An open letter …
My hopes ever high, the spoils are often dismally few. One or two lame options. Nothing to spark off. Nothing to embolden. Sometimes, though, sometimes you’ll get lucky. Hit pay dirt. Strike gold. Sometimes you’ll look something up and find an embarrassment of riches, a heaving smorgasbord of synonyms. Yesss, I thought just now when I typed “nag” into thesaurus.com. Yes sir, I could get fat off these. Many of the options were curiously zoological in theme: badger, bug, carp, dog, hound. Others were just all-round excellent words: egg, goad, harry, heckle, hector.
I have always loved thesauruses. So much so that I requested one for my 21st birthday. As the fruit of my loins, I assumed my son would share my enthusiasm. Why don’t you use a thesaurus, I suggested to him, when he asked me for another way to say “watch”. Nah, he said. Check out the thesaurus, I suggested, when I counted the word “probably” seven times in his speech. Nah, he said. Look, I said, showing him how easy it was. How useful and fascinating. Stop nagging me, he said.
It’s true. I do. I am. A nag. A harpy. A broken record. I bore myself. Feed the dog, I yell down the stairs. Unpack your bag. Put out your washing. Please, says, my husband, could you just stop. Have you opened your blinds, I ask. Have you found out what time you have to be there? Have you walked the dog? Just let him be, says my father. Get off that screen, I say. Go to bed. Get up. Now, now, now. You can’t micromanage teenagers, says my acupuncturist.
A month or so ago, his first exams looming, we clashed spectacularly. Under duress he drew up a study timetable. Okay, I said. From now on you need to be chipping away at it every day, but Sunday’s the day. Sunday is head down, bum up. Yeah, he said. Hungry? I asked every so often, trying not to hover. Remember to keep your fluids up. Get some fresh air. At approximately 1.15pm, he told me was going out. What do you mean?I said. You said it was important to take breaks, he said.
I’ll be back by dinner. We had a screaming match. I was emotional, manipulative. Fine, I said. Two hours and then you’re back to it. No, distractions, I said when he got home. No messaging friends. After half an hour he surfaced. What are you doing, I asked. I’m done, he said. What do you mean, I said. Done? You can’t be done. You’ve got an exam tomorrow; you should be cramming, revising until the last possible minute. No, he said, I feel ready. I just need to relax now. Aren’t you nervous, I asked. No, he said. Well, you should be, I said. You need to be a little bit nervous. It gives you an edge. Get nervous.
Do you think you’re a helicopter mother? asked a friend, filling my glass until the tide was well and truly in. Hmm, I said, around a mouth crammed with chips and dips. Maybe, but I let him have quite a bit of independence. A tiger mother then, she said. Kind of, I said, I want him to do as well as he can but I don’t think I have unrealistic expectations. What about a lawnmower mother, she asked? I don’t know what that is, I said. A lawnmower mother, she said, mows down everyone and everything that could potentially get in the way of her child’s success. No, I said, I’m not that, but I think I might be mowing down my son.
It’ll be better when school finishes, I told myself. If you could just do, I said to him the first day of the holidays, the few things I ask of you every morning, then I wouldn’t have to nag and you can do what you want. A week in, I’d give myself an A- for effort, a C+ for achievement. Leaving a to-do list, I’ve found, is more effective than my voice. And blackmail, the eternal fallback for desperate parents, still works a treat.
At approximately 1.15pm, he told me was going out. What do you mean? I said. You said it was important to take breaks, he said. I’ll be back by dinner.