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Sunday, 13 November 2011

Spare lines, the slaughter of the swans, and going over to the dark side.

"You gotta sign this Mum"" the boy presents me with his school journal, on this first morning back to school after mid term break, as I climb into the car, lost in some strategic planning about shopping and dinner.  The page is enscribed with  at least three notes from his class  teacher reproaching him for , variously,  talking in class, sticking paper up his nose in order to amuse  his fellow students, and (more)  chatting in class.  "Oh"  he says airily when I protest, "I was just being sociable, before the break, and she said to do one hundred lines about... um why I must not do, you know ...stuff, and I ve done them, so... I'm punished !, mum".   "Huh?, like when did you like (I'm talking like them now) do one hundred lines? You ve been away, surely".  The boy grins ebulliently, "Oh I have a few spare pages of lines, ..well you know they sometimes forget to take them off you and I keep them for the next time.  And I write a few during free period when I have nothing else to do,  just, you know, to have".  Now I have to say I'm intrigued,  bemused too.  " But,.. but how do you know what to write? before you ve actually ..eh..transgressed "?.  "Oh, well I keep it general" he pulls a crumpled sheet out of the murky depths of his school bag and proceeds to read it to us   " must never behave like this again....very bad.....have very bad effect on my future......should never had done it....... "    "Well, surely, I mean surely you would'nt have the...the temerity  to hand that to a teacher".  "Oh , well they never actually read what you have written, you know mum, so I  just keep a few handy".  Now there is a silence in the car (while I digest this) into which  he tells me that I needn't worry,   he intends to be blameless this term, as I have promised to reward him with an MP3 player if he has a clean record and pretty good grades at the end of it.  " And, you know"  he says,  "its only seven weeks til christmas holidays,  cant wait!".  (he has moved on  entirely now from the subject of  the  keeping of spare lines, while I am beset with the image of the grinning boy whisking out his tattered sheets with  a"here's one I did earlier" flourish, and am nonplussed as to the  appropriate parental response.  " No, no, says the boss, its actually seven weeks in fact".  "Huh,  maybe in your world, but I 've only six and a half weeks to go".  "NO, NO, NO" says the boss, and they are off.

The older one sits silent during this exchange, except for a grudging grin when the boy explains about the lines. She is cross with me, and distance is her weapon of choice. I have let her know what I actually think about modelling as a career, the evening before, having held my tongue for a lengthy period on this one. I'm not sure why exactly she decided this was her career of choice,  I think someone may have made a stray comment on her suitability. She has grown tall and lissom  over the year too, and is full of talk about portfolios, agencys, and the like, whilst worrying obsessively about whether she will grow another inch, and whether her bone structure is right. And then there's  the Next Top Model shows on television, reality style programmes featuring an endless stream of narcissistic whinging vacent faced (more often than not) young women, who would seemingly slice and dice each other, egged on by manipulative hard as nails presenters, to be CHOSEN.  All this I have endured, until last night when  the dam burst. I believe it was after she asked me what my  in seam size was?  My what? "Your  in seam size mum,  surely you know your in  seam size, every one knows their in  seam size. "Wait a minute",  I hiss, "would this be  more model  lore gleaned from the modelling sites"?  It was, and whats more she needed  to know her own in seam measurement  because she would like to put together a portfolio, up in Dublin,  if  I will let her trawl around the agencies,  as time is a wasting, and her modelling peak will have been come and gone  by the time she is  twenty two. Yes, that was definately it.  "I mean why",  I asked , "why , why would a clever gifted girl like you want to be doing with   such people. Why not  just enjoy being lissom and striking, and aim for a career of actual value. in... in medicine ,say, or science, or in both fields seeking cures for cancer and the like (She is a good science student and had previously expressed an interest in this) (Before the fledgling model appeared stage left), or..or write, and add to the sum of human awareness.  "Had I ", I asked ," poured greens. fish oils, fruit, and filtered water into her since she was weaned, so that she might become a glorified clotheshorse? so that she could swell the ranks of the  half starved, grim faced (they never smile), slighly inhuman catwalk striding  attention seekers?  Perhaps there might be some excuse for girls who were plucked off the streets and presented with the gig, but to seek it out when she had so many other options.".... I had to stop myself at that point. She could not have radiated any more icy outrage." Well , well anyway, just think about what I have said", I called to her ramrod stiff back as she stamped upstairs.

"Why is there a little packet of swansdown on the inside of your new coat, Mum?" the boss struggled into her own coat, the last to be dropped off to school, as she asked this.  I explained that there was a little swans down in the coar for warmth,  incautiously.  "Whaaat, you mean swans were...were KILLED to make your coat",  her fingers froze on the buttons of her coat,  " Eh, nooo, they  died of old age and then..."  "oh Mum you know quite well  thats not true."  "Well, no I mean, the swansdown  was carfully gathered after they eh eh shed it by the lake..." "Mum!, How do you KNOW  that's true"?   "Darling, no one  but a crazy person would breed beautiful swans to make coats (I hope) and and anyway swans are very cross you know, and would probably bite you in the ass if you messed with them or their down.  (I know, pathetic) but she seems to accept this, or is simply bored.  I watch her striding off to meet her friend., her pearl grey wollen hat with the  knitted sticky out  ears, antenna like,  (de rigour this winter)  rather like a well fed lion cub.  Kids know how to live in the moment, my friends. And that gets us safely past the moment  when I,her own mother, uncaring  purchased a coat padded by at least ten (maybe more)  abused swans.

The boss is being confirmed this year and we did the enrollment ceremony on friday  night, ( where I sat , snivelling incontinently, as they called out each child's name, the child standing up on being called.) Why is naming   so shockingly affecting?  This is a by  now familar rite of passage for us , from primary school to secondary school,  from tween to teen, my last little one crossing over to the dark side.  She is already showing signs of the hormones blasting along  the brain wiring, colonising  personality, reconfiguring the clean, ordered, childmind,  manifest in her growing absentmindedness,her  shifting definition,  in the long slow transformation, bewildering, chaotic and unstoppable.  What a good thing it is that we parent smaller families these days,  in the  tremendous demands of this  task of support to the beseiged one, who, busy shedding your beloved child,  is consumed in  a raw and mysterious  hatching into a person   beyond  your reach or control.. And you have to be there, every step, the protective shell, only effective if shed as soon as it becomes redundant. A dynamic role with a fine sell by date. A mental focusing, as opposed to the intense physical sheparding  presence require for little ones. Anyway, speaking as a stray member of a good old catholic Irish family of elevan,  a child who set a high value on being left alone, a  product of intense mothering in matters of nutrition (feeding) morals, (engaged catholicism) and the  absolute insistance on kindness, ( though adrift at stormy  sea with all the rest,  rudderless in a small  boat regarding  sex, neurosis, and  the deepest cognitive reaching after self actualisation,)  I struggle (mostly) with being an adequate mother.  I hope  to be forgiven for unbecoming levity, clumsiness,  the unreasonable mourning after the loss of each eccentric, self contained stubborn child to all the proud, multi faceted adolescents who now live, breathe, stamp through and have their being  in my house.

Footnote:       In seam  - ankle to hip measurement. (dont do it if home alone!)