One of my many failings as a parent is the way in which my children settle their disputes. I’d like to say that they sit down together and carefully consider the other’s point of view before reaching a mutually acceptable compromise, but no: it’s usually a matter of shouting and variously surreptitious wallops. I try to stay out of it, unless there’s imminent danger to life, limb or Lego constructions that I’ll end up repairing long after the argument is forgotten. Their play together is usually amicable, and if their altercations are sometimes less so, well, I tend to think that learning how to resolve a disagreement without the input of a grown-up is a fairly vital life skill (albeit one that plenty of grown-ups around me seem to lack). So it’s only when I really can’t avoid it (or when I’ve recently read an inspirationally pastel piece on parenting) that I let myself get drawn into the role of arbitrator. Usually, the “justice” (and I use the term loosely) that I dispense is swift and sharp. No, you can’t follow your sister round the house hitting her with a bow. Yes, it’s reasonable to close the bathroom door if you wish. Really, for the sanity of us all, imagine that you’re inside an invisible bubble when you’re sitting in the car so that you physically can’t amuse yourself by waving your hands in front of your neighbours’ faces. Some, though, leave me speechless. Dear reader, what would you do if you found your four year old and your seven year old rolling round the floor arguing about the lyrics of a Taylor Swift song? One of my other many failings as a parent is the way in which my children soak up pop culture like so many little sponges. It doesn’t matter what counterbalance I supply in terms of the beloved books or films from my childhood, or educational days out to castles and the like. What they really love, especially my seven year old daughter, is to watch shiny, pretty people in shiny, pretty clips on YouTube. (Shiny, pretty clips…and Minecraft.) Taylor Swift is a big favourite. I would say that they were word perfect – indeed, I would have said that they were, right up until I got caught up in deciding whether a line in the chorus of “22” was:
You kiss me like a baboon
You kick me like a baboon
Everything will be alright, if you keep me next to you
No baboons. Sorry. Unfortunately for Taylor, (and even more unfortunately for me), even once corrected, the children decided they still preferred their versions. They’ll even still squabble about who’s right when they think I’m listening and in need of just a bit more inconsequential niggling to
ruin complete my day. The imaginary baboons are going nowhere. The whole thing has made me think (as well as weep). I’m increasingly conscious of how quickly the little Pale we build around our children is breached; how soon they’re out there exposed to people and ideas we’d rather they weren’t – or at least, not yet. Beyond this, though, baboon-gate has made me realise that although I can try to frame my children’s experience of the world, I can’t live it for them. They will perceive their own reality in ways which seem, to me, incomprehensible; they will make mistakes that I can’t even begin to understand. The urge to protect them and to smooth their path by giving them what wisdom and clarity I have learned along the way is overwhelming, and of course I will try, but they aren’t newer versions of me; not my second (or third, or fourth) chance. They’re not going to pick up where I left off. Although I love seeing the people that my children are becoming – and although it’s a long time till they really do become independent – I have to start to learn to be there in the background when asked for advice, not necessarily being in front as a filter. Easier said than done.