Terrified and speechless. Thanks, kids
"Hooray! Look!" chirruped the 17- year-old, skipping through the house waving a brown envelope. This prompted me to remember a joke in the style of "What do you call a man with a seagull on his head? – Cliff"; "What do you call a man with a paper bag on his head? – Russell" and so on, and so, before my daughter was able to tell me, I deliberately hindered her for a few seconds more.
"What do you call a woman waving a brown envelope that's on fire?" I asked her. She looked puzzled, bewildered and very impatient.
"I don't know," she replied.
"Bernadette," I answered, beaming, "Get it? Burn a Debt?" If she got it or not we'll never find out as her expression showed no signs of mirth.
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"Anyway," she said, "Back to my letter. It's from the DVLA." She ripped the envelope open and out fell her provisional driving licence.
"At last," she said, in a voice which quite honestly implied that she'd been held captive these last 17 years and that here, finally, was her passport to escape.
"At last?" I had to ask.
"Mum, as your birthday is in October, you have no idea what it is like to be born in August and always the baby in your school year. All my friends have been driving for months. Two of them are 18 this week. It means a lot of coming-of-age parties that I have to attend. Under-age."
She was provocative in the way she said it. Did she expect me to be censorious and bellow, "You will not be going to any 18th birthday parties my girl"? I haven't thus far; I doubt that I'll start now.
"Have you got enough pretty dresses to wear?" I asked instead, taking the wind out of her sails. Luckily this question elicited a chuckle by way of response.
"Pretty dresses? God, Mum!" One of these days I am going to chuck away her odd little misfits of clothing that she likes so much. Long cardis and shorts over her tights; peculiar skirts which show more leg than a Bluebell Dancer and her brother's cast-off shirts and baggy jumpers. I will also throw away her Doc Martens as she sleeps and replace them with a nice little court shoe.
"So," she said, peering at my glazed expression. "Driving? No time like the present..."
The youngest girls were next door with my dad eating sweets and watching the Disney channel – a television station that is under embargo on our TV set. It was now or never.
"C'mon then," I said, before I changed my mind. We jumped into the car and I drove to the local post office, purchased some magnetic L plates and went in search of a quiet bit of private road. Whether in fact it was legal to allow an uninsured person to drive on the road that we finally found was irrelevant. Not because I care not a jot for the laws of the land, but because ultimately she drove four feet. Four feet. It was all I could stand before I screamed, "Brake!" It was terrifying how that fence hurtled towards us.
Once I'd acquired some sort of equilibrium, I managed to speak.
"You'd better book some lessons." She hadn't looked where she was going once. Just at her feet. And those bloody Doc Martens didn't help matters. There was no way such brutal footwear was going to be tender enough to feel an accelerator pedal with any finesse. To add to my disabling experience of absolute zero control, the handbrake of our car is to the right of the driver, so I wasn't in a position to grab on to it as we raced toward that fence.
We shifted positions and I drove home. She has since had a very successful lesson with a man who must have the nerves of steel and the patience of Job on a particularly trying day.
"You have no regard for my nerves," I tell my children often, much like, as I'm reminded by my bookish daughter, Jane Austen's Mrs Bennett and no sooner had I got over the driving debacle than my son – you'll remember, the rocker, with the black hair, tattoo and, as he eschewed university for life on the road with his band, poor career prospects – well, he had something to tell me. As a mother of a teenage boy, it is one of our greatest fears. I must have blanched because he immediately said: "No, Mum. No-one is pregnant."
"What is it then? Have you been arrested? Is it drugs? Oh my God, it's drugs isn't it?"
"No, Mum." His voice was serious. My stomach dropped to the floor.
"I'm joining the Royal Navy." I clutched at my chest and reeled backwards into an armchair. It had to be a joke. What about the lifestyle of a bassist in a rock band? What about sex and drugs and rock'n'roll? His father could tell him that life in the RN meant zero tolerance of drugs, very little sex and occasionally a little rock'n'roll. Now and then. When the sea was rough.
"I want to be like Dad," he explained. "He loves his job. I have never known anyone love their job like he does and, as he has only less than a year to do – I'd like to carry the torch, as it were."
I was still mouthing like a goldfish.
"I've been working out; I've passed the psychometric tests with a well above average pass mark. There are a number of hurdles to go like the medical and AIB, but this is what I want to do, Mum." Still speechless.
"I want to make you and Dad proud," he added as if this were his trump card. I hope Horatio Nelson's mother took it better than me. I've yet to stop weeping.