years I refused to smile for photos, but still, it’s as though them and I conspired to take the ugliest photos of me ever).
Clearly, these photographers of yore have passed on their skills to you. My daughter brought her photo home this week (after “losing” the photo at the after-school club). It’s not great. She’s wearing the greyest uniform in her wardrobe, and she looks tousled and half-asleep, largely because we completely forgot (or ignored the letter) that it was Photo Day. And yet somehow you managed to make her look like a gawky 14-year-old. She’s 8.
Now it’s always interesting to peer into the future, and see how my daughter will end up, and what she’ll look like. In this case, she’ll look faintly annoyed, scruffy of hair, with a smile that does not extend to her eyes. I wonder how you managed this?
Actually I know, because I asked my poor little girl about your methods to get a cheap shot (which you’re now offering to me for £20 for a pair of glossy prints). According to her, you plonked her down in a chair, bopped her on the head with a foam swim noodle in order to elicit a grin, and “fiddled with her chin”, presumably to get her to lift her head up or down a bit. She did not enjoy the experience.
OK, as a father, the thought of someone hitting my child should be enraging, and right now I should be tearing your balls off with my teeth. I’m not, because I’m not the sort of parent who overreacts and gets violently furious with any other human who goes within 10 feet of my child, or talks to her, or interacts with her in any way; and of course I realise a soft foam *dink* to the head is a useful technique to get a smile out of a nervous child. At least you didn’t tickle her under the arms, pinch her bum, or tell an inappropriate joke. Still, rather like grabbing a woman’s bottom in a nightclub and getting an outraged screech of nervous laughter in response, the humour is not genuine. It’s a social response to being humiliated in public, so the smile is not a sincere one of merriment, more like a smile borne out of awkwardness. It shows.
I suppose if you’re used to tilting up kids’ heads to get a nice snap for Granny’s mantelpiece, then fiddling with a child’s chin is acceptable. To be honest, I’ve never known anyone to manipulate my kid’s chin, so I’m a bit confused as to how to react to what she told me. I know it’s what you needed to do in the moment, but I am instinctively drawn back to the concept of biting your crotch should we ever actually meet. I know it’s unreasonable, probably from the depths of a primordial part of my brain, but you messed with my daughter’s chin. She doesn’t like it, and I feel as though I should not be cool with it either.
So what I’ve done instead is instruct my daughter to do the following. If, next year, you show up with your foam noodles, and you attempt to move my little girl’s chin, I’ve told her to behave as she would if any person were to exceed her physical boundaries. I’ve told her to shout “STOP IT, I DON’T LIKE IT!” and to go to the nearest teacher for support. Hopefully she’ll do it loud enough, and within earshot of enough people, to make you feel incredibly embarrassed and slightly fearful.
My daughter told me she hates being positioned for photos, and really doesn’t like being forced to smile. “It’s being made to look like someone somebody else wants, not actually looking like who I am”, is how she – rather succinctly – put it. She’s absolutely right. Next year, I will provide her with a written statement, signed by myself and my wife, saying that if our daughter doesn’t want to smile, she doesn’t have to. If she wants to pull faces, stick out her tongue, glower, grimace, or look profoundly ridiculous on her own terms, she can and I’m cool with it. I want photos that capture my daughter’s character and personality. I don’t want my daughter having a photo that she (and we) are not fully comfortable with. I don’t want to see that frozen-mask expression.
OK, maybe I’m reading too much into it, and maybe I’m overthinking things, but the photo you took of my daughter the other week is a little disturbing.
Look, I know your job is not a brilliant one. You travel the local schools, taking photos of awful, snotty kids who won’t sit still. And the parents are never satisfied, are they? Every fucker is a critic these days.
But your photos are not art. They’re a social document at best. More likely, they are to be bought by the people who like to display family photos around the home (ugh!). And they’ll be sent to doting grandmothers, who want enforced rictus-grin poses captured in a shitty cardboard frame for eternity, to point at and coo over, like easily-impressed pigeons.
Nevertheless, your game is pretty much a scam. If I showed up on your doorstep offering to write a personalised blog entry for you, in return for £££s, you’d tell me to piss off, and rightly so. But you scuttle into a school, set up your stall and peddle your wares. In this day and age when people have 10 megapixel cameras on everything – cars, helmets, phones, fish fingers, etc – what is the point of you? Especially when I can go onto my computer and find a charming photo of my daughter that captures her joy, beauty, character, charm, humour, and the essence of her self within 30 seconds.
Fuck it, give her five years, her own phone, and a moderate sense of narcissism, and she can take her own pictures of her face that will capture more of her deepest nature than you did on a random soggy Thursday afternoon in October with thousands of pounds worth of equipment and (presumably) training.
In short, this is yet another year I’ll not be buying your shite photo efforts, and instead I’ll take some photos on my own camera which will show my daughter looking genuinely happy, pulling the face she normally pulls, and capturing a lot more of her. And those are the photos I’ll be sending to the grandparents.
Recently, Sarah and I celebrated our wedding anniversary. It seems like only yesterday that we were young, blissfully in love, and filled with the promise of the future. That wonderful day will always be the best day of my life.
But on our anniversary weekend, Sarah and I had a very serious discussion. The sad thing is, I have come to realise over the last few months that all relationships, however deep and passionate, however loving and understanding, run their course.
And so, with great reluctance, I came to the sad conclusion that I had to get rid of my car.
The bond between a car and its owner is a deeply personal thing. One that cannot be overstated or underestimated. I’ve had our car – my car, if I’m honest – for ten years and over 100,000 miles. It is central to our lives, and has been part of almost every significant moment of the last decade. It drove us home from our wedding, it drove Sarah to the hospital when she was in labour, it brought my daughter home from the hospital when she was just born. It has got me and several bandmates to literally hundreds of gigs in safety and comfort, has carried tons of equipment, and has been my faithful vessel this past decade, through good times and bad. It has driven the length and breadth of the UK, and has been a strong and sturdy family wagon on holidays and joyful days out.
It has been the crucible of thousands of hours of family conversations, a couple of hundred hours’ worth of arguments, and a place where we have shared music, fun, opinion, and the events of each day.
I have laughed in it, cried in it, sang in it, picked my nose in it, contemplated pissing myself in it (when I was stuck in traffic on the M25 and reeeeally needed to go. You’ll doubtless be pleased to know I made it to a service station near Reading just in time, and didn’t spray urine all around the inside of the car). I’ve done other things in it as well, for example, looking at maps, reading the daily news, and eating. And sex, of course.
