The other day, I was talking to my best friend May over the phone. Well, when I say ‘talking’, I mean we’d barely said ‘hello’ to one another before her child Mina, my adored 8-year old god-daughter, began screaming in the background.
“Is that Go-Pa?” yelled the Golden Child. “I want to speak to Go-Pa! I want to speak to Go-Pa!”
“Mina,” said her Tiger Mother in the kind of tone that would normally freeze cream, “that is not how you speak to me!”
Mina barely paused. “I want to speak to Go-Pa, please! Please, may I speak to Go-Pa? What? I said ‘please’!’”
Clearly, her mother must have been exhausted from raising her because there was a shuffling on the phone and Mina came onto the line, her pixie voice crystalline all the way from her home in Munich.
“Go-Pa, hello!” Mina said in a rush. “How are you? Guess what? I’m taking ballet lessons? I go three times a week. My teacher is Fraulein Vett and she’s really tall and pretty. There is a boy in my class too, but he’s icky and no one wants to dance with him. When are you coming to visit me? And can you bring me a present because…”
“Mina, that is not how you speak to your Go-Pa! I did not raise you that way! Give me that phone now!”
There was another shuffle on the phone and you could tell from Mina’s subdued protests that her mother had just given her a Look of Death.
May came back on the line. “That daughter of mine. My God…”
“Listen,” I said urgently. “Why are you wasting that child’s youth with ballet classes?”
“What’s wrong with ballet classes? I want her to learn poise and coordination, though to be honest,” May’s voice dropped to a furtive whisper, “your god-daughter has two left feet. But she looks so adorable in her pink tutu!”
“You don’t want her to learn ballet!” I insisted. “She needs to learn krav maga!”
May paused. “Isn’t that a beef stew?”
“No! It’s martial arts! It’s kind of dirty street fighting!”
“And why would I want her to learn dirty street fighting?”
I sighed. “Because the world is a dangerous place. Especially for girls. You’re always reading in the paper about people being attacked by hoodlums and stuff! So she needs to know how to defend herself.”
“Why is it dirty street fighting?” May wanted to know.
“Oh, they teach you the good stuff like how to gouge out your attacker’s eyes, punch them in the throat and knee them in the balls and then you run away! It’s amazing. I was just watching a session on YouTube the other day!”
“And you think it’s a good thing that Mina learns that?”
“Well, what good is knowing how to do a pirouette when you’re facing off against an armed gangster in an alleyway?” I pointed out, adding, “Or the splits?”
“That’s just ridiculous!” May insisted.
“Don’t you worry about her safety?” I asked.
Because that’s the thing about having children, even if, like me, you’re having them vicariously.
You worry about their wellbeing. You worry about their future. You worry about their health. Whether their school is teaching them the right method to add and subtract. Whether they’re getting the right set of values from watching ‘Kim and Khloe Take Miami’. Whether their friends will lead them astray. You worry about strangers they may meet on their way to school. You worry about them crossing the street as you think of all those drivers out there who have one hand on the wheel and the other texting on their phone.
The list is endless. You just worry.
And if you can just tick one of those worries – like being able to defend themselves against unknown assailants – off your list, you convince yourself that you’ll sleep just a little bit better.
“But I’m not sure I want Mina to learn how to knee some guy in the balls!” May was saying.
“Well, it’s not going to be just any guy,” I said reasonably. “It’s going to be a predatory attacker!”
“This is real life, not an episode of ‘Nikita’!” May said, but you could tell from her voice that she was wavering, as was, probably, her fantasy of seeing Mina on stage at the Royal Opera House in the lead role of the Swan Princess.
Amanda says the whole thing has made her realize that she, too, could do with a bit of self-defence classes. “I always worry that muggers are eyeing my Prada bag,” she said this morning.
Saffy says she will never get over the fact that Amanda has a Harvard law degree.