Holding the line

We’re late today.

Late in the general sense that we’re always late. Always chasing a version of ourselves in a vain attempt to reach an elusive place where we have space to relax. Like trying to grasp mist in your hand.

But we’re also late in a particular sense. Late because my son and I cuddled together in bed while it was dark and cold outside listening to the songs from the Muppet Christmas Carol when we could have been easing ourselves into the day.

And now there’s not enough time. The wee man has to be prepared for school on time and mummy and I both need to get to work on time. There are the rituals of breakfast, play, washing, play, teeth brushing, play and dressing. And then some play. There’s really not enough time.

But somehow, just like every other morning, we’re on the cusp of making it work, impossibly squaring the circle. I’m ticking the tasks off a mental list while counting down the minutes and thinking that we might just keep mayhem in the box for one more morning. There’s an end in sight.

And then my son speaks.

‘Daddy, where’s my magic wand?’

Yesterday, on his return from school, my son told me that some of his friends had brought homemade cardboard wands to school. He wanted one too. No, he needed one, demanded it.

So, like the considerate parent I try to be, I sat down with him and we created a wand from a leftover cereal box. He was happy with the end result and his part in creating it and went to bed a little happier last night knowing that he would not be left out of some playground game.

And now he has remembered the wand. And wants it.

And now I don’t have a fecking clue where it is.

I do a quick search of the kitchen and living room, moving toys and upending piles of paper. Inexplicably the magic wand cannot be found.

My son is beginning to get agitated and my game offering that ‘It must have been so magic that it has made itself disappear’ is met with a scornful ‘You’ll have to do better than that’ look.

I can see the beginnings of tears in his eyes.

‘Daddy I need the magic wand. I won’t be able to play hideandseekchasiesmagicwizard without it.’

I offer several solutions. I point out that he possesses multiple toy wands. There’s the wand in his magic set, the jangling Ben and Holly wand, the glowing stick we got at the fireworks display, the dragon wand and several others rattling around his many toy boxes.

But it’s no good. It has to be a cardboard wand. It has to match the ones that the other children have.

I promise him that I’ll make him a wand as soon as we get home from school, and that it will be ten times better than the one from before.

But he knows that the game is only relevant today. By Monday the other kids will likely have discarded the idea like an empty crisp packet.

He looks at me.

‘Daddy, can you please make me another wand now?’

I look at the clock. There wasn’t enough time before. Now the box of mayhem is bursting at the sides and the contents spilling onto the floor.

Plus I sense that we’ve reached an important moment. The brain is an astonishing organ which can calculate countless thoughts in mere seconds. Now I’m thinking it’s time to take a stand.

It’s time to teach a lesson that you can’t always have everything that you want. There’s a responsibility to looking after your own possessions. The process of time is linear and has to be respected. You can’t keep forcing the boundaries further and further.

These are the lessons that depriving him of the wand may teach him. Maybe it will be the making of his character. Some day he might even thank me for it.

As I said, it’s an important moment.

He looks at me again. The hurt is evident in his eyes, the desperate pleading for me to make it better. I know, at this instant, for right or wrong, the wand is the most important thing in his life.

Aw crap.

Crap, crap, crap.

‘Right,’ I say briskly. ‘Go up to mummy and get washed and dressed and I’ll do the wand.’

As he climbs the stairs I hear him shout ‘Make sure it’s exactly the same as the one from yesterday daddy.’

Now I’m moving with some urgency. While yesterday I had an empty cereal box, now I’m having to remove contents from containers.

My first attempt is with a Weetabix box but I have to abandon it when I realise that the cardboard inside is dark brown rather than grey and therefore not suitable for colouring. I make a mental note about avoiding Weetabix in the future as I rip the Coco Pops bag from the yellow box.

But I’m too fast and careless and succeed only in scattering little dark rice puffs all over the kitchen floor, so that they crunch under my feet like dead insects. I’ll have to vacuum, but that can wait.

I wrestle with scissors and sketch the shape before decorating with stars, colouring and cutting out. I set the wand before me. In truth it looks naff.

But my son comes down the stairs and inspects it. He is happy and waves it around, casting imaginary spells where I’m turned into a frog. Or, in another instance, into poo.

I put his shoes on the wrong feet. Mummy rights that wrong and then we’re off in the car. As I drop him at the school gates he is happily clutching his wand as he strolls away to meet the challenges of another day.

Though the working hours I think a lot about my capitulation. About my inability to hold the line of discipline. What will the consequences of it be? That’s a question that will be answered on another day.

Later I’m at the school gates again to pick up my son. He looks joyful as he trots towards me. I notice, with some surprise, that he is still clutching the amateurish wand that I made so quickly this morning. I wonder if he’s been holding it all day.

Excitedly he starts to babble about playing hideandseekchasiesmagicwizard. How much fun it was. It becomes clear that my son has had a very good day and that the wand played some part in helping him towards that outcome.

Now, I think, I’m beginning to sense my earlier mistake. Having the wand wasn’t about just gaining another possession, about always wanting more and more and not understanding value or limits.

It was a simple strip of cardboard from a cereal box. It took me five minutes to make but it facilitated some burgeoning playground sense of community and belonging. A feeling of comfort.

It’s the least I could do to help with that.

Sometimes kids spot the important things much quicker than adults.

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