I remember all of my cars. I remember the massive grey Vauxhall estate I inherited off my mother as a 17-year-old. It sure as hell wasn’t a sexy car for a dashing young go-getter like myself, but I could pack it full of chums and drums; I once carried 11 lively chaps across the city to gatecrash another teenager’s party, and then, following said shindig, drove back shouting “wahey” at innocent passers-by. We were a car full of dicks. I also remember the crappy Fiat hatchback that followed, and the subsequent not-quite-as-crappy Fiat hatchback. There is a pattern here: Much as I like sleek, sexy, well-engineered cars, I’ve never actually owned one.
I also vividly remember the family cars I spent a lot of time growing up in. We were the boringly average, middle-class 80s family, so inevitably there were a few lumbering Volvo estates. There were the crumbly little hatchbacks (Escorts, Renaults, and a Talbot – now there’s a UK car manufacturer name that has been forgotten); and my father’s mid-life crisis car – it was the 80s, so not only was it not an estate car, it was a TURBO what’s more (a Volvo, what’s less). These cars were family talismans. I loved them, and the journeys we went on (even if they could be interminable). My brother and I played and fought in the backs of those cars. They were our spaceships, our KITTs, and our Airwolfs. They were a part of our lives. When it came to being a grown man with a family, I knew our car would be an extension of our home.
And is there anything more “Daddy” than taking the family out on a mission? The gathering of the tribe, the hustling out the door? The settling of the offspring in the back? The husband-and-wife have-we-got-everything-ritual? And if it’s a bright sunny day, the putting on of the sunglasses?
I’m not joking. That’s when I feel most like a DAD, when I put the sunglasses on, in charge of the car, and driving off for a day out. That is me at my most father-ish.
Alice and I bonded in our car, on our Daddy-Daughter Days. That was where we learned to talk to one another. We’d have our famous ‘Boot-Picnics’ in the car, a tradition Sarah has never quite fully embraced (because she says it’s too cramped, and there’s no fresh air. Why have a picnic in a car, when you should be having it in the open, fresh air??, is Sarah’s thought on the matter). If Alice and I need to have a serious chat about stuff, the car is the place to do it. Home has too many distractions, and it’s hard to have a “this is life!” conversation with TV, Playstation, food, books and other things distracting us. In the car, there’s nothing but silence, music, I-Spy, or chat as optional entertainment. We often opt for chat.
I love these chats. I’ve never liked the idea of putting kids in cars and expecting them to shut up. I don’t like the thought of plonking our kid in the back with an audiobook to while away the hours, when we can all entertain ourselves with a quality family conversation. And I cannot understand those people who have a portable DVD player in the back seat “to keep the kids occupied”. As far as I’m concerned, they are the sort of people who want to hinder their child’s imagination. They are the people who want kids to be quiet all the time. Ugh.
Besides, kids can be quiet if you let them slip into their own heads. Why deny your child the pleasure of their own imagination? Why pacify them with a screen?
And unless you’re the kind of boring twat who only ever drives on the most boring of motorways in order to get places (I hate motorways, and avoid them wherever possible. A good A-road in the British countryside is one of life’s great thingies), a DVD distracts from the greatest scenery on Earth. Yes, even in good old Great Britain… because everywhere has the greatest scenery on Earth. I mean, okay, sure, Monument Valley is all very well, but it doesn’t hold a candle to The Cotswolds… and beautiful honey-stoned rural English villages can’t compete with Monument Valley. They’re spectacular for different reasons.
So why encourage the kids to watch Moana on the car DVD whilst sealed off from existence with headphones, when they could do it at home? You don’t have to travel to see the world, you just have to look out of the window.
I’m sorry. I’m sure you have your reasons for sedating your kids on long journeys, and you’re lovely really.
Anyway, when the time came to change my car, like a clattering dumbfuck, I failed to take into account one very important factor: Alice. It was the only car Alice had ever really known. To me, being a boring adult, getting rid of the car was a necessary thing – the tool I had was worn out and needed replacing. And getting a shiny new car is aspirational. Bleugh!
To Alice, being a child of considerable imagination, with sentiment and affection invested in her attachments, I was breaking the family apart. I was abandoning a beloved pet. A space she had known as if it were a room in our house, possibly as intimately as her bedroom – or at the very least, the toilet – was being cut out of her life because I wanted something new and more impressive. There were tears. There were arguments. Alice pleaded for a stay of execution. It was as though I was shooting her beloved old dog in the face.
I wasn’t, though. It’s a car, not a living thing. I was selling it to webuyanycar.com (for a measly £50, the cheapskate bastards). But even as I drove it to the depot, we all got a bit misty-eyed. Even Sarah got a bit nostalgic and wanted some time and space to remember the car.
So farewell, grey Ford Focus, sometimes called “Dave”. You got us all from A to B for ten glorious years. I have replaced you with a dark grey Ford Mondeo, the ultimate expression of British Dadness. There’s even a little compartment for my sunglasses. And now, if you’ll forgive me, in a mark of respect, I shall write the Last Post down because I cannot play the trumpet.
BTW: I still love Sarah with all my heart and she’s amazing. Nine years in and our marriage is still tip-top. Go us!
BTW, part II: The new car was pristine for approx two weeks. Then we took it on a camping holiday. Now its footwells are full of rubbish, and there are scuff marks everywhere. There is a bucket-and-spade and a kite permanently in the boot. There are loose CDs in the side compartments, and the cupholders are full of empty chewing gum packets. Welcome to the family, new car!
The eternal struggle between parent and child about getting dressed…
– I can’t get dressed
– I can’t choose what to wear!
– No it’s not! Trousers? T-shirt? SOCKS?? It’s difficult!
(Yeah? Try being an adult, or filling in a tax form, kid) Just choose something. Anything!
– But all my clothes are rubbish!
No they’re not. What about [the beloved summer dress]?
– I hate it
It was your favourite last week
– It’s not my favourite now
We’re going out to the countryside, so it doesn’t really matter. It’s not like you’re promenading in town and hoping to snag a husband…
– Life is HAAAAAAAARD, Daddy! Life is SOOOO. HAAAAARD.
(It’ll get much worse, child) It’s just clothes for heaven’s sake, get some perspective!
