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On Being Boring

I moved from London to Brussels with my husband nearly 10 years ago. When I told people we were moving, the news was greeted with bemusement: why did we want to move to a city that was possibly the most boring place on earth? Ten years later and I can honestly say that I've had more fun here than I ever did living in London. It might not be the most exciting city in the world but it is a fantastic place to live. It is full of hidden treasures that you probably never get to see as a tourist: wonderful shops, amazing food, great museums and galleries, beautiful architecture, a forest (yes, a whole forest), and so much more... And if that doesn't convince you, well, get on a train and you could be in Paris, Amsterdam, Cologne or, yes, London in no more than a couple of hours... Which other city can you say that about?

Lessons

Yesterday evening, some time after lights-out, Amélie emerged from her room and told me she needed to speak to me. Amélie usually goes straight to sleep. Just occasionally though, she’ll ask me to lie next to her for a while because she can’t get bad thoughts out of her head. I assumed this was going to be one of those. But it wasn’t.

As a non-native french speaker, Amélie has been given the opportunity to do an extra french lesson on Monday afternoons. The lesson is mostly conversational to help her increase her vocabulary and fluency. Yesterday, her teacher lent Amélie a book, explicitly asking her to look after it and to make sure she brought it back next week. Amélie had then taken it to the after-school club, where she started talking and playing with her friends. When Han arrived to pick her up, she grabbed her bag and hurried out. Without the book. She only remembered it as she was lying in bed, thinking about the day gone by. And that’s when she had come out to get me. By the time I got to her room (seconds later), she was in full-blown panic mode.

Amélie is always loosing her stuff and we’ve had many stern talks with her about being more careful and more appreciative of the things people have bought for, given or made for her. So my first reaction last night was to think that this would be a very good lesson for her. That, if she got told off by her teacher, maybe just maybe, the importance of looking after her (and other people’s) belongings might finally sink in. My daughter, however, is far too much like me. Me without 30 odd years of experience to put events into context. And right then, the fact that she was going to have to anticipate being told off for a whole week, the fact that she was going to have that whole week to imagine all the ways in which her teacher might be angry, a whole week to worry about how she was going to tell her teacher that she had lost her precious book… It was all too much. She started shaking and crying uncontrollably.

And so my “this will be a good lesson for you” crumbled into trying to find some way of relieving her despair. She could ask the teachers if they had found the book after everyone had left. She could ask the friends she was sitting with if they had picked it up for her. She could go back to the classroom they had been in and search for it. I would go with her. It would be ok. Even if her teacher was really angry, in a few weeks’ time, all this would have passed and it would be but a distant memory. This wasn’t going to be the end of the world.

The more I tried to reassure her though, the more I found that I was also trying to reassure myself. Because I knew exactly how she was feeling. I recognised exactly her words when she said she wished she could just go back in time and have a second chance (she even wished she could be like Stewie and have a time-machine. If you know what she was talking about, they you might smile like I did at that point). As she repeated “I wish I wasn’t so stupid” over and over, I heard my own voice. I have cried those tears, those bitter tears that mask the real scale of a problem and make it feel like an insurmountable disaster that will change the whole course of your life. I’ve been there so often – so full of remorse over my actions, so convinced of my own worthlessness – and I just couldn’t stand seeing Amélie feel like that.

And so I crumbled again and I said out loud what I had been thinking but not wanting to tell her: that if she told me what the book was called, I would order another copy for her teacher. I knew I shouldn’t say it. I knew it would the worst possible way to teach her to look after her things. I knew my ability to buy a new book shouldn’t be her get-out-of-prison-free card. I knew it made me a bad mother. But I just wanted her to stop hurting and so I blurted it out.

As parents, if we’re lucky, we get to decide when and how we protect our children and when and how we let them go. Sometimes, letting them go means letting them get hurt so they learn how to protect themselves next time round. Last night, I should not have deployed my full protective arsenal. I should have let her trip this time, so that she doesn’t fall harder, over something far more important, in the future. But I couldn’t do it. And I don’t know if I will ever really be ready to do it. And that, in turn, probably means I am actually hurting her more than I am helping her. Because she will eventually have to go out into the big bad world all on her own, whether I like it or not. If I had a second chance, if I had that precious time-machine, would I go back to last night and stay firm on the lessons learnt? The truth is, I don’t know.

As it was, Amélie didn’t know the title of her teacher’s book and so I wasn’t able to look it up and buy another copy. This morning, she woke up with a frown already etched across her face, full or dread and worry and what ifs… And I had to tell her I couldn’t make her problem go away, that she would have to tell her teacher and apologise.

The book though, was exactly where she left it, on the table in the classroom where she went after her french lesson.

“Everything will be alright in the end. If it’s not alright, it’s not the end”.

12 February 2014 - 12:04 AM Ingrid - Cass. Whoa. This was so powerful. So powerful that I'll have to write you a separate email for fear this block is not big enough. It's crazy isn't it how we hear our own fears, our own insecurities in our children and if we weren't able to fix our own than surely we can fix all their problems..even when we realize that maybe we can't, maybe we shouldn't ..maybe we should? Parenting is hard. It really is. You may get lucky at times and other times you may just fall flat on your face and call it a fail day..but in the end you continue to make it better to learn from yesterday. This post just made me sigh out loud. Can I ever thank you for saying what I think out loud? No..probably not..but thank you for sharing this. I think I've almost filled the block..but there's so much more to say. xxoo

12 February 2014 - 12:09 AM Cass - Part of my reason for writing this down "out loud", in public, is indeed because parenting is hard. But we all do it. And we've all tackled different problems at different times. I'm sure I can learn from others. I hope to anyway. To learn how else I might have reacted and what I can do better next time. If I'm strong enough. Love you Ingrid x

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