Machohood versus materialism: The boy hedges his bets

Thank you letters are still trickling in from Christmas, giving me a marvellous opportunity to compare composition, syntax and creative genius amongst the nieces and nephews. A spelling mistake from the private school ones can put me in a good mood for the rest of the year. Mindful that the recipients of my children's thank you letters are probably doing the same, I usually stand over them, urging them to more ambitious statements than "it will be useful".

This year, however, they dashed them off before I had a chance to doctor the contents.

My mother-in-law, Granny White Hair (I can't think why she objects to the name - it is a perfectly logical way of distinguishing her from my mother, Granny Black Hair, who doesn't mind at all - in fact it was she who thought them up) rang to say she had had some delightful letters but next time she would prefer a less formal signing off than "yours sincerely" followed by their initials and surname. She doesn't seem to appreciate that from 11- and 13-year-old boys "yours sincerely" represents a positive tidal wave of emotion.

Saying goodbye to his godmother at the airport after her annual visit required an even more uncomfortable show of sentiment for the 11-year- old. Should he dodge the kiss and thus deny himself the benefit of future godmotherly largesse or does he proffer his cheek and sacrifice his machohood on the altar of material goods? In the event, of course, he screwed his eyes tight shut, held his breath and plumped for the latter - he was taking no chances, as his godmother was showing alarming signs of taking the official side of her job too seriously.

He had more than once had to politely turn down her offer to escort him to church, but more worrying than that, she had taken to quoting from some Good Godmother's Guide such truths as "time spent with the godchild is more valuable than any gift".

But the ultimate dilemma for the modern boy came when he had to decide whether to accompany me and his patron into the departure hall. I couldn't understand why he was hesitating as his godmother is well known for tipping small boys who carry her bags. Perhaps he wanted to negotiate the rates first? But no, as he shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot, he confessed that he was worried that "people might think he had lesbian mothers". Of course, I told him not to be so silly, and that he must stop looking at life as another episode of Friends. Which is ironic really as my friend was meeting up with her estranged husband and his lover at the airport. The lover was a dead-ringer for Roger Whittaker.

With the rest of my children already in possession of knowledge I only acquired in my twenties, it's no wonder I've found letting go of my baby, now at full-time school, so difficult. Anyway she is doing fine - with the help of ice packs. Schools are not allowed to administer anything stronger than water for children's ailments these days, so ice packs are used as universal panaceas, and my daughter will stop at nothing to get one. Imaginary rashes, bruises, headaches, nausea, sore throats, suspected broken legs - all require the infant drug of choice. Currently she's on six a week but we're hoping to gradually reduce her dependency as term progresses.

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