Conversations With My Daughter #89

I enter the living room. Alice is sprawled on the sofa whilst playing the PS4.

Alice, can you move please?

[Silence. Alice moves her thumbs over the buttons]

Please can you move? I’d like to sit down.

[Eyes still fixed on the screen] “No Daddy”.

No? But I’d like to sit there as well, and you’re taking up room…

“No. Remember Rosa Parks.”

Alice, did you really just compare your sitting on too much of the sofa, playing on the Playstation, to the birth of the civil rights movement?

“Yes. Sit somewhere else”.

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Conversations With My Daughter #88

A family walk in the British countryside in glorious spring sunshine. Alice is espousing on the nature of birds. Some might call it prattling without pausing for breath. I prefer to call it imaginative free-styling. For some reason, known only to herself, Alice is full of the Yuletide spirit.

“The birds are all singing their own Christmas carols. They have their own religion about the giant crystal snowflake that flies over the world giving the birds presents on their version of Christmas Day, but they call it Snow Bubble Day, and they announce it to each other in their bird-language called ‘Twitter’. Sometimes they go ‘tweet-tweet!’ at each other, and sometimes they go ‘tweet-twat!’…”

Er… Alice…?

“…and sometimes they go ‘twit-twit-twoo!’, and sometimes they go ‘twoot-twat-twey!’…”

[Sarah and I exchange amused, but slightly concerned, glances. We are about to walk through a quiet village centre, our Alice is hitting her stride, and she is declaiming loudly as if it were the Sermon on the Mount]

“…and sometimes they go ‘twooot!’, but that’s the bigger birds, and the smaller birds go ‘tweety-twatty-twit!’…”

Um…

“…and when they really get carried away, they go ‘TWAT-TWAT-TWAT-TWAT!’…”

OK, Al, there’s something we need to tell you…

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Conversations With My Daughter #87

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“Daddy?”

Yes love?

“How old do you think I’ll be when I first put my fist into a boxing glove?”

Er…what?

“Because I’ll probably be quite old. Much older than I am now”

Huh?

“Because you know, I think I should take up boxing for a bit…”

Oh….kay. Hang on, what?

“…yes, because as you know, I intend to be an author”

Rrrright. Er… you do? Since when?

“…and authors should do lots of things so that they can write about them”

Yes, but…

“…and I want to do some boxing. And be a police officer. And a nurse. And a doctor of course, you can’t be a nurse and not be a doctor, you know…”

Actually…

“…but I think I should probably do boxing when I’m 20. And be a soldier. And a teacher.”

Er… are you Ernest Hemingway or something?

“…because I need to find out what I’m going to do when I’m older quickly. I am seven, you know.”

You don’t need to…

“I’m nearly eight.”

Ummm…yes…

“Who is Ernest Hemingway anyway?”

Ah, he’s…

“HAHAHA!! HEMINGWAY-ANYWAY!!”

*sigh*

“I MADE A RHYME!”

Yes. Yes, you did.

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Conversations With My Daughter #86

Me: What did you learn at school today, Alice?

Alice: We learned about Antarctica! Penguins live there!

Me: Correct, anything else?

Alice: And Polar Bears!

Me: No. They’re at the North Pole. Anything else?

Alice: It’s very cold

Me: Yes…and?

Alice: It’s at the bottom of the world, so if you stand there, you fall off into space!

Me: No, you can’t do that. Why not?

Alice: Because the clouds will catch you!

Me: Nooooo. Why can’t you fall off the world?

Alice: Because… gravity?

Me: Exactly. Because gravity. What is gravity?

Alice: It sticks you to the world. That’s why you float in space. Because there is no gravity there.

Me: OK, good. Y’know, if you look at the Earth, where we are in the UK, we’d be standing on quite a steep slope (indicates a roughly 51-degree angle with my hand)

Alice: [thoughtfully] Ah. That explains why I woke up feeling diagonal this morning.

