“Look Daddy, Bubbsy’s a poo-licker! Poo licker poo licker pooooooooo licker!”
We both laughed, the K-girl and I, because as crude as it sounded, she wasn’t wrong.
Our cat Bubbles, aka Bubbsy, was (and is) indeed a poo-licker.
That is is to say that he can flip his hind leg over his shoulder, arc his head and neck towards his bottom, and wash himself.
“Imagine if WE could do that!” she squealed, bursting into a peel of gurgling laughter.
I refrained from my favorite response to such things (“Give him a cat treat and he’ll probably let you!”) and just laughed.
Sometimes, with poo jokes, you just have to laugh. They are funny, they are silly, they are gross and they are childish, and anyway, where’s the harm? I was also jealous I hadn’t thought of it.
Besides, gross humor is a feral part of the human condition. We might wear clothes and eau d’colognes and drink nice wines and drive fancy cars, but beneath it all, everyone eats, sleeps, shits, gets dirty, washes, laughs at farting and enjoys a blast of crude humor whether they wish to admit it or not. Because essentially, we are a simple creature. It is important to strive for more, to place emphasis and weight on things which will elevate ourselves and our children beyond the base lines and the animal kingdom, but to deny it’s in us is a horrendous dereliction of duty.
Sophistication and expectation can have a funny way of fogging life’s mirrors, and no-one endures the conflicts on a daily basis more than parents. We have lofty ideals of who we are and how we behave, that our way is the right way is the one way is the ONLY way, and thus those ideals become expectations that, if we’re not careful, we end up shoveling onto the shoulders of those around us…friends…family…children.
Children can get it the worst. Parents can hammer them with a whole table of ideals and expectations based on their own failures in life, a dangerous and common thing, which in turn breeds generation upon generation of angst-ridden, nervous and ultimately broken people. Great minds, you see, do not always think alike and neither should they. Indeed, great minds often strike their own blows in their own, sometimes feral, way.
I have always striven to make sure I do not do this to my children. Yes we have a moral standard, a moral code, but beyond that and the importance of polite personability, I have always tried to walk a fine balance between instruction, dictating and trust. It’s not been easy with the teenager. Undoubtably smart, he is also part of a generation who were probably the first to grow up with hand-held Nintendos (denied to him until he was 9) and the growing surge of video games and mobile phones. He grew up in two homes. Mine was, for a few years, like The Likely Lads in terms of it being one of my best friends and I, watching lots of soccer, playing lots of music and doing the sorts of things mid-20s guys do (bath sheets for a curtain in the back window). I was never irresponsible, no, not at all, but I wasn’t going to stop playing music or stop watching soccer (or for that matter stop playing it). He was always a part of everything, yet he also had regular bedtime and proper meals.
I look back now and think that to him, my life must’ve seemed bizzarely easy. Working my own schedule, seemingly doing nothing but listening to music, traveling the world with rock stars, hanging with rock stars, never being by any stretch wealthy yet never wanting for anything; I remember, at the time, being an ardent user of public transport on the basis that it would help keep us all in touch with the ‘real’ world. That need to stay in touch disappeared around 29 years old. Regardless, I was always one to impress the importance of good social skills. Academics were important, but I never did his homework for him more than I’d give him advice on how to do it; but again, I wasn’t one to jump all over that sort of thing. I think somewhere in my mind I still had memories of the British education system and how comprehensive it was, plus his primary school Buena Vista Spanish Immersion, had been tremendous. I had been on that school board, I had enjoyed that community, and the trip we took to Mexico as a 5th grade goodbye remains one of the most memorable things I’ve ever done.
We went to lots of football in the UK over those years, a lot of Spurs games it seemed. Flights were cheaper and schedules more flexible. We would sing and jump around and hug each other. He was smaller then, a boy, not ever much more than a youth.
Somewhere along the line, as they morph into galolloping teenage connundrums, things get stranger all round. It’s easier to criticize than encourage, more convenient to pass on having those difficult conversations than engage. More often than not I’d bite the bullet, and make sure to steer well clear of over-criticism as the only net result I could envisage was a teenager who would shut-down to me. In his last year before college, I was virtually mute by choice, as I had explained to him that it was down to him, that he had to want it, that this was his life. I’d been playing that tune since his first year of high school, but now it was even more pronounced. It must’ve been confusing to a degree, because he’d only really seen me effortlessly write some stuff. He never saw me struggle to an office on a daily basis, or come home at 6pm complaining about the boss or that weird bloke in Admin or that total bastard in Receivables. In essence, he had not seen the tremendous amount of graft I’d put in to achieve the time-style I had, and I’d never made an especially big deal of it. It is wholly possible, therefore, that he had a bit of a false impression for a while when it came to working and what it took to be a functional, self-supportive adult.
