MU.NCST111 IN'oRD BY MAIRr NR:Sull311111'
HIS IS MY LIFE.
I have to live it not you. You want some nice boy I can bring home to tea. You want the parents to be just like you and daddy and you want to meet his mum so you can set up a spy network and ring each other up and find out exactly where we are every second. Well tough. This is my life. I have to live it not you. You said I could come back at 7.30. I'm leaving now!"
Slam went the door shaking the place to the foundations. "Where? With whom?" Silence. I rushed into the street expecting to find the black-clad figure of my daughter striding purposefully along. I would call her back and give her a piece of my mind. Nothing. In seconds she had vanished without trace. Toddlers and adolescents move at a speed that astounds. Down which side street? Towards what bus stop or underground station?
It was four o'clock. The light already fading. The moment every parent dreads had finally arrived with relentless inevitability. Your child storms out and you haven't a clue where to. What do I do now? I asked myself with pathetic inadequacy.
Do I ring up friends and form a search party. Search where? I had fleeting visions of myself addressing the problem like the author Beryl Bainbridge and donning a blond wig and spectacles to snoop all over town. I went home. My husband poured a few stiff ones, much more calm than I, at least outwardly, his approach in marked contrast to my nearhysteria. His advice: to trust the child you know, always half an hour late but always
"It is the nature of teenagers to be unpredictable," I muttered unconvinced, telling myself to stay calm, not to drink too much in case of an emergency. I couldn't go out. I couldn't sit stilt. 1 daren't use the telephone in case she was trying to contact home. All callers were cut short.
7.30. Nothing. A black night and raining hard. Had any problems arisen I could not have dealt with them. Where in the whole of this great city was my 13-yearold? Are some of the company older and corrupt? Has she been hit by a car and at this moment is lying somewhere unattended?
At 8 o'clock she walked through the door, dripping wet but very composed. "It's OK. I wasn't mugged. I wasn't raped. What did you expect? I'm with people I know. I know where they go to school. I know people who know them. What's going to happen to me in a cinema or McDonalds? I'd just scream. Anyway you let them know they can't make you do anything you don't want. I had to change at Euston. I walked from the station. I'm wet. What time can I eat?
"You mean you walked from Euston?" (Not the nearest underground station and nearly half a mile away) I asked with alarm, A whole new set of dangers presenting themselves. "From Euston? Along all those dark squares? Past all the weirdos outside the station?" "I said I changed at Euston, not got out there. Get real, Mum."
She is no different in kind from how I was at her age. True, the world I wanted to explore and be part of was much safer. But parents worried in just the same way, trying to strike the balance between the right degree for freedom to allow the child to develop and learn to deal with life while imposing the necessary protective constraints. The dilemma is the same now as them. It is as much a learning process for the parents as it is for the child and there is no way of knowing whether you are getting it right until after the event.
Many of the problems facing 12and 13-year-olds we did not encounter until we arrived at university when, to tell the truth, we were much wilder and irresponsible than many of my daughter's friends. Drink was cheap; there were endless meetings between friends for the sole purpose of trying to piece together the events of the night before and each student's part in it. We thought we could deal with anything and often emerged unscathed by sheer good luck and the coolness of innocence.
In a sense the child fits the age. In these troubled times it is a sobering thought that our children become more streetwise years earlier than we.
But however much I trust my daughter, and so far she has never let me down, I know I have many an agonised evening and night to look forward to as more freedom and later corninghome times will have to be conceded, week by week, month by month. I foresee that many a major battle will arrive with the lengthening of the evenings in the Spring.