Monthly Archives: May 2014

Advice to children aged 13

cake 13One of the pleasures of being a child is seeing your parents adapt and change. From silly games when you are young to full-blown sporting competition as you get older. From cuddles to a respectful decorum.

However, many children notice dramatic changes in their parents around 12-14 years after their own birth. What follows is a short guide to interpreting and managing those changes in your parents.

One of the surest signs that an adult has been a parent for around 13 years are flare ups of erratic, moody and dictatorial behaviour. They tend to occur in one of three circumstances:

  • you are enjoying yourself – this apparently becomes difficult for parents of this vintage to bear
  • you are settled comfortably watching TV or playing a game
  • you have been out of the house with friends.

You may also notice parents becoming awkwardly talkative, particularly at times when you’ve a lot on your mind and don’t want to be discussing your day at school or what you would like to do in the Christmas holidays.

You are likely to experience them being picky and very repetitive about trivial matters such as where in your room clothes are kept, or that you should talk to your siblings. It’s evidence of a wider loss of perspective on their part. Pressing issues such as our world becoming polluted; and which group of friends you should walk to school with, frankly, they just wouldn’t understand, let alone be able to engage with.

There’s also a resentfulness creeping into their behaviour. Accompanying you in the car (but not getting out with you) to the cinema, friend’s house and then shopping centre are somehow inconvenient. Your financial entitlement comes with strings attached. This aspect of parents’ behaviour is often most acutely felt when you put some of their possessions – jewelry, make-up, mobile phone – to good use; certainly much better than anything they would have done with those objects.

It’s not easy, but you should try to understand your parent, who is experiencing major life changes. At its root may be their sudden realisation that they are turning into someone they despised 25-30 years ago (their own parents). They may be trying to ‘spread their wings’ – having had a negligible social life for the last decade or more, squashed by their insistence on following you around since you were young. Many parents have simply lost the social skills to make new friends. Physically, they’re having to cope with changes, too. Hair is thinning or greying, or both. Joints are grinding and muscles becoming inelastic.

All of this is normal and you should take none of it personally. Although, that may be difficult if your parents exhibit the following extreme behaviour.

The very worst of it, which some of you will face, is that around this time some parents begin writing – blogging. And they choose to write about you; well that’s their pretext, but of course they’re just projecting the difficult changes in their life onto you. This is a tricky situation for everyone, particularly as they will be going through a pretence of not wanting you to know what they are doing, when really it’s a cry for help. Opinion is divided over the best response, but there are broadly two options:

  1. troll them into silence; or
  2. crank things up a little so they have a good selection of ‘episodes’ about which they can write.

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Filed under individual development, parenting

Cricket Bags – A Rejoinder

In his blog post ‘Cricket Bags – Good Home Sought’, my cricket obsessed husband posed the question ‘So what is it my wife has against my cricket bag?’

Well, plenty actually. As he shrewdly concludes himself, for both of us The Bag is not just a bag. For him, it is a repository of hopes and dreams. It represents an alternative life of sporting prowess, a belief in the possibility of heroic performance, a call up to the team that might just still happen, a remembrance of magnificent times past, a clinging on to youth.

So what is The Bag to me? It – or they (for my son has his own large bag too) – are firstly irritating and oppressive in the amount of space they take up.   Together, with various accoutrements spilling out of them, they can take up the entire floor space of our front room. They sit there, squat and ugly, bringing to mind sweating men on a train, legs spread wide, flaunting their maleness and laying down their expectation that they can take up as much room as they damned well please. The contrast between The Bag(s) and my daughter’s sporting equipment – a small velour leotard and a tidy drawstring bag of hand guards – could not be greater.

It doesn’t stop with The Bag either. There are the stumps, the helmet that won’t fit into The Bag, the balls that get taken out for a bit of casual tossing in the air (and then get left on the stairs as some sort of perverse assault course), the endless cricket coaching paperwork spilling out over the floor and left on various random surfaces throughout the house, the jumper that been taken off, rained on and then thrown on top of The Bag to slowly rot. Or most of the contents of The Bag, which have been rifled through in some search or other and dumped on the floor next to, but not back into, The Bag . There has been a gradual annexation of the front room, to the extent that I rarely go in it now. It is not just that there is not much room to stand in, but that the computer is usually tuned to BBC Sports or the Bundesliga highlights catch up on iplayer, with a junior male member of the family sprawled in front of it. It has become a male preserve, albeit one with my old Virginia Woolf books on the bookshelf.

