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Children can be our greatest teachers


My young teachers
It never ceases to amaze me how much I learn about myself from my children. They are, in so many ways, among my greatest teachers.
They have pushed buttons I never knew I had and have extended the limits of my patience; they have re-opened my eyes to life’s ordinary wonders, and awoken within me something I never really believed existed: unconditional love.

I was awoken from my mostly selfish sleepwalk through life first by my (now) stepdaughter – and our first magical outing together to Great Yarmouth. We spent the day exploring the seafront and our relationship as potential (step)father and daughter. I felt hugely privileged to have that opportunity and still do. Watching her grow from a timid young girl, through confused and troubled teenager to kind and confident young woman has been one of the great periods in my life.

The next wake-up call was the birth of my son. I remember melting as I held him in my arms and he spoke his first words (or what sounded like words - in a foreign tongue; this passed and he was soon making the gurgling noises I expected from a baby). Evidence of memories of a past life? Or that a baby can, however briefly, mimic sounds it heard from within the womb? I don’t know. (The Romantic notion that he might be some reincarnated Tibetan lama did for a moment tickle my mind and I smiled as it passed.) Whatever the explanation, the experience was awe-inspiring, overwhelming and life-affirming. Joy is too small a word to express the flood of emotions. Watching him grow from bouncing baby through boundary-busting toddler into a thoughtful, independent, playful and determined young boy is a wonderful adventure. And it has changed my view of the world.
"The best caravan ever."

I still remember fondly our first family holiday. We couldn't afford much and, to be honest, I was sad that the best we could do was a caravan on the coast. My son (about six at the time) was bursting with excitement and, when we got to the caravan and stepped inside, his eyes widened in awe. He dashed around the (in my eyes, very modest and uninspiring) caravan, then declared: "This is the best caravan ever." Then, after a short pause: "This is going to be the best holiday ever."

And, you know what? From that moment on, it was. In that moment, I learned a very valuable lesson in appreciating things as they are, rather than judging them against what I think they should be.

This really is how we turn base materials into gold: seeing the world through the wonder in a child's eyes.

He will see things that I overlook and ask questions I sometimes can’t answer. These can be purely practical “how does this work?” type queries, or they can be quite deep “meaning of life” questions that go to the heart of my philosophies. Sometimes they catch me off guard as if a teacher is testing what I have learnt from life. Many times he has, in all innocence, forced me to look again at answers I had accepted without question.

“Why?” must surely be the biggest word in any language and I think children ask it because we have forgotten to do so. The lazy reply “Because it just is” is a missed opportunity. In fact, thanks to the wonders of the internet, it’s so easy to learn together. Exploring the unknown in this way has led us into areas I might never have considered visiting, or given me new insights into once familiar territories - as TS Eliot says: 

We shall never cease from exploration,
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

There is also the pain we feel when they suffer, physically and/or emotionally, and the pain of powerlessness, of being able only to advise, stand back and let them make their own mistakes – always ready to pick them up when they fall. Because, in us all there is a small child with a grazed knee who just wants to be loved. Thank goodness for children to teach us how to do so unconditionally.

But, at the end of the day, the words of Kahlil Gibran, in The Prophet, ring in my ears to remind me that children “come through you but not from you”. 
He says: “You may give them your love but not your thoughts... For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit...”
“You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth...For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.”

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