Tag Archives: children

Small Imaginations Hold the Most

When I was a little girl, one of my favourite stories was by Astrid Lindgren, and it was called ‘Nils Karlsson, the Elf.’

Image: gimmesumhunny.wordpress.com - also on this blog, there is a full transcript of the story, which pleased me hugely. I hadn't read it in a long, long time before this morning.

Image: gimmesumhunny.wordpress.com – also on this blog, there is a full transcript of the story, which pleased me hugely. I hadn’t read it in a long, long time before this morning.

It tells the story of a lonely little boy named Bertil, left alone each day while his parents go out to work. Beneath his bed is a nail, which – when he touches it and says a magic word – makes him small enough to play with a tiny elf named Nils Karlsson who happens to live in his bedroom. So, the story tells us, Bertil was lonely and afraid no more when his parents left him alone, because now he had a friend to keep him company, and the whole world looked new and different when he was no bigger than a thumb.

I loved that story then, and I love it now. I love it because it makes me realise how much a child’s imagination can hold – how many worlds, how many characters, how much magic. I loved it particularly because Bertil can grow big again when he’s finished playing, and so he has his parents on one hand, and the magical world of Nils Karlsson on the other. That, to me, was the perfect story.

This past weekend, my husband and I visited one of his oldest friends, a man whom my husband has known since they were both about four years old. This is particularly wonderful because my husband’s friend now has a daughter who has just turned four, as well as a little son who is just over eighteen months old. It was amazing to see my husband and his friend fall into the speech patterns and comfortable-ness of their shared youth while his wife and I played with the children – and by played, I do mean played. The four-year-old has an imagination the size of eternity.

During the few hours we spent together, this little girl, her brother, her Mummy and me took a plane journey across another galaxy in order to find a beach in China where we could swim with all our clothes on. We had a safety belt to hold us in our seats (which, when not moonlighting as airline security equipment, is a skipping rope); we had one ‘crash helmet’ (which was a witch’s hat left over from Halloween) which we had to share between us; we suffered alien attacks, volcanic eruptions, inter-stellar fuel difficulties and a severe make-believe coffee shortage until, finally, we arrived at our magic beach.

It was the most fun I’ve had in a long, long time.

I was amazed to hear the constant patter of chat from this tiny girl, all the time making up more and more elaborate tales, constructing story world after story world, taking changes and twists into account. Everything became magical – her scooter became a rocket, her parents’ bedroom a mighty sea. Her own bedroom was a magical cave. She read to me from her books, and told me better stories than the ones written on the page.

And then, like Bertil from my favourite story, when she wanted to return to her ‘own’ world it was a simple matter of refocusing her gaze. Her magic rocket became her scooter again, and her house stopped being an inter-galactic cruise ship just long enough for her to reassure herself that her Mummy and Daddy were still there, or for her to get some juice or finish her dinner. Then, when she wanted it to, her beautiful imaginary world clicked back into place and it was all systems go once more.

I think there’s something very profound in that little lesson.

It also made me wonder whether my own imagination, old and dessicated as it has become, is big enough and flexible enough to hold all the worlds that children can imagine so effortlessly, and so fluidly. I can but try.

Image: omtimes.com

Image: omtimes.com

(Note: my husband drew my attention to this article, a blog in Scientific American, about the value of pretend play to a child’s development. It’s very interesting, and rather relevant to my own little post. So, check it out if you like!)

Spooktacular!

It’s Hallowe’en again!

Michelle Pfeiffer, you're looking well!  Image: fanpop.com

MWAHAHAHAHAHAAAA!! Image: fanpop.com

The older I get, the more I enjoy this ‘holiday’, if it can be called that. I have had my little goodie bags wrapped up and ready to go for almost two weeks, awaiting our hordes of teeny tiny callers later tonight, and we have actually decorated the house this year. I know, I know, we’re falling for the hype – blahdiblah – but really. What does it matter if we’re helping a few local kids have a good time? Not to mention, of course, that it’s a whole lot of fun for us, too. Last year we had a tiny speck of a child, barely able to totter on her little feet, dressed up as a pumpkin. A pumpkin. I have yet to see anything cuter. (She got two goodie bags, but don’t tell anyone.)

