Monday, 24 November 2008

Single mother with socks appeal

After years of buggering up my social life and emptying my bank account The Teenager is finally giving something back. Inexplicably she seems to be a good luck charm for plane upgrades. For the second time in a row we get bumped up when we fly to see The American.

Admittedly there are more practical skills to possess that would benefit our everyday life, like champion dish washing or speed hoovering. Also, to profit from this skill I'd have to take her with me on every trip, which would definitely offset any benefits.

This time though, my very own lucky Leprechaun bags me an upgrade to Virgin Upper Class. However, the girl at the check-in desk decides not to inform us she's upgraded me to a £2500 seat and not done the same for my 14 year old.

So we don't find out until we get on to the plane and the steward directs me left.
''Left?'' I say, ''Left?!''
I have dreamed my whole life of turning left on planes! I don't say that last bit aloud. I am suddenly aware of the need to try to play it cool, like upgrades to first from economy are an everyday occurrence. I wonder what colour the free socks will be.

''You must have been upgraded.'' says the steward
''To first?''
''Upper, yes, but I'm afraid your fellow passenger is still in economy.''
''Oh great,'' says The Teenager to me ''so you're going to go in 'Upper' and leave me in economy''
''Umm. Yes?''
''Are you serious Mother?''

Ohgodohgod. Shut up child. I clasp onto my ticket for fear someone will change their mind and throw me into economy. Then the steward asks us to move as we are blocking the entrance to the plane. We shufty to one side.

''Listen'', I whisper to The Teenager ''One of us has to take this ticket. Do you realise how much they cost?"
''Oh right'' she snaps ''And that person should be you?''
''Well I am the frequent flyer here.''
''I can't believe you would go in first class and leave me.''
''You're just annoyed 'cos they didn't upgrade you.''

I turn to speak to the steward.

''Hi. I have my daughter with me. She's only 14. Is there any way she can come with me into Upper class?''
''Oh. Could we both go in Premium instead?'' (I am hoping he says no on this one)
''Mmmm. Shame.''
''What I will do for you though is let you share it. One of you go into Upper for the first half of the flight and then swap over''
''Really? Fantastic! Thank you!''

I turn to The Teenager.

''Great! Did you hear that?''
''So shall we go settle you in economy first then?''
''What? You are going first?'' she spits
''I'm going first and then you're going in first!'' I joke.
''Oh great. Nice.'' stoney faced she stomps off right while I go left.

I enter the purple lit haven of Virgin Upper class to the sound of champagne corks popping and take my window seat/lie down bed. I am immediately offered the 'cocktail of the day' and I accept, despite knowing that the frequent firsters only ever drink mineral water.

I pull on the black socks. Black! I should have guessed! So classy! Not garish red like economy or wannabe plum like premium. I rest my head on the feather pillow and strap myself into the padded leather seat and start texting everyone I know to tell them I'm in first. My brain is throwing out cliches like 'this is the life'.

The next 3 hours float by in whiff of attentive air hostesses and food and drinks served on a linen tablecloth. I make regular checks on The Teenager who's mood has denigrated into something like a hormonal Naomi Campbell.

''What's the matter?'' I ask her while she scowls at her pasta in plastic.
''What do you think?'' she spits
''Oh for god's sake! I am going to swap with you.'' I slur, slightly tipsy from the Tanqueray and Tonics.
She grunts and I glide back down to Upper in my black socks.

When the time comes to swap I realise I have made a big mistake. Being jammed back into economy feels a bit like getting chucked out of a penthouse to sleep on the streets. I have definitely done this the wrong way around. I make the reverse journey to see The Teenager in Upper where her mood has done an about turn and she is grinning and holding aloft something sparkly with a pink stirrer.

''Take some pics!'' and she hands me her camera.

I try and be subtle as I am aware of the judging eyes of the other passengers who fly this way every time and don't need photographic evidence. Self consciously I snap away while The Teenager goes into pouty Facebok pic mode.

Afterwards I trudge back into economy where the obligatory baby is screaming and the guy in front of me has put his seat right back, rendering my leg room from zero to minus. I gaze at my black socks and sigh.

Whilst slowly developing DVT I close my eyes and try to imagine what it is about The Teenager's charmless demeanour that makes her an upgrade lucky charm. Maybe it's the supermodel attitude. Or maybe the check in woman saw something in my eyes. A silent plea.
Something that said "I am a single mother being forced to take my moody teenager on a romantic getaway. Help me.''

So I ignored the helping hand but at least the Princess of Apathy appreciated something this time. When we are collecting our bags I ask The Teenager what she thought of Upper Class.

''Yeah. Good''

I silently seethe. I split my upgrade for a 'good'? I give a 14 year old £1250 worth of plane ticket and she gives me back a mere 'good'? I say nothing but vow to never again to share anything fabulous with the Princess of Apathy.

There is at least some consolation.

I got the socks.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Shiver me teenagers

The Teenager is dressing up as a pirate for Halloween. She tells me Hyper Value have some plastic swords for 99p and she wants to know if I have a bandanna she can borrow. I tell her I do not, on account of the fact it is no longer 1989.

