We have spent a wonderful Easter weekend with my sister, her husband and her two boys and it has been lovely to have the luxury of just seeing the children play. Observing the five of them together, with an undeniable bond despite living at opposite ends of the country, has been a real pleasure. Indeed, watching them haring around my parents’ garden is as hypnotic as staring at the ocean or peering into the flames of a real fire. I could do it all day, every day.
It also got me thinking. My eldest daughter H, turns 7 in 9 sleeps time and I am increasingly aware that the ages of 7-13 are critical in terms of development: I am told that it’s during this stage they find their place amongst their peers and as they start to find out who they are and the characteristics that will define them, their growing sense of awareness and of self, contradicts their enduring innocence.
So, when is it that children stop leaping around and stop running, chasing, throwing a ball, exhilarated by the simple joy of being able to do so? Finding a thrill in the power of their limbs, attacking every physical challenge with a certainty that their bodies will answer the demands they make of them. When do children start to become more sedentary? And what influence do older children and we as adults have on the start and rate of this change?
Right now, my life could not be much more inactive. The limited amount of exercise I did before I went back to work was the first thing to go and I have piled on a considerable amount of weight in the last 18 months. And even if this doesn’t affect H now, as a child, might it not at least set a tone for her approach in adult life? I danced every night after school and taught on a Saturday so how is it exercise isn’t higher up my agenda? Might it be that it was never that important to my parents and certainly never featured in the list of my mum’s priorities? Is this what I want the girls to remember given the undeniable benefits of physicality on both body and soul?
When will my lovely girls stop playing witches and making potions, stop playing mums and dads, stop being princesses or pirates? At what point do they become too self-aware, too embarrassed to act out their fantasies? And if we don’t find another outlet for dreaming and imagination, might this stunt their ability to believe that yes, they can become an explorer/astronaut/dancer/real life Octonaut?
When glitter, glue, sequins and washi tape lose their appeal, can we be happy that one weekly art class at school is enough to satisfy the creative need that for the last 7 years has been the main thrust of their play at home? What is our role to play in keeping this creativity alive? Surely it must be more than letting it go and hoping school finds them an outlet, when so clearly, being creative is for them instinctive and natural? And if we don’t do something, will this stop them finding their own style? What if L, who still loves to wear 3 bunches, 5 hair bands and many clashing colours does not become a many bangled, multi-layered hippy with rainbow hair? Quite frankly, we might be disappointed….it would be hard to believe she had grown into her true self.
I have no answers today, but this time of quiet reflection and watching the children play has certainly prompted me to think a little harder about my changing role as a parent as we enter the next ‘big phase’. In the context of Wild Woman, I have also had chance to consider what we might all have left behind in the transition from child to young adult and beyond; what we lose when we are no longer free to do what our bodies and imaginations are built to do. We are designed to run, aspire and invent. What a shame, that as we grow the constraints of expectation quell the most basic of human impulses. Shouldn’t the opportunity of growth be to strengthen the muscles that allow us to charge, dream and create? Anyone fancy a game of tig?!
Thank you to Pinterest for the image