If left to his own devices, my eldest son – sociable, wonderful – would lock himself away upstairs to ‘tell himself stories’. Of late, he wants woken up early to make sure he has time to tell himself a story before the freneticism of the day slaps him in the face.
After school, he drops his bag and shoes in the hallway and sprints up, picking up the story where he left off that morning. He can’t really write or ‘read to level’ yet (what level? The world level of eight year olds? Damn it, I hate levels) but he tells himself intricate tales of dragons and moons, bears and knights, mountains and spaceships each day, creating magical worlds where his imagination is clearly having the time of its life.
Recently, when he would not comply with one of my strict diktats (some such earthly thing as pick up your shoes, or don’t shout at your brother, or we will have to wash your hair before bedtime) I said to him ‘Ok, that’s it, I’m going to take away your storytelling privileges.’
Ok-kaaaaaaaaay, I thought straight after, wondering how I could roll back from this one. I’m going to take away one of the most basic things that makes you human? I’m going to take away this most beautiful and nourishing thing you have all to yourself? I’m going to put limits on this magical and sacred entity, this swirling amalgam of your soul and the mental snapshots you have taken of the world so far, this vortex which syncs with other peoples’ creative innards, this – this intangible gift that all of us have for ourselves, to share with others?
Right. He began to moan, please, please never do that, but I stopped him as quickly as he started, telling him that, holy jeepers good god above, of course no-one could ever take away his ‘story-telling privileges’ from him, and it was wrong of me to say so.
The part of parenting I hate the most is that frustrated, futile ‘I’ve got nowhere to go now’ feeling I get when I can’t get my children to do basic things. I detest my current method of ‘If you don’t do X, then you can’t have ‘Y’, but I don’t have a more sophisticated one in play at the moment, mostly because I am just a limited human being myself.
‘That’s a blackmail,’ I’ve heard them recently telling each other, poor little mittens that they are because that is now what they have learned works as a quicker way to get things done. (If you don’t let me play with your Lego, I’m going to tell mummy – that’s a blackmail. If you don’t give me one of your jellies, I’m not going to let you play with my fart Ninja – that’s a blackmail).
Is everything a blackmail? Is life itself a blackmail, or quid pro quo? If you don’t go and tidy the mess you left downstairs then I’m taking away your storytelling privileges (refer above). If you don’t go to GAA this morning then you won’t be able to watch TV this evening. If you don’t eat your vegetables with dinner then you won’t be allowed an ice-pop for dessert. If you don’t do your homework then you won’t be able to go out and play with your friends.
Ugh. As they get older, and they are so tiny still, I see them start to drown in obligation. Obligations that I put on them and obligations that society puts on them.
Do you want to know a secret? I’d love to just let my eldest tell himself stories all day long. Soon enough, I know, he won’t be doing it and he will be scrolling through his phone or whatever. I’d love to let my middle child paint all day long, as his wont. And my youngest? I’d like to let him loose on the kitchen. Allow him to tip all his ‘ingredients’ into a bowl, on the floor; smoosh the butter through his hands, mix the strawberries with the grated cheese as he did yesterday when he insisted on making himself lunch.
I’d like not to wrestle them into clothes every day, force them out of the house before they feel ready to leave, make them go to football training in the freezing, petulant drizzle when they would rather snuggle up with a book, make them wear coats to keep them warm, make them eat three different kinds of vegetables or make sure their reading is getting up to ‘level’. (Again: what level?)
I’d like to go rogue, go feral. Hell, smear myself in Nutella, run around the house with them and call that a good day.
Sigh. I won’t though. Neither will they.