Monday, 19 May 2008

Supine parental abnegation*

I said there would be parenting, didn't I. It is possible that I may have lied. Perhaps there won't be parenting. There is precious little of it happening presently. I think the CFO would certainly concur that my approach to child raising is fairly, um, relaxed. Take, for instance, table manners. The absence of them.

As is traditional, I blame the parents. Whilst not strictly speaking raised by wolves, I am the child of 1970s academics, and the net result was much the same. More from my fledgling misery memoir on surviving a seventies academic childhood anon. Whilst invaluable in other respects (leaving me with an eye for a pithy placard slogan on any topic, an enduring obsession with beards, and the catchphrase "you're all reified man!") my childhood left me ill-equipped to deal with social conventions, or indeed any social occasion not involving passing out on a beanbag in a haze of secondary pot fumes to the sound of debates on Lacanian theory, campus intrigue and Joni Mitchell. The words 'cutlery' and 'napkin' are for me inextricably bound up with the traumatic single week at nursery aged 4 when I heard (and possibly used) them for the first time. Otherwise, it was more of a 'noble savage' type of experience, but with more M&S ready meals.

Little wonder then that Lashes and Fingers hunch on their chairs in impossibly contorted ways and eat with their fingers. And who am I to tell them different? My own gnarled predatory claws are hovering inches above their plates ready to steal stray fishfingers. They need to work fast. When the CFO isn't around, we don't even bother with a table, or plates, or chairs, or knives and forks, but huddle around a tray on the floor like a brood of baby vultures around a mouse carcass. Often we are simultaneously watching various creatures eat each other on YouTube. It's like the Discovery Channel goes Belgian.

The CFO comes from a French nuclear family of schoolteachers and was brought up on the entrée, plat, dessert school of family mealtimes. His family regularly uses several species of fork, knife and spoon as opposed to battered David Mellor Chinese green. They have esoterica like butter knives, salt in a little dish, dessert forks. Their tablecloths are linen, not Liberty Bauhaus oilcloth. Noone has ever tried to convince him that Lebanese fruit soup is a meal. I am almost certain that noone ever wandered off halfway through the gigot and came back to read them lengthy screeds of beat poetry. I am sure this was part of his appeal. This and our unforgettable first date at a DIY shop.

As a result, however, he despairs of his feral household. He is unimpressed by my assertion that family mealtimes are a Victorian construct. He does not consider my comment that nose-picking may have immunological benefits helpful or supportive. He would very much appreciate it if I could keep my fingers to myself. He frequently returns from a trip abroad to find us constructing elaborate ice cream sculptures or making giant daleks out of cucumber in a kitchen filled with brightly coloured, non-food detritus. I think, just occasionally, he would like a real spouse, not a 70s refusenik with more political convictions than cutlery...

At least, it appears, Lashes and Fingers are getting a basic grounding at school. The phrase 'tu manges comme un cochon' has been uttered too many times by both of them to be a coincidence. Very occasionally, Fingers will ask fastidiously for a serviette. Soon, I hope, I will be an embarassment to them! At least I'll still have the Space Cadette. I can follow the trail of discarded apple cores to whichever commune she's in, and we can share a hunched prehistoric meal of raw cabbage and hula hoops and eat with our mouths open. Thank god for siblings.

* This was another mysterious '70s academic catchphrase, which I have always taken to mean "spinelessly letting your children walk all over you", but I'd be delighted for further enlightenment..