In life, kindness isn’t always a trait that’s really recognised or seems to be truly valued. I’m as guilty of this as anyone – I haven’t always paused to consider and value the small kindnesses that my children – and all children – show each other and others every day. I’m too busy stressing over homework, or why they seem to want to kill each other so often, or whether I should be worrying about the fact that child 1 spends all his time locked in some kind of near-permanent imaginary battle. (He’s never without a sword; I’m hoping he’ll grow out of it) Child 2 is, contrary to all my beliefs that she was a tiny, well disguised demon until she was about three, a tremendously kind child. I’m not sure if this is a second child thing, a girl thing, or just an Ella thing, but she cares very much about other people in general, and me in particular.
Nowhere has this been more obvious than the last few nights. Regular readers of my blog, and my Facebook friends, will know that she isn’t a fan of her own bed. Or her brother’s bed (yes, I tried swapping them. I’ve tried everything) She’s not a fan of any bed, in fact, that doesn’t contain me. Over the years she’s had new night lights, new cuddly toys, new duvets, and a new bed. (With a slide. A bloody slide. This hasn’t kept her in it either; but it does give me warning when I hear her merrily sliding down it at 2am) I’ve tried Supernanny’s tried and tested rapid return, (it looks less stressful on the telly), bribery, blackmail, earth mother style sitting in her room until she fell asleep (I marked at the same time so it wasn’t a total waste), and leaving her to cry. (She did fall asleep eventually while I sat three closed doors away with my headphones in, willing the noise away, but she was back the next night) All we’ve established, regretfully, is that she either has more willpower than me or that she wants to be in my bed more than I want her out. Until the last three nights.
On Friday I had a small procedure that left me with a slight wound on my back. Seizing the opportunity, we told her that she had to be very careful with me, or she would hurt me. Her little face was the picture of studied concentration as she put her arms around me, very gently, and hugged me on my return, very carefully. Every single time she came to me, she remembered. She asked me every time she saw me how my poorly back was. And – hallelujah – she stayed in her own bed all night. The next morning, I praised her for doing it and asked her why. ‘Because I was worried I would hurt you in the night, Mummy,’ she said. ‘I’m going to sleep all night in my own bed all night every night from now on. That way I won’t hurt you.’ she added cheerfully. For a while, I was in shock. I can’t overstate how much sleeping with me previously meant to my determined daughter. There was nothing I could have bought her, or promised her, or threatened her with that would have made her stay in her own bed.
But what did make her stay (for the last four nights; it may lose its appeal but as far as she’s concerned my back may never heal; I’m perfectly willing to lie) was the fear of hurting me, and a willingness to – for possibly the first time – put my needs ahead of her own. Four year olds are not renowned for this, and it really made me think.
Since my children went to school, I’ve found myself stressing over everything. Are they where they should be? Why don’t they get phonics? Will they ever learn all this maths that I’m sure I never needed to know when I was five? Why haven’t they had star of the week yet? When they get star of the week, is it just because it’s their turn? Do they really behave on the carpet or is that just their interpretation because they were too busy talking to notice otherwise? But today this faded into some insignificance. (It won’t last; I’ll be panicking over phonics again tomorrow) Being kind doesn’t have the same cachet as being amazing at phonics, or being able to form letters perfectly, or being dazzling at maths, or being able to run fast, or be a tennis genius. But I looked at her serious little face as she reached up to give me a cuddle good night – carefully avoiding my back – and in that moment it was far more important. I’ve never been more proud.