Tag Archives: child

Car child, or calm child

We walked to playgroup and back, every day, in all weathers. Then we walked to the first primary school and back, every day, in all weathers. Then we had to cycle to the second primary school. Every day. In all weathers. Now, he cycles alone, every day, in all weathers.

During many of those trips I saw parents taking children the same way, only with cars. So, I can tell you with confidence that by the time you have got a child into and out of a car, and dealt with the parking, it may have been quicker to walk. The idea that driving is quicker and less trouble may not be true. It is always worth questioning it.

We had a good time with those walks. We saw wild things, and dogs and cats, which he always enjoyed. He had time to wake up in the morning on the way in to school, arriving brighter, fresher and more alert as a consequence of the journey in. On the way home, he had time to decompress, to share his day with me and to let off steam. I have no doubt that this has improved my son’s mental health at every stage of his life.

Our young people are suffering. Exam pressure, overcrowded classrooms, lack of opportunity to move around, and fear for the future puts a massive strain on them. Bundling them in to cars doesn’t help with this. When I walked home from school as a teenager it was a social activity and that time with friends was a good spot in my day. Kids in cars are denied those social opportunities. Bodily movement is good for all of us. Children need to move, and the journey to and from school used to give people that.

Of course the roads aren’t as safe as they used to be, and a major contributor to how unsafe the roads are is all the people driving their kids to and from school. Each car journey contributes to the air pollution that is killing people on a shocking scale. Not driving your kid to school will do more to keep them well. Most of them do not melt in the rain.

I’ve watched schools try to encourage confidence, physical health and feelings of independence in young humans. And then you drive them home. The young person who has to be resilient enough to get to and from school in any weather, develops self-confidence, self-reliance and a sense of capability and resilience. The young person who knows that their body can get them places, and who learns to take responsibility for that is learning good life lessons. Even at the age when they need accompanying, it is still teaching them good stuff.

Most adults could do with more fresh air and chilled time as well. Walking to school and back creates little pockets of good family time if you use it that way. Stressing your way through heavy traffic doesn’t do that.

What we grow up with is what we find most normal. For the kid in a car, walking and cycling may always seem a bit alien. The kid who walks or cycles is advantaged for the future. We cannot carry on with car use at the same level. One way or another, it’s going to be unfeasible. Might as well be ready for that!

Being green does not mean being miserable. I have no doubt that walking and cycling to school has improved my quality of life, and improved my son’s quality of life. It’s saved us a lot of money and given us a lot of good experiences.

Behaving like a child

A conversation on facebook yesterday resulted in a chap stomping about, announcing that he was a grown up and only going to read proper, grownup books and that anyone reading children’s books, must be childish. I’ve learned to take these moments away and reflect upon them rather than replying in haste. Some people are best ignored, responses just fuel the emotionally immature behaviour. There is, I think, a world of difference between immaturity and childishness. Many children have old heads on young shoulders and wisdom that has nothing to do with years. Many adults are stroppy, self important and prone to throwing the teddy out of the pram, in slightly less literal ways.

There is so much that is childish which we reject to our cost.

For the child, life is new and full of surprises. They learn to be jaded and cynical, to suppress joy, to hide fear and excitement and present the bland, ‘grownup’ face that is so often mistaken for a sign of emotional maturity. Even though it is the coming of adult hormones that takes our emotional capacities to whole new levels. There is nothing immature about the feeling, or expressing of emotion. The child looks at the world in wonder, and spends a lot of time asking ’why?’. They are reluctant to accept that anything is impossible. They have not yet succumbed to the mantra of work and more work to consume more and enjoy less. Most children are still inclined to feel compassion for things other than themselves – cute fluffy animals especially. They haven’t yet acquired compassion-fatigue or the sense of futility that comes with being a proper ‘grownup’.

And yes, they still read stories full of hope and wonder. Real, serious books for grownups frequently lack this. Yesterday’s complainant talked about the superiority of Hardy. You don’t get many laughs in a Thomas Hardy novel. You don’t get much hope for humanity either, or any kind of vision of a better world.

