Did you know today (November 20) is Universal Children’s Day? As declared by the United Nations, as far back as 1954. I was not fully aware of it, I must say; I believe many countries have their own Children’s Days and Jamaica has Child Month, so perhaps the special day gets overlooked. It’s quite coincidental, really, that I decided to write this short piece.
I don’t have much close contact with children, these days. We have at least two new babies in our English family to visit on our next trip there. But I haven’t really got to know many children in recent years in Jamaica, apart from fleeting interactions at educational events that I attend. However, I have recently become acquainted with a seven-year-old girl, who shall remain anonymous. I will refer to her as The Girl.
As the mother of a “one son” (in Jamaican parlance) – now grown up and overseas – I am enjoying my conversations with The Girl. We wander up and down the yard together, accompanied by our dog (who also enjoys her company), and she tells me, in little glimpses, about what is happening in her life. I try to move myself backwards several decades to remember what it was like to be a little girl, myself. It’s pretty much a blur, but I try.
Firstly, I hear about her Plans. She always has plans – for her spare time, that is. Most days she is trudging down the driveway with an oversized bag on her back, off to school, her face set in a determined “let’s get this day over with” expression. She was a Monitor at school for a while (they rotate, apparently) and proudly showed us her badge, noting carefully that she now had “responsibility.” She was a little uncertain about how to exert this newfound authority – but then, she is only seven years old. I understand the monitorship went quite well. The Girl discovered that some of her classmates are a pretty indisciplined bunch.
I learned that if The Girl watches too much television, she gets really, really bored. As a grown-up, I can relate to that. “Well,” I suggest brightly, “Why don’t you read a book?” I get a slight shrug of the shoulder in response. When I was a child, I retreated from the boring company of adults (and my sister – sorry Lizzie, but you know I wasn’t into dolls…) into a whole world of books (we had no television). It was for me, literally, dropping onto another planet. An escape. Not saying this was a good thing. But it had the added benefit of avoiding a grownup ordering me to “go out and play…You’ve been inside all day!” If I kept quiet enough.
But then, I was a deliberately unsociable child, and The Girl is not. She likes to come outside and inspect the yard from top to bottom, to see what’s going on. She seems to seek out slightly unpleasant things, like the droppings of the wild doves that roost in our apple tree – all in one spot, and other unidentifiable and suspect things. Right on cue, she wrinkles her nose: “Eeew!” I tell her it’s “only nature.” But she was delighted to find some tiny mushrooms a few days ago, in damp, cool grass. When I couldn’t see them, she pointed out matter-of-factly, “Well, my eyesight’s better than yours.” Of course. Poor old woman.
So how are The Girl’s Plans coming along? She is, like many children, wishing time would go faster (funny how that mindset reverses itself when you grow up). However, her Plans are always subject to those of the adults. The plans don’t always coincide. So, almost inevitably, by the end of the day The Girl’s Plans are shelved – but can always be revisited another day, I reassure her. Yes, she says. These are flexible plans, you see.
Apart from making aforesaid Plans (very important), the Girl’s time, and her state of mind, is roughly occupied as follows. (And believe me, I have seen her make a swift and seamless switch from one to the other. Kind of like changing gears.)
Boredom – 60% Anxiety (varying degrees ) – 15% Interest (feigned or otherwise) – 10% Anticipation – 10% Unbridled joy – 5%
Now I do recall that being a child involves, increasingly, waiting for something to happen; hence the mood breakdown above. This state of suspended animation became unbearable when I reached teen hood. Waiting for the weekend/an opportunity to meet a particular boy/the summer holidays/a possible party/my birthday…and oh, so much more. The intervening bursts of energy could, however, may or may not have been harmful to my health. But that’s another story, or two.
Childhood is, perhaps, overrated. We don’t always emerge from it unscathed. Yet we have to fight onwards and upwards, through the horrors of adolescence into adulthood. Many of us will carry scars with us. I hope (and believe) The Girl will not.
And, for Universal Children’s Day, I will end with a quote from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Let’s always keep this in mind:
The one thing all children have in common is their rights. Every child has the right to survive and thrive, to be educated, to be free from violence and abuse, to participate and to be heard.
P.S. Are you on Pinterest? If so, you might like to see a board I recently started entitled “Children.” It is mostly children at risk around the world… Many of the photographs are moving, sweet and some very sad. I am always adding to the board. Do take a look: http://www.pinterest.com/petchary/children/