I spoke to my stepdaughter last night on the phone. She lives interstate and we occasionally have long phone calls - usually she needs someone to rant on to about something or other and often it's me or G.
My stepdaughter - I'll call her Mittens for no other reason than she likes that word - has two small children of her own. One is five and has just started school, the other is three.
They are very cute kids, and Mittens is strict on things like table manners. She's says she is pretty strict in general and doesn't cop much lip from them, except ...
She lets them draw on the walls of the living room.
I had Mittens on speakerphone last night and G and I exchanged glances when she spoke of their drawings.
"But it's okay," she said breezily. "They just use crayon or pencil. It's not like it's textas. I can wash it off. It took me a whole bottle of Orange Power last time to do one wall." Another eye roll between G and I.
"Do you ever tell them not to do it?" I asked cautiously. I have to be a bit cautious as Mittens balances being strict with being a Steiner-school, encourage creativity at all costs-type parent. She also has an absolute belief she is always right, a hangover from her teen years which aren't, after all, that far behind her. I don't want to get into an argument with her as I'm hopeless at arguments and she has a very quick mouth. I'd lose.
"Yes, but then they do it when my back is turned."
I suggested pinning big sheets of paper to the wall. She said she had tried that but the kids drew over the edges and onto the wall.
"There's a cute little bee Miss 5 has drawn above the sofa. I haven't the heart to scrub it off," she confided, almost proudly.
It's not that there is a lack of paper in their house. The kids are encouraged to paint and draw on paper. Why the hell she lets them continue to draw on the walls is beyond my comprehension. It's not encouraging creativity, it's letting them get away with something they know is wrong. They have been told not to do it again and again, and they ignore their mother and continue to draw on the walls.
If I had drawn on the wall, just once, as a small child, I would have had strips torn off me. I was told from a young age that you didn't draw on the walls, and was given plenty of paper instead. Mum was a kind but very strict parent. She didn't believe in smacking, and I was so keen to stay in her good books that a damn good shouting would have had me contrite and in tears and unlikely to do whatever-it-was ever again. (I was terrified that if I was a bad girl that Mum would run away as Dad did… nothing like an absent parent to keep you in line. Not that that was ever threatened by Mum, but who knows how the mind of a small child works except a small child?)
I confess, if Mittens' kids were my kids and I caught them drawing on the walls, they would get a bawling out they would never, ever forget. Bugger that modern school of parenting where you talk in a soft voice and tell little Jimmy or little Mary why it's wrong to draw on walls and that they aren't naughty children (because apparently you are not supposed to tell children they are naughty anymore) but simply channelling their creative talents in the wrong direction. Nope. I'd tower over them screaming and reduce them to quivering wrecks, to get the message across that if I said No to drawing on walls, I meant No. I may even use my hand on their backsides, even though that's probably illegal by now. I would certainly use the word naughty, probably again and again. I have seen my friends' kids grow up with modern parenting and turn into disrespectful teenagers who treat their parents with total disdain; 'whatever' is their favourite word as they ignore any household rules.
I would also lock up the crayons and other drawing materials and only dole them out when I was available to supervise how the children used them.
Which brings me to another of Mittens' problems. The kids get up early in the mornings while their exhausted parents grab another five minutes of shuteye, climb on benches and furniture, open the cupboards and help themselves. Sadly Mittens and her partner Guitarman live in rented premises and can't put locks on the cupboards. The kids go through Mittens' handbag and do fun things such as hide her house keys. The last time they did that she couldn't leave the house for three days. They mixed coffee grains with paint and painted the living room carpet one memorable early morn last year ("Oh Meester Harrrt!"); even worse they used a set of makeup artist Mittens' professional makeup brushes to do it, rendering them totally buggered.
In a way I'm sad that I only get to see Mittens and her kids once or twice a year, as when they are not drawing on the walls or getting into other mischief they've been told time and again not to do, they are lovely. Sweet and smart and funny. On the other hand, if they lived closer I would probably be a babysitter, and I don't reckon I'd cope well with those two destructive forces in my house. There's no bench they can't climb and no cupboard they can't open; anything I treasured would be broken in a day. And I'd be damned if I could stay at their house and watch their children draw on the walls.