Wednesday, 30 July 2014


As the mother of four sons how could I resist a film called Boyhood? Richard Linklater's intimate portrayal of 12 years in the life of an average Texas family is compelling viewing for anyone who is in the process of rearing a family. It explores the formative years of a boy called Mason, whilst taking in the lives of those around him including his divorced parents and sister Sam, played by Linklater's own daughter.

As it was filmed over 12 years in real life there are none of the unconvincing prosthetics or awkward jumps between different child and teen actors. Instead the real growing pains of the children involved are captured in all their celluloid glory. It shows the main character's growth from a cute six year old into a disaffected and pretentious teen without pulling any punches. In fact, Ellar Coltraine, who plays Mason, says he cringed as he watched himself literally grow up onscreen.

It is probably this realism that makes the film so compelling. At almost three hours long I was convinced I would be twitching in my seat long before the end, bored by a self indulgent director's inability to edit his own work. Instead I was riveted. Mason's family isn't that similar to mine, there were just two children instead of four, mum and dad were divorced and the family lives a peripatetic life of moves, new partners, siblings and schools, but some things are universal.

I got a not entirely pleasant insight into what young boys get up to when unsupervised. It appears that this revolves around sex and drink, with a few soft drugs thrown in for good measure. This is not particularly comfortable viewing for a mother of pre-teens, but I guess it lets me know what I am in for.

But scene after scene tugged at my heartstrings as I saw my future, or at least a version of it, played out in front of me. I watched as Mason pushed his mother away when she went to give him a goodbye kiss at his new school, as he was embarrassed by her pride in his graduation and most heart wrenching of all the scene where he leaves home for college. His sobbing mother declares it the worst day of her life, and I was crying along with her at just the thought of my boys leaving home.

It is a fascinating film that kept me captivated from beginning to end. But more than that it made me go home and stroke the baby soft skin of my five-year-old twins with a new found appreciation. It highlighted just how fast time goes with children. The parents compare notes at Mason's graduation party, incredulous that their kids had both left high school. I know that sensation well, where you feel as if just a moment ago you were cradling a baby and now you are making applications to secondary school for that same boy.

It is so easy to rush the business of being a parent. When you are under the daily cosh of school runs, washing, cooking, taxiing and nagging to do homework, tests and music practise, it doesn't feel like a magical time to be treasured. Instead you want to get through the day and into bed with a good book. At least I know that's how I feel, but this film did give me reason to pause.

It made me think about how I am missing the best bits, or at least failing to savour them as I spend so much time grumbling about how hard it is to rear small children. It's not that Boyhood sugar coats the early years. They are shown as the familiar chaotically harassed mess of pick ups, drop offs, arguments about school work and a juggling act of earning a living alongside bringing up children. But when viewed in sharp contrast to the adult years that leap upon us so fast, they take on an altogether more precious feel.

So Mr Linklater thank you for making me smile, cry and pass two and a bit hours in the company of your celluloid family, but more importantly for showing me that I should stop from time to time and relish my boys' boyhood, for it is a just a fleeting moment in a lifetime that passes all too quickly.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014


Swearing in front of children is, by and large, frowned upon. Which is why I am so ashamed of my inability to keep my language from turning blue on an embarrassingly regular basis when there are small people in my vicinity.

One early warning sign that perhaps I should project a more clean living image was when my eldest son announced that he couldn't wait to be an adult because then he could "Drink, swear and gamble". How to make a maternal heart swell with pride. I should point out that this was declared after a trip to Las Vegas where he had been endlessly shooed off the gaming floor by zealous security guards keen to retain the casino's gambling and liquor licences.

But even so it is shaming that at his tender age he saw swearing as sign of maturity (let's not get into the drinking and gambling here). I had taught my little boy that swearing was both big and clever. This is surely not the job of a good mother? Then only problem is that I find it hard to work up much of a head of steam about the use of bad language.

Of course I don't like to hear it from the lips of little children, and have made this crystal clear to my boys. They know that swearing is for adults only. I accept this is a deeply hypocritical line to take, but I find it nigh on impossible to keep the odd naughty word from slipping out under duress, so what alternative to do I have? I do try self regulate, and make sure the really strong words are kept under lock and key, but I suspect that my children learned the word shit at about the same time as they picked up mummy and daddy.

Sadly the oldest's nosy eavesdropping means that now even the strong words are popping out of Pandora's box. During a recent stressful house move I felt moved to insult our potential buyers by declaring them them to be "a pair of C**TS" over the phone to my husband. Only to discover my eldest lurking outside the door, grinning gleefully that he had added another profanity to his growing lexicon of curses. Ooops indeed.

He did get the lecture that this is the nuclear weapon of expletives only to be unleashed in the most severe of circumstances by adults well over the age of 18. I think he understood, but such words are sprinkled with the glittering the allure of the illicit. I think using a hardcore swear word is the 2014 equivalent of taking a puff of a cigarette behind the bike sheds for my generation. Possibly naively  I don't think many modern kids would give this a try, but using a naughty word seems to hold the same fascination - or perhaps it's just my eldest who is drawn to the dark side.

In fact my middle boy is the polar opposite and is one step away from introducing a swear box to at least profit from his mum's bad language. Every time I employ the mildest oath he snaps "Mummy" at me in the disapproving tone of a prim maiden aunt. He takes a very dim view of rude words and is forever trying to wrench my language out of the gutter.

I fear that he is fighting a losing battle though. I am part of a hard swearing bloodline where the air in the family home was often turned blue with casual obscenities. My mum's favourite was the inventive phrase "Fxxxing Shaggers", which was employed at the drop of a hat, glass of milk, chest of drawers on her foot and so on. I then worked in magazine offices where every other word began with the letter F and as a freelance I am at liberty to swear at my screen as much as damn well like. I am a lost cause when it comes to dainty language.

I will just have to hope that my boys' teenage rebellion is to become as different from mummy as possible. A bit like Saffron in Ab Fab, they will decide that to be as square as possible is the best way to show their old mum the error of her ways.