''I'm going to wreck havoc!'' she declares while putting a jacket potato in the oven.
''What does that mean exactly?'' I ask
''I don't know. Just havoc.''
"Define havoc?''
''Just havoc and stuff.''
''I don't like the sound of havoc.''
''Chill out mother.''
''Will you be egging people's houses?'
''No. I'm not 10.''

Indeed. She was still cute when she was 10.

Later that week while we are driving to school she tells me:
''I am not wrecking havoc anymore on Halloween.''
''I am pleased to hear it.''
''It's too cold to wreck havoc.''

Before arriving home on Halloween I take a trip to Iceland where anything with sugar and E numbers is always on offer. I grab three pack of sweets for the Trick or Treaters and call The Teenager to see what she wants for dinner.

''Don't worry about me, I'm at my friend's house.''
''Do you mind If I sleepover?''
''But I was getting scary treats.'' I say, while putting down a pack of Cadbury's Ghoulish Mini Rolls.
''Sorry Mum. Will you be ok on your own?

I do fake crying over the fish finger freezer.

''Let's spend Sunday together.'' she offers.
I sense guilt. I capitalise.
''I feel bad now'' she offers with something that sounds like sincerity.

Not bad enough to come home though.

So I am all on my scary lonesome at Halloween with only spooky movies and a big bowl of sweets for company. Then the Trick or Treaters start. A four year old witch in a spangly costume is on my doorstep.

''Owww you're very scary!' I kneel down to tell her green painted face
''That's because I'm a witch.'' she replies deadpan. I text Amber Why aren't you cute anymore?

Later that night Tipi Hedron is fighting off some seagulls while trapped in a phone box. The Trick or Treaters are coming thick and fast so I squirrel away some lovehearts. An hour and three fat pre pubescent witches later the kids are getting less cute and the sweets are running low. I turn off the lights and vow not to answer the door anymore.

At some point I fall asleep on the sofa and dream The Teenager is making me walk the plank. I wake up to a text from Amber saying Don't hate me I love you. We'll spend Sunday together! Oh god. Why is she being so nice? What has she done? As Tipi dodges some black crows I fear the worse.

I fall back asleep and have a nightmare The Teenager and me hearties are holding up the local Spar for blue WKD and Lambert and Butlers. I wake up to another text from The Teenager

Love you Mum

The clocks hits midnight and I feel a shiver run down my spine, but It's not the fear of ghosts, demented birds or even plunderers of the high seas.

Truly there is nothing more terrifying at Halloween or any other time than your Teenager being nice to you.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

It's the little things

Don't sweat the small stuff. That's what all the teenage parenting manuals tell you. There are whole chapters on why you should only try and tackle the big stuff, like crack addiction and pregnancy. I make a resolution to try and not sweat the small stuff .

I fail at the first hurdle when I come home late from work to see The Teenager hasn't done the dishes for the third day running because of more pressing concerns like watching E4.

''Dishes!'' I scream.
''In a minute.''
''No. Now!''
''Mother. I am watching Desperate Housewives.''
''Dishes! Now! Now! Now!''
''Jeez-us. You need to caaaaaalm down.''
''Do it now! Or you're grounded.''
''I am grounded for not doing the dishes? Seriously? You're a freak. You need to chill.''

I deny I need to chill even though I know I do and the next day I am attempting to smile through gritted teeth when half the contents of my make-up bag has gone missing again. I spend the day with colleagues asking;

''Are you feeling o.k.?''
''Yes. I just don't have much make-up on.''

When I get home that night I see if it is possible to bite my lip when I see The Teenager has left another lump of hard chewing gum on the arm of the leather sofa. She tells me she is saving it for later.

''Who are you? I roar ''Marmalade Atkins?''
''I don't know who the hell you're talking about Mother.''

Later that week I am attempting to avoid exorcist style head rolls when she uses all the bath towels and I have to stomp naked and dripping wet into the pit she calls a bedroom to discover them damp and smelling like old nannas.

I go back to the teenage parenting manual to see if there is a chapter on wet towels but there isn't so I assume they come under 'small stuff'. The teenager comes into the room and I shove the book under a cushion and flip on the TV. She narrows her eyes at me and snorts.

''I know what you're reading.''
''Not reading,'' I mumble trying to look engrossed ''watching tele.''

She raises an eyebrow at me as the SKY customer channel is informing me how to use the red button on my remote.

''Mum, the book is crap. I read it.''

Dammit! Leaving a teenage parenting manual lying around is a bit like running a highlighter pen over the good bits of a spy document and sending it recorded delivery to the enemy.

''Mother,'' she begins gently ''why are you wasting your time reading that? You can't generalise teenagers. We are all individuals and every situation's different.''

I try to speak but my lips won't move. While I was busy trying not to sweat the small stuff, I missed some big stuff, like my teenager growing up a little bit more

Just like wet towels, there is no chapter for that.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Still chewing the Big Apple...

On our second week in New York The Teenager, The American and I get tickets for the Yankees Red Sox game for a sum that could clear third world debt. We take a packed subway out to The Bronx and buy baseball caps and $8 hot dogs and get lost in the sea of navy and white. The American shakes his head at how touristy we are. I tell him he's Californian, so technically originates from just as far away.

