There’s nothing more terrifying than a clock. For we mortals, the mere passage of time is a memento mori like no other. Yet, in the end, we may hope that the lifting of the veil of this world reveals something vastly more beautiful.
The heartache which time causes in the parents of small children is that, with each passing year, some small innocence passes away too. There is always consolation in the growing capabilities of the child, and their enthusiasm for greater responsibilities and new adventures in life, or for learning new skills. Yet innocence is the one thing that cannot be learned, only lost. Nor can it ever be recovered.
The other day, I was visiting a beautiful garden with the older children. The lady at the ticket desk kindly asked if the kids would like a kids’ map, so they could follow the fairy trail, and find all the fairy doors. I gave them an enquiring look, but my daughter frowned and said, rather sharply, “no dad, that’s only for little kids!” I understood, of course; but my heart also sank at the knowledge that our walk around the garden would be less magical than before, when every rustling leaf would send their hearts soaring with mysterious possibilities.
I often advise my kids not to try to grow up too fast, but to enjoy just being kids. Perhaps living in the countryside can help kids to stay innocent for longer. City kids tend to be more streetwise. They sometimes pick up knowledge beyond their years, or an air of cynicism, much earlier in life. When I ask other parents in our rural area why they chose to raise their kids in the countryside, they regularly say things like, “they’ll stay children for longer here”.
That may well be true, although there are downsides to country life too. The older kids would love to be able to go out their door and just hang out with friends, but distance makes that impossible out in the sticks.
The idea that we parents are protecting innocence is an illusion, we are merely providing palliative care for it. Our purpose is to give innocence a comfortable and timely death. Indeed, an essential part of preparing children for life is helping them to understand its dangers, which involves depriving them of innocence. Sadly, kids need to be told about stranger danger, and the dangers of getting flattened by a car, but these things can be done in ways that are age-appropriate.
To alleviate their curiosity, we have explained to the older kids that one reason we lock the doors at night is because of the relatively rare possibility of burglars. For now, however, we can let them think of burglars as the silly characters seen in the Home Alone movies. We can still inculcate a generally positive view of humanity and life. Yet, in the end, they will come to know of the evil in the world, and that there are baddies who are far from cartoonish.
As the clock ticks inexorably down on innocence, the only defence left is the beautiful memories we can create, of happiness, nature and love during their time of innocence. Memories survive time’s ravages, living on, ever fragile – a fragment of time caught in the mind of the one who remembers.
When I look through the photographs of the children’s childhoods, I can feel some satisfaction that we have accomplished something important as parents. Even as their memories fade, there is a lasting visual legacy. High definition proof of their happy innocence, and all the fun and joy of a childhood spent suffused in the love of friends and family. Let that love stay with them, and keep them strong, so they may go happily out into a world that grows stranger by the day.