I’ve met a good few journalists in my time. Some of them local hacks. Some of them household names. Some of them happen to be low-life scum who wouldn’t think twice about slicing their own mother’s fingers off if it resulted in a line or two in The Daily Mail. Others wouldn’t think twice about slicing their third cousin’s twice-removed fingers off if it led to a…
Okay, okay. I jest. A good few of them are quite nice, really. And one thing that I have in common with some of the more credible journos out there is that they tend to be *okay* with mentioning their kids in their writing. Jon Ronson for example – a smashing chap (who has never sliced anyone’s fingers off as far as I am aware) – has often written about his son. And Jon, like many others who do chat about their kids publicly, tends to come in for a lot of flak about exposing his offspring to the pointy fangs and vicious, frothily-flecked snarls of the country’s commentators. But Jon is a rare soul who deals with this kind of thing in a very unique way. (And yeah, okay – Jon has incredible talent and has the London-literati connections to begin with – but don’t get me all bitter n’ twisted on that one…)
My experience is radically different to Jon’s. It isn’t The Telegraph slagging me off. With me, it tends to be negative comments from normal, everyday parents. Usually women. Fellow mothers who fret that I choose to mention my children ‘out there’ – in the public domain. And actually, I tend to think that this is all a wee bit ironic … when 99% of parents don’t have a problem at all with endless photos and achievements of their nippers scrolling round and around Facebook.
But it is only sensible to try and walk that oh-so tricky line of ethics and parenting sensibilities if you are feeling the burn to chat a bit about Da Fam online – or in print. At the moment my kids are too young to be surfing the net unsupervised – but in a couple of years – I feel sure that I’ll be radiating discernment and true consideration for their little souls and for their blossoming social life (GIRL: “Jeez Mum, was it REALLY necessary to blog about the fact that I refer to Tallulah in my English Lit class as ‘Tallulah Tan Tits and Town Bike? See this black eye I’ve got? See?”…..BOY: “Oh THANKS, Mum for telling the entire world that I’m 17 now and still can’t wipe my arse properly and that you’d rather buy new underpants for me every week than have the trauma of dealing with them.”)
And so I do try and limit the number of blogs, tweets, posts etc. that chat about my kids. I mean no, really – I do. Because if you don’t have kids – hell if you don’t LIKE kids (and I’m with you on that one from time to time) – then apart from the fact that you’re alienating a huge section of society; (those non-parents who often possess pearls of wisdom that the rest of us cannot access due to that Wood For The Trees affliction) the blogging and the communications just becomes dull. The same-old same-old. Non-stop use of your kids for ‘material.’ And it becomes the very thing that I swore that I would never become part of: The Exclusive Parenting Club.
But today, I’m going to go for it big time. A blatant ‘Roll Out The Kiddy Barrel’, I am going to demonstrate to you my latest – much more practical – application of putting your children to good use. Some shameless child exploitation. But all taking place within the home.
Most recently, for her literacy homework (they used to call it ‘English’ in my day) the 10 year old has been studying letters written to newspapers; their content, style etc. Cue much hilarity, consternation and comments such as ‘are these people right sad idiots or what? Don’t they have a life?’ (and that was just the 7 year old) and cue some fun and fruity ideas in relation to ‘what letters do you think that WE should be writing to a newspaper then, Mum?’ But then I thought – hell – we can go one better than this. The little lass can exercise her literary muscles, have a laugh AND tick a few items off Ma’s ‘To-Do’ list.
So this is what their father was faced with when he came home from work yesterday;
DAD: (to 10 yr old) Hey. Nice to see you typing on the computer. What you doing?
GIRL: Chatting to someone. Shush. Live chat.
DAD: Blimey. I hope that’s not one of those chat forum things. You get some right nutters and grooming paedo sorts on there. Even on the kiddy ones – you get adults pretending to be children and … (Looks at me). Surely you’re not letting her…?
ME: Don’t worry. This is probably as kosher and as boring as you can get.
GIRL: Shush! I’m talking to the Council call centre! It’s LIVE CHAT! It’s brilliant!
ME: It’s quicker than phoning a local authority actually. They pick it up a bit faster. You’d know that if you could ever be bothered to sort important household issues out.
DAD: (to daughter) Wow. That’s impressive. What are you saying?
GIRL: Okay. I’ve just typed this; “the binmen forgot to leev Mum binlyners AGAIN quiet frankley its not GOOD ENUF!!!!!” See Dad – Mum said I could spell it ‘enuf’ because most people can’t spell it these days anyways.
