A few friends came round today. One had a baby of three months. We got to hold him and look at his tiny fingers and his startled curious expression, and when he twisted his little face into a discontented look, we worked out whether he was tired or hungry. Babies give you clues to help you figure it out and respond and then they’re happy again for a while.
When your children are 19 and 21 years old, it’s different.
They know when they are hungry and they cook themselves food (or speed-dial it).
They know when they are tired and they sleep. In fact they sleep anyway. When they wake depends on a television programme, a lecture or class for which lack of attendance carries penalties, or just because they are bored with being in one place for more than twelve hours.
Thankfully they also know when they need the toilet.
Expecting more than this is fine though.
Unless you are a whopping liberal who is ready and willing for your children to enslave you for the rest of your days, it is reasonable to expect that adult children can keep a house tidy. They should be able to wash their clothes so that they are not condemned as olfactory criminals, fetid felons if you will.
If you are really good at parenting, you may have been able to persuade your son against growing a massive beard that makes him look like Karl Marx in his Hagrid period. Or to convince your daughter that shin tattoos make her look like the sole survivor of a Mad Max style hockey match. That is, don’t do it.
I have personally found that adult children can be supported to become full adults via mobile-phone-based support, written messaging and occasional verbal abuse. Here are some experiences.
In the morning, I spend a quiet half an hour getting coffee and ready for the day, unhindered by other human beings, safe in the knowledge that they will be asleep for several hours. Being the wage-earner, I think it fair that the beneficiaries of my wages play their part in efficient domesticity. I will, for instance, place a load of washing in the machine, scribble a note to the effect that it needs washing and leave for work.
At a point during the day, I will place a follow up phone call to home to reinforce the domestic task list. This is optimistic.
It is unlikely that anyone will pick the phone up. My youngest son, understandably, got fed up with junk calls (his phrase) so will only answer the phone if a known voice is bellowing down the answermachine. In practice this means that when I get home from work, the machine has three types of message… Primarily weird recordings of disembodied aliens offering me some PPI reimbursement, secondly myself (‘Matthew, pick up the phone…’), and occasionally my ex-husband calling to our children… ‘pick the phone up, your tea is r….’ before presumably someone decides to acknowledge the meal preparation.
Occasionally, ringing either mobile phone may work but Matthew’s is usually switched off on the grounds that he didn’t have anything to ask me…
Anyway the call has two purposes.
One – have you filled in the instructions on the scribbled bit of paper? Two – do I need to buy any food on the way home?
This latter is a wasted question. The answer is always no, we don’t need anything. Also without fail, I get home and all the bread, pizzas, cheese has been eaten. All the toilet roll, shower gel, toothpaste has been used. All the milk, fruit juice, tea drunk. This doesn’t matter, however, as they will never have finished all the wine because that is mine and I always know how much is left.
This week the message changed though.
To explain… Eight months before the end of his university career, my eldest decided this was a good time to buy goldfish. The fish lived well at his flat in Nottingham for three months before he realised that it was Christmas and that the fish would have to travel or die. Two hours on a train in an impermeable plastic bag, and the young fish were successfully introduced to our three existing, more mature fish. All seemed well for several months. Five happy healthy swimmers.
At the end of July, the family went to Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games and arrangements for the feeding of the fish were made.
Fast forward to our return.
I spent eight years of my life as a maths teacher, but I thought it prudent to invite a second opinion. The adult children also counted the fish. The truth was undeniable. Five fish were now four and little evidence existed of their tiny friend. We could only assume that it had become unwell, perished and then formed an unexpected extra meal in the fish-tank daily menu.
More tragedy was to follow.
Mere days after, the other smallest fish became listless and adopted the tell-tale ‘I’m going to die soon’ sign of swimming sideways or upside down. My digitally confident children consulted Google. Clearly the fish was constipated, it said. All that is required is some roughage. Put the fish in a clean bowl of water and feed it a pea. Google was not to be drawn on whether a pre-frozen petit pois was an adequate substitute for a home-grown, slug-challenged podded pea but… well we tried.
For 24 hours the fish hung in there, munching erratically at its warm pea when the swimming backwards thing allowed it to coincide with the source of roughage. But ultimately…
Awake first in the morning, I entered the kitchen, home of hygiene and sustenance, to find it also home of a bowl of grey minging water hosting a dead fish.
‘RIP,’ I wrote. Rest in peace? Rest in peas was more accurate but that seemed overly crass regarding an event that was at best a disappointment if not an all-out bereavement. ‘Please find it a nice final resting place’ I scribbled.
The bowl was still there of course, bereft of fish with only cloudy water, a few pebbles and a half eaten pea to remind us of its last hours. I hadn’t of course mentioned bowl cleansing on my instructions. (If you’ve ever tried to explain to IT companies what you want, you’ll understand the ‘you didn’t spec that’ response).
And so the training continues.
There are early signs that the younger son can recognise and do washing up without a note. The elder has been known to iron a shirt for an interview. Neither one, however, has yet to clean out the fish tank unsolicited.
Image credits, thanks to:
Fish pic: By Jennifer at delmack and cheese
Beard pic: By Eva Rinaldi from Sydney Australia [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Cash register: By Kozuch – Cash register, built 1904 in Ohio [CC BY-SA 3.0]
Honeysuckle: European honeysuckle 800 [CC BY-SA 3.0]