Maybe he’s just being a kid? I’m out of my depth when giving parental advice

Laura Kennedy: I don’t possess what must be the terrifying responsibility for another human life

Maybe he is just being a kid and figuring out what he enjoys

Maybe he is just being a kid and figuring out what he enjoys

 

“I’m worried. He really does lack . . . I don’t know . . . stick-to-it-ness,” my friend said, throwing her hands away from her body and into the air, as though pushing it all out of herself and into the air around us. We are hunched at her kitchen table on a damp, freezing day, just in from a walk, hands now clasped as if in prayer around steaming mugs of hot tea. I, for one, am praying, in my way, to warm up. I am vaguely conscious of the scalding mug burning its heat into my numb fingers. “He takes up all kinds of hobbies – and goodness knows I encourage it, I want him to learn independence and enjoy things – but it never lasts more than a month.”

We are talking about her son, a sprightly, wiry boy of almost 12 with hair that always makes him look as though he has just either had a good idea, or rolled out of bed. I once asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up (this was a few years ago), and to my delight and his mother’s chagrin, he answered “an octopus”. Now, at eleven-and-a-bit, the greasy, tufty corridor of adolescence is soon to beckon him inside, and he will be lost to us, communicating in grunts and becoming, for a time, occupied with the important work of figuring out how to look like he has a clue what’s going on. This, of course, is the key occupation of adulthood. The more convincingly you can look like you have any idea how things work without indicating your internal panic, the more likely you are to succeed.

Before he is fully taken up with that important labour, he is required to begin applying some of the lessons his parents have tried to teach him that are necessary for adulthood – independence, for one. Not complete independence, of course, but some. Good decision-making. Fastidious personal hygiene. Pretty essential, that one. Those people who claim there is no biological difference between male and female humans have clearly never smelled a teenage boy’s bedroom, which has all the acrid, seeping aroma of greasy sheets and damp Labrador hair. Perseverance is the one his mother is currently fretting over, as I ask her if there are any crumpets in the cupboard. “He’s a great man for signing up to things, so he is, but he gives up on them without really sticking in there. It worries me, to be honest. I worry that it might become a personality trait, and then he’ll be roundly fecked altogether.”

Maybe he is just being a kid, and figuring out what he enjoys. Personally, I wouldn’t be pushed about flute lessons or badminton either

I don’t have any children, less still a child who at any point aspired to be any subcategory of mollusc, but I know her son to be a sweet boy, full of enthusiasm and adventure. The concern knitting her brow is something I cannot fully relate to, as I don’t possess what must be the terrifying responsibility for another human life. His success and happiness are knitted into her own, and always she carries with her an awareness of him, and his needs, and sometimes it can draw her away from herself. That, I suppose, is what it is to be a parent, or an attentive one, at least. I communicate none of these thoughts to her; they wouldn’t help. I butter a crumpet and sink my teeth into its squishy, bubbled mass.

“D’you think,” I asked, “that perhaps he’s just being a kid?”

She looked at me with interest.

“What do you mean?”

“Well . . . he’s very lucky to have you and his dad to support him in trying new things, but he was still walking around with a ruler in the waist band of his trousers just a year or so ago, pretending it was a sword. Maybe he is just being a kid, and figuring out what he enjoys. Personally, I wouldn’t be pushed about flute lessons or badminton either. Sometimes, we just need to go with things instead of fretting and resisting them. That’s what Seneca would say, probably.”

“Well maybe he would,” she says, nodding, “but Seneca didn’t have to buy a now redundant uniform for karate classes. Or a frigging hockey stick.”

Out of my depth, I grab another crumpet. 

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