My wife told me a good one the other day.
We were talking — again — about the way our kids are so quick to use the “Bad F word”, as the wonderfully batty housekeeper Mrs Doyle put it in the brilliant Fr Ted sit-com.
Our kids use that particular F word, and a few other not so good ones, way too much, especially when they’re “stressed”. Straight to our appalled parent faces. We hate it.
And we were saying — again — how, when we were growing up, we would never have dreamt of swearing like that at our parents, or insulting them so grievously, no matter how angry we were, and no matter how wrong they were.
Just didn’t do it.
Anyway, a woman in work had told A how, the other day, she was giving out to her son — he is around nine — for calling his Dad a dickhead.
“That’s awful,’ she had said to her boy, in suitably appalled parent mode, ‘you can’t say that to your Dad … could you imagine your Dad or me calling your Granddad a dickhead?’
The boy stared at her, his sincerely furrowed brow indicating he was pondering the message his Mom was trying to get across to him.
Eventually he exclaimed:
‘But, but Mom … Granddad isn’t a dickhead!’
Of course we laughed, A and I, and heartily.
But I couldn’t help thinking about the gap between how we expect our kids to behave towards us and others and how they actually do.
And more to the point the gap between what I say to my kids and how I actually behave.
Actually, you can maybe scrub for now the bit about how our kids behave towards others.
Our guys seem to be fine out there in school and all that. They have learned to play the game out in the world of peers and teachers and other people’s parents.
It’s just Mom and Dad who seem to get it in the neck. Boohoo for us.
“Fuck off,” said our 12-year-old boy eventually the other day, when we told him again we didn’t believe he had had a shower, like he insisted he had. And the hair still greasy on him!
“It’s not greasy, it’s soft,” he had said, with that over the top smile that usually gives the game away. But he was in too deep now, and wouldn’t concede.
And eventually he had exploded, slamming the door of the sitting room behind him.
Of course I followed him in and read the usual riot act.
The thing is I swear, A swears — much less than me, of course — so what do we expect, really?
‘They do as we do, not as we say” we often hear, and I am afraid I see that borne out all too regularly when it comes to my kids and myself.
They do and say things I don’t approve of, and I give out in the usual way, letting them know how wrong it is, and how much I disapprove.
But sometimes there a strange kind of déjà vu feeling around the whole business — and it’s not just that they are repeat offenders.
Of course they are, but it’s more than that, something weirdly familiar about their particular bad behaviour or response sometimes. The tone of it. The whole style of it.
And then it hits me: that’s exactly how I react sometimes, that’s pretty much the kind of thing I would say or do.
Or, more easily spotted: that’s exactly how A responds sometimes.
Yes, the penny does drop the odd time: they are actually only imitating how they have seen me react, how A reacts.
I mean really what do we expect, as Mom and Dad, that they would ignore the regular day to day example from their parents and somehow turn out like the Waltons, drippy John Boy or chirpy Erin, or some other perfect PG family that only exists on Netflix?
We do everything in life the way we do everything else. I know that.
Like the other day in work a colleague, with a big grin on his face, asked me how the painting was going at home.
“How did you know?” I laughed, immediately checking high up on the back of my arms, visible under my black T-shirt.
I twisted the skin on the back of my right bicep towards me and sure enough, I had missed a few dark blue blotches when I had showered after finishing off the last garden chair before heading off into work.
How the hell do you get paint on the back of your biceps anyway?
You see, when I am painting like this I set off all resolute and measured … put the old sheet carefully under the item, carefully stir the paint, carefully scrape the stirring stick and put it carefully down on the sheet, and carefully start painting.
And then, pretty soon, I start the splishing and the sploshing.
Yes, I am a splisher and a splosher when it comes to painting. I want to get it done, well, of course, but I want to get it done quickly. Careful is just too careful, too slow, no fun.
So I start to splodge bigger amounts onto the brush and on to the chair leg, less and less precisely, and little, early on, splishes and sploshes appear on the decking outside the edges of the work sheet, as I daub away.
And I am in and out of the kitchen regularly rinsing out the old cloth, and back to clean up the now proliferating — and bigger and bigger — sploshes before they dry.
Of course by the time I am finished there are loads of drips and drops to clean up, and some of them are hard, so I scratch with my thumbnails and get the old wire brush in the shed.
Thing is, if I could be more patient none of this would be necessary. But I can’t seem to help myself. After all these years
I’m just not as patient as I should be. I can be with certain things, but mostly I’m just not.
And lo and behold, our son and daughter aren’t always as patient as they might be either. Especially daughter K.
O is a great man for getting down to work almost immediately on his schoolwork after school. Copped on pretty early that this allowed him to have time to do the things he likes afterwards. He’s a bit minimalistic about it all, but he gets the job done. And well; just no extra energy expended.
But will K ever see the light? Nope. There’s usually a barney eventually trying to get her off her phone — she’s not allowed to even have it, but she’s tough — and she generally does anything and everything to put off starting her homework. It can get really fruity between us sometimes.
Herself and her Controlling Daddy.
I wonder who was just like that when he was her age … could never get down to it, would rather do anything than start bloody homework.
Absolutely. Used to drive my Mom spare.
Another good one to finish.
I was at the automatic check-out at our local Tescos. My items included a packet of Paracetamol and a packet of Neurofen. We have our painkiller preferences chez nous.
Anyway I am scanning the items through and the process stalls … the screen informs me I need assistance.
The woman comes and tells me that under the law, I cannot put through more than one packet of painkillers.
We won’t go through the reasons … you just can’t.
She tells me how it is … and then tells me all I have to do is check in all the other items, pay, and then immediately put through the second painkillers, and pay for them, separately.
Sorted. Good cop and bad cop all in one blue Tesco uniform.
Is this what I am doing with my kids sometimes, telling them what to do, but — maybe unwittingly this time — demonstrating, in practice, what not to do? Good parent and bad parent in one splishy, sploshy, sweary Daddy?
Kids, eh? Parents, eh?
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