In which I ponder…teenagers

(I have loads of drafted unpublished posts and I found this the other day. I imagine I didn’t post it because it might have caused offence to said teenage offspring. They are both out of their teens now, and this still rings true, so here it is).



Unless you have teenage children, you really have no idea how stupid, emotionally unstable and embarrassing you are.

In the glory days when they are young, you are perfect. You’re the best Mum – the prettiest, the cleverest, the kindest. You can do no wrong. Children have fights in the playground over who has the best mum or dad.

Then, overnight – and without warning – you become persona non grata. It starts with the rapidly dropped hand in sight of the school gate and the cheek turned away as you lean down for your goodbye kiss, and is followed up quickly by eye-rolling and a reluctance to be seen in public with you. Then before you know it you are – apparently – a fully fledged psycho.

I’m happy to say that these stages of teenager-dom are close to being over in my household. In fact, one of my children is no longer actually a teenager, and has moved out to his own place. But I do still have one hormonally charged resident sharing my home, and although I’m fortunate that for about 98% of the time she is absolutely the light of my life, during the other 2% she comes close to driving me to the sort of psychosis she thinks I exhibit anyway.

I read somewhere once that teenagers are particularly sensitive to changes in the volume of voices. I hope I did anyway, as every time I am even slightly irritated I am accused of shouting when I’m pretty sure I am not. The problem is though that then we get into a cycle. Because originally I was mildly irritated about something like – oh I don’t know – the sink being full of washing up when I got home from work. But then I’m irritated about the fact that what we seem to be debating now is not whether it is reasonable to fill the kitchen sink with your redundant plates and mugs – often along with uneaten food – but whether or not the amount I am ‘sooooo upset’ about it is commensurate with the crime, which apparently hadn’t been anticipated*. And if I’m not careful, I can then find myself shouting things like – ‘if you want to see me soooooo upset I can do that if you like’, and I end up looking like the teenager while she sighs and does the washing up.

So the other great thing about being the parent of a teenager is not only that you can be stupid, embarrassing and emotionally labile, but you can be a complete loser as well.

This dynamic is made more difficult by being a single parent. If you’re still happily ensconced in wedded bliss with the other parent of your teenager – or maybe even if you’re still ensconced but not necessarily happily – you should have at least one other adult in the house to support you during these interactions. How I’ve longed for someone to say ‘don’t speak to your mother like that’. Also what your teenagers don’t realise is that when they say we are being unreasonable, horrible, or difficult, we are often wondering if we are or not. Am I an awful parent? Am I? There is no one to debrief with, no one to back you up, or to discuss where you might be going wrong, or could take another approach, and it makes it all that little bit harder.

I have been extremely lucky that my own teenagers have been largely lovely**. We’ve even reached a stage where sincere apologies and reparations are made after there has been an incident. But as a parent, I’ve learnt that you also have to be prepared to apologise when you’ve overstepped the mark, and that admitting that sometimes you’re not sure, or you find it hard seems to build trust and understanding. It’s ok not to be the expert, to be fallible, imperfect. And to be honest – whilst they are struggling with never being a teenager before and all that brings, we are also struggling with never having been a parent to a teenager either, so we’re going to make mistakes. When you do this, of course, it does mean that you’ve gone full circle from superhero to real actual person, but it also seems to open up the door to a new type of relationship – a more adult and authentic one. And you teach your children that it’s ok to make mistakes so long as we learn from them – the first stage of which is admitting them.

Of all the phases of parenthood, these teenage years are the ones with the highest anxiety. You must let go, you must allow them to start to assert their independence, go their own way, take some risks. Even though every fibre of your body is saying ‘stay home with me, where it’s safe!’. I have successfully traversed the nail biting experience of knowing your child is in another country alone, of first forays to nightclubs, of driving with their friends down the coast for the weekend. Every parent of a teenager will know the horror of the unanswered call, the text message with no response and of waking up in the early hours of the morning and discovering their teenager is not yet back from their night out in the city.

I’m no expert, but I’ve tended to allow a higher level of independence than many parents, often out of necessity rather than choice. As a single working parent, I couldn’t drive my children everywhere, and we live in a major city. They’ve been navigating the public transport system near and far for years, and learnt to drive right in the city centre (literally terrifying for everyone concerned). My son was at school in the UK, flying back and forth on his own. Both children have made the long trip to and from the UK alone – the first times only just in their teens. I like to think that these experiences have contributed to making them the independent, brave, adventurous young adults they are today.

