education

Why do my children find me so annoying? I fear it is nothing to do with lockdown | Zoe Williams


In the old days, I used to follow the news pretty closely, but lately the inevitability of it being bad has turned me off, and I mainly follow dogs on social media that have got their heads stuck in things. I have to reverse-engineer what a cabinet minister might have said from how upset people are on LBC phone-ins.

It is thus that I discovered Gavin Williamson’s belief that children have lost their discipline over lockdown: from all the teachers, everywhere, saying this is totally untrue. Has the education secretary ever been in a school, they wonder? Plainly not, or he’d have noticed that their behaviour has become exquisite. Educationists speculate that they’re just so happy to be out of the house, they must feel as if they have to earn their good fortune with lovely manners. Maybe Williamson’s just talking about the children he encounters? More likely, it’s part of a government strategy to steadily demonise so many elements of society that, eventually, there will be no untoward event that can’t be blamed on someone. Good luck trying that on primary school kids, is all I can say. People who know them are so exorbitantly fond of them.

Secondary school kids are another story. By the time schools went back, I was unable to distinguish between a lockdown effect and garden-variety adolescence. I spend my days on elaborate theories. Why do they find me so annoying? Is it just months of my being so excessively proximal, and how do I reverse it? Should I get myself a shed? Why do they hate mornings so much? Is it because 2020 spat them out of the coursing river of life, and, if so, how do you get them to leap back in? Or, wait, is it because teenagers all find their parents annoying, and all hate mornings?

It being the Easter holidays, the female offspring went off for a picnic. I tried to find them some cash, which they didn’t understand at all. “It’s in case you lose your travelcard, and are also mugged for your phone.” “But then why wouldn’t the mugger take the cash?” “Maybe they didn’t know you had it.” “But then what would we do with the cash?” “You’d buy a Tube ticket from a machine.” “They have machines?”

It was bitterly cold, but they couldn’t wear tights, for reasons. Their legs were kind of blue by the time they reached the street, and I gave it half an hour before they slunk back in. Four hours later, I was texting: “Are you having a lovely time?”, which is mum code for: “Call me in the next five minutes or I’m going to the police.” The older one has learned this code, and sent me a swift reply; the younger one not so much. So obviously I had a follow-up question, which was “ARE YOU STILL TOGETHER?”, but I knew it would indicate a lack of trust, so I held back, biting my nails, pacing around. As they arrived home, I congratulated them on their safe return, and my son asked why I always spoke to people in the tone of voice you’d use for a good dog. My daughter asked: “Also, why are you so loud?” and I thought: “Well that was acerbic – maybe their behaviour is slipping, but maybe, on the other hand, I consume too much dog content on the internet”? I was emotionally exhausted by this point and fell asleep on the sofa, infracting my very well-documented disapproval of snoozing in the day. I don’t think I am that loud, by the way. I think she was objecting to my high-octane delivery.

Some combination of socialising and fresh air drained their batteries, and at 11am the next day, I was just blankly perplexed that anyone could still be asleep. Pacing around beds, checking they were still breathing, leaving it five minutes, then checking again like it was 2007 all over again. The boy child was wide awake, and using the full force of his consciousness to mock me. “Oh yeah, she’s definitely died in the night – you can tell by that snoring sound.”

“Never use the phrase ‘died in the night’ about your sister. It’s bad luck.”

I’m not customarily a superstitious person, and he gave me a sympathetic, quizzical look. It said: “Do you think lockdown might be getting to you a bit?”, and: “Maybe you’ve spent too much time on your phone?” It said, silently, all the things I say out loud to him, and I was struck afresh by his empathy. I’ve known he was a prodigy in this regard since he was two and only barely verbal. We were in a corner shop and he was eye level to some Monster Munch. “Auntie S likes those,” he said, and I thought, huh, he’s right, she really does like Monster Munch, but how does he know that? It’s not like she eats them all the time. “Not beef,” he continued, “pickled onion.” And I thought, this is a stone cold genius, even though it would be many years before he learned to read.

In conclusion, discipline really has broken down, but mainly mine.



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