I don’t know about you but there came a point – when I was 9, 10, maybe early teens – where I thought, you know, parents were really bloody unreasonable. Not my parents in particular of course, but just parents in general.
Pretty unreasonable, quite embarrassing. No sense of personal space or privacy; quick to be irritated, and pretty unsympathetic when you wanted to complain about a sore arm, or your shoes not feeling quite right, that kind of thing.
Everyone had that moment where their parents brought the car to a shuddering stop and said with gritted teeth something to the effect of, stop shouting or get out of the car.
How unreasonable can you get!
But the joke is on me, because by my own childhood standards I am now completely unreasonable. Probably (definitely) more unreasonable than either of my parents ever were!
The thing is, though, for most – if not all! – of my adult, pre-children life, I was doing relatively okay. I was never embarrassing enough to give anyone a ‘thumbs up’ or worse, the ‘double thumbs up’- apart from in a deeply ironic and hilariously-timed joke. I used the bathroom alone. I even shut the door! If someone complained about feeling ill I listened! I offered sympathy.
I wasn’t embarrassing, and I was (relatively) reasonable.
So what happened to me?
I had children, and found myself saying, multiple times in the space of an hour, “we don’t play with toilets” or “don’t smell your knees” or “we don’t wash our hands in milk”. How unreasonable!
With multiple children, there is often – actually pretty much always – someone who is complaining about a sore tummy or a cough or a bruise and if we stopped everything to tend to a minor or non-existent injury nothing would ever get done. So I ignore most minor complaints of illness and injury: not so sympathetic now.
I watch my children perform daredevil escapades on scooters or bikes and give an overly enthusiastic double thumbs up to counter the grimace my face makes involuntarily while anticipating (but hoping to avoid) injury.
Pre-children, if I’d heard an adult refer to themselves as ‘mummy’ or worse, to her husband as ‘daddy’ – I cringed on their behalf. But now, when asking my children to call my husband, I refer to him as ‘daddy’ and when I want them to do something, I often say “mummy wants you to…” Embarrassing? Definitely.
I always have an audience when I go to the bathroom or at the very least have the door open so that I can hear if there is any disaster in the making. No sense of personal space!
We discuss bathroom habits with gay abandon, with only the caveat that they don’t make jokes about poo at the dining table (the lowest possible rung of social grace?). Totally embarrassing!
So by the end of the day – or indeed at any point in the day – I am, by my own standards, totally unreasonable and very embarrassing.
And the real problem is, as we know, that behaviour becomes habit pretty quickly and so these less appealing traits, that we develop whilst dealing with toddlers and small children – these traits start to spill over into my interactions with everyone.
A quick chat on the doorstep with the postman the other day and I accidentally gave him the double thumbs up when thanking him for delivering a parcel.
I called myself ‘mummy’ in conversation with my sister.
I didn’t even feel awkward when my daughter asked loudly in the John Lewis bathroom cubicle whether I was “just having a wee?”.
And as these behaviours become increasingly ingrained in us, our children grow older and more sophisticated.
Before you know it, I will have a 9 or 10 year old who will be totally humiliated by her embarrassing and unreasonable mother. I think there’s no escaping it. The only way you could remain reasonable and not an embarrassment to your children would be to have them handed to you as 9 year olds, perfectly formed – leaving you intact, preserved with all your pre-children levels of dignity. No toddler years causing slow social deterioration. There’s a dystopian novel in there somewhere…