Image: decorationforlife.com

Image: decorationforlife.com

Before all the fun begins later tonight, though, I have a lot to do. I am still trying to work out a story for the Walking on Thin Ice Short Story Contest, which I may have mentioned once or twice in passing (have you entered yet? Get on it!); writing my entry is proving a little more complex than I anticipated. I’m not sure why, because the theme is something about which I feel strongly. Perhaps, indeed, that’s the problem – I am too emotionally invested in the idea of mental health, and the oppression of those who suffer due to their mental health. I want to write a story which is authentic and which says something, not only about me but about the ethos of the competition, and it’s not as easy as it looks. I’ve written two stories now, and drafted them both at least ten times, but they’re still not right.

Sigh.

Anyway. Tomorrow is the start of NaNoWriMo – which is terrifying and brilliant in equal measure – and I’ve been thinking a lot about my project over the past few days. I’ve managed to plot out a little more of the story, but there’s still a huge Terra Incognita in the middle, between our heroine’s dramatic escape and the tension-filled dénouement; I’m hoping that the story will tell itself as I go. It’s a foolproof plan. It couldn’t possibly go wrong. Right?

One thing I do not have yet is a title for this new opus.

How about…

THE ICE KING

Nah. Or maybe…

THE CREATURE IN THE NORTH

Too general? How about…

THE WHITE FLOWER AND THE FROZEN GOD

Too long and complicated? Sheesh. Coming up with titles is thirsty work.

If you have any suggestions, let’s hear ’em. You might have guessed that the story will involve ice, north-ness, and frozen stuff. Oh, and a little girl called Emmeline Widget, just because.

Good luck with your entries for the Walking on Thin Ice Short Story Contest (I haven’t forgotten, you know), and with everything else you may be getting up to on this fine autumnal Thursday. I hope you have a scarily wonderful day!*

Image: goodhousekeeping.com

Image: goodhousekeeping.com

*Apologies. I couldn’t resist. Have a great day, if you prefer.

The Difficult Things

**Content warning: This blog post touches on material which some may find offensive or upsetting, and carries a link to a newspaper article about online pornography and its effect on young people. It may not be suitable for younger readers.** 

I recently read an article somewhere which asked the question: ‘Why are books for young people full of stories about the Difficult Things in life, such as abuse and bullying and death and loss and pain? Why can’t we just write stories about nice things, so that young people can read them and be inspired to be nice?‘ (Or, words to that effect. I may be paraphrasing, here.)

Then, at the weekend, I read a newspaper feature which took as its subject the ubiquity of pornography and how easy it is for young people to access it, whether it be on their computers or on their smartphones or at school, among their friends. Leaving aside my own feelings about pornography – because it’s unimportant to what I’m trying to say here – I found the article to be terrifying. I wasn’t unaware of the phenomenon, because I try to follow the trends of teenage life in order to inform my work, but I was still appalled by some of what I read.

Iamge: joobworld.com

Image: joobworld.com

The article outlined the sort of thing that young people – both girls and boys – are looking at on a daily basis, and it outlined the kind of behaviour they display after a diet of such material. One parent described how her son went into a fit of shrieking and shaking, followed by deep, visceral and destructive anger when she tried to remove his access to his computer; he was acting ‘like an addict’, as she described it. Another contributor described how her friend’s nine-year-old came home from school and told his mother that he and his friends had been talking about ‘boy things’ that day at lunchtime. When pressed, the child revealed they’d been discussing rape. When asked to define his understanding of the word, the little boy said that it meant ‘forcing a girl to do sex and then killing her.’

This child was nine, just in case you missed it.

The landscape that children and teenagers are growing up in is a vastly different one, in some ways, from the landscape in which people of my generation found their way into adulthood. We had pornography, sure. We had dangers, and we had concerns about our bodies, and we had bullying, and we had curiosity about adulthood and sexuality – the same as young people do nowadays. What we didn’t have was immediate and free access to the most depraved and violent material the internet can offer in order to feed this desire to learn about what it meant to be grown up; we didn’t have that, and I am thankful for it.

