Raising kids is an object lesson in the flaws of humanity, but small signals keep optimism’s flame burning, writes GARY STEEL.
I’m sure most mums and dads ruminate to some extent on the same theme. As parents, you live vicariously through the experiences of your offspring. That’s just the way it is, because you have to invest so much time, patience and sheer love into the endeavour that there’s not that much time to have your own experiences. At least, if you’ve chosen the route we have, which pull back on career aspirations and make it our main job to give the kids a good upbringing.
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The theme? Well, kids aren’t born good, and they’ve got to learn how to behave, and in those early years you get quite an education into the flaws of humanity. There are all the classics: the “I am the centre of the universe” paradigm, the insistence that a toy belongs to me, me, me and you can’t share it, the sibling rivalry, the sibling jealousy, and on and on and on.
Little people might have some kind of moral compass – depending on their age and specific developmental eccentricities – but it’s pretty skew-whiff. Our nearly 7-year-old was more concerned with some minor scratch she got the day my wife got her wisdom teeth extracted, showing little sympathy and expecting the usual special treatment with the same degree of attention. We’ve discovered that you simply can’t teach empathy and that you just have to hope that this most desirable of characteristics will bloom in every child at some point. At least she has shown no inclination towards pulling the wings off flies or putting firecrackers up the anuses of felines.
And then, there are those special surprises that fill you with wonder and gratitude.
The nearly 7-year-old has a complicated relationship with the nearly 3-year-old, to say the least. She started life getting all the attention, but that ended with a harsh break in transmission when the wife gave birth to the boy nearly seven weeks early and had to spend the best part of a month in hospital. She loves him but hates him, can’t resist baiting him and annoying him, and now, suddenly, he’s big enough to get back at her, with force. There’s been punching, kicking, scratching, and sharp toys thrown at quite some velocity.
And that’s why it was such a revelation to come across both of them drawing together contentedly and with considered concentration one evening this week.
It’s become a tradition for the boy to watch Paw Patrol before dinner and the girl to browse YouTube on her iPad, but they completely forgot about their usual routine for the sake of art. Normally, there are tears and meltdowns if they don’t get their popular media fix, but this night was magically devoid of the normal routine. Instead, the girl was patiently teaching the boy how to draw colours on a picture. They had a picture each to fill in and of course the girl’s picture was dramatically more skilfully rendered than the boy’s, but he applied himself to the task with great concentration, accepting advice where his sister gave it, and they finished the almost hour-long exercise without having raised their voices.
Which may elicit a big “so what?” to the casual observer. But it was enough to fill me – albeit fleetingly – with hope. With the whole world in chaos and increasingly controlled by dastardly autocracies and neo-medieval religious nuts, it’s small consolation to know that the wee monsters can show the potential for co-operation and peace.