Once inside we discover there's more entertainment in the stands than on the pitch. Goaded by the crowd, the NY cops throw a succession of Boston fans out for no other reason than supporting the wrong side. Aside from the woman who punches a female cop, she kinda had it coming.

The Teenager is revelling in this gladatorial pit and joins in with the crowds yelling ''Assssssshhhhhhhooooooooole.'' at a lone Red Sox fan. I join in with an ''Arsehole!'' but it's impossible to do in a British accent. You have to yell assssssssss-hole in a Janice from Friends voice.

''Can we get popcorn to chuck it at him Mum? The teenager's eyes are bright with excitement.

I tell her I think he's good for food as a cup of Labatts and a handful of peanuts land on his head.

The Yankees lose that night.

Later that week I manage to convince The Teenager to take a trip out to Long Island, despite the limited shopping opportunities. She wants The Hamptons but I convince her it's less S.A.T.C and more W.A.S.P

Instead we head to a place called Fire Island that involves two trains, a taxi and a ferry. When we arrive and hit the near deserted white sands and clear sea it's more than worth the the trek. We lay out in the 80 degree heat and marvel at how a place just 50 miles away from Manhattan can seem like a million.

The Teenager gets me to take pictures of her in something that possibly started life as a bikini. I make her promise she won't put them on her BeBo.

''No one does BEBO anymore mother''
''Oh right.''
''It's Facebook now.''
''I thought Facebook was for old people?''
''Old-der. I'm 14 now.'' she sighs theatrically while holding the camera aloft and pouting into the lens.

On our last day in New York we head to Manhattan and emerge from the Union Square Subway to something that looks like a Monsoon. New Yorkers, never phased by extreme weather are donning wellies, brollies and waterproofs. The Teenager and I are wearing sundresses and flip flops. The American plays the hero and runs to the nearest Duane Reed to buy us umbrellas.

''He needn't have bothered,'' I tell The Teenager ''any minute now there'll be a crazy guy selling them'' She raises a suspicious eyebrow but watches out nevertheless. 30 seconds later a hunched figure with a coat fashioned from bin bags comes around the corner.

''UM-ber-rellas. Fiiiiiive dollar!'

On the way home the next day at JFK a minor miracle occurs. Despite it being 6 a.m. and my face scrubbed of make-up we get a free upgrade to Premium Economy. A show of rare excitement from The Teenager is short lived until she sees the cabin and realises there are no lie down beds or beauty therapists. Her mood returns to Mariah Carey when she discovers her water's not room temperature.

''So what was your favourite part of the trip?'' I ask her as we eat food from real china with real cutlery at 35,000 feet.
She sighs wearily ''You asked me this already.''
''I'm asking again.''
She rolls her eyes.''THE SHOP-PING.'' she enunciates as if I am a monkey with brain damage. I was hoping the answer might have changed. She sips the white wine she has acquired without me noticing.

''So is like, the food, like... any different in Premium economy?''
''No, but you get real cutlery and china!''
''But we get like...the same food?''

Monday, 8 September 2008

The Teenager takes a bite out of the Big Apple-part 1

The Teenager and I have returned from New York City after two weeks with The American. Despite having turned apathy into an art, even she could not fail to be impressed by the city that never sleeps. She could, however, try and sleep as much as possible in it. I would bound into her room at 11 a.m. to try and rouse her.
Sometimes it worked well:
''Hey let's go to Chinatown and buy fake Chanel!''
Sometimes,not so much: ''Hey let's go and see the Jeff Koon exhibition at the Met!''

I manage to get her to the MoMa but she is still asking ''Do I have to?'' as I'm paying for the tickets to which I reply that yes, at least one art museum is probably a good idea as she wants to go to art college. The Teenager is spectacularly unimpressed with the stream of Picassos and Pollacks and so we enjoy some mother daughter bonding flicking the finger at such great works as a blank canvas and a piece of pink plastic leaning against a wall.

The Teenager resumes her default NY setting of thinking she's Paris Hilton. When we first visited in 2006 all she wanted to do was shop, get manicures and take yellow cabs everywhere. This year replace the taxis with a subway card (mysteriously she was always feeling ill when actually on one) and add in trying to get served cocktails at dinner. Is it actually irresponsible to let your 14 year old sip a Flirtini at dinner? Probably not if the waitress is stupid enough to think she's 21.

New York is a dangerous place for a teenager who looks like an adult. There is not only her burgeoning interest in the opposite sex to but also their interest in her. And we're not talking boys here, we are talking grown men with stubble and jobs and trendy lofts downtown. Looking at her like they want to take her back to their apartment and show her how to press the buttons on their Bang and Olfusen.

My scowls at the men went largely unnoticed. My scowls that said ''Go away Perv before I attack you with my $1 hot dog!'' I considered a placard with 'She's only 14!' and an arrow pointing in her direction. The American unhelpfully suggested a burkha.

On one our many pitstops at an the inescapable Starbucks for iced drinks to fight the 80 degree heat the Teenager considers our age difference

''So you know that I, like, look older and stuff?''


