Trying not to be mangy about a day off

Tue, Feb 5, 2013, 00:00

A DAD'S LIFE:The elder is on a “mental health day”. I’m not sure how she wangled it, but it was announced last night that she would not be attending school this morning. Her mother had made an executive decision that a little recharging was required.

I am jealous. As I type she is sitting in her pyjamas, knitting and watching Animal Cops Houston. This is the programme du jour round our gaff – so much so that whole episode re-enactments take place with dodgy Texan accents around the kids’ farmyard animal collection: “Ma’am, I am afraid your horse has sarcoptic mange and will be taken into protective custody if an improvement in his living conditions is not apparent within the term of 14 days. I will return, and I will enforce this court order. Ma’am, you better believe I will.”

Sarcoptic mange

Animal Cops Houston and sarcoptic mange, they are the two most favourite things. If I step out of line, I am told I have sarcoptic mange. If I do not provide all goods and services requested, I am said to be sarcoptically mangy. I don’t even know what it is, but I picture skin and animal hair sloughing off and do not like it. I tell them if they don’t go to bed when I tell them to, I’ll put mange in their beds. They laugh and say that’s impossible, as if I am not privvy to the correct way to spread the mange as they are.

So the elder sits and knits and catches up with the animal cops. I ask the missus why this free day was scheduled.

“She’s tired. She needed a day of nothing: no school, no homework, no friends, no activities. A total mong-out. She’s been getting these headaches, the weather is murdering her chilblains and she’s not sleeping great. You know, she needs a rest.”

Fair enough, the demands of the world creep up on these 11 year olds. I like that the missus does this for the kids, and she doesn’t spring it on them. She lets them know there’s a full-on period coming but she’ll find a way for them to break it up. They trust her and know they’ll be treated fairly: in other words, there’ll be equal slacker rights.

You’d think this would invoke a responsible, mature outlook. I passed the bathroom as they were brushing their teeth last night, just as the elder was whispering in her sister’s ear, in a singsong, quiet but not quiet enough whisper: “I’m not going to school tomorrow. Na-na-na-na-na!”

When’s my turn?

I stepped into the room and her face dropped. I stared her down.

“Mental health day? When do I get a mental health day, away from fights being picked and taunts being thrown around?”

She looked pretty guilty so I eased up. The younger took the brief silence as an opportunity to bring her foot down on her sister’s instep. In an instant, toothbrushes had become weapons and I was holding them apart at arm’s length. Seriously, when do I get the day’s leave?

I do laugh at the notion of an 11 year old finding things tough: what could possibly be tough about their lives? Then I examine her routine and see why she might be a little fatigued.

Suffer little children

Up out of bed and into school for six hours. Six hours sitting there, suffering sums and essays, and trying to remember every bloody river in the country.

As soon as you’re freed there’s another commitment, something sporty or musical, something that requires attention and effort, before you get home and settle into 90 minutes of more rivers and long-division and sentence structure.

There’s a week’s work in every one of her days. All right, she doesn’t have to worry about rent or bills or keeping people happy, but she does have to go where she’s told, do what she’s told, eat what she’s given, shut up and, for the most part, take it.

That’s what 11 is. It’s also just about the time you start pushing the walls out, wanting things for yourself, separate to your family, different in certain ways from everything you’ve known until now. But you also want to know that for every independent step you take, there’s a safety net hovering below. You don’t want it to be too visible, but it needs to be there.

That’s what I reckon is tiring her out. Not the full-on effort needed to get through the requirements of every day, but the tentative moving into being a more independent individual. She’ll still give her sister a hard time and big up her Animal Cops, but steps to change are being made.

For that, the occasional “mental health day” is perfectly legitimate . . .

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