I had the girls last night and chaos reigned supreme, in a very amiable sort of way. They both had a day off school for some reason so we didn't have to go through the very tught time constraints that are normal for a Wednesday night.
School nights on Wednesdays are cut to the limit. Pick up is at 4PM on the dot, then there's a quick drive to take the 11 year old to her piano lesson. Me and her older sister then usually rush into town and to Tesco to grab some ingredients for dinner and the eldest invariably tries to buy me some fruit or vegetables, which always end up languishing on the side of my kitchen looking more forlorn than a particularly long faced horse.
Then we rush to my place, they pretend to do their homework and I begin cooking. The 13 year old has a quirky yet quite healthy desire for me to cook for them and not get takeaways or junk food in. I think it's something to do with her wanting to know that I'm cooking and surviving on my own mixed in with a desire to eat healthily for her too. To be honest it has helped my drive to learn how to cook as well. And that's how to cook western dishes that I would rarely do for myself.
At about dinner time I shout at them to get everything set, they pretend not to hear me, I shout some more and eventually they do what they're asked. We eat, the 11 year old has one of those stomachs that expands and has no limits at all, and there are no foods that she doesn't like. It would be a bad combination but her metabolism has also been made so that she's got that thin appearance going on too.
They're dropped back at 8.30 PM on the dot, so we set off shortly before, after the clearing up has been shared between us. Overall it's a fun time but it's quick and it's organised with military precision.
So a holiday night had the potential to be a bit more relaxed and a little less stressful. K, the 11 year old, still had her piano lesson but all else was going to be more easy going. Or so I thought.
To start with I had to jump through virtually a whole packet of Hula Hoops just to find the girls. On arrival at their house there was no one around and after a few frantic phone calls I managed to trace the elder sister to a friend's house and the smaller one to a different friend's house. I was given instructions on what to collect from their place for the evening, the plethora of piano books, laptops and electric violins.
At some point a bit later we finally got to my place. The piano lesson was done, the food was bought and petrol had been fed into my car. We had had a lot of fun listening to the new Muse album in the car, at volume levels that would probably get me labelled as a bad parent by many, but there were no complaints from either of my music loving daughters.
My first job was to set up the K's electric violin. She had been given it for Christmas and for many reasons this was time to finally set the thing up. She had tried with her Mother and they hadn't quite got it working so I had been pulled in as a reluctant "expert". After much investigation I found that the problem was within my realms of expertise, they had put the 9v battery in the wrong way around, and managed to get the electric violin and K on their way with screeching, wailing and other noises that most people never knew a violin could make.
I went into the kitchen and began to do my thing. The love of a parent is an unconditional love, but mine was being tested to its limits. K, the 11 year old, has been playing the violin for some years and is now quite good, but had never played an electric version before. A, the 13 year old, has been playing the drums for some years and is also a good player. I can listen with genuine pride to A playing the drums or to K playing the violin.
However, the combination that they had put together was tough on the ears of even me, their loving Dad. They had chosen to play "Yesterday", a song that K plays on her normal acoustic violin. A was playing along to it on the drums, my electric kit. Now on the acoustic violin it sounds quite pleasing, a lovely melody that most people recognise played in a subtle and smooth manner. On the electric violin, which was amplified for the first time, it sounded a bit like Jimi Hendrix playing the Star Spangled Banner but deciding to do a heavier version with more feedback and effects than the version we all know so well. On top of that was a funky little drum groove that would have fitted quite nicely on top of a Britney Spears song.
It was one of those occasions when a parent smiles and gives full marks, maybe more, for effort, knowing full well that the end result wasn't all that pleasing. I continued to chop my onions feeling a mix of pride and discomfort, as if my kids had been the first people ever to discover the effects of running fingernails down a blackboard.
I made a chili - ish mine thing with rice for dinner. Like any good Sri Lankans we all love rice, but K has a very strong love for it, even more than her love for any other food known to man. So, when the rice cooker made its "click" which indicated the rice was ready, K was in the kitchen ready to "sample" it in about half a nanosecond.
"Can I try it Dad?"
"No, go and get the plates and set the table and then you can." I responded in strict parental tones.
"No" said K. " I want to try it, if you don't let me try it I won't get the plates."
I'm wise to this behaviour, I know the way a child's mind works so I was ready for war.
"No, if you don't want to set the table then you won't eat. If you don't eat that's your problem, not mine. In fact there'll be even more for me and A."
I knew I was in an unassailable position. K, faced with the threat of no food would crumple and do whatever she was asked. As her father I know these kind of things and my superior intelligence and years of business experience and negotiation were no match for an smartarse 11 year old.
"Well if you do that I'll call Social Services."
"You what?" I asked.
"I'll call Social Services and report you for mistreating me."
I let her have the rice, then I got the plates.
It's important to know when you're beaten.