In Praise Of Older Children

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I often find myself wishing I could turn back the clock and relive all those early stages with my children. How much easier it would be with the benefit of hindsight, above all with the knowledge that time passes so quickly and, almost in the blink of an eye, your children are no longer cute little bundles but handsome young adults who tower over you. I have loved all the different stages of my children’s lives; I was one of the really lucky ones for whom breastfeeding was a breeze (which is fortunate as I never could get the hang of sterilising bottles), I thrived on lack of sleep, was super organised and an ace at multi-tasking. I adored having lots of little people around me who all thought I was the most wonderful person in the universe. Life was hectic, I was always exhausted but I was happy. It was always so easy to solve my children’s problems and so easy to make them happy. I literally could “kiss them better.” How different it is as your children grow older. My mother always said to me. “the problems don’t go away as they grow older, they just get bigger”  and how right she was! it is so difficult to watch your older children struggle with obstacles and anxieties and to be able to do no more than offer reassurance that you will love them no matter what. And sometimes you have to stand well back and let your children do it their way even though you know from experience that it will all end in tears. Instead of keeping Humpty Dumpty away from the wall you have to figure out a way of putting all the pieces together again.Sometimes you need to adopt a policy of tough love (easy to say,not so easy to do) and leave your child to deals with the problems they have caused, all the time desperately wanting to demolish every obstacle in their path like a giant wrecking ball. Letting go is so very hard but necessary and definitely gets easier with practice (or so people tell me).

I remember when I was a teenager telling my parents to have faith in the way they had brought me up and I often remind myself of that when dealing with my own children. I always told my parents they had done a good job and had instilled good values in me so why were they so worried? Now, of course, I understand perfectly – the worry starts the moment they enter the world and it never abates, just the same as the total all encompassing love that you feel for them no matter what.

So I look at my own children and yes, of course I worry for them, but at the same time I can see that I’ve done a good job and that I’ve succeeded in raising five incredibly well rounded gorgeous boys. They can be infuriating. untidy, lazy and inconsiderate but if I’m honest a hundred times less so than I was at the same age and I wasn’t a difficult teenager. Most of the time they are a joy to be with. They make me laugh every single day, they support one another, they support me, they are interested in one another and always take time to ask me about my day with genuine interest. They behave well at school, are sociable, hospitable when we have guests. Yes, they often need to be reminded to put their dirty dishes in the dishwasher or throw their rubbish in the bin and even after five years still seem totally incapable of understanding the recycling system but they do respond to clear, direct instructions and will pull together if the house is a mess and “I absolutely must have it tidy right now or I will explode!”And sometimes they surprise me by emptying the dishwasher without being asked, bringing the laundry in off the line if it starts to rain, making me a cup of tea because I look as if I need one or by just giving me a hug when it’s all getting too much and I’m on the verge of teas.

The teenage years are tricky ones but also so much fun. I love the discussions about world issues we have over dinner, I love he fact that sometimes my children will tuck me in bed at night when I’m so tired I can’t keep my eyes open any longer. I love the way they put so much thought into birthday and Christmas gifts for me. I love how they introduce me to new music and also how they check my recent downloads to see if there’s something they can “steal”. I love how polite their friends are when they come round for meals and how kind they are to the eleven year old. I love how protective they are of me and how thoughtful they can be about keeping in touch by text when they are away from home or out late. I love how they have the courage to tell me very calmly when I’m in the wrong and also how they are generous enough to admit it  when they’ve been proved wrong.

I would hate to be a teenager in today’s world; there is so much pressure on them from such an early age to perform well, to look good, to be sporty, talented, cool. And all the time they seem to get such a bad press. Yet, for the most part, the teenagers I encounter on a daily basis are incredible:they are confident, caring, polite, enthusiastic young adults who do us all proud. I know that tomorrow I will have to nag my teenagers to make their beds and tidy their rooms but I also know that they will hug me when they leave for school, hug me when they return and when they go to bed, and they will make me smile and laugh many times in between.

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It Wasn’t Me!

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I think we must have sprites living in our house. Every time I go to the loo, there’s either no paper left or just one solitary piece clinging onto the cardboard tube for dear life. Whenever I ask who used the last piece I’m always met with the words, “It wasn’t me.” It’s the same with so many things: who drank the last of the milk, who wee’d all over the floor, who forgot to flush the loo, who failed to feed the cat, who ate all the chocolate (probably me but let’s skirt over that), who left the tap running and flooded the house? And whenever I ask for help tidying away all the day’s clutter, it seems that no-one got anything out. Evidently things just magically made their way out of bedrooms and downstairs. I’m so glad I have angelic children who never do anything wrong but for the life of me I don’t know what to do about these sprites. Sometimes I think it would be a good idea to instal CCTV cameras in all the rooms and then I can catch them in the act but knowing my luck the camera would probably stop working just at the very moment that the misdemeanour happened.

My biggest hope is that some day I can actually go a whole 24 hours without having to nag my children to carry out the simplest of tasks. How difficult is it really to hang up one coat, put away one pair of shoes, remember where you’ve left your PE kit, homework, money, brain? I think I probably have greater problems as I only have sons and they definitely develop a certain tunnel vision at around age 8 or 9 when they seem totally incapable of finding anything (the whole hunter gatherer vision thing) and also can only do one thing at a time except for homework which magically they seem able to do while watching TV, playing on a laptop, eating and texting at the same time.How does that work? Gone are the days when I could make a game out of tidying up and when dusting and vacuuming were exciting things to do-my boys’ favourite toy was a cleaning trolley for heaven’s sake! Now it’s very much my job; they don’t seem to see the mess and seem convinced that they would be depriving me of one of the greatest pleasures in life should they empty the dishwasher or take out the bins. Perhaps they too are convinced that we have sprites in the house who magically appear to do all these jobs; I knew it was a mistake to read them “The Elves and the Shoemaker” so much when they were little.

Oh well, unless someone can come up with a brilliant way of bringing about a radical change in their attitude I guess I will just have to resign myself to the role of chief cook and bottle washer for the foreseeable future. I’ll have to wait patiently until they have their own homes and then take great pleasure in being one of those visitors who allow themselves to be waited on hand and foot. And how about, if I have grandchildren, buying them lots of arts and crafts sets with glitter galore. They do say revenge is a dish best served cold, can’t wait!