"It's just a phase". These were the reassuring words my mum used to say whenever I was worried, angry, frustrated, apoplectic- choose one- about something my children had done.
From the moment they were born there was the colicky phase, the teething phase, the eating stones and mud phase, the terrible twos phase, the can't-learn-their-tables phase, the stroppy teenager phase leading into the "You'll end up working in Woolworth's ( we parents show our age so easily) if you don't do some revision" phase.
I am now into the "How do you clean dog poo off car mats?" phase.
When the phone rings after 10pm or before 8am, I tend to assume the worst; either elderly long –distance parents or just-flown-the-nest children.
So when darling daughter phoned last night at 10.30pm, I dragged myself out of my bath where I'd been having deep and meaningful thoughts about the most recent Man Booker novel which I'd just finished reading.
All philosophical thoughts ended abruptly: "My boyfriend has put dog poo on the car mat. What can I do with it?" This was not some post-university prank; it was accidental.
But it made me realise that no matter how old our children are, they are always going to need us, and present us with another phase.
Don't get me wrong: like all parents, I love my kids to bits, it's just some of the phases are well, not anticipated.
Take the flying insect phase. We had reached that stage when I thought it was fine to risk a holiday abroad and leave the children – legally adults - at home. We issued the usual threats about raucous parties, then locked away the valuables. So when you are lying on a Balearic beach and you recognise your home number on your mobile phone, you assume something dreadful has happened. "There's a wasps' nest Mum. Right outside my bedroom. What should I do?"
Or a year later sitting in a beautiful Peak District pub garden, savouring a huge stuffed mushroom: "There's a terrible noise in the chimney, Mum. It's a swarm of bees. And don't say light the fire because it says on the web they are protected."
I suppose I should be flattered to be my children's first port of call when they need some advice. But there is no logic to the help they need. Small matters such as what size joint of lamb to buy and how to make gravy necessitate frantic phone calls from my son in the supermarket. It doesn't matter how many student cook books you send them off to university with; nothing beats a phone call home.
This was followed by the "how to wash woolly jumpers without shrinking them" phase. But giving life saving first aid to a very drunk fellow backpacker in Eastern Europe, and donning a high visibility jacket whilst redirecting traffic after an accident seem to be second nature, only mentioned casually weeks after the event.
Maybe we have to blame mobile phones. Who would bother to queue for a pay phone and find the right change just to ask what joint of lamb to buy?
There is the knitting phase that I went through as a 20-something year old and, according to 23-year-old Danielle, it's common enough. "I have my own flat but one evening when I was knitting a scarf, I realised I had dropped three stitches, three rows back. It was quite late at night, but I had to phone my mum and ask her what to do next."
One comfort as a parent is that for 99.9VIRTUAL-Gallery-120956%
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