The ways in which modern pornography teaches young people to think about themselves and other people borders on the sociopathic, in my view. I am not an expert, of course, but it seems clear to me that young people are digesting image after image and movie after movie encouraging them to think of other people as objects, existing merely to provide them – the viewer – with a service. The idea of consent is non-existent; the idea of mutual enjoyment, let alone love, is non-existent. Women are brutalised and discarded, men are creatures of appetite and exist merely to destroy, and both are depicted as being impossibly ‘perfect’ in terms of their bodily appearance – in itself, a dreadful thing to be allowed take root in teenagers’ psyches.

Image: thedailyedge.com

Image: thedailyedge.com

I don’t know what the answer to this is. As I see it, not enough adults and parents are even aware of – or, wish to face up to – the fact that this is a real problem. Kids looking at pornography is not new; ‘we all did it when we were their age’ is the common reply when you try to sound a warning. That is true – but the type of material young people are watching is very different to the sort of thing that was around when their parents were growing up. Whatever the relative harmlessness of the pornography available in their parents’ generation, the type of thing young people are encountering today is less about sex than it is about violence, and less about titillation than it is about destruction and inflicting pain. It is new, and thrilling, and absorbing; ‘everyone’ is watching it, and so a child who is uninitiated may be pressured to watch, or forced to. It is very difficult to avoid something if the majority of your peers are doing it, and this has always been true. Kids egg each other on to watch ever more and more brutal material; smartphones and tablets with super-fast WiFi connections get passed around at lunchtime behind the bike-shed. It’s a long way from a copy of ‘Playboy’ magazine stolen from your older brother.

Children are watching things they do not understand, and for which they are not ready. Children are watching things that are warping their expectations of sex and relationships, and which are forming their opinions of themselves and one another. Boys are watching women being degraded and tormented, and trying to square that with their lived experience of having female teachers, female friends, sisters, mothers and grandmothers. Girls are watching men dominate and brutalise women, and are struggling to figure out how their brothers, fathers, and friends fit into that model of manhood. Both boys and girls are learning that other people do not matter – it is all about your appetite, your needs, and whatever the other person wants or does not want is immaterial. Is that the sort of world we want to give to the next generation? What sort of world will they create?

Books for children and young people should not be afraid to tackle important and painful subjects. There should be no beating around the bush. Children are living in a world which is as frightening as it is wonderful, and as full of inexplicable things as it is happiness and laughter. A child may have nowhere else to turn but books to try to make sense of his or her world; the life they are living may bear no resemblance to stories about missing puppies or stolen rainbows. Children are living in a strange new world and they deserve literature which is equal to it. They need a place to deal with what they’re seeing, and they need to know they’re not alone if they’re struggling to cope. Adults need to realise and be sensitive to what young people are going through, and they definitely need to stop belittling the lived experience of young people. Writing stories worthy of their young readers is one way to help with that.

Facing up to what they’re going through is another.

 

 

 

 

One of the newspaper articles I read which inspired this blog post is here; adults looking for advice on how to help their children can check out http://www.ispcc.ie, and young people looking for help with any aspect of growing up can check out http://www.childline.ie.

It’s the Little Things

Lots of things in life bother me. I’m one of those people where ‘the river runs close to the surface,’ if you know what I mean; I am emotional, and sometimes I find myself shedding a tear where other people would go unmoved. If I’m honest, I like this aspect of my personality, though I know it upsets my loved ones at times. I like the fact that I feel things deeply, even though it’s painful; it makes me feel connected to myself, and to others.

