Saturday 22 October 2016

'Don't leave me yet I'm not ready'- Brendan O'Connor on the struggle of watching his eldest grow up

Published 11/04/2016 | 02:30

Brendan O'Connor
Brendan O'Connor
A game of Ludo is still a beloved night-time tradition chez Brendan

It HAS hit me hard. The elder child has started playing on the road. Don't get me wrong. This is what I wanted for her. You know how when you're young you aspire to have a bigger house than your parents, and then gradually your aspiration is just to have a similar set-up to what you grew up in. So I wanted for them that we'd live in some kind of suburban enclave where they could run around the road with other kids.

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I got what I wished for. And I'm taking it badly.

She used to run out the door to me when I came home from work: "Daadddeeeeee!"

Now I'm more likely to meet her on the street as I get close to home, and I get a casual hello. Not unfriendly, don't get me wrong. But, you know. It's different. And it's hard for a dad to take. I am no longer the centre of the universe. And our little bit of time together in the evening, before bedtime, when we would play a bit of Ludo or Stop The Bus (a word game). That's gone now. Sometimes it was a pain in the ass when I came in knackered and just wanted to vegetate and she was all business, wanting to play. But now I cherish it when it does happen. She even humours me now. All nice and cuddly sometimes, when in reality it's just building up to asking can she go back out on the road.

I act out about it in different ways. By being really strict about being able to see her from the house at all times and giving her exact periods of minutes for which she can go out, and by telling her not to be disturbing other people when they may be having their tea. But in reality these are all just a front for "Don't leave me. Don't leave me yet. I'm not ready." And a front for jealousy. That she is developing this life outside our life, and of course we all know where this goes, and where it ends up. The little sorties become longer and longer, and then . . .

I think there is a sort of resentment there too. I'm thinking, "I gave up having a life in order to make this little family the fulcrum of my existence. And now you've decided to head off and have a life."

I kid myself too that it's about her not just detaching from me, but from her little sister. The two of them are such great pals. Though there is two and a half years between them, they are like twins at times. There are moments when they seem to physically ache for each other. Sometimes one is the only one who can console the other. Sometimes, when there are tears, they don't want either of us parents near them, they just need each other. The classic example being when my wife was walking back into the ward after Mary had her tonsils out. She heard Mary long before she saw her. Roaring at the doctors at the top of her head: "I want my Anna!"

So when I see the older one heading out the door, I worry that this is the beginning of the process by which she starts leaving her little sister behind, and outgrows her. My wife assures me it's fine. The younger one is not bothered, and none of the other five-year-olds are out playing on the road either. It's just me really. Don't leave me. Don't leave me yet. I'm not ready. When she is out and the doorbell rings, I sometimes hope it is her arriving back, like she did one day, crying, because she fell or something, back, needing me. That's pretty sick isn't it? It's only a little flash though.

I know this has to happen. I know this is healthy. And I know those people who say they wish their kids would stay at a certain age are unhealthy. And that what they really mean is that they wish they themselves would stay at a certain age. Because this is time passing before our very eyes. This is getting older, moving onto another stage.

In fairness, I should be ready for this. Half my peers have teenage kids, to whom they relate as fully formed people now. I know people who have kids leaving the country, or going off to college, people who are no longer needed much at all. And they are finding whole new lives for themselves. So I console myself with the fact that it's easier to get a night out these days. And soon it will be easier to get a night or two away.

And also, when it comes down to it, when she gets home from the road, she still often gets into her PJs and begs for a bowl of cereal and with a little sly smile she will present the Ludo box. "Dad". And I say, "I'd love to." And I do.

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