Blogging about Japan, food, parenthood, music and life!
Little children can be unpredictable and unfathomable.
Many adults lose the ability to empathise with a childish mind, and fail to understand their motivations. We adults forget what it is like to be learning something new about the mechanics of living every day. We forget that what we think is ordinary and obvious, can be completely befuddling to a human who has only existed for 5 or 6 years on this earth.
In all my experience as a primary school teacher and a parent however, one child stands out as being the most unreadable, the most inexplicable, the most detached from reality…
Now that I’m grown up, I can look back more objectively at my early years, and can see that my perception of the world was bizarre. Superimposing my current common sense over the very clear memories of my childhood is an odd, destabilising experience.
I flew under the radar at school, because I performed well in English, Maths and the other curriculum subjects. I had friends, I was happy; I probably seemed perfectly normal.
However, read this anecdote and decide for yourselves…
My primary school was a 5 minute car ride from my house, but when I was about 6 years old, a new estate opened around the back of the school, providing a shortcut that was easily walkable. Most mornings and afternoons after the new road opened, we walked to and from school.
One morning, I said goodbye to my mother at the gate. She told me that she would be five to ten minutes late picking me up, but that I was to wait inside the school gates for her. I nodded and probably even repeated the information back, but it basically flew straight out of my brain the instant I turned to greet my friends, and never returned– not even at home time when my mother didn’t appear to pick me up.
My best friend and her mother waited with me for a few minutes, and then they offered me a lift home. I accepted without a single qualm – after all, she was my best friend’s MOTHER and they lived a couple of doors away from us.
We drove home in their splendidly dilapidated car (the brakes didn’t work, so it was handbrake turns all the way back), I thanked them for the lift, ran cheerfully to my house and banged the door knocker. I was utterly flummoxed when nobody answered. What was I to do now??
I think I sat on the front step for a few minutes feeling like a balloon with its string cut. I absolutely couldn’t cope with the unexpectedness of the situation. I had never been alone in my life. Everything in my existence was controlled and orderly. And now, I found myself locked out of my own house with no parental supervision, and no idea what to do next.
Just to put my next actions into some kind of context, I lived in a cul-de-sac – a cosy half-moon of houses overlooking a green semi-circle of grass. We knew ALL our neighbours. There were 3 or 4 children from my own class within a few doors of my home – we often played together and practically lived in each other’s houses during the summertime.
So did I go and ask for help from my neighbours? Did I go back to my best friend’s house and explain the situation to her mother?
What I decided to do was drift across the road (yes, the road I’d been told never to cross under any circumstance) and start wandering aimlessly away from my house, and into completely unfamiliar territory.
I walked until I could no longer see my house around the bend, and then I selected a house at random and ran up its front path. I rang the doorbell and waited.
A middle-aged lady answered the door, and looked down at me with some surprise.
“I’m lost,” I said.
She gazed at me myopically, peered behind me, and then with an air of helplessness said, “Well, you’d better come in.”
She led me in to a tiny lounge – predominantly brown, with a gas heater, a brown and beige floral sofa, and a carriage clock on the mantelpiece. In front of the heater, a man sat in a brown armchair, a pipe clamped in his teeth, frowning ferociously at the newspaper on his lap.
“Dear?” the lady said tremulously. “This little girl is lost.”
The man didn’t look up. He grunted irritably.
The lady looked at me nervously. “Where do you live dear?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I replied.
The lady’s hand went up to her throat. “Oh dear. She doesn’t know where she lives.”
The man grunted again, turning the page of his newspaper.
“Would you like a glass of water or something?” she asked, a little desperately. I nodded mutely.
She turned and left the room, and I heard her footsteps moving deeper into the house.
I stared at the man in the armchair. I felt slightly affronted that he hadn’t even looked up from his newspaper yet. There was something intense and palpable about the atmosphere in that brown room. It smelt like a room where nothing had moved or breathed for decades. The lady who had hurried off to fetch me some water emanated odd waves of anxiety – I could almost SEE them.
I decided I didn’t like this house. I didn’t like the rude man who grunted and scowled. I didn’t even like the lady who’d gone to get me some water. She didn’t feel like an adult – she wasn’t someone who was going to take charge and tell me what to do.
I took a last look at the Armchair Man and the Brown Room, and I walked down the bilious corridor, reached up for the front door handle and let myself out. I closed the door behind me and walked away.
I re-crossed the road and finally saw someone I knew – an older girl who I held in awe for her ability to skip very fast, and eat a whole box of tic tacs in one mouthful. She let me play in her room. I wound up her musical jewellery box and listened to the plinking melody about 10 times, until suddenly, out of her window, I saw my mother walking back towards the house.
I felt simultaneously joyful and terrified. The terror was well-justified. When I rushed out to meet her, my mother gave me a roasting I didn’t forget in a hurry. But honestly, I was too relieved to mind much.
Now, as a mother myself, I cannot imagine how she felt during her walk home from school. She must have arrived to find the school gates shut and locked. No little girl waiting for her. She’d have walked home, hoping there was a simple explanation, but also imagining a hundred awful things that could have happened.
I also wonder about the couple whose house I visited briefly that time. Did they think they’d imagined this tiny, clueless Japanese girl wandering into their house? Maybe they thought I was a ghost – some kind of strange visitation. Why did it take that lady so long to get me a drink of water? Something wasn’t quite right with that house, but I was 6 and didn’t understand it.
I would hope that neither of my own children would behave in such a peculiar, illogical way. I was lucky that nothing bad happened to me that day.
I have a theory that children who are displaced – who have had to learn new languages fast or moved countries or situations – need a little extra support. Even if they seem to be fine and do academically well at school, there are strange gaps – like hastily put together puzzle pieces – through which reason can leak. There are gaps in their knowledge and understanding; there are anomalies in their perspective. They may seem a little less tethered to reality and terra firma compared to other children the same age who have had their roots in the same soil since birth.
Well, that’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it.