Friday, 21 October 2011

icarus he ain't

I played a song for Snooks just now before we left for school and we had a little dance in the dining room.

As we walked along the road he sang the line “You’re gonna reach the sky, fly beautiful child” and then exclaimed to me “but persons (sic) can’t fly!” as if Annie Lennox were a bit delusional and needed a few things explaining to her.

It is a brilliant sunny autumn morning. His corn blonde hair is blowing about his face as he scoots along in his little navy duffle coat and his already-too-short school trousers. His cheeks are a bit rosy from the exertion and he is lost in the moment.

I want to say , “Yes you can.” I have found myself here, on the wrong side of sensible parenting, a few times recently. I just don’t want to tell him how the world really is and yet I know, without a doubt, that it is my job to do so.

When he cried into his dinner one evening in the first weeks of school that he never wanted me to go away from him again, I in turn cried down the phone to my oldest friend: “I cannot bear to take him somewhere he just does not want to go and leave him there.”

She, a school-teacher of 20 years’ experience, and Snooks’ godmother, paused for a moment to draw breath.

“I knew I was going to have this trouble with you,” she said. (Longevity and loyalty have earned the right to come out with stuff like that, just about).
“Listen to me. You are going to have to take him to do things he does not want to do over and over again in his life. That is what being a mother is. That is life and you have to show him how to do it.”

My sister, whose credentials include steering her two charges through some of the toughest terrain I have seen, echoed the sentiment.

“Isn’t it about 97 % of what we do – obligation?” she said.

Another friend, the only person I know who has brought Snooks to heel with a simple look and to whom he is quite devoted, told me the same story.

“When I told my mother I did not want to go to school, she said ‘Ok so long as you are happy,’ and so I didn’t go anymore. I was terrified by that.”

Why has it only just occurred to me that being a good mother to Snooks is going to mean showing him the limits of what he can do?

I had hoped to be the person who pointed him in the direction of his dreams, who encouraged his optimism and belief in himself.

Instead I find my script goes more like; “Yes you have to go to school every day for the next 14 years whether you like it or not; no, persons can’t fly and if you have inherited my eyesight you can rule out training as a pilot too.”

The truth is that moments after singing the line, Snooks suddenly turned tearful and said: “But I don’t want to fly.”

Snooks’ aspirations are far more grounded; his greatest wish at the moment is to be grown up enough to own a watch and drive the car.

He also declares that he now loves school. I can see his delight at having overcome the fear and stepped forward.

So I have learned two things: that I can still encourage his optimism while pointing out the realities and that happiness comes from fulfilment rather than doing just as we please.

No need to clip his wings then, but I might just teach him to navigate

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