After 11-odd years of parenting I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not really a baby-person.
What? Am I saying I don’t like babies? What type of mother – ? etc., etc. No. I’m not saying I don’t like babies. I love babies. I feel the same way about them as I feel about guinea pigs: they’re adorable, they always make me smile and I’ll cuddle one, given half a chance … I’m just glad that I don’t have my own anymore. The problem with babies is that they cry a lot, and they won’t tell you why, and I find that very stressful. I was born with no maternal instincts at all, and although I’d do anything for my children – for most children, in fact – I need to be told what the right thing to do is. Otherwise I’ll just do the thing that would make me happy, which is to be left alone for hours with only a book for company. Few babies seem to want that.
I much prefer having older children. My eldest is 11, and I find that a particularly fascinating age, with its constant backwarding-and-forwarding between child and adult. Sometimes I can see the little girl she was and the woman she’ll be, at almost the same time, like a human hologram that changes depending on how you squint your eyes. One minute she’s reading a news site, analysing the details and commenting thoughtfully; the next minute she’s tied her little sister to the garden swing and is about to launch her into the air, upside down and protesting loudly, in order to ‘give her a thrilling roller coaster experience’.
Anyway, 11 is almost 13, and because my entire parenting strategy consists of reading books about other people’s parenting strategies and saying, “Gosh, let’s try that,” I’ve been reading a lot about the teenage brain lately. It seems generally accepted now that brain development isn’t complete until the mid-twenties, with the crazed, emotionally unstable limbic system developing first, and the more sensible prefrontal cortex the last section to mature fully.
This knowledge helps me understand my children, but strangely, they don’t seem to enjoy hearing my theories about how undeveloped their brains are.
“You lack access to your frontal lobes,” I tell them often, and they immediately prove my point by getting all shouty and pulling faces. Once the younger child rolled her eyes so far back into her head that I thought she might actually be trying to see her frontal lobes and check on their progress.
And because they lack that access, they can’t have access to a whole bunch of other things, like my iTunes password, my car and, most contentiously, a smart phone. Apparently I’m the only mother in the whole school who won’t give her children iPhones, and if I loved them enough I’d want to make them happy instead of ruining their lives.
“What do you need a phone for?” I asked my limpet-children, as I unwrapped their arms from around my neck. “Unless you’re at school, you’re never more than five centimetres away from me. Ever. Ever.”
“Gaming!” the smaller one shouted.
“Not a flipping chance,” I said, alarmed by news accounts of children pooing in plastic bags in order not to disrupt their online games. The last time I cleaned the child’s room out I found a dead lizard, a month-old apple, five tubs of dried-out slime, a mouldy potato and about a hundred dirty socks. More crap than this, I do not need.
“Talking to my friends!” said the older child.
“Your brain isn’t developed enough to handle social media,” I countered. Although if you spend any time at all on Twitter, you’ll realise that this is true for a lot of adults too, and it certainly doesn’t stop them.
“But I’m a teenager,” she wailed – the usual non sequitur that she employs whenever I tell her that she can’t have something. Luckily, this time her little sister, still burned about the roller coaster thing, contested this, and there followed a furious debate about whether she is in fact a pre-teen, a tween, or an adolescent.
Personally, I favour the blanket term “child” for everyone from 1 to 17, but it doesn’t really matter. Because, as Shakespeare didn’t write: a tween by any other name would be as sweet.
By Robyn Goss
Robyn is a part-time writer and full-time slave to her two young daughters. Originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, she now lives in a little cow-rich village in Switzerland.
She spends her free time making To Do lists of things she’ll probably never get around to doing (have the car cleaned; vacuum under the bed; run a half-marathon) and putting the finishing touches to her third novel. To read more of Robyn’s writing, click here or find her on her Facebook page, Loco Parentis.
Illustration by Susana Gutierrez
Susana is a project manager and freelance illustrator. She lives in Zurich and is mother of two girls. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org