Extract from “Madeleine’s Memoires”
Am I there yet?
“What do you want to be when you’re older, Paul?” asked the teacher.
“A footballer, Miss.”
“And what about you, Victoria?”
“A nurse, Miss.”
“A grown up, Miss.”
Seven year old Me had been so upset that Mrs Pettyfer had sent me to the Headmistress’ office, but Miss Josie (a single mum who adopted a coloured girl in the late 1970s) simply gave me a hug and called me creative.
40 year old (but only just) Me remembered reading somewhere that a child will form its values by the age of 7. How? I barely remember anything before the age of 8 and what I do remember was generously helped along by lots of stories about lots of photographs.
I remember being 8 and having tonsillitis (I suffered from that a lot in my late teens but that was caused by something else!). The doctor had prescribed some orange flavoured lozenges that were in a metal tube. I really liked them and decided to eat them all. My mum panicked and called the doctor who suggested making me drink lots of salt water until I was sick. I remember standing on a stool leaning over the kitchen sink.
I remember being 8 and having swimming lessons at school. My school was one of only a few in the area to have a pool and it had been opened by an Olympic swimmer. I remember we were learning to float (doesn’t everybody float anyhoo?) and had to lie on our backs, close our eyes and relax. I was so relaxed our teacher had to keep blowing the whistle to get my attention and when I opened my eyes, all the other children were at the side of the pool.
I remember being 9 and falling off the slide up the park. It seemed like the highest slide in the world and we dared each other to stand, legs akimbo, at the bottom of the hand rails so the others could slide through your legs. Only I got caught and fell to the concrete on my head. My dad said he could hear me screaming from half a mile away. I just remember crying when my mum said the doctor might have to shave my lovely long blonde hair off to have a look at the cut.
I remember being 10, on the last day in Year 3 at junior school (that’s Year 5 to you youngsters) before we moved only five miles up the road, but it might as well have been to the moon. And what I do remember is heavily intertwined with scenes from The Naughtiest Girl in School (Enid Blyton), so I’m not sure if it happened the way I remembered it.
I remember being 11 and stopping off in Paris on the way home from the South of France, en famille, and parking in a car park very near to le Metro. I remember the tent on the roof rack on top of the car. I remember my mum needing the toilet and squatting behind the car door in the car park. I remember coming back to the car and the tent was no longer on top of the car, it was in the back seat. The robbing bastards stole all our lovely presents, including a yellow duck soap from Grasse and my bikini bottoms but not my top. I was most put out.
I remember being told by my parents not to leave school at lunch time when I started senior school. I was friends with the twins down the road who were a year above and I used to hang around with them. There was another girl in their year who never liked me, who, when I did leave school at lunchtime to go down the chippy, took great joy in telling my little brother who took even greater delight in grassing me up to mum and dad. I was so royally told off, I didn’t leave the school grounds until a good two years later and had to turn down offers from the popular girls in my year to go to their house for lunch.
I remember being told by (guess who?) my mum, that there was plenty of time for boys when I left school, I was 11 at the time and so, in all honesty, I only had one boyfriend in all five years of senior school. It lasted three weeks, and I was dumped in much the same way I acquired a boyfriend, via my friend, when I came back in from hockey practice. I was “frigid” (that was absolutely mortifying at that age, I was 12 by then) because I wouldn’t let him kiss me and wouldn’t tell him where I lived.
I don’t remember having the talk about the birds and the bees by my parents as a child, but distinctly remember my embarrassment when my mum asked me, aged 19, “Do you think me and your dad don’t do it anymore?” when I started going out with my first “proper” boyfriend.
So if I did learn any values by the time I was seven, I don’t remember which makes me feel even worse, because my son, aged 8, seems so much more switched on and grown up than I was at the same age.
I don't have the same relationship, as a mother, with my son as I did with my own parents. To me, they were the grown ups. What they said went. It was only in my early teens that I started to rebel, quietly, without them knowing and as I got older, and I got caught out, I told terrible lies and they must have been able to see through it. And as wrong as I thought they were, they were still the grown ups.
I am sure my son, an only child, brought up around adults, thinks he's older than he is and in conversation, in smarts, he is but I still have to remind myself he is my little boy, and not a peer, or my brother, because that's the sort of relationship we have. I argue with him, like I did with my brother when we were growing up. He has a very good repertoire of swear words, even though we tell him not to use them. He goes to bed later than I did at his age. I take my mood swings out on him.
Am I scarring him? Have I instilled a really rubbish set of values in him at his young age? Am I a rubbish Mum who knows exactly what emotional buttons to press to get a rise out of my little Mini Me?
Did seven year old Maddie kid herself when she answered "A grown up" to Mrs Pettyfer's question, because I don't think I'm there yet.
Tasha Taylor 2012