Alien Nation

It has got to that time of year when I start becoming aware that there are an awful lot of references to the summer on the telly. Every time there is a commercial break there is some sort of temptation to book a sun-sea-and-sand-all-expenses-paid extravaganza. Families jump in and out of swimming pools/turquoise oceans/treehouses, celebrities get marooned on desert islands (with a camera crew).  Robson Green was the latest recruit, I saw.

I have to admit I am very fond of RG as a documentary presenter. There is something about his self-deprecating enthusiasm that makes me smile and emit the odd surprised snort of laughter, whether he is catching a fish that was THIS BIG (I have no interest in fishing) or finding himself inelegantly stuck half way up a palm tree in search of a coconut. He has the ability to make the odd comment that I find myself filing away for the future (‘my dad used to say, “failure’s an event, lad, not a person” ‘ is the latest). It’s almost enough for me to put his brief foray into World of Pop to one side. Almost.

We, as a family, are, however, surprisingly immune to the lure of sun-sea-and-sand telly.  Until the kids and I went to school and entered the timetabled bond of terms we took our breaks decidedly out of season. There’s nothing quite like being on holiday in the wind and rain, determinedly being in the Outside with the hood of your cagoule tied firmly under your chin after all, and I, awash with sentimentality, of chlorine-fragranced memory, am decidedly fond of a spot of swimming through ice-pin prick raindrops.

Theres something about returning to the same place again and again, interspersed with the passing of years which brings them on, those memories. When you arrive, when you turn an unexpected corner, when your senses are assailed with sounds and scents that seem unchanged, you catch a glimpse of an earlier version of yourself, your child; your memories march, or flit, unbidden, into consciousness.

There’s the time I realised he listened to me after all; that he understood the stories and the songs as he, tiny in his all-in-one-against-the-ever-present-rain ‘woo wooed’ his way around the park, a trip around the perimeter in a carriage pulled by a Land Rover enough to make an outing.  And the time, my moment of disaster, when I stood at the bottom of my metaphorical mountain and realised that I could not go alone – but that to ask for help was not sign of failure, but of community.

There were times when watching squirrels and baby deer was enough, and when we, as new-ish parents found that what we needed was time to play together, to be the people we were before, together, and that we could make those moments happen for ourselves; the time I waited, new baby tucked inside, in the cold and the rain, telling stories at the train-stop, an ever growing crowd of little ones, sidling closer, the teacher gone, but not forgotten, awaiting her return.

And now, this weekend, a new set of memories to add to the store. An adventurous young man, whizzing down water slides too fast for his mother, and almost too fasts for his rather surprised papa. Reading the menu – and sending it back when the dish arrived and wasn’t as expected.  A presumption, and not, for a change, of difference and disability, but of competence. A girl, unbidden, checking that a float was finished with. A high five, testament to a shared nervous moment with a fellow ‘twister’ traveller.

It’s not easy letting go.  It’s not easy standing by and allowing him freedom – to make mistakes or hurt himself, as well as experience success. It’s not easy watching him take his first steps away. But it seems to me that unless we do, unless we allow, and encourage, this growing up, if we disallow his alienation from the ordinary things of life, and refuse to give in to the fear, the greater the chance for him that he won’t be seen as as some sort of strange, unknown creature from an alien nation.

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