German teenagers are weird. They’re so conscientious, the only reason they bunk off school? To save the planet. They spend Fridays bunking off school to save the planet, and then the weekends voluntarily attending workshops. I wasn’t that kind of conscientious teenager – and my son isn’t, either.
When I was a teenager, I used to bunk off school, change into “normal” clothes at my friend Diana’s house, and then go into London and do shoplifting. That was kind of like my main hobby when I was a teenager. In fact, come to think of it, I think it was my only hobby.
How times have changed. A dinner party in West Berlin – West Berlin’s back in now, by the way – everyone has kids, some of our kids are here, playing in the other room, some of us are enjoying our kid-free weekends. There’s wine and Arabic sweets and authentic hummus and a culturally appropriated hummus involving, apparently, carrots and pumpkin (I wonder when, if ever, hummus stops being hummus? Why don’t we call guacamole ‘avocado hummus’? Or yoghurt ‘soured milk hummus’?) – there’s a psychologist, a child psychologist, a sculptor, a writer, an optician and a Steuerberaterin. It’s one of the best dinner parties I have been to in years, I’d say.
“I am so proud of my son for bunking off school for the climate demo,” says the psychologist.
“Yes,” says the child psychologist, who is his wife, “we are so proud. It was such a nice day, too.”
The sculptor says: “It makes me so proud of the kids when you know how important the future of the world is to them.”
The writer says: “We must be doing something right, to have such conscientious kids, don’t you think? That’s what I think. It makes me hopeful for the future.”
The optician says: “Actually, Jacinta, did you go to the climate demo? Or did Lenny just go alone?”
The Steuerberaterin and I exchange worried, fearful, shameful glances. We both know the truth. It is a shameful truth, a heavy, shameful, painful truth. I take a deep breath and then I say it: “Actually Lenny didn’t want to go to the climate demo. He has sports on a Friday. He, er… He didn’t want to miss sports.”
THIS IS HOW YOU MAKE SILENCE HAPPEN AT A WEST BERLIN – IT’S IN AGAIN NOW – DINNER PARTY. I MAKE SILENCE HAPPEN. AND THE SILENCE THAT HAPPENS IS LONG AND DEEP.
After about 90 seconds, the child psychologist says, in an interested voice. “Doesn’t he believe in climate change?”
I flinch. I am a bad mother, I know that. But can people really believe I raised a total sociopath?
“He believes in climate change,” I say quietly. “He just doesn’t really believe in demonstrations.”
“There’s no point forcing the kids to bunk off school,” the Steuerberaterin comes to my aid. “If they don’t believe in it, there’s no point forcing them.”
“No,” agrees the optician. “There’s no point forcing them to go on a demonstration, is there. It has to be a free choice.”
I can literally hear the relief in her voice, thank fucking fuck, she is thinking in her head that my kid wanted to go to the climate demo.
Look, I love my boy, but he is who he is. He doesn’t bunk school. He doesn’t do any homework for school, or work once he’s there, but he doesn’t bunk school either. He doesn’t even bunk school to go to climate demos. And, you know what else he doesn’t do? Weird workshops.
“Hari is doing a self-esteem workshop next Saturday, so maybe we could go to the cinema together, Jacinta?” The optician says politely.
“Oh, Fynn is doing that self-esteem workshop too!” The child psychologist says.
“Lucy wanted to do that self-esteem workshop, but I had to persuade her out of it. She’s done three workshops this month already – dying T-shirts, circus skills and stenciling. She got so much out of the stenciling one.”
“Nero went to a zining workshop last week, it was so great, the zine he produced.”
“All the kids seem to do nowadays is workshops,” the sculptor says laughingly. “Jo-Jo is doing body acceptance and sculpting with things you find in the trash next week.”
I haven’t said anything for ages. The optician looks at me, I think she wants me to join in the conversation again or something.
“Does Lenny do any workshops ever, Jacinta?”
“Erm,” I say. “He has German Nachhilfe on a Tuesday afternoon? Does that count?”
I get in from the West Berlin (in again!) dinner party and the teen is still awake, on Fortnite.
“Oh, you’re playing Fortnite again,” I say. “I thought Fortnite was out?”
“Say hi to my mother, people,” he says into his headset.
“I bought you chicken,” I say. “Get off the X-box and you can eat this chicken. I thought you’d be hungry.”
He sits at the table, ravenously wolfing down chicken like a caveman, although his face and cheeks look so skinny and emaciated he kind of reminds me of a bird himself.
“Would you like to do a workshop one day?” I ask him while he eats. “At the weekend. I’ll pay for you to do a workshop.”
He looks at me and grins with delight.
“I’d rather die!” He says happily. He is such an embarrassment sometimes.