Tag Archives: parenting

Crossing Places

A few days ago, while playing among our books, The Toddler pulled out a slim volume which caught my eye. It was a book – or, more truly, a notebook – which I hadn’t seen in a very long time.

A very long time.

winnie-the-pooh-notebook

Photo credit: SJ O’Hart.

This notebook was a gift from my schoolfriends to me on my 17th birthday. In it, they had each written a little note wishing me a happy birthday and how much they were looking forward to celebrating with me; some wished me a bright future, and others shared funny stories (some of the details of which, sadly, have blurred with time). Many put their first names and their surnames, just in case I lost the notebook and didn’t find it again for so long that I’d have forgotten who they were. One spent four pages insulting me in the most colourfully hilarious language imaginable and didn’t bother signing his name because he knew (rightly) that we’d be friends forever and I’d never get around to forgetting him – and his message still made me laugh out loud.

I read it with a huge grin and, if I’m being honest, a few tears too – and not just because my 17th birthday is so long ago now that you’d need a telescope to see it.

This notebook’s reappearance in my life made me think a lot about intersections and choices, the random algorithms that bring people into your life and take them out of it again. I’m delighted that most of the people who wrote in my book are still my friends; a few I haven’t seen in a couple of years, and one I haven’t seen, sadly, since we left school. But I remembered them all, even without the surnames. Each of them was important to me, and many still are – and there’s not one among them I wouldn’t be glad to see again, right now. They’re all (as far as I know) still alive and well, and though most of them still live in Ireland there are a couple who left – one for America, one for the UK – and very few of them still live at home, where we all grew up. We all entered one another’s lives through the simple coincidence of being born at around the same time and either growing up in, or moving to, the same place in time to attend secondary school together. Besides that, we are as disparate a group of people as you could find.

And yet, we are bound to one another forever.

I was thinking, recently, about the ‘quantum’ versions of myself – by which I mean, fancifully, the versions of me which exist in every other imaginable universe. Would I be doing the same things I’m doing here, in this space? Would I be the same person? Would I live in the same place, with the same people? Who’s to know. Every life has its ‘crossing places’, points at which the choices you make determine the path you take. My life has had several of those, some of which I would dearly love to relive. If it were possible, would I take different paths? Would I make different choices? I have some regrets; people I have lost whom I miss, people I loved who never knew it, things I wish I’d had the bravery to do when I had the chance.

And yet, the choices I made have led me here, to this room, in which I’m typing. My child is a few feet away, playing. John Grant is on my stereo. The proof of my first book is sitting on the table beside me. Things are not perfect: the world is far from good. I, like many, have found the last few days very hard, for many reasons. But as lives go, I can’t complain about mine. It has been circuitous and challenging, and I look back on so much of it with a nostalgia bordering on pain, but – in one manner or another – everything I have ever wanted or worked for has come to pass.

But as my child grows, these are the lessons I will impart:

  1. If you love a person, tell them. Even if they don’t love you, and you know it; even if you fear rejection. Tell them, without expectation, because regret is a far heavier burden than embarrassment, and it grows heavier with time.
  2. If you have an opportunity to travel, take it.
  3. Ditto with studying.
  4. In fact, if you have an opportunity to travel and study, take it. With both hands. And don’t worry about how you’ll work things out – you will.
  5. If offered a job you don’t think you can do, try it anyway.
  6. If you want to go on an adventure, do it.
  7. Always treasure your friends.
  8. And never stop working for what you want, fighting for what you believe in, and doing everything you can to help others, as far as you can.

Every life has its crossing places, but hopefully my child’s will have fewer than mine – and, with any luck, friends and friendship will be a big part of it, as they have been for me.

Thank you to my friends, all of them, past and present and future. I’m lucky to have, and to have had, such love.

 

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

 

 

 

 

Love = Risk

I’ve just seen a wonderful Tweet from one of my literary idols, Jeanette Winterson, in which she used the phrase ‘Love = Risk’. I’d been searching for a title for today’s blog post, and when my eye fell on her words, I knew I’d found it.

