There was a time when children were to be seen and not heard. Oh how I yearn for those days . . .
Fairly recently I took Maisie and two of her cousins, nine-year-old Rebekah and seven-year-old Gabriel, to the swimming pool. My brother John, who is dad to Rebekah and Gabriel, runs his own business. Like quite a few business owners I know, John is convinced that nobody works as hard as he does to bring home the bacon. And you hardly need to give him an opportunity for him to tell you so. Every conversation rapidly turns to the topic of what work John is currently engaged in, what work John has just finished, what work John is about to start and, finally, just how much work poor John must perform.
So when Rebekah turned to Maisie on the way to the pool and said “My dad says he does more work than your dad” I was pretty certain Rebekah wasn’t making the statement up. And while I might take a certain amount of pride out of the fact that I don’t have to work as hard as my brother, I’m pretty sure the statement wasn’t meant as a compliment. In fact, all the way to the pool the comment rang in my ears as something that I could just picture my brother saying, and I wasn’t that happy about it.
Refusing to let the matter rest, I gave John a call about a week later. After some chat about how busy John was at work, I casually mentioned what Rebekah had said in the car a week earlier. Because I had half expected John to dismiss the comment as something kids make up, I was disarmed when he burst out laughing. “I would have credited her with more tact!” was his eventual reply.
While we both ended up laughing about it, the episode made me realise just how much of our conversation is retained by the kids. And, equally, how kids don’t have all the necessary filters to work out what is said in jest, what is to remain private or what is acceptable to repeat. I know that when Susie and I are talking in the front seat of the car, for example, it’s very easy to forget that there are several pairs of ears soaking up large parts of our conversation.
I know that when Susie and I are talking in the front seat of the car, for example, it’s very easy to forget that there are several pairs of ears soaking up large parts of our conversation.
Only recently I was doing the early morning childcare run with Frances. From her back seat she started doing an impersonation of me driving which pretty much consisted of a lot of humming and gentle tapping on her imaginary steering wheel. When I asked her what her mum looked like when she was driving, Frances suddenly hunched her shoulders, screwed up her face and launched into a stream of expletives. What was most frightening about this moment was just how accurately Frances had managed to portray Rush-Hour Susie.
Then, the very night after I had spoken to John on the phone, I was putting Maisie to bed. After reading our book, I said goodnight and gave her a kiss. “I’m a good girl, aren’t I daddy?” she asked. I told her she was and went to close the door. “I’m not like Frances. She’s a nut bag”. I have to admit that in the last couple of weeks I have probably referred to Frances as a nut bag about a million times, and never thought twice about it. But suddenly, hearing Maisie say it, made it sound less endearing and more, well, mean.
I would have credited myself with more tact.
Are there things that you’ve said in front of the kids that have come back to haunt you? Have the kids ever told you something you knew you weren’t supposed to hear?
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