teenage kicks

Obviously, the most exciting and world-historical event of the last few weeks has been that the Greeks have run out of money and might not pay their debts. Good for them, say I. Ever heard the phrase, ‘ Timeo Danaos,  Et Dodgy Collateral Ferentes?’ Thought not. See what happens when they stop teaching the classics?

But now it’s here, surely we should all follow their lead and cancel all debts forthwith.  Africa    might stand a chance of recovering, and the only people out of pocket would be the Chinese and the banks. Hankie, anybody?

It must be because this is all SO FASCINATING that we seem entirely to have missed a few other snippets of recent news. For instance:  Einstein was wrong , and therefore everything we thought we knew about the structure of the universe (not a lot, in my case) is wrong too. Anybody with a new theory, step this way. The floor is yours – and it’s a lot less solid than you think.

Also,  spontaneous combustion  really happens. At least in Northern Ireland where, admittedly, it may be just a slightly drastic technique for keeping warm.

And, finally, caffeine doesn’t make you hyper, or even keep you awake. You just think it does, because somebody in Seattle figured out they could get you to pay £3.95 for something that costs 25p to make. But test subjects in a  double blind trial  of caffeinated and decaf coffee behaved in exactly the same way.

The same is true of the effects of drinking. People who drink a lot of alcohol in grim Northern countries – basically, anywhere north of Totnes – become violent and aggressive and smash things. People who drink the same quantities in the South are more liable to write an opera, or cook a surprise supper for 150 close family members.

It’s all to do with what we expect. Which leads me to wonder whether adolescent behaviour may be the same. All cultures have a  rite of passage    in adolescence. But only in ours does it take the form of horror stories shared in huddled groups. By the parents. If our children had never watched Tracy Beaker or Corrie, would their default response to the mildest adult request still be to splay their hands on jutted hips, tilt their heads, and yell, ‘My life is ruined! I hate you!’ ?

According to    the book    I have been using as a crutch through this dark passage, rebellion, in whatever form, is the inevitable handmaiden to female adolescence. At least in countries where the individual matters more than the group. They have to do it, to separate from their mothers and assure themselves that they are indeed distinct entities.

In our family, you might have thought the proof stage of this particular hypothesis had been obviated at the point where Dolly became able to lift me with one hand and shove me back into my own room. But apparently not. She still needs to affirm that she is she and not me. Like a    baby dolphin    frolicking in the pod, she tests this by bouncing a signal off me. She needs me to be there, if only for the satisfying crunch as yet another missile hits home.

The question then arises how far this distance can stretch before the fragile bond breaks and the signal is lost for good. Take, for instance, the matter of the birthday party. Like all middle class parents, we have been through that delicate transition from inviting the whole class round for tea and games, to singling out the half dozen on whom it seemed worth squandering the price of a ticket to    Peter Pan on Ice    (wrongly, it emerged, when the high point of the entertainment turned out to be keeping the birthday girl in tears all the way from London Bridge to Crystal Palace, and back). We have had outings to the Fido Awards and the bowling alley. We have, I had thought, kept pace with popular culture, and avoided being an embarrassment to our spawn.

But parenthood is a positive cornucopia of challenges, and many of them seem to arrive at breakfast time on a Saturday. This one began with the ominous battle cry, ‘Dad and I have been talking.’ I barely had time for a gulp of inert caffeinated substance before she continued, ‘They’re all coming round at 10, and Dad’s driving us to Westfield.’ So the plan was to celebrate the transition to being twelve by, in the memorable words of  Giles Fraser  ,  ‘Spending money we don’t have, on things we don’t need.’

Well, I thought, proving she’s not me is one thing, but this seems a little excessive. I tried to imagine a plan that would test her sonar capabilities further. ‘Maybe you could join a party of child pornographers on an arms dealing trip to  Israel ?’

‘Don’t be silly, Mum, they’d have to fly,’ Magnus muttered, clearly hoping to get through his third English    muffin  before the storm broke.

‘In any case, if you do that, I’m leaving.’ Mornings are never my high point of calm and patience.

‘Fine! Leave then!’ She was serious. And I hadn’t exactly thought it through. How far would I be leaving, and for how long? Would a weekend at my sister’s, two streets away, do? Probably not, given the decibel level of six adolescents in a car en route to the  citadel of dreams . Maybe the other sister’s? I’d be unlikely to bump into the birthday troupe, or their parents, in Glasgow.

That was what I really minded. Not so much that we were embroiling six other children in my daughter’s moral turpitude, but that their parents would think we were like that, too. No doubt there are postcodes where it would be perfectly fine, and places not so far away (roughly the width of the table across which Mr Fixit sat, pretending to have no idea what the issue might be) where it might be regarded as a wittily    ‘ironic’  response to the state of the world.

But I have not spent the first half term of the new secondary school at welcome discos and PTA meetings for nothing. People round here keep their squanderholic tendencies, if any, firmly shrouded in People Tree  natural fibres  . 

For a moment, I thought about leaving. Mr Fixit is all for a    quiet life , which he’d certainly get more of without me around. Magnus and the cat had already taken cover several sturdy rooms away – neither of them is wild about the vigorous exchange of conflicting views, for that matter.

But then Dolly would be sending her little sonar beeps into an endless unresponsive void. And that sounded very sad.

I took another prophylactic gulp, hoping the scientists were wrong. ‘Well, of course, I could leave, but then there’d be no cake, and no hamster, and no outing to the    Parlour    with your cousins’…

The elbows and the lower lip stayed where they were. Bigger weapons were needed. ‘And of course I’d have to take all my clothes with me.’ The lip quivered. ‘Including my shoes.’ I meant that bit, and she knew it. I’m fond of my shoes.

She looked from me to her Dad, by now on hands and knees beneath the table with a    dustpan and brush  ,  disposing of the evidence. Maybe two parents are better than one. After all, even he gets cross sometimes, and then what would happen?

I thought of all the things she really really likes: music, being comfy, and cheap makeup. ‘Or, instead, I could stay, and you could all go to the cinema and come back and get into your    pyjamas  and do lots of hair and makeup, with yummy snacks all evening. And loud music.’

A long pause. A big sigh. The elbows came down. We seem to have a family unit still, and the sonar is still finding its target and bouncing back. Now I just have to figure out how to make a    birthday cake    in the shape of a twelve-year-old’s bed. With bears.