A life without hope is an almost impossible thing to live.
Last night I stroked my 13 years old daughters head for over an hour whilst she struggled to sleep. She just kept saying that she did not know how she was going to survive this latest lock down. Her heart was racing. She felt sick. She is broken by this struggle.
Her world has shrunk into a black hole from which she can see no way out.
There is no point trying to give her hope. She no longer believes in it. She has been promised things for nearly a year that do not happen. She has lost faith in adults and the world.
Her pain is very very real and I am frankly sick of being asked to look on the bright side.
So here in this house we will just live each day at a time. And if necessary each hour.
There is micro level waiting. To enter a supermarket or a bank. For a haircut booked once salons reopened for the first available appointment which was weeks later. For on line packages of clothes much needed after months of growing (upwards or outwards). For the end of a 14 day quarantine period after that trip to France.
There is macro level waiting. For schools to reopen. For a vaccine. For life to return to normal. For a dental appointment. For cancer treatment. For a hug with your mum. For certainty.
And then there is the waiting being imposed on around 700,000 children awaiting c 5 million GCSE results on Thursday.
There is not level to describe this waiting except for that free falling feeling you get when you know someone is going to give you bad news but you don’t yet know what it is.
Or it is like trying to stop your car in vain as it hurtles towards a pile up. In this case that pile up being A level results.
This whole sorry mess is unbelievably stressful for over a million kids.
And it was avoidable. At so many turns.
But yet again this government has shown a total disregard for young people.
And if anyone else tweets about failing their exams I am likely to explode. The clue is there…you failed. These kids have not even had that luxury.
And now the opening of schools maybe threatened by this debacle. Making it more and more likely next years cohort will find themselves in this position.
As a parent of a Year 11 and Year 10 I can honestly say that all those petitions to scrap GCSEs for next year need to be withdrawn.
When I was a kid and I uttered that oft bemoaned phrase
“It’s not fair!” my mum would always reply
”Life ain’t fair!”
How right she was. As one gets older one realises more and more the fundamentally unfair nature of life. The fairness of who gets the last home made orange lolly from the freezer, you or your slightly younger brother, or who has to clear the table after tea begin to pale into insignificance in the face of the total lack of equality between people’s life experiences.
My kids are still at the stage where that ice lolly is the most important thing. Even though they are approaching adulthood (in a long and tedious way which seems to involve two steps forward and 20 back) they are still mostly stuck in their own small world.
And generally what a privileged world that is. However it seems that whilst teenagers are able to rationally understand the general unfairness of the experiences of minorities or refugees or those unfortunate enough to be born in countries torn by war, poverty or famine (or all three) they are simultaneously completely and utterly fixated on their own situation.
And recently we have been playing a lot of the ‘unfairness game’; that is who has been most affected by the current pandemic.
On the face of it none of my children have been particularly impacted by the pandemic. No one we know has even had it let alone been ill or tragically died. Both their parents still have jobs. There has been food on the table. Love and reassurance a plenty. Birthday gifts. A staycation. On line school.
But these things mean nothing to my teenagers. Subconsciously they are probably appreciated although outwardly one would never know. Because these are things they expect. Take for granted. And maybe that is the way it should be.
What they focus on is what they have lost. Exams, school learning, social lives, sport, tours, music, the summer following exams and the adventures planned. Pointing out that they have it better than a lot of others does not help. And it feels like a real loss to them.
And actually it is. These things are not important in the scale of climate change or catastrophe in the Lebanon but they matter to millions of kids.
And I think what they have actually lost most is their sense of security. The sense of continuity. That events will follow a pattern, a time line. And their futures, which seemed mapped out to some extent, are now clouded and unsure even down to whether they will actually go back to school in September or on what basis, or even where.
And all those kids tomorrow and next Thursday getting exam results face an uncertainty no other cohort ever has and I hope (for my next child’s sake) never will. The endless debate and arguing is unsettling and treats these cohorts of children as statistics rather than human beings.
So actually although in real terms the unfairness of their current situation is small, in relative terms it is huge.
There’s this thing at the moment. Indignation. We are becoming (even more) of a nation of people bristling at the audacity of ‘other people’. Social media is awash with despairing posts outlining the latest transgressions of various ‘other people’. I live in a village. People here are incandescent with the outrageous behaviour of ‘other people’. Never before have I seen that little red, cross face appear so often on Facebook posts as in recent weeks.
Now some ‘other people’ are quite rightly deserving of our incandescent, bristling outrage. Dominic Cummings for instance. Spam that little red face all you like.
But before we condemn whole parts of our society of ‘other people’ to our outrage maybe we should stop and think. And to my mind a group of society which often comes up against a disproportionate amount of these outraged feelings are teenagers.