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A representation of a nightmare I had when I was nine years old

 

“I’ll Be There For Yoooouuu…”

Oh dear. I’m officially stumped as a parent. I thought I’ve come across most things by now, but we’ve entered into uncharted territory, and I haven’t got a map. I should be used to this by now, the eleventh rule of parenting being: Never Get Complacent (next to #10: Expect The Unexpected; and #12: Get Used To The Smell).

Alice is nearly eight years old now, and in common with many eight-year-olds, she’s having issues with friends. Without going into too much detail, Alice is discovering that friends are not always consistently friendly, which is rich coming from a girl who likes engaging with other people, and then sods off unexpectedly to go and talk to flowers by herself. She is, however, very sensitive to people being mean to her, and she and her classmates are getting to the age where random acts of deliberate spite are creeping more and more into everyday life.

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“You’ve got more pearls than me”  “That’s because my parents are better than yours”

Of course, Alice tells me this, and I’m buggered if I know what to do. Look, I know friendships. I do have friends, of course. I’ve made many friends over the years, and lost a few, but I’m lucky enough to have a bunch of mates I can always call on for matey business. However, I’m really not good with people. I don’t understand people. I like to think I do, but I really don’t, and I’m frequently bothered by this. People are weird, aren’t they? Strange little sacks of meat and bone and guts, held together with skin, and driven by unfathomable emotions and selfish desires. On one hand, I’m capable of causing anger and misery with just four poorly-chosen words. On the other, good-natured people have been known to cause me sleepless nights with jocular banter that I have taken far too literally. I am prone to wildly misunderstand people, even the best people at the best of times, because of something that was said that caused my circuits to fuse. So I’m at a loss how to give advice to Alice.

Unfortunately, a few months ago, Alice’s BFF told her she didn’t want Alice to hang around with her so much. Alice’s heartbreak at this has been considerable, and sad to witness. Poor kid took it well at first, but as the reality sunk in, she has become despondent. And it’s bothering me, because Alice is not being her usual type of upset. Traditionally, Alice being upset would involve copious tears, theatrical soliloquies about loss and friends and woe, and hand-to-brow flinging herself onto carefully-positioned sofa cushions. This time, it’s different. Alice is displaying a quiet melancholy about the end of the friendship. She isn’t talking about it much, which is very unusual. She is sombre and thoughtful, and I believe the loss of her friend has caused something a lot more profound and fundamental, and may well leave a permanent scar on Alice’s psyche. BFF has moved on, and Alice has learned that BF’s are not necessarily F. It’s a hard, difficult, painful, but necessary lesson to learn.

Above all, I’m loathe to involve myself in any of Alice’s friendships. I don’t think it’s a great idea for parents to interfere with their child’s relationships with other people in any way. I’d even go so far as to say it’s not a good idea to go to the lengths of forbidding your child from hanging round with another child, even if the friend is something of a malignant influence, but then, Alice hasn’t made friends with anyone I’ve disapproved of and I’ve not been in that situation, so how I would react is anyone’s guess (though I’m really looking forward, in a decade or so, to all the future spotty and awkward teenage boyfriends I’m going to thoroughly disapprove of and bully. Hee-hee!).

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Girl on the right: “Isn’t it time you found a new friend? You bore me.” Girl on the left: “…! [the cruelty of the world]”

C.S. Lewis once said that “Friendship is born at that moment where one person says to another: ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one!’ “. Childhood friendships are strange things. I am of an age where I struggle to remember how my own childhood friendships worked. Being a boy, I generally bonded with people over topics such as Star Wars and the humourous potential of bums. Also being a boy, a lot of childhood games sometimes erupted into fights, most of them jolly, some of them not. I didn’t really have girls who were friends of mine until much later, because as we all know, Girls Have Diseases.

And those girls who were friendly towards me in my pre-pubescent years were treated with a degree of meanness, because I was that kind of little turd. As such, I’m not very good on the friendships that young girls have. Even now, girl friendships are sometimes a complete mystery to me. A lot of them seem to be a bonding of two people who need comfort against a hostile world. The boy friendships in Alice’s class appear to be shouty and involve punching and yelling. The girl friendships seem to be a seething mass of resentments, hierarchy, snobbery and bitching, interspersed with breathless joy at shared imaginary scenarios.

