Ask Dotty: How I can cope with my child’s unwelcome obsessions?

If Suburbia is a jungle, parentdom is a cage. Dotty LaFou knows this, so it’s best you take her sagely advice onboard. Or else.


 How I can cope with my child’s unwelcome obsessions?


Dear Dotty,

My 12-year-old son wants to be an entomologist and keeps bringing various creepy crawlies into the house to study them. But insects unnerve me and I’d like to discourage his obsession. Any advice?

Vanessa, Macquarie Fields


Darling Vanessa,

I know exactly how you feel: insects can be quite unnerving, although I’m sure they play a role in that circle of life idea Elton John sang about once. Personally, I don’t mind Christmas beetles and butterflies – and without bees how would we possibly sweeten our porridge? – but cockroaches give me the heebie-jeebies and I avoid wasps; but of course don’t we all? I know I can be of service because I’ve been through something similar. Well not exactly similar, but let’s not split hairs here because that wouldn’t be helpful and I’m nothing if not helpful. Now, as you’re probably aware, I dislike talking about myself because I’m conscious of not crossing any lines and all that sort of professional palaver, but just this once I’m going to break my own rule because dear troubled Vanessa, I understand what you’re going through. And your load will be lifted, I simply guarantee it!

When my only child, my dearest daughter Clémence was about 12, she developed a passion for geography. It took me quite a while to determine that she wasn’t using inappropriate language. Why, I well recall the day she came to me and her father, my beloved late husband Edouardo, and starting rattling off words the likes of which I’d never heard in my life. Words like Thimphu, Tegucigalpa and Vilnius.

Ouagadougou was one such word and it shocked me to the core. I was almost speechless, which is saying something let me assure you darling. “Clémence,” I exclaimed, horrified by the sound of this word, which sounded utterly obscene, “stop that at once. I will not hear such filth in my own home and from the mouth of a mere child!”

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Clémence laughed in my face. Laughed! I was nearly apocalyptic (mmm, or do I mean apoplectic? I really must consult a dictionary before I send this to my devoted, hard-working editor. He’s such a sweetheart, he’ll sort it out. Oh wait, I’m sure they mean the same thing, so he won’t need to bother. Heavens, he’s kept busy enough sorting through all the letters sent to me without having to worry about whether I’m using the right word, when we all know I am). Anyway, strangely enough Clémence’s laughter didn’t appear to upset Edouardo in the least and he sat there, an expectant look on his face as if he was waiting for the curtain to go up in the theatre. Well, I’m not ashamed to admit that in fact I learned something that day. My daughter sat me down and told me she was learning the names of all the capital cities of the world.

It transpires that Ouagadougou is not a dirty word at all, but actually the capital of a small African nation called Burkina Faso. Apparently it used to be called Upper Voltage or Upper Volvo, something like that, but changed its name in the 1980s. Seriously, I wish I’d known that before. So now when I hear words like Ulaanbaatar, Doha, Lusaka or Bloviation, I assume they’re capital cities of somewhere or other. Clémence went on to study geography at one of the best universities in Malabo, or was it Mogadishu? Mali? Mozambique? Oh dear, it starts with an M; I’m having a mental blank at the moment. Her studies were cut short when she married Dennis some years ago and joined him in his real estate business, but she’s determined to get back to that part of the world to become a proper geographer. And wouldn’t she make the most fabulous contestant in a capital-cities-of-the-world-based competitive reality show? Oh yes, if anyone could do it, it would be my Clémence.

My point, darling Vanessa, is that you must be strong and give your son some space to indulge his insecty passion because he could grow up to become a famous entomologist. Wouldn’t that be marvellous! He might engage in important research about mosquitoes and how to stop malaria and other disagreeable diseases. And just imagine if he found a new species of dragonfly or perhaps ladybird – they’re so pretty. You know, I have a lovely pair of ladybird earrings, and if your son ever does discover a new species of ladybird and names it after you, his wonderful supportive mother, then perhaps I’ll send them to you as a gift. Oh yes, it would absolutely be my pleasure.

Glad to have been of help. Ta ta for now.


 How I can cope with my child’s unwelcome obsessions?

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