I live with 16 and 14 year old boys. As well as a nearly 13 year old daughter. I know of what I speak…. I will relay to you how many a conversation goes with my teens. It may help you understand,
About 9 weeks ago everything my teens knew and understood of the world collapsed. One can argue that it did for everyone. Old and young. But bear with me here. Overnight (literally) everything in their lives was curtailed. School, education, exams, social life, romantic life, sport, music, hobbies, holidays, clubs etc.
They got on with it. They toed the line. Mine did not leave the village for 8 weeks. Not even to shop as they were too old to be taken to supermarkets as they could be safely left at home. They settled to home schooling.
Now cast your minds back to the summer you were 16. Really try. Think about what you did and where you went. I can only speak of my own experience and maybe I was very different to the norm but I doubt it. Yes I did my O levels. And I went to school. But I also lived outside. I was at home to eat and sleep and that was about it really. I roamed the streets and countryside in a gang of mates. I went to the cinema. I went shopping. I bought illicit alcohol and drank it in the woods. I had a boyfriend and started on a road of (shall we call it) romantic discovery. I was forced on a 2 week holiday with my parents during which I was miserable and probably a complete pain in the arse.
Maybe you did some of these things. Maybe you worked. Or did more wholesome activities. But I can absolutely guarantee you did not spend 8 weeks with your immediate family and only your immediate family. It is not natural. Teenagers need to push against the rules. Explore the world. Expand their horizons.
Is it any surprise, then, that when we release lock down a little these same teenagers want to meet up?
Mine have stuck by the rules. All of them have met one mate at a time outside. Eldest’s friends want to meet up as a four. He asked our opinion on he and his one mate ‘accidentally’ bumping into his two other mates (well not bumping obviously as they would be 2 meters apart) whilst in the park.
And the easy answer is ‘ it is against the rules so not a good idea’. But, and it is a big but, as he said others are also breaking the rules.
This weekend I spent a lot of time in my front garden. Within one day I saw 2 grandparents walking with 2 grand kids. I saw 2 families with at least 2 young kids each walking together. I also know of people meeting in their gardens. I saw three elderly ladies all sitting on a bench together. All of these things are not ‘allowed’. (Unless they all live together in households. They might. It is unlikely but they might. Even so these sorts of things are happening).
And although ‘allowed’ the media pictures of beaches and beauty spots over the bank holiday do not send a message that many are taking their responsibilities particularly seriously. And do not get me started on Cummings again.
Moreover these things are being done by ‘other people’ who should know better. Who are more at risk than my 16 year old. They are in the parts of society he is being asked to protect by drastically altering his life. ‘Other people’ who should be setting an example to the younger elements.
And actually, yes, I do think teenagers and young people are sacrificing the most. My teens are certainly sacrificing more than me. I had my summers in the sun free of responsibility and with my future laid out before me like a glittering prize. Most of us did. They aren’t and may never. Currently they do not even have the basic developed world right to their education. I would happily sacrifice more to allow them a bit more freedom. Because at the end of the day I am at more risk.
So yes there are ‘gangs’ of teenagers out there. There are also daily transgressions by a whole host of ‘other people’. People who should know better. I doubt many are entirely without sin. If you are please feel free to polish your halo. But be honest.
In the end we all agreed that hanging on a bit longer is the way forward. Trying to stick to the rules helps everyone in the long run. However hard and unfair that may feel. But I am not going to condemn others who feel they cannot tolerate it.
Before we cast stones maybe we should actually stop to think and praise our youth for perhaps one of the most altruistic acts of recent memory.
After all they will be paying for it for the rest of their lives.
* I wanted to entitle this blog Plagues of Locusts but thought that might be a little…off. And although what we are facing globally at the moment does feel, well, biblical my Covid 19 PC alarm went off…Voracious Hoards it is…
**This blog is shamelessly middle class. It is intended as a light hearted read. And in no way detracts from the very real hardships that I know are faced by many, many people at the moment.
So here I sit on Day, actually I do not know what day, of lockdown; pondering. All the days currently merge into one. It is a bit like that time between Christmas and New Year but not as fun and with less twinkly lights. It is especially difficult to tell what day it is as my husband has not stopped working 12 hour plus days for about 3 weeks. Yes he is an essential worker. But you won’t be clapping for him on Thursdays because he is (whispers) a banker and so will probably at some point be blamed for the pandemic. So far it is bats, pangolins, the entirety of China. I am sure banks, some of whom are mostly owned by the tax payer (every article you read about banks says that…journalists have it on auto type…they click their £ symbol to type it automatically), will finally be found to blame. As he has hardly left our spare room for 3 weeks (once I had assembled the hastily ordered desk and chair and removed the double bed which now sits on our drive way in pieces, unsold due to lockdown, making us look like weirdos to the not inconsiderable number of people now walking by daily) the days are bleeding into each other. I actually do know it is Friday today because it is Good Friday. And therefore a bank holiday although this year it ain’t.