– ALL RIGHT! [changes subject and tone] My tooth is wobbly
Get your clothes on and I’ll have a look
– I really want my tooth to fall out
– Yes. Georgia’s lost about 20 teeth already
(Well, bully-woo for bloody Georgia…)
Georgia has, has she?
– Yes. I really want to meet the tooth fairy
Do you indeed.
– Yes. I think she’s going to invite me to her birthday party
Georgia? (To be fair, it’ll be social event of the season, because Georgia’s mum does not skimp on quality child entertainment or food, but she can be quite selective. To be invited shows that you have great favour at the court of Georgia. She’s a snotty little cow)
– Not Georgia, Daddy! The tooth fairy!
The tooth fairy is going to invite you to her birthday party?
– Yes! She’s my friend!
You’ve never met her!
– EXACTLY! That’s why she’s my friend!
– How much will she give me for a tooth?
Well, in my day, the going rate was about 10p per tooth. So, with inflation, that’s probably about £1
– I think my teeth are worth more than that
– Yes. I reckon about TWO HUNDRED POUNDS!
Get dressed, Alice. Put your glasses on.
– Oh, I don’t need my glasses anymore. My eyes are fixed.
Really? Wow. OK, how many fingers am I holding up?
– I don’t know.
I rest my case… Hang on, you can’t count to four, or can’t you be bothered?
– [ignoring me] I don’t need trousers either.
Yes you do, Al, I can see all of your knickers.
– ALL RIGHT THEN! *stomp* *stomp* *stomp*
And put some shoes on.
– [from upstairs] I DON’T WANT TO!!
Alice, do the following, please: Glasses, t-shirt, trousers, socks and shoes
– [coming downstairs] I only want to put them on just before going out. How about one sock and one shoe now…
…on the same foot?
– No, different feet. A sock on one, and a shoe on the other
Riiiiiight. How about just socks now, and then shoes when we’re actually going out, which will be in about 10 minutes.
– [doubtful] Well, that’s not as good… but I suppose so
Trust me kid, it works
– Look, I’ve made a lightsaber out of giant pipecleaners
– Have a look… Why are you laughing, Daddy?
(It looks like a giant, veined, fluffy dildo)
It’s very… good. It’s not very firm, is it?
– I want to be a Jedi Doctor Princess when I grow up, who can play bass guitar. NOW STOP WRITING STUFF ON PAPER AND LET’S KILL SOME STORMTROOPERS!!
Well, we’re nearly at the end of the summer holidays. How are you doing? Bearing up? Counting the hours? Or are you treasuring every minute, and programming every day with exciting things to occupy your little lovelies? (No, you’re not. Don’t lie.)
Anyway, at the beginning of the summer hols, the homework from Alice’s school was a “Summer Holiday Bucket List!”. It was an annoyingly cheerful (and slightly patronising) list of things to do, you know the sort of thing: “Go kite-flying!”, “Read a book under a tree!”, “Look at nature!”, “Feed the ducks in the local park!”, “Go camping and toast marshmallows over a fire!”. It’s slightly cloying. Of course, Alice has treated it as though it is a list of mandatory instructions. It has been exhausting and I now want to cry.
But really, this just begs the question: What are the things that parents have to do every summer?
Here, therefore, is a list for you to tick off. HAVE YOU DONE THEM ALL??:
1. Have an argument with The HR Cow about how much time off you can get over the summer hols. You insist that family time is important. They suggest that regular employment is also important.
2. Go to the park for the first of many visits over the next six weeks. Do you go to:
a) Park In Posh Part of Town?
b) Generic Park In Not-So-Posh-Part-Of-Town Full of Bigger Kids Who Shove Smaller Kids Off Swings?
Posh Park is full of students huffing nitrous oxide cannisters, smoking big stinky spliffs, and drinking from cans. Generic Park is full of families having a good time, and most of the kids are pretty well behaved apart from a few loose cannnons. You find both arenas threatening. Congratulations! You seem to have Anxiety on top of everything else!
3. Go to the carwash. Kids love the carwash. Child gets terrified by the big rolling brushes. Kids don’t love carwashes. Who knew?
(Here’s a rare top-parenting tip from me: If you go to an automated car wash, and your child is nervous, enhance the experience by playing something dramatic and orchestral when the rollers descend. My personal favourite is Duel of the Fates by John Williams, from the soundtrack to Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace. See? I TOLD you that film would be good for something…)
It’s worth knowing that a car wash by hand often gets better results and a cleaner car.4.
4. Fly a kite. Spend three hours detangling kite string both before AND after flying the kite.
5. Go to visit the Gra ndparents, ostensibly for some quality time with the oldies, but really to beg for some financial help “to help with the house repairs”.
6. Send your kid over to someone’s house for a playdate, and pray things don’t get out of hand this time. Because if it does, you know you will be summoned to extract your kid earlier than you would like, thus ruining your afternoon off. Bollocks.
7. Make vague promises to your wife about some DIY you’ve been meaning to do for years as a token gesture.
8. Go to a really underwhelming theme park that costs ££BUMRAPE.
9. Go shopping in the supermarket. You enjoy losing your kid in public and standing in the centre of a packed supermarket calling out your child’s name, don’t you?
10. Go shopping to your favourite shops. Kids love dingy record shops, guitar shops where the guitars are not to be touched by tiny hands, vintage leather shops, and small fusty bookshops, yeah? No.
11. Go shopping in the centre of the nearest city. Spend too much money. Kid demands latest faddy gadgets. Marvel at your ability to cave in to repeated demands:
“No… no… I said no… no… you’ll only lose it… no… what did I say earlier?… no… NO… yes to ice cream, NO to the thingy…no… nooo… how many times?… no… I don’t care if Georgia has one… no… no… no… you might get one for Christmas… no… what’s wrong with the [insert last year’s fad] you’ve already got?… no… no… it’s too expensive and they’re badly made and I read a news report article that said it had spikes and was toxic… no…no… yes I can see it’s in that shop, no you’re not having it… no… can you afford it out of your own pocket money? Then you can’t have it… no… NO!… no no no no NO NO NO NO NO ALL FUCKING RIGHT, HERE’S THE SODDING THING, OK??”
12. Go to the beach. Kid loves it and spend the next few weeks eulogising about their wonderful memories from sandcastle building, running free, paddling, making friends, kicking balls, etc. You spend the next few weeks finding sand in your bum, and spend money on some shite buckets, crap spades, and horrible chips.
