It's happening already. Small unpleasant glimpses of what's to come. A roll of the eyeball here, a curl of the lip there. I had thought, prayed, we might have a little longer. Kidded myself we might be spared the anguish altogether. That if we could be both fun yet worthy of respect, cool yet in charge, our children, the fruit of our loins, might see fit to not reject us.
I remember going to bed one night, not long after my 12th birthday, and waking up with a terrible sense of superiority. You, I thought, when I looked at my parents who until that point I had believed to be the centre of the entire universe, are idiots. How ghastly it must have been to have your hitherto sweetly affectionate child suddenly insist on walking several paces behind you in public lest anyone think you were like related or something. My parents had done nothing to deserve my disdain. They had given me a wonderful childhood of freedom and play, reassuringly contained within safe perimeters. They were hip and urban, liberal and creative; they probably assumed they would escape the same judgements they had brought down upon their own parents. Now I am a parent I get how poignant, how wounding, it is to have your child hold you up to the light and find you lacking.
But as our son, on the cusp of adolescence, slowly begins to tear apart the Velcro that joins us, I also see how inevitable it is.
To soften the blow, I have come up with a theory. That rather than being a failing on your part when your child smugly decides they are better than you, it instead signifies a job well done. I ran it past my mother. You know how you loved Nana and Granddad but felt like you enjoyed a more expansive world view than them? I asked. And how you once told me I was pompous? And occasionally ask me to refrain from mocking you? Uh huh, she said. Well now I'm on the receiving end of it myself, I'm thinking maybe it's a good thing that at some point your child thinks you're a bit of a dick. Sort of like Darwin's survival of the fittest, she said. That in order to advance as a species, each generation needs to be higher up the evolutionary ladder than the previous? Yes, I said, exactly! Thinking, maybe you're not so stupid after all.
Recently my daughter was complaining bitterly about a school trip to the library. It'll be so boring, she said. Yes, I said, but some children don't get to go to the library whenever they want like you. Keep an open mind, you might be pleasantly surprised. What would you know? I heard her mutter as she stalked off. Later that day I was talking to my father, telling him what would truly make me happy is a house with a garage and a separate laundry. Yes, he said, but it's probably not the wisest time to be taking on a bigger mortgage. What would you know? I muttered as I hung up. That night on the news there was an economist counselling caution when it came to taking on more debt. And later, over dinner, our daughter regaled us with tales of, like, the best trip ever. I bit my tongue, but dearly wanted to say, ha, ha, told you so! I imagine my father did too.
Last week I wrote of enduring love. Forty-eight years married, Alex shared the secret. "If each gives more than 50 per cent, the overlap is what makes it successful. Less than 50 per cent and guess what falls through the gap?" Joanna said she and her husband like to take a thermos to a park where they can, "observe nature and enjoy peace. Sometimes we share the delight of watching wee ones explore their surroundings ... either human or fauna." However, in a cafe they are mostly silent. "My special man does not remember to chew properly so chokes if he talks as well. There are often excellent reasons for silence that no one looking on can fathom ... It is a privilege to still be together and able to care for each other."