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Wednesday 10 March 2010

She’s Leaving Home!

Children never really leave home; neither do they ever become adults, in their parents’ eyes at least. Until I had my own home my accumulated detritus, collected over many years, lay undisturbed in the attic of my mother’s house. It was my god given right, or so I thought, to leave whatever I wanted in the home that I had grown up in and had my mother ever complained I would have been startled, completely taken aback at such an unthinkable state of affairs.

One fine afternoon I overheard her, in her twilight years, order a young man (to whom she wanted to give a few hours work in case he came in handy one day) to build a large fire in the back garden and put on it anything he could lay his hands on from the garage. I thought no more about it but wandered out, some time later, to find the smouldering remains of my niece’s collection of archaeological reference books amongst other former treasures. It was up to me to inform said unfortunate niece that the bits and bobs she had thought would lay undisturbed until she had the wherewithal to retrieve them, were decimated, destroyed, burnt to cinders, and quite beyond rescue. I can still hear the shrieking and gnashing of teeth that came down the phone line that otherwise sunny afternoon.

When my youngest daughter left home she asked if I would do the same with her collection of books as I had done for my eldest son. A carpenter was duly contracted to create and fit another long shelf or three and no sooner had the varnish dried than Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Anne Rice, Clive Barker, Stephenie Meyer, J.R.R. Tolkien et al were lined up side by side and left to await being reunited with their owner at some future date.

On the opposite wall, in higgledy-piggledy order sits Philip K. Dick, Harry Harrison, Arthur C. Clarke, Iain Banks, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Kurt Vonnegut, Brian Aldiss, Gary Larson and his Farside Gallery, and the high jinx of Calvin & Hobbes.

My son didn’t arrive home to deposit his book collection before heading off to the States. Instead, I got a frantic call saying that his erstwhile father, who had housed his library until now, was moving and would perforce have to dump the books unless arrangements were made. I thought long and hard and two minutes later rang my ex-boss in the UK, a man of integrity, incredible and many kindnesses, and a father himself. Two days later this company director drove up to Horsham and proceeded to load his car with everything that was known to belong to my son and heir, including his art portfolio.

The books were taken back to company headquarters, boxed and shipped, gratis, to Ireland ready to take possession of three rows of shelving where they collect dust but look no less impressive for that. The bonus was that two of the pictures in the portfolio were mounted and framed and hung with great delight, a reminder of the other career path he could have chosen. Whenever my son comes home (it’s been so long now I hardly know what he looks like) he mooches about in my sitting room, taking down the odd book, enjoying the fact that they are all here, safe, on show and not going anywhere.

There is still one shelf dedicated to my children's childhood heroes that entertains visitors, keeping the younger ones amused and sending the older ones way down memory lane. There’s Rupert Bear with his oriental chums; Asterix and friends up to all kinds of tricks; and the complete collection of Tin Tin with the faithful Snowy at his heels.

I’ve heard it said that you’re never alone with a shelf full of books to keep you company. And I know that as long as my tiny sitting room is crammed full of all our favourite books, my children will keep coming home, if only to check on Philip, or Iain, or Terry, or Douglas, or even me!

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Saturday 28 November 2009

The Parent Trap

When asked what were their greatest concerns, people, who had long since retired, replied that they worried most about their children! Those children were most likely adults with children of their own but their mums and their dads spend their twilight years fretting over their welfare. Young parents seem to have this fairy tale belief that once their beloved tots reach double figures, they will be able to rest easy, take a backseat at last while independence and self-control kick in, their children released into civilised society to fend for themselves. Excuse me while I laugh hysterically here! Those self-sufficient mini adults only appear to be so because they tell their former minders absolutely nothing about what’s happening in their lives. Zilch. Ignorance is bliss, or so they say, and yet it’s terribly sad. I know many young girls who have gone to England for a termination and returned home, often ill (mentally and physically), not able to confide in and seek comfort from the very people who brought them into the world. I know a tall, handsome, educated young man who so feared his parents’ reaction that, after being thrown from a motorbike, he stayed in bed with a supposed bout of flu while nursing a broken leg under the covers.

Where, though, would the book market be without the misery memoirs that litter the shelves? If children had the ideal parents and nothing untoward ever happened, we would have a utopian society with nary a misery guts in sight. One large book chain came up with the idea of a "Painful Lives" shelf and the publishing industry often refers to this new genre as "Inspirational Lit". Though I would love to know why these readers are so inspired by tales of abuse, trauma and neglect, and yet... And yet I have to respect anyone who climbs out of hardship and suffering and lives to tell the tale. And, there is some comfort to those who have suffered in their own lives to read and identify with others who were in the same situation.

An American writer who has written about her real-life experiences with damaged children is Torey L. Hayden. She was a special education teacher and I have read every single book she has written. She has written variously about autism, Tourette syndrome, sexual abuse, foetal alcohol syndrome, and her particular speciality, selective mutism. When I read her first book, One Child, in 1980, I felt I was there with her in the classroom, trying to reach this child who the world had practically given up on. Misery memoir? Definitely not, but that’s the section where you’ll find this excellent author.

I think (you can never be sure) my offspring know that they can tell me virtually anything and I won’t fall apart: aghast, astonished, disappointed, accusing. I have learnt (I didn’t know this right from the start) to listen passively, keenly and not react like I would have when they were small: "Tell me who hit you and I’ll go and have it out with his mother"! I used to think they wanted someone to yell and shout and demand retribution so they’d know they were loved and protected. Well, I was wrong. I have learnt to keep my emotions to myself most of the time and just be a sounding board; it’s not easy. Sometimes I think my heart will break but luckily I’m made of sturdier stuff. Sometimes I can’t sleep for thinking and worrying. Most times I cut off and get on with my own life.

I’d hate to be that little old lady spending her twilight years worrying about her kids – but apart from my heirs and graces all living blissful, fulfilling, healthy lives, I probably will!

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