Anyway as I was saying we are on Day unknown of the lockdown. And mostly during these few weeks I have been focussed on food.
I own 2 teenage boys. Quite what I thought I was doing having 2 sons 18 months apart is beyond me now. And then I thought I would throw in a daughter too.
I can also tell you that teenage boys are basically eating machines. They open the fridge, inhale and £150 of food disappears.
In normal circumstances I can cope. School picks up a meal a day. They take snacks in that resemble complete packed lunches for break time. They eat a cooked meal at school (although the portions are apparently scandalous) . Then I do another cooked meal for tea and then they shovel cereal down until bed time.
When the food shortages hit and were coupled with the request to shop only infrequently I turned into a complete food control freak.
I can now hear the opening of a fridge from 3 rooms away. The rustle of a chocolate bar from the back garden. The clinking of milk bottle on cereal bowl from half way through my walk round the village. I can be heard shouting repeatedly,
“Please take some grapes off the bunch instead of standing at the fridge shovelling in a whole punnet almost absent mindedly”.
“Let that meal register before you eat anything else”.
“What happened to the 18 chocolate bars I bought yesterday?”
“How can you be hungry again.”
“Put your hands up and back away from the biscuit tin, slowly…I said slowly…no sudden moves”
Etc, etc, etc.
I now pack up the snacks they would have taken to school and ban all other snacks from being consumed. In case you think this is unfair Eldest has the following ‘snack’ daily at break time:
Apple, banana, 4 mini sausage rolls, bag of crisps, dried apricots, chocolate bar…I eat less for a pack up.
Yesterday for breakfast he ate; a fried egg and slice of toast, a huge bowl full of fruit with yogurt, a bowl of porridge and a bowl of granola.
He was back in the snack bag in an hour.
I currently spend my life planning, queuing, shopping, cooking and clearing up food. Making other food out of any food leftovers (and here I mean carcasses and bones not actual food). Scouring recipe books for new ideas. Stopping people eating the wrong food on the wrong day. Carrying out fridge patrol. Cooking meals from scratch twice a day which linger on plates for around 5 minutes (except the butter nut squash and quinoa chilli that lingered on plates a lot longer…). Trying to find eggs. Trying to find flour. Trying to find flour and eggs together.
And to make matters worse I detest cooking. I know a lot of you out there are relishing the time to experiment in the kitchen whipping up all sorts of gourmet meals. I am not. Cooking is more of a large scale and unwelcome logistical exercise here. No fun is had I can tell you.
I do like to bake and had vague ideas of working my way through the Mary Berry book I got at Christmas. But I refer you to my earlier comment viz lack of flour. Or eggs. Or both.
To start with I couldn’t even buy my normal weekly food shop due to restrictions. I buy 4 packs of 6 yogurts a week to last a few days. Every time we have beans on toast for lunch we use 4 cans. I am not stock piling buying these amounts of food. But I was not allowed to buy such vast quantities.
Now with restrictions mostly lifted I struggle to physicslly wheel such amounts round the supermarket. I no longer shop on line saving those slots for self isolaters and the vulnerable. I cannot shop weekly, dear government, as I literally cannot fit the amount of food in a trolley or push it whilst maintaining a safe distance in the aisles. If only I could take a teenager to help. But I cant
My food bill has almost doubled. Luckily I am not paying for school meals and my husband is not spending his daily coffee, porridge & sandwich money at London prices so we are probably no worse off.
So if you want to know why supermarket supply cannot keep up with demand that will be all the teenage boys at home eating their way through the stock.
And I really really want to know where all that food that should have gone to schools and works canteens and hotels and bars and restaurants has gone? I don’t care if the beans are in 2kg tins. That would do around one meal here. Send a few dozen my way. Please.
So for those of you not in the know my house is full of hormones. A swirling maelstrom of hormones. A tornado of ‘-ones’ and ‘-ens’ rampaging through our lives for the most part unchecked blundering into feelings and harmony and those envisaged moments of blissful family life such as a quiet board game by the fire or a bracing walk in the countryside with disastrous consequences.
An awful lot of it is testosterone, two thirds of which is emergent and not totally under control or assimilated into shocked bodies. And a third of which is newly prompted into action by the other two thirds. There is a lot of posturing, chest beating, banging of heads and egos and territory marking going on.
There is also some gradually rising oestrogen and some gradually reducing oestrogen as if there is only so much available for our family and Youngest is stealing mine.
It’s a melting pot. On some days I swear the hormones are tangible like some sort of ominous, heavy Victorian smog where beasts lurk around every corner.
I have developed a maxim in order to help me navigate this swirling maelstrom. And that maxim is ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’…
And this basically entails ‘picking my battles’…
So yes it is infuriating that Eldest leaves a bowl every morning in the front room recently bereft of cereal but unable to find its way into the dishwasher. And yes on some days I take a picture of that bowl and Whatsapp it to him at school. With an ironic Smilie. But most days I don’t. For instance if Eldest has a particularly difficult Biology test in period 1 or is recovering from being pummeled physically and metaphorically in a rugby match the previous evening.
