Every night – after I’ve re-told the story of Little Red Riding Hood, and sung 12 verses of Soldier, Soldier – I offer my two-year-old daughter two pieces of advice, which, yes, I nicked straight from the film version of Cinderella, but which kind of sum up the whole humanity gig, for me: “Be brave, and be kind.”
“Kind means sharing,” Alice clarifies, every night.
“Yep,” I say, “and helping people who need you.”
And she nods, and tells me she loves me, and goes to sleep.
(Ha! Does she fuck! She asks for another eight pints of milk and a re-telling of Goldilocks, with voices and actions, and then the same from daddy, twice over, thank you very much and GOODNIGHT.)
I don’t ask for much from my daughter – from any of my children, for that matter – but I do insist that she’s not an arsehole. There are a lot of little arseholes about – arseholes in training, if you will – and I’ll be fucked if my kids are gonna be one of them. For my sins, I spend an awful lot of time in playgrounds, which are what you might call little arsehole factories (see also: playcentres). I’m not a helicopter parent – I let my kids climb, and I let my kids fall, and I also sometimes let them dangle for a bit, if I’m on my phone and not paying attention – but I do keep an eye on the little fuckers they’re sharing the playground with. I can spot a little bitch at 50 paces; I know how they operate: wait until no one’s watching, then administer a sly pinch, or a venomous comment and – hoorah! – the swing is theirs. Well not on my fucking watch, kid, not unless your parent is way bigger and way tougher than me.
Here’s what I don’t understand: how could you breed a child who thinks it’s okay to bully their way on to the swing? Is that what you’re calling assertive behaviour? A sense of entitlement? “Don’t take shit from anyone!” “Stand up for yourself!” “Give zero fucks!” Well my friends, that is fucked. I kind of get it – you want your kids, and particularly your girls, to be feisty – but it’s still fucked. You can’t teach your daughters how to be assertive without teaching them how to be kind, too, you silly fuckers.
This whole idea of giving zero fucks and sticking two fingers up at the world makes me cringe, a bit. I understand that it’s about women standing tall and saying DON’T TRY AND HOLD ME BACK, MALE-DOMINATED SOCIETY, which is great and all, but could we not try and be a bit politer about the whole thing? A bit more considerate? Could we perhaps just give a couple of fucks, for those that might need it?
I want my daughter to get her go, of course I do, but by saying please, and thank you, and waiting her turn patiently. It’s not fucking rocket science, this whole business of good manners. I want my daughter to know that she can be whatever she wants to be (fuck you, Barbie annual 2016. My daughter’s career options are not, in fact, limited to fairy, princess and rockstar), but that she doesn’t need to crush anyone on the way up. Wait your turn kid, and use your manners, and you’ll be fine. I don’t know why I’m just talking about my daughter, this obviously applies to my sons, too. If I catch one of them bullying their way on to the swing they won’t see fucking Christmas.
My daughter, however, won’t be limited by can’t, or won’t, or shouldn’t (unless approached by a crack dealer, obviously). Ben, getting Alice dressed this morning (kid of the week, right there), came into my bedroom and said: “Mummy! Can you kindly tell Alice that she can’t wear a dress with jeans?” And I was, like, actually no, she can wear whatever she wants, unless it’s a Man United football kit with a strap-on. My daughter can wear what she wants, play with who she wants, and do what she wants, as long as it makes her happy and doesn’t harm anyone else.
In establishing her identity, Alice has three generations of women to use as her reference point. There’s me (amazing), my mum, and my mum’s mum. We’re a cool bunch of chicks. We’ve raised children, we’ve worked, we’ve stood up for ourselves, and we’ve looked out for others. My nan, perhaps, is a little more, shall we say, feistier than me and mum; she swears like a sailor, takes no shit, and loves her family with a fierceness that belies her 82 years. Maybe don’t fuck with her.
But, this is Alice’s reality: fiercely loving women who stand up for what they believe, do what makes them happy, and give a few fucks, when necessary. She could do a lot fucking worse.