Ever since my daughter was two years old, I’ve tried, prompted by self-interest, to make interesting for her things (like sport and music) that I’ve always had a lot of time for.
The intention was not to bring her up as a precocious twerp (though, of course, that has been the result). The reason was that I wanted very much to spend time with her while I was at home. (And she with me, it seems still, though I wonder how long that will last.)
At the same time, I didn’t want to entirely give up pursuits that I’ve enjoyed all my life. Of course not. I am that sort of a selfish git, you see. I really didn’t know how she would have let me do these things unless I somehow pulled her along in the tide of my enthusiasm.
But you can’t really expect a two- or three-year-old to sit down and quietly listen to music or watch sport, can you? So for it to work, I had to trick things out, and dress them up so that she, in some way, identified with what was going on.
This meant not so much explaining things (like, say, the rules of a game) as narrating a story (embellishing one, very often, inventing some) about the bloke at the centre of the action. Nearly all these stories, now that I think of them, were about parents and their children.
She learned to love Nirvana after she heard about the late frontman Kurt Cobain’s daughter, Frances. She began to watch the Williams sisters after being told of their pushiness and the story of how the sisters grew up.
It worked a treat. It still does. Last Tuesday night, I hollered and called my seven-year-old to the living room to watch Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony. She shuffled in, wearily sighed and plonked herself on the floor, suspicious this was a new way of trying to stop her from watching the rubbish she does on TV.
But you know what, she enjoyed herself. She was gripped by the scale of it all, the masses, the pomp, the line of bulletproof cars, the pennants.
The stories I told her about Obama’s broken home, his dead father, his grandmother in a faraway village helped, as did those of his children.
“How old is Sasha?” our girl asked.
“She is taking pictures herself. Is that her own camera?”
“Hah,” said my wife, never one to miss an opportunity of making a point in these matters. “We allowed you take pictures from when you were five. And on a movie camera. Malia is five. And she is not taking any pictures.” The matter about whether the ten-year-old owned a camera had been expertly dodged.
In spite of not understanding a word, she sat absorbed through the actual speech. “Will they go to the ball now? Can I see that?” she asked when it was over.
She couldn’t. There was school. But she talked about the ceremony afterwards. And I am glad she was witness to a world historical moment.
That’s how it works largely for us. But there is a problem with this line of parenting (is there any line of parenting with which there isn’t a problem?): What do I do when I want to watch, say, Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers on DVD? Or Nagisa Oshima’s film, In the Realm of the Senses?
If you have any ideas, I’d be glad to hear them.