Why don’t kids come with an instruction manual? And why did my husband ever let them watch Home Alone?
- Credit: Archant
Ellen Widdup’s 2.4 Children
Nobody has a plan for how they are going to raise their children. Not one that will play out anyway.
Of course we want them to work hard, do their best, be kind to others, share our values and beliefs, learn from their mistakes, choose their friends wisely, eat their vegetables.
But let’s face it; most of us are stumped about how to actually achieve all this.
We chide, admonish, reward, praise, cajole, even bribe. But there are some moments in parenthood where you simply don’t have the answers, skills, time or inclination to do everything by the book – if there were such a book.
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I can’t be the only parent who wishes their kids came with a full instruction manual. Who wishes, mid-tantrum, that I could just lift up a sleeve to expose the control panel and press “help”. The reset button. Control–Alt–Delete followed by a two-hour battery reboot giving me time to collect my thoughts and prepare for the next parenting onslaught.
“But that’s what Disney is for,” my husband said, after one particular hellish day. “When you are sick of answering questions, wiping bottoms, cleaning up, telling off and explaining to a four-year-old why decorating the bedroom curtains with permanent marker is not a creative use of his time – that is when you turn to Walt.”
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He has a point. For a couple whose parenting plan involved a vow never to resort to television for time out, we do rely on the God of animation rather a lot.
And up until recently I believed it was filling in a lot of the gaps that we were failing to satisfy in their education.
Snow White teaches them more about stranger danger than any parental lecture. Pinocchio, the consequences of lying. The Lion King, independence. Cinderella, patience. Beauty and the Beast teaches us not to judge a person solely on their appearance. Tarzan – to be brave in the face of adversity. And Frozen, why sibling relationships are so important.
The trouble with the latter is that it also comes with a soundtrack you can’t switch off.
So much so that at 4.25am the other morning, my son climbed into bed with me and started singing that he was the queen in a kingdom of isolation.
I “let it go” of course. It’s not his fault he’s so easily influenced. And the up side is he and his sister have been getting on very well with each other ever since they fell in love with the story. Their new-found camaraderie is a little off-putting actually.
“Would you like the last pancake?” my son asked my daughter over breakfast the other morning.
“No, no,” she replied. “You have it.”
Then they trotted off hand in hand to play.
“Weird,” my husband remarked.
What was weirder however was the web of skipping ropes cordoning off the bottom of the staircase.
“Clean up this mess,” I bellowed upon discovering the snare.
There was a cackle from upstairs.
“That’s not a mess,” came a little voice. “It’s a trap to catch burglars.”
Or it would have said “burglars” if a slight misunderstanding of another Disney classic hadn’t resulted in our youngest learning a swearword which sounds remarkably similar.
And that’s not the only gem he has picked up from the 1990 blockbuster Home Alone either.
The film, shown on TV on Boxing Day, is about a little boy who is left home alone during the holiday and has to defend his property from robbers using a variety of traps.
The antics of Kevin, played by Macaulay Culkin – who bears a striking resemblance to my four-year-old – has left such an impression on him that when he was asked to bestwo festive greetings on his 95-year-old great grandmother he shouted: “Merry Christmas ya’ filthy animal!”
Now there are a number of films I won’t let my children watch because of their tendency to mimic. Superman is banned because I fear my son might try to fly. So too is Spiderman who climbs out of windows and balances on ledges. And Hulk who smashes things up.
I also avoid anything too distressing and anything that displays negative, cynical or antisocial attitudes that may encourage or endorse similar attitudes among my young – such as denigrating education or annoying neighbours with loud music.
Home Alone has been on this list for some time. Yes it’s a superb movie – one of my favourites – and it is a PG.
But it also involves mild comic violence and abrasive language.
And like I said, my pair are highly impressionable.
It was my husband who ended up relenting and letting them watch it. So naturally I blame him entirely for what followed.
Because you see, I was right to be concerned.
“Don’t you know how to knock, phlegm-wad?” my son asked when I went to collect his dirty washing from his bedroom.
I confiscated his games console in retaliation but that didn’t stop him using his favourite quotes at every moment possible.
“Is that your girlfriend? Woof!” he snarled when my husband greeted me with a kiss after work.
“Bless this highly nutritious microwavable macaroni and cheese dinner and the people who sold it,” he said when I provided supper.
Later that evening I discovered the sinks in both bathrooms had been plugged up with toilet paper and the cold taps left running. I was furious.
“But I’m a wet bandit,” he replied.
“Enough is enough,” I screamed, mopping up the mess. “No more tricks, no more rudeness and no more movies.”
Picking up a basket of clean washing, I headed to my bedroom, tripping straight over a line of my brassieres, cleverly tied together across the doorframe.
I fell, the linen tumbled out of my hands and my son appeared, cheerfully surveying his handy work.
“OK Mom,” he said in an American accent. “But you’ve got to admit that was one hell of a booby trap.”
“Control-Alt-Delete,” I muttered under my breath.
Find me on Twitter @EllenWiddup