An open let­ter …

On nag­ging

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - MEGAN NICOL REED - Do write. megan­ni­col­[email protected]

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.

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