Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Meanager on blogiday...

For any of you that care, despair, love or share-The Meanager and Me is taking a little blogiday. It's like a holiday for a blog.

In the meantime, you can read about my fabulous and flawed new life in New York...


Saturday, 4 April 2009

Sweet 15

Sometimes I forget The Teenager is a teenager.

This is because she often behaves like she works in the city and earns 100k a year: dining out with friends and donning designer handbags. It must have been one of those days when I agreed that a day trip to London with her friends would be an acceptable way to spend her 15th birthday.

I am still not quite sure how it all came to pass, as I wave her and six mates off on the 10.25 a.m. from Cardiff Central. I am laughing and waving frantically as she mouths ''GO. AWAY.'' through the window.

My own mother doesn't approve of the trip. But as is customary for grandmothers, she has selective memory syndrome and forgets that I was in nightclubs at 15-with her blessing.

''Ahh. Things were very different then'' she claims.
"Really? In 1990?"
"Well I certainly never let you go off to London on your own! I mean, London? London?"
"She is not going on her own"
"No. Even worse, she is going with a group of teenage girls. They will be a target!"
''A target for what?"
"Mother. London is not full of Fagins."
"But it is full of gangs. Pickpocketing gangs. If she doesn't get pickpocketed she might get mugged. Tell her to keep her cash in her underwear."

But the night before the birthday I am too busy trying to explain the London Underground system to six 15 year olds, to remember the cash in pants advice. They all appear to be listening at least a bit, aside from mine, who isn't listening at all. Having been lost on the 'A' train in New York she is clearly above fearing the tube. The girls want to go to Camden and the best I can offer them is a journey plan that involves three tubes. My knowledge of London is restricted to work trips, some hazy clubbing weekends and visits to see Mad Suze, so at best, this is a case of the partially sighted leading the blind.

I watch the London train pull out of the station and wonder how my chubby cheeked, bunch haired baby got to be so big she is travelling without me on a Great Western train. I realise I have forgotton to warn her about the buffet car. Oh well, nothing like paying a fiver for a scolded mouth and a shortbread finger to learn a lesson.

When I arrive in work I place my mobile on my desk and watch it for movement. I figure that the day should be incident free for a least the next two hours while they are on a train that terminates at their chosen destination.
By 12.45p.m. I have all but forgotten that my child is in the sacrificial lion's den they call London. I jolt sharply as I remember and call her but it goes straight to answer machine. I surmise this means that she is on a tube. The right one hopefully. At 1.30 p.m. she calls me back.

''Hi!'' she trills cheerily. She sounds like she definitely hadn't been mugged yet.
"Hi chicken! Where are you?"
"Camden!" she sounds as surprised as I feel.
''Yeah I know!"
"Wow. Brilliant."
''I know!"
"So what's it like?"
"Yeah, it's pretty cool here, there's an amazing waffle stall and I just bought some sunglasses for a fiver."

Brilliant. Food and cheap clothes add up to a perfect day for The Teenager. She is happy. They have reached one of two destinations, I am happy too. All they have to do now is make it to Oxford Street and then back to Paddington.

She calls me several hours later

''Oxford Street is boring''
"Uh, yes, I told you this.Where are you?"
"In a giant Top Shop"
"Ok, well maybe go to Selfridges up the road yeah? Just don't go anywhere else!"
"What do you mean 'Hmmmm? Seriously. Don't go anywhere else!"

And with that she pretends her phone is losing reception and hangs up. An hour later she calls back.

"Hi Mum. I'm in Westfield. It's boring."
"Westfield? What? I told you not to go anywhere else"
"Oh yeah."
"So have you thought about how you're going to get back to Paddington?"
"Ummmm no?"

Fortunately, at this point-I happen to be giving a lift to a colleague who lived in London, so I hand the phone over for her to give some directions.

An hour before the train is due to leave I call her mobile and they are back at Paddington. I breathe a sigh of relief until I remember that they all still have to actually get on the train. She texts me when they are on the train and then I breathe a sign of relief, until I remember they all still have to actually get off at the right stop.

At 9.45 p.m. I am waiting in the train station car park in my Christmas Pyjamas making a deal with a god I don't believe in, that I will forever be a good person if he lets 6 happy teenagers walk through the gates, all in one piece.

