Saturday, 18 May 2013

Leather trousers: The enemy of ambition

I’m  40, I’m fat, I’m bald and I’m enjoying my midlife crisis with gusto and enthusiasm. My wife has vetoed the idea of the 18 year old Swedish mistress, laughed at my suggestions for a tattoo and actively encouraged the purchase of leather trousers. She knows I’ll never really put up with the chaffing.

However my time of life has forced me to address the question of ambition. Not mine you understand (that ship has well and truly sailed) but that of my children. You see I’m just not that ambitious and I’m completely comfortable with that but I’ve started to worry about whether I’m passing this attitude on to my kids.
Everyone’s midlife crisis takes a different form. For me the challenge has been to embrace the fact that I am ordinary. I live in a normal house on a normal street with my wife, who I met at school, a five year old son and a three year old daughter. I have a valuable profession and one I am extremely proud of, but one that is very ordinary. I have an MPV that looks like an unregistered taxi but has nifty sliding doors which, I’m told, are really useful in the school car park.
I’m not complaining because when it comes down to it I’m just not that ambitious. The trouble is parenting changes your expectations, not for yourself but for someone else.

My son could be politely described as, physically active with a unique personality. That means he hits his sister with a range of improvised weaponry, can’t be taken to parties that have a bouncy castle and once stripped completely naked to poo under the kitchen table. As a parent you secretly hope that this confrontational attitude and determination to do exactly what he wants will ensure he becomes captain of the rugby team, the head of the debating society and eventually secretary general of the UN. He will enjoy a blissful existence in a period property in the Cotswolds with an ex underwear model, two handsome children and a Toyota Prius.

But what are the chances? No one on either side of our family is anything other than ordinary. We’re all fairly intelligent with white collar jobs, nice kids and family saloons. We weigh too much and talk about this over wine and chocolate. We prefer the local pub to the golf club. We are teachers and nurses and we work in banks. All fine professions but certainly a cure for cancer short of a Nobel prize.
My point is will my attitude to life affect the ambition of my children? I often use the phrase “I just want my kids to be happy” and that is my genuine hope for them. The fact is just being happy is the true enemy of ambition. Ambition by its nature is driven by wanting things to be different, to be better.

Not only that but I am an inverted snob with a penchant for the underdog. Many parents want to get their kids into ‘that school’. I don’t. I can’t bare the parents who want to get their kids into ‘that school’ or the hideous offspring they produce. I would be happier if my kid was in ‘the other school’ but still succeeding. Success despite, not because.

But is this attitude selling them short? Should I be fighting tooth and nail to get them the best of everything? To surround them with people who have drive, clarity of purpose, heated towel rails and good teeth?

All I can say for sure is that the other day my son was asked to join in with an activity with some other children. He placed his hands behind his back in that way he does when he’s a little nervous and said “I can’t do it”. It broke my heart.

It had never occurred to me that the idea of not being able to do something would register in a child so young. Or that a boy like my son wouldn’t have the confidence to try. Neither my wife nor I have ever knowingly acted in a way that would make him feel that way. On an average day we’ve screamed ‘don’t do that’ at least 18 times before he’s plunged his sisters face into her cheerios but we’ve never uttered the word ‘can’t’.

Maybe this is how it starts. Maybe that fear of giving it a go grows and grows as you get older. Maybe you reach the point where you are so afraid to fail that you just stop competing. Maybe you get so used to not competing that eventually you just settle for ordinary. Maybe then you decide you just want your children to be happy rather than pushing them to be better than everyone else.

Or just maybe this is one of those things you have no real control over as a parent. We assume that every adult is unique with their own set of skills, values, personality traits and chronic ineptitudes. To put it another way, we are all thick, just in different subjects. Yet from the moment they are dragged, kicking and screaming out of whichever exit-hole they choose to enter the world, we are conditioned to believe that there is a blue print for children. Books tell us what time they should go to bed, when they should eat solid food, and that by the age of 18 months a ‘good’ parent will have trained their child to do Sudoku. But do you know what, and I’m whispering this as quietly as I can, maybe kids just are what they are and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it!

So what does this mean for my midlife crisis? Well, I know in my heart I’d have never coped with that 18 year old Swedish blonde. I tend to be in bed by 9.30 (I mean, who goes out at midnight?!) and she’d play havoc with my back. Tattoos hurt and whilst leather trousers are not illegal they are certainly immoral.

And the kids? Well, they may have all the ambition in the world, or they may have none. Maybe one of my kids will lead a grand slam winning team or, in the case of my daughter, win one of those competitions where you eat as many hot dogs as you can. If ambition is hereditary then a life of blissful ordinariness awaits. All you can hope as a parent is that they are content with whichever path awaits them.

1 comment:

  1. I'm the same age, balding & very short hair, with a toddler (boy). I got the leather trousers, wear them with a deadpan (and slightly "just be polite") expression, and my life hasn't spiralled downwards as a result. I play music so that's a pretext. Actually some young ladies seem to rather like me in them :)

    I make sure not to mention the trews - certainly not to apologise for wearing them. Show no weakness! No criticism yet, though I'm awaiting one person's reaction with interest. 99.99% of what people say is irrelevant anyway, so I don't worry about that. It's just possible that I'm ahead of the game and people will think it's normal in a few years

    I also am way too tired for the Swedish (or Russian, perhaps) 18 year old - on a regular basis anyway. You may still surprise yourself, though try to keep hold of the wife and all that :)

    But I want to make the midlife crisis last a good 10 years if possible. My last bit of really childish fun.