However, on the rare occasion, I’ve put my foot down with regard to what I’ve felt was an unreasonable request. And when the inevitable onslaught of begging, and accusations of unfairness and being horrid etc etc has begun, I’ve asked them this. Do you think I am saying no to this because I’m a dreadful person who just wants to ruin your life (as suggested) or….could it be something else? Then I’ve made them tell me why. And of course, it’s because I love them and I want them to be safe. Even very bolshy teenagers seem to find it hard to remain quite so indignant in the face of this. And if they carry on being rude or difficult, unplug the internet and take the modem to work with you. If nothing else it will make them come out their rooms.

I would say though that it’s also my experience that teenagers often ask to do outrageous things in the hope that you will say no, in order to absolve them of the embarrassment of declining to do so, even though it would be achingly cool or would ingratiate them with someone cool if they did. I’ve been happy to be the fall guy and have everyone think I’m a bitch – to the extent that we even had a code which would tell me in a text message that I should say no, prior to the call asking me. I won’t tell you what that code was so as not to embarrass my kids, but you should think about setting one up with yours.

So if you’re currently parenting teenagers, good luck! But remember – like all those other stages, even when it feels like it’s lasting forever, it will be over before you know it. And then adulthood beckons – so enjoy them while you can.

*even though I have repeatedly, since the beginning of time, been expressing irritation at said dishes in the sink…

**well I would say that wouldn’t I? But it’s true.


In which I ponder…flying the nest

Flying the Nest.jpg


My son’s entry into the world was not what I had planned for.

Rather than the relaxed, relatively drug free delivery I had been planning, where he would be born accompanied by music and soft lighting, he was dragged into the harsh clinical light of a hospital room surrounded by doctors and nurses, with his chord wrapped twice around his neck and his heart intermittently stopping. Just below his right eye, he still bears a scar from this very first experience of the world.*

Not long afterwards they took him away from my bedside, moved me into a single room so that other mother’s would not be upset by my crying and told us to be prepared for him to die in the next 24 hours. They took Instamatic photos of him so that we would at least have something to remember him by and told us that he had a very serious heart disorder.

When, after a thankfully relatively brief sojourn in neonatal intensive care, they allowed us to bring our son home – with the proviso that if he turned blue we would call an ambulance immediately – I slept fitfully, like a coiled spring, the slightest sound from his crib beside my bed causing me to wake up in a panic. Only I could keep him safe and keep him alive. Or so I felt.

That same boy, some 19 years later, is now about to start studying at Sydney University, news that he received at a hostel in the Czech Republic, as he is currently travelling around Europe, on his own. His heart still doesn’t work properly but seems to have been much less of a problem than was predicted. Fingers crossed.

There is a part of me that thinks – I did it! I got him through life successfully, and now he is flying the nest. Well done me. Well done him. One more to go, and then the world’s my oyster.

But the reality is that I’m terrified.

I had always assumed that this stage of my life would look quite different. I expected to be financially secure, able to fully reap the benefits of having had my children relatively young, and enjoy my late forties and fifties by combining work with the ability to see a bit of the world without the expense and responsibility of young children. I can see other friends reaching this point too. It always felt like this life development was kind of a pay off for a job well done parenting, and the quid pro quo for the sadness that parents naturally feel when the intensive part of their job is over. It would probably be a good distraction too.

In practice though, my financial situation is the least secure it’s been since I was in my early twenties. Having once thought my Ikea days were over, I now find that if I survey my home, I struggle to identify anything much that wasn’t purchased there. Like many other divorced women of a certain age, I am contemplating working until I am 70 in order to service a large mortgage on a small property in a suburb the people I used to know have never heard of, and will probably never visit. I’m not expecting there to be much in the way of spare money for exploring the world, or much time, given that I’ll be working.

And more than that – who will I spend my time with? Children flying the nest might have provided an opportunity to reconnect with your partner and then enjoy adventures together that you couldn’t afford before you had children. But now it is just going to mean an actual empty home.

I’ve thought about all this way too much lately. I think most of it is just fear because my future looks very much more uncertain than I would have expected at this point in my life. But at the same time, I’m conscious of how lucky I am to have ever been in the position where I thought my life would be different to this. I know how privileged I am to have the life I have anyway. And so whilst I feel afraid, I also feel reproachful – which is then rapidly followed by guilt for not being more grateful.