''And you look like, a bit younger and stuff?''

''Oww do I? Thank you!

''Yeah, I wasn't like paying you a compliment.''


''Yeah, so I was just thinking that either people will think we're sisters or they will think we're mates. They wouldn't think we're mother and daughter, cos then you look like you had me at 13 or something.''

''You don't really think that people will think we're mates?'' I was suddenly worried about how weird I'd look having friend so much younger than me.

''Probably...'' she shrugged sipping on an overpriced strawberry and vanilla frappacino ''and they probably think you're a freak.''

At least in New York being 'a freak' simply makes me fit in.

The Teenager and I beat a retreat back to The Americans super untrendy nothing-like-a-loft apartment in Queens and watch the Tyra Show and eat Oreos till he come home from a typical NY 14 hour working day.

''So what's been your favourite part of New York so far?'' I ask The Teenager

''Shopping.'' she replies without a pause.

''What about the the art and culture? Central Park? The architecture? The amazing vibe? The Food? The people''

''Nope'' she sighs, accompanied by a classic teen eyeball rolling ''It's definitely the shopping.''

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Balls of steel

The teenager has balls of steel.

They were evident from an early age, in complete contrast to me. When I was a child my mother was a formidable figure. I crossed her at my peril and suffered early bedtimes as a result. But sending a child of the modern era to their bedroom is no punishment at all, not when they have a laptop, a wii, a mobile, a flat screen TV and Sky+. If I were a Daily Mail reader I'd liken it to incarceration in a young offender's institute or holiday camp as they like to call it.

The teenager fears nothing and no one. This could be translated as a lack of respect or simply 'spirited'. I sit somewhere in the middle and just say 'Balls of Steel'. I vaguely remember that fearlessness and invincibility. I enjoyed it for just a few years before getting knocked up at 18. The teenager is fond of asking teachers, 'Is that a rhetorical question?' when challenged about pretty much anything. At Chav Towers more than two syllables counts as extra credit.

When I was 7 I can remember creeping silently onto the hall landing and hearing grown up sounds of a gathering downstairs. They enthralled me those adult sounds, what could be happening in the mysterious world my parent's inhabited after my bedtime? I was under strict instructions not to cross the stairs. The teenager at the same age would hop out of bed, casually stroll right down into the living room and ask if there was any chance of some toast. Good thing there there was nothing 'adult' going on in my living room. The most risque thing would have been me having a sneaky fag while watching Coronation Street.

Witness the balls of steel in evidence just the other day when I come home to find The Teenager's best friend cleaning our bathroom.

''Uh, hi, why you are cleaning our bathroom?''

The teenager appears from her bedroom to quickly explain her nifty bit of delegation.

''Hi Mum, yeah, it's cool. She wanted to help me.''
''She wanted to help you clean? I asked you to do it. It was the only job I gave you.''
''Not strictly true Mum, I had washing up to do as well.''
''But that was from yesterday. It's the holidays. You've had all day.''
''Not really. I didn't get up till 2. It's only 6.''

I remove a scouring pad and some Flash bathroom cleaner from her best mate's hands and apologise and tell her we're not in the habit of getting our guests to scrub the limescale. The teenager has already moved on and is laughing to a boy on her mobile while making a bad job of cleaning two day old risotto off the frying pan.

Which leads me to only thing that The Teenager does fear, removal of her phone. I have attempted this several times as punishment for various misdemeanours but she guards it like a Colombian drug lord guards his AK47. She sleeps with the phone under her pillow and even takes it into the bath with her.

The balls of steel were in evidence again just a day later when I discover pictures on my computer of The Teenager and friend and two boys who look like they'd rob your grandmother for her Murray Mints.

The pictures were taken in my house, the time shows it was past midnight, about 6 months ago. I am confused until I remember I was away for the Valentine's weekend with the American and had entrusted The Teenager to my mother.

I ask her about the pictures. Her face says busted but I can see her brain going 90MPH behind the eyes. She's thinking-how much does my mother know? The game of strategy begins.

''So when were these taken?''
''It was a Saturday night, early.''
''Funny because this one was taken at 12.30 a.m.''

Battleships. Teenage Ship down!

''So where did you tell Grandma you were that night?''
''At my mate's house.''
''And where did you actually stay?''
''And these boys?''
''I swear to go they didn't stay here and we didn't do anything wrong, like drinking or anything. They only stayed an hour.''

''Funny 'cos there's one photo here taken at 10.45p.m and another at 12.30 a.m.''

Ship two down!

She pauses for thought ''I swear to go they didn't stay here and we didn't do anything wrong like drinking or anything.''

I do that disappointed face that always gets her. Bored of sinking all her ships I send her to her holiday camp to reflect.

A hour later she is washing up badly without being asked and I am cooking a dinner of gruel and dripping and deciding on what punishment might have any effect at all.

Cheerily she says ''I guess now is not the best time is not the best time to ask you if I can go to Bristol next week for a day trip?''

When I have picked myself up off the floor laughing I tell her that no, now is not the best time to ask. You have to admire those balls of steel. Or brass neck cheek as my Dad would call it.