13. Play Monopoly with the child. Be the banker. Have a massive row with them when they catch you embezzling funds from the bank. Tell them it’s an important lesson to learn that all bankers are crooks – yeah, well done.
14. Faddy gadget drops out of collective youth favour two weeks after purchasing. Your child – after being teased by chums for not keeping up with current trends – blames you for not being cool enough.
15. Go swimming. Everyone develops verrucas that last until Christmas.
16. Play mini golf as a family. Child gets bored after 4 holes, but you insist on playing to the very end “to get the money’s worth!”. Game takes 3 hours, nobody cares who wins.
17. Go 10-pin bowling. Insist on having the inflatey-things at the side of the lane. Show your child how to bowl. Child thrashes you to miserable defeat.
18. Read somewhere that the most spectacular meteor shower in this century is on 4th August. Promise to show your child this magical cosmic event. Everyone agrees to go on meteor-mission. 4th August rolls round, you wake the kid at 11pm, kid complains angrily about being woken up. You insist. You drive for over an hour to reach a rural spot where the sky is not orange. Look up at the sky to see roiling clouds. Spend half an hour in a damp field with knackered kid and fed-up spouse complaining about the cold. Like a brutal dictator, you insist that the clouds will clear. Spouse nicks car keys from pocket and holds them to ransom until you agree to go home. Wake up following morning, and see tons of photos from other smug parents who waited in other fields for an extra 15 minutes to get dazzling galactic skyscape with streaks of heavenly light from falling stars, complete with torchlight pics of enchanted smug brats. Other parents v. annoying.
19. Have a “sofa” day.
20. Go birdwatching, or “bored-watching” as your child calls it with added sniggers.
21. Spouse now insistent that you actually do that bloody DIY.
22. Suddenly get the bright idea to “go for a bike ride”. Suddenly realise that the family bikes need repairs, and you should spend a fortune on safety gear. Your kid is wearing so much helmetry and padding that they look like an Imperial Stormtrooper. Bike ride lasts 12 minutes before you get Traffic Fear, and you demand to go home. Suddenly realise that traffic has got way worse since your last on-road bike ride (in *cough* 1995).
23. Go to see latest child-friendly movie that inevitably centres around fart jokes.
24. Have a pizza party. Burn every pizza. Everyone not happy at you about eating blackened discs of carbon.
25. Play frisbee in the park. Child throws frisbee and hits nice old lady walking her dog in the face.
26. Get the paints out. Try to paint a picture, or do some art. Ruin several items of clothing and a carpet. Do tie-dye instead. Ruin more clothing and now the carpet in another room. Go too far, and get your kid into The Grateful Dead. Idiot.
27. Grandparents offer to take offpsring for weekend. Accept with gusto. At the handover, you drop hints about how the house repairs might cost a bit. House now child-free for one night only, and your plan is so on to have all sorts of filthy, kinky, squelchy, noisy sex… but neglect to tell wife. End up watching Poldark. Wife points out that Poldark is hella sexy.
“For fuck’s sake and come on!”, think both husband and wife, but with greatly differing tones of internal voice.
28. Kid home from grandparents, who have happily spent money on another faddy gadget. That’s fine, but you wish grandparents would spend some money on things you want every so often. Like repairs on the h- oh Jesus, I’m suck a fucking grown-up. Fuckit, I want a fidgy thing!!
29. Spouse snaps that you’re doing all these fun things as a procrastination tactic in order to put off doing that sodding DIY.
30. Play frisbee in the park. Child throws frisbee and hits group of ethnic-origin teenagers who were having a picnic. In the heat of apologising, you say something that is misconstrued as being horrifically racist. Gang throws you in bin and calls you a Nazi. Other parents film the confrontation on their mobile phones.
31. Have another “sofa” day, don’t even bother to open the curtains. In fact, stay-in-pyjamas day.
32. Go out to pub for drinks with the other mums on the school run. Everyone gets a bit lairy, a little bit saucy, a little bit rude, and for some stupid reason – probably to up the ante – you mention Goatse. Everyone asks for an explanation and you say “Google it!” (DO NOT GOOGLE IT). Everyone is horrified with you and demand to know how you know about such things.
33. Playdate reciprocation with other child’s mother giving you an extremely scrutinising look after the Goatse/pub conversation/incident. Other child beautifully behaved. Your own child appalling mess of ungracious, barely-sharing bad hosting.
34. Finally do the DIY thing. It takes less than two hours to complete, but during that time you get frustrated, sweaty (and not in a sexy way), you ruin your back, finally snap at the child to “CAN YOU, FOR ONCE, STOP PRATTLING ON AND BLOODY LEAVE ME TO GET ON WITH THIS, OK??”, make a bit of a bodge of it, and hope nobody notices. Buy another faddy gadget to make up with child and to assuage feelings of guilt at your appalling temper.
35. Go pond dipping/rock pooling. Catch a used condom.
36. Insist that child reads a book. Child insists on Playstation. Compromise on having 10 minutes reading time, and 2 hours Playstation time.
37. Go to fusty old mansion. Be enchanted by baroque trappings and oily paintings. Child loudly proclaims it’s rubbish until being enchanted by ice cream and adventure playground in vast, Capability Brown-designed parklands. Wow! Ice Cream Solves All!!
38. Here’s a fun summer holiday thing that will occupy your entire day: Ask your child to tidy their bedroom. The protestations will last hours longer than the task takes to do.
39. Go into town and panic-buy a fuckload of school uniform that you know will be grown out of in six months time. Child decides to occupy time by telling you how bored they are.
40. It’s the first week of September. The kids are going back to school, one academic year older. You go back to work with the ridiculous notion that this is the last family fun-time until Christmas. You insist on one last weekend together, and you cram the hours full of minutes. You get home drained, but having had at least one truly magical day together. You take them on the first school run of the year, feeling as though you have not spent enough time with each other all summer.
Alice is hurtling through life right now. It’s frightening how grown-up she’s becoming. It’s helped by the fact that she’s just had a new haircut. It’s a pixie-cut, and it really suits her. She looks sophisticated and mature for an 8-year-old, and some of the school-run Mums have complimented her on it, using words like “sophisticated” and “mature for an 8-year-old”. Of course, she then undermines her sculpted air of maturity, by talking about The BFG in an excited fashion, and doing that jumping-up-and-down-and-flapping-her-arms thing that she does when she cannot contain herself.
