Dear Dave

Friday 12 June 2009

Parental precognition

Dear Dave,

That's shocking.

I mean, how thoughtless. Some people really have no consideration for others, do they? You must be devastated...

I seriously can't believe your parents have arranged to be busy the entire school summer holidays. Couldn't their once-in-a-lifetime cruise wait until September, for example? If not, I'm sure the visiting cousins from Australia could have been persuaded to postpone until Christmas. And as for the week giving respite care to terminally ill, blind donkeys...

I guess you're going to have to take your kids with you when you go away this year. No more lying quietly on the sand, soaking up the sun, for you. You'll be running around kicking a ball, collecting shells in a bucket and changing nappies full of beach as well as poo. The closest thing you'll get to a rest is being buried alive by an over-enthusiastic toddler with a sharp spade. Enjoy.

You might be as well staying closer to home and finding somewhere with an activity club and creche facilities. Forget about proximity to art galleries, vineyards, intriguing shops and night life - you're a parent. The first thing you need to ask about a hotel is whether it has a softplay.

It's just another example of how life has changed. There's not much you can do really. File it in that mental list of stuff you're simply going to have to put up with until the children leave home. You know, like not getting enough sleep and being unable to cross the road unless there's a green man. Before you become too distraught about your loss of freedom, however, remember that parenthood does have its advantages. (Besides supplying a selection of adorable little munchkins who'll grow up to push your wheelchair around in your declining years.) For instance, now I'm a dad, I can see the future.

It's true. I only need one look at a situation and I can tell exactly what the outcome is going to be. Take what happened on Sunday: At church, Marie was delighted to find some sparkly beads on the floor and, as we headed home, she bounced along, clutching them in her hand. With my paternal sixth sense, I had a very clear vision of what was going to happen next...

"Keep them in your pocket or you'll lose them," I said, trying to avert the disaster I'd foreseen.

Unfortunately, Marie wasn't having any of it. "I'm holding onto them really tight."

"That's as maybe but..."

I didn't get a chance to prophesy further because we bumped into an old friend I hadn't seen for a long time. I was suddenly busy explaining where I've been for the last ten years while still trying to stop the boys from wrestling next to a busy road.

After a couple of minutes, Fraser shouted, "There's a key here!"

He was right. It was balanced on top of a low wall next to the pavement.

"Someone must have found it and put it there," I said, "so whoever dropped it will be able to find it."

"OK," said Fraser. Both boys immediately started wrestling at the same time as attempting to climb the wall within inches of where the key was precariously placed. My special powers kicked in again.

"Don't jump around next to it. If you knock it over into that garden, it really will be lost."

They started to argue that they weren't that close, all the while waving their elbows around right next to the key. I ordered them away from the wall. They argued some more and then ran off behind me.

I turned back to my conversation but Marie started to cry.

"Lewis bumped me and made me drop my beads!"

On further questioning, it transpired that she couldn't recall how many beads there were, what they looked like or exactly where she'd been standing when they fell out of her hand. Nonetheless, she was inconsolable.

I sighed.

Then all of us began crawling around on the pavement, searching for an unknown number of minuscule beads of indeterminate colour. Well, nearly all - the friend suddenly remembered an urgent appointment elsewhere...

Somehow the whole thing was both inevitable and unavoidable. Having parental precognition is all very well but there are only so many times I can tell the kids off for stuff they haven't done yet before it becomes oppressive. I don't want to live in my own little version of Minority Report.

I suppose it might be better to relax, let the predictable disasters happen and then encourage the kids to learn from their mistakes.

Actually, no, I tried that. If I don't warn them of impending catastrophe, I'm the one who ends up having to clean the dog poo off their shoes, bandage their wounds and/or explain to their teacher why their homework smells of curdled milk. Worse than that, I have scientist children. They know that merely because something went terribly wrong last time, it doesn't necessarily mean the same thing will happen again next time. They have to verify the results.

Then they have to do it a few more times just to make sure.

When I first became a dad, I didn't see that coming. It's very tiring. I could maybe do with a holiday lying quietly on the sand, soaking up the sun.



Yours in a woman's world,


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