Children are frequently willing to believe that things could be better than they are. They do not reject hope. They like stories in which good things happen.

Where I’m dabbling in writing for children, I’ve needed to spend a lot of time thinking about what children read, reading it myself, talking to children about what they like, and listening to them generally. Children do not see the world as adults do, but I feel that so often in trying to make ‘them’ more like ‘us’ we diminish them. ‘Growing up’ so often means the stripping away of hope, aspiration, and the ability to enjoy small things. Leaving us with, at least in some cases, the kind of miserable, jaded adults who are angry about any signs of joy and enthusiasm in other adults. Ye gods, what a closed and unhappy way to live!

I want to be more childlike. I want to remember how to enjoy a story that ends happily because everyone got an ice-cream. I want to bury experience and re-embrace the world of the Owl and the Pussycat, Alice in Wonderland and Pooh Bear. I don’t want to write, or read, more stories that reflect ‘gritty reality’ and show us that we can only be smaller than we thought we were and that no one gets out of here alive. I want stories that inspire. Stories I can put in front of adult and child readers alike, safe in the knowledge that I am not going to steal anything precious from them in the process.

There was a survey a few years back on books that had changed people’s lives. It was topped not by some high brow literary revelation of the human condition, but by The Lord of The Rings. Serious, grownup people (mostly on Radio 4) claimed to be surprised and horrified. How could we all be so shallow, so childish as to let our lives be changed by such a silly bit of fantasy, they wanted to know? Why weren’t we being changed by something more important and substantial?

I suspect the answer is simple. Books that set out to be a high brow revelation of the human condition, are frequently a crappy read. I could list all the high brow and terribly important authors I’ve read (I did an English Lit degree) and who are mostly obscure and frankly, deserve it. It’s noticeable that the big guns, Shakespeare, and Dickens, were crowd pleasers in their time. High brow literary endeavour has never sold books in any great number, and probably never will. People who write books in the shape of mathematical structures. People who deconstruct, who are ironic, and post modern and terribly clever, write tedious, story free stories about characters you just want to see eaten by a dragon. Good stories are the vehicles of good ideas. As Ursula Le Guinn says, good art is entertaining.

Humans are story telling creatures. Good stories are alive, and uplifting, and inspire us in some way. I’m fine with beautiful tragedy too, but not with jaded hopelessness. If you’re the sort of self important adult who wants all the grownups to only read important, serious, grownup books, you probably need to do some work making peace with that inner child, all things considered.

Tiger mother growls

One of the most natural things for a mother, in any species, is to protect your offspring. Be it the mallard flying at seagulls to stop them eating her chicks, or the fox running to draw you away from her cubs, mothers protect. Millions of years of evolution, survival and instinct are behind us when we do it. Of course for the modern human mother, it’s not quite the same, but all the drives are still there. The urge to protect and defend can come out in all kinds of ways, some more helpful than others.

You can’t wrap a child in cotton wool and insulate them from all risk, harm, or danger. Not if you want them to grow up and be viable, independent adults. They need to learn which risks are worth taking. They need the space to run and play, which can mean falling off bikes, and out of trees. Bumps, bruises, cuts, scrapes and often broken bones ensue from the natural process of growing up. Knowing when to hold them safely in the nest, and when to let them explore the rest of being alive, is hard. Apparently it doesn’t get all that much easier with practice.

I have heard it said that dads do not experience the protective urges in the same way and are better predisposed to support the child in the risk taking aspect of their development. This makes sense to me, and the idea that between two parents, or the wider culture of family and tribe, there should be balance between protection and support. Getting the child to cycle is usually a dad/uncle/granddad sort of job. It’s not to say men aren’t protective too, but I think they risk assess in very different ways.

