My husband started a new job about five years ago. It hasn’t turned into the most interesting job in the universe, but one good thing was that when he was sent on lots of training courses. And, because I had been at home for so long and hadn’t been on a course for years, he got into the habit of bringing all the notes back and passing them on to me. One of the most fascinating was the one on learning styles. As ever, we were not at all interested in anyone else, but immensely taken by what we could see in ourselves.
Over the years, friends and relatives have expressed surprised as to the success of our marriage; as an illustration I could point you towards our bookshelves. My books encompass plays, poetry and stacks and stacks of novels. His are mostly how-to tomes. How to fix the car, put in central heating, build solar panels, sail a boat, the sort of thing that doesn’t interest me at all. While I am sociable, he is shy. I love all things words, he loves all things numbers. I like lyrical melodies. He likes crashing guitars.
But when we looked at our learning styles, the Honey and Mumford combination of activist, theorist, reflector and pragmatist, we were surprised. It turns out that despite our differences in taste we are both activists. My friend Liz laughed like a drain when I shared this discovery (she was amused that I had never noticed before, and, being a psychologist, it was all old news to her), and a whole lot of things fell into place. Now I understood why we keep buying houses in precarious states of disrepair, and how a new bike turned into a camping-and-cycling holiday around the Scottish Highlands. We just can’t help rushing into things.
I recognise a lot of this activism in my children. They need to have all the Lego, all of the cars, or all of the dressing up clothes, all out at once and they hate putting it away. I mean, why would they want to? They might need it again in a bit. We all share the same tendencies. All, that is, apart from Sam. Sam is different. Where we like to hurry, he likes to dawdle to a stop. Where we want to get simply and quickly between A and B, he likes to go via C, D and E.
In many ways this is enormously frustrating. I often look in wonder at those mothers with those strange children who stay by their sides when they are walking through the town, on the way to school or the park. They never seem to have to holler at the top of their lungs while one child runs off and the other lags ever further behind, leaving mummy stuck in the middle with the toddler climbing out of the pushchair, unable to decide which child to rescue and who to castigate first.
Sam’s obsessions also form an obstacle to the easy journey between A and B. He has a long running love affair with all wheeled vehicles, but a special relationship with those that pull caravans. Not for him the tractor (although they are quite cool) or the fire engine (though he would never refuse the offer of a quick go in the uniforms and a press of the buttons). For Sam, the ultimate in vehicles is the car-and-caravan. Or sometimes the camper van. I am pretty sure that one of the things he likes most of all about camping holidays is not the fresh air, or the excitement of sleeping under canvas, but the perfect opportunity it presents of observing as many caravans as is humanly possible.
The art of spotting caravans does not have to be restricted to camp sites, however. Once you know that the sign of a car that pulls a caravan is that it possesses a tow bar, you can keep an eye out for these as well. You’d be surprised at the number of be-tow-barred cars and vans there are between our house and almost anywhere you might want to go when accompanied by a small boy.
One of the mistakes that many adults make in relation to children is in assuming that children share our motivations for doing stuff. Sam, for instance, loves coming with us to Tesco. We live very close to our nearest store, and this has had the rather unfortunate effect of making us the most disorganised shoppers in the universe. Why should we worry about leaving essential items off the list when it’s only a matter of minutes to dash to the shops and back again, bearing the very ingredient that dinner requires for its success? You’d be shocked at how often this happens, and how many times, as a family, we visit the same shop in a day. And, as soon as we indicate a need to pop out, Sam is there, wrestling himself into his shoes, ready to not carry the bag, but maybe pull the trolley (if it’s empty).
You might think that he enjoys being tempted by the plethora of interesting and delicious items on display in the shop. After all, he finds it impossible not to make suggestions as to the contents of the shopping basket; he is always convinced of the need for more bananas and more tomato ketchup, such that unless one is especially vigilant one can find one’s cupboards overwhelmed. Or it could be that he takes particular pleasure in the self scanning checkouts. Who doesn’t like being in charge of that satisfying beep, or enjoy the way the notes are whizzed out of your fingers when you pay? It could be that he has made friends with several of the staff, who like to say hello and ask him how he is.
But no. I have discovered, after what must be hundreds of journeys up and down the same roads, always in a hurry to fetch that which has been forgotten (not bananas or ketchup), that the real reason is tow bars.
All I can say is thank heavens for grandmas. Because she, unlike me, doesn’t mind stopping and watching the world go by, waving to all the taxi drivers who take his friends from school to their homes. Unlike me, she doesn’t struggle under the weight of domestic responsibility; she is under no compulsion to hurry from one point to another, personal inclinations aside, because she needs to get tea on the table, or because she needs to pick the others up from another school at the same time. For her, just as I suspect it is for her grandson, the joy is in the journey, not from A to B, but via C, D and E.