You’re an embarrassment

Both boys have reached the stage where I’m a public embarrassment. It’s not that I dress badly (though I usually do) or speak to supermarket shelves (that’s my husband), it’s just not cool to be seen with your mum.

It’s snuck up on me. One moment I’m smug because they still want to hold my hand. The next they’re flinching because I accidentally walk too close and brush against a sleeve. And I’m apologising.

Yesterday, Teen 2 came with me for an Olympic Torch moment. We filed along the yellow lines at the edge of the road and stared at the people opposite. This is okay, I thought, lots of children here and I watched them curling around their parents, or being hoisted on and off shoulders.

Then I noticed their ages. Babies and toddlers aplenty, but the closer they got to double digits, the smaller the age groups. There was the occasional teenager, eyes darting within a blank face, but they held themselves away from their parents as if they were strangers. Just like Teen 2. Just as I did.

Me:           Anyone you know?
Teen 2:     Couple
Me:           Anyone I know?
Teen 2:     No
Me:           D’you want to say hello
Teen 2:     (silence)

But it’s just for others. At home it’s still hugs and jokes and there’s a mass of lines that curve across his face as he grins. We play cards each night, sometimes Scrabble, parent-child handicaps long abandoned as we try to thrash the other. And as long as we can sprawl across the floor and have a place to reach, I don’t mind what’s shown in public.

Make that call! (Or the bull gets it…)

Make that call!When I was 10 I helped burn a barn. I didn’t start the fire and I wish I could say my assistance was not deliberate, but it was. We lived on a farm and my uncle came running up the track, shouting at me to call the fire brigade. Not only was this years before mobiles, it was in a time when 10 year olds were not allowed to use the phone and definitely were not allowed to dial 999.

Consequently, I sat there for many fire raging minutes, before I found enough courage to phone for help.

So when Teen 1 asks if I will call my friends, to ask if they will act as referees for a job application, I say no. You’d think that now mobiles are as mandatory to teenagers as loud music and crap booze, they’d be comfortable phoning. Apparently not.

Teen 1:    But what would I say
Me:          Er, that you’d like a reference
Teen 1:    But who do I say I am
Me:          I’d go with your own name
Teen 1:    But what if they say who

These are people who not only have known him his entire life, they have also known me the majority of mine. But I guess he’s not quite reached the stage where adults stop being another species and you realise you’re one of them.

Mission accomplished and application submitted he’s all grins. It might not have been a major milestone but it’s important. And at least he should do better in an emergency than his mother.

As for the barn, it wasn’t completely destroyed but some livestock came out singed. I just hope my father remembers I owned up to this, many years ago!

Trusting in anything… as long as it’s not on the road

Two weeks after I started driving I smashed up my parents’ car. I can’t have looked properly as I pulled into the path of another vehicle, driven – I assume sedately – by an elderly couple. Happily no one was hurt and as it was in the days before whiplash fraud, cars were fixed and the incident closed.

I reckon it was the best driving lesson I ever had, but one I hope Teen 1 will avoid. Since passing his test, he is in love with driving and enjoying the taste of independence.  I am keen to encourage this – within the limits of his limited insurance – but worry every time he takes the car.

Compared to many, he spent a long time learning. I enforced the Australian model where you notch up 120 driving hours before taking the test. A few hours were accomplished pain free with an instructor, but generally my stronger-nerves-than-mine father took him out day and night to clock up the hours.  They even braved Central London, though both returned pale.

Since he passed, I’ve accompanied him on motorways a few times, but today is his first motorway solo. Of course one has to relinquish the passenger seat sometime, but it’s hard trusting the other drivers. I’d like to commission a couple of police outriders for him, but even on the coldest day, our blood isn’t remotely blue.

So instead I’m counting on superstitions. Saluted magpies for good luck, blood donations for good karma and visualisation techniques that see him safe. One of them’s got to work!

Do as I say, not as I did

Exam season has sprung again and tempers are flying. Teen 1 alternates between laid back I Know What I’m Doing and stressed out I Can’t Do This I’m Going To Fail. Both are interspersed with the click click click from his BB gun and the small plastic pellets gather on the floor like hailstones.

I storm to his room to shout Stop Playing, to find him splayed out with text book, pen and paper whilst his left hand fiddles unconsciously with the dismembered firing mechanism. He’s doing nothing wrong, but the clicking is worse than dripping taps.

Me:           Do you have to?
Teen 1:     Sor-rrry
Me:           How’s it going?
Teen 1:     S’okay
Me:           Hmm

There’s no more to say and I retreat to Teen 2’s room, this time stealthily so as not to alert him. The swoosh as the door opens accompanies rapid keyboard action, but it is not fast enough to hide the previous screen.

Me:           For goodness sake!
Teen 2:     I was on a break
Me:           From what? You haven’t done anything
Teen 2:     Well, I was just about to…

Teen 2 suffers from mendacity – not an excess of the condition, but an absence. He is as incompetent with lies as some people are with the truth, and lives in a literal world where he can only describe things as they are. This is useful when policing my children’s crimes against each other, but it means he can never hide.