I have some non negotiables such as physical violence. I never let that slide. Disrespect to adults. Again a non negotiable. Kindness to siblings and friends. Again important, although not always achieved in the case of siblings- but I pick that battle I go into war over it. Using fingers to eat chips? Yep annoying. But not the end of the world. Not a battle to fight if Youngest is screamingly nervous about a football trial.
I have 3 teenagers/ pre teens. School has, well, several hundred. The melting pot has metamorphosed into a huge crucible on the smelting yard floor. And yet school seems to sweat the small stuff.
Maybe there is a thought process that says small stuff under control means big stuff follows. And they are afraid of anarchy. Or maybe they are all control freaks…
Here is my pet ‘small stuff’ hate. Socks. School is cracking down on socks. Socks must be black under black trousers. All mine wear black trousers including Youngest who will no longer wear a skirt after being told off in Year 7 for wearing a Junior School skirt to Senior school. Another ‘small stuff’ rant I am quite willing and able to have if you have the time? You do? Excellent.
In Junior school skirts are elasticated and flared. They make moving around the playground easy. Especially if one has a penchant for playing football. Youngest had such a skirt. It still fitted (and was within the regulation one inch of her knees). I am eco friendly. And tight. So I did not buy her a new Senior school skirt. Which are straight, have no waist adjustments and prevent ease of movement until they are a darn site higher than the regulation one inch maximum above the knee.
She got into trouble. Which if you know Youngest at all you will know throws her off for days.
I am not sure why Junior school skirts are so frowned upon. It has been suggested it is because they are easier to ‘look up’. Which in turn suggests to me a stern word about the ‘big stuff’ is required with all males in school. But I think it is probably just a ‘small stuff’ battle again. So Youngest is in trousers.
Any way back to socks. The school has a thing about ‘business attire’. I think black socks come under this. I believe this is wrong on a number of levels.
One: not all children (and lets face it we are dealing with children here) aspire to ‘go into business’. What does that even mean? Investment banking? Are we saying that to make it in the world one needs to conform? Really? In an era where employers are crying out for creativity and original, critical and higher level thinking?
Two: business attire is not what it was. My husband works in a traditional business. He now has to hot desk. People wear shorts. He, the epitome of respectability and up tightness, has started wearing chinos and an open collared shirt to work. To be honest it shocked me. But this is how the world is changing. For the better. Otherwise we would all still be wearing bowler hats.
Three: I often see teachers at the school not in ‘business attire’. For instance tie and jacket less in the heat. And before the ‘summer uniform’ rule has been invoked. Shock. If you are going to enforce a banal rule all those in that institution need to up hold that rule. Or it isn’t a rule.
Four: artists should be artists, dramatists should be dramatists, musicians should be musicians. Athletes should be sweaty. Engineers should be oily. Etc. My son is an artist and a musician and a sports player and a biologist and a historian. Only some of those work well in a suit and tie.
Leaving all that aside I can get my head around school uniform. It levels people. It prevents clothing shaming. It is cheaper if you have boys and do not have to fork out £25 per blouse and can bulk buy from Primark.
But I cannot get my head round the plain black socks. It is so not up there in the ‘battles we should be having’ stakes. Socks are an easy way to express ones personality without being too ‘out there’. Socks allow one’s hormonal teenagers a frisson of rebellion without hurting a soul. (Ha ha). Socks are fun. Socks pose no danger to anyone, not in a lab or a workshop or on a pitch. They make excellent stocking fillers. I need those.
So I turn a blind eye to my children’s sock choices. I may go so far as to say something to school if they get into trouble over their socks. I actually buy them fun socks. It’s a thing we have.
So there you have it. I think school should pick its battles. And not sweat those socks. There is enough sweat in all those socks already. And any way have you ever tried matching 3 pairs of almost identical black socks that only vary, slightly but crucially, in size once they have been through the washer? Thought not.
Try to remember back to when you were a teenager, go on try… I know for some of you that will be harder than for others. I was last a teenager nearly 30 years ago but in some ways it seems like yesterday.
My main recollection is that teenagers believe the world has been invented anew just for them. They develop a sense of overwhelming entitlement. No one else matters except their own kind. Everyone else’s ideas are old hat. Many sections of society are totally invisible.
I remember coming home from my first term at University and lecturing my mother on the merits of recycling. I went on for hours about how she should be saving the planet and how her lifestyle was probably single handily depleting the ozone layer. I was living in Sheffield, a city that pioneered the way in recycling and moreover made it easy to do so. I was young and happy to have over flowing carrier bags of tinnies hanging off my kitchen door handles.
I didn’t need to worry about paying the mortgage or holding down a job.
