It’s hit me in the past week : they are self-absorbed, apathetic and absolutely uninterested in anything that has to do with learning, be it history, culture or science. They are also borderline disrespectful with me and their grandparents. And they’re only 9 and 12.
That realization really started last Sunday. We were supposed to visit my parents for the afternoon. My daughters like them (especially when they get a little envelope with 10€ each before leaving) but don’t enjoy going there. That I can understand. It’s a longish trip and my parents don’t really have toys that could hold their interests. But on Sunday, my eldest daughter flat-out refused to go. Since she wasn’t budging, I told her : “Fine. Don’t go. BUT call and tell them. That’s the least you can do”. She wouldn’t do that either. So, rude AND cowardly. The fact that her mother was egging her on not to go didn’t help.
But it has really hit home in the past couple of days.
My eldest daughter is a huge Harry Potter fan. For the past two years, she’s wanted to go to the Harry Potter Studios. When I asked her what she wanted for her birthday, it was the only thing she said.
Their mother wasn’t keen on the idea (“it’s expensive and we’ve been to London before !”). Still, I insisted, so we ended up booking a 7-hour tour to the studios. Since my birthday is also coming up and there is a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition at the British Library, I suggested we stayed two nights : arrive on Wednesday evening, go to the studios on Thursday and spend Friday seeing some of the sights.
To be honest, I don’t care one bit for Harry Potter, but I tried to show some interest when we were there, asking questions, showing them props. When we got back to the coach in the evening, the very first thing my eldest daughter did was whip out her smartphone.
“Er… did you enjoy the visit ?”
“Was it fun ?”
“So… you’re happy ?”
“Yes… Look, I’m going to beat my record at the snake game !”
Yesterday, was a sunny day, perfect for sightseeing and we’d woken up early. I had planned to take a leisurely walk from Westminster Abbey to King’s Cross Station via some of the major landmarks including the British Library. However, at their mother’s suggestion, they insisted on first going… to the tiny hotel swimming pool. Where they’d already gone the previous evening intead of going for a walk around the Tower of London.
So we left the hotel at noon. The whole morning was gone. I foolishly added the Tower of London to the day’s (actually, afternoon’s) walk. As soon as we were there, they wanted to go to the KFC. Because I had promised them we would. I pointed out that I promised to go to the KFC the evening before, after the Harry Potter tour but they had decided to go to the swimming pool instead. And we’d already been to the KFC in Camden Town on the first night. Of course, their mother stepped in to save them from certain death. “They’re positively starving, have you got no shame ?”. Sorry. I forgot it was sooo difficult to find a place to eat in London. My bad. Off to the KFC we went. At 12:30. In one of the busiest areas of the city. To everyone’s surprise (NOT !), there was a 30-minute-queue to place your order. By the time we left, we’d spent over an hour in that joint.
We arrived at Westminster Abbey at 2 pm, 3h later than I had expected. I now had the choice between a brisk walk to show them the sights or dropping some from the list.
After we’d walked for a couple of minutes up Whitehall, my youngest daughter decided that she was tired and couldn’t we take the bus, instead ? We arrived in Trafalgar Square and of course, they needed to sit down and rest after this exhausting 20-minute trudge. Interestingly, they weren’t tired when it came to climbing up the plinth of Nelson’s Column and run around. It was now 3 pm.
We went to Piccadily Circus, then Leicester Square with their mother sarcastically remarking that we’d already done all this before. On our way to Covent Garden, they asked me whether we’d reached the middle of the walk. “Not quite”. “But we’re tired !”
I lost it. It was now almost 4 pm. I placed the suitcase which I had been dragging around since morning in my eldest daughter’s hand and told them that there was a tube station which would take them directly to King’s Cross and I finished the walk alone, noticing with some bitterness that the distance wasn’t as big as I’d thought. If we’d started as planned, or even 1-2 hours later or if they had been a bit more energetic, they could have easily have done it.
I was sad with what they were missing, so at the exhibition, I bought them a few postcards and a button each (with the first word in Beowulf). I gave them to my daughters at the station. They looked at it for a couple of seconds, said thanks and went back to their smartphone games. My youngest daughter would have lost the button in the train back to Belgium had I not seen it on the carriage floor.
It turns out that after we’d parted, they went back to Leicester Square because their mother doesn’t know anything in London in spite of this beeing our third visit. They looked at a hip-hop “show”, went to a “huge” candy shop and took some selfies. Then, since their mother couldn’t show them anything, they went to King’s Cross Station over three hours in advance and spent the remaining time sitting on a bench there, playing with their phones.
I’m sure all parents go through situations like this, being disappointed at their children’s choices or behaviour. But ever since they were born, I’ve tried to instil them with a sense of interest in culture and knowledge. Tried to show them beautiful things. They don’t care. Classical music is boring. Visiting historical places and museums is tiring. Learning English is a waste of their precious time. I’ve never been pushy. Never forced them to do anything. All I wanted was to expose them to beautiful things. Nothing’s caught on. I give up. If they want to spend their stay in one of the most facinating cities in the world going to the swimming pool, playing smartphone games, watching dime a dozen street performers and eating at KFC, so be it. I tried. And failed.