Rachel knocked her knee the other day and I offered to kiss her ‘boo boo’. She politely declined. In fact, the exact response that issued from those rosebud lips was: ‘No thank you, nanna, I can make it better.’ The look in her eyes said it all. Rachel has come to understand about the charade that adults play and wasn’t having any of it. I’ve been through this phase with her daddy, her uncle and her sister and have come to dread it.
It’s called the letting go stage. They let go and if you’re doing your job properly, you encourage it. As the king said to the White Rabbit in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, ‘Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.’ The thing with parents (and grandparents who spend a fair bit of time in their grandchildren’s company), it’s hard to know where to stop or where to begin. You’re so tempted to keep on cutting up their fish fingers for them for ever more, but there comes a time when it becomes necessary to put a fork and (blunt) knife in their little hands, avert your eyes, and let them mangle their food till they get it right. Rachel is a quick study and it didn’t take her long at all.
I encourage Rachel to brush her own hair, expect her to clear the table when she is done eating and have taught her how to make vegemite sandwiches. As her sister Dezzy once did, Rachel stands on a kitchen stool mixing an egg; I’m the sous chef who provides her with the salt, the pepper and the spatula. Chef Rachel stirs and I hold the frypan handle. She takes her plate and cutlery to the table and eats with a hearty appetite. Rachel has learned to make her first dish.
I give my grandchildren a chance to voice an opinion on issues that affect them and follow it through. Knowing that I can do it better or faster makes it the hardest thing to let go of.
When they visit us for the holidays, Dezzy checks out the weather online and chooses what she will wear. She’s become very good at it but even on the odd occasion when I haven’t liked her selection I remind myself that it’s her choice that counts. Dezzy knocks on her grandparents’ bedroom door before coming in and expects the same sort of courtesy from us. As she’s the eldest of the two, I went through this necessary process with her first. It wasn’t as heartbreaking then because Rachel was still toddling around clutching her constant companion, Woof Woof, and calling out for my attention.
You prepare yourself for the time when you are permanently retired from active duty. Every little thing you teach children goes towards making them independent of you. You do whatever you can to ensure that the children in your lives develop into being the best and most self-sufficient human beings ever.
As I’ve said, Rachel is going through the Nanna / Daddy / Mummy can’t fix it any more stage and we have come to accept that the days of heartrending sobs on our collective shoulders for such tragic reasons as not being allowed dessert before finishing a main meal are over. I have seen her through her first word (it was nanna), the terrible twos and the reasoning threes. Now she is five and her world is expanding once more. The family members in her life will no longer be the final authority on all things. Rachel’s teacher is already wiser and her new friends cooler. One day there will be boyfriends, but I refuse to think about that. All I know now is that my darling who began school this year has one foot firmly planted outside the Hundred Acre Woods and there is no turning back.
And I can only be glad about that. I wouldn’t keep her from leaving even if I could do it. As an adult, I can appreciate the sweet innocence of Christopher Robin, Pooh, Tigger, Piglet and Eyore. They are what we remember fondly about the most carefree and the too fleeting time of our lives. But Christopher Robin and his friends have a lesson to teach us. They have remained the same lovable, unthinking innocents, since A. A. Milne gave birth to them 90 odd years ago. They have never grazed a knee or won a debate based on informed reason. And they will never experience that first kiss or know true love.
Rachel still loves fairy wings and wands, she adores gossamer dresses and princess crowns; life is lovely for her and she’s even learned to wait for dessert. I hope that life stays lovely, but when she and her sisters reach the rough patches that life generally throws at you I hope we have helped them to be strong enough to manage and learn from them. When Rachel finally leaves those childish things behind her I hope what remains will be the family values, the self reliance and the inner strength that I sense both Rachel and her sister possess. I hope what they learn along the way will keep them in good stead on their long journey through life.