Waiting for dinner in a fast food “restaurant” that shall not be named, my son (8) is fighting with his sister (14). He gets very irritable when hangry. The shoving and sniping escalate. She finds baiting him irresistible; he can be extremely sensitive. It’s a potent cocktail.
I mutter something about wanting to bang both of their heads together and remember my father saying the same thing. I have become my father.
Then son tells daughter that he hates her so much, he is going to stab her forty-five times.
My daughter pulls a shocked-emoji face, then laughs. I feel glad that we are all speaking English and in a part of town where tourists are thin on the ground. Also, there are no knives – even brittle plastic disposable ones – in this establishment.
“That’s a very specific number,” I remark, “did you choose it randomly?” We were learning the nine-times table recently. I hope that is the explanation, as it would be preferable to a warped tribute to my age.
My daughter looks at me with her “mum, that’s not parenting!” face. I try again.
“You know, it’s really unacceptable to make horrible threats to people, even if you don’t mean them. If you’re going to say macabre things like that, I’m going to have to block Youtube on the iPad again.”
Via gateway films like Paranorman, Coraline and Goosebumps, he’s been on a deep-dive into the horror genre lately. There’s a parental filter on, but he knows stuff about totally inappropriate films he has never actually seen.
He ignores me and turns to his sister again. “When we get home, I’m going to gouge out your eyeballs with the ice-cream scoop.”
I allow myself to feel momentarily impressed that he knows the word “gouge”, then start picturing that day ten or so years from now when I’ll lie through my teeth in TV news interviews. “I never saw it coming,” I’ll wail. “He was always such a sweet boy.”
Later that evening, daughter has been left babysitting while I’m at a party, five minutes away on foot. I can’t afford a babysitter, so when the kids are with me, I’m grateful for invitations from friends who live in the neighbourhood.
I check in with my daughter.