At 10.10 p.m. six happy teenagers walk through the gates, all in one piece. I run up to them and check for all 24 limbs. All present and correct. Everyone has lots of shopping bags and their handbags. No one's been mugged. Hoorah for God! Horrah! Praise be!

Once I have played Johnny cabs to some of the girls, The Teenager and I are finally alone some time near to 11p.m. She is making marmite crumpets in the kitchen.

"So, I like had, like, the best birthday...ever" she says in her default deadpan.
"Wow. Ever? Really?"
"Yeah, even though some of the places were boring, it was still amazing"

And with that she takes her marmite crumpets and her 15 year old self up the stairs and I am a little hurt that her best birthday ever involved very little to do with me.

And then I remember that The Teenager is still a teenager.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

The Lion Teen...

The Teenager is like a lioness.
She stalks through life proud, strong and fearless. She protects her teenage domain as if it were a pack of her own precious cubs. At all times she is ready to pounce and attack anyone that threatens her plans. Including me. Especially me.

It is Friday night and yet again I haven't noticed her intention to leave our lair until she is one paw out of the door.

''Woah, woah, woooooooah. Hold it right there Missy"
She freezes, one hand on the door handle, turns around and sighs loudly while rolling her eyes back theatrically.

I am in the kitchen making dinner and I wave a chopping knife back and forth as I 'Woah, woah woooooooah'. This is classic teenage game plan; run out of the door when a parent is busy doing something else. I have 'Woah, woah, wooooooah-ed" while hoovering, gardening, on the phone or in the bath.

''Yes? Mother."
''Uh. Where are you going?"
''To the cinema"
"Who with?''
"The Boy"
"What are you going to see?"
"And what time are you coming back?''

I shouldn't ask this. This implies there is a choice, when there is not. It's 10p.m. on a school night. Non negotiable.

''Listen,''she says with a tone you might use if addressing a retarded gerbil ''we need to talk''
''Excuse me?'' I say
''We need to talk. About this ten o' clock thing''

It is one of those moments where I tip between pissing myself with laughter and remembering to present a stern parenting front. My brain teeters. I go for the latter reminded myself I am 34 and the grown-up.

''Uh. We do NOT''...and then I add, for extra authority ''Young Lady".
''I am 15 next week"
She says the 15 bit as If 15 is the oldest age in the world. As if reaching 15 earns you a place in the Guinness book of records.
''And?" I shrug
"1o o clock Mother? Really?"
"Uh, yes! Really"
''Ridiculous'' she shakes her head sorrowfully to highlight the injustice.
''Listen. If you don't like it, we'll make it 9.30!"
"That doesn't make any sense"
''10 o clock is late enough on a school night. End of"

She huffs and puffs and blows out of the house. The 'End of' bit is stolen from my own Mum. It is a retro piece of parenting rhetoric and it works a treat. Sometimes you have to repeat it several times before a teenager understands you mean business. On this occasion it's worked first time. End of.

Later that night and 10 p.m. comes and goes and The Teenager is not home. I call her. No answer. I call again. No answer. I call her best friend, it goes straight to voicemail. I text her. By 10. 30p.m. the fury will have been replaced by fear, by 10.35 p.m. I will be jumping in the car in my xmas pyjamas driving around the mean streets of Cardiff in search of her.

Instead, she stomps in a 10.15 p.m. eyes wet with tears.

''Don't have a go'' She heads straight into the kitchen and for the chocolate jar. Uh oh. Boy trouble. I tread carefully-by saying nothing. She speaks first.

''Boys are twats"

I get up and throw my arms around. This is my instinctive reaction and for a split second I forget her aversion to any kind of maternal physical affection. To my surprise though, she accepts my hug and even lets me kiss her cheek. This must be bad. As she demolishes two Rocky Caramel bars I wait till I speak, knowing that what I say next is crucial.

''Yes, sweetie. Boys are twats"

She laughs and I hug her again. Now I am the Lioness and she is my cub and I would kill anyone that hurt her.

Especially boys.


Sunday, 1 March 2009

Job for the girl...

Chav Towers are making The Teenager do a fortnight's work experience.

I suggest that waking up at 8 a.m. on a Monday morning and questioning your entire existence might give a more accurate picture of what it's like to have a job. She says that won't fill two weeks.

