Kids eh? What a bloody drag they are. Always wanting to talk to you, and expecting you to listen; always doing things wrong and expecting you to show them the right way; always killing neighbourhood cats and hiding them under their bed.
Bloody nightmare, is what they are.
When I was a wee nipper, my mam had a few select phrases that she drew on
whenever dealing with children. Any children. Didn't matter if they were her
kids or her friends kids or random kids she saw in the street. Said phrases
Pack it in!
I'm telling ALL of you!
For fucks sake!
and of course...
WHAT, MAN? Jesus!
I'm not saying she struggled to relate to children. I've no way of knowing
because I never saw her try.
WHAT? was the one that got me the most. The vehemence that she could snarl it
was shocking to behold. It would come, usually after you'd made about 20
attempts to get her attention. I think the tone was meant to indicate
displeasure at the fact that you hadn't taken her ignoring you as a hint, and
buggered off. The thing is though, once you'd gotten the 'WHAT?!' response, she
would immediately go back to what she had been doing, and show no interest in
what you wanted to say. So you'd try to get her attention again, and it would
take ages again, and then you'd get the 'WHAT, MAN!? Jesus!'
Here's the thing though; you never stopped trying to get her attention.
Because you don't, do you? As a kid, you rely on adults for so much, so
the option wasn't really there to just walk away and leave her to
whatever 9hour gossip session or marathon soap opera omnibus was so
important. Had she simply acknowledged our presence, and answered
whatever our query was to begin with, she'd have had her peace a lot
Pack it in!
Parents tell you off when you do something wrong. Am I right? Well, no,
as it happens. In my experience, and I concede that not all families
are the same, parents tell you off when they notice you doing something
other than sitting cross legged on the floor with your eyes on the
As related above, it was very difficult to get my mother to focus her
attention on you. But if her focus happened to land on you by chance;
perhaps as she passed you in the hallway, or when she, God forbid, had
to go out in public with you; she was a nightmare. If you were running
about, or talking loudly, or kicking a ball, or...
Now, I know what you're thinking; the above could all be signs of
misbehaviour and I'm probably exaggerating out of spite but I can
assure you that that is not the case. If you moved an inch, or made a
sound when she was in the wrong mood, the cry would go up for you to
'Pack it in!' and once that happened if you weren't essentially a
statue then you were for it.
I'm telling all of you!
I'm not going to lie to you, dear readers. 'I'm telling all
of you' caused more beatings and groundings than any other factor in my
childhood. Try as I might, I just couldn't not argue back when that one
came into effect.
Regular readers of this blog will know that arrogance and an
expectation of obedience when you haven't earned it is a bug bear of
mine. In my adult life I've had more than my fair share of run-ins with
various superiors at work over things they've said and done which I've
considered stupid, or just wrong; as a child it was teachers and my
mother. Nothing epitomised that whole thing more than when one child
did something wrong and everyone was reprimanded because she was too fucking lazy and disinterested to spend a minute to find out what had actually happened.
You're probably wondering what my point is here, right? Well, I'll tell
you. It's about respect. It's about my attitude toward children. And
it's about societal assumptions. Allow me to explain.
Children are not, so far as I have been able to ascertain, idiots. Or
at least, no greater proportion of children are idiots than adults. It
always astounds me that so many people seem to go through life assuming
that children are somehow beneath them when they themselves were
children once; do they not remember what it was like, what they
themselves were capable of? Or is it that they do, and are simply
treating children the way they do because that's how they were treated
so that's the way it is. Paying the misery forward, so to speak.
If a child speaks to me, I listen. I listen, I consider what they've
said, and I respond. I respond in exactly the same way I would respond
if I were talking to an adult. It has never, in all my years of doing
it, backfired on me. And why would it? What do we think will happen if
we treat someone with a modicum or respect and human decency before
they've been alive a certain number of years; a number which people
can't agree on from one country to the next?
As a result of this, children tend to like me. Whoda thunk it?
But now, I've found myself being told that this is a BAD THING. That by
treating children the way I do, and therefore having them think kindly
of me, I'm opening myself up to allegations of, well, you know. This
had; perhaps naively; never occurred to me before it was pointed out by
a colleague of mine.
I had been talking about taking my goblin nephew to an after school
sport thing at a local park, run by the local Sure Start group. It was
a very informal thing, with the volunteers essentially dumping a
shedload of kit on the ground and letting any kids that showed up run
wild with it for a couple of hours. I was pretty much the only adult
there, with every other parent seemingly perfectly happy to let their
kids, some as young as 3, head there alone.
It was at one such session that I first encountered two girls. I won't
name names, but one was in the Goblin's class at school, which would
make her about 6 or 7 at the time. The other was apparently in nursery
school. They were regularly sent to the park unaccompanied, on sport
nights and also when no adult supervision, however nominal, was
provided. The 6 year old was in charge of the 3(4?) year old. And doing
about as good a job as you might expect.
It was when I witnessed the older girl getting incredibly frustrated
with the younger and start to hit her, repeatedly, that I stepped in.
Over time, pushing the young girl on the swings, playing bat and ball,
or just letting her lead me around by a skipping rope, became a regular
thing. The older girl was able to go and play without the
responsibility she so clearly shouldn't have had, and the younger was
perfectly happy too. . By all accounts, or at least if the Sure Start
workers were to be believed, the little one was much calmer and better
behaved when I was around, and much more responsive to me than she'd
ever been to them. I thought I had done some good. In fact, I still
believe I did.
This was not how my colleague saw it. In his eyes, I was opening myself
up to all sorts of allegations and should stop having anything to do
with these children straight away. He told of how when he worked in his
front garden there was a young lad who would regularly come over and
try to strike up a conversation, and he would refuse to engage and tell
the kid to go away, because he didn't want a 'name'.
Was he right? Because all I could think of when he told me that was,
how shit must that kid have felt? He tried to make conversation with a
neighbour, had done nothing wrong, and yet was essentially told to
bugger off. And we wonder why kids act out?
I thought about what he'd said a lot. I'm incredibly self conscious at the best of times so the idea that people might think that
of me filed me with dread. But you know what? The very next time I went
to that park I pushed that girl on the swings. Because how could I not?
How would she have felt if I didn't; if I suddenly, after weeks of
being her friend, and talking to her, and counting to ten and chasing a
ball, started to blank her?
So I said fuck it, and carried on the same as before. I refused to let
fear of what 'society', in it's tabloid press fueled hysteria, might
think of me, change the way I treat the young people I encounter.