This parenting gig never ceases to amaze me. Just when I think I’ve got things figured out, my offspring throw me a curve ball that has my precisely set parameters scattered all over the place.
Sure, I thought motherhood would challenge me physically. And mentally. I suspected it would test my patience, my endurance, and my courage. I even guessed that at times, it would have me knocking on the door of the local nuthouse and enquiring ever-so- politely to the doormen in white if there might be a spare room for the night. But never could I have imagined, that it could (gasp) affect my choices where works of literature were concerned.
During the heady days of my Arts degree, I was on a strict diet of Bronte and Baynton, Hardy and Huxley. Never mind that on more than one occasion I skipped the required reading list and went straight to the Brodie’s Notes. That’s not really the point today. I could lie on the beach with the dust jacket of my read held high in the air, safe in the knowledge that I looked the picture of literary sophistication. That was until Edward Cullen entered my life; the mesmerising blood sucker young enough to be my son. Almost.
My relationship with Edward began on a strictly ‘need to know’ basis; I needed to know what the hell was keeping Miss Almost Ten so occupied in her bedroom, just hours after a well-meaning friend had landed The Book on our coffee table.
“Do you think we should let her read it?” I pondered to my beloved, moments after it was revealed that Miss Nine had demolished half the book.
“It’s probably a little late for that,” he replied in his special, caring way.
And so I did what any responsible parent who’d made an iffy call concerning their charge would do. I made myself a flat white, and hoped the issue would vanish with no parental intervention required.
“You’re letting her read what?!” inquired my librarian mother-in-law over the Christmas Day cold cuts and bon bons.
“Well,” I laughed nervously, “It’s not like I can start censoring her reading material. She’ll track it down and read it in secret. Won’t she?”
“I’ve heard it’s very sexual,” she continued.
Naturally, I turned to my teenaged niece for advice, glass of bubbly Christmas cheer in hand.
“I don’t think it’s overly sexual,” she replied from behind her enviably perky cleavage, tenuously restrained by a few scraps of fabric at the time. “I’ll lend you the second book when you’ve finished the first, Chik.”
Right. Time to bring Plan B into play. Having the foresight to discover what my nine year old had been exposed to in hindsight was the only sensible solution. My answer made perfect sense. I’d have to join the unwashed masses, 40 million of them to be precise, and indulge in a bit of teen vampire romance. No doubt my English lecturers would stroke their scholarly beards in disappointment, if only they knew. Nevertheless, I was prepared to do what was necessary to pay penance for my crimes against motherhood.
I set to work, racing through the pages with a fervour only a parent who’s desperate to learn if she’d soon be faced with awkward questions about vampire sex can muster. At first, whenever my husband asked how it was going, I’d scoff about the standard of writing and laugh with nonchalance.
“It’s trashy,” I’d chortle, as though I had a scholarly beard of my own to stroke, “and depressingly formulaic. But nothing too debauched yet.”
I’m not too proud to admit that before too long, spending time with Edward Cullen became less of a chore. I started taking him to bed with me, reading into the night until my head spun and my eyes burned. I took him in the car, just in case Miss Three fell asleep and I had a chance to pull over and spend a little quality time with Mr Undead. I took him to the beach, and stole a dozen-or-so pages whenever I was relieved from my sandcastle-building duties.
Just like my girl, I just couldn’t get enough.
“I’m just reading it to supervise Britt,” I’d say whenever I got sprung on the sand without the ‘War and Peace’ dust jacket to protect my dirty secret. Then I’d roll my eyes in mock irritation and murmur something about pulp fiction, for the benefit of my questioner. In truth, my only irritation was with their inability to realise they were keeping me from my Edward, and all his dreamy teenage anguish.
Fast forward four months and I’ve just about finished the forth and final book in The Series. As well as learning that I’m not the only educated woman on the wrong side of thirty who’s been completely sucked in by these blood suckers, I also learnt exactly what my beautiful girl on the brink of young womanhood has been exposed to.
Romance? Check. Sex? You bet. Adventure, suspense, action and excitement? Yes, yes and yes.
And despite the fact that I hold Edward Cullen personally responsible for the mind blowing acceleration in Britt’s oestrogen production in the last handful of months, I can also credit him with compelling her (and millions of other young things; some of whom had never finished a book before in their life) to passionately churn through over 3,000 pages of literature.
I figure in this instance, the pros outweigh the cons. Parenting dilemma Number 34, 657 sorted.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem