Just as I thought I’d begun to get a handle on the workings of the male brain, life handed me the gift of the 11 year-old son.
I had anxiously awaited the period of calm that I felt the middling years between toddlerdom and adolescence promised. In truth, an “easy” phase never truly materialised and I now find myself confronted by pre-teen phenomena in motion. The best comparison I can make in terms of general demeanour at this stage is to a diminutive version of Keanu Reeves during the ‘Bill and Ted’ era. Additionally, he is often liberally perfumed by Old Spice, the supply of which I can only attribute to his grandfather.
Although I consider myself to be reasonably empathic, I’m struggling to put myself in his shoes right now. It seems that emotional fulfilment will only arrive once we have welcomed Fortnite into our lives. Furthermore, an insight into what might be considered desirable leisure activities was revealed this weekend when he and his friend contemplated either scaling our vertiginous fire escape or playing Pie Face with tomato ketchup: needless to say both suggestions were firmly refused. The situation was temporarily resolved by a trip to the skatepark, my son’s friend deeming it necessary to adorn himself with two-tone aviator sunglasses and a cowboy hat for the outing. In fairness, this was a slight improvement on a previous excursion in which the daring duo had first drenched each other via the park’s water fountain and then stripped off to the waist before proceeding to attempt an audacious feat involving a bicycle and a skateboard. Presumably neither boy considered the horrifying potential for remedial skin grafts. The mind boggles.
I was also under the misapprehension that the fabled sugar and spice and all things nice period would endure for longer than it did when it came to raising a daughter. As things stand, it’s fair to say there’s more emphasis on Scary Spice with attendant attitude, lip gloss and hair-flicking. Social media is infiltrating her consciousness and while Instagram is strictly off-limits, obsessive YouTube viewing of inane slime videos and amateur music video production via Tik Tok have landed. All of this seems a far cry from Saturday mornings spent watching Multicoloured Swap Shop or similar, although it is possible that nostalgia is clouding my perspective. Our children and their world are moving on without us. Whilst attempting to keep up is not only obligatory, it is often fun. It can also be baffling and occasionally – in the case of the slime videos – slightly tedious.
Simply put, the generation gap is widening and any hope of my 46 year-old self remaining down with the kids in any shape or form is vanishing. Just as I rejected my parents’ record collection in favour of Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Wham!, our younglings are developing their own musical preferences. This is observed with utter incomprehension by their old-school father who rather jumped the gun in thinking he’d scored an early strike when they developed a love for The Beatles aged 5 and 3. Suffice it to say those days have long since passed.
The point is that we’re all in transition. I am in serious doubt as to whether my advancing years can carry off my short-shorts at the beach this summer. Meanwhile, the children are desirous of independence and autonomy but aren’t quite old enough to be given full rein. They veer wildly between surliness and unconditional adoration, plainly illustrating how they themselves are in the throes of emotional conflict. As parents we are still very much needed, but often resented for trying to navigate this path with them. Being bilingual and not yet fully in the grip of raging hormones, the worst personal slight I’ve had flung at me so far is “silly lady”. I am, however, completely banned from speaking either English or Portuguese to my daughter within a 25 metre radius of her school’s premises because obviously either option is “completely embarrassing”.
All four of us are treading a path relentlessly forward and I remain optimistic that eventually it will all come out in the wash. And with the heady mix of teenage angst and parental mid-life crises firmly on the horizon, what could possibly go wrong?