IT was my birthday last week – no, don’t ask, because long ago I decided 39 was the perfect age, so stuck with it – and the following is an excerpt from a conversation I had with my eight-year-old grandson in London via the miracle of Skype.
Grandson (GS): ‘How old are you now, Grandpa Hugh?’
Me, teasingly: ‘How old do you think I am?’
GS: ‘Will you take me for a McDonald’s next time you’re here?’
Me: ‘Of course. I usually do when I’m visiting.’
GS: ‘Then you’re 22.’
Me, mildly bewildered, though flattered: ‘Twenty-two! Then how old is Mummy?’
GS: ‘Oh, at least 36.’
Me: ‘Hang on a mo’…if I’m Mummy’s daddy, how can she be older than me?’
GS: ‘Because she won’t take me to McDonald’s.’
Then there’s the Mallorcan grandson, aged six, who – apropos nothing in particular – demanded of his parents, ‘If you die, who’s going to feed me?’
This fixation with sustenance was also echoed by another London grandson, the four-year-old, who recently renamed himself Nemo and announced, ‘I’m never going to get married – I’m just going to get a cook.’
So, irrespective of how my grandkids are dispersed around the planet – three in London, including one who landed in November; another three in Luxemburg, the latest of whom hatched in October; and one here in Mallorca – all seem to be developing a survival instinct, based on naked self-interested, verging on misogyny in Nemo’s case.
Maybe that’s an inherent trait in us all and no bad thing, you might say, especially in today’s world of merciless cut and thrust.
It’s just that kids haven’t learned the niceties of make their feelings known without occasionally sounding artless and overstepping the fine, demarcation line between being endearingly cute and lippy, smart alecs.
For instance, I’m an avid watcher of the BBC1 sitcom, Outnumbered, in which two cringing schoolteachers are constantly ‘dissed’ by their three gobby offspring.
Though it’s amusing, I truly loathe the show’s characters, but still remain transfixed by the rampant anarchy of a household run by – and for the sole benefit of – obnoxious brats, where it’s impossible to determine who’s a parent and which is a kid.
In an unsubtle display of role reversal; the children get respect, the parents merely abuse.
Naturally, now, from the lofty vantage point of grandparenthood, it’s easy to identify our children’s parental fault-lines, while claiming in our day – tut, tut – we’d never countenance impertinence.
But we did, though it reflected the pre-gizmo times when the TV remote control was the ‘in’ thingummy, phones had dials and people called comptometer operators beavered away, generating rates bills in council offices.
Since we were post-WW2 Baby Boomers, we applied more liberalism to parenthood than our sterner mums and dads. No smacking – well, only when you were riled beyond reason – but gentle chiding and, in my case, verbal fisticuffs in which I always had the last punchline.
Once, in a hissy fit, my then sarky teenage daughter said to me, ‘I never asked to be born’ to which I retorted, ‘Yeah, and I’d have preferred a hamster.’
As parental put-downs go, it wasn’t bad, she later admitted. But the one that stuck in her mind was the note I once left on her pillow, saying: ‘Seeking refuge from the raging storm, a troupe of wandering flamenco minstrels chanced upon your room today and, for reasons of personal safety, decided it was wiser to return to Spain.’
Apparently, though, my speciality in imposing order was a flaring of the nostrils, which petrified my children, plus hiding the remote control under the cat, while the telly was tuned to The Incredible Hulk. It figuratively froze the blood of my oldest son, then aged about five, who’d scurry off to bed and bury himself under the quilt.
But we all adapt differently to parenthood, which, short of going to war, is one of life’s greatest challenges. And, while I understand the self-indulgence of couples who opt to remain childless – and feel sorrow for those who dearly want kids, but can’t have them – nonetheless I think parenthood should be compulsory.
Because there’s no feeling like quite it…a meld of agony and ecstasy, when – as I told the son who only became a father in November – ‘for the first time in your life, someone’s come along who’s more important to you than you are.’
It’s no good trying to explain the emotional roller-coaster ride of being a mum or dad until you’ve been there. And, despite humungous piles of bumph written on the subject, no manual – not even the latest guide, H is for Hummus: A Modern Parent’s ABC – will help.
However, the book is an interesting intro to trendy phraseology: ‘A’ might still stand for Apple, but ‘B’ is for ‘Babycinno’ (a mini-cup of choc-sprinkled frothy milk given away free at Starbucks); ‘I’ is for ‘iPaddy’ (and related to ‘M’ for ‘Meltdown’), which occurs when an iPad is repossessed from a snarling tot; and ‘W’ means ‘Wine-time’, the moment after you’ve put the kids down and reach for liquid tranquiliser, having survived another day of their assault.
But probably the most important issue overlooked by most parents is the burgeoning cost of child rearing racked up over a 21-year stretch, which insurer LV’s Cradle to College report last week estimated to be £225,000/€270,000.
Excluding private education, this covers everything…from childcare, clothes, food and school necessities to spending money, toys, holidays, travel and furniture.
Which is why, each year on their birthdays, I pop a bill – headlined: ‘Services to Upbringing & General Maintenance’ – inside my kids’ cards. Calculated to the dates each finished uni, it averages at about £180,000/€216,000, plus accrued interest at a not unreasonable 3% per annum.
Have I received a penny back? Not a chance.
In my sons’ cases, the accounts are returned, unpaid, with Post It notes attached, saying, ‘No longer at this address.’
Meanwhile, my daughter continues to insist she never asked to be born and I continue to riposte I really wanted a hamster. They’re so much cuddlier and don’t answer back.