Alice’s own friendship issues possibly lie with her being an only child. She is very particular about what games to play, how to play them, and how to get other people involved. If other people join in, Alice can be quite reluctant to accept that the game becomes a collaborative effort. Alice demands that people play the game according to Alice’s often-changing rules, and strict adherence to the ongoing narrative of the game, neither of which gets explained by Alice beforehand. Thus a chum might often bring their own element to the improv, which will exasperate our girl to the point of irritation. Alice then takes off and starts talking to the chain-link fencing, leaving chum somewhat bewildered.

Of course it works the other way: Alice will join in on someone’s game, be unclear about the rules, doesn’t ask how the game is played and instead makes up her own rules, and then is outraged when people tell her to play the game properly. She doesn’t yet have a sense of irony, poor kid.

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It was at that moment that Emily became a Goth.

So there I am, yesterday afternoon, with an uncharacteristically sombre Alice slowly explaining to me her friendship issues. I could only respond as an adult, which probably wasn’t helpful to her as a child. Alice told me all of this in a very quiet voice, because she didn’t want people to know, and she didn’t want people to get the wrong idea. And then she told me, without being aware that she was inconsistent, that she had already explained her predicament to a dozen or so of her friends, and her teacher.

“I thought you didn’t want people to know about this?”, I said.

“I don’t”.

“You’ve told half the class!”

She looked furtively around the room in case anyone was listening. There were only two of us, and it was our living room. “Yes, but I’ve told them to keep it quiet”, she whispered.

Oh boy. Let’s hope they don’t behave like twats about this (no, that’s not fair; they’re not twats, just kids, and they’re generally nice kids, but they may turn out to be typical kids and be a bit horrid to her for a bit. Let’s hope not).

In essence, Alice actually seems to have sorted this out by herself by going to her teacher who brokered a compromise between all parties. I’m really proud of her. Of course, she told me about this friendship problem after she had sorted it, which is brilliant, but also leaves me as being just the bozo at the end of the day to whom she explains the day’s narrative. Yes, I’m irrelevant.

Let’s hope she can still sit down and talk with me in this way when she’s 14, and there’s a whole Brave New World of hormones, boys, spots, fashion, body image, and miserable music to contend with. I haven’t even thought about cyberbullying and sexting yet! Oh crap

In a way, I’m sort of jealous that she has told about a dozen people before coming to me (including her class teacher, who incidentally has handled it pretty well), but I’m also really pleased that she has handled a difficult problem, by herself, in possibly the best and most mature way possible. Long may it continue.

But then again, I shouldn’t be all that surprised or bothered that she hasn’t consulted me on friendships. I’m not her friend. I’m her Daddy.

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You know you can come to me and tell me about absolutely anything. And I’ve got a couple of CDs by The Smiths you can borrow for when you’re older.

Conversations With My Daughter #85

A MORNING IN NOVEMBER…

Alice, time to get up.

A: “MMMMRRFFFFFHHHH”

Come on Alf. Wakey-wakey.

A [from the depths of the duvet nest]: “Don’wannuh”

It is daytime. You have school today. Rise and shine.

A: “But it’s daaaaaaaark!”

[Phnut opens the curtains and looks out of the window. It is a grey, dank, and overcast November morning]

Hmmm. Well… Yeah, I know, it’s a bit cloudy and grim this morning…

A [still within the duvet cave]: “Well, it’s just not as convincing as daylight should be!”

Conversations With My Daughter #84

We are at an extremely fine National Trust house undergoing restoration. We are gathered around a table watching a demonstration of crockery by a nice late-middle-aged National Trust Lady. As has been stated before, Alice’s speciality is nice late-middle-aged ladies…

National Trust Lady: “…and these little cups are made of high-quality porcelain. Do you see how delicate and pretty they are…?”
Alice: [interrupting] “Oh yes, we have cups like that at home. Nana and I play with them.”
N.T.L.: “Really? Gosh, you must be very rich!”
Alice: [primly] “No. We’re middle-class.” [walks off]

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The National Trust Lady looks at me and raises her eyebrows over her half-moon spectacles in astonishment and slight outrage. Being middle-class, I refrain from commenting any further, and instead I become very interested in the recently restored ceiling plasterwork.

