I see pictures of those chubby smiling babes nestled in their fond parents' arms and I see that they are, indeed, delightful creatures. They have big innocent eyes, curly blonde mops, plump little arms so delightful to squeeze and are very probably now, as I write, gurgling out the heartwrenching sentence I Love You Mummy. But I am now at the other end of the scale. Oh I still love and - I think (with a teenager one is never entirely sure) - am still loved. But we have just gone through A-levels together, if you follow my meaning, as well as some years of the natural hearty teenage approach to adults, and the energy level is worn a little thin.
When Mrs Haynes daughter is 18, she will be knocking 70. When Mrs Lyon's future child reaches 18, she will be knocking 75. I am putatively 49 but, along with most of my pals blessed with teenagers, am currently chalking up 96. Indeed, I can barely walk without aid of zimmer frame or large quantities of gin and I fear for anyone contemplating geriatric motherhood.
Consider Louise Hudson and Sarah Watson off on that supposed sex spree in Ibiza, the "we slept with 20 men each in a fortnight and let Sky TV film us" pair of frolickers. (Incidentally, I once went out with about 30 men in six weeks and, I can tell you - going out with a lot of men is a great deal more tiring than staying in with them.) Anyway, Alethea Hudson, mother of Louise, burst into tears and Hilda Watson, Sarah's mother, said she was completely shell-shocked. Imagine that lot landing on your lap as osteoporosis strikes.
Consider the boy who stole $2,000 worth of Snickers and Toffee Crisps(!) on the Internet and randomly tapped in any old credit card number, hitting an Argentinian businessman with the bill. Never mind what his wife must have said ("Hey, Jorge, Who is this Candy Bar?"), can you imagine the state his parents were in by the time the police left? If they were 50 when they arrived, they were 80 when they left. If you were 75 when they arrived it leaves only the grim reaper...
But even good teenagers provoke fear and trembling. If they always wanted to be a missionary and joyously visit the local youth club with the jolly call-me-Dave-and-no-dog-collar vicar, you wonder if the friendship is perhaps a little odd.
If they roll in at three in the morning (alive! alive!) and trip over the pregnant cat, you agonise about mentioning the word Ecstasy, thinking spongy brain, spongy brain, while watching the kittens being born. I know old folk need less sleep, but pacing the floor at 3am waiting for the police to call is a bit different from lying in your bed fondly remembering the doodlebugs.
And finally, the heroic teenage boy who saved a toddler from certain death on a railway line. Brilliant act of bravery. Give that boy a medal. But what is this? In pursuance of this brave act, the boy received a massive electric shock, enough voltage to light up Harrods. In reward of which suffering, said Fate, we will cure his acne. Result? Boy delighted now he no longer has his pimples. Parents, delighted by their son the peachy- skinned hero, can rest on their laurels. Or can they? Er - no. They cannot. They must now watch fearfully every day to see if a pimple reappears on their brave son's countenance. Because, despite his being told it was a miracle that he lived, the boy is a teenager. As soon as another pimple appears it will be Bugger the Clearasil, and he'll be back off to the railway line to shove his arm in yet again for the Big Cure, which this time could be the Biggest Cure Of All. He will be heedless of his mother's cries, because He Knows Best. Oh Mrs Haynes, Mrs Lyon - only think, think.
When I sat in that Circle of Women, sipping my herbal tea, and hungry for power, I never dreamed that the liberation I fought for would one day include the right to buy disposable nappies with your old-age pension. But verily I feel it coming. Ah well. That's freedom for you. And good luck.
Wallace Arnold is on holidayReuse content