Monday, 20 October 2008

Too normal

As I was grimly fishing myself out of a capsized rubber ring yesterday and picking my acrylic hair off the bottom of the pool, while Fingers clung shrieking to my neck and Lashes was being fished out of a 'fun' whirlpool for the fourth time by a pissed off lifeguard, it struck me that my children have a WAY too normal childhood.

Seriously. Over the last few weekends, we've been to the 'family fun' pool (stretching the definition, I think) twice, to the wildlife park and bowling. I have glue ear, a sore shoulder and a new found respect for the capybara. It's not that I don't enjoy it. Seeing a grimly determined child 80cm off the ground refuse all help and wrestle a bowling ball is its own reward. But it's a far cry from my own childhood. As the child of a non-driving single academic in '70s York, this kind of thing was totally foreign. Prog Rock step dad brought me some of my school notebooks and they are full of inappropriate anecdotes about what I did at the weekend, often involving sitting in pubs and eating crisps, going to conferences, and mystery trips to stay with various bearded academics in their lairs.

I did occasionally go on outings with the after school deprived kids club, I suppose. I was a member of the deprived kids club (a terrifying new build bunker smelling of builders' dust and wee) due to my 'child of broken home' status, and presumably also because it allowed my mother the odd hour to work on her thesis. I lived in permanent fear of getting my head kicked in, but at least we did 'proper' trips. I definitely remember a coach trip to Mother Shipton's cave* where they dumped us all in a forest for a few hours and left us to fend for ourselves, and there was the trip to Bradford ice rink where I fractured my cocyx. Most exciting of all, I once got my picture in the Yorkshire Evening Press sitting next to the pantomime dame at the deprived kids Christmas party. My mother was mortified, but I had won the deprived kids raffle fair and square, and the fact that my only deprivation was not being allowed a pony was, to me, neither here nor there.

Anyway, this was the exception. Most of my 'leisure' time was spent:

i) At gatherings of junior academics (my mother's stoner colleagues). Mud everywhere, cheap wine, horrible food and terrifyingly rude, filthy children initiating me into their evil ways. Just possibly it might have been the other way round.

ii) In the hideous depths of the Yorkshire countryside walking up vertical bogs with only a packet of Rolos for sustenance.

iii) Lurking in my bedroom reading PG Wodehouse and pretending to be a horse.

Even when the Space Cadette was born and Prog Rock step dad moved in, we weren't big on family fun days out. Brisk walks, certainly; the odd garden centre too. But there was no way Prog Rock Step Dad or my mother would have taken us to Flamingo Land and Macdonalds. They would have been more likely to take flight.

I raised this with the CFO as we sat in the cactus-filled gloom of Chico's Mexican Cantina, overlooking Mini-Europe as I toyed with my vegetarian fajita (an audacious mix of frozen mixed veg - broccoli, cauliflower and crinkle cut carrots) and wrestled with temporary deafness.

"These children have way too much fun. Not only are we a nuclear family, but we take them to child friendly venues for child-centred activities. How are they ever going to grow up interestingly fucked up? Did your parents do this kind of 'fun' activity with you?"

The CFO considered the question at length, toying with a Dorito.

"We went ice skating a lot. But we had to skate for a full hour before they let us have a hot chocolate. And sometimes, for an extra-special treat we went to Flunch. There's nothing wrong with having a stable childhood is there? "

"Hmm. You're hardly qualified to judge anyway. Your parents are in their mid sixties and they still HOLD HANDS in the street. Anyway, I'm not actually proposing we split up. Just, maybe we shouldn't do so much, you know, stuff with them. Boredom is supposed to be good for children. All the papers say so. And stuff."

The CFO cast a jaundiced glance over at Fingers, intently emptying the pepper into my handbag, as Lashes squeezed ketchup sachets into his water glass.

"I absolutely agree in principle. But whenever we actually try it, they drive us fucking crazy within minutes"

"Or" he said, getting into his stride "You get sucked into some ridiculous project that causes untold mess and devastation"

I was about to protest but then I thought about this.

And this.

Or even this

"Hmm. Ok, not boredom then. "

Any ideas?

* For those of you unfortunate enough not to have visited this haut lieu of Yorkshire tourism, it's a grotto which petrifies stuff. Unmissable!


Mr Farty said...

Wow! Untold mess and devastation! Cool!


Visit to Hadrian's Wall? I enjoyed that. You get to root around in the clay pottery shards and that.

blogthatmama said...

I've been living in Yorkshire for 7years and I've never been. I'm never going to go now after reading that...

katyboo1 said...

I read an article on this in the Times. Apparently it is the British school of benign neglect as oppose to the American school of fiercely interactive parenting. I tend to ricochet between the two, but only as you say because having the children idly round the house for prolonged periods of time sends me mentalist.

My mother went for the 'go and play amongst the grain silos with the boy who smells of wee while I have a fag and listen to Radio Four and cry because your father refuses to buy us central heating on the grounds that it isn't a bargain' parenting technique and I still have all my own teeth.

Fat Controller said...

So you went to gatherings of junior academics as well! I met an 11 year-old Ben Elton at one in Guildford. His dad was a colleague of my dad. My one claim to fame.

Isn't Mother Shipton's cave owned by that annoying little tit, Paul Daniels?

Jaywalker said...

Mr F - I LOVE your annotated brochures. Go and look at Mr Farty's brochures people. Also, I don't want them to have fun, I want them to have terrible childhood stories of deprivation so they can be interesting and complex in later life. I feel it is my duty.

BTM - That's probably a wise decision. I've added a link now so you can confirm you decision. As you have divined, when I say "unmissable" I mean "to be avoided at all costs".