It’s horrific to realise that adulthood for Alice is now just a decade away. Voting, driving, university perhaps, and job. Ugh. It’s too early to think about jobs, isn’t it? Children shouldn’t think about jobs, they should think about having fun!
Of course it’s not too early, you idiot, no wonder everyone thinks you’re stupid. Children start to voice job hopes pretty early, don’t they? Alice certainly did. Of course, small children don’t think about the realities of work, nor do they think about the paths they need to take in order to get towards the job they want. Ambition is so different and much easier when you’re under 10 years old. Anything really is possible when you’re that young. It’s only later, when disappointment and failure kicks in, that you realise how much the odds are stacked against you.
It’s horrid to think that the foundations towards her chosen career will begin before she even realises it. I thought such things would start from the choices kids make that go towards the GCSE exams – say around 14 years old. Except they probably start much sooner than that. Primary school, even. Think about it: An interest in art, or drama, or science, or engineering, or sport can be forged at a very early age. After school clubs can help, the topic of each term plays its part, and the encouragement of inspiring teachers all assist in pointing a child towards their destiny.
Let’s not forget our role as parents, either. Of course, I want things for Alice, and I already hope she’ll develop a love for music or acting, but also I’m more than happy to encourage her to take an interest in science or technology subjects. Let’s face it, the world has a critical shortage of female scientists and engineers.
But it’s wise not to get too carried away. Even with the absolute best of intentions, parents can make things horrific for their children. Back in my late teens I knew someone very well who suffered from having parents. She was a twin. At some primary school parents evening, her parents were told that the other sister was unremarkable. Nice, well-behaved, but probably going to end up in a minor career choice. However, she was really promising, the teacher said. Y’know, she could become a doctor or something.
That was it. Fate sealed, and destiny chosen. If the teacher had said “she could be a barrister!”, she’d be a barrister now. By the time she was 18, the pressure she was under – both from the parents and from herself – was staggering, and she damn nearly broke from it. She succeeded, but I have often wondered if she really wanted to do it all along.
She was not alone. I knew several other people who were kicked, dragged, and prodded into the career choices they’ve ended up in, but they went through the fucking wringer to get there. Not all of them came out of it OK. Some rebelled. Some caved in. One or two were permanently damaged by the experience – all because of the possibility of Job at the end.
I was lucky – Although brought up by a career-minded father, I was pretty much allowed to develop my own interests and follow my passions rather than his vicarious ambition. However, I cannot exactly argue that I am a massively successful example of a human being. I am a Generation X-er, which means that all I’ve ever really wanted to do is chill, rock out, and say fuck it to The Man, whilst being horribly cynical. It might possibly be why, aged 40-and-a-half, I’m working part-time in retail. I suppose you could argue that I am a cautionary tale to my daughter: Slack off your homework, and sit around Playstationing all day and rocking on a guitar all night, and you could end up like me. The guys who were shoved into their career paths by ambitious parents have done somewhat better than I have, if I’m ruefully honest.
Now that I’m a parent, of course I want Alice to succeed. I want her to find interest and delight in any career path, and not end up on the middle-management chain gang, or be in a lowly position that sucks the life out of her, or be an anonymous filing machine, or to be a worker drone in some vast monolithic company. I mean, who wants to be the embodiment of a mid-90s Radiohead lyric?
Still, she has come up with some interesting career choices.
First, she wanted to be a sanitation worker (I suspect because she liked the bin lorry that rattles around our neighbourhood once a week)
Then she talked about being a ballet dancer (not that I want to enforce stereotypes)
Then she wanted to be a princess (not in this universe, unless she could somehow alter the fabric of reality so that she could be born into immense wealth and privilege)
Then she wanted to be a bass player in a band (now that’s more like it!)
Then she wanted to be a “helper” (because she liked interfering with other people’s business in the playground – sorting out fights, breaking up arguments, helping small and lonely tots find friends. It’s rewarding, but it’s poorly paid work)
Then she wanted to be a doctor (I swear she didn’t get this from a chance remark in a parents evening)
Then she wanted to be a superhero (let’s face it, more likely than being a princess)
Then she wanted to be a scientist (A scientist doing what, exactly? “Science!” she said)
Then she wanted to be a detective (finding out who started the fights in the playground, why were people having arguments in the playground… etc)
Then she was into the bass player idea again (Daddy’s little girl!)
And now, she wants to be a writer. Specifically, a writer who lives in a Cornish fishing village, whose husband is a fisherman, and on Fridays they both go fishing together, and she’ll drive a cheap little Mini along the seaside. She’s even made up a song about it. It goes “Look at me, in my cheap li’l Mini / Drivin’ by the seaside-seaside-sea…”
It’s very much a focused goal to have, I suppose.
She’s making a start on it already. She’s always loved inventing stories and characters. One of her earliest was an ongoing saga about a stone called Tua Mizer, and all the adventures that ensued. Yup, it seems stones have adventures. I tried to explain to her back then that, yes, stones did have adventures of sorts, it’s just that such adventures take place over millions of years and stones – if left undisturbed – generally only move a couple of dozen feet over the course of a thousand years. Way to spoil a three-year-old’s fun, Daddy.
She’s continued this, with her invented lands and languages. And from an early age (and with the encouragement of her splendid, slightly hippie, year 1 teacher) she developed a knack for imagery in her poetry.
She just chucks out idea after idea, and then dashes off to the next one, so I suggested she be a bit more disciplined. “I want to be a writer!” she tells me. Writers write, I said. So she got herself a notebook and uses it to jot down her concepts. Some of them are brilliant. There’s one about a house and a cat that is so amazing (says the biased parent), I’m reluctant to write about it here in case you decide to plagiarise it and publish it as your own work.
Now she’s tackling metaphorical language. Recently, she was praised with abundance by her class teacher (young, gentle with the kids, idealistic, plays the guitar) for an inventive poem about our neighbourhood:
The people of our road have always been quite strange
Two of them have lion ancestors, one is always sweet
Just hanging there lazy at the side of the street
The animals of our road have always been quite different
The daylight giants dance with their friends in the windows
The monstrous one lives in my front garden,
It scratches and bashes and scratches and scratches again
And instead of beauty it brings you pain
Blimey, she’s 8. I’m really impressed, but again, I’m totally biased and possibly easily impressed. However, I wasn’t coming up with that sort of thing when I was her age, and nor was anyone else around me as far as I can remember. I don’t normally gush with pride about everything my kid does on my own Facebook page, but I took a scan of the poem and posted it up. One of my chums responded with his own son’s literary works. It was a piece of paper with “The Amazing Fart Police” written on it.
