My little boy, who still seems very little to me, is now in Year 1 at school. I still find this hard to believe: the memory of squeamishly cutting the cord when he was born is there in my mind, ever present, as if it happened only yesterday. Can he really be five years old already?
As our kids grow up, us parents have to permanently adjust to new situations: there’s the whole ‘THEY CAN EAT SOLIDS!’ and ‘THEY CAN POO IN THE POTTY!’ stuff, which is either deliriously exciting or rather tedious depending on your point of view – and then, when they get a little older, we have to deal with the practice of letting go and allowing other adults to also shape our little ones’ lives and experiences.
I tend to take a fairly relaxed view of this kind of thing, figuring that it’s a good idea for my children to be influenced by other, more responsible adults than me. Admittedly, when my own dad encouraged my son to light the fireworks on Bonfire Night I was slightly more protective than usual (I know what my own father can be like with his attitude to safety: this was the man who once left the cover off the cesspit, which certainly didn’t amuse my mum when she fell straight into it and was left clinging to the vegetable patch in order to avoid getting completely submerged) but on the whole, I like to see my children learning from other adults.
This is never more the case that when it comes to my son’s experience at school. It’s been great to hear about the ways in which he’s learning about the world, and to occasionally be able to watch him discovering something completely new myself (although I fear he still hasn’t got over his encounter with Neanderthal Woman at the National History Museum):
I did, however, have mild cause for concern recently when it came to the subject of his education. Flicking through what was on television on Sunday afternoon, I came across The Magnificent Seven – a sure-fire hit for a five-year-old boy. He gleefully watched the cowboys on-screen and, a moment later, some rather evil-looking men appeared, brandishing guns.
“I know who they are, Dad,” my son confidently declared.
I let him explain…
“THEY…are the Catholics.”
I was sure I must have misheard him. Nope…
“The Catholics, Dad. They’ve got guns.”
What had his teachers been telling him? I needed to know more about my five-year-old’s unfounded religious bigotry. Tempted as I was to call his mum into the room to continue the conversation from hereon in, I thought I should bite the bullet (if you’ll pardon the pun).
“That’s interesting. Why do you think they’re Catholics?”
“Because they’ve got guns and they’re going to kill the king.”
After a little more gentle questioning, it transpired that his class had been learning about the Gunpowder Plot at school. The men on the screen had guns. Therefore, they must be Catholics. End of story. Life really is wonderfully simple when you’re only five years old.
We talked about cowboys for a bit, and about Catholics for a little longer. My boy now knows they’re not necessarily one and the same. So, the lady he spends six hours a day with every weekday is not, on closer examination, teaching him anything fundamentally intolerant – which is a relief, to be honest, because we’ve only got 10 minutes with her at parents’ evening next week, and that really wouldn’t be long enough to discuss our son’s spelling test AND her views on inciting religious hatred.