The last elastics I shall ever sew on


Everyone says that nothing prepares you for having a child and it’s true. Read all the books you like about the practicalities of parenting, from birth through nappy changing; terrible twos’ tantrums; separation anxiety; early years education; learning new skills; acquiring social behaviour; deferred gratification; acne; mood swings; teenage rebellion and out the other side. Even those who haven’t had the care of children must have come across articles of advice and handy hints on all of these and more in their travels.

A lot of this advice is common sense; most is contradictory and at least some is enlightening. Journalists and parents and psychologists and non-parents and all sorts of people proffer advice and bon mots ad nauseum, ad infinitum.

Most of this is helpful to varying degrees, yes, but when it comes down to it your child is an individual person and you are an individual person and your situation is an individual situation so no piece of advice is going to suit anyone to the letter. And this is why nothing prepares you for parenting except actually doing it. And by the time you’re doing it you can’t stop and rewind the things you’ve done wrong or the things you could have done better. This is why unsolicited parenting advice is never helpful.

What the books and all those people don’t tell you is about all the little things you end up doing for your children that force you into activities you would normally never touch. The little things known only by a specialist who lives and works in the back of beyond and is reachable on in person on Tuesday mornings from 10-30 to 11.30.

My daughter, MsDD, has played the clarinet for several years now. Until she started playing woodwind, I had no idea about how the clarinet must be put together exactly just so and kept in a pristine condition with regular servicing or it will squeak or refuse to work at exactly the wrong time. I didn’t know about clarinet reeds: how different varieties within different brands – and there are dozens of them – are too hard or too soft and become harder or softer over time. How, in a box of 12 reeds that costs in the region of £25, only three will ever be exactly right at that exact time and how the rest must be consigned to the bin with a woodwind tantrum.

I now also know that the reed that is perfect five minutes before a performance of a concerto will, in the anticipatory steps from side of podium to centre stage, become chipped and unusable, because a fellow young musician, not a woodwind player, is allowed to handle and scuff the reed. I know these things now, yes.

I know about HB pencils and cartridge paper and about double and triple checking that the PE bag with the trainers that was in the hall just before we left home has actually made its way to the car and thence safely out with the child.

I know that letters to school will never actually be handed into the tutor unless I send them through the post with a stamp.

I know about the different varieties of Lynx and NEVER, EVER to buy Lynx Africa.

I know that I must NEVER be casually late for school pick up or concerts or plays. EVER

I know always to say that is was the behaviour that was appalling or horrifying or nasty, and never the person.

I know that an audition or exam will need a proper accompanist and that the best are booked up weeks in advance.

I know how to make a pirate waistcoat by using a well-fitting T shirt to cut out a template in felt, sew it together and add gold braid.

I know that the only way to persuade a cautious child onto a zip wire tree walk is by taking my courage in my own hands and doing it myself, with a gleeful grin.

I know that confiscating a mobile phone every night is no good unless one makes sure one has also confiscated the SIM card so that it cannot be inserted into another phone “borrowed” from a schoolmate.

I know that one child likes baked beans on their toast while the other prefers spaghetti hoops.

These, among others, are all things that can only be learned by doing and today, for the final time, I sewed elastics onto MsDD’s pristine, new satin ballet shoes for her Grade 6 exam, something I originally learned when she was about five years old and did her pre-primary test. I’ve always been appalling at sewing but I’ve had to learn.

Although cack-handed in the extreme with my own hair, I’ve had to learn how to do hers into a tight ballerina bun, to wield all those pins and tuck in all those ends. Being a parent forces one to learn all sorts of skills, you see.

Including Periscoping. Today, I ate the wrong sort of Magnum. MsDD was quite vocal about this and I Periscoped her rant which, enjoyed by several over the last hours, I have endeavoured to post here. Unfortunately, I learned all too late that the “Save to Photos” switch has to be switched before the recording is made, so we’ve had to use a bit of trickery to present it to you on this blog for your delectation this evening. Again, I’ve learnt something new today. If this video can’t be posted right now, I’ll keep trying for you. You’ll just have to patient, another skill of parenting.

MsDD goes ballistic: