My parents could have been a part of Hitler’s Army. My mum would have looked great in a peaked cap with a swastika emblazoned on each shoulder. It would have matched her fierce stare and those evil eyebrows that are currently dancing about on her pale, angry face in front of me. Of course my dad - actually step-dad if we’re being accurate - would have been her Second in Command. He doesn’t do anything that hasn’t been stamped by my mum’s seal of authority first.
‘Becca, I just don’t understand you at times,’ Mum’s face is scarily close to mine and I’m shrinking back for two reasons. One, I can tell she’s had something with garlic in it for lunch and two, she only ever gets this close because something bad is going to follow that last sentence any time… now.
‘Do you understand her, Neil?’ she turns to her Second in Command who shakes his head just the twice and frowns for added severity. Then she sighs and turns back to me – hands on hips now – her authority stance. ‘I mean perhaps we’re just too lenient with you,’ she pauses for dramatic effect, ‘so we’re going to have to make some changes ‘round here and I’m afraid you’re not going to like them…’
I know she hasn’t thought much beyond this veiled threat. Because that’s what it is. It’s veiled. And it’s veiled for a reason. She has no idea what to do right now. Torture is out. They’ve tried that one before. They’ve tried taking away my mobile phone. So I borrowed one from Liberty who’s my incredibly understanding and supportive best friend. She’s always got a spare mobile knocking about somewhere because she has a brother who collects them for a hobby. I’m saying no more. Oh, and ditto the iPod. He’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer but he’s pretty handy, her brother, Jason.
They also took my telly-DVD combo away from me for a week. Which was, again, not a major headache. I mean, do they seriously think that computer screens are just for typing words on and Googling pictures of rock bands? Ah, but they did “forbid” me from using the internet for a whole weekend. That wasn’t nice. I had to do all my communicating via mobile and I tell you I could probably have sued them for parental malpractice or something with the amount of Repetitive Strain pain I started getting in my right hand thumb. It’s just as well it wasn’t longer than two days. Another twenty four hours and I’m sure I would have been eligible for some advice from a helpful person on the other end of Childline. I know my rights – they’re always banging on about them in school.
And anyway there’s no such thing as being grounded these days – y’know, like being made to stay in the house kind of thing. Because I only ever meet up with friends at weekends… well, friend. Just Liberty actually, and only on a Saturday really – unless someone’s having a party or something and that’s different because it’s a “special occasion” and I don’t get denied those. Because we (that’s the My Generation “we”) don’t do things that my parents used to do like hang about on street corners. Er, hel-lo – haven’t you heard there’s a paedophile living at number 42? Oh, and he’s watching you all with a pair of zoom lens binoculars from his bedroom window right now – yes, now – look! ‘Cause these days we have safer things called MS messaging and Facebook and Tumblr and communicating via mobile phone technology. We don’t need to meet up on dangerous corners these days to keep in touch. You’d think parents would be more grateful, wouldn’t you? Okay then, happy at least, that we’re not able to get ourselves into any kind of trouble, unless we specifically go looking for it. Well, wouldn’t you?
‘Oh…Rebecca, Rebecca, Rebecca,’ Mum is sighing now, really heavily and disappointedly. God, anyone would think I’d been pushing class A drugs or something. Or killed a kitten. So what’s the big deal? I forgot that I’d jammed my mobile into a sock inside my boot at school and a teacher kinda over-reacted (in my opinion anyway), went mental, phoned my parents and told them. Why? How over dramatic can you get? Is it really my fault that I’d forgotten to switch it off – I mean I had a lot on my mind, didn’t I?
And so what if it was during a mock GCSE. That’s why it’s called a Mock, isn’t it? I mean do they really think I’d have taken it in during a real GCSE? Do they think I’m that dense? Why the stupid woman couldn’t have just told me off, threatened a letter to my parents and then told the Head who would have sighed and raked his hands through his hair like he does with any student he has to get stern with, I don’t know. I think it was because this particular teacher is a relatively new one. She only looks about eighteen. She must be older though, but definitely a newly-qualified. She must be at the stage where she thinks it’s a good idea to score points with the Head.
‘What?’ I scowl as deeply as my forehead will allow without undue pain. ‘What am I supposed to have done that’s so wrong this time?’ (As if I don’t know).
My mum’s eyes fly wide open and she starts to perfect her incredulous look. Like she can’t believe I’ve just said this and she can’t believe I’m her daughter and all the other “I can’t believe”’s she’s thrown at me in the past. I can’t believe she’s still using this “I’m really annoyed with you” look, but I don’t tell her. No need to inflame an already nicely-heated situation is there?