(By the by, if you’re not familiar with Jeanette Winterson’s work, I really can’t recommend her more highly. Every book she writes is a perfectly crafted jewel, and she does things with language that most people can’t even dream of. The first Winterson book I read was ‘Sexing the Cherry’, which was on a course I did at university – I read it, loved it, and have never looked back. I think my collection of her work is pretty much complete now!

book jacket Sexing the Cherry

But this is all preamble. If this blog post had an editor, I’m sure she’d tell me to cut out all the waffle, and get to the point.

Here’s the point, then.)

Yesterday evening, I watched a beautiful programme on BBC which followed the early life of a lady named Mary Berry, who is a ‘celebrity’ chef in the UK and, in recent years, in Ireland too. I say ‘celebrity’ because she seems a very down-to-earth and unpretentious woman who would probably not relish the drama that goes with being a famous face, and this programme about her life gave me a real insight into where she gets her grounded outlook and her dedication to her family and her craft. She grew up during World War II and was raised in a large house in the English countryside, with parents who gave her everything they possibly could and did their best to ensure she had a happy childhood.

One aspect of her younger days touched me very deeply, however. At one point in the programme, she recounted her relationship with her father, and she spoke of the fact that she and her siblings had spent their childhoods being afraid of him. He seemed an aloof and cold figure, one who believed children should be seen and not heard, and a man who didn’t relish physical contact or shows of affection. Later in the programme, she was given the opportunity to look over some of her medical records – she suffered polio in the late 1940s, along with thousands of other young people in Britain – and a photograph, clipped from a newspaper, was shown to her. It was of her father, and Mary herself, shortly after she’d been released from hospital as a 14-year-old girl. She’d never seen the image before, and was extremely moved by it. Her father is seated on his horse, and Mary stands beside him. He is looking down at her with an expression of such love and devotion, with such soft and caring eyes, that it took Mary by surprise. In the photograph, she’s not looking at her father, and so his expression is lost on her. But the expression on her face as she gazed upon the image of her father, she now far older than he was when the picture was taken, was extremely touching.

This lady had grown up not really believing she’d been loved by her father, just because he was unable to show her how he felt. Her father must have been a man moulded by his time, a time when fathers didn’t show affection and when children weren’t always treated with tenderness. This doesn’t mean that those feelings of love weren’t there – but for silly societal reasons, people didn’t feel free to show their loved ones how much they meant to them. I found it sad that it had taken so long for Ms. Berry to finally see the love her father had for her, but the joy on her face as she realised that, all along, she’d been a treasured daughter was a beautiful thing to witness. I’m sure her father realised how lucky he and his wife were to be able to take their child out of hospital alive, and mostly unmaimed by the illness she’d suffered, and his joyful love was evident in the photograph. Perhaps, though, he could only let his love show in his face when he knew he couldn’t be seen by the object of that love.

Loving someone does involve a huge amount of risk, whether you receive that love in return or not. In fact I think love that is returned to you, or a love you share with someone else, can involve more risk than love which is unrequited. You’re risking being hurt – because nothing makes you more vulnerable than being in love – and you’re risking the person taking their love away, and leaving you in pain. If your love isn’t requited, your risk-taking is limited – unless, of course, your beloved discovers how you feel. In the case of Ms. Berry’s father, perhaps he feared being seen as less of a man if he allowed his children to see how much he loved them, and perhaps that was a risk he couldn’t take. He’s not the only father to have fallen into that trap.

But the risk is always worth taking. The pain of having your heart broken, of taking the risk to love someone and show it, can’t compare with the pain you might cause someone by loving them so secretly that they never know. In the context of a familial relationship, providing a child with things isn’t the same as telling them you love them. In a marriage, taking your spouse for granted by assuming they know how you feel about them is not usually a good idea. It’s worth taking the risk of looking a bit of a soppy fool by telling them you love them every once in a while. Isn’t it?

Love = Risk. It has always been, and will always be. I’m not the world’s greatest risk-taker, but this one’s worth it. Don’t you think?