My first thought is to arrange something at the Bonkers Bureaucracy Corporation.

''NO. WAY.'' she yells ''I am NOT going where you work''
"Uh why not?"
''Why do you think? And why do you want me to be a journalist like you?''
''I don't!''
''You do. You're always going on about it''
''I am not always going on about it. I have mentioned it a few times''
''I don't want to be a journalist.
''Why not?''
''Well you're always skint for a start''
''Ok well what about the costume department'?'
''You want to work in fashion''
''It's just boring where you work''
''Boring?'' I pause for dramatic effect... ''Boring? It's the media, how can it be boring?''

The Teenager just rolls her eyes while I am annoyed that whatever I do leaves her unimpressed. I could be partying with Kate Moss and snorting coke off Beth Ditto at the MTV awards and she'd still think I was boring.

Later on in the week we are in the car on the way to school when the subject comes up again.

''I want to do my work experience with a DJ''
''A Deeeee Jaaaaaay. She spells out the words as if I am deaf and dumb
''A radio DJ you mean?''
"No. A club DJ''

I laugh so much I narrowly avoid crashing the car into a Lollipop lady.

''And how do you think that one is going to work?''
''I'll just like, go along, and how he mixes... and stuff''
''Right. And where do you imagine this D. J. is going to be doing that?'' I spell out the 'D' and the 'J' in a similar way to how my 65 year old mother would.
''I don't know. In clubs and stuff?''
''And how do you imagine you're going to get to go in those, what with you being 14 and all?''
''I'll be 15 by the time it happens''
''And your point is?''

And by this time we are outside the gates of Chav Towers and I am filled with the utter joy of being right and The Teenager having no comeback. This never happens.

''Bye then!'' I trill and hand over her lunch money
''Yeah, thanks, bye'' and she opens the car door to get out.
''Maybe you could try and get a placement with Alan Sugar?'' I begin to giggle.
''Alan Sugar. You know, if Pete Tong's not available''
"You're hilarious mother'' she deadpans
''I know! I am aren't I?''
"Fine. I'll do fashion then"
''Oh well that's fine than. I'll just give my mate Stella McCartney a buzz''
''There's nothing wrong with aiming high Mother. I mean, why not?'' And she gets out and slams the door.

I stop laughing pretty fast as I watch her walk to her first lesson of the day. I get a flashback of what it was like to be 14 and have all of life in front of you, pregnant with possibility. A blank canvas ready to fill with whatever you chose. All that choice with no fear.

I drive to work in silence while thinking about the fact that 'Why not?' is also good first lesson of the day for a grown-up.

Friday, 27 February 2009

Noodles to the CSA...

I have just called the CSA for the 774th time in the last 15 years.

This is not a random calculation. This is based on an average of one call for every week of The Teenager's life. This is a fair estimation-some weeks there are daily calls, but other weeks there are none. It's the times of inertia when I have clarity. I realise that based on spending an average of half an hour on the phone to the CSA each time I call, I have burned, in total 387 hours. In turn, they have managed to recover about £2000 in the last 15 years. Which means I am getting less than the national minimum wage for my efforts. I could bring home more money for The Teenager being a Sandwich Artist in Subways.

But today I am having on of those crazy optimistic moments when I imagine that a government agency might weild a fair bit of power in retrieving a legally enforced debt.

So I spend 10 minutes pressing buttons and entering my national insurance number, date of birth and bra size. I spend another 10 minutes explaining to a woman in Birkenhead how their enforcement department has failed another single parent by failing to enforce anything.

''Show me the money!'' I yell, but then realise Birkenhead woman has put me on hold. A decade later she comes back on the phone and recites a stream of information, which she claims to be the latest update. Unfortunately it is ad verbatim exactly what I just told her at the beginning of the call. So I just spent half an hour on the phone for a human parrot.

The upshot of this information can be summarised simply: Tesco Value noodles for The Teenager and I this week.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Puppy love bites...

The Teenager has a boyfriend.

Up until now she's been 'happy single'. Understandable. Who wants commitment at 14? But now she's nearly 15 and the time has come to settle down.

