“Why do you have to be so weird?” Behold the Christmas angel, sweet 16, flesh of my flesh – our obviously similar little faces, our remarkably similar sharp tongues. She says the most dreadful things all day long. “Elder abuse,” I snivel, but I take it, and it keeps on coming. I have a name for myself: “Beaten dog.” Of course, it’s all just banter and we love each other more than either of us can say. Christmas always brings out a particular quality of love among families. The year is coming to a close. This is the “at the end of the day” condition you hear so much about. School, work – we are about to leave the necessary distractions behind, and get to just be with each other. It probably feels like hell in some homes. Not this home.
“Why do you have to be so annoying?” All parents are annoying. It’s one of their main functions in life, their essential role. Parents are dopey, nosy, grumpy – parents are the seven dwarves, little deranged creatures obsessed with mundane and annoying chores like picking up clothes off the floor. We reach peak annoyingness when they turn 16, 17, 18. The trick is to make yourself scarce. Stay in the background. Cook, clean, bring home the Christmas tree. To be a teenager is to be foreground, the star of the house. I love running around after Snow White.
“Why do you have to be so fat?” Her casual term of address around the house is “Fatty”, as in, “What are you making me for lunch, Fatty?” The lesson all parents of teenagers learn is that it’s liberating to be stripped of vanity and dignity. Our day is done. We fought the good fight – love is a battlefield, and we were out there in the trenches of romance. Some of us, though, despite our age, despite everything, are still engaged in that kind of combat. I often think about the scene in the greatest Christmas movie ever made, Love Actually, when middle-aged Harry (Alan Rickman), a stooped figure in a middle-aged scarf, buys a really beautiful piece of jewellery for his secretary Mia (Heike Makatsch). He was far too old for her. God, she was hot.
“Why do you have to be so stupid?” One of the most shocking things I’ve ever seen in a family home, something that stayed with me for a long time, was the open hostility between a father and his teenage daughter when I visited the family one day just after Christmas. I had known her all her life and remembered her as a fantastic kid, happy and lively and full of fun. But that day, she stomped into the kitchen with a face like thunder, and the room went quiet. She slammed cupboard doors, snatched at food, declared everything was inedible, that the whole house was a disgrace, that it was all the fault of her father; he trembled with rage, and said, “Go to your room!” She did not go to her room. It wasn’t banter, it wasn’t the silly, mocking script that all families perform - it was warfare. This was about 20 years ago, and these days they once again love each other more than they can say. I think I regarded that afternoon as a threat, of a hostility foretold, but all our real fights conclude the same day with the same word: “Sorry.”
“Why do you have to be so completely and utterly useless?” Actually, this isn’t a direct quote, more just the general tenor of her side of our silly, mocking script that she performs all day long. She has one more year at home. She said recently that the day would come when we’d take her to the airport to begin her new life at university: “I bet you’ll cry.” I cried at the thought of it. How do parents cope when their teenagers abandon them? It probably feels like heaven in some homes. Not this home. She sent a text this week after she left for the day: “Wish I could hang at yours today.” My heart melted with love for my Christmas angel.