Either way, she's got metal, you gotta give her that.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

SATs all folks

Chav Towers seem to be the only school left in Wales still holding SATs exams.

A couple of weeks before she is due to sit them The Teenager arrives home and adopts that casual tone that means she has done wrong and is trying to play it down.

''So, some kids yeah? hold of some SATs papers right? And they, ummm, kinda were giving them out and stuff. So yeah, I got one.''

And she tosses a Maths exam paper on the the table and shrugs to emphasise how this is not a big deal.

''So what should I,''

Just the fact that she is asking my advice rouses my suspicions further.

''Who was giving them out?''

''Just some kids.''

''What kids?''
''I dunno, some kids.''
''And where did they get them from?''
''Some other kids.''
''And where did the other kids get them from?''
''For god's sake! I don't know!

And then she pauses

''What's for tea then? I'm starving.''

Later on I attempt to get more information out of The Teenager but she is solid as a Guantanamo suspect.

''Okay, so we are going into school tomorrow morning to give the paper back''
''Yes, seriously. You need a pre-emptive strike.''
''A what?''
'' You need to get in and apologise, admit you were wrong to accept one of these papers.''
''No way. I'm not a freak, mother.''
''Tomorrow. First thing.''
''For god's sake.''
''That's what's happening.''

Then a thoughtful pause.

''Well can we at least photocopy it first?''

8.15 a.m. the next morning and I press for a last ditch confession when we are around the corner from the school.

''Just tell me now if you had anymore to do with this. Because If I go into that school and defend you and you're not innocent here, I will be really mad.''

A guilty pause. Followed by guilty eyes meandering everywhere but to meet my gaze.

''I knew it! What did you do?''
''You just stood outside? So you were the bloody lookout? Oh great. This is bloody brilliant! And now you tell me?''

I pull into Chav Towers carpark grimfaced while my very own Tony Soprano looking petrified. But her fear is not born out of what punishment she faces, but more of being spotted at school with her mother. When you go to a school for wannabee gangsters it is better to pretend you are the orphan of a crack 'ho from Compton.

Once inside and having 'fessed up, we learn that someone has already grassed. The teenager has been marked as a key member of the crime ring. Shame she was not villainously minded enough to spot the CCTV cameras apparently recording her every move.

Over the next few days we await news of punishment. The Teenager's year tutor calls my mobile on her speed dial. She says the CCTV footage confirms my daughter's part in the crime. I lament the old days when teachers had to bully confessions out of kids, rather than get them off a tape.

We are now in a different league to the spitting in the stairwell incident, or the can of coke thrown in the canteen that started the food fight. This is even worse than the alleged happy slapping-to which the teenager maintains she was not the only one filming, but was simply picked on because her videophone had more mega pixels.

The Teenager will spend a day in 'base'. Although it sounds like a nightclub, I am informed it is actually a 'solitary confinement educational unit' where the punished are made to sit alone in booths with high walls and no talking is allowed. It sounds far scarier and progressive than exclusion, where she would simply stay at home and celebrate a day off lessons with a lie-in and Jeremy Kyle.

The Teenager calls me up crying and wailing about 'base'. I am thrilled to learn there is something she is actually fearful and consider building my own 'base' in the front room. I mutter something about don't do the crime if you can't do the time.

I call the American and suggests I should tell her that if she wants to be a criminal, she should be a better one and watch out for obvious traps like CCTV.

10 days later The Teenager sits her Maths SAT paper. It is an entirely re-written one from the one she stole. 5 days after that she spends a day in 'base' and declares it 'absolutely hideous'. 7 days after that she gets her results.


So it seems that despite what my own mother told me, cheaters do sometime prosper, even if they're unsuccessful ones like my daughter.

Monday, 21 April 2008

The Queen Teen's two birthdays

The Teenager has yet again pulled off her annual trick of having two birthday celebrations.

She has cleverly arranged a party with her friends the weekend after she turns 14. Despite the fact that it is the Easter holidays so she could easily do this on the actual evening of her birthday. This means I have to organise an entire day of stuff on her birthday. And be nice to her. For two days rather than one.

The plans began several weeks ago. I tell her I'll to the restaurant but she tells me she already has. I offer to help with her costume, but she's got that covered too. She's already bidding on a Alice in Wonderland Queen of Hearts outfit on ebay. In my name. Snacks for the sleepover? She's called my mother with a shopping list.

''So how many girls have you invited to the sleepover?''
''Including or not including me?''
''Including you. Obviously. Unless you plan on sleeping elsewhere?''
''Ummm. About 7.''
'' You can't have an 'about'.''
''7 then.''
''Including you? So you've invited 6?''
''Oh. Well it's 8 then.''
''Jesus. Where are they all going to fit? We live in a two bedroomed terraced. 8 is the absolute max!''
''Don't worry Mum!'' She trills with rare optimism ''I'm doing a sleeping plan!''

The costume on ebay is modelled by a woman who looks like her main occupation involves wearing a lot less clothes. The Queens of Hearts was stern and scary and used to shout at all the little card men. I don't remember her looking anything like a ho' on the croquet lawn. I ask The Teenager what everyone else is coming as.

