By the time you read this, our eldest child will have become a Teenager. Your condolences are gratefully accepted.
Actually, that’s not quite right; he’s been a teenager for a while. Nowadays, they hit adolescence much earlier; estimates range from eleven to six, depending on which paper you take your anxiety levels from.
Lawrence and I discuss how to reflect his new status in his finances. Foolishly, I mention the allowance I got from my father when I was fourteen – today’s equivalent of age ten.
“I think I got £15 a month,” I say. “But that was for clothes, records and so on.”
“So, all the things you didn’t need.”
Lately he has appointed himself arbiter of the family’s spending, as if installed here by the coalition to demand that we all justify our consumption. The other day he questioned Lydia for having a mid–morning piece of toast.
“No, I say, “things I did need. Not just records and stuff; essentials.”
“If you don’t want to sound old, you could stop saying ‘record’,” he says.
We are waiting in a bank to open him a proper account – debit card, no free cuddly toy – for his birthday, something I had hoped might be greeted with enthusiasm or even mild curiosity, as opposed to the ennui that pervades all our communications now.
I loathe banks and would rather watch America’s Got Talent again than surrender my firstborn to their evil embrace. But Lawrence shops on Amazon and I am sick of lending him my card. By way of – somewhat feeble – protest, I have spurned our bank for a different one. So in return for the minimal satisfaction of denying ours a fresh victim, we are now joining one which is quite possibly even more inefficient, and whose nearest branch isn’t even that near.
“We also thought,” I say while we wait, “we might raise your pocket money, in return for more chores.”
“More?! On top of what we do already?”
I notice he is now including his sister in an effort at collective bargaining, or at least collective righteous indignation. Perhaps we have spawned a future trade union leader. He certainly has the ability to argue on long after I have retired, exhausted, to bed.
I get a text from the friend whose bank we are in.
‘Son refuses to water garden, even for £5.’
A fiver for watering sounds quite good to me. Annoyingly, Lawrence and Lydia are often not motivated by money either. When they were small, our one attempt at star charts failed because they never cared enough to fill up a whole line. And I have often offered five pounds just to do the outside of the car, to be greeted by waves of apathy. My sister and I were always after cash by any means ? even work if all else failed, so I don’t understand why my children aren’t more mercenary.
We leave the forms at the bank and go to meet Peter and Lydia at the park for table tennis. Lawrence plays me, then his father, and beats both of us. As with adolescence, ping–pong can be tackled at any age; there are the middle–aged, like us, teens, tweens, twentysomethings and at the junior end of the scale, a toddler who has to stand on the table in order to see over the net.
As we pack up to go home, the children see their old favourite, the big rope climbing frame. The first time they reached the top, I couldn’t watch. Now they recline at the summit on their backs, while we gaze up at them.
“Why don’t you two follow us back in an hour?” Peter suggests.
“So we can be more independent,”
says Lawrence witheringly. They pretend to stay behind, then run silently through the trees behind us like small ninjas, and surprise us at the gate.
In the morning I come down to find the kitchen looking different;
Lawrence has tidied up the cooking area.
“I just felt like it,” he says.
What? I feel wobbly from the shock. Just when you think they’ve become truly adolescent they confound you by being suddenly human again.