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The world’s oldest vocation

August 7, 2020

One of the consequences of lockdown was that for three months we weren’t able to spend any time with our grandson, who is now two-and-a-half.

Of course we saw him on video. He recognised us, would wave and go back to what he was doing before his mum shoved a phone in front of him. But that was not the same as spending time in his company and watching him grow – a developmental flywheel that slowly gains momentum.

Now his mum is back at work, and he comes to us for a day a week, as he did before lockdown.

It’s been such a long time since our kids were at the same stage that I’ve forgotten how two-year-olds develop. Each is different, for sure. Ours were girls. Rupert is a boy. Is it my conditioning that leads me to think that there’s a difference in how boys and girls develop? I certainly don’t remember our daughters as the bumptious, risk-taking, furniture-climbing little handfuls – qualities that we typically attribute to boys in my culture. But I might be wrong. So much of my time in those days was spent with my eye on other balls.

One difference I do notice. Our kids loved stories. It was as if they learned about the world and relationships through narrative. Rupert likes stories too, but he seems to spend far more energy figuring out how things work. He loves clocks, keys, tower-building, furniture-climbing, decanting water from one container to another.

He has extraordinary balance. He jumps off things and lands on his feet. He dribbles a football like a baby Messi, yet nobody has taught him how. His speech is coming on leaps and bounds, though he was few months slower than some kids (girls, curiously enough) of his age.

One of the jokes my wife and I used to share was how mothers we knew when our kids were growing up would proudly proclaim that their offspring were in the “gifted stream” at school. What mother doesn’t think her kids are gifted?

I make no such claim for my grandson, because I have no point of comparison. But one of the delightful results of enforced separation has been that development the parents perceive as gradual appears to the grandparents as a giant leap. This little fellow can tell us what he wants and doesn’t want! He can count to thirty! He can eat his dinner all on his own without spilling food in all directions! All skills that have come together in the space of three months.

None of this has happened by accident. In her nurturing, her patience and her teaching skills Rupert’s mother most definitely is in the gifted stream. Which reminds me how little we value parenting skills – the ability to bring up a happy, curious and engaged child – against other occupations for which we’re paid money, get promotion, win the acclaim of our peers and sometimes fame and fortune.

Not that I’m dissing his dad’s undoubted parenting skills by singling out his mum. It’s just that at this stage of Rupert’s life we see more of him with his mother than with his father. Dad’s time in the spotlight will come.

I don’t get all soppy and sentimental about parenthood. I can’t stand the toe-curling saccherine of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. I also know from experience that Rupert’s parents are still at the start of a long journey on which the skills of both will be sorely challenged. For example, will they have the emotional intelligence to realise that a teenage Rupert will probably reject them as the spawn of the devil, yet still want to come running back to them at times of need? To be there or not to be there is the ultimate question for parents of adolescents, just as it is for those of us whose children have grown up.

I have two reasons for writing this. First because we – or more specifically, I – spend so much time focused on stuff beyond our power to influence in anything other than a small way, be it politics, pandemics or global discord, that we sometimes forget the minor miracles happening on our own doorsteps. And second, in the hope that Rupert’s generation will make less of a bollocks of the world they inherit than we have.

The key to that hope being realised is the world’s oldest vocation: parenthood.

From → Education, Social, UK

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