Lying Straight in Bed

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In all the years before I had children, I daydreamed about how I would raise them. I thought a lot about how much I would love them, how I would make sure they knew they were loved, how I would treat them. Before I was even a teenager, I decided that I would never lie to them. Not ever. Not even once. I had an idea that trust was an important element of parenting, that it was an important way to teach my children that I was a trustworthy person, and they would always be safe with me.

I have to admit, that policy has served me well. Even when I’m asked awkward questions, I answer them as honestly as I can. Sometimes, I give fuller answers than necessary, resulting in one or other (sometimes both!) of my girls beating a hasty retreat and saying ‘TMI, Mum! Okay, you can stop talking now!’

Until last night.

Kashmira is ten – she’ll be eleven next month – and she has a rich imagination. She also loves reading and counts among her favourite authors people like Ruth Long and John Connolly. In case you’re unaware, these authors don’t write about fluffy bunnies that get lost in the garden and go off on adventures with gentle fairies before being found by child owners who cuddle them happily. Oh no.

Last night, Kashmira came in to me some time after 11pm.

‘I just came in for a cuddle,’ she announced, arms out-stretched.

She popped into the bed beside me and snuggled in.

‘I might just sleep here tonight.’

‘That’s fine.’

‘Except…..am I not a bit old?’

‘No! It’s perfectly normal for human beings to seek other human beings – it’s very artificial to sleep in a room on your own. From an anthropological point of view, humans have….’

‘Mum!’ Kashmira’s tone was urgent. ‘I’m not here because I’m human, I’m here because I’m scared!’

‘Oh. Well that’s perfectly normal, too.’

‘I can’t get my imagination to stop. I can’t get the thoughts to leave me alone. It’s worse at night.’

I stop to think and pull something out of my repertoire for when I write and talk about mental health:

‘Well, who owns your brain, where your imagination lives?’ I ask.

‘I do,’ she responds and I nod.

‘Right. So you get to choose which thoughts you entertain. I imagine myself sitting on a park bench and my thoughts are passing in front of me – I can choose which ones I invite to sit on the bench beside me, or which ones I tell to walk on by.’

She considers this for a nanosecond.

‘Fine. But what if your thoughts don’t pass in front of you? What if they jump out from behind a tree and sneak up behind you and attack you before you even know they’re there?’

Emmmmm….no one in any of the seminars or workshops I’ve spoken at has ever asked me that.

‘I can’t control my imagination,’ Kashmira continued. ‘The thoughts just keep coming at me, I don’t even know where they come from.’

‘You’ve a fabulous imagination,’ I remind her. ‘It comes up with the most amazing ideas and ways of looking at things…’

‘Yes, and it has the ability to terrify me – especially at night! And then I don’t want to sleep on my own.’

‘But you don’t have to sleep on your own. You can always come in to me.’

‘I know, but…’ she hesitates and I am aware that we’re about to get to the crux of the matter. ‘Am I not too old to come in to my mum at night cos I’m scared?’

And that’s when it happens. The lie words tumble out of my mouth.

‘Absolutely not!’ I scoff. ‘I happen to know for a fact that John Connolly was still going in to his mum at night when he was a scared fifteen-year-old.’

Kashmira’s face lights up.

‘Really?’ she asks.

‘Yes!’ I sound so convincing, I have myself believing my own lie. ‘And look at the imagination he has. You can guess how scared he was at night. When he was fifteen. Going in to his mam.’

The relief rolled off the child and she settled down, reassured that she wasn’t a big baby, but rather a ten year-old with an imagination who sometimes needed the presence of another in the middle of the night to make sure that characters in her rich, vivid imagination didn’t ‘get her’ while she slept.

So, John, the next time you see Kashmira at a book signing, or any other event, or even just on the street, will you do me a solid? If she asks you about being fifteen and being scared and needing your mum in the middle of the night, will you just nod and confirm my version of events? Thanks a million.

Images: The covers of two of Kashmira’s favourite books, swiped from their respective authors’ web-sites. 

My Simon Cowell Moment

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I’m not going to win any friends with this post, but sometimes, some things need to be said.

There was a piece in yesterday’s Irish Times. I’m deliberately not going to link to it because if you really want to read it, you’ll go and find it yourself.

The piece I’m talking about was written by a very young person. The headline did its job and drew me in – excited to read what followed. The headline was, at best, slightly mis-leading. It suggested that the young author of the piece had written a novel. She hasn’t. Which is fine. No one would think she was a slacker for not writing a novel at such a young age. The young girl in question likes to read and she likes to write. She has started to write a book, which she hopes to finish and is wishful of getting a publisher for. A section of her book is reproduced at the end of the article and (here’s my Simon Cowell moment) it’s not very good. In fact, it’s pretty awful. I’d expect more of any 13 year old and I’d expect a lot more of a 13 year old who was published in a national newspaper.

I am delighted this child likes to read. She should be encouraged to read every spare moment she has. She should be given a torch to facilitate reading under the covers when she’s supposed to  be asleep. She should be given lovely stationery and taken to the pen shop to buy herself a fabulous writing instrument. She should be encouraged to read books about writing. She should be encouraged to love language and love manipulating it. She should be told to keep at it, that writing is a craft and benefits from daily practice. She should be sent on writing courses and workshops for children her age. She should be encouraged in her endeavours. She absolutely should.

I don’t think, however, her parents or the editor of the newspaper should have allowed her to publish a few hundred words of a book she has started writing, hopes to finish and hopes to publish. Especially when it’s not very good. I think it’s an awful thing to do to a child. She’s 13 and she has started to write a book. Newsflash! That’s not unusual. I’d say in an average class of 30 average 13 year olds in Ireland today, you’ll have at least five who harbour a desire to write a book. Most of them are probably scribbling away in journals and copybooks and on laptops. And they are quite right. But most of those books will be abandoned long before they are finished. New projects will be started and (perhaps) not finished either. If they are finished, they will be re-read and the writer will realise that they have better in them. They may start to write another book. Or they may not. This is all perfectly normal.

The difference is that all these children have the safety and security of writing away in their own homes until they have finished something they can be proud of, and are ready to show to the world. If they don’t end up, at 13, with something they are proud of and want to share with the world, that’s perfectly fine. The world is not waiting for them to.

Unlike the girl in yesterday’s paper. What kind of pressure – internal or external – will she be under now to produce a novel worthy of publication in five months’ time? What if she can’t? What if she changes her mind? Every school has bullies. Has this girl been encouraged to give the bullies in her school a stick to beat with her with? I hope not. I hope she finishes her book and that, as she edits and re-writes, it improves. I hope she finds herself a publisher and gets her book published and has a fabulous book launch and some famous people say lovely things and she’s fit to burst with pride. But I worry about what will happen to her and her self-esteem and sense of self if things don’t work out for her.

I am reminded of something a tutor told us when I was studying Theatre 110 years ago.

‘Never tell anyone what you’re doing until you’ve done it’.

There’s wisdom in that, and I just wish this enthusiastic girl with her love of reading and writing had been protected a bit better by her parents and the editor of the paper who published her.