When daddy doth protest too much
A DAD'S LIFE:‘You’re too hard on her and easy on the other one. Give her a break,’ says the missus.
Immediately shackles rise. I’m no tougher on one than I am on the other. Surely? In my head I’m a breeze with both. They ask me for stuff, I get it. They tell me to do something, I do it. It would be nice if it worked in the other direction but, alas, I ask for something, I get looked at.
Do we play favourites? I’d like to say no. In fact, I will say no.
There’s no favouritism here, there’s management of characters: powerful, bloody-minded characters who know me better than anyone else, and know also that no matter how often I deny them, they probably will twist me to their thinking eventually.
They have mastered the art of persistence, but in different forms, and as a result I respond differently. The result of this is I appear to be hard on one and soft on the other, but this is not a hole in my parenting skills. This is self-preservation.
“I’ll give her a break when she gives me a break,” I tell the missus.
“Fantastic,” she replies, “The 41 year old and the 11 year old in a stand-off. That’s bound to work out well for all concerned. Jesus, you don’t have to lose the plot with her so quick.”
So quick? So quick? The elder is a waterboarder. Her requests are always assessed and adjudicated on fairly. And while she is a wonderful conversationalist, great company, and intellectually inquisitive, no matter what you’re doing or what you’re talking about, she will wind up asking you for a pony. Somehow, she will route the discussion to that point. And ask, and ask, and ask.
It’s not just ponies. It seems that at 11, you begin to fixate on things and see your life as being essentially worthless if you don’t own whatever that thing is, or are part of whatever movement, club or group has suddenly assumed meaning of life status.
iPhones, iPads, iPods, they all fall under this umbrella. How can an 11 year old be expected to continue breathing without owning all three? How unreasonable are their parents to suggest that maybe just one would suffice?
Or, worse, that an Android alternative would be more cost-effective? You may as well pull out the pudding bowl and scissors and say: “Haircut time!” In fairness to the elder, she hasn’t fallen into the technology trap yet, but it’s in the post. Right now, her laser-like focus is on covering every inch of wall space in her bedroom in animal posters. Ah, the cuteness. Yeah, I defy you to survive the onslaught to adopt every species represented on those walls.
And while animals are still her thing, I have overheard conversations that make it apparent her friends are getting tech snobby and she would do well to follow suit.
“I’m saving €4 a week for an iPad by vacuuming downstairs every week,” says one. The elder and another mate look nonplussed. They do the maths, surprisingly well in fact. “That’ll take you nearly 90 weeks,” says the elder. “I’ll sell you our tablet for €80. You could have that in 20 weeks, before you’re a teenager.” That’s my entrepreneurial wee prodigy. Never mind the fact that it’s my tablet she’s talking about.
The response is scoffed in her direction. Any tablet will not do. Afterwards I ask her is she bothered by not having an iPad. Somehow the conversation turns into a request for a rabbit. I get exasperated. The missus says I’m being harsh. The world spins on. As for the other one; she doesn’t bother with harassment. She is above it. She knows the way to bother me truly is to feign indifference. She’s eight, for god’s sake, I know she’s playing me. Still, I bite every time.
The elder asks for ice cream after her dinner. I barely raise my eyes from the telly, “No. It’s a weekday. You had biscuits after school – don’t tell your mother. No, just no.” The daddy doth protest too much. She asks another seven times. Each time I say no, but my answer gets longer, incorporating dentist bills, child services, the drama of walking to the freezer, dishwasher issues. She smells blood. I hold on, fingernails marking the arms of the chair, face turning puce.
The younger saunters in, wanders around, climbs up on my lap and rests her head on my chest. I am beaten. “Would you both like some ice cream? I’d love some too. Don’t move, I’ll get the bowls.”
See, it’s not favouritism. They work me. They sit upstairs plotting my downfall. I know it. I can hear them whispering.