Monthly Archives: February 2014

Out of the mouth of babes

Raging Bull and Chatterbox

My two critics

One of the great joys of having children is watching them turn into little people, with a personality and vocabulary to match. Of course, what they say is not always a cause for celebration.

The other day, out of the blue, my daughter says to me: ‘You have a really big bum,’ emphasizing the words to maximize their devastating effect. She’s only four. My immediate reaction was to deny this. Unfortunately she reiterated her judgement – ‘But you do,’ she insisted, laughing as she delivered her damning verdict.

Now, I’ll be honest here: I don’t think my butt is abnormally big; I’m a smallish person and not completely saggy (yet). I console myself with the fact that a four-year-old’s perspective is probably slightly warped. She also thinks two other parts of my body are big – I’ll leave you to guess what these are – but I can assure you in no uncertain terms that they are not.

It’s funny, though, how my two little girls have a tendency to pick my appearance apart. I don’t have boys, so it’s hard to know whether they would one day turn to me and say, ‘Mom, you’re having a bad hair day.’ Girls, however, do pick up on looks. If I change the way I style my hair, the seven-year-old Chatterbox will comment on it. She’s also been quick to point out white hairs.

They are completely my children when it comes to clothes, which is not necessarily a great thing if you are in a hurry or trying to save money.

The Chatterbox will ask my opinion on whether clothes match; she coordinates colors and selects shoes, checking the mirror before deciding if it looks okay. I see her turning into a discerning girl with a good eye for what works. She’ll tell me when she doesn’t like something I’m wearing, which isn’t often at the moment, thankfully.

The four-year-old tends to be more exasperating, refusing to wear trousers or jeans because they are ‘for boys’ and going off clothes for inexplicable reasons. This makes getting her dressed in the mornings an exasperating process that leaves me making ridiculous concessions: ‘Oh, so you want to wear a frilly striped pink dress with red tights and purple tennis shoes? Yes, fine, but let’s just get out the door.’ For all I know, she might end up being a great fashion designer.

Even though their sartorial tastes still need some development right now, I can see a moment in the future when we will shop for clothes together without my wanting to tear my hair out. I imagine asking them for fashion advice, conferring with them on what looks good on me. But I do wonder if they will look at me and say, ‘Nah, your bum looks big in that.’ You know what, as long as they are being honest, I’m okay with that.

Has a child ever said something really funny to you? Let me know by leaving a comment.

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The Californian dream

Chatterbox and Raging Bull

We could swap long winters for warm ones

It could be mid-winter blues, but I’m craving a bit of Californian sunshine right now – and there’s been plenty of it. California is going through a terrible drought at the moment, said to be the worst since records began over a century ago. There’s been very little rain for three years, so the land is parched where it isn’t irrigated.

Meanwhile, in London and the UK, there is so much rain that some people are having to be evacuated from their homes; there are whole villages and towns under water; and there’s allegedly worse yet to come. It has caused all sorts of chaos, and sparked emergency meetings with worried-looking government officials, who have been accused of not spending enough money on flood defences and basically being complacent. They tend to blame each other while images of people carrying sandbags flash across television screens.

I’m now ready to take a bit of drought over perpetual, soul-destroying drizzle and gale-force winds. I return to my Californian fantasy at regular intervals, usually at least once or twice a month. It goes something like this: I get fed up with life in London for whatever reason and then start dreaming about how much better life could be in the paradise that I imagine lies waiting for me near the Pacific. I have hazy daydreams of beaches, owning a small house and sitting on a patio eating food outside, even at Christmas.

I don’t imagine the traffic-choked freeways that look like concrete arteries from the sky; I don’t think about the cost of our healthcare; or spend time contemplating the reality of upping sticks and moving. Why let real life get in the way of dreams, right?

But my dream got a sharp does of reality this week when I casually told the seven-year-old Chatterbox that we might go to California one day. (I tell myself this in the vain hope that it will suddenly come true.) To my surprise she burst into tears and said she didn’t want to go and preferred to stay in London forever. This is the first time she has reacted this way. Up until now she has been dragged this way and that, flapping around as casually as the sails of a boat in a squally storm. She’s been in four schools in four years and coped remarkably well, but I sense a bit of resistance.

Friends and other parents warned me this would be happen. It makes sense that she would get more reluctant to leave the place where she was born as time marches on. At the age of four, when we left for California for a year, she was happy to follow me around. Now this seems less certain.

I ask why the tears and she tells me, while choking back great sobs, that it’s because she will never see her friends again. I can relate to this. My parents moved to the house I grew up in when I was about seven years old. I thought this was the end of the world, because I had to leave the school I’d got used to and my two best friends. I still see one of those friends every time I go to San Diego; I’ve known her since I was about five. It’s a small miracle we are still so close.

But moving countries is far worse. It’s not like living a few exits off the freeway. I always knew that asking the kids to leave London could lead to problems down the line. But I thought I’d have more time than this. If a seven-year-old is this distraught, how is a 12-year-old likely to act?

This is the inescapable truth about parenting: as much as I want to live in California, as much as I dream about setting up a new life, I have to come to terms with the fact that it’s not entirely about me. Am I letting my dreams get in the way of what’s best for the kids? It’s hard to know. I have some degree of certainty in the UK right now, and I would be facing an unknown future in California. My feeling is that it would all work out eventually in the United States after a period of adjustment, but would my girls still be speaking to me by then?

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