Two experiences have impacted me recently. The first of them, watching our kids confidently taking on the high ropes treetop challenge at Go Ape. Actually, it was the crowd of ten year-olds in the slot before them which knocked me back: their bold tenacity, clambering over those obstacles high in the trees, their energetic enthusiasm, and their self-assurance as they yelled encouragement to one another. They seemed so well-rounded for their age. Naturally, that had me reflecting on my own childhood, because I wasn’t like that at all. I was so timid and anxious, rarely found amidst crowds, with barely a word on my tongue.

The other of those experiences, yesterday, when friends came over. Their eldest, whom I have known since he was a toddler, is now sixteen and attends sixth-form college. As he sat quietly in a corner reading a book, I couldn’t help observing how mature he has become, both physically and emotionally. That was equally true of his younger brother. Looking at them, we could legitimately call them “young men”. As for me at that age: no, I was just a boy, so immature. It’s no surprise, really, that I was a laughingstock back then. I couldn’t see myself as I do now, glancing at old photos in horror.

Raising children has opened my eyes to a lot of things. Sometimes I am in awe of our children at just how grownup they often are, and how articulate and confident. Again, I had none of that. But sometimes I am also struck by how mean they can be, and how compulsively silly. In the car the other day, I was surprised when our daughter referred to a boy in her class as “just a mute” who never says a thing. I guess the same would have been said about me. As for their perpetual mockery of others — each other, parents, classmates — they just can’t help it. It just flows out of them. And so I realise, yes, those we encountered back then who did the same probably weren’t malicious: it was just their happy humour.

I always feel like I’m running late with this thing we call parenting. My parents would have been in their early twenties when they had their first child. We’re a decade behind, and so all of that making sense of our youth has occurred late too. There’s a gap of thirty years between those experiences and helping our children through their own version of those moments. The actions of parents and teachers makes more sense now that we walk in those shoes. So it is that we become more forgiving of all we encountered along the way.

As in that famous family joke which recalls that I was always late, I have lived my entire life this way. It’s true: I have always been running late, so immature, late to make sense of anything. If I have started to grow up more over the last few years, it could be attributed to being a parent. Equally, it could be attributed to medical interventions, addressing those pervasive deficits head-on. It could be a bit of both, combined with simply reaching the hallowed middle-age. There’s nothing I can do about all that led me to this point; I can’t go back and fix anything, other than to say sorry to those I wound up along the way. All I can do at this point is help our own children to live better lives, and to try to live my own life better from here on.

I suppose this is the value of experiences — even negative ones — in giving us impetus to change.

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