We’ve all been teenagers and we’ve all dealt with things in varying ways.
Me? I was bizarre. I loved independence and I loved life. I loved drama and I loved music. I loved writing too. Writing came easily, so that was the path I took. I was lucky enough to have a few different passions, but equally, I was motivated enough to make one of them work for me, to ensure that I could avoided being slowly screwed daily by the man.
Was that my Mum’s influence?
Was it my Dad’s?
Was it neither?
Was it me?
Was it all of us, none of us, the environment I grew up in?
Common sense says it was a combination.
As I drove him back down to college from his latest visit, I had many things to say.
I wanted to tell him that his seeming lack of passion for his studies was worrying.
That his passing grades should be better.
That he was allowing his health to slide and that he was choosing that path.
That he needed to sleep more, longer and better.
That he should be looking at Middle Eastern affairs and thinking about them.
That he should looking for another job.
That he should have more zip about him.
That he should work harder in life generally, that he should be more pro-active.
For my own part -an as a slight tangent- I have spent the start of this year coming to grips with the fact that in my world I am woefully
under-paid and under-appreciated. That if I actually stepped out from behind the comfort of the rock I loaf at, and if I actually talked more about what I do, who’ve I’ve done it for and how long I’ve been doing it, that I would by proxy start to get the respect and financial reward my years of service and experience could net. These thoughts have swum through my head many times these past few weeks, yet when the pinch in my mind has been tightest, when it’s hurt the most to process it all, I’ve escaped to the refuge of ‘soccernet.com’ or Arsefacebook or just drifted through online music stores picking out tunes and loops until the wee hours, headphones on, before tackling some of the stuff which needs to be done but probably not at 2am…often I am tired and listless until I drag my carcass to the coffee house and then later to the gym.
…Anyway, I was going to deliver a speech in the car. A stern one. A ‘fatherly’ one. One which would address all the issues and problems I felt he had. One which would show him I meant business.
He was tired, so tired, as the drive began that I suggested he take a nap as there was class in the evening.
He flipped the seat back and was out in minutes.
I sat and thought about what we would say to each other when we arrived.
What would it do to him?
How would he react?
Would it push him into a shell?
And then I started to mull over my own life. For a start, it was clear that lecturing him on rest was a bit rich. Anyway, I wasn’t about to wake him up just to deliver what in MY mind would be a constructive pep talk, but to his ears would be nothing more than a disapproving bollocking.
He woke up as we arrived.
“Hey,” I said.
“Just make sure you really invest in yourself.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just…just make sure you really do right by yourself and engage in everything.”
I smiled back at him, a bit weakly, unable to follow through on a 10 minute lecture. He gave me a quick kiss and made his way from the passenger seat to the back to get his things.
My feral sense rose, and as I looked at him I felt, just felt, that ‘man! I do not hug this boy enough!’
For whatever reason, I do not hug him enough.
And isn’t this the most basic thing?
Isn’t this the most feral thing parents and offspring do?
They hug each other or have close contact of a similar nature?
And as I saw him getting his bag, I knew that there was no need for the speech, because the speech would not sink in, that there was no need for a stern, frosty shoulder because how would that leave him feeling, especially given that he saw nothing wrong in the first place.
So I got out. And I gave him a hug. one of my big bear hugs. I held him, and I could just see his mouth turn into a broad smile as I held him tighter.
Then I gave him a quick kiss.
Then I waved ‘see ya later.’
He crossed the street, headphones on, more upright and purposeful than he’d looked for 24 hours, the slouch out of his step. And just as I started to drive away, he turned back, looked at me, winked, smiled and gave me a thumbs up. I returned the gestures.
It is important, so so important, that we not only remember we are feral creatures, but that we allow our feral instincts to guide us once in a while. Because by listening to mine, it felt like a whole heap of potential hurt got turned into a huge, warm wave of encouragement.
He strode off, a little more upright, with a crispness of stride that showed no signs of abating.
And off I went back, back to the poo-licker and his observant, childish public…
None of us really need much in the end. Just the simple things, and trust me again, those are sometimes the hardest things to find in the thicket of life. Which is why sometimes you just have to let the feral instinct win through. Because without it’s balance, the rest of it is plainly bullshit…