I have learned a lot from being a mum. Not in a soppy ‘isn’t the world a wonderful, more magical place when you have children’ way, nor in an ‘I’ve read lots of books and am now a parenting expert’ way. No, I have genuinely learned from my son, who I am starting to think is some kind of philosophical genius.
As a small child, his first and favourite words for some time were ‘all gone’. All day, every day, he would point out what was all gone – not just food but people, birds, objects, even states of mind.
‘Are you still tired?’
‘Tired – all gone’.
A layman would assume he’d just learned some words and liked saying them, or perhaps wanted to point out that his food had ‘all gone’ in the hope he would get some more. I, however, like to think he was more philosophical than that, simply yet effectively pointing out the transient nature of life and how we must make the most of every moment before it too is ‘all gone’.
Last week I wrote about how his boundless enthusiasm for chasing pigeons had taught me the importance of appreciating the process and not just the end product; it doesn’t matter if you get there, it’s the chasing that counts.
Then this week, at a most unexpected moment, he taught me my latest lesson.
I was awoken at 2am by the cry every parent dreads. Stumbling into his room, I held out his water with all the energy of a particularly lazy zombie, half heartedly trudging after a much quicker and more energetic youngster. I hoped it was just the heat, that the water would do he trick and I could collapse back into bed having never really woken up in the first place.
It didn’t happen.
Twenty minutes later and much cuddling, probing and ear splitting refusal to go back to bed revealed he was scared.
‘What are you scared of?’
I looked over. There was indeed a dinosaur in his cot bed. It was a birthday present received a few weeks earlier – a giant, green rubber dinosaur which has inexplicably been named Eddie. My son has refused to go to bed without it since the day it arrived. I had to admit it did look pretty frightening at that time of night.
‘Is Eddie scaring you! Shall we take Eddie dinosaur out of bed?’
‘No. Me like Eddie.’
‘What’s scary then?’
‘Other dinosaur. Me sleep in mummy daddy bed.’
I gave up. It was too late for this toddler logic.
Two days later I was desperately trying to get him back into his own bed. Refusing to accept this dinosaur nonsense, I wondered if the cot-bed itself was the problem, the bars seeming like some kind of toddler prison in the middle of the night.
‘Shall we turn your bed into a grown up bed like Mummy and Daddy’s?’ I asked. ‘We can get rid of the sides and buy some nice new bedding.’
‘Okay’ Came the muted reply.
‘And you can choose the new sheets. We could get animals? Or stripes? Or football? What would you like?’
‘Dinosaurs!’ came a far more enthusiastic reply.
And that was it – two nights of refusing to sleep in his own bed because he was scared of dinosaurs were solved by the simple promise of decorating his bed with… dinosaurs. Content with the deal he drifted off peacefully, clutching tight to Eddie.
I shook my head at the ridiculous logic of it all, but after a while it got me thinking. How often do we do the same thing as adults? For years I indulged in an on-off relationship, constantly going back to spend more time with the one person in the world I knew could never make me truly happy, nor I him. I spent my university years perpetually recovering from hideous hangovers, swearing never to drink again, only to go back to they bar the moment I felt better.
Nowadays I’m stuck in the same cycle with work. I regularly come home moaning about how tired I am – how fed up, how stressed, how much I need a break – only to sit down and watch programmes about teaching, read articles about education, make notes about lesson ideas very time I see the slightest inspiration, protesting ‘but I love my job’ to anyone who dares to point out the irony.
It’s how we live our lives – we never know what’s good for us, but persist in pursuing what we know is bad for us.
If my son has discovered this already at the age of 2, does he have more of a chance of escaping the cycle? Or is he doomed to repeat my mistakes?
I don’t know, but the fact the he just this second ran up to me screaming ‘Mummy, dinosaur!’ for no apparent reason does not bode well.