‘I cannot believe –‘ she starts and I have to roll my eyes. Well, I have to, don’t I? What did I just say? She’s always saying “I can’t believe… something”. Predictable or what. God, seriously, can’t you change the tune mother? ‘- and there’s no need to pull a face like that, Rebecca, this is serious now – your father and I –‘
‘Step,’ I correct her and now it’s her turn to roll her eyes, only she does it in a more controlled, adult way.
‘Okay, step father,’ she concedes. ‘…but…we are running out of reasons why you’d want to do a thing like this and still seem to think it’s okay. You do realise it was wrong, surely… I mean using hormones and exam stress as an excuse will only stretch so far, Becca – d’you understand? This is important.’
She just stands there, hands still on both hips and it goes quiet. I’m assuming this was a question but because it was so badly presented I don’t know whether to go for the conventional deep bored sigh and slump of the shoulders or whether to give her some pointers as to where she could have better worded this for optimum response.
I go for the former.
‘And stand up straight when I’m speaking to you, Rebecca, this isn’t a little game you know – tell her Neil.’
Second in Command straightens his shoulders in an attempt to make my body follow suit. It does – but only v-e-r-y slowly. I can’t be bothered to annoy him too much. He doesn’t react as well as Mum does. He gives up. At least Mum gives it a go until she wears herself out. She’s a trier. SiC clears his throat and forms a wide, tight smile like he imagines he has a moustache across his top lip akin to a member of the Third Reich or something. I fully expect him to start twitching this invisible hairy lip but he doesn’t. He’s the Good Guy to Mum’s Bad Guy. You know, like in those detective things. Bad Guy shakes the suspect up a bit, and then Good Guy sweeps in and pretends to be suspect’s friend which I guess is their way of confusing the suspect so much that he finally cracks under the pressure and confesses everything – whether he did it or not. Just to get them off his back.
I smile back at my step-father and hope he doesn’t think I’m being contemptuous. I’m honestly not trying to wind him up but parents only see what they want to see, don’t they? If a kid smiles, they’re being offensive or ignorant or anything else they decide they don’t like the look of. I’m just mirroring his face. What’s the harm in that? If body language is anything to go by, he should react well to this. I’m copying and therefore agreeing with his position.
‘Rebecca,’ his smile doesn’t reach his eyes. ‘We’ve tried to be reasonable with you in the past,’ he crosses his arms. I wonder if I should cross mine to keep up this weird dance of symmetry. I decide not to. Just in case he gets on the defensive.
‘But I’m afraid you’ve left us with no choice. We’ve tried taking away items of recreation, certain privileges, but that hasn’t seemed to have had any lasting effect – in fact,’ he turns to Mum who nods elaborately just the once takes in a deep breath and shuts her eyes briefly and in total agreement with her husband. They’re getting good at this solidarity stuff, ‘…in fact, not one single method of punishment we’ve tried has ever made any difference – long term at least.’
I nod in agreement. He’s right. No point in disagreeing there.
‘So we’ve decided we need to ground you …’ Mum breaks in. I open my mouth to snort pathetically at this method of punishment , to remind her how well this has worked before – NOT - and then I remember I shouldn’t really be fraternising with the enemy.
I shut my mouth. Grounded. Ha – didn’t I say earlier that this is useless? I don’t need to be grounded to have a social life. My “social” life will only break down if underground-stroke-overhead cables are cut or satellite dishes are re-routed. And like I said, Liberty’s brother should be able to keep me fully armed with any mobile communication I might need.
‘So in an attempt at reducing the amount of time you spend on the computer chatting to your friends…’
Ah, so they’re going to stop me using the internet again. That’s not exactly the grounding I thought they meant, but oh well, I survived the last time, didn’t I? I guess another weekend won’t kill me. I’ll just turn have to set my alarm for three in the morning and use it when they’re asleep. I managed before. And I’ll just have to try doing more left-handed texting so I don’t get as much of a pain in my right hand.
‘Your network cable will be unplugged…’ Mum informs me. I nod back and then realise what she’s just said. Unplugged? As in no connection? Is she mad? ‘And we’re taking your mobile phone.’ I swallow hard at this.
Icy beads of sweat are creeping over my forehead and I feel a bit sick. Okay, this might be a bit of a strain – but then Liberty’s brother’s “collection” swims before my eyes calming my heartbeat. If he’s a decent enough hoarder then he’s probably got a pile of internet leads somewhere I could use to plug my pc back in. In fact I could probably even borrow one from the IT department at school if I told them I needed it for coursework. I’m finding all this a bit hard to take in and I’m kind of panting a bit. I think I’m in shock. I need to sit down and gather my jumbled-up panic-stricken thoughts but Mum hasn’t finished.
‘Oh, we’ll also take your TV so you’ll have to watch any programmes with us downstairs… like a proper family. Ah… and we’ll be looking after your iPod for a while.’
Shit. Now I wasn’t expecting total alienation.
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