''Sexy Little bo peep, Sexy Little red riding hood, Sexy Miss Muffet, Sexy Alice in Wonderland''

I email the Queen of Hearts costume to The American, to get a male perspective. He replies saying I am sending the following message: ''Hey my 14 year old daughter is going to be a stripper for her birthday! Wanna stop by?"

5 days later and The Teenager's costume arrives on my desk at work. Fearful of my colleagues thinking I've taken up stripping or worse for extra cash -I unwrap it in a toilet cubicle and am relieved to discover it looks far more innocent than it did on the model slash actress.

April the 2nd arrives and it's exactly 14 years since I brought the most beautiful baby ever into the world. I make a fudge cake, it looks rubbish but tastes good. We have a great day, we get on brilliantly, there are no fights. I ponder the possible correlation between me being nice and us getting on.

3 days later and eleven 14 year old's descend on my house dressed in their stripper nursery rhyme costumes. Some have diverted from the theme and there is a sexy bumble bee and a muslim girl with a pair of Playboy ears over her hijab.

I call Amber into the kitchen to ask her who out of these 11 girls is sleeping over.

''All of them?'' she enquires hopefully
''I said a maximum of 8! Where will they all sleep?!''
''I don't know Mum'' and she looks at me with ridiculous puppy dog eyes ''Which ones should I send home?''

I'll give it to her. She's good.

''Well which ones have you not mentioned a sleepover to?''
''Just Little Red Riding Hood''
''So you have told 9 they can sleep? That's 10 including you.''

I peer into the living room and see Little Red Riding Hood munching a piece of birthday cake and drinking cherryade. She is the tiniest of the group and probably doesn't get picked for games.

I tell her that we'll obviously have to let everyone sleep.

''Thanks Mum!'' and she plants a kiss on my cheek.

And with that rarest of rare display of affection she skips off back to her friends.

Being nice is easier than I thought.

I might try it more often.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Email is so over

''No one uses email anymore''

This is the futurespeak gospel according to the Teenager. Email is 'over' apparently. Now it's seemingly far too time consuming to actually type someone's email address into a box, construct a few grammatically complete sentences and hit send.

Dare I venture what the alternative is? I retain some credibility with a correct guess that it's social networking sites and IM that have replaced the retromail. Of course, I don't say 'social networking sites' and 'IM'. These would take far too long. I just say 'Bebo and MSN?' and she grunts ''uh....yeeeeah'' in the kind of patronising drawl you would use with with someone who's frontal lobes have been sliced out.

Call me old fashioned but I am still impressed by the way email flies around cyberspace and lands at it's destination in a second...or 60 or them if you're an Orange broadband customer. I like the way people take their turns to speak, it's very British.

I treat Facebook with a similar distaste to smallpox. Why would I willingly allow all the no doubt hideously unflattering pictures of myself that exist out there to be branded with my name? I have lost count of the amount of times grown adults have begged me..yes join. I won't kid themselves they want me in their gang, I know they just want to up their 'friends' count. I can't afford another frivolous but delightful waste of time in my life. Asides from my beloved retromail, there is already ebay, popbitch and the Top Shop website. But the friends persist and then they get upset that they can't share their album with 250 pictures of their new baby. Then they send hopeful invitations to join. 'Your saddo mate with too much spare time wants you to poke them on their Facebook profile!'

They send these to my email. See how things come full circle.

My 33 year old brain cannot keep with IM. No sooner have you responded to one question, than the conversation has moved on. IM is nothing more than an intense workout for the fingers. Russians could train armed KGB agents in swift response by simply sitting them in front of MSN for an afternoon. The teenager can shut down around 20 chat boxes in the time it takes me to step over her bedroom* threshold. I guess she does not want her mother to question what the intentions are of the young gentleman who appears to have lost his shirt.

On Monday morning something strange arrives through my letterbox. I open the red hand written envelope with trepidation. Inside is what appears to be a letter from a friend thanking me for her birthday present. Wow. What to do with something that involved a pen and a stationary set? Handling it like a ancient relic I move it to the mantelpiece.

The Teenager scowls at it as she walks past.

I sit down to write an email of thanks.


Tuesday, 4 March 2008

A teenage cover-up part two

So what is the problem with teenagers and coats?

Mine is still treating hers with the kind of contempt usually reserved for anyone who still has the audacity to breath over the age of 20.

Every morning the battle lines are drawn at 8.30 a.m. in the hall of our tiny terrace. Me on one side with a not unreasonable request for the coat to be worn ''It is still winter.'' The teenager on the other throwing back "I'll take it but I won't wear it."

'N'er cast a clout till May is out'. My mother's words still ring in my ear from childhood. She sometimes replaced the 'N'er' bit with 'Never'-which made more sense, as my mother has n'er even been to Lancashire. This phrase would shout loudest in my clubbing days. Not for me shivering on a street corner at 4 a.m. waiting for a taxi. I might have had to queue for the cloakroom, but I went home warm.

