Blackberry fool

10 Jan

I remember dropping an asparagus quiche on the floor of a Home Economics classroom when I was twelve. I was embarrassed, so I laughed. The teacher was horrified. She looked down at the slimey splat of curdled pie and then at me. “You do realise that could have fed a whole family in Africa, and now it’s wasted and you think it’s funny.”

I was equally horrified. How could we package such a revolting concoction of eggs, milk and tinned asparagus (this was the 80s) and ship it to a far-flung continent? I was also quite lippy. “I’d happily send it to them now, but I’m not sure they’d want it.” “Get out, you rude, revolting, spoilt child,” the teacher retorted. That was my last ever home ec lesson, and my final term at that school. I haven’t been able to eat quiche since.

I still think what the teacher said was stupid. Of course starvation, drought and military conflict weren’t and still aren’t going to be solved in Rwanda with the offer of a billion quiches or a billion pounds, but I do realise in her superior role she was pointing out that I was a rich girl living in the west, and my mis-judged titter was possibly a sign that I had no idea how some people living in poverty would love just a small slice of my life, or quiche.

I’m also rather good at making ridiculous comments when trying to make a point to the children.  Only yesterday I asked my daughter if she had any idea how people in the third world survived without mobile phones, after she whined at me that she was the only girl in the class without a Blackberry.

She had arrived home after a sleepover with a girl who has a room full of stuff that never even sees the light of day. I know this because the friend came around to ours on Boxing Day and listed the two hundred or so presents she was given for Christmas with the enthusiasm of a diseased toad. She still didn’t know what to do with herself. “I’ve come around to play with you because I’m bored,” she said as my daughter answered the door.

It isn’t the girl’s fault that she is given so much, most of which remains unused and redundant as soon as it is released from its packaging. Her parents obviously think things will make her happy. My daughter is also still under the impression that me giving her things will satisfy something deep inside. That’s why we find ourselves rowing, usually half way up the stairs as we were yesterday, with me on a lower step feeling strangely inferior to a 10 year old.

Me: “Well, I’m sorry but why on earth would you need a Blackberry at your age?”

Daughter: “Because everyone in my class has one.”

Me: “That’s not true and that’s not a reason.”

Daughter” “Well, I can chat to my friends for free if I have a Blackberry.”

Me: “You see them everyday. You don’t need to chat at other times. And you can use the house phone if it’s really important. It’s not like you work.”

Daughter: “I work for you. You’re a slavedriver. You even make me buy my own clothes with the money I earn, and I had to make dinner yesterday, for everyone. You’re just about the meanest mother I know.”

Me: “You wanted to make dinner. Honestly, you are the most spoilt girl I know. Do you think children in Biafra have mobile phones? (I always say Biafra but somewhere more up to date that exists would be a better choice.) Do you think that boy on the TV the other day in the program about poverty in Britain has a mobile phone ?” (I suddenly remembered that although he did not have enough money on the meter to heat the house, he did actually have an Xbox and a phone.)

Daughter: “Yes, he did, and it was an iPhone. That means we’re poorer than the poor people on television and you’re being meaner than dad and that’s saying something”

Me: “It’s not about money. It’s not about Shellac nails or Nike Airs or MacBooks or trips to New York. It’s not about things at all. It’s about the fact that you will always want something else when you’ve been bought the last thing. And I haven’t got any money to buy you a bloody smartphone, alright. And that girl Shanique in your class. I know she doesn’t have a Blackberry because I asked her mum, so you’re actually lying when you say that everyone has one, alright?”

I’m remarkably inarticulate when arguing with children, and without fail completely lose the thread of what I’m trying to say. I also catch myself using really ugly corporate words like smartphone.

When they behave badly my kids either make me turn into my home ec teacher (I take the higher moral ground and use the third world guilt tactic) or worse, I begin to doubt my motives altogether. I question my meanness. I do things like recall interviews with famous people and use a recent Sunday supplement as a moral guide. Christian Louboutin’s mother bought him a phone with its own telephone line when he was young, and he said it was one of the loveliest things about her because she allowed him freedom, and to follow his own creative path. But surely a phone doesn’t allow one the kind of freedom that plants the seed of contentedness and creativity. Does it? See, I’m doubting myself.

For now my daughter is stuck with no phone, no life to talk about on free minutes, and a mean mother who dresses like a man (a common complaint when I pick her up from school in an oversized parka).

At the end of our unresolved argument, halted prematurely by my husband asking me why I even bother to continue the back and forth with our daughter, I slope off in to the bathroom, the only room with a lock that allows me some privacy. I run a bath. I read a magazine. I come out to find that my daughter is on her bed flicking through a book called ‘Diary of a Chav – trainers v tiaras’.

She apologises for behaving like a spoilt brat. I say it’s ok, and then remember what it was like to be ten and the only girl in my class without a pony. At the time it felt like abuse, but looking back I wondered why my parents gave into my demands just a year later. It only made me miserable, what with all the mucking out and the thigh chaffing from the  jodphurs and the Saturday mornings spent at Gymkhanas and the realisation that life in the country was rubbish if you didn’t like sport. My love of horses waned after just a year – I preferred boys by the time I was 13. I tell her all of this, thinking what a good lesson I must be teaching her and how she must be taking it all in and thinking “My mother is not a mean woman who looks like a man. She is wise and I see now that she is speaking sense. I am letting go of all my material desires from hereon in.” But of course she wasn’t. She’s ten.

“But mum, I’m not talking about a pony. I’m talking about a Blackberry. You really need to keep up.” And so, within two seconds we are back to square one. She’s Veruca Salt and I’m the home ec teacher and pretty soon I mention Biafra again and my daughter asks “Where on earth is Biafra anyway?” I am embarrassed that she has finally pulled me up on this one. “Erm, it doesn’t really exist anymore. When we go to that war photography exhibition I’ve been promising to take you to, you’ll learn all about it.”

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