Moment of Perfection

It’s an interactive blog today! For the full immersive effect, please listen to this. It is a piece of music called Spiegel im Spiegel by Arvo Pärt:

There is a perfect moment when you become a parent. The moment when it all falls into place, and parenting becomes your life; when you look around, and the new world you live in with all the hallmarks of parenting – the chaos, the mess, the disruption, the smell (oh God, the smell), the anger, the sleeplessness, the expense, the ruination of friendships and sex – all becomes worthwhile. This is the moment when being a parent makes sense, when it gives you back something you realise you needed all along. It can be over in an instant, but it will never leave you.

The first time the true magic of parenthood hit me was when I was sitting on the floor with Alice. I had an inner-ear infection at the time, I was off work for many weeks, and the floor was the place I went to when the world started spinning, and I needed to clutch on. Alice was just about one at the time, so the floor was her entire world.

She was playing with bricks. It was a March afternoon, and the sunlight was streaming in through a crack in the curtains. She was handing me bricks. I wasn’t feeling great, and I remember at the time thinking “Do I have to do this…?”

I often used to put music on whilst playing with Alice when she was a baby. Sometimes it was jazz, or dubstep, or reggae, or rock music. But this time, I put a CD of Arvo Pärt on.

The piece, Spiegel im Spiegel came on.

With the world spinning around me, and the guilt of being off work for a long period, and a demanding child, it shouldn’t have been such a perfect, heavenly moment. Gradually, as the music unfolded, the glorious reality emerged. Alice was very calm. She was holding bricks in her hand, with that look of rapt curiosity that babies and toddlers have, immersed in her task, sorting the bricks in some random fashion, unknowable to me, but by some criteria that made perfect sense to her.

The afternoon light bathed her. She had a halo of blonde cirrus hair, and she was focussed on her task. At first, I tried to build the bricks, but after a while, I could only take them from her hand. She didn’t say anything. Not a “Dada”, not a “Ba!”, but silently communicating. It was a Father-Daughter moment, a moment of pure understanding between us. She was the explorer, voyaging into the shape and colour of each brick, and I was doing as I was told… taking the bricks proffered to me.

I knew, I knew with every fibre of my being at the time that this was a moment that was rushing past my face, never to return. I was a passenger, and the moment was racing by. In my head were conflicting thoughts, of duty, of illness, of doubt, of impatience, and that other calm and authoritative voice telling me to stop everything at this moment. The moment when the world can cease and you can remain trapped in forever.

It was a moment of bliss only I could experience. Alice can never recall it. Sarah was, at that moment, in the kitchen trying to fight the mess. She certainly wasn’t having a moment. It was an afternoon in March. There are several of those in a lifetime, and they pass by without comment. But for me, in my private reverie, the always-shouting, frequently-collapsing world was on the other side of the veil. Eventually the moment would end, and this one did, probably clumsily or inappropriately: The phone rings, the wife comes in to ask a question, the child gets upset at something… but I don’t remember it ending. All I remember is the rising piano arpeggios, the delicate pianissimo of the gorgeous, sustained notes of the violin… and my child, a crescent of sunlight, beatific and absorbed.

If I could choose a moment to return to in my life, this would be it. Just me and her.

This moment ignores all the future battles, and enraged bellowing, that she and I will express to each other many times.

This moment transcends everything to do with my job. I am not in the office.

This moment makes all money worries from past, present, and future, completely irrelevant.

This moment wipes away past and future traumas and disasters, and illness and pain, and depression.

This moment ignore the horrors of war and the humiliation of poverty. It is devoid of spite and selfishness.

It is a moment of love and wonder, and it is unique to just the two of us. When I think of my daughter, I think of many things. At the core of them all, like the shining sun of that afternoon – growing more and more distant as time wears on – is my daughter’s face in that very instant, in all possible universes, the fixed point. Passive, in wonder, curious, beautiful. A moment together. As family.