Obviously Alice will have to work hard in order to become a writer, and she is (as I know all too well) facing an uphill struggle and will receive many painful kicks to her confidence, and knock-backs to her motivation. The Cornish fishing village cottage is a long, long way away, and could well ultimately be in an alternate reality, but I am thrilled that she has a passion and a love that could last a lifetime, even if she winds up like most authors, and working in a horrible job, in a mind-sapping role, in order to put bread on the table and keep the bailiffs from the door.
Still, she’s young, and I have no desire to force her into any destiny just yet, and right now I hope I never will. Besides, she is very likely to change her mind. Just the other day, to see if her ambitions had changed, I asked her what she intended to be when she grows up.
I don’t do sport. In fact, I don’t do exercise of any kind, and neither does my wife (unless you count a swift and brisk walk for about twenty minutes each day). Sport hurts. Sport is painful and stupid, and leaves you out of breath, sweaty, and uncomfortable.
It seems this is a very bad attitude to have. Some people might say it makes me a Very Bad Parent.
As you know, children are now no longer the fit, active, energy-filled dynamos of yesteryear. Children are now obese, waddling, wheezing lumps of inactive matter, who aren’t allowed outside to play, and this is turning us into (amongst other things) a nation of agoraphobic, armchair-hogging lardies, staring at pixels, in a state of moral decline.
And Alice is right there amongst them. She’s not fat by any means, but she doesn’t really do exercise. Activities that involve running, jumping, throwing, kicking, or hitting some sort of inflatable ball are not part of our daily routine, and 95% of the time, I don’t give a crap. Then, all of a sudden, I will suddenly develop a sudden conscience, and suddenly and unreasonably wheedle a protesting Alice into doing some sort of physical activity for about 20 mins, and then forget all about it for a month, and we find ourselves slacking back into a torpid state of Playstationing.
And, before you start, it’s not the Playstation’s fault. We’ve never been anything other than a fairly sedentary family. Sarah and I avoid strenuous activity, and sport in general hardly ever appears on our TV screen (apart from the occasional soccer or rugby game, or coverage of the Olympics). Alice has never been much of an active, sporty kid. She’s not one of nature’s runners, or jumpers, or throwers, or catchers. We’ve always known this, we’ve just never done anything about it. I’ve written elsewhere about Alice’s running style. It’s particularly distinctive. More than once I have heard the phrase “The Alice Run”, to describe her unique sprint; staff at her old nursery coined it, and then independently I’ve heard it chuckled about by some of the other mums in (what I hope to be) an affectionate tone. It’s a sort of fast, determined walk: hunched shoulders, elbows tight to the side, arms pumping furiously, legs never fully extending, teeth gritted, a lot of physical action with very little speed.
One memorable Sports Day at Alice’s school, our girl took part in the sprint race. Off went the whistle, and her peers powered ahead, with Alice trotting some distance behind. The mums all cheered her on with great bonhomie and a little, but not unkind, sarcasm; and Alice – being about 6 at the time – mistakenly thought she had won the race, especially when she got the standard medal for “taking part”.
This year, for work reasons, I was unable to support Alice at Sports Day, and Sarah attended for the first time. Halfway through the afternoon, my phone pinged with a message. It was, apparently, a photo of Alice doing the long jump. What it showed was Alice, shoulders hunched in a most determined fashion, taking a step. It basically looks like she’s walking. Oh dear. She’s never going to leap a lava-filled chasm at this rate.
It’s not hard to see where Alice gets her running from. Sarah is also not a natural sprinter, and runs as though she’s on a narrow ledge going as fast as she dares, with arms raised for balance. It’s rather like the awkward running one does along the side of a swimming pool while dressed in a bikini. I think it’s rather cute.
And me? Well, I can’t run more than 30 yards before wheezing and sweating to a halt. In my primary school years, I was the slowest in the class. The weird gangly girl with badly-coordinated limbs, who spat when she talked, and bottle-bottom glasses could outstrip me by miles. Then, aged 11, early-onset puberty (combined with taking up rugby in yet another attempt to fit in with my classmates) suddenly took hold and I suddenly developed a turn of speed hitherto unknown to me, and was quite surprising to all who had grown up with me. My classchums who had always enjoyed thrashing me into last place were not impressed, and made peevish, jealous comments. This golden age of athleticism saw me compete in 100m and 200m dashes at a county level for a brief while (plus long-jump, discus, relay, and shot-putt which made me a county champion and record holder for, oooh, about 12 seconds in 1989), and lasted until I was about 14, until early-onset cigarettes and total lack of interest in any form of continuous or dedicated training relegated me to a fast burst at the start, and a gasping, painful lumbering over the finishing line in 5th place by the time I was 18.
The last time I did any form of athletics was in 2008. We had just got married, and Sarah was pregnant all of a sudden. We visited my Mothra-in-Law in her village, and the village was alive with activity. On the village green, instead of the usual wicker structure for burning Christians in, there was a “Village Olympics” that tied in with the events in Beijing at the time. We attended, and I was bullied into taking part in the 50m dash (ironically by a lady in a mobility scooter wielding a clipboard). I was unfit, only recently a non-smoker, and wearing biker boots.
I also took part in the ‘welly discus’. I joined the queue, picked up the wellington boot, decided to use my old discus technique of spinning before release. I stepped up, gripped the boot, spun round on the spot, lost balance, got disorientated, flung the boot in totally the wrong direction, and it slammed into the crotch of a nearby teenage boy, who took it on the chin (or more precisely, his cock and balls), and accepted my fulsome apology with considerable grace, especially as he was sort of crying.
Not put off, or beaten up by the locals, I then lined up to take part in the race. Me, two other chaps of my age, who were tall, fit, outdoorsy, and the square-jaws and haw-haws of private school rugger types, and a giggly girl in her twenties who loudly told us several times she was “rubbish at running!!”. I had done no stretches, warm-ups, and was wearing completely the wrong footwear.
