My five-year-old bumped into his best friend on the way into school yesterday morning. They did this thing of jumping up and down, excited but cautious too, just in case the other one had decided to be best friends with someone else overnight. (Being five is tricky.)
This jump-dance ritual seemed to re-cement the friendship so they started punching themselves on the forehead and talking to each other in a high-pitched, nasal voice. There was something familiar about the way they did it. And then it came to me – they’re Beavis and Butt-Head.
You probably remember it, a cartoon about two numbskull boys with a combined IQ of three that ran on MTV way back in the day. They called each other fart-knocker a lot. You wouldn’t say they had a healthy attitude towards women.
Most straight men had to say they hated it because otherwise, we’d never have gotten a girlfriend. The truth is we loved it then and we love it now — it just captured the feckless stupidity that a lot of men never grow out of. (Say nothing.) But just because I loved Beavis and Butt-Head doesn’t mean I’m delighted to see my son is turning into one of them.
He’s more like Butt-Head as far as I can tell, the one who seemed like he’d spend less time in prison, but that’s not really much of a consolation.
I think this happens to parents a lot. You’re always keeping an eye on your kids to see if there is any sign of one of them turning into an axe-murderer. It doesn’t help one bit that my son is a really sweet kid — any show I’ve ever seen about axe-murders, there’s always an aunt on at the start who says, ‘Of course the thing was, he was such a sweet child’.
It’s different with my daughter. Keeping with the theme of popular cartoon characters, she is basically Lisa Simpson with brown hair. She even asked me to set and mark an ‘exam’ for her during the summer holidays, because she missed school so much. (She got an A+, we’re over the moon.)
She’s also this incredible free-spirit, a dreamer, who might end up in a cult and kidnapping an heiress.
I know this foolish anxiety is part of the deal for parents, a reminder that there is only so much we can control about our kids’ lives. And I know how lucky I am that this is the only worry I have for my two happy and healthy kids.
But I’m just dying to find out what kind of adults they are going to become. I know a lot of this is down to environment and peers, and we’re doing our best on that front. But some stuff with kids is just baked in with genetics and there isn’t a whole lot you can do, even if you wanted to.
So I’m always on the lookout for a facial gesture or turn of phrase that reminds me of a relation on either side. And then someone who hasn’t seen the kids for a while says, ‘Oh my God, he’s the image of uncle so and so’, and you think that’s lovely until you remember the way uncle so and so went in the end with the drink.
That’s still better than the ‘you think it’s bad now’ brigade. There are the people who see your child having a playground meltdown that registers mother-of-all on the tantrum spectrum and decide that’s a good time to say, ‘You think it’s bad now, wait until they’re teenagers’.
I know they mean well and everything, but the net effect is I end up mildly disliking my kids for the teenagers they might never even become.
Two minutes later my kids will do something hilarious and I’ll stop worrying about the future. That’s the thing about kids — they’d make optimists out of the lot of us. Even if my son turns around tomorrow and calls me a fart-knocker.