How are your parenting skills? On a good day, I’ll give myself an eight out of ten, I guess. But you’re the first person I’ve told that to.
I’m not saying I’m a bad mother, I just don’t shout about being a good one. But then, I don’t measure myself in the ways that other people do. For example, I don’t get involved too much with mumsy school stuff. In fact, I’m a total shirker when it comes to volunteering for committees and the thought of being the class rep fills me with dread. What if they found out how often I take my kids to the pub?
So I hardly ever read the scores of emails that come round from all the other more dedicated mothers every week. I work on the principle that if there’s something really important I should know about, I’ll get to hear about it eventually. I’m not into monitoring every aspect of my child’s education. I’m more in the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ camp.
So it was very refreshing when the new headmistress sent round a letter this week and I perked up and took notice, for once. She’s on a mission to teach our ten-year-old kids some ‘life skills’ before they go up to senior school. On her list, among many suggestions, are a touch typing course, a first aid course with St John’s ambulance, a cycling proficiency course, a cookery course, and an introduction to trading a fantasy portfolio on the stock exchange. As well as visits from guest speakers and a stint doing some community service.
See? Education can be innovative and good after all. Those are all fabulous things to teach a ten-year-old. And thank God, because the older I get, the less sure I am about the practical life skills I’m capable of imparting myself. OK, so I can touch type at the speed of light, but I’m not entirely sure how to carry out a Heimlich manoeuvre and the only stocks I’ve ever owned have promptly plummeted.
Of course that wouldn’t be so bad, but I’m not such a great role model at the more trivial side of life either. The other stuff my ten-year-old really wants to know about – namely, how to look cool.
But me and blow drying hair? Skilfully applying make-up? Fashion? Help!
I put it down to the terrible training I had myself. My early days were spent being dragged around Marks and Spencer’s with my mother and making do with hand-me-down clothes from my elder sister. My teens were spent copying what Tracey Woods bought from Miss Selfridge (remember Iron Lady lipstick?). My twenties involved getting pissed in the pub, then doing a smash and grab for clubbing gear on Kensington High Street, and my thirties were spent mostly in pregnancy clothes. And so now, in my forties, I’ve wound up with many, many pairs of jeans that don’t fit, a host of outdated party frocks and some truly shameful T-shirts. Where’s my skilfully put together designer wardrobe? I always thought I’d have one when I reached this age. Where did all that go wrong?
The Big One caught Gok on the TV the other day. ‘Why don’t you ever buy clothes like that, Mum?’ she asked. Good question.
So I took her to Zara on Saturday for some retail action. I can’t say therapy. I find shopping far too stressful. It’s the basics I can’t get right. Like, the second I walked in, I was too hot. How do you regulate your body temperature in a shopping mall? How come all the other shoppers look comfortable and aren’t lugging round their huge parker over their arm?
I picked up lots of clothes, but then balked at the idea of queuing for the changing rooms, so I queued instead to pay for them, huffing and puffing and feeling insecure. Three-quarter length zippy jeans and a backless t-shirt? Sky-scraping orange heels? With these bunions?
The only item that actually worked (and that I won’t now be taking back) was a spotty blue scarf The Big One chose and I said we could share as it was twenty quid. The trendy assistant at the till folded it up and said, ‘Good choice. This is the best thing in the store.’
I stared a the Big One, a whole new thought occurring to me. What if she could teach me? What if a miracle has happened and I’ve accidentally bred my own fashion guru, who can effortlessly mix ‘n’ match charity, Top Shop and designer pieces? What if she turns out to be thrifty and cool in the way that I’ve never been? Wouldn’t that be amazing?
Maybe being a good parent isn’t about imparting life skills to your children, but learning skills from them instead? OK, so my three-year-old is a bit young to be teaching me anything of value soon. But surely it’s only a matter of time.
And in the mean time, with my more practical deficiencies, I’m volunteering as a ‘helper’ for the life skills course. I’ll let you know what useful stuff I pick up.