I have helped out at school a fair bit this week. I think that everyone who has children and who has ever watched their child/ren do or say something and wondered: ‘Goodness me. Is that normal?’ should go and volunteer in a primary school for at least a month. It puts things into perspective as you realise that all children are absolutely and splendidly bonkers in their own way, and that this is fine.
The only thing that depresses me slightly, as I watch them in a kind of anthropological awe state as I busy myself amongst the book stacks, is that all this awesomeness, this strangeness, this ploughing of their own eccentric furrows, will somehow slip away from most of them, and be replaced by this odd desire to fit in, to be like everyone else, to wear beige and worry about if this coat goes with these shoes, and genuinely get stressed if it doesn’t.
Where does all the oddness go to? Whither this splendid obsession with dolphins, or becoming a ring master, or learning to fly unaided? What happens to this glorious individuality that makes each child so brilliant, and yet admittedly such a ball ache if you need to corral them all in a small room and make them all learn the seven times table?
It saddens me that their brilliance often flares and dies like a lit match. I wonder what would happen if we could spend more time nurturing each individual flame until it burns so brightly inside each of them that they carry that wonder with them all their lives?
I love the children who do not go gently into that good night. Well, the ones that do it without trying to break someone’s arm anyway. This week I was reading with a child, we will call him Anselm, because I want to. When you are reading with a child there is always a time where they will be inspired by what you are reading together, and want to tell you something. Usually it is well worth listening to if you have the time.
In this case it was a shark.
Anselm: ‘That’s a shark, that is. See that, over there?’
Me: ‘Yes. That’s right. It is.’
Anselm: ‘Deadly killers they are miss. Deadly.’
Me: ‘I know. The closest things to dinosaurs we have…’
Anselm: ‘Yeah. Not forgetting crocodiles and dragonflies miss.’
Anselm, looks at the shark again, and shakes his head darkly: ‘Deadly. And bare fast.’
Me: ‘I’ve seen one.’
Anselm: ‘What? In real life?’
Me: ‘In an aquarium.’
Anselm: Thinking hard. Looks me straight in the eye, cool as a cucumber. ‘I went on me ‘olidays last year, yeah?’
Me: ‘Oh yes?’
Anselm: ‘Yeah. To the seaside. And what do you think was there, on the beach, well, in the sea bit anyway?’
Anselm: ‘A shark. Massive it was.’
Me: In awe. ‘Really? My goodness.’
Anselm: Very proud: ‘Yep. Know what I did next?’
Me: ‘No. I have no idea what you did next.’
Anselm: In tones of barely concealed glee: ‘I ‘opped on ‘is back and ‘ad a ride around for a bit.’
Me: ‘My goodness. Wasn’t that a bit dangerous?’
Anselm: ‘Nah miss. Nah. Because I weren’t bleedin’ or nuffin’ so ‘e din wanna eat me did ‘e? They only react to the scent of blood.’
Me: ‘Good point.’
We look back at the picture of the shark together in reverent silence. Both of us hugely impressed with the conversation for entirely separate and yet mutually beneficial reasons.
Anselm sighs: ‘Deadly.’