Recently, I had the privilege of spending a long weekend amongst the company of 30 insanely talented authors and illustrators. From the intimate setting of Holland House, in the beautiful Cotswolds, I was one of the privileged few who got to watch James Mayhew draw to music, I created cats and characters with Viviane Schwarz and as a busy mum of two, had the luxury of eating for 4 days without having to do a weekly shop, prepare a single meal or wash a single plate! Privileged? Very!
Growing up, I was pretty lucky too. Mum prepared a roast every Sunday and insisted we had leather shoes to protect our feet. We lived in our own house and owned two cars. I had ballet lessons, whilst my brothers attended karate or football and all three of us had weekly swim lessons. But, despite all this, I still feel there were gaps. And, like all parents, it’s those gaps that I hope we are able to fill as we parent our children. In short, we want to give our children more.
More, doesn’t necessarily mean more toys – more stuff. Sometimes, more might mean more time or more fun, more confidence or more laughter. And in trying to give them more, are we on the verge of raising them spoilt?
My children are privileged. At least, I think they are and hope that they think so in the years to come too. (No doubt, they too will find gaps of some kind in their childhood and so the cycle repeats.) As they start venturing out of toddler-hood and further into childhood, I’m aware that their expectations for what is their ‘normal’ are gradually becoming more and more set.
Take birthdays for example: At age one, we invited our grown-up friends, who were yet to have children, over to our house one evening to enjoy a few drinks in Oscar’s honour. His second birthday fell on a wet and windy Wednesday, just before Christmas. Everywhere was shut… aside from soft play and Toby Carvery – so that’s where we headed. I can remember him eating two plates of chopped carrots and not much else, then having a whopper meltdown because they took his plate away. It wasn’t quite the celebration we had envisaged. At age three, we invited Oscar’s friends from nursery to our house for a train-track party. But by age four, Oscar was more excited about his ‘party’ than Christmas – and that was before we had even hinted that he might have one. Cue hall hired and children’s entertainer sought. And now he’s racing towards five… Well… Privileged? Very!
So, how should we teach gratitude and an understanding that his normal is only normal for the lucky few?
Exposure. Through exposure to other people’s worlds and ideologies. And how we can achieve this, if like mine, your children infrequently step outside of their leafy Hertfordshire life? Through picture books of course!
A current trend in children’s publishing appears to be towards stories about inclusivity, created by authors and illustrators from a range of different backgrounds. Narrative non-fiction is in demand and stories requiring our young readers and listeners to empathise with characters who may be different to themselves are hitting the slush piles. Each of these could provide an avenue for our children to learn about worlds outside of their own. Worlds minus bouncy castles and giant helium balloons, worlds without dance classes and leather ballet shoes, and worlds where eating dinner requires you to catch it first! Hmm… thinking about it, I suddenly feel very grateful for Tescos and the weekly shop. “Mummy, I’m hungry. What’s for dinner?” It’s like music to my ears.
Images courtesy of Candy Gourlay