Kindness is an old-fashioned virtue.
Alexander McCall-Smith characters muse about things like kindness.
My Grannie was a character and she talked about kindness a lot. She wasn’t from Edinburgh or Botswana, but perhaps Alexander McCall-Smith met her once.
* * *
Anyway, I did an Internet personality test the other day and encountered the question
‘Would you prefer your children to grow up kind or smart?’
The version of Grannie that lives inside my head took it to mean ‘Would you rather your children were kind or formally dressed?’
I mentally explained that ‘smart’ means ‘clever’ nowadays.
‘Frightful Americansim,’ complained Grannie. ‘And awful grammar, too.’
She would have answered ‘kind’ though. I ticked ‘smart;’ didn’t give it another thought.
* * *
‘You DID?’ Asks my friend Kai Lai, looking startled. ‘Smart? Why are we friends again?’
There is an awkward pause.
‘But hey! Opposites attract,’ she adds cheerfully.. ‘That’s why we’re friends.’
* * *
I always loved June: days that go on forever, evenings you can climb a few V-diffs in (even if you worked til 7pm) and bats flickering across dusky skies.
But then kids happened. Opportunities to appreciate bats and climbing are limited when lone-parenting. Long days play havoc with sleepy-time.
‘It can’t be, Mummy. The sky’s still light. Why do I need to go to sleep when they sky’s so bright?’
‘Because you’re tired.’
Tears. ‘But I’m not tired.’
‘Big Sprog. Just go to bloody sleep can’t you. I need five minutes to myself before my bed-time.’
I’d like to pretend I don’t say things like that to my children. I’d also like to pretend that I didn’t try to fob her off with stories about doing your best growing in your sleep (she now thinks that Auntie Kai Lai, who isn’t very tall, suffered from childhood insomnia).
And I’d particularly like to pretend that I haven’t tried to bellow her into submission. But for the record, shouting ‘Go to SLEEP!’ doesn’t work either.
Tiddler is worse. With Tiddler my only tactic is to exercise him until he’s knackered, timing it so that he falls over with exhaustion somewhere around 8pm. If he drops too early or naps in the car driving home, I’ve had it.
Anyway, he wakes up early too, like a computer-game zombie that refuses to stay down. ‘Hewwo, Mummy!’
I open my mouth to say ‘Hewwo, Tiddler,’ but other words have a nasty habit of slipping out.
This was the state of affairs before the heat-wave. Add extreme heat, heat-rash, Mummy fear of sun-burn, child fear of sun-cream. And imagine. The only way I could get a smile out of Tiddler was to sit him in a bucket of water. Tiddler sat in a bucketful of water in the garden for the best part of two days.
When it got too hot even for that, we had some lively one-sided discussions about why he couldn’t bring the bucket of water into my living room where it was cooler.
* * *
Anyway: compassion fatigue happens. It’s alarming how bored you get when they fall over for the hundredth time that day and start to bawl their eyes out through sheer exhaustion, hotness and frustration.
And of course, it’s not just them getting wound up.
‘I mean, Big Sprog. Or whatever it is you want to be called these days *sigh*
‘Have you got your shoes on?
‘Put your shoes on.
‘What? You’ve taken your socks off? But I just put them on you.
‘Oh, for – OK get your socks on then. Hurry up.
‘Oh for heaven’s sake come over here and I’ll do it for you.
‘NO! Face me, Big Sprog. TURN AROUND!
‘Look! I’m helping you so you need to help me. FACE ME!
‘Keep your FEET STILL! Just behave yourself!
”Tod – Big Sprog. Look down and PUT YOUR FOOT IN YOUR SOCK PLEASE!’
‘Right. Where are your shoes…..
‘What are you doing? I thought you were looking for your shoes! Stop pretending to be an aeroplane and PUT YOUR SHOES ON!’
And that’s straight after morning coffee, when I was about as fresh as it got.
* * *
That day it was fractionally cooler, so we went out. We’d just got to the playpark when the sky went black and the clouds started to flicker.
No coats. I put Big Sprog in the buggy with Tiddler on her knee and started to push them both home. They were still smiling at this point.
But not for long. I was just crossing the road, trying to pop the front wheels up onto the kerb, when I I realised the load was too heavy to lever up. Shit! The driver of the car that had stopped for us looked pissed off, but a nice man passing by lifted the front of the buggy up the kerb to help me out. The buggy instantly buckled under the weight of two kids and the frame bent irreparably in half, spilling the children onto the pavement.
And then the rain arrived.
The passer-by should have bolted.
Instead, he offered to make a detour and carried one of my kids up the hill.
And waited while I rifled through the wreck of my buggy to find my keys.
And then waited while I admitted I’d lost my keys and broke into my house through quite a high window.
By the time I’d managed to open the door from the inside, the rain had stopped and the kids and bloke were standing, sopping wet, in the sun. He politely declined a cup of tea.
I put the kids into a warm bath. But the little one wanted to go outside in his bucket. The first time I shouted was about that. What made me shout even louder was when they argued over a shampoo bottle.
* * *
Then I remembered Bea Marshall ( http://www.beamarshall.com/yesparenting/ ) saying that actually, it’s all about kindness: being kind to your partner, your children and yourself.
So I phoned ‘Auntie’ Kai Lai and told her I needed help. She turned up still in her work uniform with a takeaway and gossip. She played with the kids for me til bedtime and an hour later I was feeling much better.
I’ve been working on kindness to myself since then. I’ve never been another week without Ninja training, no matter how hot it’s been. In an evening I sometimes do my core yoga even if I’m supposed to be doing another job. And when I went to see the in-laws for a scheduled break, or drove them to Cornwall for a wedding, I let other people do a lot of the work. My family are very kind.
And do you know? Kindness pays off. Because I am beginning to find the mental energy to be kind again. To calm down and hug them instead of shouting so much. And often that’s all they want actually, and then they’ll co-operate and go find their shoes.
Of course we’re getting used to light nights and the weather’s a lot cooler now anyway. Unless there’s another heat-wave, there’s no real ‘before’ and ‘after’ comparison to be made and it’s all guesswork.
But I know now that Kai Lai, Bea Marshall, Grannie and (I suspect) Alexander McCall-Smith are all going to turn out to be right.
Kindness is important after all.