Image: 123rf.com

Image: 123rf.com

At the weekend, I was standing at traffic lights waiting for a chance to cross the road in safety. Facing me, coming in the opposite direction, was a set of young parents and their two boys, probably aged about seven and five. I’m not a parent, but I’m more than aware of how boisterous and energetic children of this age can be, and these two little boys were no different from the average kid. One of them started pressing the ‘Walk’ button repeatedly, as children do, and the other was prancing about from foot to foot, singing a little song to himself. Just as I was thinking what cute children they were, I witnessed a show of anger from the parents that left me reeling. The children were shoved and shouted at, and the boy with his hand on the ‘Walk’ button had it forcibly removed. The singing child was yelled at and told to shut up. As they started to cross the road, one boy dawdled, his attention caught by something in one of the idling cars, and his father grabbed him and shoved him across the road with what I felt was unnecessary force, shouting at him all the way. In no point was the child in danger – the green ‘walk’ signal was lit, and the cars were not moving. The physicality was extreme and unwarranted, I thought. I glared at the man, and said, very clearly, ‘there’s no need for that!’ as we passed one another on the road – he ignored me, of course. I hardly expected anything else. I’m fully prepared to accept that my actions may not have been appropriate; it’s not for me to say how anyone else raises their children, and I know that. Having said that, I watched the two little boys as they reached the far side of the road; from being the curious, singing little things they’d been at the beginning of this scenario, now they were both crying and angry. The whole family was furious with one another, and it radiated from them like steam from boiling water.

I walked home feeling so sad at what I’d seen. It stayed on my heart all day, weighing it down.

There’s a poem called ‘Children Learn What they Live,’ which played on my mind for most of the rest of the weekend. It begins: ‘If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn; if a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight; if a child lives with fear, he learns to be apprehensive.’ I’ve often read this poem and it has always been clear to me how perceptive and true it is. It makes me wonder how a parent thinks treating their child with aggression can lead to anything but pain, or how they think that a child is going to grow up as a happy, contented and secure adult if they’ve felt bullied and belittled all their lives.

Before I continue, I want to make it clear that I’m not suggesting that the family I saw was abusive, or anything like that. Every family has its bad moments, and perhaps I simply happened to be there at the wrong time for this particular family. I’m also not saying that children shouldn’t be corrected when they misbehave; teaching a child how to negotiate the world with respect for themselves and others is a vital part of parenting, and discipline is part of that. For the record, I don’t believe in physical discipline of children, but I know opinions differ on that. I feel, too, that correcting a child’s misbehaviour with appropriate discipline is different from using them as punchbags for an adult’s own feelings of anger or upset or frustration; the latter is inexcusable.

Of course I would love to see a world where no child would ever know aggression, whether it’s verbal or physical, but we’re all aware of how realistic that dream is.

Image: 123rf.com

Image: 123rf.com

I have a huge amount of sympathy for parents who, under pressure from every corner, find raising their children difficult; it’s not easy to find the money and the time and the energy to parent energetic, never-sleeping, inquisitive little people. There are going to be times when tempers boil over and anger reaches flashing point and things are said which will be regretted later – but it’s really important to express this regret, and ‘mend the fences’, and reassure the child that they are still, and always, loved. Love is such a little thing – such a short word, and so often bandied about – but at the same time it’s the single most important thing a parent can give their child. I’d go so far as to say it’s the single most important thing one person can give another.

I would love to see a situation where every child was afforded an education, the chance to learn how to read and write fluently and confidently, and the knowledge that – no matter what – they are loved. Imagine the generation of happy, compassionate and intelligent people we would raise.

Imagine the difference it would make to the world.

Image: 123rf.com

Image: 123rf.com

 

 

 

 

Wednesday Write-In #35

This week’s prompt words are:

cheesy  ::  breathless  ::   carbon copy  ::  jets  ::  shaving

Image: theoriginalrowanmccabe.wordpress.com

Image: theoriginalrowanmccabe.wordpress.com

The Barber’s Daughter

She wet the shaving brush, and when the bristles were good and soaked, she knew it was time to get the lather going. She’d seen her dad do this so many times that it was second nature to her now. He made it look so easy, though – his fingers didn’t slip on the brush’s wet handle, and his hands were big enough to keep a tight grip on the hard block of shaving soap. She transferred the frothy soap to the battered-looking mug hanging by the sink, the one Dad used on himself; it wasn’t fancy enough to use in the shop. He wouldn’t miss this one.

