It's Flavia's birthday today. She's 16 (and, as she solemnly told me, next year will be 17....no!) and yesterday was our (Mark and I) wedding anniversary. We've been married for eight years, which isn't bad...longer than any of his other marriages. By this point in my marriage to Simon (pause whilst I try to work out exactly where we were...he was such a difficult employee that we moved, on average, every 18 months so it's a case of working out where we were as to when something occurred, and if that isn't sad then what is?). I know. 1994. Dowlais, Merthyr Tydfil. By this stage he'd kicked me out a few times, I'd left a few times (and crawled back since I felt I had no-where to go) and within the year I'd felt so isolated and depressed I'd taken an overdose of sleeping tablets. What a riot.
Anyway, back to the topic in hand. Flavia's birthday. We celebrated on Saturday, which I thought was pretty good going since initially (and until a week beforehand) we hadn't thought we could commemorate it in any way whatsoever - cash (or the lack thereof) being what it is. However, we managed to wangle things so that she could at least invite a few friends over. My family didn't do birthday parties - we (brother, sister, parents and self) would have tea and a cake but that was pretty much it so I'm a bit at a loss to know what to do. When Flavia was younger I'd organise stuff and hand out party bags at the end and the last couple of years or so she's had sleepovers and dvds but most of the time I'm guessing. And, I have to say, Flavia is very good. She knows our financial situation and doesn't ask much - her friends go to restaurants or the cinema or bowling or whatever (or two out of the three usually) but Flavia knows that if we go to the cinema once a year then that's a big deal. I hate life being so constrained and know her life isn't as rounded as it should be but can't think what else to do.
This year we worked out we could just about manage pizza, cake and ice-cream. Because it was a last minute thing only five of Flavia's friends could turn up but, after meeting in Cardiff (at Waterstone's, their congregation point of choice) then came back for the aforementioned food and to watch dvds. By seven o'clock every one had gone home. Mark and I sat outside and listened to them chanting the words to The Big Bang Theory and I couldn't help but smile - and be very grateful. The time may very well come when Flavia gives me the nightmares of other parents' but right now I am lucky. Yes she can be a pain but (so far) I don't have to worry about drink, drugs or sex. The hardest thing at the party was the own-brand coke from Asda and the nice thing was that no-one gave a damn. The girls were quite happy, we were happy. I don't know whether it has anything to do with how they've been raised (although other parents seem to do exactly the same thing and have the Offspring from Hell) and 'class' doesn't seem to mean anything either, inasmuchas brats can be from a sink estate or go to an independent school but they still manage to get their grubby little mitts on booze and drugs. It could, of course, simply be because we're boring. We don't drink (either in the home or out...not because we're teetotal but simply because it costs money and there are better things to spend one's filthy lucre on than alcohol), we don't go out a great deal (again, it costs money) and we live simple lives. It could be because I had such a sheltered up-bringing (I was seventeen before I found out what a French kiss was - not through experience but by hearsay) but I don't see why. Girls from families as sheltered as my own have led 'interesting' lives and been pregnant by the time they reach Flo's age.
So, now my daughter is sixteen. Technically able to marry (with consent) and I feel ancient. I remember what it was like to be that age and although I'm grateful Flavia is nowhere near as green as I was at that age, I worry for her. She hopes to go to University (Simon has, after all, informed her not to worry about the financial aspect since he is going to win the lottery. The annoying thing is he probably will) and, whilst I know she needs to grow (roots and wings and all that) it's scary. I don't like the knowledge that at some point she'll be hurt. At some point her heart will be broken. Bad things will happen to her and I won't be able to protect her. She's stronger than I am - a bit stroppy, which is good. Takes after her maternal great-grandmother in that regard (an Irish redhead!) so I hope she won't be taken advantage of quite so much (too much to hope she won't be taken advantage of at all. She's human, after all) and I keep my fingers crossed that she is resilient. She gives the impression of being so, but impressions are awfully deceptive.
After all, her father gave the impression of being a decent man (to some, at least) whilst in reality he was/is a sociopath. Hopefully there's just enough of her father in her to enable her to survive - but not so much that she will be as selfish, ruthless and cruel.