My daughter is eighteen today and so, essentially, I now have two adults rather than two children. Aside from the pride I can feel in having managed to get them this far in their lives I am worried about their diminishing need for me because parenting is probably the role I’ve been most comfortable playing in all of my life.
“What are you doing tonight again, remind me?” I ask my daughter as she shrugs off a hangover from the second of her birthday weekend celebrations.
Turning from her boyfriend, she says, “I’m having people round and then we’re going to a club at 11.30.”
“That’s nice. How many are coming?”
“Twenty or twenty-five, I can’t remember,” she says, turning away from me again.
I try and work out if I know twenty-five people and decide that I don’t. The number reduces further when I consider those I would still want in my house 11.30 at night.
I’ve made a lavish breakfast of pancakes with fresh fruit because my daughter asked for them, and cornetti, because she always likes it when I make them for her. She picks at her plate and then she is gone from the table cuddling with the dog.
When she opens our card she smiles and says, “ahhh” at the picture on the front from a favourite story of hers when she was little. “We’re going on a bear hunt,” she says, in a deep voice, the way that I used to when I read it to her. I tell her that the picture on the front of the father carrying the little girl on his shoulders always reminds me of us, but she doesn’t hear because she is laughing at something someone else has said while she helps herself to some more Bucks Fizz.
My son tells me that he and his girlfriend are going for a week in Croatia in August and that they’ll be away for my birthday.
Walking in the park I see a man carrying his baby on his back while his dog runs alongside, and I think about how much I miss my son being on my back while I walked my dog. I miss how he used to pull at my hair, sometimes too hard, while I said to him, “Look at the trees Tomi, look at the trees.” and he’d wobble his head around happily smiling at nothing in particular.
There is a fairground in town and I think about how I never took my children to the fair and how it’s too late to take them now. I remember my father taking me and buying me candy floss just before we went on the Waltzer and how I was so scared that I stuffed the whole lot into the crotch of his trousers. I want to tell my children the story but I know they’ve heard it before.
As a parent, I have felt like the writing on a page when in so many other areas of my life I have often been lost in the margins.
Then, out of nowhere, my son asks me what he should do about a financial dilemma which might have an impact on his reputation. I tell him, “You can’t put a price on integrity.”
And, as the huge rose gold balloons bobble their “18” silently in the corner, my daughter comes to me and gives me a hug. She pats my back softly like she used to do when I carried her as a baby, and says,
“Can you give me a lift to Joe’s now? I’m going to watch him play football.”
“Of course I can hunny.” I say. “I’ll just get my keys.”