The flag went down, I charged off, and instantly realised I was completely unfit and going to die. Of course, the other two chaps were being massively competitive, and pummelled down the green. I got about halfway, when I suddenly felt as though I had been shot in the leg. I crumpled, fell to the ground, and heard a shriek of alarm from Sarah. I got up, felt agonising pain in my right leg, and hobbled on to the finish where I collapsed due to a tendon snapping in my leg, and had Sarah and Mothra-in-Law rush over to attend to me. I still came third though. That girl turned out to be not a liar, and really was rubbish at running.
Henceforth, I have done no athletic things, and Alice does not get much encouragement from us. And we were sort of fine about it, but also aware it could be an issue. And then, at parents evening, Alice’s class teacher gently suggested we do some catching practice with her at the very least.
Fuck this, I thought to myself. But he had a point. Alice can’t catch a falling leaf.
Catching is one of those motor skills we all take for granted. Imagine, for a moment, being completely unable to catch anything: It wouldn’t bother us most of the time, but it’s one of those things that is useful at very specific moments. But it’s more important than that. It’s not just the catching, it’s the hand/eye coordination. Now imagine your life without any hand/eye coordination. Life would be a succession of clumsy incidents at the very least. And Alice can be very clumsy at times.
So we have attempted to get Alice to catch things. It’s not easy for her. She has a very strong sense of self-preservation, which in many ways I’m very glad about. She’s not a risk taker, she hasn’t had many injuries in her young life (unlike some of her peers, who show up to school with bumps, scrapes, scars, and plastercasts on a regular basis), and she’s cautious – but sometimes she’s too cautious. She takes great care about descending particularly tall steps. Anything that requires a jump of more than about 6 inches is worrisome for her. A jump for Alice is a sort of tiny hop in case she falls awkwardly. Catching is yet another one of those moments when she really is far too cautious.
Alice’s method of catching something is to screw up her eyes, hold out her hands all splayed, and flinches into a defensive position, with arms and legs protecting her torso. Even if you throw her a sponge to catch, she reacts instinctively as if you were chucking a bag of wasps at her head.
Her throwing is worse. I hate to use the phrase “she throws like a girl”, or the toxic word, “spaz”, but Alice is utterly crap at throwing things. It’s not uncommon for her to throw something at a 90-degree angle from where she was aiming at. And what’s more, she’d throw it about 14″ before it plops harmlessly onto the floor. Underarm, overarm, it doesn’t matter. So, on some weekends, we take her to the park and throw balls for her to catch. It’s like walking a chatty labrador.
Meanwhile, the lack of sport for children to experience is one of these things we parents like to bemoan. Almost every other day, there’s some news report stating that kids don’t get enough sport facilities or opportunities in school. This, along with rising child obesity statistics, is one of the top hand-wringing worries of modern parenting. Alice’s school has very few gym apparatus, and what apparatus they have, Alice invariably freaks out about using. Their small playground offers little in the way of sport equipment.
They do have after-school clubs, however. I’m both pleased and surprised that Alice invariably signs up for a new sport club every term. I’m pleased for obvious reasons (1. Alice gets to do a sport with other kids that will hopefully develop her skills; and 2. I get an extra hour to myself at home before having to pick her up from school. Winner!). I’m also surprised, because of Alice’s comical running, shite throwing, and inept catching, poor love.
It has to be said that every time Alice shoves the letter inviting her to join a new after-school sports club into my face while I’m on the sofa, I do always say “Are you sure??”, because every single time, she joins a club, can’t keep up, doesn’t get the ball passed to her by the more athletic and co-ordinated kids, and she comes away dejected. This has happened in hockey club, football club, running club, handball club, rounders club, tennis club, and cricket club – although cricket club was eventually stopped because the kids took no notice of the ineffectual teacher trying to get them to behave, and he cancelled the remaining sessions in a spectacular huff. Thanks to him, I don’t get a pleasing hour to myself on Tuesday afternoons any more. Twat.
Alice is a writer and dreamer, not a runner. She’s shaping up to follow in mine and Sarah’s waddly footsteps, and is heading for a life of sofa-flumping and sore feet after 30mins of shopping. This isn’t something to celebrate, and I totally recognise we as a family need to change our crappy lifestyle in one way or another. For Alice it means I hope she’ll be able to run in order to escape zombies, and to catch a ball. Dammit, I’m determined she will be able to catch. And for Sarah and I… well, we’re not getting younger or bendier or healthier or any more breath in our lungs. We’re over 40, and a sedentary lifestyle can lead to bad things. For Alice’s sake, we need to be better parents when it comes to physical activity.
My daughter likes wearing her Iron Man costume to the shops. She wants to wear it when she goes to see the doctor about that rash. She wants to wear it at that big wedding of Cousin Thingy that’s coming up in September. She wants to wear it to every party she’s invited to. She’d wear it to a state funeral if she could get away with it.
See, that’s my daughter in a nutshell. In fact, she is a complete nutshell, and I love it. This morning when I took her to school, she stood in the line with her classmates, and sang. I was about 50 feet away, so I don’t know what she was singing, but I saw her give full loud and rude lungful to some ditty she was making up. Several of her peers were giving her odd looks, but she didn’t care. I don’t think she noticed.
I like that about my little girl. She’s growing up (all of a sudden, she’s 8-years-old??! Since when??) and she’s becoming the sort of person I had hoped she would be. And yes, that means that she sings in the line when she’s waiting to go into school.
Ask any parent what sort of kid they want, and I doubt you’ll find many who will respond with “I want my child to be deeply average; to have mundane opinions; to listen to the same music as everyone else; to wear ordinary clothes that are moderately fashionable; to watch the programmes that seem to be popular with everyone; not to have any weird interests; to fit in with everyone else in terms of behaviour and personality; to not stand out in any way… because the best method in life is to do things as you’re supposed to do in order to grow up and live in an average house, have an average job, and make a clone family of their own”. Nobody says that. Even boring people who strive to be as mainstream as possible don’t say that.
Do parents like that even exist? Oh God, they probably do. They’re the ones who have neat houses in identikit housing developments, and wear modest clothes in neutral colours, and drive very average boxy cars, and read middlebrow newspapers, and have a passing interest in the sort of music and films that other people like, and watch those light-entertainment programmes that are on between 7pm and 9pm most evenings.
