I’m writing this on what is the morning of my eldest daughter’s first day of school. Lilly-lola is six and there’s a look on her face similar to that of a parachutist who has been given an anvil instead of a parachute. The size of her new backpack and she could actually be a parachutist. It’s huge, bigger than our apartment, less a backpack and more of a giant Panic Room. I think this is the idea, if school starts to get too rough, if an unforeseen event takes place such as her teacher going loco and taking out an M16 assault rifle, Lilly climbs into the backpack and sits the ordeal out.
Christ knows she’s got enough stuff in there to survive a nuclear fallout. Tytka? Where parents supply their child with a huge cone full of candy – our entire household food budget has been spent on chocolate monkeys and strawberry bubblegum. We don’t have the Tytka tradition in Ireland. On my first day of school no-one gave me anything. Sorry, I lie. My mother warned me that she’d slap the taste out of my mouth if I did anything wrong and I subsequently gave myself a crotch-full of urine. She must have given the same warning to my classmates. They all reeked of piss too. It was catastrophic. So it was no surprise when the teacher put the whole class in a sealed plastic bag full of uncooked rice.
What. A. Day. Later on, I met a bully from the class above, a guy called The Onion on account of how he made you cry. And also because he slept with eight other smelly siblings in a net bag. I’m not really sure The Onion did anything bad to me, despite my defective childhood memory insisting he must have maimed me by, I don’t know, sticking clothes pegs to my nipples or slipping a hedgehog into my whitebread and sugar sandwich. I do remember him (his real name was Paul) being the one who broke the Facts of Life to me. Not on my first day of school, but years later when I was nine or ten, the age a boy starts to feel ”sensations” south of the border and subsequently, albeit at an unconscious, sub-atomic level, knows that the outlandish premise of a man putting his thing into a woman’s thing, is horribly true.
None of that for my daughter. She gets a metre long cone filled with enough treats to feed a starving Polish family for a month. She gets a class packed with her buddies, highly-motivated, intelligent kids.
As long as it isn’t the boy from the park that I hate. I know, I’m a grown man. I shouldn’t feel hate towards a six-year old boy, but I do. I don’t know his name, but for months we’ve been meeting him in the playground in the park beside where we live and I hate him. I hate him for several reasons. Because he’s got more hair than me. His is really thick and shiny and my hair is falling out so fast I’m looking like Gollum. What does that kid need great hair for? What a waste. It’s not like he’s going to be going on dates. Neither am I, but like all married men I cling to the illusion that I could go on a date if I wanted to.
The main reason I hate this boy is he’s great at climbing and jumping off things. My daughter is good at these too but he’s better. I do question my behavior. You’d swear that a proficiency in jumping and climbing was going to have this big bearing on Lilly’s life, that when she’s at the job interview at Apple she’ll be put in front of this massive climbing wall and the ghost of Steve Jobs is there with a stopwatch shouting, ‘go!’
I suppose I really hate him because I’m reliving my childhood through my daughter and he reminds me how everyone was better than me at everything. And isn’t this why we become parents, to right the wrongs of a cruel and unjust childhood? Having said that, one of these kids in Lilly’s class is also going to break the news to her how babies get made. This is it. The first day of school is the end of the beginning. The first phase of raising kids is over. They start to learn from other people than us their parents. Their friends start to get more important. You and me and every parent have entered a new era;
We’re not their heroes anymore.