The Bag also represents to me my expected role in the proceedings – being the support act. When I look at The Bag I see subservience. I see the washing that needs to be done, the washing that is only done by me. In my son’s case, I am either the bore who has to nag him to extract the dirty clothes for washing, or the inadequate servant who has failed to produce white clothes washed and dried on time.   I feel I am being inadequate generally – as if I should leap at the opportunity to rush up to the club and do a bit of ‘admin’ so that the men/boys can get on with the more interesting stuff. Or should pop on a batch of scones and a fruit loaf so that the men/boys can have something tasty and suitably homely to eat when they troop off the field at tea, exhausted by their sporting efforts. Although I have not been asked to do either of these things and I know that I genuinely could not shoehorn anything else into my week at the moment, I resent the fact that I even feel guilty about failing to want to contribute in this way.   I am not being a proper cricketing wife and mother.

The Bag in this context represents to me the fact that male leisure time is leisure for them and leisurely in nature. A cricket match lasts hours and hours and hours. Watching a test series lasts days and days and distracts one’s husband in the very marital bed itself (headphones, SkyGo and an Ipad are a heady twenty first century combination in the bedroom). Female leisure time includes having to do the washing, or the cooking, or the driving, or the watching – not the participating and none of the glory.

For as long as I have known him, my husband has gone away every August bank holiday weekend with The Bag on ‘cricket tour’, with old university friends and fellow cricket fans. At first, I was wholeheartedly enthusiastic about this tradition and referred to it as ‘cricket tour’ to my own family and friends, who on occasion (I’m looking at you mother) seemed rather confused that an accountant (not his job, but what my mother has believed his job to be for the last 17 years) would be doing on a cricket tour. After child number one, it was still an uncomplicated issue for me. However, after child two and child three put in appearances, it became clear that, due to the increasing age and decreasing fitness of the participants, there was no ‘tour’ at all. Since at least 2001 they have stayed in the same luxurious farmhouse. Since not long after that, they played the same one or two matches against the same local team, meaning precious little cricket and no touring whatsoever. I did not and do not mind my husband having a holiday, which he deserves, but I did find the assertion that they were going ‘on cricket tour’ increasingly hard to stomach when I was staying behind to look after three very small children. The grandiose Bag was part of that (self) delusion for me. Please call it a holiday – and I’ll admit to being jealous at not having an equivalent outlet in my life.

But I’m not all bad (I hope). I am pleased that my husband has a passion for something that engages him on a physical and intellectual level. I am delighted that he has something over which he seems likely to be able to bond with our older son (and possibly younger son) on an ongoing basis. I see the bond which he has with his own father, due in no small measure to their mutual passion for the game. I am very proud of the wonderful job he is doing as a coach for junior teams. If he could just been a teensy bit tidier and find somewhere for The Bag, quite soon, he would be practically perfect.

I agree with him, we need a shed. And as a wise woman said back in the 1920s, I need a Room of My Own.

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Filed under kit and caboodle

Thirteen

messi squaredIt does not seem possible that I am a mother to a teenage boy. But it was indisputably thirteen years ago, on an uncharacteristically hot Bank Holiday Monday in a now unfamiliar city that I then called home, that my body began the slow, agonising process of expelling my first child.

Thirteen’s body is now going through its own changes to expel the boy and embrace the man, albeit in a steady, incremental fashion. Not for him, yet, the spurting growth of many of his peers or the comically large shoes I see in my hall when his friends are visiting. He is still in clothes for children two to three years younger than his age and is anxious about his short stature, asking me nervously, without making eye contact, whether he needs to have injections to make him grow, like his hero, the footballer Lionel Messi.

And yet there are changes afoot. If I catch a glimpse of him unawares, I can see a certain new breadth to his shoulders, weight to his body and length to his jaw. I catch sight of him in a certain light and, just in time, stop myself from reaching out to wipe away a smudge from his upper lip, realising that is the first suggestion of some facial hair.

Thirteen is now aware of things that we have not discussed. Unable to restrain himself, he laughs uproariously at a rude joke in a film we watch together, that I had assumed would go over his head. He tells me, consolingly, that his brother has no idea what he is doing when dancing thrusting his hips in and out in parody of something he, certainly, does not understand. ‘But you do have an idea, do you?’ I ask, faintly horrified and he nods, briefly, smiling reassuringly.

Thirteen, whilst slow to show physical changes, certainly seems to be experiencing the emotional challenges of puberty. He is disorganised, quick to anger and tears and can create an argument out of any seemingly innocuous comment. In the week before his birthday, Thirteen leaves one of his school shoes at a cricket match, shouts at me for not preventing its loss, despite not being at the cricket match, recovers the shoe from a friend at another cricket match later in the week and then promptly leaves it behind again at a new venue. His insouciance at the original loss – ‘we can just get some more’ – and the subsequent loss – ‘it must be fate, you need to buy me some new shoes’ fills me with rage, but also seems vaguely familiar. I recall my father’s rage when, at a similar age, he warned me not to walk up one side of the drive as there was a loose roof tile and my languid response as I shrugged my shoulders with a teenager’s sense of immortality was ‘if it’s going to get me, it will. That’s fate’.