I unleash standard parental invectives in the hope they might result in half an hour’s revision then retire to consider my hypocrisy.

I have a photo of my friends, taken at 16 as they revised for their exams. They are surrounded by books and wear frowns for the camera. The fact I was taking the picture describes my own revision better than any photo. I procrastinated, got distracted, was easily bored and messed around.

And now I envy my sons their exams. I miss learning, miss the pleasurable satisfaction in my stomach when I know I’ve revised enough. I miss the buzz of exams and the camaraderie of comparing your answers afterwards with others.

All I can do now is live this vicariously and share in the excitement that accompanies results and the highs from a good one.

Never mind youth, exams are wasted on the young.

You smell!

Horrified Teen 2 when I told him I sniffed the air in the morning to tell if he was up. Teen 1 was delighted by my acknowledgement of his brother’s pungency and for a while we all collapsed, torn up with laughter at my parental betrayal. To Teen 1’s disappointment, I then explained that it wasn’t Teen 2 I was trying to smell, but the All’s Well aroma from his toast.

From early days we navigate our children by their smells. Whether it’s getting as close as you dare to check nappy needs, or snuggling into the Johnson’s Baby aroma of the freshly bathed, we know all their smells and what they mean.

It doesn’t change with teenagers. Filling a car with adolescent boys at the end of the school day is a windows down experience. After sports is even worse. I try to be subtle and at least I don’t take the roof off like one of my friends. Her boys think it’s cool and don’t realise it’s because they stink.

Back at home I still learn from their smells. The faint tang of shampoo on the landing, means Teen 2 has finally found the shower; a late afternoon attack of Lynx tells me Teen 1 is going out; and a heavy mouthful of breath is a missed teeth clean.

Still the boys don’t have to wait for kitchen smells to know what I’m doing. As I burn the rice – again – the smoke alarm grasses me up.

Don’t bite!

Conversations with Teen 2 are interspersed with me muttering Finger. Which doesn’t sound too bad until I add that a few years ago it was Tongue. The truth seldom fails to disappoint and Finger is to remind him to stop biting his nails, whereas Tongue meant stop licking your nose.

In fairness this is my fault. When the boys were young we used to have can-you-touch-your-nose-with-your-tongue competitions. While Teen 1 quickly bored, Teen 2 adopted this as a stressbuster, welding his tongue upwards in times of concentration. Despite Teen 2’s protestations that habits are lifelong friends and can’t be lost, he is making some progress.

Me:           Just choose one finger to save
Teen 2:     This one. No thumb. No that’s too tempting
Me:           Thumb nails are really useful
Teen 2:     But it’s the first one I notice
Me:           Hmm

For a few days all goes well and nominated finger stops being mauled and loses the struck-by-a-sledgehammer swollen appearance. He even throws in a second finger as a fallback and I’m lavishing praise on his nail-free diet. Then disaster.

Me:           Your nail!
Teen 2:     It had gone before I realised
Me:           And the other?
Teen 2:     Couldn’t help it

And so we continue. Standard strategies have been tried from bribes to threats to horror stories. Currently (at his instigation) I paint his nails with foul fluid which has some benefits as a distraction. It leaves his finger nails shiny so he spends half the time trying to scratch it off (difficult without nails), but this does mean less time for consumption.

Don’t know whether he’ll ever get there, but I know one thing. One day flexibility will stop him from reaching his toe nails…

The Art of the Matter

Blu-tacked to our kitchen table are a saucepan, its lid and a potato masher. They’ve been there ever since Teen 2 chose them as his muse for his latest Art homework. Apparently, the slightest realignment could wreck the tonal creation, and not having the patience of Ms Chevalier’s Girl With A Pearl Earring, I chose blu-tack, rather than measure their exact location.

While I’m not too bothered by the absence of the potato masher, I’m quite keen on recovering the pan and table.

Me:           Will you finish your Art so I can lay the table
Teen 2:     I can’t now, I have to wait till tomorrow
Me:           Why on earth…
Teen 2:     So I get the same light

Teen 2:     I’m off into town
Me:           How about your Art?
Teen 2:     It’s too early, I have to wait till 2 o’clock
Me:           Will you be back by then?
Teen 2:    No
Me:           Teeth clench

Me:           ART!!
Teen 2:     It’s too cloudy today
Me:           I don ‘t care if it’s a total eclipse
Teen 2:     But there’s no reflections

And so we continue.

Art was the first subject I gave up at school, finding it more stressful and difficult than any other lesson. My drawing of a tree is still a five year old’s with two brown lines for the trunk and a green, raspberry shaped outline on top. A picture may be the artistic equivalent of an entire dictionary but for me, words provoke more and linger longer.

I am amazed at Teen 2’s (on-going) culinary masterpiece, but it only makes me think in one direction.

Me:           When are you going to finish this!