It’s a milestone I’ve been dreading for some years. Seven years old.
I have organised a party. A disco with music and lights. I’ve bought glow sticks, I’m making a buffet and building a rainbow My Little Pony layer cake. I’ve told her to invite all her classmates. I have bought all the presents that seven year old girls like (hopefully).
Because I want my little girl to remember seven for the year she had an awesome birthday. I want my little girl — my sensitive girl who’s still afraid of the dark, who still likes to cuddle when she’s sad, who still likes her sandwiches cut into little triangles, and who has me sit with her while she falls asleep — my sweet, innocent little girl to remember seven for the year she got to party in sequins and eat pizza and cake with her school friends.
I don’t want her to remember seven as the year a sexual predator with alleged child sex offences won the US presidential election, further normalising the continued treatment of women and girls as objects.
I don’t want her to remember seven as the year a sexual predator with alleged child sex offences won the US presidential election, in part because of votes from a majority of white women, who statistically many of whom have been sexually assaulted but don’t see it as an issue that should affect their vote, demonstrating the further normalisation of the continued treatment of women and girls as objects.
I had hoped that by the time my daughter reached seven, the world would be different. Better. That I wouldn’t have to worry about her potentially experiencing the shit I went through when I was seven.
Because I don’t want her to remember seven as the year she was sexually assaulted for the first time. Like I do.
This month I’ve been giving thought to buying an old Nintendo console. I think it’s a combination of things tempting me in that direction: being so busy with work I need some downtime away from my laptop (before I throw it out of the window), a regression in my mood meaning I need a way of escape that doesn’t involve going out and getting drunk, and just generally being a massive Nintendo nerd.
As a kid we had virtually every console that Nintendo released, from the NES to the Wii (OK, I bought that one as an adult, but it totes counts) including the handhelds: various Gameboys, Nintendo DS etc. I definitely think this early access to console gaming shaped an interest in technology and “geek” that eventually went on to form the what matured into a career in IT. In fact, one of my first websites was a Majora’s Mask fansite. Gaming is good for kids, yo!
Anyway, so here I am a few months off hitting 30 and I can think of nothing more awesome than sitting in my pants playing Super Mario Bros 3 on the NES, Super Mario World and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past on the SNES, or Ocarina of Time on the Nintendo 64 til the early hours of the morning. Wiggling my thumbs to ward off cramp from hours of button mashing and control stick manipulation.
I’m sure that this old school gaming utopia I’ve painted in my head is unrealistic. I definitely remember having to blow in and wiggle the old console game cartridges a few times before the things would load, and if someone knocked the console mid-game you were probably screwed, but that’s not the end of the world right? I shall bask in imagined retro gaming glory for a wee bit longer…
As I rapidly approach my 30th birthday I seem to spend more and more time thinking about things that have already happened. I don’t like to live in the past, and I’m not one for dwelling on regrets, but I think it’s important to recognise where we’ve come from and the things we’ve done, so that we can learn from our experiences. That said, life would be so much easier if our future self could get in touch and guide us with the benefit of experience. So what would I have told my 13 year old self if I could?
Never settle for making do
If you have any doubt, any nagging feeling that you’re making the wrong choices, if what you’re doing isn’t making (or going to make) you happy long term, sort it out.
You shouldn’t settle for bad relationships, bad jobs, bad clients or bad habits. Changing things is scary, yes. But fear should be a motivator – a catalyst for change – not a reason to accept the status quo.
You have a right to a voice
Speak up about everything that bothers you. From the mundane to the massive. The quicker you use your words, the faster you can make things happen – be that for you or for those who can’t speak for themselves for whatever reason.
Despite how it feels right now, things will get better
Hold on for the happiness, because you WILL discover it. Eventually.
Although my parenting ‘method’ is very much make-it-up-as-you-go-along, I have a set of core principles that I believe are important to creating well-rounded little human beings.
I strongly believe in a level of autonomy for my children. Primarily this means bodily autonomy: the freedom to make choices about themselves without judgement or coercion. This means being able to choose if they want to kiss or cuddle a relative (or even me). Choosing whether or not they get their hair cut (and recently, doing it themselves… ouch). Choosing what clothes they wear (within reasonable seasonal / social restrictions, i.e. I encourage them to wear a coat in winter, and to not strip naked in the middle of Tesco). I like to think that if children understand from early on that they have a degree of control over their body, they are less likely to accept unwanted attention as something that is “ok” or “allowed” should that ever occur.
I feel like I’m raising my children in a culture that is defined and imprisoned by a bogeyman-like threat. An invisible but ever-present scary monster masquerading as the “bad men” who will kidnap our children and do unspeakable things to them. The Daily Mail would have us believe that our streets are lined with rapists and child abusers.
I don’t believe in it, I don’t believe we should be controlled by it, and I certainly don’t think my children’s lives should be unfairly restricted because of it. As such I encourage my children to play unsupervised — I am the parent who goes to the park and sits away from the play area enjoying a coffee. I encourage them to seek adventure — with unrestricted access to our jungle of a garden there’s plenty of mischief to be had. I send Isabel to the local shop for bread or milk — it’s four houses down and never out of sight but to her is a sign that she’s a trusted, responsible, contributing member of the family which boosts her self esteem. Freedom to be, to do, to explore, to play: without interference and direction.
From the moment my kids were able to navigate the world independently, I’ve encouraged them to do so. They are encouraged to walk as soon as they can walk. Fetch their own toys as soon as they can reach. They brush their own teeth, make their own toast, tidy their own room, put their own clothes in the washing machine, scrape their plates (and so on). It doesn’t always go well; teeth sometimes need a second brushing and breadcrumbs in my butter makes me wince, but practice makes perfect. There are days when Izzy ‘forgets’ how to dress herself and wants to be babied and days were Olly is being so fiercly independent that he won’t let me swap his left-foot-right-shoe with the right-foot-left-shoe but 9 times out of 10 they do OK, and I know that I can get on with things I need to do without answering calls of “muuuum” every 30 seconds.
Because I know what my kids can do when left to get on with it, I find it much easier to respect them as little independent beings. I respect them enough to assume that they can do ‘stuff’, rather than needing me to do it for them. I respect them enough to talk to them like people, with grown up words and not baby language, and respect their ability to ask when they don’t understand. I try and demonstrate respect to my children so that in turn they will learn to respect the world around them.
Lastly, but most importantly, I surround my children with unconditional love and affection. Because what kind of life is one without love?
I’ve been watching the Free Our Kids project with some interest over the past few weeks and my feelings are a mixture of ‘hoorah’ (for the effort) and a smug ‘so what?!’
I don’t mean to be smug, really. I am genuinely interested in what Harriet is trying to do, but overwhelmingly I feel like the whole thing is such a middle class problem to have (and I say this knowing that I creep ever closer to middle-class with my organic veg box and my barefoot shoes etc). When I was growing up we had mum-haircuts and 2nd, 3rd, 4th hand clothes because that’s all there was.
You didn’t get to choose between a labelled kids snack or a ‘proper’ grown up snack, you had to wait til mealtime and that was your lot. We didn’t have boxes and boxes of noisy toys and electronic gadgets, we had a bunch of formula scoops on a keyring and a saucepan + wooden spoon from the kitchen. Nobody was bored, nobody needed an iPad to learn to read, nobody starved because they didn’t have organic rice cakes to chew on.
So yes, hoorah to Harriet and her family. But some of us have been raising kids without spending unnecessary money for ages – welcome to our world ;)