When I was about 15 I decided that what I couldn’t go even one more day without painting my bedroom purple. A beautiful, strong, rich pinky purple. And not only that, to really, really set the colour off, it also needed spray painted silver spots. Lovely.

But what – I hear you cry – about the ceiling?! A pinky/purple bedroom with spray paint silver spots can’t just have a white ceiling. Of course not, I would have scoffed knowingly. To really, really get the full effect, the ceiling would be completely covered with lightly scrunched silver foil carefully stuck between the many, many 600 year old beams that my little bedroom possessed (mercifully even I felt that painting the actual beams might not be a good idea!)

My parents – the all-powerful rulers of four spirited daughters – gave us as much freedom as possible. The theory, I think, being that the fewer rules we had to kick against, the more we would fall back onto our common sense. A surprisingly effective tactic it turned out! They also, unlike many of my friend’s parents, felt that our bedrooms were our own private spaces and that, beam painting aside, we should have free rein for self expression.

Thus armed with a large pot of, frankly quite beautiful paint, two large aerosols of silver spray paint and the village shop’s entire stock of silver foil, I set to work.

As you can imagine, the result was, well, pretty unforgettable – and, I felt, really set off my Nirvana posters, pink trimmed diamante tiaras and inflatable arm chair. Marvellous.

In fact I was so very taken with the end result that I found myself standing in the family kitchen a few days later looking wonderingly at the eau de nil walls and not quite understanding why anyone wouldn’t want their kitchen along a similar theme.

Happily, luck was on my side as I decided in that moment that I would bestow this great gift of colour and style upon my parents. And fortunately – or perhaps, not so fortunately for them – they were out for the day. I knew that the huge building project which would rejig and then sadly redecorated each room of the house was only a few weeks off commencing but I still felt my family would love a purple kitchen even for that short time. I really, truly, honestly thought that they would be thrilled.

With over half a can of my precious pain left, I set to. Walls, doors and door frames, window frames cupboard door handles – everything but the ceiling and the Aga got the Cadbury’s treatment. It was quite a sight although I remember feeling with some sadness, that, without any remaining silver spray paint or silver foil, the effect was not achieved to the same striking degree as my own room.

The final brushstroke had just been applied when mum and dad’s car drove up and I proudly walked them – hands over eyes – into their new and improved kitchen.

Let’s get back to the here and now just for a minute. You’ve popped out for an innocent afternoon in town, walked back into your much-loved home and are confronted by the smell of fresh paint, a visual assault in bright purple and your shining-eyed teenage daughter who is desperate to know how much you love this great gift she has worked so hard on. Even knowing they would only have to live with it for a few weeks until building work commenced couldn’t have made the shock much easier to bear…

How do you react?

Shout angrily and ground me? Say quietly that my next month’s allowance was going to pay for enough magnolia paint to return the kitchen to it’s original colour – and that I would be doing the repainting? Sob quietly in a corner long after the paint smells had left?

Not them. Despite (now) knowing that it was far from a look that they would have chosen (a mild understatement!). Mum and dad paused only for a second and then without a word passing between them, they gave me a huge hug and told me they just LOVED it! I think their exact words were ‘Well! This really IS a surprise! How LOVELY. It must have taken you so long. Thank you for all your hard work! Let’s have a cup of tea. Nice and strong. Or maybe a drink? Thank you darling – what a kind thing to do!’

Can you believe it? They were so convincing that it was actually only when mum and I remembered it laughingly last week that it started to occur to me that perhaps, amazingly, they may have not liked it very much. Or indeed, at all. Or maybe, just maybe, they hated it!

Very funny in it’s retelling and remembering but actually it teaches me, now a parent myself, the very great wisdom of underreacting. Of recognising the times when it’s more important to praise than scold. Of taking a moment to turn what could have (justifiably) been an episode remembered with unhappiness and shame into one that created a warm feeling of achievement and love.

And so it’s with this lesson strongly in my mind that I will try very hard to take a moment when presented with ‘perfume’ by my little boys (ingredients; mud, water, daisy petals and most of a full bottle of Dolce & Gabanna) or when my best work heels are carefully washed in the paddling pool to make them shiny and clean for me – for in twenty years time, these stories will be the little gems remembered so fondly and I’ll be grateful then that, instead of exploding, my underreaction – however hard come by – was one of warmth and gentleness.

So thanks Mum and Dad. And, er… sorry! x

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2 Responses to “Underreacting…”

  1. Johnny Ross

    Very true. Building confidence is hard. Shattering it is very easy. Great story. Made me laugh.


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