Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Kids and their Disarming Honesty

My wife suffered a TDM (Terrible Disco Mishap) last week. Whilst negotiating a tricky dancefloor, she slipped on some oil from a misfiring smoke machine, resulting in a manoeuvre that Jeffrey Daniels would have been proud of, quickly followed by a broken arm. To compound the fracture, it was her birthday the next day and all our plans were quickly ruined.

The following morning, I gathered the kids together to let them know what had happened. In a tone reminiscent of Neville Chamberlain informing the country that ‘no such undertaking has been received’, I explained quietly that their mum was currently in Wythenshawe Hospital, awaiting surgery and avoiding the food.

They all took it quite stoically. Chester (12), Casey (10) and Bryher (9) were worried enough to ask pertinent questions, but Caleb (6) got straight to the point in the way that only small children can.

“We’re still going to Croma though, right?”

Though he loves his mum very much, her smashed limb was a feeble excuse for us ducking out of a slap up Italian meal.

For all the crap that you put up with as a parent, disarming honesty in social situations is one of the ways that I think we get something back from kids. The constant, low level bickering that hums through our house (it’s as if they take it in turns to maintain a steady pace, like moaning relay runners), is instantly forgotten when one of them produces a frank statement that leaves no room for ambiguity.

I was comforting Caleb last year. He’d started to think about death and was crying in bed.

“Daddy, I don’t want me or my family to die.”

“Don’t you worry about that, love. It’s such a long way into the future, that it’s silly to even think about it.”

“Not for you.”

Many years ago, my older brothers, John and Joe, were on a day trip to Southport with my mum. She took them to an ice cream van but in the time it took to buy two cornets, Joe (6) had disappeared. As her panic and dread rose, she dragged John (7) all round the park, looking for her little boy. With ice cream melting down her arm and her beehive wilting, it took her two hours to locate him. Thankfully, he’d just wandered off and had come to no harm. 

Whenever she relates the story, as a cautionary tale about never taking your eye off kids, the thing she remembers most about the incident isn’t the horror of his loss or the relief of finding him. For the entire two hours, every couple of minutes, John would ask.

“If Joe’s dead, can I have his ice cream?”

I suppose that acquiring the social skills to know when to say something and when to say nothing is an essential part of growing up, but I know that we all secretly wish that we could, occasionally, come right out with whatever’s on our mind. Kids get to do it and so do pensioners. I’m not sure at what age it becomes acceptable again, but most old people I know are quite happy to air unsolicited views on everything from haircuts to immigration. My wife’s grampa had a solution to almost every societal problem. Unfortunately, it generally involved a shotgun.

I stumbled across a great website the other day, that taps into the perfectly human desire to free oneself of the shackles of conformity. At www.bluntcard.com there’s a great variety of greetings cards you can buy that will leave the recipient under no illusions about their place in your affections. My two favourites were, 

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