Katyboo - You see, the grain silo approach is the one I aspire to, but every time I end up picking playdoh off my jumper and crying. Why? Why can I not achieve benign neglect?

FC - Yes indeed! Yet another reason to hurry down there! Maybe he will petrify Debbie McGee one day.

Welsh Girl said...

You were allowed a packet of rolos????? You weren't deprived, you were lucky! I never even saw a real rolo as a child. Sigh.

peevish said...

As the former child of a single parent (except when she'd give marriage a go every now and then with some odd man, and then toss him out again), my brother and I spent waaay too much time unsupervised. Sure we learned things on our own, like where the apartment building maintenance man kept his Playboy magazines and how to forge our temporary step-dads' signatures so we could skip school, but all in all I'd have preferred something more stable. And it was kind of interesting to learn how to drive each successive step-dad crazy.

And am I the only one who wants to see Mother Shipton's cave? She was born in a cave! I wish I had been born in a cave! Just think, for the rest of your life you could accomplish almost nothing but still boast about living in a hovel by saying "Yes, but I was born in a CAVE! so I've moved up a notch."

Jaywalker said...

The Eurospawn and I are in Yorkshire next week Peevish - would you like us to go there and petrify something for you?!

peevish said...

Yes, please! I'd love for you to carve my likeness out of fondant or marzipan and leave it in the cave to petrify. If that isn't too much trouble.

Jaywalker said...

Perfect! You know how much we like a project. If we don't get to the cave, is it alright if we petrify it ourselves?

bonnie-ann black said...

my childhood was a combustible combination of benign neglect by mother, and fun family outings with both parents. my parents were and still are (sorry jaywalker) madly in love with each other, but since they met when they were like 13 and 15, a lot of their emotional expressions never moved out of their teenage years. making for some interesting marital arguments.

my mother was mostly at home. she hated housework, and spent most of her spare time reading. she kept an ice cold face flannel next to her and if one of us (there were 8 children and numerous cousins running around) interrupted her reading, she'd wash you with the cold cloth. you quickly learned to interrupt only when there was blood or broken bones(it did have, however, the interesting side effect of making pretty much all of us into "readers" figuring, if she hated interruption that much, books mustd be pretty awesome). notes home from school, advising or asking her to join some sort of parental activity were quickly tossed into the trash. her idea of comforting you when you were sick was to share the toilet with you to throw up.

my father was the more traditional parent... he spent time with us, taught us how to repair things, and we took trips to the zoo, the parks and camping. my mother was always a willing and eager participant in these activites but never initiated them.

we were allowed to play outside on the streets with our friends until dark... and in the summertime, we spent 2 months in the country where the only rule was to come home for dinner.

i really feel we got the best of both worlds and we're all a little screwed up, of course but each of us in totally different ways. that could also be because there were so many of us (in addition to the cousins, we had my granny living with us and a series of foster children) we each got to be a bit nuts in our own way.

the ironed curtain said...

Funny. First I must comment on the vegetarian fajitas: as a vegetarian, this is usually what I end up getting at the Mexican restaurant and I am always gravely disappointed and not a little disgusted at the fact that they fill the fajitas with some No Name brand of frozen mixed vegetables which always includes the crinkle cut carrots and they ruin the meal. The only consolation is the 2 or 3 Coronas I wash the meal down with – though no longer as I am harboring another fetus and must abstain.

As for childhood activities: my parents never did anything with us, and my mother stayed home for many years so she had every opportunity. My brother and I filled our days home from school playing video games and eating junk. Once an attempt was made one summer to send us to camp. This only lasted a few weeks and we were allowed to quit after one of the councilors showed up drunk one day. Eventually I occupied my time with cigarette smoking and rum and cokes that I snuck from the bar downstairs in our house. I was 13.

My brother and I now refer to our parents as “those fucking assholes who are lucky that we turned out the way we did despite the shit job they did as parents”.

I recommend doing things with the kids. In the end, it’s better than sitting around the house with them while they drive you mad.

Jaywalker said...

Bonnie Ann - The ice cold washcloth is pure genius. I am employing forthwith.

Ironed - What the fuck is it with the frozen mixed veg fajitas? I thought this must be a Belgian atrocity but I'm disturbed to hear it's wider spread.

completely alienne said...

"vertical bogs"? Isn't that an oxymoron? I need to see one of those.

We didn't do anything in the way of family orientated outings that cost money, apart from a week in Broadstairs every summer and a week's runaround ticket when my mother took us on day trips (Herne Bay, Whitstable etc - we worked our way down that railway line back to Broadstairs). Instead we either ran round the streets until we were hungry (this was the 60s so next to no cars and no one had thought of ASBOs) or did free family visits. There was one aunt who had daughters older than us who used to pass on their hand-me-downs. That was really exciting(seriously). Another aunt's children used to lock all their toys away in cupboards before we got there. Funny, two of them are ministers now, one is a lay preacher and the other is married to a minister! And then there were the long bus rides to my grandparents' house, where we were force fed cakes and ran wild in the woods at the bottom of their garden.

Looking back it was a pretty good childhood really - the best things in life are free. I think your untold mess and devastation sounds great.

Jaywalker said...

Most of North Yorkshire is a vertical bog Completely Alienne. Just, avoid at all costs.

bonnie-ann black said...

jaywalker, i confess to employing the cold wash cloth routine myself (as did at least one of my sisters) when the nephews were living with me. and they're both readers... i imagine at some point there will be a hideous counter-reaction and some one of our descendents will be a book burner straight out of Munich 1937 or Farenheit 451 or something... in the meantime, though, i got to read.

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