Monday, May 20, 2013

Parenting Skills 1: The Sleepover

It was well past 1am when we heard the kerfuffle. There was a patter of little feet, and a lot of giggling and shushing. Then a thump and more shushing. 

I crept onto the landing. The light was on in Izzy’s room, so I silently pushed the door ajar and peeked inside.

The two little girls were walking round the room holding hands. Izzy was wearing a bright blue tutu, and her four-year-old friend Sophie was dressed as Rapunzel in a full-length golden gown. Both wore crowns on their heads and carried toy puppy dogs. They each had a pink Peppa Pig blanket wrapped around their shoulders like a cloak. 

The room had been turned upside down and all the stuffed toys were on the floor. It was as if the room had been hit by a stuffed toy tornado. I opened the door further and, as it creaked, they shrieked in surprise. Then both fell silent, waiting for the eruption. 

I just stood blinking in sleepy disbelief. 

“Look, Daddy! We’re insible,” she said. Then she added: “I’m not going to take this insible coat off, ever.” 

I melted. You couldn’t be cross, could you? 

They’d been on a secret expedition downstairs, they said, and worn the invisible cloaks so that Poncho the cat wouldn’t see their toy puppies. Except the cat immediately woke up and scared them, so they dashed back upstairs and slammed the door shut. 

“If you’re invisible, then I won’t see you getting back into bed now, so I’m going to close my eyes and then when I open them you’ll both be fast asleep.” The girls screamed with laughter and scooted for the two mattresses laid out side by side on the floor – real beds had been scorned for their first ever sleepover. Within thirty seconds they were both out for the count.

I have never seen my daughter so excited. The problem with being an only child (she may be my fifth, but the age gap is so great, her elder siblings are too big to join in her childish games) is that she doesn’t really get the chance to interact with her peers very often. Here, for the first time, was a sleepover with another four year old, just as keen on fairies and princesses. 

I swear the two haven’t stopped chattering since Sophie arrived on Friday afternoon. They also bicker like two old women; every half an hour or so, one of them comes in crying that the other has taken their fairy or princess or clothes. So Izzy and Sophie are learning the life skill of compromise. 

What I find most interesting about houseguests is that you can compare other people’s parenting skills with your own. Sophie’s parents told us about another couple they’d stayed with who imposed no discipline whatsoever on their child. 

When Sophie picked up one of the host’s child’s toys, and there were an inevitable outcry, the mother, instead of saying “she’s a guest, you need to share” in that nice well-brought up way, opened a drawer and said to her daughter “here, hide it in here.” The two mothers now never speak. 

I have no idea if David Cameron is a good or a bad parent. I only know that he has no idea how to control the rowdiest and worst behaved set of children in his own house. 

Whether they have swivel-eyes or not, his party unfaithful have already thrown their toys out of the pram and are tearing the house apart in their demand for attention. Their infantile tantrums about Europe and gay marriage: as if either are remotely important in the scheme of the country’s current ills, have clearly given him so many sleepless nights, he’s completely taken his eye off the ball. 

Every good parent knows the solution: put your foot down, show them who’s boss, and send them to bed. If they still won’t shut up, take away their toys. 

If all else fails, make them put on an invisible cloak, so none of us will have to listen to their loony whining any more. 

Instead of that, he’s giving in to them: and that, as we all know, can only lead to disaster.

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