Charlie turns nine this year. One moment I’m the mother to a sweet and funny little boy who is agreeable and trusting, who calls me mummy, who places his sticky, squishy little hand into mine, who demands back tickles and songs about sunshine and who would delight in entertaining me with glorious stories full of wonder and imagination.
He is still there, still sweet and funnier than even, though far less agreeable, still joyously kind hearted but equally suspicious of my parenting abilities, regarding me with benign disinterest. These days he calls me mum or occasionally and disturbingly ‘dude’, he may bat my hand away when I go to hold his and though his stories remain, what is new, far less amusing and significantly more tedious is his dedicated enthusiasm to Minecraft.
I once googled to see if there was a ‘Minecraft for
Dummies Mummies’ edition and my first thought was that there should be and very quickly my second thought was why the hell would any mother want to immerse themselves any deeper into Minecraft unless they wanted to.
If those mothers exist, no judgement, but you are not my person.
It is a torment to endure a stroll through my son’s Minecraft village and he has this metaphysical ability to know when I’m not paying attention and so we have to go back to the beginning, hence I miss a spawning chicken.
Clearly I am unfit to be a Minecraft mum.
I have said it before and long shall I continue to say it, but my mothering mantra is that I am a better, happier and far more patient a parent outside the home than inside.
Outside equates to activity and activity equates to a child who is tired at bedtime.
Within walking distance to our home is a non-descript park and even though, mercifully we are exiting our playground days, this particular park has a dirt track, and with recent rains, the track is a pool of thick brown mud, which for an 8 year old is an alluring sight to behold yet my first thought when I see it is “I wonder if I have any Napisan.”
I’m available for helpful housekeeping tips if anyone is interested.
On a quest to get Charlie away from his Minecraft mobs, we ventured down to the track and on this particular day there was another boy, similar age to Charlie, already motoring his way around the track. It is magic to watch little kids start to play with one another, no introduction, no apprehension, no exchange of names, with natural ease they have this ability to connect and so mutually and wordlessly, the two boys are racing each other. That is until the other kid stacks it. He starts to cry, which frankly seems entirely reasonable to me and his dad attempts to make light of it, suggesting that he’s okay, there’s no need to cry and telling him the best thing to do is ‘get back on the horse.’ Speaking metaphorically of course, though the kid seemed confused by this.
Anyway, with the race restarted, the dad turns to me and says “Kids, hey, they don’t make them like they use to.”
“No, they don’t, thankfully” was my immediate and instinctive reply. The dad looked curiously at me and perhaps his was a rhetorical question because he seemed surprised that I answered.
I presumed he meant that they don’t make kids ‘tough’ these days and maybe I’m wrong, but the moment had a ‘boys don’t cry’ vibe and to each their own, but this is not the narrative I choose to accept.
There is much to be said about the qualities we want to see in our children and I’m sure I am like most parents, when I say I want to raise a decent human. I want him to be brave and strong minded, I want him to know that it is okay to express how he feels, I want him to feel more than just happy, sad, or mad. I want his strength to be his empathy and of course I want him to know that it’s not only okay to be vulnerable but it’s crucial. I want him to be brave and courageous, but I’m also confused by the message of being brave and courageous.
A couple of years ago we went to Movie World and because I assumed it was my job as a parent, I try to coax Charlie on to a ride. To be fair, it was an age appropriate one, but he was having none of my nonsense and being the fiercely spirited child that he is, he resolutely refused. At the time, I felt disappointed, not at him, but for him, that he wasn’t open to trying something new and exciting and of course I questioned if my helicopter parenting had created his caution.
If I didn’t already have enough to feel guilty about.
I only remembered this moment recently when an image popped up on one of my social media feeds, something along the lines of sometimes it is braver to say no to the rollercoaster. I look back at that moment and think that as his mother, I should have been less concerned about him missing out on the ride and instead celebrated his ability to not be influenced by peer pressure.
This is the bit about parenting that no one told me about. The part where there would be moments, proper moments when I would not know what I’m doing, when I would get it wrong and wonder who the hell is getting it right? How did that person who wrote those few sentences about saying no to the roller coaster know this to be good advice and why did I not see it this way, and instead could only see the right way to parent was to get my child onto the roller coaster. In the pursuit of wanting to raise children who are brave, vulnerable and resilient we need to be clear how these qualities are defined.
But you see, the roller coaster is symbol for something much bigger and scarier.
Especially now because the world is big and scary. It feels as though the world has been turned on its axis, we are in a constant state of uncertainty that is in equals measures overwhelming as it is exhausting.
It’s all a bit much really.
I’m grateful that Charlie is still largely protected by all that is wrong in the world. Of course he understands the pandemic and he knows people have had water flood their homes. But he does not fully comprehend the impact of what this really means and so far he does not know the horror of the war.
This has made me think about what else it is that I want for my son because there will come a time, soon, that I won’t be able to shield and shelter him.
But you know what? More than bravery, more than vulnerability and more than resilience, I want to raise a child who will always have hope. Not in a toxic positivity kind of way, because we don’t need cliches and silver linings can be hard to find, but I want him to know what it feels like to be hopeful even if it feels helpless.
I want him to know that no matter what, things will always get better, not in a wishful thinking kind of way, but because in hope punk kind of way he understands that things can be awful and shit and unfair but in contrast to all of the darkness there is light in being hopeful.