A short story, by Tanya Cox
You all know this conversation. You may have it with a friend, grandparent or even the nosy old lady in the next checkout at the supermarket. If you are a parent there will always be someone who knows better than you do, or at least thinks they do!
This particular outing to my Mother-in-law’s started like any other. CRITICISM! “In my Day..” She began tediously. “We didn’t baby our children, we let them run wild and they thrived on it!” More often than not I would argue with Veronica, telling her that it was different in her generation and things aren’t quite as cut and dry now as they were in her day.
Yes any other day things would continue on that path but today was different, today I had a plan!
“You know what Veronica?” I said confidently.
“Don’t go getting all defensive now Catherine” Veronica cut me off. She knew where this conversation usually went.
Veronica froze. Her mouth was agape and her eyes furrowed slightly. She didn’t know what had hit her. God knows that’s not a phrase I would often use with her.
“You’re right.” I reaffirmed. “Maybe I have babied Cooper, Maybe all he needs is a day with you, with you doing exactly what you would have done with his father.”
Veronica’s emerald eyes narrowed even further. She had no idea what to do, and I’d never felt more triumphant!
I set down my coffee mug and picked up my car keys. “You’re absolutely right, I need to let go. You won’t mind looking after him for the day. I could really use some time to myself and it will be so easy for you!”
Cooper had just finished watching Thomas the Tank engine on the television. “Well Super Cooper,” I asked my son “What was the moral of that story?” Cooper considered the question for a minute “Well, the other trains were being nasty to Thomas and he got really upset. So I think the moral was that you should always treat people the way you want to be treated – even trains!” He laughed a little at that and then seeing the keys in my hands asked “Is it time to go?”
“Nana and I thought you might like to spend the day here Cooper. Would that be ok with you?” My ever-polite son nodded. “Ok Mummy”
I gave him a massive cuddle (I couldn’t help feeling slightly guilty for leaving him in the middle of this) “I love you Darling.” My Mother-in-Law waved impatiently, “Go on and have a great day and when you pick Cooper up he can tell you how Nana does it!”
I shut the door. Veronica had no idea what it was like to raise the children of this generation. There was much more to consider than when her children were growing up. Never go into public toilets alone, and never talk to strangers. Then as they grow so do the problems. Crime and drugs on TV, so much to censor in the video games that they play. Not to mention the simple challenges in today’s society. Where does my son see analogue clocks? They’re all digital! Will he learn to do mathematics or pull out the calculator on his phone or iPod? Will he ever learn to read a map or only how to program a GPS? In simplifying our lives we have complicated them beyond measure. This world, when kids are involved, is far different to that of 40 years ago, Veronica was in for a big day.
As Veronica washed out her coffee mug she began to digest what had happened! She knew that it was Catherine’s way of showing her she was wrong and Veronica was determined not to let that happen. Cooper needed a bit of freedom. He was always at Catherine’s side. Always giving cuddles and asking for constant reassurances from his Mother. Is it ok to do this? Can I please go outside? Why her children were never inside and the only rule was to be home my dark! Yes, freedom and independence was called for! She had only one day to instill this in him so she had better get started.
Cooper had settled down on the couch again, he was now watching Bob the Builder. He should be out building his own tree houses she thought. His pale blond hair and small frame always made him look meek and fragile. He didn’t get that from his father’s side she though gruffly. All of her children were strong and independent – it was the way they were raised! The firs thing to do, she decided, was to get Cooper to start making decisions. She tousled his hair, “Just you and me today kiddo. If you could do anything at all today, what would you like to do?” Cooper’s face lit up.
“Sometimes Mum lets me play the Playstation.”
“Well get your shoes on then!” Coopers face darkened and his eyebrows furrowed. “But…”
“Butt’s are what you sit on.” Veronica admonished. “Shoes!”
When they arrived at the park 10 minutes later Veronica sat on a bench and said “Off you go then!”
“Why are we at the park Nana? I thought I could pick whatever I wanted…?”
His voice trailed off. He didn’t usually answer back but he was genuinely confused at the way this morning was turning out.
“Playstation, that’s what you said isn’t it? Is this not a PLAY station?”
“Nana!! A Playstation is a game that you can play on the tv!”
