As a teacher, I have seen my fair share of naughty children.
Children who lit up a cigarette in the reception area at school whilst waiting to be sent home after being excluded.
Children who shouted “fish and chips!” repeatedly at a Chinese teacher during a lesson.
And I have lived in fear of that being my child.
“Don’t worry,” my teacher friends reassured me. “Your child will never be like that. They will be YOUR child, and you’re not like that, so why would they be?”
I don’t know, I would mumble. His genetic father, perhaps? When you have a donor-conceived child, there’s no way of knowing the character of half of those genes they have inherited. I could have spawned the child of Beelzebub himself, for all I knew.
Now obviously I wouldn’t expect my son to be exactly like me, nor would I wish him to be, but as the old adage goes, the apple does not fall far from the tree, and by the age of eighteen months, I was impressing my babysitter by articulating my thoughts on the latest episode of Panorama. Admittedly, my actual words were something along the lines of “Nanny Maggie Thatcher, Maggie Thatcher my nanny,” meaning I thought Margaret Thatcher and my grandmother were somehow one and the same, but my point is, at eighteen months I could recognise and name the then prime minister. Piglet couldn’t even recognise his own grandmother in an old photo today, let alone identify David Cameron, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Theresa May in a rogues’ gallery of current Tory
bell-ends politicians, as I suppose I would have been able to by his age.
In fact, Piglet does not seem to have much in common with me full stop. Either the apple has indeed fallen far from the tree, or he has instead followed the genes of the mysterious donor. His talents are of a different style. I may have been a dab hand at identifying members of the Cabinet, but he could almost certainly take out the cabinet in the living room with a well aimed throw, whilst I couldn’t catch a ball until the age of at least ten. I have watched with interest as he has grown, and started to develop into his own person, with his own preferences, and it has became clear that he likes things that I don’t. He likes cars, and Formula One, and running about. He likes shouting and being rowdy and throwing things.
Yes, throwing things. My beloved child likes throwing things. Food, drinks, toys, books. On the floor, across the floor, into my face.
Yes, he likes pulling his arm back like a catapult, and launching his toys right at me.
I wouldn’t mind. I mean, the occasional split lip, black eye and broken tooth I can live with. It’s just, it’s just…….
The other day he did it at nursery.
It was my mother who picked him up. She picked him up from nursery, as is the custom, only to be told that Piglet had been spoken to over his hazardous interest in throwing toys. I felt my face grow hot with shame as I heard how my child, my own flesh and blood, had been told off for doing something naughty. My son, the naughty child.
I had visions of myself sat in those endless meetings that I have sat through with naughty children; sad, disappointed, exasperated. I had visions of the school advising me that it was probably for the best that my son be quietly removed from full-time education, that perhaps this school wasn’t the best one for his needs, that perhaps he would do better being home-schooled by his mother who works full time. That it was such a shame as he had such potential, if he could only finish his GCSEs. I imagined myself looking into the faces of the teachers and knowing what they were thinking; that it wasn’t fair that my wayward child was spoiling the education of others, disrupting classes, taking resources that rightfully belonged to the nicely brought up children, with their tidy pencil cases, scrubbed, wholesome faces and love of learning.
And it all started with a toy at nursery, thrown with force and intent. A dangerous missile.
My mother’s face that night said it all. She was judging me. It was all because of me. I hadn’t given him boundaries. I was still breastfeeding him at almost two. And not only that, but I was LETTING HIM CLOSE HIS EYES while he did so. At 6pm! That child will never go to sleep! You’re making a rod for your own back. He was TOLD OFF AT NURSERY TODAY, YOU KNOW!
And I worried. I worried that I had created a monster; that things would slide from bad to worse, that we were on the fast track to permanent exclusion and a spell in borstal.
I worried that it was something that I had done. Was it because I didn’t have him in a strict enough routine? Am I going to be hauled off to a correction facility and forced to take a parenting course run by Gina Ford and Supernanny, in which I am taught the golden rules of parenting; bath, book and bedtime, every night at 6pm on the dot until the child finally capitulates and stops trying to escape from the bedroom and go down the stairs at 10pm? And if I was by some miracle able to get Piglet to sleep at an hour considered by other parents to be “reasonable,” would all the other tricks of parenting just fall naturally into place? Would I suddenly have a child who ate all meals presented to him without complaint, sat in a chair without climbing into a standing position and attempting to fling himself off the back of it, and never again stole Mummy’s new sunglasses and pulled them apart into a million pieces before hiding the evidence down the back of the sofa?
Only time will tell if my parenting has been good enough. Only time will tell if I avoid being that parent in the meeting, being advised to quietly remove their child from full time education. All I can do is my best, and if my best isn’t good enough for Supernanny then so be it.
I just hope we have no more bad behaviour at nursery. Margaret Thatcher would NOT approve.