AT lunch recently with my son and daughter, I was struck by a feeling of guilt and nearly stabbed myself with the steak knife. That’s OK, mothers of sons are meant to feel guilty; it comes with the job, and we’re always on the lookout for lurking steak knives. My trouble was that I felt guilty at feeling no guilt at the way I brought him up.
I sometimes think — this will hardly win me community awards — that parenthood should be more about bumbling along and playing things by ear rather than hysterically crossing the t’s and dotting the proverbial i’s.
Another thing that struck me was that he has his first grey hair, albeit just one, and yet it seems only two weeks ago that he was a babe in arms. But I never took him along to greet an aspiring minister, however cute he was as a child.
Where, I wonder, did politicians get the idea mothers wanted them to kiss their babies? I should imagine the children, when they grow up, will cringe at a faded newspaper clipping showing them in swaddling clothes, being dribbled on by a balding, bespectacled, sweaty, middle- aged man.
We seem to have a primeval urge to brush shoulders with famous people, however brief the encounter and how relatively unimportant they are in the greater scheme of things. It seems a little fruitless. I can remember as a young child in Johannesburg being less than impressed at being taken to town to stand in a high- rise building to see the Queen pass by.
My enthusiasm was perhaps a little damped by the fact we were watching the parade from the rooms of our dentist, so to this day I associate her majesty with a drill that, when turned on, sounded as if it was pulling the pavement up, along with all the resident trees.
Of course, things have changed: drills are generally less frightening and swaddling clothes no longer exist. The moment they are born, baby boys are shoved into denim jeans and jackets, as though immediately declaring their innate masculinity.
If you came from another planet and happened upon a group of children celebrating a first or second birthday, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were at an annual convention of midgets, hoody midgets at that.
My son spent his early childhood wearing smocks and towelling thingummies, and he doesn’t seem to be any less of a man as a result. At lunch his sister, seven years older, made sympathetic noises about the grey encroachment but assured him he had been a sweet baby. She reminded him of his many cute observations, such as asking, after a teacher warned him of stranger danger, whether we knew any strangers. And the time he waited excitedly for a hire car to take me to the airport, only to have his face fall when it arrived. ‘‘ That car isn’t very high at all,’’ he said. ‘‘ You were adorable,’’ we murmured. ‘‘ Ah,’’ he sighed, ‘‘ those were the days!’’
fraserj@ theaustralian. com. au