On find­ing kin­dred spir­its

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On find­ing kin­dred spir­its

Two sons. No girls. I imag­ine that was my ap­peal. That and my ado­ra­tion. For who wouldn’t want to be wor­shipped like that? Seven years old, I would have walked over hot coals for a few min­utes in her com­pany. I don’t need to delve deep for the rea­sons why. She had the thick­est French ac­cent, was supremely stylish, loved food. I would rum­mage through her over­flow­ing jew­ellery box while she fed me baguette and strong cheese. Once, she let me take home a half-moon, iri­des­cent black clutch ap­pliqued with leather clouds and gulls. It was at her house I first tasted olives. How did I recog­nise at that ten­der age that here was a kin­dred spirit? Did I seek her out for her pas­sions? Or did her in­ter­ests, her traits form my own?

I have ob­served my daugh­ter’s small de­vo­tions. Typ­i­cally she has re­served her af­fec­tions for teenage girls with a pony ob­ses­sion to equal her own. I get it. I have zero in­ter­est in dis­cussing the best way to lunge a horse. The ob­ject of her cur­rent in­fat­u­a­tion, though, is a lit­tle older; very pretty, in­cred­i­bly kind, not re­motely into horses. To­gether they watch bak­ing shows, plan elab­o­rate ve­gan sweet treats and dis­cuss makeup looks.

It in­trigues me in a way her idol­a­try of horsey girls hasn’t. Be­cause the thing is I like mak­ing cakes. I like makeup. She could do these things with me. But, if I am per­fectly hon­est, there is lit­tle plea­sure to be had for ei­ther of us in do­ing these things to­gether. When we bake she eats all the mix­ture and man­ages to get sticky hands ev­ery­where. She does not lis­ten and for­ever wants to com­pli­cate things. When I do her makeup she is hy­per-crit­i­cal, fre­quently dis­ap­pointed, al­ways moves when I’m try­ing to ap­ply the liq­uid eye­liner. She says I am mean and bossy. That I al­ways ruin her fun. Whether cook­ing cup­cakes or paint­ing her face to look like Har­ley Quinn, in­evitably it ends in both our tears.

I was be­gin­ning to won­der if she was right, if I was just a hor­rid spoil­sport, but then a friend, who would rather avoid the kitchen if she can, asked whether her daugh­ter might make dessert with me. Sure, I said. We dis­cussed what we would serve, how we would cater for dif­fer­ing di­etary re­quire­ments, wrote a shop­ping list, painstak­ingly pre­pared it, adapted our plan when dis­as­ter threat­ened; it was a joy from be­gin­ning to end. But when the tart came out and ev­ery­one was full of praise I tried to hide my pride in my pro­tege’s ef­forts. For I could feel my daugh­ter’s eyes on me and I did not know what to say to her.

It made me re­flect on my own child­hood. My mother made ex­quis­ite clothes and threw Mid­dle Eastern-themed din­ner par­ties when ev­ery­one else was still stuck on meat and three veg. How­ever, I can re­mem­ber her fury when I took some fab­ric from her sewing room with­out ask­ing. And I can re­mem­ber re­fus­ing to take her ad­vice on a recipe and fin­ish­ing up with a plate of slop.

How did it make you feel, I asked her re­cently, my crush on your friend? Well, she said, there was a kind of glow, it was af­fir­ma­tion, I guess, that I’d done a good job in bring­ing you up, that I had raised a hu­man be­ing who could con­nect with oth­ers in­de­pen­dently of me, but I’d be ly­ing if I didn’t ad­mit that it wasn’t tinged with sad­ness, too.

Per­haps the love which binds par­ent and child will al­ways have the po­ten­tial to com­pli­cate their in­ter­ac­tions and ac­tions. Per­haps help­ing a child to un­der­stand the value of seek­ing out dif­fer­ent peo­ple to ful­fil dif­fer­ent needs is some­times the greater gift.

Kath kicks her­self when she hears what comes out of her mouth at times. “I tell my kids it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it, but blimey some­times I wish I had some­one re­mind­ing me to think be­fore I speak, or type. Love the idea of a cart­wheel, too, but af­ter hav­ing kids no chance of that again – per­haps a quick sa­lute to the sun!” Les­ley says she al­ways taught her chil­dren to bite their tongue, how­ever, her part­ner has never learned. “[He] has a head that doesn’t en­gage the mouth – the num­ber of boxes of choco­lates over the years that have been dropped off af­ter a party would fill a large suit­case.”

Per­haps the love which binds par­ent and child will al­ways have the po­ten­tial to com­pli­cate their in­ter­ac­tions and ac­tions.

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