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.