Sophie doesn’t mind the rain, but she does mind getting her hair wet — so there’s a bit of a conundrum there. “It’s raining on my head,” she announced repeatedly during our first bike-ride in the rain, today, when we were caught out with only her fleece sweater, not her cute raincoat which we bought especially for this trip. Nevertheless, she survived. Might have even enjoyed it — until she discovered that, even after she got her wonderful warm raincoat on, the swings at the park were still wet.
Silly California girl will adjust to British rain eventually, I’m sure.
I myself was expecting it to be more different here: not weatherwise (I knew it would be cold & wet) but parenting-wise. To me, Orwell’s sarcastically-titled “Those were the days” is the quintessential British childhood story, repeated in pretty much every British memoir I can remember, and reinforced in the dreadful home scenes that are the intro to James & the Giant Peach or any Harry Potter novel. Parents who ignore, children who bully, weather that tortures, school authorities that exacerbate all the bullying and torturing and loneliness: that’s pretty much my literary-induced impression of Britain. That and bad food.
So I was surprised the first time I saw parents at the playground being gentle and encouraging to their cheerful children. It’s true that the playgrounds here are more bruise-inducing, built with less fear of risk or lawsuits than the playgrounds of the U.S. The parents are also sterner, not afraid to simply tell their children when it’s time to leave the park. But there’s not a huge difference, so far as I’ve noticed, in the parenting of young kids.
Until age four or five: then, they are let loose like little savages. They chase each other round the park with giant sticks, pushing each other into thorny bushes, making me happy that Sophie won’t be here when she’s that old. The nine-year-olds congregate in even larger packs, taunting the cars and each other. I never saw such aggressive crowds of elementary-age kids back in southern California, except in memoirs nostalgic for those halcyon 1950s days of less parental supervision. What I see in the British parks actually makes me glad that, in the US, we now have slightly more parental supervision. I’m afraid I now sound like someone I once would have hated.
It’s not that I’m a paranoid parent hovering over my baby — it’s more that I am haunted by this scene I just read in yet another British memoir, Andy Kirkpatrick’s Psychovertical:
My mother still tells the story of her coming home to our flat …. and finding [my father] wacthing the TV, while I sat in my nappy in the kitchen playing with the largest carving knife in the cutlery drawer. I was two at the time. On being challenged by my mum, my dad’s only response was, ‘You have to cut the apron strings sometime.’
So Sophie is adjusting to Britain, saying “crisps” instead of “chips” and “ground floor” instead of “first floor,” while also learning that it will rain, even on her head. But I’m not cutting the apron strings yet, especially not with a large carving knife. I who was the most careless-seeming parent back home may be the most over-protective parent here.