Monday, April 14, 2008


It's a sin against nature for a child above a certain age to believe that their parents are cool, even worse to openly declare this belief. So imagine my concern when Nina (8-about-to-be-9, and therefore well past aforementioned certain age) suggested a few weeks ago that she had cool parents. When I challenged her on this she insisted somewhat impatiently: "Sure you're cool. You're taking us around the world, aren't you?".

This is a worry.

I had it all planned out - or at least confidently predicted - shortly after she was born. Nina has a software engineer for a dad, a doctor of law and stay-at-home mamma, but her Italian aunt Giovanna lives in Paris and moves between fashion/art photography to dealing in antiques without visible effort. It's her job to be cool. It's her job to be right where Letizia and I are wrong, and provide for the you just don't understand me like Giovanna does (slam!!!) moments. And of course when Nina is old enough, it'll be to Gio that Nina will go on holidays, and certainly not anywhere with her parents.

So this new-found coolness of ours is upsetting everything. And it is new-found, by the way. Before we left Ireland last December, if you had asked Nina about whether she was excited about the trip, she would have said "not really". She wanted to stay with her friends, and her cousins, and of course her classmates. Was there anything she was looking forward too? The Great Wall of China? The Great Barrier Reef? The Big (if not indeed also Great) Pineapple of Woombye? Nope. But if you caught her in one of her more adventurous moods, she would confess a certain curiosity for a pair of cats in Christchurch, New Zealand. You see the first leg of our New Zealand trip was to be a house-swap (arranged through HomeForExchange) with a English/Kiwi couple called Ray and Louise. An optional part of this swap included the company of Satie and Willard, the resident cats. So in a nutshell, Nina was begrudgingly allowing us to take her and her sister to 8 new countries, across 3 continents and 2 hemispheres, on a trail littered with World Heritage listings, diverse cultures and climates, stocked with a zoological cornucopia of exotica, on condition she could make friends with a pair of antipodean moggies.

Now this is the kind of infuriating, illogical, and downright ungrateful behaviour that I am most comfortable with. This was child-parent communication in a language I could understand. Then it all went horribly, horribly wrong: As the trip began, so both Nina and Sara began to enjoy it.

As the fog of jet lag cleared in Beijing, they got into their stride. It was hard for them not to love the pandas in Chengdu, or the sweet treats in Xi'an. But they also developed a taste for the Shanghai marketplace haggling and the strangeness of Chinese buildings. And they were seeing things with minds much less tainted by the false familiarity of TV documentaries than we were. When we reached Australia, where they could actively engage with their surroundings thanks to the language, where we weren't moving at such a frenetic pace, and where we were meeting many new (to them) friends, things kicked up a notch. They couldn't bear to leave Sydney, or then Melbourne, then they didn't want to move on from Cairns, and finally they didn't want to say goodbye to Simon, Leah and Caitlin in Brisbane (they didn't as it happened - more on that in a later blog entry). And somewhere in those 12 Aussie weeks, Nina used the c-word against me: Cool, she said. And she meant it.

Cool doesn't sit well with me. Cool leads to teenage conversations that start with what a great dad I am and end with car keys getting handed over. I've never been cool, and so I'm entirely unsure how to manage it, and if I get used to being cool then I'm sure I'll start worrying about losing the status (by not handing over car keys or similar acts of willful parental spite).

But I'm playing the long game. I'm quietly optimistic that it won't last, that it's a temporary aberration that time and continued exposure to 'daddy humour' will heal. There are indications of a return to normality. As I write this, Nina and Sara are fast asleep here in Christchurch, with Willard purring gently at the bottom of their bed, and Willard and Satie have proved themselves to be as big a highlight of the trip as anticipated. Tomorrow Nina turns 9 and Sara has just turned 7 (every year brings us closer to the very uncool parents years). And in two short days, Zia Giovanna flies in from Paris.

Cool doesn't stand a chance.

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