Conversational Warfare for the verbally inept.
Have you ever noticed how, when you talk to your folks, what they say is never what they really mean? There is always a hidden implication, or worse still, some kind of test. Conversational warfare is a parental privilege. Passing this test is every child’s right of passage into adulthood. When you can traverse the no-man’s-land of this unspoken language, you have graduated. There will be no last minute cramming. There are no past papers or cheat sheets to study. There is no second chance. There is no warning. What follows is my account of the events as I recall them.
Things were good lately: if I were to push my luck I might even say great. My relationship with my husband was at an all-time high. My son, seemingly in spite of my best efforts, was a happy and well adjusted seven year-old. My career was managing to leave me just enough time to have a decent home life. In short I had a lot to be grateful for. I should have known that fate would have an almighty spanner to throw into my unsuspecting works.
16:50:00 I took a call from my Dad. That in itself is not normal, as my dad is to phones what Bill Gates is to heavyweight boxing. The pleasant, if a little harassed, “Hello”, I managed to blurt out, imagining I was going to have to fend off another fitted kitchen or double glazing sales call, was swiftly followed by stunned silence when I heard the, “Hello, Hen,” from my adoring Dad.
16:50:20 “I got those tickets for the ice-hockey.” He said like he phones me every day and this unforeseen call was perfectly commonplace. (Hint - This is the excuse for phoning but beware, it’s a cunningly disguised trap)
16:51:15 By now I am starting to recover from the shock that my Dad has called me out of the blue. Following closely on its’ heels is my unspoken question “Where is he going with this?” Suspicion is not one of my natural emotions but I’m suddenly struck by the feeling that something is well and truly up. Ulterior motive alert!
I’m at DEFCON 4. So far everything seems okay but by the fact that Dad hasn’t told me he’ll see me later and hung up leads me to the conclusion that everything is not rosy in the garden of “me”. So while I’m searching my brain for whatever I might have done to merit this exchange, dad carries on without me.
16:51:50 “We haven’t heard from you lately.” I hear through my yammering thoughts. He’s using that semi frosty tone that your parents perfect in your pre-adolescent years, the one just a few degrees above Baltic. The one usually reserved for occasions when they are most disappointed and comes attached to your full and perfectly enunciated name. Also notice the change in person here, I has become, we. Watch this space. (Warning, warning!)
DEFCON 3. Yellow alert. There is a real chance things are going to get worse. The urge to drop the phone, grab my passport, and run flashes across the horizon of my brain like a stealth bomber. Before I even have a chance to wonder where my passport is, he’s talking again, dragging me back to reality.
16:52:00 “Your mum is quite upset.”
DEFCON 2 – all lights turn to amber. (Hint – in any language, this is not good. What we have here is a set-up. What follows next could be one of two things: 1. A severe telling off or 2. An order) I’m still trying to work out what I’ve done wrong. Haven’t heard from you lately is obviously code for … what??? Oh, crap! Think, think. “Heard”, Ah-ha, you should have phoned home. Too late!
16:52:20 “It might be an idea to give her a wee phone.” He goes on. The word “might” is added for his benefit, not mine. He is actually saying phone her today, the “or else” is implied rather than stated. “Erm.” I say. (Hint. There is no correct answer to this question. It is similar to the girlfriend asking if her outfit makes her look fat thing.)
Frantically I try to think up a believable excuse for not phoning, but I come up empty. Somehow I don’t think he will react well to “Sorry, but I have a life.” So I stick with “erm” and hope he will leave it at that. My luck was never that good. If it was I’d be on the phone to Brad finding out when he and George would be over for dinner. So, we go on.
16:52:35 “I know it’s a lot to ask.” This is really bad. There have been two set-up statements in quick succession that means the big guns are out. This is uncharted territory and Erm will not get me out of it.
16:52:45 “I will.” I agree, but I’m not sure what to. Right now, I’d agree to just about anything if it got me out of the hole I had somehow fallen into. I’m sure if the Nazis had used this form of torture during the war we would all be speaking German.
16:52:50 “If you could just check in once in a while.” He says like I hadn’t even spoken. I’m scanning the sky outside for signs of a mushroom cloud. So far so good. Too late I realise the hole I’m looking out of is actually my grave. “We still worry about you, you know.”
16:53:00 DEFCON 1 (Flashing red lights complete with siren) There it is. My Dad has played his emotional trump card. Like a wizard he weaved his spell. I invoke the power of guilt. (Hint – You’re screwed.) I’m trying to think of something to say. Something bright, perceptive and insightful and therefore worthy of my fathers approval, but suddenly my powers of verbal expression have deserted me. I’m still in shock. The phone call, the hail of quick-fire questions and the reek of impending failure have stolen whatever strength my fledgling adulthood had afforded me. “Oh, right.” I managed to reply. As comebacks go, that one ranks just above mince. Ashes to ashes! RIP.
16:53:30 Here lies the body of a useless daughter. Pity, she had potential.