Discipline Demanded and Restraint Required
Something is happening this week which is testing my mettle in possibly the most irksome way. This evening we have been been denied our usual Skyping privilege. The desperate fifteen minutes has been scrapped. The signal will be dead. Nothing.
We will have no communication for over forty-eight hours. I feel abandoned. This is because he is on a school trip, and the trip extends late into the evening.
So what? Deal with it! are your thoughts. But there is a twist ... naturally.
The location of the trip is 2.3 miles from our house - that is about 10 minutes by car, or 15 by bus including walking to and from the bus-stops on either side of the journey.
In fact it is right next door to where I go for my nearly-daily swim. I could be ploughing down the fast lane in my elegant but slightly splashy style, while he is only a few yards away. It's ridiculous.
He is closer to us than he has been all week, and yet there is no way of getting in touch, or talking to him, or having any type of contact. Of course the temptation is great. I could become one of those parents. I could stand on the side of the road and wave as he gets off the bus, loudly singing 'Coo-ee' and perhaps waving an unopened umbrella. Or, I could phone the school and insist they tell me when the breaks are, and insist - even more forcefully - that they allow me to see my child, as a conversation with me is clearly more important than chatting to his friends and behaving like a normal child. Or we could kidnap him. We could wait until he is getting back on the coach, and then grab him to allow him the indulgence of a night in his own bed; in his own home. This is my chance. My transformation is nearly complete. I can finally become the sort of parent who stalks their own child. It could be a new TV reality format - a ballet version of Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents.
Deboulé, Défilé, and Doting Dads.
Pointe, Pirouettes and Persistent Parenting
Why stop at the school trip? This surveillance could become a way of life. He could be exercising at the barre and my face pops up at a window. I could don a chef's uniform and hat and plate up breakfast in the canteen. And that suspicious looking gardner pruning the rose beds? That's me. Skyping will become redundant. My tools will no longer be wifi and iPads. I have rope, a grappling hook and a full range of disguises. I am Peter Sellers with a full range of flamboyant disguises. He won't have to tell me how it is all going, I'll have seen it all with my own eyes.
I just can't believe that it has taken me this long to have this innovational idea.
Of course I'm going to control myself. As hard as it might be, I have the discipline to stay at home and just watch telly. We will be Skyping again tomorrow. But this flight of fancy into a world of Ealing Comedy has served its purpose. It has kept me distracted while our son has been so near, and yet so far.
Next time is all about Fathers and Sons - just in time for Mothers' Day
Loving too much
Daniel Kish is an innovative and maverick teacher. He is the president of World Access for the Blind. Daniel Kish teaches others how to echo-locate. He has been blind since early childhood. You may have seen the video of him riding a bike on YouTube. He maps out the territory in his mind by making a clicking sound. He lives independently: works, hikes and travels. His radical theory is that in our 'civilised' culture, we are encouraging dependence by the way we assist people with disabilities. I listened to an interview with him on the NPR radio show, Invisibilia. He claims that we are to a degree complicit in an act of infantilising, and another model for assisting those with a disability might be more desirable. When he works with very young children, one of the first things he must establish with the parent or carer is that they do not interfere - this is quite a demand when you are watching your visually impaired five-year-old about to step off the pavement on a collision course with oncoming traffic. No-one was going to let the child jump to his death, but Daniel Kish's point is that we intervene too early. In less extreme circumstances - like climbing trees, riding bikes and other outdoor adventures - he maintains that we have become way too precious about a few cuts and bruises. We heal. There is something shocking that Daniel Kish says. It resonates with me. He says that we love too much, and parental love is an obstacle to growth. There can be no growth without burden, and so, the logical conclusion is that too much love prevents growth. I have been obsessively thinking about this idea over the last couple of weeks.
I grew up in a family in which self-sacrifice was an indication of how much we loved. Every occasion was a possible opportunity to selflessly prove the strength of family love. The currency of this transaction was varied: food, money, and time could all be given up. I am now left with the nagging suspicion that I have somehow been damaged by so much parental involvement. The fact that they drove me to Jazz Orchestra, or picked me up from Choir Practice meant that I missed out on a valuable chance to get the bus and grow. Is this the reason that I feel like such an underachiever? Would my pathological sloth have not set in had I climbed on the bus on a cold dark Monday evening? That baritone saxophone was pretty heavy, but I'd own several properties in the South of France by now, if my parents hadn't taken pity on me, and offered me a lift. I would have learned independence and tenacity.
I probably cooked my first family meal when I was fifteen. I remember it clearly. It was chicken pieces which I ingeniously coated using smashed up salt and vinegar flavour crisps. Up until that point I had been blissfully catered for: five star service from parents who sacrificed their time by coming up with an endless array of different meals; always home-made, always fresh produce, and always - before it became trendy - locally sourced, or grown in the garden. Now I understand that my parents were actually neglecting me with indulgence. They are to blame for my daughter's complaints that I always cook the same stuff. She is five. So it is not generosity that makes her refer to what I do in the kitchen as 'cooking'. I don't cook. I 'prepare'. And I only prepare two meals: baked potatoes and salad; pasta and salad. I blame my parents. My father was a DIY genius. I can't even hang a picture, never mind shelves. His fault. Now my addiction to eBay, Amazon and Ocado is clear. They are online replacement for the parental mollycoddling of my childhood; a love that never ends as long as I can afford to keep clicking on 'Confirm Order'.
