When our son was very small, when we would travel in the car we would play his music to help pass the time. One of his favourites was the sound track from "Mary Poppins." We took him to see the play, and he has of course, seen the movie on DVD.
It's a bit of a bitter-sweet story - one that is apparently based on the less-than-happy childhood of its author, P.L. Travers (pseudonym for Helen Goff, the Australian creator), whose alcoholic father died young. Mr Banks, the Edwardian banker in the story is allegedly a scrubbed-up version of her own father, and Mary Poppins herself is a perfected character based on the nanny who came to care for Travers (Goff).
One of the many songs from the sound-track finds Mr Banks, who has lost his job after his young kids make a bit of a hash at the bank, taking some advice about life priorities from Bert, the chimney-sweep:
Tricked you into taking the children on an outing? Outrageous! A man with all the important things you have to do? Shameful!
You're a man of high position, esteemed by your peers
And when your little tykes are crying you haven't time to dry their tears
And see their grateful little faces smiling up at you
Because their dad, he always knows just what to do
You've got to grind, grind, grind at that grindstoneA couple of years ago (nearly exactly), I came across an article by a soon-to-be empty nester who was recalling with some nostalgia the days when her own children - soon to have "flown" - were small, and how in those early days, oh how she wished that the children would just hurry up and grow already.
Though childhood slips like sand through a sieve
And all too soon they've up and grown, and then they've flown
And it's too late for you to give.
As I said then, though I was often tired, and at times short-tempered (three hours of sleep per night will do that), I never wanted our son to hurry up.
In your kids' lives, for every moment, there will be a last time. Giving them a bath, lifting them up, holding their hand as you cross the street.
All of these things end. And the last time you get to do each, you will always only recognise it retrospectively. When the moment actually happens, you won't notice it. Days, weeks, months later, you will think, "I haven't held my kid's hand crossing the street." and the next time you reach for it, you will be met with a sort of indignant look, and maybe a quick response that "I'm not a baby, you know?"
I am almost 50 years old, and thus, I know magic is not real, and in any case, illusion does not last forever. The sun rises, it shines, briefly, and it warms. But we know it will set.
No amount of holding a little hand tightly can stop it, no matter how hard you try.
Alastair (our son) is now 12. Adolescence is juuust over the hill over there (squint and point to an imagined horizon in the distance). The little hill on the horizon two years ago is looming. We're not there yet, but it's close. Closer in any case than it was two years ago.
I'm used to being greeted each day with an smile and some reported excitement for the day. Maybe a question. Friday, when I got home, Alastair was nowhere to be seen. I asked his mother where he might be, and the answer was "in his room."
We do not allow our son to play with tech gadgets during the week. No iPad, no computer games. But Friday when the week is over, the rules are relaxed. So, it's not uncommon to find him lounging on the sofa.
This was one of those "uh oh" moments that remind us why the word "nostalgia" has as it's root a pain - literally, from a return. Like a homecoming, or to memories of the past.
Before Friday, I had never returned to find my little boy in his room with his door closed. I can't say that any more. Later in the evening after dinner, we watched a kid's movie and he ate popcorn and asked silly, little boy questions. So the inevitable day when it's his time to fly remains at bay. We can pretend he's still a little one just a bit longer.
Growing up is a bit like that. Forward for a couple of steps, then one back. But it's always relentlessly forward.
It's not yet too late to give a spoonful of sugar, but this week, I got a little look over the top of the hill of adolescence.