DAD: Fair enough. But don’t shout at them, love. I used to work for the Council and it was awful when people shout at you. Especially if it’s only about trivialities like bin liners.
GIRL: I’m not shouting! I’m just exclaiming. With exclamation marks. Lots of ’em. I love ’em. Anyway. Bin liners are important. And see – now Carol here – that’s the name of the lady typing me back, see? Carol says… ‘I will pass on your request for new bin-liners and I hope that you enjoy the rest of your evening.’
DAD: That’s great. Very helpful.
GIRL: Yeah. I did have to say that I was you though. Or Carol might not have helped us out.
DAD: Oh great! Now Carol will think that I’m an illiterate. With nothing better to do other than complain about the bins.
GIRL: Well. I can hardly do it in my own name, can I? I’m only ten.
ME: Actually – yes you jolly well can! We pay our Council Tax so that our children have …. nice libraries. Well. We did have. Before they axed them. Oh – and schools. So that you can be educated. And this is another way of educating you. So. Go ahead. I am here, supervising you. Put the next message in for them. Use your own name this time.
GIRL: You’re not supervising me. Your messing about with the freezer. You’ve got too much in it again. That’s why the door won’t shut.
GIRL: Okay. Right. Here we go…. I’m clicking the ‘LIVE CHAT’ key and… Waiting. Waiting. And… oh no! It’s Carol again! She’s going to think I’m a right weirdo if I say that I’m actually Me now. And not Dad.
DAD: Or that I’m some sicko middle aged man now posing as a 10 year old girl…
ME: No she won’t. Just tell her the problem.
GIRL: Okay. (Types- slowly) ‘Hello Carol. It’s actually Me now and I am reporting this for all of us. Here is my name and address…’ (continues typing)
DAD: (watching screen) Well Carol hasn’t told her to Sod Off and she can’t speak to her because of the safe-guarding rules or whatever.
GIRL: So Carol …. ‘has sent me a link what I have to click on. Cool. (types) ‘Thanks Carol + I hope u have a nice evning 2.’ See,Dad? Mum lets me put ‘2’ instead of ‘two’.
DAD: She would. Anyway. Click on the link. Ah. You have to report this one by email. Want to use mine? You can say it’s your Dad’s email and you are reporting it for the family. (Sets her up with the email. Girl begins typing)
ME: Right. Let’s have a see of what you’ve written. (Reads aloud) “I am writing to compleyn about the amount of dogpoo on our walk to school.My Dad always makes us walk to school and its DISGUSTINNG! I know that I speake for ALL of the children and parents on our street and its getting WORSER!! So please do something about it and contact me. Yours respectfly….’
GIRL: Cool eh?
DAD: It would be. But the grammar needs tightening. Your clauses are all over the place. It reads like you’re saying that me – ‘making’ you walk to school – is the disgusting aspect. Not the dog poo.
ME: (giving him a look.) No. That’s really good actually, sweetie! Brilliant job! (to DAD) I mean – how could that not bring them goose-stepping down our lane in the fascist jackboots and doling out the fines to every poor sod who happens to own a dog round here?
DAD: You sound like you enjoy scraping the crap off their shoes every day.
ME: Yeah well, you’re the one that insists that they walk.
GIRL: This is SO.. well cool! Do you think that they’ll pull me out of lessons so that I can show them where every piece of poo is?
GIRL: But really – I love complaining like this. It’s brill! What else can we think up to moan to them about?
ME: I don’t know. I’ll have a think. But thanks sweetie, I really appreciate the help. You’re not feeling… exploited or anything… are you?
GIRL: Oh no! This is one bit about being a grown up, that I’ll really like! And actually – I’m going to write to the local newspaper about The State Of Butter.
ME: The what?
GIRL: Yeah. I’ve noticed that it’s been tasting right horrible. these days. It’s even making me want to have margarine instead of butter with my Marmite. It’s not the Marmite, like. ‘Cause I’ve tried it on toast without it. So I know. It’s the butter. So something has got to be done about it! It’s actually a bit of an outrage if you think about it!
DAD: Changing the world one baby-step at a time. Small activist in the making.
GIRL: This is so cool. And actually – is there like, a LIVE CHAT for butter complaints?
ME: Good point. The butter-crew have a Facebook page. So there’s bound to be something as ridiculous as that. Let’s go see…