I suppose the trick is to try to stay in the present and appreciate each moment as it happens – without too much reference to what was, or might have been.

And I suppose the lesson is that – if I allow myself to look back for a moment to George’s birth – things rarely go to plan, but they can still turn out beautifully in the end.

So I’ll keep holding out for that happy ending – whatever that is.

*If you think that’s bad, you should see my scars…

In which I ponder…being a grown up



These days – not often but occasionally – I feel like I’ve finally properly become an adult.

In my early thirties I was a wife and a mum and a bit of a career woman, and my ex-husband and I bought a lovely house in the New Forest in the UK. That’s it in the picture up there.

All of those things indicate a certain level of maturity – age, roles, marriage, house buying.

But I used to sit at the end of the garden in the summer house looking back at the house and wonder…how on earth did I become a person who owned a house and had children and was trusted with a responsible job – when I’m actually still just a child?

Nearly 17 years later I don’t feel much different – except that I don’t have the buffer of a life partner to protect me from the vagaries of life. I need to learn to be an even more adulty person than I’ve ever been before.

There are landmarks of course. Recently, for example, I bought a car.

I’m 47 years old and this is the first time I’ve ever bought a car on my own.

Since my separation and subsequent divorce I’d been driving around in a bottom of the range, 1.1 litre, manual Nissan Micra. Nothing wrong with that really in the wider scheme of things, and when I lived and worked in the city, rarely actually using a car, it was perfect. Then my office moved 50 mins (on a good run) away, and my days were filled with stopping and starting on possibly the country’s most congested highway, the M5 – which passes through possibly the country’s most congested tunnel. You have to live in Australia to properly understand the true horror of being stuck in a tunnel in the summer.

I spent over a year trying to persuade myself to buy a better car, more suited to the travelling I was doing. But it seemed too risky, just way too scary. I didn’t feel equipped to do such a thing. What if I bought a lemon – a money pit? Then I discovered that I could take out cover for virtually anything that might happen to it, and I felt more confident. I bought a Jeep, having gone out with absolutely no intention of buying anything like that – but it was red and I liked it, and I don’t know anything about cars at all, so this seemed like a good enough reason. I’ve had it for three months and so far so good (except that it consumes significantly more petrol than the Nissan obviously). I feel like a grown up driving it – and my daughter feels like a grown up because she got the Nissan. Everyone’s a winner. Hello Adulthood.

Then I do stuff that reminds me that I am in fact just a teenager hiding in a middle aged woman’s body (oh how I wish it was the other way around…).

My lovely friend Jim came to stay over Christmas. Whilst he was here he commented on how isolated the house is and that I ought to have some candles and a torch ready – as it is the sort of place that would be very scary in a power cut. Great idea – totally agreed.

Today, after a few days of very hot and humid weather there has been a big storm. When I got home there was a lot of debris on my paths and signs that it had been pretty blowy here, but the storm had pretty much passed apart from some wind and drizzle.

So it was a bit of a surprise when at about 10.15pm all my power went off and I was plunged into the sort of darkness you only get when there are no lights anywhere around.

I was reminded of the great idea Jim had – that I had done nothing about. With 2% on my mobile phone I was able to use the flashlight function for long enough to establish that there was a lighter beside a fragrant candle near the tv. This was good for lighting one candle only before giving up the ghost. Finding a bit of paper or similar to use to light two other candles proved challenging but in the end not impossible. My laptop – on which I am writing this post with the help of a mobile dongle – allowed me to take advice  (and comfort) from friends on Facebook.

Oh how I wished I had a torch…then I felt like perhaps I did have a torch. A trip into the depths of the under sink cupboard proved I was right about this. But oh how I wished I had batteries…

When this sort of thing happens to me, I remember that I am not yet really an adult. This sort of stuff would not happen to my parents.

Recently I was watching 24 hours in A & E (which really is a very heartwarming show and a great showcase for the fantastic NHS). For reasons I’m not sure about, when they interviewed a consultant who was probably in his late forties (so the same age as me), they asked him when he knew he was a man*. He became quite upset, and described the moment when he was going somewhere with his now quite elderly father, and his father gave him the car keys and said ‘you drive’. He said he felt that a transaction had taken place in that moment, where his father had resigned his position as driver and somehow as leader and patriarch and said ‘now it’s your turn son’.

When I look at my parents I see that we are not far off that moment – and I’m not sure whether I should enjoy my last few moments before we also make that exchange or start to lift my adult game in preparation…