My mother gently pointed out that she had been recycling for years. Using proper milk bottles, returning pop bottles to the store for the deposit as a child, saving newspapers for charity, using proper shopping bags. The fact that my brother and I had until recently scoffed at my dads proper shopping bags escaped me.
None of that mattered to my evangelical teenage self. I knew best in my quiet arrogance. It must have driven her totally mad.
Soon I will be her. Biting my lip as my children expound on ideas and activities that they believe they have invented. I am not sure I will be as patient.
And nothing sums this up better than the disco at my holiday resort.
I may have mentioned before in Baby I Don’t Care that I like to dance. And my husband and I have, accidentally, got into a ‘step’ war on this holiday and so the extra steps from dancing are very welcome. He is losing currently. This is partly because his daily spin class (which does burn an impressive amount of calories) registers precisely zero steps. Whereas my exercise class of choice does. Tough luck matey you need to pick your exercise more wisely.
As a result we are frequenting the disco regularly where we raise the average age by about 25 years. I am maybe being kind to myself here. However my husband is younger than me and there are other ‘grown ups’ dancing too. And now I am past 40 I have lost the ability to age young people. I am assuming most of them are in their late teens and early twenties but I have a horrible sneaking suspicion that a lot of them are not old enough to drink. I base this partially on the fact that a lot of them are still wearing braces. It is difficult to age them partly as the place is full of Germans who are just a huge, tall, hulking race on the whole. With huge, tall, hulking off spring. As my own teenage son is five foot nine at 13 the whole height thing is perhaps not the best barometer of age anyway.
So my husband and I are sharing the dance floor with a whole load of teenagers to whom we are invisible, who think they own the place and who think they invented dancing. Here are my observations to date:-
Modern dance music is too slow. On the whole. I like to shake my stuff like a mad thing. That is why I like 90s dance music. The stuff my husband and I were out clubbing to before my fellow dancers were even born. I just worked that out. Frightening.
Modern dance music samples proper dance music. So just when you think the DJ has finally decided to play a proper track it morphs back into something too slow again.
This is the reason teenagers can dance in hoodies. In thirty degree heat. Bizarre.
Teenagers still dance in large circles taking up all the dance floor. Around, well nothing, just a gap in the middle. Occasionally a teenager will get in the middle of the circle and I expect something special to happen like break dancing but they just take yet another selfie and then post it. Whilst dancing.
If they are not shuffling slowly in a circle then they jumping up and down arythmically ‘to’ the music. Ignoring anyone over the age of 20 in their vicinity. Husband went all north eastern yesterday and nearly lamped a lad who had jumped on him one too many times. The guy was probably a minor so it wouldn’t have been the best idea. We left shortly afterwards. See? That invisibility thing again.
It seems perfectly acceptable to just stand motionless on the dance floor. The other night a girl just stood there stock still for about half and hour next to her friend who, to be fair, was at least shuffling. Getting in the way. I have grudging admiration for her staying power. But did let out a little cheer when she finally left.
The hair. Oh my god the hair. The swishing and the flicking. They all have long swishy hair. That they like to flick in what I assume is supposed to be a sexy fashion. I don’t find it attractive to have someone else’s hair in my face. Sorry.
They believe that the rules do not apply to them. After yet another glass got smashed on the dance floor the other night the beautiful Bulgarian entertainment manager lost his rag. He turned off the music and put on the lights and said, and I quote, “I am going to ask you,very very politely for the 175th time to please, please, please not to bring glasses onto the dance floor. And I am especially talking to you and you and you” whilst pointing out the bunch of teenagers who were until a few seconds previously shuffling in a circle with a phone in one hand and a cocktail in the other. The Bulgarian was quite annoyed. I clapped after he had finished. The bar staff should probably do a braces check before serving their very strong cocktails.
They are slow on the up take. It takes around half an hour after the disco starts for them to roll up from wherever they have been holed up surfing social media. This is the best time to dance. Before they descend in their herds and take over every available square inch for their shuffling and jumping and circling and rule avoiding even if it was the one square inch you had carved out for yourself amid the entertainment team some of whom believe the wearing of wings is a good idea on the minuscule dance floor.
They don’t smoke. For which I am grateful.
When we came here in October there was an 80/90s night. Which was blissfully teenager free. It is not on the schedule this time although tonight’s theatre show is entitled “Totally 80s” and so a little part of me is hoping for some like minded music at the subsequent disco.
Then I can request “Lady” and do my totally nuts club dancing without bumping into anyone with flicky hair, braces and a surfeit of hormones taking a selfie.
A girl can dream..
* I deliberately spelt youth wrong…it’s an in joke…some of ya might get it…some won’t…. but I don’t want anyone to think I am unable to spell…
* I love a bit of Transvision Vamp…it’s my age…don’t ya know…
Time for another pondering about teenagers. You may remember from Early to bed, Early to rise that I am the ‘proud’ owner of precisely one teenager and that there are many things that are frankly irritating about such ownership.
