viernes, 31 de octubre de 2014

It is so hard to please the adults

When I had my first baby, Dave, I remember thinking how easy it was to please him. As long as I kept him close to my heart, he was always happy. I wore him day and night. When he started eating solids and crawling he was also 'easy'. Then Alex came along and, being my second time around as a mum, it was even easier. For a few years I was very busy with the two of them, but they were never difficult children; I never said, 'They're a handful,' a statement I heard a lot back then and which always shocked me a bit. I remember the day a friend told me, 'You still have about eighteen months ahead of you in which you won't be able to put your feet up.' At the time it sounded like such a long wait, but now it seems like yesterday and my boys are already six and eight, and before I know it, they'll be sixteen and eighteen.

I am not afraid of their adolescence. I remember my own only too well. It was hard. It is hard if you have so much to rebel against, and I did (I always thought I had a cause.) But I'm pretty confident my boys won't have a need to rebel against me because I accept them the way they are, and always have. This might sound like an unnecessary, obvious thing to say, but it's not. Everywhere around me I see parents who don't accept their children just the way they are. They don't see that the fault is in them, they're just trying to correct 'undesired behaviours.' So they say the baby is difficult because she won't sleep all night, or the toddler is a handful because he has a tantrum every single day, and for no apparent reason. I think tantrums are normal in toddlers, so I never tried to suppress them. Instead I hugged my kids and stayed by their side the whole time until their ordeal was over. If it is hard for a parent to put up with a tantrum, it is even harder for the child who's going through it. Adolescence is the same.

Now that the boys are in school age, the amount of adults (sometimes parents, sometimes teachers) I see who are not happy with their kids' choices is even more notorious to me. Adults fret about everything, they are never happy! Unlike children, most adults are so hard to please. They are constantly projecting their fears on their children. If the kids spend all their spare time outside, playing in the streets, they worry. If one child won't go out and play with other kids and prefers to stay at home and read, they worry. It has always been like this; some people do it more than others. As a kid I was never scolded for reading too much, but a friend of mine was given limits on how much she could read every day (I find this so shocking, but I later learned it had happened to a lot of people in their young adult years). I also played video games and was never given a time to stop; I did when I got sick of the game or preferred to go out and play with my friends. I'm sure my parents worried about some things I did and that, in their opinion, I shouldn't be doing, because at least my father still does it (he doesn't agree with my choice to not send my children to school.) Everywhere in the world, parents are constantly telling their children that they shouldn't be doing what they're doing and they should be doing something else instead. This is control and fear. Apparently, if a child spends too many hours doing the same activity, that's bad.

I trust my children. I listen to what they say and take it seriously. So, when at two years of age, Dave said, 'I don't want to go to school,' I listened. At six, and eight, he still didn't want to go, and I'm still listening and respecting his and his brother's choice. More than once I've said, 'You've never been to school, so you don't know what it's like. Who knows, you might like it.' He says, 'Of all the kids I know, only one says he likes school. The rest all hate it. Did you like it?' I tell them the truth: I didn't like it, neither did their father. And to the people who keep telling them that they don't know what it's like, I say this: I have never been to prison, I don't even know a lot of people who have served a sentence (only one person that I can remember) but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't like it and I have no desire to find out if I would.

When, also at two, Dave said, 'I want to climb that tree,' I also listened, and then watched. I trusted him and I knew that if he felt confident enough to do it, he could do it. He's always loved climbing, but he's also always been a naturally cautious child. He climbed trees and whatever was climbable while other people around us screamed, 'You'll fall!' and I suppressed my urge to punch them. Have you ever heard of the self-fulfilling prophecy? Most parents do it to their children all the time, and then of course they say, 'I told you so.'

A couple of weeks ago we went on a little trip further south. We stopped in Pemberton to climb the famous Gloucester Tree, which is the world's second tallest fire-lookout tree. Only 20 percent of visitors make it up to the top of the tree, and I was curious to find out if the children would do it. Like in everything we do, there is never any pressure on my part. I don't push the kids to do anything they don't want to do, but I don't forbid them from doing what they want to do either (as long as it doesn't harm any living thing.) Mar and Dave looked up at the 72-meter-high tree and without a second's hesitation said, 'Yep, I'm going up!' Alex said, 'I'm not.' So the two oldest went up with Brad, and I waited at the bottom with Alex.

Mar and Dave climbing the Gloucester Tree

As we waited an old man appeared. He looked up at the ascending climbers, shook his head and said, 'There's no way I'm going up there. Are you?' I said I would as soon as the other three came down, so Alex wouldn't have to wait alone. Then he said, 'I grew up in London, during the war. We used to play in the streets. The Germans were dropping their bombs but we were not afraid, we never stopped being children. I used to drive my mother crazy with worry, though.' He laughed and I looked at him with big open eyes, hoping for more. 'We were daredevils, but we survived. Now we're old, and I'm too scared to climb a tree.'

I couldn't resist telling you about that little exchange. I find old people fascinating, almost as much as children, and I love listening to their old-time battles. The next day we all went for a walk around the rocky coast. The place was deserted, as all the beaches around here usually are, but then out of the blue a man of about seventy appeared. He was looking for someone and looked worried. He said to us, 'Have you seen a young girl, about my age, around here?' I smiled at his wit. Despite his obvious distress, he kept his good spirits and let us know, in so few words, that he was one of those young at heart. He looked very fit, too. Before he'd said 'about my age,' I had pictured a girl about Mar's age. Then he said, 'I tend to get lost, but I worry because she gets even loster.'

He found her ten minutes later and that was it. I often think of Australia as a country full of young people trapped in old bodies. There are so many of them: grey nomads touring the country. They travel in motorhomes, they do the walks, they even ask me for Spanish lessons because they want to do the Camino de Santiago, again. I always think: when I grow up I want to be like them. And then of course I remember I'm already grown and I'm already doing it: I don't have to wait until the children leave home, I can do it with them. And I don't have to wait to retire because I will never retire. I don't share other people's fear about my children's education and their future. They know what they want and I trust them. I believe most children reach adolescence not knowing who they are because all their lives other people have been telling them what is good and what is bad for them. But those are just opinions. Most parents think schools are good for their children. I think they're bad. Just my opinion. I think playing in the streets is good, and so is playing video games. And reading, of course. And climbing trees. There is a risk in everything we do, but I think it is bad to try to stop children from doing it because we're scared. You know what happens when we do that: they do it anyway, just when we're not looking, but then we're not there to catch them when they fall.