Thirteen is mercurial with his siblings. One minute shouting sarcastically at his sister, chastising her for her shortcomings and irritations, shoving her ‘by accident’ in the way past, the next helping her with her maths homework, patiently cajoling the right answer out of a sobbing, hiccoughing, temporarily more vulnerable person than him. He has the ability to switch into a completely different personality, seemingly at will and can change from sullen and objectionable to compassionate and entertaining – and back again – in the blink of an eye. He is felled, quickly, by embarrassment and his siblings know and, on occasion, exploit this mercilessly. On a recent trip to the country, to fulfil his father’s only expressed birthday wish to go for a walk (possible only with the deployment of threats and bribes), Thirteen was reduced to a shaking, crying rage by his brother and sister mooning by the side of a field. The fact that no one, except possibly some sheep, would have seen anything and that, even if they had, would have merely shrugged and smiled and not thought any the worse of Thirteen because of his younger siblings’ behaviour, was of no consequence to him. His humiliation was complete, his life was (temporarily) over.

I find it difficult not to get drawn into pointless arguments with Thirteen, not to respond to his kneejerk objection to things I say. I am slow to adjust my behaviour and, whilst I can see on one level what the correct parenting technique would be (pick your battles, they would say, don’t waste your energy in this argument about whether he or his brother and sister have more days off school a year), I cannot yet control the impulse to get drawn into the debate with him. Perhaps by the time he is eighteen, or twenty five, or whenever he grows out of disagreeing with me on principle, I may have found the perfect technique for dealing with him. He is already developing the perfect technique for dealing with me: ‘I’m really sorry Mum’ he says, spontaneously hugging me tight one Sunday night, after a tense weekend.Xmas piano ‘What for?’ I ask. ‘Basically everything this weekend’ he replies and I am flooded with happiness at my mature, beautiful boy, who is an overgrown toddler, needing a hug after throwing a tantrum. I want to tell him that I get it; that no one understands being overtaken by hormones and wanting to sob over apparently inconsequential disappointments like a forty something woman.

Thirteen remains intellectually curious and accomplished, a high achiever at school despite very little apparent effort. ‘What’s this?’ is a constant refrain, as he (over)hears snatches of conversation between his parents. He wants to know everything and be in control of everything he can. He strives to make sense of the world and where he is going in it. He is principled and moral – his vegetarianism has lasted four years now and he even eschews, martyr-like, sweets containing gelatine. He remains fixated on sport, both on the field and on the screen. He refuses to read anything I get him for months, then eventually picks up one of the books, becoming immediately obsessed by it and the sequels, devouring two thick books in a weekend and refusing all entreaty to save one for the holiday starting two days later.

Thirteen still lives with his daily disappointments and fears. He has such inchoate fear within him that seems to attach itself to an ever changing target of catastrophes – Ouija boards at school, space, whether any of the chemical from his science lesson could have accidentally got into his mouth during the lesson before lunch, flying on a plane, whether his lost (thrown away?) peanut butter sandwiches could have been found and eaten by someone with a peanut allergy who could then have gone into anaphylactic shock. Scarcely a night goes by when he is not anxious about something at bedtime, claiming that he feels sick and that something is really wrong. Efforts to console him are increasingly difficult. ‘Plane travel is the safest form of transport there is!’ I trill cheerfully to him as he sobs about feeling paralysed with fear about getting on a plane to go on his long-awaited football trip. ‘WHAT ABOUT MALAYSIA AIRLINES FLIGHT MH370’ he yells back and I have no answer. Platitudes do not work with someone who is very clever, very anxious and very determined not to be talked out of it. I try to take him for a trip to buy travel sickness medication. ‘It’s just a placebo Mum’ he announces wearily and walks away: several hours later he cries in despair ‘but why didn’t you buy it for me?’

When Thirteen feels pain or worry, I feel it too, like a punch in the stomach. When he cries to me of his fears about space and whether we could all be swallowed by a black hole, I want to cry too, because I do not understand it either and I cannot make it better for him. Thirteen is having to come to terms with my inadequacies: I can no longer make things up to placate him, I can’t explain ‘space’ when I do not understand it myself and what terrifies him terrifies me too. How to explain to him that I’ve just learned how to compartmentalise, how to dissemble, even to myself, about things. That in the end it’s just too exhausting to worry about every little thing. That he will have to come to terms with accepting that not only does he not know, his mother doesn’t know, most people don’t know but actually most people don’t care and are happier for it. I think, I hope, he will get there in the end. Perhaps Fifteen will be cheerfully checking the stars through a telescope and Eighteen will happily hop on a plane to go on holiday with his friends. And perhaps not.

Thirteen is still connected to me, physically, viscerally. He may have left my body back in 2001, but the cord is pulsing fast and strong, just as the little boy he was pulses in him still, as he starts his adolescence.

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Filed under old head, parenting, young shoulders