I know that, as a responsible citizen with a fully paid up TV licence, I should have been watching the Prime Ministerial debates during the election campaign. And I did, I really did, listen to part of each of them on the kitchen radio following the Guineapig family’s various Thursday evening jumping around activities in disparate parts of East Lothian. But I only listened to part of them because on Thursday evening at 9.30pm Outnumbered came on the box. The series is now finished, sadly. Political debate v Outnumbered? Scripts v improvisation? Adults arguing like children or children arguing like adults? No competition.
Anyhow, one of the best episodes of the election campaign was the one where the family discovers that Ben’s a whizz at chess. It suits him because spear wielding knights can charge through the opposing army and lay waste in all directions while alien pawns come hurtling in from outer space. As part of the discovery process there were dicussions about the relative merits of letting your child win as opposed to playing to win yourself. Of course, when Ben trounced them all they all protested that they’d just let him win. No, they didn’t fool the viewers. It set me wondering, though, at what point I stopped playing GP2’s Scrabble hand as well as my own and started playing for my own survival. I’m just about hanging on to my winning record, but only just. And when did I start finding the crossword has been done by one of the children before I get there?
There are so many other events that slipped past me unobserved. When did the children start going to bed later than me, for instance? When did GPD stop tapping the squash ball gently to his eldest son and start being thrashed on a regular basis? When did I stop getting their feet measured for new shoes and start arguing about style and price? When did I become the smallest in the family? When did we start being able to go out in the evening without worrying about a baby sitter or what time we should be back? And then, of course, the children started going out in the evening and we worried about what time they got back.
But now we’ve reached one of those points which certainly won’t go unnoticed although I do wonder how we’ve arrived here so soon. GP1 has finished school, bar an exam result or two. He was off taking his driving test the other day as I started on this post. How on earth did we get here? Cliches, yes, but it really does seem only a moment ago that a chubby, smily little boy was trotting off for his first day at primary school clutching a smart new school bag. Now there’s a tall, skinny and still smily young man hoping to head off to university in the autumn.
Perhaps everyone has a moment when these things hit them. Mine came a few weeks ago, during that odd period known as Study Leave. Study Leave: a time when parents think their darlings should spend every available moment well, studying, and should make at least some pretense of looking at a book or reading their notes. Study Leave: a time when teenagers think it is their absolute right to spend every available moment sleeping and every other moment on MSN or the X Box and that they can study “in a minute”.
We were up at the school, GP1 and I, returning a large xylophone that he’d borrowed so that he could practice over the bank holiday. (Oh yes, there are such things as xylophone exams.) I was propping a door open in a part of the building I didn’t know while GP1 strolled off down the corridoor with an enormous and very heavy xylophone tucked casually under one arm. It occurred to me as I watched that a year or so ago I would have been the one doing the carrying with him moaning and groaning on the other end. As he disappeared into the depths of the building it suddenly struck me that he was totally at home in this place I knew only superficially. And that while he’s expressing all the expected joy at leaving school – sorry, prison – at last, in fact he’s letting go of a well worn security blanket and heading off into the unknown.
So there I was, leaning against a door in a silent, unfamiliar corner of the school when I was suddenly hit by a surge of love and pride. When I left the house that morning I really hadn’t expected to find myself with a lump in my throat and swallowing hard. After all, we were only nipping up to the school to return a xylophpone.
Picture credit: dux_carvajal