Time is precious. We know that. At any moment – tick tock – the proverbial bus of metaphorical fate could come hurtling along the hypothetical highway of life squashing you into a puddle before you can get out of the way, damp and indignant.
I’m not saying time shouldn’t be squandered, sometimes a moochy, meaningless, mope is exactly what you should be doing. And loving every minute of it.
However, what time (or mine at any rate) should not be passed doing is gluing cardboard boxes together, sticking buttons onto toilet roll skeletons and then making a painty mess over the kitchen table. You can be absolutely sure there is no point in my life – including however much of it there is left – where I will wistfully gaze at adhesive and sigh, wishing I’d spent more time sticking things together.
But this is what I was to be found doing last night. Gumming, daubing, and cutting things out. I was almost certainly swearing at the same time, giving lie to the notion that I can’t multi-task. I even made a cannon (display purposes only) though the fully functioning drawbridge proved technically out of reach.
Boy Three needed a castle for the magical dragon, and he needed it in a hurry. Two weeks had passed since the homework instruction – in rhyming couplets if you please – asking the five-year-old to create an enchanted fortress out of rubbish. You will be hugely relieved that I can’t now find the homework poetry.
My kids go to wonderful schools. I admire the teachers and support everything they do when it comes to the education of my Boys. And that’s the thing – it’s the children who go to school, to get educated and tested on what they’ve learned. The teachers aren’t interested in my spelling, maths or French verbs. It would be a waste of everyone’s time if I did the boys’ homework, wouldn’t it?
It’s tempting, God knows. The hours of coaxing and nagging, patient explanations, rubbings out and pleading would have been much better spent if I simply did the sums and we all got on with what we’d rather have been doing.
So when the request arrived for the construction of a marvellous castle two weeks ago, I simply told Boy Three that his teacher Miss C wasn’t interested in my rendering of a medieval fortress out of corrugated cardboard and that he’d better get on with it. So he did.
In less time than it takes to eat a single jaffa cake (have you noticed how small they are these days?) he had stuck a couple of things together with parcel tape and pronounced himself done. He’d clearly taken the ‘rubbish’ part of the deal to heart. Nothing would persuade him to improve or decorate. His game remained resolutely un-upped.
And then it was Thursday. The next day I knew that there would be a class of small boys and girls fetching their parents’ handiwork to school. No doubt about it. Boy Three’s trash bin shanty town would simply not pass muster. He’d be a laughing stock and that would never do. Possibly a more resolute mother than I would send him forth convinced of the lesson he’d get in consequences of his actions (or inactions), but five-year-olds aren’t supposed to factor in the competitive nature of their peers’ parents.
So, to spare him – and us – the heartache, I ‘helped’.
“Wow, mum. Your castle’s really good. Can I have it?”
“Yes, it’s for you.”
“OK. Can you make a cannon?”
“No, it’s a pacifist dragon’s palace.”
“OK, then. But you’ve got to help.”
“Yuk. This paint’s rubbish, it drips all over the table. Where’s the glue? Ooopsy daisy.”
“Go and sit over there, Boy Three. You can help me better from over there.”
His castle did look pretty good by the time we had finished. I was quite proud, which is, of course, not the point.
And I couldn’t help myself later: “How were the other people’s castles? Were they as good as yours?”
“Some were,” he eyed me warily. “But most weren’t.”
If there’s anything to be learned from this it’s that parents mustn’t be asked – however poetically – to do their kids’ homework (especially if it involves glue) and parents should resist at all cost. Meanwhile, Boy Three probably learned an excellent lesson about grown ups and how to handle them.