It’s memorising and somewhat therapeutic to watch a toddler running around the park. The sheer pleasure and the shrieks of glee remind you that there is nothing quite as wonderful as the truly simple pleasures in life. Whether you’re charging after them or just watching from a distance, as soon as those pudgy little legs start waddling along, all the worries in your life just seem to drift away…
With one exception.
While still mesmerising, there is something rather troubling about watching a toddler chase pigeons.
First of all, why pigeons? Why are little kids so obsessed with a creature which is essentially a rodent with wings? My boy has been fascinated by pigeons since the moment he could walk and his fixation shows no sign of abating.
Second of all, what’s the point? On Saturday I was killing time in the park and enjoying running around and pretending to dance on the grass with the little man in my life when suddenly, out of nowhere, he charged off with more sense of purpose than most business people show walking into a make-or-break meeting. My only warning to what was happening was a sweetly chirped ‘Oh! Mummy! Pigeons!’.
So began 10 minutes of desperately energetic, impressively purposeful and yet entirely pointless chasing. Like a lame cheetah chasing after a the gazelle equivalent of Usain Bolt and the Jamaican sprinting team, he pursued those pigeons with steely determination. I watched in wonder. What was he trying to achieve? At what point would he realise his still disproportionately little limbs, with their plodding and waddling stride, we’re no match for an animal with wings who could glide off at a second’s notice? And when would he give up?
We walked all the way home and the chasing continued. Every time a feathered rodent appeared the ‘oh mummy’ cry and charge down the road swiftly followed, each time as enthusiastic as the first.
‘God, how did we ever involve into civilised societies if all we naturally want to do is chase flea ridden BIRDS?’ I pondered as we approached home and, watched him cheerfully accept yet another defeat – a brief moment of utter, earth shattering disappointment at missing yet again quickly replaced by the boundless optimism which vexed me, being so entirely unfounded and pointless.
Then it occurred to me: here I was acting all high and mighty, thinking I knew better because I wasn’t pointlessly chasing pigeons, but he had one over on me the whole time. It’s not about catching the pigeon; it’s about the chase, the effort, the determination.
A while ago, a psychologist friend of mine explained to me the differences between goals and values. We are a primarily goal driven society: buy a car, get a promotion, get married by 30. So often we forget the important values that go with these things: being able to get around independently, doing well at something you love, sustaining and enjoying a loving, committed relationship. I’d struggled with this. I’ve always lived my life by dent of over-organisation, but since becoming a mother I’m practically incapable of doing anything if it’s not first written on a list with a handy tick box at the side. Each evening I set myself an impossibly long list of often unnecessary tasks to complete once the pigeon catcher is in bed – do the ironing, mark a set of essays, call family, clean the house, write a blog (tick!) – and inevitably go to bed feeling like a failure because I didn’t meet all my goals. Inevitably I start to feel frustrated and give up: so many times I have moaned that I haven’t blogged for ages because I can’t think of anything good enough, or I haven’t written in so long everyone will have forgotten and no one will read it, forgetting that the value was always in the joy of writing, not in what happened with it after.
So, this week I’m setting myself a challenge – a pigeon challenge! I’m going to focus on the values, the thrill of the chase, and not simply on ‘getting things done’. Each time I feel like giving up and moving on to a more ‘productive’ task, I’m going to picture my boy chasing after those pigeons. It doesn’t matter if he doesn’t catch one, he’ll keep trying and so will I. He’s only two and sometimes gets closer than you think; I’m. 32, if I’d kept at it, I’d almost certainly have caught a pigeon by now.