Wednesday 19 June 2019

David Robbins: My daughter is fit for a pedestal now -- while Dad, well, he's got feet of clay

My daughter is enrolled in summer camp all this week. Although we are careful not to use the word "camp", and there is little call for the word "summer" either.

She has had mixed experiences with camps before, so the term comes loaded with negative meaning for her. We refer to her arts and crafts camp in the Dublin mountains as an "expedition" or an "adventure".

She is to be collected by bus nearby and taken high into the hills. She will return by the same bus some six hours later, or so they say.

It seems cruel to send her off into the unknown on her first day, and she has that little look on her face: afraid but brave at the same time.

She has scooted to the bus pick-up point on her new Maxi Micro scooter, and I have just been thinking how grown-up she looks, powering along the pavement, leaving me and the dog far behind.

But now, she looks young and vulnerable. A mother once described kids as being like the needle on a sliding scale, with baby at one end and pre-teen at the other.

Sometimes, she said, they're right at the top of their scale, appearing older and wiser than their age. And then, if something comes against them, they can slide right back to almost zero.

"As a parent, you've got to know where they are on that scale," she said. "When they're towards the top, you encourage them; when they slide back, you hug them."

My daughter is sliding backwards on her scale as the time nears to board the bus. "It'll be great," I say. "I wish they had camps like that when I was a little boy."

In fact, they did have camps like this, but our mother didn't send us to them. Our neighbours went to one in Blackrock College and made us envious with stories of soccer and sweets afterwards.

I think now there was a kind of passive-aggressive snobbery at work in our house. My parents' philosophy was: "If all the other kids are doing something, then you're definitely not doing it."

Only 'philosophy' is not right. There was no consideration to parenting styles back then, no deep conversations about the best approach to take. For them, it was a reflexive thing, a subconscious desire to be different. And for them, I suspect, 'different' meant 'better'.

We weren't sent to the Gaeltacht either. Partly, this was for the same everyone-else-is-doing-it contrarianism, and partly because my parents were ambiguous about the Irish language.

My father had little interest in Gaelic culture, and my mother, if you asked her what something was in Irish, would say the English word and put " ... ála" at the end of it.

So we escaped the adolescent rites of passage that come with the summer camp or Gaeltacht experience: the first experience of an environment where girls and boys mixed, the first disco, the first kiss.

While all the kids on our road were off at camp or down in the Gaeltachtaí of Ring or Carraroe, we were left to wander listlessly around the estate, picking at the melting tar in the middle of the street or half-heartedly stealing apples from the nuns in Carysfort Convent.

From our reading, we knew American kids went to camp too. They stayed in tents and did manly, outdoor, scouting activities. The fact that we could only read about them, rather than do them, made our sense of injustice burn all the fiercer.

Later, at pick-up time, I am early at the bus stop. I think of my daughter's mountain camp as being like Camp Ivanhoe in Wes Anderson's whimsical and nostalgic film Moonrise Kingdom, except without the kids-running-away plot line.

The bus arrives and she is there, all smiles. "It was great, Dad," she says, giving it the two thumbs-up sign of approval. "I made a clay statue of you," she adds, and I notice that her coat that was white with polka dots is now pottery-clay brown.

"She had a blast," I tell my wife later. "She even made a clay statue of me." There is a pause as I put her coat in the washing machine. "I'm a bit worried about tomorrow, though."

"Why?" asks my wife.

"I don't want her putting me on a pedestal," I say.

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