There are things we cannot protect our children from as they grow. They will go out into the world and make their own mistakes. They will get hurt. Bad things will happen to them. We cannot individually make all the world as safe for them as we could when we were toddler-proofing the house. All we can do is equip them with stories, ideas, skills and confidence so that when the inevitable happens, and they hit something hard, they have the means to cope. And then try to be there if they need us to help them pick up the pieces. My son does not have a defensive layer of cynicism of apathy. He cares. I know that when he gets out there on his own, either the world will break his heart over and over again, or he will grow the kind of skin that doesn’t let him feel much. But he’s grown up with my shortage of skin, and he knows it can be lived with, and maybe he will dare to keep caring.

The hardest thing, is seeing something I cannot protect him from. However much I may want to be the tiger mother (he’s a tiger boy) there are things I cannot do for him, things I cannot get in front of him to shield him from. And I would. Seeing fear in a child’s eyes is an awful thing. Seeing deep emotional pain that you can’t take away, and knowing that the only possible way forwards means that those young shoulders have to lift a heavy burden, and there is no way to carry it for him. All that can be done is to give him words of love and support, to be there, to listen, to trust him, to remind him that he is a brave and bold sort of tiger and that he will come through. Nine is a very young age at which to be tested to your limits and beyond. It’s a very young age at which to have to stand up to adults, fight against a system and bear responsibility for the shape your future is going to take.

There are plenty of children who face far worse. The ones growing up in war zones, or who have to watch famine and disease kill their families. The ones who cannot do anything as their father beats their mother. The ones who live in fear, in pain, with hunger and all the misery the world can inflict. And there are also the mothers who are not tiger mothers, who have succumbed already to despair. In nature, mothers eat their offspring when they feel too threatened. Human mothers get that most dreadful impulse too. There are the mothers who kill, the mothers who neglect, or who are so damaged that they simply cannot do the job. There are tiger children who do not have anyone to growl on their behalf, and because I have no skin, that thought makes me want to weep.

There are days when all I can offer him is my tiger growl, to tell him that he is not alone, even if he does have to deal with some very hard things for himself. I can only hope it’s enough.

Celebrating my pagan child

It’s my son’s 9th birthday. He’s working on a monster right now. 9 years feels like a very long time ago, of course to him it’s a lifetime. My tigerboy started going to rituals when he was a few months old. While being pagan informs a lot of how I am and how I live, I did not, in the early years, seek to raise him as deliberately pagan.

When he started attending a Church of England primary school, he found Christianity was being taught as a factual subject in the same way he was learning science, maths and reading. For him, there was no discernable difference and this caused him some trouble. I remember a conversation on the way home from school. “Jesus saves us,” James announced. “From what?” I asked. He had no answer, and recognised that he had no idea what it was supposed to mean, or why it was a good thing. Dealing with Christianity at school and talking to me about what he’d learned, he eventually decided whatever he was, he wasn’t a Christian. He asked “what am I?” and I said “what do you want to be?” So he asked what it is that I do, and we started talking about it. That autumn, aged 6, he opted out of acts of worship in school, whilst deciding to do all the cultural and social aspects of Christianity. He also decided that he wanted to learn Druidry so I set about teaching him.

We’ve done the teaching slowly and in an informal sort of way, as and when things come up. He has a keen appreciation of nature, a questing mind and a passion for philosophy. My tigerboy will happily spend chunks of time contemplating the nuances of ethical dilemmas. He likes to ask big questions, and ‘why?’ is a regular feature of conversations.

At the moment, my boy is doing druid stuff no doubt in part because it’s what’s there. I think there’s a lot about pagan religion that resonates with him. The ethical values and green consciousness will, I think stay with him as he grows. It will be interesting to see how he develops as a spiritual person.

I think many people who grow up in religious backgrounds have the experience of being directed, given one truth. I have no idea where my son will go, given support to be a spiritually aware person, but no pressure to manifest that in any specific way. If he decided to be an atheist, or pick up some other faith, I’d respect that decision. In the meantime, we have a birthday to celebrate, and monsters to draw.