KITCHEN SINK DRAMA
Iam rarely in a hurry to open a letter with a harp on it, so this one sits on top of the bread bin for two days before I get round to it. When I’d picked it up in the porch, I’d thought ‘VAT return’ — wrong time of year for a tax demand — and had thrown it into the hall because there was a bike between my knees and a busy day ahead. But it did vaguely occur to me, on that bike, that VAT returns are done online now, and so it would be unlikely for the Revenue to suddenly send me a paper return.
It’s not a VAT return. ‘Dear Mrs Looney,’ it begins, even though that is my mother and not me, ‘I refer to your child benefit claim. According to our records, child benefit for your child, detailed below, ends in June 2013.’ It goes on with a kind offer of an extension if she continues in full-time education — which we will, of course, get stamped by the school and return post-haste — but in the meantime, it hits me like a speeding train. A letter from the State that basically says, ‘You know that baby you brought into the world on what feels like yesterday, the one that changed your life forever? Well, that’s over now. She’s grown up. Get over it.’
She’s delighted with the letter, of course. More ammunition for her ‘I’m not a child’ arsenal. If only they’d sent her a polling card along with it, then her day would truly have been made. Because right now, The Teenager is all about changing the world. With the fresh air of Transition Year in her sails and an Amnesty membership card in her locker, she has spent the past few months noting injustice all around her and dreaming up ways to right it. She has become an angry firebrand with the zeal of social justice burning in her heart. All of which is, of course, as it should be. I look at her across the kitchen table, and listen to her ranting about the inequalities of this wretched world, and I see myself at the same age, every bit as angry and as fired up. In my day, of course, we were all livid over nuclear power — a cause that consumed us far more efficiently than the energy itself ever could have — and the Brits. But there is a crucial difference between The Teenager’s crusades and my own. While pretty much everything
It seems I’m losing a child but gaining a militant socialist anxious to stick it to The Man... It also seems I’m The Man
that was wrong with my world was the fault of the Brits, I seem to be responsible, singlehandedly, for all that is wrong with hers.
We have daily examinations of conscience now. She lands in at five past one for her lunch, and I am already on tenterhooks. The sandwich that I have made for her is eaten without acknowledgement, while she listens to the news on the radio, her accusing eyes never leaving my guilty face. And then it begins. ‘Three women held captive for 10 years? How can that even happen? How could nobody know?’ And I find myself apologising for not being more vigilant about checking out the suburbs of Cleveland.
‘Why do they just assume it’s Muslims?’ she asks about the Boston bombers, before people discover it’s Muslims, and I apologise for that as well. ‘How can you not allow that poor woman the right to assisted suicide?’ is an actual question, with me spluttering an actual answer about legal precedent and ethics while she shoves tuna into her mouth with her j’accuse fingers. ‘Why are you not more worried about North Korea, when we’re clearly all going to die?’ was another lunchtime special. She’s like a diminutive JFK, asking not what the world can do for her, but how on earth her mother has allowed the world to get into such a screwed-up state in the first place.
So it seems I am losing a child but gaining a militant socialist, anxious to stick it to The Man. All of this, I suppose I expected, though I never imagined that I would be The Man. I still have my ‘nein danke’ badge somewhere, for God’s sake.
Still, I admire her idealism and wish her godspeed in her efforts to change the world. And when I wander into the kitchen and catch her watching The Smurfs on YouTube, I can be quietly thrilled. Okay, so it’s The Communist Smurfs, a polemic on how those little blue folk have society and the collective good sorted. But right now, I’ll take anything that reminds me of the child — the little girl that this broken state tells me has now officially grown up.
Don’t miss Fiona Looney’s brilliant column, with her unique take on modern Ireland, only in the Irish Daily Mail every Wednesday.