My 5 year old boy has reached that exquisite stage. The stage that is exquisitely uncomfortable in the questions he asks, yet exquisitely precious in the perfect reasoning he displays, mixed with a total lack of awareness of social norms.
And so he sees things how they are, and says it how it is.
So we have conversations that go something like this:
“Mummy, what’s that building over there?” referring to the 5 star country hotel on the edge of our town that we pass on the way to school every day.
“It’s a hotel, darling.”
“Can we go there?”
“Well, its rather expensive. We could maybe go for a drink one day”
“Oh, but I want to stay the night!….Does it have a pool? If so, can we go there?”
“Yes, but it’s very expensive to use the pool, like £25 for a day”
“What! That’s just rude.” His sister echoes these remonstrations.
After a short while of careful pondering: “Mummy, I think the people there (who own it) just want to get rich. They’re very naughty!”
What could I say? He was bang on. (Well, not the naughty bit!)
I barely managed to stifle a laugh and a small whoop of assent. I didn’t dare trying to come to the rescue of the smited hotel owner by trying to explain the vagaries of capitalism that meant if someone would pay it, you could charge it. But I did say that hotels are very expensive places to run, and that they price it to discourage lots of noisy people coming along for a dip whenever they felt like it. Like us, I thought.
But then, later on that night, just as I was stepping out the door to say goodnight (isn’t it always?) the subject of the modern system of economics came up again. I’d said that Daddy couldn’t say goodnight as he was in the middle of preparing for a job interview he had the next day (he’s been out of work for over 3 months after being laid off from his software developer role in the City of London).
“Mummy, I don’t want daddy to go back to work”.
Ouch, my heart twinged. “I know, I don’t want him to either, darling, but if he doesn’t work, or I don’t work, we won’t be able to pay for food and all the things we need or like.
Silence from the bed, then “Well, I think the person who came up with that idea was stupid.”
To him, to have the basic things in life (and more) meant not seeing his daddy for the better part of his days.
I suggested that there was an alternative that involved digging up our entire garden to grow our food, and rear goats and chickens, but that we can’t grow spaghetti or chocolate or ice-cream. I didn’t dare mention the subject of bartering. Or that if we moved away to the outer Hebrides we could possibly live self sufficiently but that we wouldnt see Granny and Uncles and cousins as often as we do.
A huge part of me felt sad that I was teaching this little boy that working long hours was the right thing to do so that we could buy plastic toys and confectionery but basically not see his father 5 days a week. Because that, in effect, is what I was saying even if I didn’t want it that way myself. And I didn’t feel like persuading him that he really doesn’t need all those things we can’t grow or make ourselves.
But visions of being called Mrs Good and being up to my ears in mud on a cold wet January wasn’t a great alternative, and moving to the outer Hebrides impractical.
This stage that my son has reached is like standing for a short while atop a mountain peak. It is breathtaking in its purity and innocence yet not long till the descent starts, when the acceptance of social and economic norms sets in. Once this arrives, they no longer question or get cross at the unfairness or irrationality of the system in which they live. Resignation at the way the world is comes at an early age.
It’s something that requires incredible wisdom to know how to handle, as whatever we say shapes and conditions their response.
And yet this stage deserves cherishing and holding tenderly, like fresh eggs from the garden. I only hope I don’t drop them.