Free Trains & Doughnuts
Last week I was a parent. No, I didn’t become one, I was one. Well, a guardian is I think the correct term. My wife and I took her 12 year old niece and her best friend, also 12, to Portugal for a week. This may sound like quite an ordinary thing to do – I’m sure many people with kids in theur families do this kind of thing on a regular basis. Not me. I have reached the age of 48 and remain (thankfully) childless; furthermore I am not used to being around children, at all. There are no children in my pitifully small family. I barely know the neighbours’ kids beyond a wave as they pass by in their parents’ car or wobbling on recently de-stabilizered bikes. I have just never spent much time with these little people of the future, until last week.
The week flew by because there was virtually never an idle moment and I returned exhausted, but on reflection I realise that I learned a lot from these kids and my eyes were opened into the world of parenthood and just how damned hard it is.
This is what I learned.
Looking after kids is incredibly exhausting.
They have insatiable appetites for sugary soft drinks, ice-creams, biscuits, crisps, chips, ketchup, mayonnaise, sweets, chocolate milk, nutella, strawberries, (dipped in nutella) playing in the sea, asking unanswerable questions, laughing uncontrollably, shrieking (this could just be a girl thing…) to the point of piercing the eardrums of people sitting yards away.
They are super-skilled in answering back, having the last word, making adults feel bad, being awake for far longer than they should if there is something to look at on a screen and playing wii for hours and hours.
The naivety and worldly ignorance is also striking. Things we know to be obvious truths are still questioned by kids. One day on the beach a local came by selling doughnuts, a very common thing to sell on the beaches of the Algarve. My wife asked if the girls would like one, of course they would! They waved the guy over and as he approached us one of the girls asked, in all sincerity, “Do we have to pay for them?” I explained that, yes, they would have to be paid for as nothing in life is free. As I attempted to continue with a masterclass in economics for beginners my sage words were completely ignored as said doughnuts were voraciously devoured. On another occasion we were on a train before the conductor had reached us to sell us tickets to the border town between Portugal and Spain. One of the girls asked if the train was free. I marvelled at the thought of free trains and even more so at the idea that a 12 year old girl of today’s world could even think it a possibility.
They can be a nightmare and a dream from one minute to the next. When a child unexpectedly slips her hand in yours as you’re walking along you feel something I cannot begin to describe – you feel like their protector from all bad things in the world, you feel needed, wanted. It is simply amazing and an obvious recompense to all parents.
So, I take my hat off to parents everywhere for the incredibly demanding duty that they perform day in and day out in preparing their offspring for this world where unfortunately there is almost never a free doughnut or train ride. As they say in Portuguese, “Se apenas!”, If only!