So what is the problem with teenagers and coats? The Teenager says it's because Chav Towers has a rule that bans coat wearing inside. (Is it just me or is this bollocks? A rule for the sake of it.) So therefore, taking a coat means having to carry it around school all day. Which I guess is a problem as you might want your hands free to draw horns on pictures of teachers or whatever it is that kids do when walking between classes.

But the coat aversion doesn't end in school. It extends to her social life. Every time she goes anywhere she is always saying goodbye while halfway out of the door, so by the time it has registered she is trying to escape coatless and I have taken chase- she is halfway down the street. Wearing short sleeves.

I didn't always observe my own mothers mummerings about the clout. Sometimes I cast a clout in April and feel deliciously rebellious. The phrase may have to be rewritten in the light of global warming. Or just teenagers in general, who seem to want to cast their clouts all over the shop.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

A teenage cover-up

New Year's resolutions are not supposed to last Beyond January. So it is almost without guilt that I admit to breaking my no shouting resolution. It happened sometime not long after I posted last. I don't remember what triggered it, but odds are it was the teenager's refusal to get out of the house on time in the morning or stealing something else of mine without asking.

But I now feel differently about yelling. After my self imposed ban I realise I am a better Mum if I don't screech and wail like Britney Spears being forced to wait in line at Starbucks. My own mother has always told me that you lose the battle when you shout. Much as it pains me she is probably right. Again.

Also I have realised that there are times when yelling is entirely justified. Take for example the steamer of a row we have this week. The Teenager is going out to the cinema with friends on Saturday night. I trust her that 'cinema' is not a euphemism for 'trying to get into a nightclub' or 'buying WKD to drink in the local park'.

She comes into the bathroom while I am soaking in the bath-to get approval on her outfit. Lets put asides for now the fact that she rather gouge out her own eyeballs than let me come in the when she is naked in the bathroom.

''Gorgeous!'' I say, at the chiffon, sleeveless shirt and skinny jeans combo.

And then-echoing my own Mother for not the first time of late- I add

''As long as you wear a coat.''
''I have a cardigan.''
''A cardigan is not a coat.''
''For God's sake.''
''Just wear a coat.''
'I'll put it on, but then as soon as I get out of the door I'll take it off again.''
''Fine. Just wear it.''
''You're pathetic.''

Pathetic? Pathetic? I slosh out of the bath, wrap a towel around me and march straight to her room and demand my jewellery and handbag back that she is wearing, telling her she can steal the accessories of someone less 'pathetic'. She pleads an apology, but it is only to save the jewellery, so I stand firm.

Then, all but five minutes later she mutters that she is going and I rush out to the landing hallway and I see the coat slung over her arm. I give her the Spanish Inquisition about how she is getting from cinema to sleepover and who is going and what film they are going to see and what time it starts. At one point she stamps her foot in frustation so I extend the questioning for longer. When I finally finish she runs down the stairs and then slams the front door so hard the whole house vibrates.

I belt downstairs after her- furious. I open the door and aware that I cannot rush into the street in a towel-stand at the door and scream in manner of a fishwife;


The teenager then mooches back in and mutters something about what ever happened to my New Year resolution not to shout.

I ground her. There are tears. I do not shout again. There are more tears. I take her to my parent's house, we drive in silence the whole way there. I didn't shout. I won the battle.

But I am under no illusions about winning the war.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Shout, shout, let it all out

14th January and the New Year's resolution not to shout is holding firm. When I say 'holding firm' I mean I have raised my voice, maybe twice, possibly three times. I have not screamed once though and my neighbours are now reconsidering their decision to call social services.

Exercising such control over my wayward vocal chords has been less of a challenge than I imagined. Shouting-I can now see with the benefit of hindsight-is something of vicious circle. You get stressed, you shout, you get more stressed, you shout even more, stress levels hit the roof-as does your voice. Once you break this cycle you are free to issue your threats through gritted teeth a-go-go.

Note that ceasing parental shouting though does not stop arguments. Or normal teenage behaviour.

This week, I briefly feared that our home had been burgled. Strangley though, there were no forced locks and the perpetraitors just attacked The Teenager's room. And they didn't actually steal anything. The intruders must have been looking for Top Secret documents.

At least that's the only explanation I could fathom for the state of The Teenager's room which looked like something between Sarajevo and a drug dealer's lair-post raid. Apparently it was simply her inability to find a pair of jeans that did not make her size 8 legs look fat that spawned the 'thief chic'.

The Teenager says she prefers it that way. I pondered how this was possible as I swept though the detritus feeling like one of those industrial cleaners from Life of Grime.
''A tidy room is a tidy mind'
''Not really.'' she grunts
''Yes it is.''
''Uhhhh, whatever. Can you get out of my room please?''

I do so just as I feel the desire to shout. I pick up the copy of The seven highly effective habits of teenagers I bought her and wave it in her face. By the looks of the coffee stains it seems to have been used as a drink's coaster.

On my return from work The Teenager is wearing my new top as a dress, my vintage clutch bag, my new gold heels and my headband. I dig my nails into my palms to stop the shouting.

