I love to read. I love words and the endless combinations writers can employ to engage me, the Reader. For as long as I can remember I have read. The first book I can remember reading was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Rapt, holding my breath – I followed every step of Charlie Bucket’s journey, rapidly turning each page. Consumed whole by the story, I felt that I was Charlie Bucket.
I wished for days, months, years after that – that I would find that Golden Ticket and be transported to a land of chocolate waterfalls and square sweets that looked round. Even now when I open a chocolate bar – my inner child recalls the memory of that book.
My home life was difficult and in the pages of each book I read I found new and different worlds I could escape too. I was one of the Famous Five, travelling to Kirren Island. I joined Mrs Frisby Mouse on her encounters with the Rats of NIMH as she looked for a solution to save first her poorly child and then the Rats themselves. I crept through dark passages with Bilbo Baggins, endlessly transcribing the runes and writing my own secret messages. I suffered terribly with Katy when she fell off her swing – and marvelled at her resilience and how she just kept on going. I wept with Anne when she first arrived at Green Gables, identifying with just how out of place and unsure of herself she was. Every book and the characters in it became my friends and guides.
In the pages of those books I found me. Looking back I can see how those characters helped to shape my own. There are reoccurring themes of resilience in the face of adversity and difficulty. That you as an individual are responsible for the outcome of your own life – no matter what obstacles you might face. But also, the recognition, as in the story of Charlie Bucket – that when an opportunity comes along, you have to grab it with both hands- because you never know where it will take you.
A will start secondary school in September. There is only a short period of ‘childhood’ left. It feels too quick, too fleeting.
Whilst I have been concocting in my head what the perfect childhood should be – I find that most of it has actually been. And the reality is there is no such thing as the ‘perfect childhood’. It isn’t a series of long summers punctuated with adventures and lashings of ginger beer.
Mostly childhood seems to be about frantic mornings trying to locate school bags. Early morning trips to the shop to get milk and the missing items for packed lunches. Lost shoes, hairbands, hairbrushes, insert random item that was needed yesterday here. It is about snot and what’s not. It’s about planning holidays that seem to be over in the blink of an eye – and inevitably don’t live up to the previous years holiday by dint of not being ‘exactly’ the same. It’s about worrying whether their hair and toe nails need trimming. It’s a smorgasbord of worries, laughter and love.
But it’s certainly not perfect.
So I am going to pledge to live in the moment for the next few years. To just enjoy being a parent and to let their childhood be what it is – a journey on the way to adulthood to which I have the utmost privilege to experience with them.
Life is complex and these issues are complex.
What is important is that people are open to discussion and education.
I don’t believe people want to be ‘bad’ parents – yet inadequate parenting exists. Usually stemming from complex historical and social factors.
Parenting can exacerbate issues around special needs – because the type of parenting needed is relentless and may need (often lacking) specialist input/training.
Parenting can cause behavioural issues in ‘normal’ children – because the parents (through no fault of their own) may lack the background/support/education/input needed to be better parents.
The idea that parents have some omnipotent and omniscient control over their children is a damaging one – and stems from the history of the psychology of childhood – a lot of which is just theorising, constantly changing – and at the end of the day we just don’t know.
For a long time parents of children with special needs have been blamed. From Kanner’s theory of ‘refrigerator moms’ who were deemed to be cold and unresponsive to their children, causing them to become autistic. (remember this resulted in these children being taken away from their parents and put into institutions) – the ripples of these, now very discredited theories, are still trotted out time and time again.
We still don’t really understand the complex issues around neurological differences. These differences manifest themselves in many different ways. In fact our understanding today, may very well be looked upon in 100 years as blatantly wrong.
What I do know is that there is not one right way. That there is no perfect way to parent. That we could all do very well by trying to step outside of our own nuclear family sometimes and remember we are part of wider communities. That a bit of empathy can go a very long way. And that teaching our children to be empathetic to the needs of others will create a stronger and more cohesive society.
The start of a New Year is always full of promise. I try to think about the preceding year and take stock of what I have learnt – and then use that to form the basis of tentative resolutions for the coming year.
Those resolutions seem to be the same every year and fall into three categories – Be healthy, be productive and be nice – or at least Try To Be. Try to Be seems on reflection to be very zen. To refer to the here and now with a pinch of living in the moment.
Perhaps that’s it – the tip top, umbrella, Big Daddy resolution –
Try to Be.