Saturday, May 8, 2010

G-g-g-golden Years

Daughter #3 is twelve years old, going on thirteen. A clever, quick- witted girl, very into her guitar, social-networking and rowing, part of a circle of interesting, quirky friends - including a 'boyfriend'. She's busy, independent, mature and reflective. In short, she is nothing like I was at twelve.
I can't really even remember being twelve: I have no idea what I was like, or what I liked. My memories of that time are sparse. I can remember (just about) being in the second year at 'big' school, and some of my teachers, but I can't remember what I thought about my life. I can't remember what I did at weekends. I don't remember meeting friends and hanging out, nor playing, although I can remember clearly the great times I had a couple of years earlier aged eight or nine,with a gang of friends, roaming about beech woods, throwing bamboo spears and making dens, before we had to move up north. Those earlier days have assumed a golden haze of nostalgia: it was a totally safe environment where we were permitted to wander within the extensive college grounds from dawn till dusk, the little enclave of staff-houses provided a ready made circle of friends and other homes to play in. In bed at night I could hear the owls hooting and the foxes shriek. My parents didn't bother me (or bother about me) too much and, I guess, I didn't bother them.
In moving north, our lives altered radically. My parents moved from spacious staff accomodation to their first mortgaged property. The house was new-build, a bungalow, small with plasterboard walls, at the end of a cul-de-sac, adjacent what was called in those days, 'council houses'. We were now under each others' feet. I was confined, and thus under constant scrutiny.
I no longer roamed on my bike - I knew no-one in the area anyway. My parents spent a lot of time getting the house and garden to their liking. We spent a lot of time in garden centres at the weekend. I started at a new school for the last two years of juniors and made a couple of friends who lived in surrounding villages. I only really saw them at school - my mother didn't drive, and my father worked long hours in a career he relished.
I think I spent a lot of time reading and drawing: I can't really remember. My bedroom, which had been tastefully decorated without any consultation with me was seen as part of the house in general and it didn't feel like mine. It was no sanctuary from the world, not like my untidy old two-windowed first-floor room that overlooked the length of the garden and onto rolling cowslip fields and copses.
I think I was pretty depressed at twelve, actually feeling that the best part of my life was already over, all freedom and friendships gone. All around me seemed dull, boring, sterile, pointless. I can remember meticulously copying a Leonardo drawing one day and then distinctly thinking 'what is the point of this?'
I can't even remember what books I read, although I do remember that my father ferried my mother and I down to the library every Monday night. I can recall its smell, a unique disinfectant/floor polish smell and the child-unfriendly demeanour and hauteur of the white-haired chief librarian to whom we gave the nick-name 'Snowdrop'.
Did I enjoy school? I think so, although my chief delight was to invent imaginary histories for the oldest pupils, who we considered awfully sophisticated, rather than any true interaction.
How on earth did I spend my time? I can't have spent it all in solitude, surely? But in truth I cannot recall any play-dates, or proper trips out. I have no photographs of myself at that age - I forfeited all rights to that sort of thing when I stormed out of the house at eighteen, never to return. In fact, my memories of my entire teenage years are sporadic and patchy at best. I can recall an odd scene from a holiday, or secretly applying make-up in the public toilets, or walking up the farm-track with the dog, but I think that in the main my life was just so dull that I failed to archive it for future reference!

So what will Daughter #3 remember of her early teenage years? I've always thought that the most important thing I can do for my children is to supply them with a repository of good memories, of good times had, great places visited, nice food eaten, fun. It was a good moment when she said to me on her return from rowing on the river one brilliant sunny day, that she'd gone up river in a single-scull and paused to look around her at the willowy banks and listen to the wind sighing and the birds twittering ".....and I thought,'this is what I really enjoy!'"
And I knew at that moment that I was maybe, just maybe, getting it right.

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