Today we shall be examining one of these irritating things- self consciousness.
I have always been an embarrassing parent. Apparently. When my children were small they actually liked the fact that I was embarrassing, actually they didn’t call it embarrassing when I was dancing like a mad thing to ‘I am the music man’ at the kiddie disco on holiday. Every night. Or doing karaoke. Or enjoying the slides at an aqua park by running full pelt up the steps to get to the front of the queue dragging them behind by their hands. Or whooping the loudest at Christmas shows and summer concerts. Or enjoying scrambling over cargo nets at soft play centres or indeed in the tops of trees at high rope courses. Or screaming loud encouragement from the touchlines. Or putting love notes in their lunch boxes. They called it fun. Over the years this has gradually changed from fun to ambivalence to down right embarrassment.
So really this blog isn’t about my teenager’s self consciousness but his mum consciousness…
it is a shame really that he is hitting the peak of his social embarrassment right when I am hitting the peak of not giving a flying fuck about what people think of me. Quite literally I don’t care. At all.
Obviously I don’t want people to think I am a bad person. I am careful about things that matter. Such as manners and respect and friendship. But for the trivial stuff I just don’t care.
I don’t actually remember being embarrassed about my parents. Maybe they weren’t that embarrassing. Certainly my mother and father were not into disco dancing or shouting from the sidelines or whooping.
However I do remember being self conscious. Hiding myself under layers of clothing. Crossing the road to avoid other teenagers. Standing in the gloom at school discos. But then I was an awkward teenager. Not cool, not popular, not sporty, put firmly in the academic geek pigeon hole with the added quirkiness of double bass playing.
This is not something any of my children are. They are bright, certainly, but also popular and sporty and empathic and good friends and musical and general all round good eggs. And anyway geekiness is no longer a bad thing.
I can’t really remember when my self consciousness disapperared. I certainly had some in my twenties at university and during my career. Maybe it was around the time that I had kids. When all dignity and modesty was lost during the physical process of birth. It was maybe a realisation that if I was strong enough to build three human beings and bring them into the world it shouldn’t really matter if I have varicose veins.
And so I stopped worrying about stuff. I bought shorts for the first time in years. It was liberating and still is. I will dance first at discos. Sing first at karaokes. Join in stupid pool games. Whoop.
I have always hoped that I had instilled this ‘don’t care’ attitude in my offspring. Yet still Eldest is acutely self conscious. It is probably an age thing. I do remember and so I do feel for him I really do.
But not enough to stop dancing to Hewy Lewis and the News in the front of a four by four jeep with Paco our Spanish driver on yesterday’s safari. Whilst being filmed for the DVD. We didn’t buy the DVD by the way although lots of my fellow travellers did. Sorry guys…
Eldest actually tried to hold my arms down. I have discovered that I am much stronger than him when the Power of Love is playing.
He will have to suck it up. I am not for changing. Life is short. I want to dance. And sing. And whoop.
There are many unnerving and frankly annoying things about owning teenagers. And I speak here as a mere amateur as I currently only own one teenager who is at the very early stages to boot.
I can only imagine it will get worse. Watch this space…
But perhaps the issue I am currently finding it the most hard to adjust to is the fact that he never goes to bed. And then won’t wake up in the morning.
This is somewhat of a departure from the norm. If I had written this blog anytime up until about a year ago I would be bemoaning the fact that Eldest woke up every day at 5.30am. In fact this was the pattern of his childhood years. He always believed that morning began at this ungodly hour and could not be persuaded otherwise. Despite trying all sorts. Clocks with pop up ears. Black out blinds. Baby whispering. Lavender. Etc.
When he was in a cot we used to ignore him by means of putting pillows over our heads. But even so we had to resign ourselves to the day beginning at 6am when his clamouring became too insistent to ignore.
Once he was in a bed (shortly after Middlest was born) all hell broke loose on a daily basis as he rampaged around the house waking his brother and demanding attention. In the end I put a stair gate on his bedroom door to contain him until a time I considered to be morning. Basically anything starting with a six.
So for many years my day began at 6am. Even when he started school and got more biddable he still woke early but was able to keep himself amused until getting up time of 7am. But I was still awake because as every mother knows once the child is awake so is the mother. Even Saturday and Sundays began at this hour although husband and I would take it in turns ensuring one of us got a lie in until around 8am.
Even as an older child on holiday having been allowed to stay up late to attend the disco or karaoke he would still awaken bang on time at 5.30am. Maybe after a week of such late nights his body clock may have shifted a little bit but generally he would just get tireder and tireder until he was begging to go to bed at his usual hour.