She was breathless as she carefully smeared the foam all over her face, just the way she’d seen Dad do it. The bristles of the brush were rough against her skin, like metal wires. Up one cheek, sweeping under the chin, lathered some more on the rough whiskers there, then up the other cheek. She dabbed at her moustache hairs, hearing Dad’s voice in her head, chatting away about the weather and the local football team, telling his usual cheesy jokes with their silly punchlines, singing songs about rebels, fighters, and the girls they left behind, all as he shaved and combed and cut. She smiled to herself as she listened.

Soon it was time to start shaving. Dad’s cut-throat was on the high shelf – not his good one, of course. That was gone. But his second-best one was still here. It’ll need sharpening, she thought as she climbed up to get it. She wished she’d thought of this first, before she’d lathered up her face – it was starting to fall off, and some of the suds were trickling down the neck of her dress. Seconds later, she had the razor in her hand. She pivoted the blade out of the handle. It was speckled with tiny blooms of rust, neglected and forlorn. Not for long, she told it, grabbing the loose end of the leather that still hung by the wall and pulling it tight. She laid the blade upon it with great reverence. Up towards the strop, her father had told her. Don’t put pressure on the blade, now. She did her best, but the razor skittered and stuttered its way up, bucking in her fingers. When Dad did it, the razor moved as smooth as melted butter up the strap, sharpening and honing the blade as it went, and he’d change direction on the way down to sharpen and clean the other side of the blade. She tried to mimic the flick of his wrist when she got to the top, but it was easier said than done. The blade bit into the leather, leaving a gash too small for an ordinary person to notice, but her father would spot it straight away. The second he came home, the first thing he’d see – before he’d even kissed her hello – would be this damage. Her heart began to pound.

She felt hot, and weak, and silly. The foam was beginning to itch. She took the blade away from the strap, and let it hang back by the wall. The razor would just have to do as it was. She was sure it was sharp enough.

She faced herself in the tiny, buckled mirror, the one in which everything seemed a little bit off to one side. She tilted her head and pulled her jaw askew to better present her face to the blade, and she carefully lowered it to her skin.

‘What in the name of God do you think you’re doing?’ Her fingers locked on the handle of the razor as she heard her mother’s voice. ‘You stupid child! Put that razor down this minute!’

The next second, her mother’s warm fingers were wrapped around her own, and the razor was being taken away. A flannel was doused under the cold tap and her face was cleaned of foam. She couldn’t help but see that Mum slipped the razor into her apron pocket. It doesn’t go there! she thought, with a wave of hatred. Dad never lets you touch his things! But Mum couldn’t hear her, of course.

‘You’re a carbon copy of that man,’ her mother muttered. ‘You’re him, cut short.’ There was a wobble in her voice, and the girl looked up. Her mother was crying, tears oozing out through her squashed-closed eyes, rolling down her reddened cheeks. A curl had come loose from her hair. She’d tried to do it herself instead of going to Mrs. Johnstone to have it set properly, but it hadn’t worked.

‘What were you doing with the razor, Bet?’ her mother asked, her eyes still shut.

‘Practising, Mum,’ she whispered. ‘So that I’ll be good for when Daddy comes home and he might let me work in the shop with him.’ Her mother’s hand gripped her arm, really tightly. Bet wanted to cry out, but she bit it back.

‘You’re a good girl,’ she said. ‘But I’ve told you about Daddy.’ Her voice skipped like a dusty record. ‘I’ve told you he’s gone, Bet, on the jet plane. He’s gone far away.’

‘Yes, Mum,’ she said. ‘But I’m practising for when he’s back.’ Mothers can be so silly, she thought. If someone goes away, they come back after a while. And Dad would be so proud of how good and helpful she was going to be when he came home, that he’d never even think of going away again. She tried to explain all this to Mum, but her eyes stayed closed. Her tears kept squeezing their way through.