All my hopes and fears in my life washed away. I was part of her journey now. With the horrible clarity that comes with adulthood, I knew there was a world outside this moment. A world I needed to return to. But for… seconds?… minutes?… could I remain here?

Please?

And she became so powerful at that instant, so immensely fertile with the potential of her future. So full of knowledge to come, of experiences yet to excite her senses, all the love and passion that a young woman can endure, and all the confusion and frustration of a life yet to lead.

Please, let her lead that life without hindrance. May she never have the doubt or pain that some of us have. May she never have a moment of terror; never to be made to feel powerless in the face of disaster, or through someone abusing a position over her, or feel her mind and body betray her. May she constantly bathe in afternoon sunlight, handing me wooden bricks, for no reason at all other than her own private one.

The stillness of the music, the unravelling melody, and the graceful movement of her hand took me away, out of this world. I have so very rarely experienced such a thing. They happen once every few years, and they are fleeting: first kisses; laughing around a campfire; a shared gasp of sexual ecstasy; the glorious sunset as seen from mountaintops and beaches; the first declaration of love; the moment you swagger down the street with your friends like gunslinger rockstar astronauts boarding the spacecraft; the applause of the audience; the entire room howling with laughter at a shared joke; the moment musicians lock together as a team and produce a heavenly sound; a gang of friends joyously diving into water and not caring

There are so few moments of perfection in this difficult life, it is churlish to ignore them. They change and diminish as you get older into something intimate and private – less shared, more personal.

As for me, I’m keeping this moment with Alice in the most precious compartment of my “treasured memory” box. It’s moments like this that is how I want things to be.

Always.

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Conversations With My Daughter #83

Recently, Alice and I went to a nearby helicopter museum. It was one of our Daddy-Daughter Days, and I was bereft of any better ideas. Seeing as we’d never been there before, I thought it was worth a try. Because… well… Helicopters, yeah?

It was raining, so we were going to have our usual picnic in the boot of the car in the car park. As we were leaving Tesco’s, Alice dropped the big one.

“Daddy, what are drugs?”

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Ohhhhhhhhh-kay…*

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This is drugs.

The trip to the helicopter museum isn’t terribly long, about 45 minutes, but in that time I managed to cover drugs, addiction, the drugs trade, the legality debate… and then for some reason, I ended up explaining World War II, the Nazis, Hitler, the Final Solution, the Cold War, 9/11, Al-Qaeda and ISIS.

To be fair, it’s a lot to take in.

So after our conversation and our car-boot picnic, we went into the museum. At the till was a nice old lady volunteer. Alice’s speciality is middle-aged-to-elderly ladies, preferably those who volunteer at tourist attractions. They tend to make a fuss over her – because Alice is bespectacled, curious, chatty, and usually wearing a multitude of rainbow-coloured clothes and a hat – and they pretend to be interested in whatever Alice has to say (and Alice tends to say it in a piercing voice that echoes around the entire museum).

Old lady: “Oooh, you look nice dear. Are you having a lovely day out?”

Alice: “YES! We’re on a DADDY-DAUGHTER DAY and we had A PICNIC!!”

Old lady: “Ooooh, lovely. Was it yummy?”

“YES! And Daddy told me all about DRUGS! And NAZIS!! And HITLER!!!

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[Pause]

Old lady: “…lovely!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conversations With My Daughter #82

In our family we watch the news on a daily basis. We think it’s important that our daughter learns about the wider world, and how the world’s events can have impact on us. We also want her to feel connected with current events, no matter how harsh the reality is. We live in a fluctuating 24-hour news cycle, and we feel Alice should be exposed to it. We do not censor, unless we are warned that the footage will be graphically disturbing.

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The other morning, Alice got really upset as a result of a news story. First, she was silent on hearing the report. And then she burst into great, splashing, heaving sobs over her porridge.

Alice, old fruit, what’s wrong?

[deep shuddering breath]
“I DON’T WANT US TO LEAVE THE E.U.!!”

7-year-old daughter takes notice of, gets affected by, and has opinion on a once-in-a-generation political issue. Parenting win!!