I am pleased to discover The Boy does not go to Chav Towers. This is a good start considering The Teenager's penchant for young men that look like they should be peeling spuds in a young offender's institute. This Boy lives on the right side of the tracks. I mean, there are probably no actual tracks near his suburban home, although there may be a clean, graffiti free railway station nearby. He lives in a nice part of town. In contrast to The Teenager, who is forced to live near a shop where where there is a queue for White lightening at 9 a.m.

I imagine The Boy's parents are sitting in their conservatory right now discussing their distress at their son dating someone from the wrong side of the tracks who goes to a terrible school for wannabe gangsters and trainee benefit scroungers. Maybe they won't use the term 'wrong side of the tracks' considering this is not West Side Story and they are likely quite nice and polite in a middle class way.

The Teenager wants to bring The Boy home.

''Why?'' I ask
''Dunno. Just do''
''To meet me?''
''Hell no!''
''For tea then?''
''For tea? Like when I was 7?''
''What for then?''
''Just to like, hang out and stuff''
''Just in the living room, to like, watch TV''
''We're sick of having to hang out in coffee shops''

Yes, painful. Sipping lattes in a warm Starbucks when in my day you were lucky to get a spot round the back of the Spar with a can of Vimto and a Wham bar.

''He's not going to your bedroom!'' I holler in my best prim Mary Whitehouse voice while I remember how my mother never allowed me to take boys to my room and how I vowed I would never be prudish enough to stop my daughter taking boys to her room.

''Yeah. I know'' she looks mortified
''Fine'' I am mortified plus one.

The unspoken implication hangs in the air and we both look at the floor.

I tell her that I need time to prepare for the visit of The Boy. I tell her we will need to tidy up and she looks around and agrees. I tell her we will probably have to clean as well and she shrugs in resigned agreement. What I don't mention is that I am less concerned about rearranging the scatter cushions and more concerned about preparing mentally. How quickly can I get an appointment with my shrink?

Dammit. I don't even have a shrink.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Hugs for sale...

As the mother of a meanager I live a life devoid of physical affection.

It's not just the public displays of affection though, it's the private ones too. Even in the safe haven of four walls, hugs are a rare commodity. Like this week when I am leaving to work in London.

I am struggling down the stairs and into the hallway with a vanity case, 3 holdalls and a suit bag (I'm driving, who needs to pack light?). The teenager's flopped on the sofa watching Family Guy.

''I'm Going now!''
''Grandma's picking you up later''
''Yeah I know. You said''
''So bye then?''
''I'm going now''
''For nearly a week''
''Yeah. Ok. Bye''
''As in won't be back till Friday. Late Friday''

The Teenager sighs heavily and makes an exaggerated gesture of pausing the SKY+

''Ok. Mother. Goodbye. Love you''
''I wasn't looking for a 'love you'. I was looking for a hug''
''I'm watching Family Guy''
''And that stops you hugging me how?''
''For god's sake Mother. Do I have to?''

''Yes'' I whimper and move in for my meagre dose of forced affection. I sit beside her and she raises her eyes to the ceiling and flops a flaccid arm around my shoulder and pats limply. At the same time she continues to watch Family Guy. Then she starts drumming her fingers impatiently on my shoulder.

''Ok. forget it, '' I say pulling away abruptly ''That was rubbish'' and then I stomp out of the door. Then I remember my vanity case, 3 holdalls and suit bag and I stomp back in. And then back out again.

I call The Teenager every day at my mother's to see what is going on. Which turns out to be nothing. There is nothing apparently going on for the entire 5 days I am gone. Nothing at all. Nada.

My Mum tells a different story. In fact she tells me several. They mainly revolve around The Teenager's claims that bedtime on a school night is midnight and lunch money is £5 a day.

I tell The Teenager I miss her every day. She does not say the same back. I figure she's too busy doing nothing to miss me.

When I come home on Friday night she has cleaned the entire house without being asked. I wonder if she's pregnant or on crack.

''So did you miss me?'' I ask
''Well, not really, but then I woke up today and I was like, yeah, I do miss my Mum a bit''
''Awww, so it took you nearly a week but you missed me!''
''Only a bit''
''But you did miss me?
''I said it didn't I?''
''Ha ha! You did! So can I get a hug and a kiss?''
"Not both. One or the other''

I suggest to The Teenager that I could start paying for hugs. She looks thoughtful, pauses and then asks...

''How much?''