The pre-teen girl was previously an unknown quantity to me.
Being the parent of a toddler means that I have some insight into the contrary nature of the beast known as the two year old, and have not inconsiderable experience in the dark art of heading off/dealing with temper tantrums. I also vaguely remember what one year olds are about: an unsteady gait, an extremely limited vocabulary and the tell-tale rosy cheeks of teething. However, my memories of the first twelve months of Tadpole’s life are fast receding. If someone were to hand me a newborn, I’d be just as reluctant to hold it as I was pre-Tadpole. I seem to have forgotten how. Then there are the things I have blocked out of my mind for a reason, a form of selective amnesia, like the thrice daily expressing sessions I spent hidden in the work toilets. (If you don’t know what I mean by “expressing”, trust me, ignorance is bliss).
Children any older than Tadpole are far beyond the limits of my comprehension. I see Tadpole’s future through a fog of apprehension about coping with a potentially upsetting Barbie obsession, or an unfortunate addiction to the colour pink. So, when I met my lover from Rennes, father of two pre-teen girls who come to stay on alternate weekends, I was understandably nervous. What would they be like? How would I be expected to behave (by both him and by them)? Would they warm to me, and to Tadpole, or resent us for getting in the way on their precious weekends with dad? Seen through their eyes, was I young and cool? Or distressingly old and hopelessly out of touch? How on earth does one talk to an eight or ten year old?
Six months down the line, having spent several weekends in the company of my potential stepdaughters, both with and without Tadpole, I have to say that thankfully my initial fears proved to be groundless.
Reassured by my lover that it would not be a big deal, I decided the best way to play it was to just be myself (albeit with slightly less freedom in my choice of expletives) and let them take me or leave me. Talk to them as young adults, without condescension. Avoid resorting to bribery or bombarding them with questions. Trust in the fact that what we do have in common – love for their father – would prove to be sufficient common ground for us to forge some sort of relationship.
So, on weekends where we all find ourselves in Rennes, the girls do their thing (drawing pictures of ponies, their obsession, performing dance routines to Christina Aguilera songs, making Scoubidou bracelets or watching programmes about animals in danger on Sky TV) and I do mine (grabbing their dad’s bottom sneakily when just out of eyeshot, reading a book in the next room, surfing the internet, or lazing around drinking tea). We co-exist, at ease with one another’s presence, none of us feeling the need to populate our silences with unnecessary nervous chatter. I’d be lying if I said I don’t look forward to the time when they will be tucked up in bed and I can spend some time alone with my lover. But all good things are improved by having to wait.
And so it came to pass that this Tadpoleless Rennes weekend was mostly spent watching a Lemony Snicket film (highly recommended) and playing board games (Cranium Cadoo).
And finding, almost in spite of myself, that it was really quite enjoyable.