For the flip side to this early rising was the fact that for those many years all my kids were in bed asleep by 7pm. The bedtime routine began straight after tea with bath and milk and TV (I have very fond memories of In the Night Garden; how I miss Makka Pakka and his OCD stone piling) and stories (often the same one for weeks at a time- The Little Red Train being one of them) and then straight to sleep. This gave me around 3 hours of solitude. At least two of which I could spend how I liked once chores were accomplished. And yes I had to brush their teeth and wipe their bums and dry their little bodies and tuck them in. But all that could be achieved in the knowledge of the peace and solitude that awaited me downstairs. Oh and the sole custody of the remote control. And possibly some Salt and Vinegar Kettle Chips. Once I had started on tea it felt like I was on a downwards slide towards those three hours and how I craved them.
Times have certainly changed.
So for instance tonight I am writing this on my I pad upstairs in my bedroom.
Eldest has commandeered the front ‘adult’ room to carry on with his Arrow binge watch. Youngest had on some American teen rubbish in the family room and so I had retreated to the garden to enjoy the sun. Then Middlest and Youngest decided to come outside to boot a ball around in my general vicinity, Middlest having stopped browsing for new hockey sticks for long enough to be persuaded outside by his sister. So I retreated back inside only to have the teen rubbish put back on once the ball had been booted over next door’s fence for the billionth time.
So I have come up here. For a bit of peace.
I am lucky if I have them all dispatched to bed by 9pm and then Eldest rather begrudgingly so. I know eventually he will be going up later than me. But I am still in mourning for those three hour evenings. I can’t quite let them go. And so I still force him up ‘early’ so I can have the one hour that still remains to me. Which often turns into more than that. Which is a pretty bad idea as our day still begins at 6am. For totally logistical reasons.
And now waking him up that early is almost impossible. Sigh.
So to all those parents of young ‘early risers’ and ‘early to bed’ers enjoy it while it lasts. Enjoy those evenings. For they don’t last forever.
Sorry for the radio silence. School holidays an’ all you know?
So here is a thing about Eldest. Well here are several things.
He is 12. A fact I find more startling than all the others. Somehow, somewhere, sometime he has morphed from my little baby to, well, nearly a teenager, and that brings me to…
His feet are bigger than mine.
He is taller than me. Already.
Well actually to be pedantic he is taller than me when we stand up. But shorter than me when we sit down. To preserve my own sense of pride I would therefore prefer to remain forever seated in his presence, this, however, is not really all that practical.
We are made differently. I have always been what my mother describes as long waisted. My top half (which clearly isn’t a half, again being pedantic) is longer than my bottom half. In other words I have stumpy legs. Luckily all the men I have been with haven’t been leg men. Although come to think of it they wouldn’t have been would they? Trousers are always too long. Tops conversely are often too short and ride up in a way that was probably faintly attractive (she muses hopefully) when I was young but is probably now erring towards faintly disturbing.
Eldest on the other hand is all leg. He has amazing legs. He dressed in drag for a murder mystery role play event at Scouts a few months back and wore wedge heels and I was actually jealous. Of his legs.
So when we sit my long body wins the day but when standing his legs that go on forever hold the sway.
And they do not appear to be slowing down any. At the beginning of this year he had three pairs of jeans that fitted. He is now down to one as the others have risen dangerously above ankle height, giving him a distinctly French appearance.
It doesn’t much matter in the summer when he lives in slobby shorts, length less critical as anywhere from above knee to mid thigh will suffice. But Autumn is approaching. The nights are drawing in. Soon school will be starting with the onset of mufti days. And so more jeans are required.
Today Youngest and daddy are at Cub camp together enjoying such delights as pizza making and inflatable obstacle courses (from what I can gather not simultaneously but you never know) and so Eldest, Middlest and I decided to go clothes shopping.
To be honest I wasn’t looking forward to it. For many reasons. Firstly Eldest has a pathological fear of me asking shop assistants for help. In fact if a shop assistant comes near him he will just leave. Which is slightly problematic. I blame his father who also has a pathological fear of impinging in any way on another human being he is not related or married to. Despite the fact it is their job. It is an extreme version of that ‘men will not stop to ask for directions’ thing. It is a little…annoying.
He also takes ages to get dressed and undressed and is paranoid someone will see him naked (well in underpants and a t shirt which is considerably more than he wears swimming a fact which appears to make no difference to him) through the closed changing room door. And so loathes trying things on.
He is long legged. As I may have mentioned. They are at least 31 inches long but he is also very, very slim. The sort of pre teenage look that some lads get. His waist is 26 inches. Max. Most men would dream of a figure like his. Unfortunately clothes shops do not.
He is too big for children’s clothes. And too small for men’s clothes. Last time we went looking, which was scarily only a few months ago (I am going to have to stop feeding him), I even ventured into those dark, intimidating looking clothes shops in the hope they would come up trumps for my adolescent. But despite appearances they too did not cater for his size.
