My elderly neighbour practically lost her top teeth in surprise to see the kids playing in the garden today: “What, they’re on holiday again?” I had to agree with her – the last holidays seem like yesterday. Or six weeks ago, to be exact. No sooner have I heaved a sigh of relief as my offspring go back to school that they are all on holiday again. For two whole weeks.
Yes, I am an unworthy mother, and I assume it. My nemesis, Wonder Woman, has a neatly packed drawer full of organic recipe books for under-tens and fabulous activity ideas photocopied from her latest copy of Smartypants Parenting Magazine. These rub shoulders with the ecologically sound colouring books made of papyrus and llama spit bought for children whose chemical-free, textile-friendly felt pens never dare to venture the wrong side of the black line. Dressed in fresh white organic cotton clothing that is painfully devoid of ketchup or Nutella stains, WW’s offspring play quietly on the cream carpet whilst she admires them and hums in contentment, sipping from her cup of free-trade green tea like something out of a French electricity board TV advert.
The situation chez MM is slightly different. The only cream colour on our red carpet is the hair that Smelly Dog sheds as fast as I can hoover. I work from home as the jobs come in, so my offspring often have to take initiatives to keep themselves entertained. Nevertheless, I sometimes find them rubbing round my legs like hungry cats meowing for a meal. “I’m bored!” or “There’s nothing to do!” are invariably followed by that all-time classic, “Can I call a friend?”
So a little like the mountain that won’t come to Muhammad, school comes to my kids if they can’t go to school. Little My’s girfriends turn up and each plant three generous kisses on my cheeks before pegging it into her bedroom. Two hours later, they appear out of the pungent haze of nail varnish fumes on their way to the kitchen. Giggling, they raid the fridge and cupboard, trying to spread Nutella on toasted muffins without smearing their freshly painted, smartie-coloured nails.
Rugby-boy’s mates slowly migrate through the door, uneasily flicking the long fringes that hide their spots and feelings from the outside world, and filter the heartache for the girls they secretly admire. I am generously kissed again, and they stomp up the stairs together. A battle of foam darts ensues around the first floor as they resort to their childhood games, safely hidden from the view of the outside world. Teenagers are touchingly fragile; they have one foot firmly anchored in childhood whilst the other gingerly tests the tepid waters of adulthood. They take one step forwards, then two steps back into the familiarity and security of childhood before screaming for independence and lurching forwards again to hesitate on the doorstep of a new phase in life. Every time my children gain in autonomy, half of me glows with satisfaction whilst the other half beats its breast in despair and desperately wants to tempt them back with bags of chocolate buttons.
Chosen Counterpart was next to sidle through the door, blushing ferociously from beneath Bigfoot’s protective arm. Later in the afternoon, I knocked on Bigfoot’s door to give him his clean laundry. Oh, I can see you there, smiling across cyberspace. No, I wasn’t checking if they were up to anything they shouldn’t – God forbid I should be concerned about him being head-over heels in hormone with the daughter of a gendarme. (Anyone who has seen the film called “Le Gendarme de Saint Tropez” with Louis de Funes will understand what I’m getting at.) I just felt an irrepressible urge to give him his clean laundry incase he felt like slipping on two extra sweaters and another pair of jeans. So there.
So I knocked on the door. When Bigfoot said « Come in! », I opened the door to see two faces looking up from his laptop. I was immediately asked to resolve their current dispute. “We’ll ask my Mum, she knows this film by heart!” I glowed at my son’s confidence in my cultural knowledge, and sturdied myself for the name of the film, determined to do him proud. I shouldn’t have bothered. “Mum, did the dodos in The Ice Age shout “Mine! Mine! Mine!” when they were trying to catch the watermelons? She says it was, and I’m sure it’s not”.
As two sparkling pairs of eyes drilled into mine, several things hit me simultaneously: Firstly, the heart-warming realisation that they were still kids, albeit big ones, and we parents should stop being so goddamn suspicious about what they get up to in the privacy of a teenager’s bedroom. Secondly, that I’d love to be able to argue over kids’ films with PF rather than the children’s education, the family budget, or the dramatically reduced frequency with which various important activities occur (I am, of course, referring to the housework). Thirdly, the both satisfying and worrying thought that a woman my age really should not be considered a reference for children’s films, nor should she be frustrated at not having the answer to their question. (This was yet another sign of my blatant Peter Pan syndrome: I have never really grown up, and as such will no doubt follow the family tradition and become a brilliantly eccentric grandmother one day. But not yet, please.)
I told them that the dodo’s didn’t say “Mine! Mine! Mine!”, and popped the clothes into the cupboard, refraining from the temptation of ruffling Bigfoot’s hair and squeezing into the gap between them to watch the film. They found the solution on Youtube: it wasn’t the dodos in the Ice Age that said “Mine! Mine! Mine!” – it was the seagulls in Finding Nemo. Chosen Counterpart beamed up at me with her eyes shining instead of the weary, polite distrust I had perceived on her arrival. I sailed happily out of the door into a battle of foam darts between the Smartie Sisters and the Rugby-boy boy’s band. So smartypants Wonder Woman can keep her politically correct drawers: my kids rock, and we make a great team.
For those of you who still enjoy a little cartoon therapy, here’s the famous “Mine! Mine! Mine!” sequence from Finding Nemo. It’s also a song in Disney’s Pocahontas, but ssshhh…