Monday, 22 February 2016

Breakfast in other peoples’ families

 Last week, I had one of those days, when I had to have someone look after Digger all day, as I had a whole day meeting a couple of hours from home, and Pierre was out of town. Our usual go to people couldn’t help out, so I asked a nursery school mate. Not a family we are that close to – having only known them since September - not even one of Digger’s best friends, but one that both he and I feel very comfortable with, and one we had a few play dates with. I admit I was rather desperate. I had to leave our house at 7.30pm. They immediately asked if he wanted to have breakfast with them. Great idea, I thought, and so we settled on a 7am rendezvous.

I prepared Digger as best I could, talking to him about it, wondering about it with him, drawing it etc, and he was puzzled, and not especially keen. As we headed off some anxiety surfaced. He was definitely apprehensive, which fed straight into feeling like a terrible mum, for choosing an exciting grown up day above him.

We arrive at Sophie’s house and the family flung open the door, and welcomed him with big smiles. The oldest hid behind the front door only to jump out with a ‘BOO!’ he startled Digger. But not too badly. Digger loves startling us – and he has a surprisingly high strike record...

Not unlike settling in a nursery, Digger wasn’t initially happy to be left there, and wanted me to hang around for a while. I pulled off his snowsuit, hat, mittens and boots. Meanwhile, the family milled down towards the breakfast table in the kitchen, Digger was still not keen. And then… the stroke of genius from the dad: He came back up, bent down and – as you would with a toddler – suggested to Digger that he would lift him up on his arm (this dad is very very tall). No words, just a gesture and a smile. He got enough of a response to proceed and he lifted him up. One hand on Digger’s tummy, one under he bum. A very safe grip.

‘Would you like to come down and have some breakfast with us? We’ve got two kinds of cereal. How do you normally have cereal? Do you like milk on it?’

Digger nodded a bit.

It sounds so little and so mundane when I recall it, but it was perfect. Daddy took him down, and sat him at the end of table.

‘This is your place. Sophie and Chipmonk have been so looking forward to you coming over for breakfast.’

So calm and lovely. Daddy put a bib on Digger, and Chipmonk, the older brother, aged 8, poured some milk over the cereal Digger had chosen. I stood in the hall, peeking in. Soon I saw a true Digger smile spread across his face.

They had made him feel safe. And it was all going to be ok. He didn’t even look up at me. Only when prompted to say goodbye.

It made me think of being a child of the 70s in Scandinavia. In forth grade, we had some extraordinary homework:
‘Swap family for a week. Move in with one of your class mates. There are many ways of being a family.’ Something like that. 'Preferably not one of your closest friends, but someone whose family is very different to yours.' I remember it blew my mind, as we discussed who could stay with whom. The experiment would work best if the kid you know wasn’t there, but with another family. Whaaaaa…?

My class teacher suggested I stay at Bo’s house. Bo was tall and strong for his age. He seemed only to be interested in tin soldiers. He was an only child, and like his mum and dad he seemed eerily quiet. These two latter facts stood in stark contrast to my own family. A divorce child smothered in a sprawling family tapestry. My teacher had let me know that she thought I had one of the most complicated of families she has ever come across, and she could never find head or tails in it. ‘It’s easy!’ I’d say and explain it all over again. I remember at least one sigh of hers. Clearly not helping matter.

I had step siblings, and step parents, sisters, brothers, mum and dad. At least two of each. And every one seemed to talk all the time. In fact I still don’t really think it is rude to interrupt, because everyone in my family did that all the time! Pierre thinks is it extremely rude and shuts up if I do. Which kinda hurts me, coause I am only joining in, but I am beginning to get what he is saying. Aged 44.

This ‘Swap family for a week’ was optional – but still. I was terrified. I think I did one night with girl who wasn’t my best friend in the class. That was way enough experiment for me. There was an adopted girl in our class, Eva. I cannot remember if she did it. Or indeed if anyone else did.  

‘Try someone else’s mum and dad, or just mum, or just dad, for a week.’ It was to be 'eyeopening’. Well… eye-widening really. We were only 9! I don’t recall what my parents thought of the experiment.

The idea was that it was anti-bullying. Opening your horizon. And such. I’m shaking my head as I think about it. This was clearly an adult who came up with this. A hippie perhaps. The kind that can not be trusted, because they don’t care about earthly concerns, such as clothes, cereals and a snack when you come home from school. Or the whereabouts of your favourite teddy. Perhaps it was a commune parent, if a parent at all. Just watch a bit of Lukas Moodysson’s ‘Together’, you’ll see what I mean.

Nice idea, but not very child friendly I think. And not one I will impose on my son. But why was I so worried?

Back in the kitchen of Digger’s friends, I could see the family magic working. Inclusive and warm and different to us.

When I got back from my (extraordinarily exciting!!) day, he told me everything they had done together. How they had cycled to school, him and Sophie in a funny bucket bike, while Chipmonk rode on his own bike. On the road!! Chipmonk and dad with bucket bike were in the road!! And so on.

It was an all round success.

Not that I will repeat it soon. But it has made me think. Perhaps we should eat more breakfast with other families. Breakfasts are intimate, and you have to leave the house a specific time, so it can be stressful. This morning wasn’t really, certainly not as we came to their house.

It has certainly made me think.

Mainly because he loved it. Because they made him feel safe.

I was uh'ing and ah'ing about whether or not to ask. Pierre just asked me:

'What would you say if they asked us?' The answer to that made me ask them. Because it will always be yes. They would only ask if they really needed the help. And if they trusted us. Which is what I felt.

It certainly takes a village to raise a child. And there is much inspiration to be gained from looking into other people's families.