The best laid plans of mice and men…

Six children sitting around my kitchen table colouring in. How did this happen?

Six children, busy and happy.

Six children, busy and happy.

I’m on a break from full-time work.I haven’t written anything for weeks. I have hundreds of unread emails.  My friends are being neglected. There’s gardening to be done, boxes to be sorted and emptied, an entire house waiting to be painted, my “to do”  list is endless… and six children colouring in. Yes, I’m babysitting one of them, but six! In my living room? How did this happen?

The day began with no commitments. Hours stretched before me, waiting to be filled. My co-houser would be away for several hours. Space.  Solitude. Quiet.  I could sit, I could write, I could ponder and dream, let my thoughts meander.

Knock on the door:

Could I babysit for a couple of hours?

Of course, after all one of my priorities is creating community, building networks and providing support. I am committed to putting the ideal into practice. As my father would say “putting my money where my mouth is.” I’m good at the mouth bit. So, babysit? One child? Couple of hours? Sure. No problem.

However, it is school holidays and there are other children who live close. One child became three, became four… five… six. A mention of colouring in to the youngest and soon all six had joined in. I mentioned find-a words, mental arithmetic exercises, spelling … as long as I provided sheets, they would  do them.

These children wanted school! They were bored, they had nothing to do,their mothers were either at work, or recovering from late shifts. This little gang were wandering around the street, looking for entertainment or something to occupy them and an adult to supervise. I sympathise and remember my own childhood with much gratitude.

I grew up in a village. Our house was on a hill sloping steeply down to a river. Other houses were scattered between paddocks. I climbed trees, built cubbies, fished in one of the creeks and wandered about. There was a house with space under it’s verandah post where we left pieces of moss and flowers for the fairies. And I read books, any book I could lay my hands on. I had a favourite spot in the pepper tree where I could lie back and read- soft breeze, birds, the smell of the pepper tree and endless time. Adults were not part of it. No one supervised us. We never complained of being bored.

184There were jobs. I had younger brothers and a sister to keep an eye on; there was  washing up and clothes to be hung out and brought in, chooks, ducks and geese to be fed, sometimes a cow and a calf,  but in my memory it’s one long sunny day that went on forever.

These children in my street have nothing like I had. There are paddocks to roam in and trees they can climb, but they aren’t  accessible. Most are in someone’s backyard and children aren’t welcome. Ride your bike up and down? Gets boring after a while. Read a book???  Reading is becoming a lost art and the little one can’t read.

I send my co-houser to the shops as soon as she drives in – bread rolls and sausages, let’s feed the mob.

My neighbour returns home and I feed her. The children leave, reluctantly and slowly. I feel torn. I would like to continue to entertain them, but I don’t have endless time to give them. We’ve gardened earlier, searched for grubs and I have things I must do.

kindnessThe day ends. I haven’t crossed much off my list. I had no time to sit and dream but I have given. I have chosen to give my time, my attention and my compassion.  Perhaps this counts for more than time for myself. Perhaps I am learning about priorities of lasting value. And perhaps this is an opportunity to practise acceptance, acceptance of what is.



10 thoughts on “The best laid plans of mice and men…

  1. Be careful – this could become a permanent arrangement! And then you will have some official on your doorstop asking you if you have had police clearance and they will check your home to make sure that it is safe and suitable, etc. (maybe that is an exaggeration!) Gone are the days when you could pay your neighbour to look after your children, which is what I did – no day-care centre for my children – I do not know if they even existed in my time of raising children. There was always someone close by who needed pin money and child minding provided it. Now it is either grandparents, a nanny (they slip under the radar – the powers-that-be cannot regulate grandparents and nannies) or an accredited day-care centre, pre-school that is permitted to look after your child.

    And as far as children being able to occupy themselves! FEAR OF……. ?????? This is the no 1 factor for children not being able to explore their world outside their home, independent of adults. My two sons and their friends in the street went from house to house and they explored their beautiful bushy park below the street. We mothers did not accompany our children when they made these forays into the bush. If parents did that today they would be considered to be totally irresponsible and non-caring.

    I have noticed that my two grandchildren (9 & 7) are developing interests that are totally absorbing. I still spend time with them doing crafty things, but they no longer expect me to supervise or engage with them 100% of the time. The elder child writes, reads and builds amazing contraptions from Lego and the younger one primarily draws and paints.

    • Yes, stranger danger. However, the kids here wander, unsupervised and bored, under-occupied… I’d give them jobs and some responsibility, but the parents are at work. Your grandchildren sound rare and wonderful- enjoy them. Thanks for your comment.

  2. My early childhood adventures were much like yours. Thankfully, we live in a small town and in a neighborhood where children are still welcome to roam as they please. Parents do check around, though, to see where the mob has gathered, and we all take turns feeding them!

    • Sounds idyllic… and rare. I know of a city street that operates as a small community and the children are communally minded. Here, it’s not so much a question of supervision, more one of boredom. I had two girls knock on my door yesterday, telling me they were bored. Am I looking through rose-coloured glasses in saying that we would never have done that. We always found something to do, and, we had jobs and responsibilities. Big difference!

  3. Kate, you created such a beautiful sanctuary and wonderful memories for those children to take with them on life’s journey. Everything you’re doing is awesome for yourself and for others. You are definitely on the right path.

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