This is one of those posts where as a father I am about to wax lyrical about my offspring. It’s the kind of entry which mothers will read and think “oh, what lovely children”, other fathers will read and think “yeah, but my kid’s better”, and people who aren’t parents will probably get bored reading as all it’s about is a dad saying that he loves his children - big deal.
Firstly I’m going to mention my son, Rogan, aged ten and three-quarters. He is an incredibly smart kid – intimidatingly so, in fact. At school he’s good at everything – from maths and reading through science and music to board games and sport. He’s good looking too – takes after his father. But more than any of these things he’s great at concepts and sideways thinking. If you have an idea, it’s always worth running it by Rogan as he will give you an angle on it you’d never have considered.
A few days ago Rogan called me up to the kitchen to ask me what I thought of his idea for a Mother’s Day gift (which is today in the UK). He’d decided that it would be nice for his mum if he were to make her a “memory box”. The concept was to make a box, divided into 4 compartments (one for each season), into which she could place memories – things she’d written down, ticket stubs etc. Then at a later date she could pull them out and enjoy the wee memories. This isn’t an idea he got from the TV or from school; this has come entirely from his own thoughts. I was amazed at the concept and immediately knew it would bring a tear to his mother’s eye (the primary purpose of any Mother’s Day card or gift), so let him talk it through and develop the idea until he was satisfied he knew what to do.
He’s been busily working on it for the past few days and sure enough when he revealed it for his Mum this morning, it produced the desired result and we had to open a fresh box of hankies. These are the moments when you can almost believe that you aren’t completely screwing up your children’s lives and must be doing something right afterall.
But Rogan doesn’t get to completely hog the limelight this week as my daughter Meg, aged eight and one twelfth has also made me sit back in awe.
Those who read this blog regularly, or have investigated the side bar, will know that Meg has Down’s Syndrome. When Meg was born and we let people know that she had DS, one of the most common reactions was to say, “Oh, I hear that they’re very loving children.” This was always said in a way that made you think it was some kind of compensation. The real message behind the language was “Oh my God, you have a mentally disabled child – your life is all but over as you will have to dedicate it to looking after a freak. I couldn’t do that myself and would have had the tests and aborted, but hey, I admire your courage. But listen, it won’t be all bad – I hear they’re very loving children!” This isn’t paranoia – any parent of a child with DS will recognise being confronted with these sentiments, even if they are not always verbalised this explicitly.
Despite what those who are ignorant of the condition fear, actually it’s no big deal. OK, so she has special educational needs and when she was a baby had to have heart surgery, but as a parent to more than one child (and stepfather to three more) you soon realise that every child has their own unique set of needs, talents and potential, and you work with it. There are times when Rogan is far harder work than Meg – don’t believe the propaganda of the eugenicists.
One of Meg’s special talents is that she is, in fact, incredibly loving, but not in a clingy, puppy kind of way. Meg takes love to new and incredible levels that leave the rest of us mere mortals behind. When Meg snuggles into you for a cuddle, she doesn’t just give you a hug; she caresses your soul. And she puts us to shame with her generosity of spirit in a way that I’ve seen in few adults, let alone 8-year-old children.
For example, a few weeks ago she came across a wee stash of chocolate bars left over from Xmas – four mini flakes. Maggie and I were both in agreement that when we were 8 we would either have devoured them without telling anyone else or lorded it over our siblings, making a point of eating the chocolate in front of them while making it perfectly clear that they wouldn’t be getting any. Meg, completely unprompted however, decided that we should all have one each. And when Rogan (with more generosity than I would have shown as a ten and three quarter year old), began to refuse, saying that she should have the chocolate herself, Meg started to get upset. Far more important to her than having the chocolate was that we all shared it together.
But the big thing this week was the teddy bear. Grandma had been in hospital for a week or two, and while there had become quite attached to a teddy that one of the nurses had placed on her bed. She was quite reluctant to leave it behind so Meg, once again completely on her own initiative, decided that Grandma could have one of hers. Maggie’s mum was out of hospital this week so when we popped over to see her yesterday, Meg took one of her teddies to give to her. As a child, wild horses would not have been able to drag one of my teddy bears away from me but for Meg, making Grandma feel better was far more important.
Like any child, Meg can be awkward, stubborn and a right pain in the arse sometimes, but unlike any other child I have ever known, she has extraordinary levels of caring, compassion and generosity, that sometimes brings a tear to her father’s eye too.