Let’s be honest, all parents want their kids to be distinctive and unique. We want our kids to be special, and dazzling, and more so than any other child in their class. We want our children to shine, to stand out, to be remembered, and be interesting. We love our children’s quirks and weird traits because they utterly charm us. I love my daughter’s delightful little idiosyncracies so much this entire frickin’ blog is based around them. And you’re like me: Admit it. Draw up a list of personality traits you want for your kid, and I am willing to bet at least £5 that your list will be more or less the same as mine. Here is my list:
To believe in whatever she wants
To be fearless in her opinion
To be open and honest
To celebrate her individuality
To stand up for herself
To question everything
To not be the same as her peers
To be curious about the world
To listen to whatever music she wants
To dress the way she wants
To have interests and hobbies
To be proud of herself
To accept her body, flaws and all
To cherish her own likes, interests, aesthetics and passions, even if it runs the risk of her contemporaries thinking she’s ‘not cool’
To be happy within her soul
Wow. Now that it’s all written down, I can see that it makes me look like a right bloody hippie. So, what’s your list? And can you send me the £5 in cash, or would you like my bank transfer details?
So far, my daughter is succeeding in being the unique little snowflake loads of easily-intimidated men on the internet will accuse her of being when she’s older. That Iron Man costume was a good present for me to buy her for her 7th birthday, and it’s getting a heck of a lot of use, and it will be greatly mourned when the holes start to appear. She does her thing, she does what she wants to do, and I can’t tell her who to sock it to. She writes poetry, dances to theme tunes, and has many interests; this week, we’ve set up an ant farm for her to monitor (not for school, just for fun). She has spent hours – literally hours – having conversations with insects that are about 5mm long. She asks them about their day and tells them about hers. The ants really couldn’t care less about her day, and carry on with their relentless tasks. And she doesn’t care that they are ignoring her. She’s that kind of kid. Hey, she’s a person who sings in the line before entering school.
Above all, she’s flawed. She’s not perfect. She talks too much, sings too loud, and wears the Iron Man costume at inappropriate moments. She runs too slowly (not so much a run, it’s more of an enthusiastic waddle). Her handwriting is scrawled and scruffy (but mine is worse). She doesn’t ace every test, and her spelling is pretty damn poor. She has wonky eyes – a ‘turn’, they call it. One eye will look at you, and the other stares at her nose, and she will need corrective surgery for it at some point.
But it’s the flaws that make her unique. Maybe it’s the fact her eyes have a squint that need correcting, or maybe it’s because she runs all flappy and slow that she has such a quirky character.
Or maybe it’s our fault, mine and my wife’s? Maybe it’s because I take her birdwatching with me, or that my wife has shown her how to do crochet, or that we allowed her to watch the Star Wars films at an early age, or because I insist on playing her Led Zeppelin over Justin Bieber, or because we read her Harry Potter books from the age of 6, or it’s because we discuss the world news over the dinner table… or maybe it’s because we don’t eat meals at a dinner table and instead have our meals on our laps whilst watching The Simpsons. I know that in some circles that would be supposed to be bad parenting, but that’s how our family rolls.
But your kid is probably the same – unique, funny, creative, quirky, brilliant, flawed-but-perfect, etc. We do not want them to be sheep, to have the same opinion as everyone else, or to be slavish in following the latest trends and fashions. We want them to value true beauty, and to eschew the material trappings of the world. All our kids should be special, sparkly, and unique. Yay for us!
Except it’s a lie. A complete and utter fabrication.
Yes, we want our kids to grow up to be distinctive souls and not superficial in any way, but we also want them to conform, and we do it from the age of 0.
We ask them:
To keep quiet in public
To behave appropriately
To dress properly for the occasion
To eat in a polite way
To not argue when it is inconvenient (or when our child challenges our own fragile egos)
To wait their turn
To think of others
To be modest
To not run around screaming
We insist that they behave, that they show respect for others, and to be mature (expecting a child under the age of 10 to be mature??) when dealing with other adults
To be hygienic
To respect other people’s opinions and wishes
To not sing in public like that
To know when it is appropriate to shine, dazzle, and stand out with their unique snowflake fractalness, and when to keep heads down and blend into the background
And the worst thing? We ask that they do well in school so that when they grow up, they will end up in the same kind of job as millions of other people; either selling stuff, or ensuring that the right bit of paper ends up in the right filing cabinet so that the rest of the world functions… rather like the ants in my daughter’s ant farm.
We don’t really want our children to be too unique, too wild, too crazy-weird. Have you ever met a child that is a true free-spirit? A child who has been consciously and deliberately allowed to live their lives without boundaries? Those children are a flippin’ nightmare; almost invariably undisciplined, spoiled, arrogant, and friendless. And their parents? Punchably smug, hopelessly naive, even more arrogant than their kids, and really – really – annoying. My God, they’re baffling, infuriating people. Almost as dreadful as people who are clones of everyone else. Their thoughts and opinions and lifestyles are so non-conformist (living off-grid! Vegan! Anti-vaccination! Environmentally neutral and quite preachy about it! Politically active, and not necessarily in a mainstream way! No discipline for their kids! ANARCHIST!) that they just can’t help but rub normal, ordinary, decent people up the wrong way. Do I want my child to be that sort of anti-social weirdo anarcho-freak?
OK, now I’m not sounding like a bloody hippie, and more like an intolerant fucking bastard. The type of intolerant fucking bastard that lives in a neat house in an identikit housing development, and wears shirt and trousers in neutral colours, and drives a very average boxy car, and does a middling middle-ranking average-job, reads a middlebrow newspapers, and have a passing interest in the sort of music and films that other people like, and watch those light-entertainment programmes that are on between 7pm and 9pm most evenings.
Man, this Parenting gig is way haaaaard. Why does everything have to be so difficult?
So, really, what we want is our children to be wonky, but only slightly. Truly wonky would be too chaotic, too anarchic. Our children need the rules, need the boundaries, need the manners, need to know the right clothing for the right occasion, need to be appropriate, need the restrictions, and need to make their way in the world and not be too confused or frightened by it.
I just hope that my daughter can look at the world through her wonky and squinty eyes, and see the beauty of a butterfly’s wing, or through the hypocrisy of a politician. I want her to treasure the sunlight in a drop of dew, or have the joy in hearing new music; to frighten conservatives with her opinions, or appreciate the tragi-comic farce of the ant-farm lifestyle we all lead. Above all, I want her to be distinctive and interesting enough for people to notice her, and to remember her. God, isn’t that what we all want for ourselves?
And if she can do it while singing amongst a crowd of people who might think she’s a weirdo for wearing an Iron Man costume to a supermarket, then so much the better.