“Is it?” There was a pause while Veronica recovered.
“Well….Why on earth would you want to play at the TV on such a nice day. You can play outside instead! Why don’t you leave your shoes here and play in the sandpit? Off you go!”
“Mum always says to leave my shoes on.” Cooper answered and ran off to see how high he could swing up, a favourite game of his.
Veronica sat on the bench congratulating herself on a great start to her mission. A game on the TV indeed – he needed more time outdoors. Really she needn’t even be here, he could have walked here on his own. She made a mental note to mention this to Catherine. Playing on his own would make him more like his father she decided. Her thoughts were interrupted when Cooper came running over with something in his hand.
“I did this big jump into the sandpit and now there’s this thing stuck in my shoe!” He said excitedly! “It was a really big jump, it looks sharp though, is it sharp Nana?” Veronica took his shoe and gasped at the green strip of glass jutting out of it. She had asked him to take his shoes off! God what could have happened!
“Yes Cooper, it’s very sharp.” She stammered. “I think it’s best if we go home now. How would you like to buy a toy from the shop?”
“Anything I want Nana?” Cooper asked excitedly.
“You mind that it’s something small and you can pick what you want.” Veronica answered still slightly distressed from the incident at the park. She needed to get today back on a positive note.
Cooper led Veronica down the back of the local Kmart store. He picked up a small packet not much bigger than a cordless phone. “May I have this one Nana?”
He had done well picking such a small item. “Hitman. Your Dad used to have a toy called Pacman. Is it like that?”
“I’m not too sure.” Cooper answered. “It is only small though isn’t it Nana?”
She couldn’t help but agree. Wasn’t it amazing she mused that she had only set one rule and he had picked something straight away. She had seen many parents fight tooth and nail with children over such a task.
She had asked Cooper to hand over the toy to the lady at the counter but when the checkout assistant brought up the total Veronica could have died. “$98.50 is that cash or card?”
“I’m sorry could you just check that price?” Veronica asked the operator. “It’s only such a small thing can it possibly be that much?” The operator suppressed a smile and gestured towards Cooper, “Did this young lad pick this game? It’s just that I’m not to sell this game to persons under 18. It’s not really a children’s game Mam.” Veronica was mortified – it was obviously not like Pacman and she had definitely not expected the toy to cost that much anyway! When her children were little a treat was a $2 parachute man or a ball attached to a bat and that would keep them entertained for hours. Catherine was right it really was so different with today’s children! Now what should she do?
“That’s ok Nana” Cooper muttered. “Could we maybe just go home now? I’m a bit tired and Mum will be home soon.”
Catherine walked through the front door and checked Cooper over. He was watching Play School happily on the couch – ice cream in hand. She wasn’t sure what she expected but everything seemed fairly normal here. Veronica was making a cup of tea which Catherine declined and started to pack up Cooper’s things.
“How was your day?” She asked Cooper and Veronica. “What adventures did you get up to?”
“We went to the park.” Cooper started. “I got really high up on the swing and …”
“We learnt that danger is always underfoot and to always take precautions.” Veronica jumped in.
Cooper looked like he was about to say something else but decided against it when a penetrating look from his Grandmother caught his eye.
“Then we went to the shop…” Cooper stopped there knowing that his grandmother would have more to say on that topic too.
“Where we learnt not to judge a book by it’s cover.” Cooper took a big lick of his ice cream and smiled. “We sure did Grandma”
Catherine was feeling frustrated as she loaded up Cooper’s things in the car. Muttering to herself she said “Well I guess the moral to THIS story is to never try to prove a point to your mother-in-law” She knew that there was more to the story and was sure in time she would hear all about it from Cooper. She couldn’t help but feel frustrated that Veronica hadn’t had any difficulties at all.
“Excuse me, Mum.” Cooper piped up from the back seat. He wasn’t used to seeing me mutter to myself and he looked slightly bashful. “I think the moral to THIS story is that – Mum’s are always right.” My heart swelled and I knew that we really were doing everything right with Cooper.
“Apart from one thing…”He continued. “You always say that the bubblegum ice-cream is no good! But it is, it’s REALLY yummy!”
“Well I guess we have all learned something today” And we headed off home.