Guardians of childhood

Recently I went to the cinema with my mum and daughter. We watched ‘A Streetcat Named Bob’. I read the book a long time ago, and all I really remembered was that a homeless person found a most marvellous cat and it gave him hope to get his life back on track. What I entirely forgot was that it also deals with the subject of heroin addiction and recovery. Post film, this prompted a really interesting conversation with my daughter who wanted to understand why he suddenly became very ill, and I explained the process of withdrawal to her. Afterwards, it occurred to me this was one of the hard conversations that happen during the process of growing up. Explaining to your child that the world is not straightforward and there are harsh things out there feels really bleak. It is also important not to overwhelm and to counter this with all the amazing things too. Of which there are many. And then I thought about the easier ‘hard’ conversations that I have engaged in with my daughter.

Father Christmas. The Easter Bunny. And most specifically, The Tooth Fairy. And whether or not these noble warriors of children’s existences, are actually real. For the most part, I have always taken the philosophical approach with my daughter, if we can talk about something, then it exists at some level. And then if further conversation was necessary, we would talk about if dreams or ideas were real.

This is where the conversation has become interesting for me. There seemed to be a clear separation in my daughter’s mind about reality. She understands that there is a physical manifestation and there is also the non-physical, which is somehow less real but seems to have a good deal of validity. I guess we have always had these sorts of conversations, even when she was smaller. Possibly my favourite ponder of my child was when she was around five. We had just entered the car park where we lived, there were lots of spaces. She said ‘If you go into a car park and there is only space, then that is not a choice. One choice isn’t a choice at all’. Clearly, as an adult, I can see the wider applications of her words, but I often wonder if she did as well.

We have now had the logistical chat about the existence of ideas, and other than Father Christmas (who is based on an actual person, which makes him somewhat more contentious than the other characters) we are all good. I generally think that when a child asks a question, they are ready for an answer. Maybe not the most complex one, but one that is without fabrication and definitely holds some element of truth.

Map Point. What questions do I still want to ask?


Childhood ‘lasts’

Last week my daughter smacked her hand hard against the edge of the pool as she was completing a length of backstroke. Her friend came and told me and I went to her, she was cradling her hand, and had the kind of muffled sobs, that denote serious pain. I cuddled her (being careful of the hand) and I then dressed her. It occurred to me that it had been a very long time since I had rolled up socks so you can get them onto a child’s foot easier. It was a massively nostalgic moment, and I commented on it, to which my child made some sort of funny. Her hand was utterly fine except for a minor bruise that took a few days to come out, but it reminded me just how many ‘lasts’ there are for the parent during childhood.

My friend Maggie once observed that the last time that your child holds your hand, you won’t know it’s the last time. That level of need, that level of looking to you for safety, warmth and reassurance is never so physically pronounced as it is during childhood. There will come a time where the nightmares no longer wake your child in the night, when they no longer need help tying a shoe or reaching to a shelf for the colouring pencils. They have learnt all these skills for themselves.

It can be easy to view these as a loss, and sometimes, during waves of nostalgia, I feel that keenly. But I also accept that as much as these are ‘lasts’ for me, they are ‘firsts’ for her. I have taught her some of these skills, others she has worked out for herself, she has built confidence in what she can do and resilience and determination to see these things through. And my idle memories irrespective, I am immensely proud of and interested in the young person that I have the privilege to raise.

I guess there are many new ‘firsts’ that I will get to experience in the coming teenage years and am sure these will be a whole new learning curve for us both. Possibly in quite interesting ways! For me, it is trying to appreciate the actuality of the present moment, without thinking too far behind or ahead.

Map Point. Where in my life am I fully living in the present?