Bet leaned her head on Mum’s shoulder and looked out past the kitchen, where the shop door was, its round window dark. Soon, the sunlight would come streaming through it again, and Dad would be standing there, his sleeves rolled up and his black head shining with pomade. She saw him look up and smile at her, his eyes saying Good girl, my girl. She smiled back, and let her mother weep.

Writing Ethics

Today, something slightly odd is on my mind. Despite this, though, I’m confident that someone, somewhere, has thought about this very same issue and has come up with some conclusions, so I just want to throw this post out into the ether and hope for the best. In a lot of ways, today’s question is related to the ideas I talked about here, but I think it deserves its own post.

Here it is. Do you ever worry about the ethics of what you write?

A couple of days ago, I started writing a short story. It began innocently enough, with my narrator reminiscing about a lovely summer she’d experienced as a child, where the sky was always blue and most of her time was spent on the beach, or hanging out with her friends. However, as the story progressed I realised I was doing something rather larger than writing a short story. I was, in fact, talking to myself about something that had actually happened, a real-life tragedy; I was writing a fictionalised memoir of a very sad event that took place in my home town a long time ago. As a result I began to wonder if it was right, or fair, or proper, for me to take an event like that and use it as I saw fit in order to create a piece of writing out of it. I’m still not sure.

Image: amazon.co.uk

Image: amazon.co.uk

The very sad event in question involved a tragic accident where young lives were lost, suddenly and terribly. Of course, I realise that the story I wrote may never (and, for a variety of reasons, probably never will) be read by any eyes except mine, so the issue is largely moot, but the question is still nagging at me. Is it fair, or right, to make use of real-life events, particularly sad events, to create a story?

The story I wrote doesn’t slavishly follow each detail of the event as it actually happened, but creates a world where a similar accident takes place. Characters are invented, timelines are shifted around, and the people in the story are older than the real-life players. Nevertheless it is, I suppose, my attempt at fumbling my way through the jumble of emotions that I obviously still carry with me surrounding this event. I know most stories have a grain of truth somewhere in them, and may be sparked off by a real-life happening, but I’ve never before written a story which had such a firm basis in fact. I’m not sure it’s something I’d like to do again. I feel, in some ways, like it’s a violation of the memory of those who passed away, and that it’s disrespectful to their families and those who dearly loved them. Now that I think about it, I’m not even sure why my feelings run so deep. Perhaps it’s just because of the emotive subject itself, and the particular loss that I remember experiencing at the time.

Another story I’m currently working on features a child – probably about twelve or so – who is being bullied at school. I’m trying to create a story where the child finds the courage to stand up to his bullies, but I’m concerned about whether that’s the ‘right’ thing to do or not. Should a story ‘teach’ a child to take certain actions in the face of aggressive behaviour? Should the story fall in line with whatever is stated in the official guidelines provided by schools, or failing that, the State, or whomever else? I’ve written this story, and I’m happy with it, but I’m hesitating to send it around to publishers. I’m just not sure it’s right, and I’m also not sure if I should be worrying so much about this issue.

I realise writers can’t tailor their work to suit an agenda, and they have to write whatever they feel drawn to. Despite this, do any of the questions I’m raising here make sense to anyone else? If you’ve experienced an ethical dilemma in your work, how did you solve it? Do you even agree that what I’m describing counts as an ‘ethical’ dilemma? Writing shouldn’t be didactic, of course, but I think it can sometimes be a fine line when the audience you’re writing for is composed of children and their parents. While what you’re writing shouldn’t teach, or preach, I’m not sure it should exhibit behaviours or thought processes which would be alien to the children’s experience or their parents’ wishes either.

I think I’m going to put away my story about the summer, and leave it to posterity. It will be my private memorial to a quiet, personal pain. Even if it’s not unethical to write a story based around a sad event like this one, I don’t feel it’s appropriate to make work like that public. Perhaps I feel this way because of the nature of the event itself; I’m wondering if this whole issue is bothering me so much because the event is one that had an impact on my life when I was at an impressionable age. Perhaps tragedies that are devastatingly personal (as opposed to historical events, for instance) shouldn’t be made use of in order to create art. Having said that, of course, I didn’t set out to write a story around this particular event – it came, fully formed, out of my brain. So, if there’s something in my mind that needs to be said, who am I to deny it the chance to be expressed?

