herald

Sunday 19 August 2018

Super children miss messing in the mud

Every so often when I can't sleep I get up in the middle of the night to watch crap telly. Certain kinds of people watch this: strays like me, students or sleep-deprived parents. The advertorial programmes tend to feature useless DIY implements, unrealistic beauty products, and reading programmes for children who cannot yet speak.

There's something sinister about watching an 18-month-old baby rattling off the words on flashcards. Behind most super children there is a parent who has so much to prove they have forgotten that the development stages are not standards, but guidelines. They've decided little John or Jean must reach Olympian ideals and smash those stages like Usain Bolt over 100 metres.

Super children are tomorrow's therapy cases. Super children walk early, talk early, ride bikes early, toilet train early, start school early and have nervous breakdowns early. Super children play piano and discuss the political spectrum. Super children, if they are gifted, are entitled to be this way, but if they are like 95pc of us -- of okay intelligence and ability -- they are in the preliminary stages of greenhousing that takes all the good out of messy, ordinary childhood.

My friend was on the phone telling me how her 15-month-old is getting on. Brilliantly. She has a ball playing from the moment she wakes up until when she goes asleep. But her pal down the road is in a super-child programme. He is the baby genius of a mother who this Christmas bought him a potty. Just to get him used to it. He's 13 months old. His parents, according to my friend, have him turned inside out with no fun and all business. He must walk, he must crawl, he must use sign language.

I laughed. I toilet-trained mine when they turned three and I would have done it later, but one of them spotted the Spiderman underpants meant to bribe them. He demanded them instead of a nappy.

There are two reasons to toilet train: to stop handing your money over to nappy-making companies and because your child wants to. Childhood isn't a race. It's a golden time before responsibility. But the super parent doesn't get this. They are often organic Nazis who don't see the need for John and Jean to make their own way. I was an organic Nazi about food, but not about development stuff.

Another friend's child walked at seven months and it looked like a bow-legged alien. Mine were still playing with their toes while hers was reading Proust. It was horrible to watch because the boy was bright, but he kept putting his intergalactic potty over his head and pouring his contents on himself. I believe it was an early dirt protest.

His parents were under the usual strains. Job, mortgage, no time and being very fearful first-time rounders they wanted to do it right. Parents with ambition and fixated on his future so he wouldn't make mistakes. But he was just blowing spit bubbles on his banana when left to his own devices.

I don't understand the first place thing. Anything mine are good at I take pride in, but it's not my achievement, it's theirs. If they want something bad, they'll get it. If they don't, they won't. My memories of their babyhood are not of flash cards, but flash instincts and moments where I saw them truly happy and it made me the same. I can't recall what age they read at, but I can see them now up to their knees in mucky water, shouting at the sky to rain more.

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