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In Good Company: Everything Will Be All Right (I Hope

...The stranger tickled his chin and avoided a nasty side-kick, ‘They aren’t babies long enough, are they?’ she smiled and left me pondering on the profundity of this remark....

Enid Blackburn notes the irritating habit which children have of wringing platitudes from strangers.

‘Best days of your life!’ a stranger once confided to me in the middle of Woolworths.

I was about to swipe our three-year-old son with a loaded shopping bag at the time. He was doing his spider act all over the floor, entangling the legs of unsuspecting shoppers in the web of his shoulder reins, while his sister and I followed frustratingly behind, at the end of his tether.

Temporarily postponing my fury I craned him up to eye level to be looked at. Not quite the punishment I had in mind, but it reduced him to tears and I felt more amiable.

The stranger tickled his chin and avoided a nasty side-kick, ‘They aren’t babies long enough, are they?’ she smiled and left me pondering on the profundity of this remark.

Children seem to have this irritating habit of wringing platitudes from strangers.

‘What a good little boy, and so quiet,’ said one onlooker as I produced our son from underneath a bus seat one day. His face was decorated with cigarette ash and his mouth full of bus tickets, and I had just discovered this was the only way to travel with him – peacefully.

My family are all off the reins now, their ages ranging from eight to 21 years. They are still inciting the aphorisms but with a difference.

Now it’s ‘They’ll soon be out of the way,’ or as a bus passenger put it last week, ‘Growing up nicely.’

‘Yes,’ I lied, thankfully my three daughters squirming aggressively for their individual right to the front window seat, were hidden from view.

I have seen children grow outwards, upwards and even change shape alarmingly, but in my experience they never do it ‘nicely’. All ages bring their own growing pains. One can never sit back complacently with that ‘we made it’ glow. Even if you manage to steer one child through a reasonably painless adolescence, this is no indication that the same tactics will be successful on the next. There is no universal panacea that guarantees good results every time. Unfortunately each masterpiece has its own intrinsic way of not ‘growing up nicely.’

When two are approaching their fourteenth and sixteenth birthdays together, complications can develop. Each year they threaten us with talk of a double party. Fortunately as they never agree on anything for longer than a mealtime, negotiations usually break down and celebrations are postponed.

This year, however, there is an unbelievable air of goodwill pervading their conspiracies. With only a week to ‘blast off’ and the party planners still on speaking terms, I am beginning to feel desperately uneasy.

This situation is slightly aggravated by the fact that their gala night falls during the same weekend as our eldest daughter’s graduation ceremony. Father, graduate and I were planning a weekend in Reading and a little frivolous indulgence of our own. A breather I was especially looking forward to as our last escape was four years ago,

‘Just think, Mum, you can enjoy your weekend off and when you return everything will be back in its place.’ But where will everything have been? I feel too sensitive to ask, and can they assure me that the young Samson who accidentally pushed his boot through their friend’s lounge wall is definitely not on their guest list?

Other snatches of conversation are wafting about as they complete their plans. ‘We don’t want her!’ says one disgusted voice.

‘Why, is she too rough?’ asks big brother optimistically, throwing me a grin.

‘No, she’s too good looking – all the boys will be after her,’ comes the reply. So only the undesirables are invited? And what’s this ‘all the boys’ business?

Food, which naturally has to be prepared in advance by Mum, presents a problem. Potted meat sandwiches and jelly and ice cream have now graduated to a sophisticated fork buffet.

My suggestion of various savoury rice salads - in my opinion a good table and stomach filler - is loudly laughed upon. ‘Oh, no, don’t bother, they’ll only throw it all over the carpet,’ and they collapse into a giggling frenzy.

With only two days to breakdown, I mean countdown, I decide to play my ace and bring in a pair of grandparents. This news is greeted with unsophisticated panic. ‘No one will want to come,’ sobs one, which does lift my depression slightly. ‘We are not babies,’ cries another stamping off to her bedroom.

I suggest that grandparents can make their entrance late evening and their grief becomes less noisy. Next I have to talk my father out of the cosy idea of him watching television in one room while teenagers party quietly in another room.

Children eventually persuade me that all teenagers conduct unchaperoned parties until midnight – all the time. Now all I have to do is convince grandparents. Have you ever had the feeling you are starring in a third-rate play where the badly written script is ruining your performance? Reversing the original Fairy Godmother instructions, I beg parents not to leave home until midnight. ‘But we go to bed at ten,’ says Grandad.

It doesn’t seem so long since that he was lecturing me on my late-night record. Now here I am pleading for my children’s extension. But Gran promises them faithfully to restrain Grandad until the witching hour.

I suppose everything will turn out all right, but disturbing images keep invading my mind.

I see a tired couple drowsing quietly in front of television only to be swept into teenage bedlam at midnight - the small lonely face of our eight-year-old unfortunately not on the guest list and banished to friend’s house for the night.

Wait a minute, is that me tucked up luxuriously in that hotel bedroom, dreaming of a full English breakfast? And what about that delicious smell of freshly roasted coffee beans? Pass my case.


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