Youthsitting by Trevor Plumbly
‘We’re having the boys for the night.’ This news was delivered as if I had been rewarded for something highly deserving. Much as I love my grandsons, I regard their visits like the curate’s egg: ‘good in parts’. I’ve always had trouble relating to kids, to the extent that I often wonder if I ever was one.
Infants don’t worry me much: jingle a few keys and they’re easily entertained; they’re portable and sleep a lot. Young kids are a bit more demanding, but nothing a few bribes can’t sort; it’s youth I find toughest. The problem is a multiple one. In my autumnal years, I find Jascha Heifetz better company than Scooby Doo, also, my slowly diminishing eyesight has broken into a bit of a canter of late, thus restricting me to mainly armchair activities and finally, the boys themselves seem to have outgrown my early system of trouble free babysitting.
They burst in, preceded by the dog, who hasn’t grown at all, mentally anyway. No 2 follows like a SWAT team leader placing me and the more accessible breakables under threat. No 1 is into quiet cool; he is studious, all of 10, and far too old for unbridled emotions. I’ve sensed this internal division coming since No 2 discovered the outdoors. Another problem is that there’s not much ‘we’ anymore: the world, including my front room, all electrical gadgets and edibles, now belong to them. Cartoons and ice cream are still valid – if somewhat devalued – stocks, but iPads and skateboards are the new blue chip. In negotiation, I’ve discovered it’s unwise to make pre-emptive offers, bargaining with youth is a tricky process, especially with two potentially warring factions. It’s always important to weigh one’s words carefully. It never ceases to amaze me that these two struggle mightily with basic schoolwork, yet possess photographic memories in recalling a casual promise made months earlier.
I haven’t deteriorated to the extent of actually saying ‘it wasn’t like that in my day’, but I can’t help thinking that way. In terms of rules and regulations we faced the same basic obstacles, but today’s barriers just seem more navigable for them. Kids today are encouraged to discuss ‘choices’, so of course it wasn’t like that back then. Food, for instance, was plonked down and any comment was greeted by ‘just eat it!’ Quite simply adults ‘knew better’; they were much bigger and could inflict all sorts of nasties. So the result of the age old conflict between emerging confidence and aged shortcomings was predictable and not subject to appeal.
They’ve just left for school, the house is almost sadly quiet and as I’m writing this I can’t help remembering a younger Plumbly, all angry dreams, long hair, protest marches, Rolling Stones, booze and lots of other stuff I’d rather not mention. Bridging the age gap is a complex endeavour; I’m sure there are learned tomes on the subject, but tired old rebels are still capable of lateral thought, so instead of spending dough on DIY anaesthetics, I’ll use it for bribes. Never mind the bloody experts, that’s what I call successful interaction.