Next do jeans up to age 16 but only on line. That’s helpful. Not. Once you get above their size ‘age 12’ you can no longer try stuff on in their stores without ordering it first. Really. Why is that? Stupid stupid stupid. I could have brought a three year old Eldest in any day to try on clothes. Getting my 12 year old to do it is more difficult. And he has less time. And less inclination. And is more fussy. And is less biddable. (Yes any mums of toddlers out there reading this, toddler years are hard but here’s a note to the wise it don’t get any easier, they just get taller and less amenable (yes less) and stay up later so you cannot sigh with relief over a glass of wine/ cup of tea until it is nearly your own bed time). So it would actually be more useful if they didn’t stock hundreds of baby grows with cute slogans on them such as ‘Worlds Best Dribbler’ which all babies regardless of size fit into and used those precious racks for size ‘age 15’ jeans. Order your baby grows on line people. I beg you.
And then even his current Next jeans which still vaguely fit are not a great fit. The length is fine. But the waist is miles too big. My kids all have this issue. Because they are what I consider normal. And by that I mean not fat. Which is apparently the new normal. In order to get a trouser length to fit them I have to pull on those adjustable waist straps until the buttons are straining. And until there is about half a meter of denim bunched up uncomfortably about the child’s waist. Not a great look.
Historically BHS has also come up with the goods clothes wise. But since Philip Green drove it into the ground (allegedly) my one fail safe store is now closed. And incidentally we also really loved their cafe which had flock wallpaper and cheap yet tasty meals. Sad.
So anyway after a long lie in (which was more harmonious than usual as the boys could have a TV each) during which I metaphorically girded my loins we ventured to our local shopping emporium. Heart in mouth. First we tried H&M. Someone had mentioned that they did teenage clothes. And they do do up to a size 14. So we tried on a few pairs of jeans that didn’t immediately make Eldest want to vomit. They were all too short and too big round the waist.
We then stopped off in Schuh as he also needed some more trainers for home use. During our mammoth school shoe/ trainer/ boot/ Astros expedition of a few weeks earlier I had run out of the will to live in Sports Direct and told Eldest he was just going to have to wear his (size 10 extremely expensive Nike) Astros for home use as well as hockey. So we could leave with some of my sanity still in tact. This was a mistake. He has worn them for rugby pre season training a couple of times (the ground being too parched for studs) and so they already smell like, well, a teenager’s sport shoes. Not good.
He had his eyes on some Vans. Which are apparently a type of shoe which someone my age would never have heard of. He was right. I hadn’t. Anyway the assistant in Schuh seemed initially helpful and fetched both a black and white pair of size 8s, the 9s on display making his feet look like flippers. The eagle eyed amongst you will have noted the discrepancy between the size of these shoes and those very expensive Nike Astros. Size 10. I would like to say the difference is all sock choice. But it isn’t. Some brands come up small. Some don’t. For the love of god could we not all just standardise?
We tried on the black pair. I felt around his feet, my summer holiday job in John Lewis c 1989 fitting kids shoes kicking in on some sub conscious level, for the quality of fit. The right shoe seemed snug. But then his right foot is a half size bigger than his left. The assistant confirmed that the 8 1/2 would be a better fit and allow some growing room. If only they came in half sizes. Which they don’t. But the nine, as we already knew, was too big. He had his heart set on them. And was offering to pay over half the cost. So I relented. We paid. And left.
Just outside the shop that sub conscious shoe fitter’s training kicked in again and I stopped to double check the sizes of both shoes. Which was mandatory for any trained shoe fitter before allowing a customer to leave the store. Sure enough the right shoe was actually a size 7. It all made sense now. We returned and swapped the shoe. The assistant didn’t bat an eyelid or apologise. Almost as if this happened all the time. Which taking into account their lax fitting technique it probably does.
Shoes purchased there was no putting it off any longer. We had to go into some more clothes shops. A few more men’s shops failed to come up trumps. As expected.
I then persuaded Eldest to try the Levi store. Surely of all their myriad, confusing style and size combos one would fit sonny long legs. The boys maintain that I only like Levi’s because of that ad with the man stripping down to his under crackers next to a washing machine, and I cannot deny that that advert did leave a lasting impression on my younger impressionable brain, but it isn’t the only reason. (Nick Kamen if I remember correctly which I probably do…photographically…)
As soon as we entered the store an assistant asked if he could help. With one arm restraining Eldest from bolting I used the other to point out his longer than life legs and slim waist and basically said ‘I need jeans for that’.
He was a great help. We ended up with two pairs of ‘extreme skinny’ jeans size 28/32 in black and stonewashed denim. I have to resist the urge to shudder gently at the stone wash which has far too many 80s connotations for me. But apparently they are back. The price was eye watering. But I was happy to pay it to avoid anymore traipsing.
The whole process had only taken an hour and a half. Remarkably. We rewarded ourselves with stuffed crust pizza. And decided it was a good idea he had gone for the 28s rather than the 27s. To allow for such excess.