I actually did some reluctant hoovering today, to remove the fluff-wads that had accumulated around my 'satellite' study in the bedroom. No-one else was going to do it, and as half-term is approaching I'm going to be using it again soon. As I was wielding the vacuum cleaner, I was musing to myself about the role that children play in the lives of their parents. In an ideal world this would simply be to love and be loved, but the more I mulled things over, brief snatches of memory and half lines of conversation conspired to wind me up to a fair degree of resentment.
Let me set the scene: Daughter #3 is at an interesting phase of life: her horizons are expanding rapidly with new friends, new interests and a blossoming intellectual curiosity and enthusiasm for creativity and la vie boheme that I remember fondly from my early teens.
I remember it fondly but in reality, alas, it existed only in my head. My parents, the upright products of rationing and a rigidly hierarchical society did not want a moody, poetry-reading, Oxfam-clad beatnik (at they imagined) for their child. These days, I would probably have briefly become a Goth or something, but in those days there weren't the same sort of neat pegs available and I was just a bit.....weird. Too weird for them. They steered me back towards social acceptability, and closely oversaw my education, music, art and friendships until it all went horribly wrong and ended with me leaving home one Friday lunchtime forever.
As it was, it turned out that I had shot myself in the foot well and truly, turning my back on a guaranteed university place as well as a chance to escape an (emotionally) abusive relationship with a boyfriend that dragged on into an ill-advised marriage for another ten years or so.
They thought they knew what was best for me, and so did I!
So I am finding myself in the same position as my parents did all those years ago and hoping that I don't fail in my parental role.
Where did the rot set in? Well, it is very difficult to be objective about these things, but if asked to identify my feelings about those years it was of complete claustrophobia. Everything was vetted to such a degree that I felt that I had no autonomy whatsoever. I had wanted to play the violin when I started 'big school' but was discouraged from that as my mother thought that 'the clarinet sounded nicer'. When I subsequently proved myself a middling musician (competent but uninspired), I failed to find a place in the regional orchestras (who only required four clarinets max.) whilst my many cheerful violin-scraping friends got into the massed strings and my unique French-horn playing buddy found himself keenly courted throughout the North owing to his rarity value!
I was quite good at art, although I never had any illusions about 'becoming an artist'. My mother was artistic too, so that was 'nice'...and I was encouraged to take Art at A-level. But you can't study art history without becoming aware of the unconventional attitudes and lives of many artists and I developed a taste for Toulouse-Lautrec and the 19th century French demi-monde. That did not go down well.
Combined with this came a desire to go out with my friends (usually those ones who did not meet the required respectibility standard!) to the youth club and local discos and meet boys. Sometimes I was allowed and sometimes not, but always with my father waiting outside for me in the family car tapping his watch disapprovingly if I was even a minute late to our agreed rendezvous.
So I became very devious, managing to fit my debauchery into my time-managed youth unobserved. Maybe I was being really obvious, but I thought I was being so clever. In fact my cleverness entailed me becoming such a different person from the image that my parents cherished that, when the whole elaborate facade came tumbling down and the worms and secrets crawled out, they never really recovered.
Nor did I - I had become two people living in the same space and didn't know which I was. Both? Neither?
They had wanted a daughter that they could show off to their friends and live vicariously through - not unnatural ambitions for parents of that era - and when they found themselves with something that didn't fit the bill, they cut me off - their only child.
Only quite recently have I acquired enough respectibility to warrant mentioning again in polite company, which I find bitterly amusing!
So I look at Daughter #3 and hope that I never, ever drive that bright, blossoming spirit underground to grow amidst the tangled roots that throttled me. I am inclined towards liberality, trusting that we have instilled in her some innate good sense. I don't go on too much about homework, or trace her every move or try to quash friendships with the more unorthodox of her friends. Indeed, I try to make them welcome and feed them. We encourage their music experiments and encourage her to think, read and listen widely.
I think that it's inevitable that we will cross swords along the way, for what is growing up other than a pulling away from the reins that lead you. But I hope that we never reach that stage of utter breakdown that happened between my parents and I.
And I will try to love her for what she is, and all of them for what they are, and not because they are fulfilling my stifled dreams or giving me bragging rights among my peers.
I am currently trying my best to do the former for myself!