*sigh* Back to square one.

Opinions? Comments? Flying tomatoes? I’d love to hear your views.

An Important Day

So, in case you’ve missed it (or you haven’t used Google yet and checked out their doodle), it’s International Women’s Day today. Happy IWD!

Image: swc-cfc-gc.ca

Image: swc-cfc-gc.ca

In a lot of ways I wish this day wasn’t necessary. I’m not naïve enough, however, to think that it’s not still needed by women all over the world. I am lucky (and I know exactly how lucky I am) to have the luxury of a life where I am cherished and loved, and where I live each day free from terror. I don’t have to worry about violence, either from a family member or a government agency or any other institution; I don’t have to worry about overt (or covert) sexism or discrimination. Having said that, Ireland isn’t a utopia in terms of its treatment of women, by any means. There are women in my own country who struggle with issues like this on a daily basis. Some of these women don’t even realise that another option exists, because they are denied that knowledge. There are women living in poverty, and trying to raise their children with very little. There are women living with abusers, there are women who are trained to see themselves as being nothing more than workhorses, and sexism is still alive and well (though, perhaps, more skilfully hidden).

However, I know that Ireland, particularly in comparison with some other countries, is a pretty good place to live. Nobody has any money any more, of course, but we all manage to rub along reasonably well. Despite that, I’m very glad and grateful to live here, and I appreciate the way I was raised, the education I had, and the encouragement I was given to strive and achieve. I’m also grateful for the fact that I lived most of my life in blissful ignorance that girls and boys were any different, or that boys, apparently, were able to do certain things that girls were not. My parents raised my brother and I with exactly the same opportunities and love, and made it very clear that we were equals, both in their eyes and in plain, common fact. I’m not sure they’re even aware of how huge a service they gave both their children; imbuing us with this sense of ‘we are equally important, equally loved, equally capable’ has benefited both of us. It gave my brother the respect for women that he exhibits to this day, and it gave me the sense that I was valued and important. My parents taught me that I mattered, and I wish more parents would give their daughters this sort of love.

We weren’t raised in a rich household – my parents both worked (even though my mother scheduled her hours around our schoolday, so she was always at home when we finished classes for the day), and my brother and I both worked at weekends from the age of fifteen or so, to earn what we needed and (as it turned out) to save for university. Our parents didn’t have the chance to access the same levels of education that my brother and I did, and they are immensely proud that both my brother and I earned graduate university degrees. We couldn’t have done that without their support and encouragement. I may never have developed my inner, burning need to learn without my parents, who raised me without telling me there were any limits on what I could do because I was a girl. My parents did raise me with traditional values – including the importance of keeping a home, caring for children, respecting myself – but I’m grateful to them for that education, too. I’m grateful to them because they didn’t just teach me those things, and then consider me ‘educated’. Despite the fact that they had their misgivings about me going away to university, they recognised the need in me to learn, and they supported my choices. From an early age they read to me and encouraged my schoolwork; as I grew up, they listened attentively as I told them all about my university work. Finally, they sat misty-eyed and proudly clapping as I received my doctoral scroll. They were proud of me all that time.

I know not every woman in the world gets this sort of background. I wish they did. If they did, I have a feeling a lot of the world’s problems could be excised at a stroke. I also wish more men in the world could be raised as my brother was, and that there were more men in the world like my brother right now. If events like International Women’s Day could show parents the value of raising their children with love, respect and tenderness, encouraging their dreams and celebrating their successes, regardless of the child’s gender, then I’m all for it. Perhaps that’s why I wish there was no need for International Women’s Day, though – it’s a shame we can’t just have ‘International Achievement Day’, celebrating everyone’s achievements equally. As much as I am in favour of encouraging young women, I hate the thought that we might be guilty of encouraging our daughters at the expense of our sons.

We are all important. We are all equal. We all matter.

Image: lotusinspirations.blogspot.com

Image: lotusinspirations.blogspot.com