She is also wearing the smile that indicates she wants something. What else? I think wearily. She is already wearing half my wadrobe. Can I assist her in any other way? Maybe she would like to make another withdrawal from Bank of Single Mum?

''A lift would be lovely Mum''
She does a sweet lopsided grin that I cannot resist
I borrow from her vocab. ''Uggh. I'm tired. Do I have to?''

Then she hits me with an irresistable plea.

''Please Mum? I can't walk in these heels''

She's her mother's daughter. I am powerless to resist.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Christmas point breaking

''It's going to be weird having a man in the house on Christmas Day.'' says The Teenager.

She is not an extremly late developer and talking about Father Christmas. She gave that one up at the age of 8 as soon as she was sure it wouldn't affect the present tally. The teenager is referring to my American boyfriend, who is staying with us for what the Yanks call 'the holidays'.

I had tried to discuss this in a nice civilised manner over sushi way back in October and the response was a series of grunts. Now on the eve of his arrival it seems- as I am simultaneously trying to turn my house into something it is not (i.e -clean) and having an outfit crisis-now, now she wants to talk about it. Or just make me feel guilty. Being as I don't have time for the former, I settle for the latter and make a mental note to buy her another 10 presents to get over it.

I needn't have worried. The American resumes his previous tactic of buying The Teenager off at a cost of £20 a time and disagreeing with most of what I say and agreeing with most of what she says. It works wonderfully and they get on like the proverbial house on fire. I am left wondering if stomping around, sulking and becoming monosyllabic will encourage my parents to start handing me crisp notes.

"You already do. They already do." says The American.

On the big day The American unashamedly continues his tribute to good old Yankee capitalism by showering me and The Teenager with presents. With the exception of an argument between The Teenager and I over an untagged Urban Decay glitter eyeliner (that I am forced to concede) all is well. So we're all in a good mood before heading off to my parents for the annual Smith dysfunctional family Christmas.

Despite asking my mother to make The Teenager's stocking bigger than mine this year, she has ignored my wishes and drags out a sack with a cheery Santa printed on it that is literally breaking at the seams.

"It's tradition! We've been doing this for 33 years!'' my Dad tells The American as Mum drops the sack at my feet.

The Teenager's sack is notably smaller, although still big enough to impress. She makes a point of finishing unwrapping hers first and eyeballing me as I self conciously unwrap a pair of pink Marigold with fluffy trim and a fake diamond ring on them.

Smack bang in the middle of Christmas and New Year I turn 33. The Teenager comes into the bedroom in the morning and does a good job of hiding her disgust that The American and I are in the same bed together.

She nods at one of her gifts to me, that is wrapped in gold paper 'That wasn't cheap you know'.

I unwrap it last and am thrilled to find a chiffon bell sleeved blouse with diamante buttons. I also get a necklace and The Desperate Housewives book (after I bemoaned my only Christmas reading matter was a Nigella cookbook. I was thinking of something a little more challenging, but it's the thought that counts.) I feel a warm glow, that I know from the pre teenage days is something called affection for your child. I throw my arms around and am delighted to not receive the usual 'What the hell is wrong with you?'

By lunchtime the warm glow has faded and we are trying to do some sale shopping but instead are arguing like sisters over an umbrella in the pissing rain while I try to get money out of the hole in the wall. The American rushes up to see what the problem is. He later tells me he assumed by all the shouting that we were getting '...robbed at the ATM'.

''No one gets robbed, this is Wales''
I tell him.
''And it's called a cashpoint round here mate''

The row then continues at the cafe bar where Mum is buying us lunch. Mum does not help matters by moaning the lack of duck in my duck salad.

''It's duck Mum. You don't get volume with Duck.''
''But £10 for that? It's just duck and a bit of rocket'.'
''Do you want me to give you £10 Mum?''
''No darling. It's not about the money. But £10? For a bit of rocket and some duck?''
''So do you want a tenner?''
''No! Of course not... it's not about the money...but £10! honestly.''

New Year and The Teenager wants to go out with her friends to the city centre for the fireworks display, funfair and music fest that Cardiff council is paying for with my tax money. Being as someone should benefit from this spectacle I agree, only realising afterwards that it will mean being out till a least 12.30 p.m-hours later than she ever has been. I issue strict instructions on how she is to return; via the main, well lit street with the crowds walking home or on the late night bus and with all her friends in accompaniment and no dilly dallying on the way etc etc.

With grim predictability 12.30 p.m. comes and goes and no sign of The Teenager. Cue numerous phone calls in which I get a series of lame excuses about the late night buses running late.

At 1.45 a.m. she tumbles into the hallway with her two friends, shouting apologies and judging by their glassy eyes looking like they may have sampled the wonders of a festive WKD or two. I don't know whether it is the New Year champagne, my resolution not to shout anymore or just sheer fury but I say nothing other than:

''Go upstairs. I'll deal with you in the morning.''

1.46 a.m. January 1st 2008 and Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze fill my TV screen. The BBC has somehow decided Point Break is the best they can offer us to start the New Year. A film made in 1991. Round about the time when I was staggering into my parent's hall way, glassy eyed with a series of lame excuses about late night buses running late.

Happy New Year.