Tag Archives: growing up

Tiger day

My tiger child is eleven today. In both clothes sizes and mind, he’s walking that edge now between childhood and teenager status. Just as when he first arrived, I have a keen sense, once again, that every day represents a small shift. He seems to be physically growing all the time as well, although on the plus side, the analogy stops well before we get to night feeding, being unable to talk, and throwing up all over the place. Like I said, we’re not quite at teen stage yet!

Yesterday, walking back from shopping he settled into step with me and took my hand. It doesn’t seem so very long ago that I was having to stoop down in order to hold his much smaller paw, while he learned to walk. For him, that’s pretty much a lifetime ago. I wonder how much longer we’ve got, before he is too cool, too grownup to be wandering around with his hand in mine. There may come a point, somewhere at the far end, when I am old and decrepit, and I am the one who needs to hold a hand for stability and road crossing.

As he goes forth into the wider world, encountering ever more influences, my scope (and willingness) to steer him will both reduce. The odds are, what he hasn’t learned by now in terms of values, he probably won’t learn any time soon. He’s been raised a Pagan child, not to conform to specific standards of behaviour, but to uphold certain virtues – to be honourable, compassionate, and respectful. He takes an interest in the world, and he cares about things. There comes a point, somewhere ahead when he takes a jump, leaves the nest, and holds responsibility for his life and choices. All I can do at that point is make sure there’s a safe space to come back to should he need it, and support, not judge as he gets to learn from his own mistakes. I can’t do it for him, and I don’t want to, his life is his own adventure.

I know a lot of people look at babies and small kids and express a desire that they stay that way forever. I’ve never thought about him in those terms. He was a person from the moment he arrived. He’s always had his own mind, his preferences, his own way of seeing the world and wanting to be in it, and I’ve never expected him to think and feel the way I do. Sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn’t, and that’s fine. From that day when he was born 11 years ago, I saw him as someone who would grow up to be an adult, someone who would need the skills, knowledge, insight and virtues to function as an independent person. I don’t think protecting children from what they need to know does them any good at all in the long term.

By the time he goes out into the world, he will be able to fend for himself in all things. He will know how to handle money, how to eat and deal with all the domestic practicalities. He will know to respect those jobs, and the people who do them. He will know how to take responsibility and how to make choices. I can give him a safe space in which to experiment, and take small risks, and hopefully that will be enough.

Looking at him now, he’s a brave, compassionate and thoughtful chap, who engages and delights people who come into contact with him. He knows how to give and how to hold boundaries, and I have every confidence that he will grow up to be a man I shall be exceedingly proud of.

End of an era

Today is the last day of primary school. It doesn’t seem so long ago that I was buying his first uniform items and sewing in the name tags. Now he’s a remarkably grown up young fellow, poised to turn into a teenager sometime soon. I remember my own reluctance to give up childhood, soon replaced by a desperate desire to be properly grown up.

The boy has had an unusual sort of childhood, not least thanks to having spent 2 years living on a narrowboat. He’s experienced challenge and betrayal, and learned to negotiate some complex relationships with adults. There were times spent in places where he was an unhappy misfit, unwilling to compromise himself to fit in. And then, the joy of being in a place where his difference is embraced and nurtured. A school where teachers take pride in him, rather than wanting him to change. Accepted and supported he’s become more confident and relaxed, still very much the boy he always was, but now fearless about sharing it. Those deep, philosophical thoughts that he used only to share with me, he can now offer to his peers when the opportunity arises in class. He trusts them not to mock him, he trusts the adults around him to respect him, and to honour his choices and preferences. It’s made a world of difference, resulting in a far happier and far less anxious sort of boy.

I hope, when he’s older, that the last few years will colour his memories of childhood. He’s forgotten much of his early life, which may be as well. I hope he remembers sunny days on the towpath, with his cat. Garden rampages with local friends. Bowling and castles, epic train journeys, piloting the narrowboat and feeding the ducklings. The Wild Fowl and Wetland Trust has given him a glorious range of experiences and opportunities, and a very keen sense of what he wants to be as an adult. He’s handled salamanders, dismantled owl pellets, seen rare wild birds, and learned to tell one kind of duck from another.

In the last few years, the boy has become very tolerant of difference and diversity, conscious that he never knows what other people might have to deal with, or what secrets they might carry. He’s intolerant of bullying and cruelty, a firm believer in equality, and someone who wants fairness but also has a sense of how sadly short of it we are. He’s learned to be a fighter, a crusader, brave, bold and willing to take a stance for justice, be that around badger culls, the Canal & River Trust, or the environmental impact of cars. He stops to get caterpillars, and beetles out of the road, when it’s safe to do so.

And so we come to the end of primary school. The amazing year group he’s been part of will go to four different schools, inevitably losing touch to a degree. They are wild, courageous and extraordinary kids, and it has been a joy to get to know them a bit, and share in their triumphs. They give me hope. We’ve made a lot of friends here, some of whom we should be able to keep. And of course we will be back in the winter, to see the swans.

The end of an era also means the beginning of something new. We know the shape of it a bit, but the details remain mysterious, only to be discovered through living them. We stayed here, and lived on the boat so that the boy could stay in school. I have no doubt that was the right choice. It’s been a challenging way of life, but it has given us so much. We’ve been through some things, recovered from some things, and now it is time to gather up what we learned, and move forward. I have a few more reflective thoughts to work through over the coming days, and there is chaos to come.