It's very hard not to indulge our son. We spend the week parenting remotely. When he is distraught, I send an email to the pastoral staff at school. They are caring, conscientious and brilliant. I don't expect him to initiate the resolution himself - he is only eleven. When he has forgotten something or run out of something, I put a replacement in the post, or rather I get someone from an online retailer to put it in the post for me. Does this make Amazon a surrogate grand-parent? I have an overwhelmingly strong need to show him, in the only way I can, I love him. Perhaps I am cultivating dependency, and denying him the chance to grow.
There is so much that children who are at boarding school have to do for themselves. He packs his own bags at weekends, organises his own laundry, gets himself organised for school and makes sure he is in the right place at the right time. He has now started sewing his own ballet shoes. I imagine that if you are a teacher at boarding school, there is one thing you can be certain of - the children do their own homework without any parental involvement. No spellings have been corrected, no grammar amended, no maths double-checked, or essays pre-planned. By virtue of our absence, our son is having to learn for himself, and with regard to his dancing, I am no help whatsoever.
Still, there is something about Daniel Kish's words that sits uneasily. I worry that I love him too much. When our son next comes home from school, he might be in for a shock. Vegetable stir-fry is one of his favourite meals. He is only home for just over twenty-four hours, but on Sunday, he'll be spending several of those hours chopping onions and red-peppers and washing bean-sprouts and broccoli. Changing my behaviour will mean that his development will not be stunted by too much love. He'll also be doing the washing up.
The Golden Rule
We have taught our children the Golden Rule: if someone's criticism does not empower you, it has not been said for your benefit. Question why this person has offered criticism - it probably reveals more about them then it does about you. It's their problem, not yours. This has been useful in armouring them against hurtful comments from adults, children, friends, relatives and - occasionally over the years - ballet teachers.
Our son joined a particular early morning ballet class, a few years ago. Getting him there at that time on a weekend morning almost killed me. It was also taxing on his sister, and a certain degree of chastisement was often required to motivate her to get dressed at this time in the morning when she didn't need to go to school. The danger of teaching children the Golden Rule is that they become immune to ineffective parental chastisement. Bribery, threats, bargaining and coercing were all met with a look and a sigh. She knew and I knew. No words needed, and she remained resistant to my attempts; they exposed more about my desperation than they did about her lack of cooperation. Despite this, we were never late, but, initially, we were also never early. I discovered, to my horror, after a couple of weeks that all the other children were arriving to class a whole half-hour earlier than the start time. A competitive parent lurks not so deeply inside me. If the other parents were getting there thirty minutes ahead, I was going to get there forty minutes ahead of time. Like shoppers on a pilgrimage to the January sales, we were going to arrive even before the doors had opened. We would display our ballet-devoted virtue by having to wait at dawn in the street, our exhaled breath visible in the cold. This is what we did - for nearly two years. Equipped with the Golden Rule, our daughter could effortlessly dismiss any rebukes with a sigh and a look, and I eventually gave up trying to get her into the car as dawn was breaking. It was easier to just leave her at home.
This episode taught me humility. After two years, I finally struck up conversation with another parent explaining how we had successfully endured these early mornings for such a long time. She replied that they had all been getting up at 5.30am in order to make the 7.00am train. Their story also involved a younger sister. My face fell. I had been defeated. We had been leaving at 8.30am. We only live fifteen minutes away.
There was an occasion several years ago when we were offered the chance to watch our children perform. The tickets were free, but limited. I have quite a large family, and lots of friends - all interested in ballet and free tickets. However, we could only apply for a certain number; which we did. And we received our full allocation. Imagine my horror to discover that other parents had received twice the number that we had. Their audacity had paid off; disregarding the guidelines, they had put in for twice the amount and been given them. I was disgusted - not only by the thought of my dejected family complaining over Christmas lunch - but by the fact that I had been beaten. This injustice made me rage. A spectrum of utterances were being prepared in my mind ranging from the abusive to the morally sanctimonious; including the abusive and sanctimonious: "How can society ever hope to function, if people demand more than their fair share, you self-centred cretins!" I was a stamping Rumpelstiltskin. I took a breath to scream my contempt at these people, ready to do considerable and unforgettable damage in the process. My words were going to burn. Then I remembered the Golden Rule. This was going to empower nobody. It was going to reveal more about me, than about them. My bitterness, envy and scorn would be visible for all to see - my cover blown. I said nothing.
I got the number of tickets I wanted anyway. I figured that as the tickets were free, a good number would be returned. We simply requested the number we wanted on the day of performance and the tickets were handed over. I felt smug. I too will break the rules - as long as it's not the Golden One.
Next time the blog will resemble the extra content that you find on a DVD - a DVD Extra.