It’s always humbling to discover that your kid is more switched on than you are. I get so caught up with the mundanity of my daily life that I forget to be wise. I forget that nothing I do is as important as why I am doing it. And in the bigger scheme of things that anything I do is meaningless anyway. I get so caught up in finding my purpose that I actually forget the purpose. I am driving in the car with Ivy and I am talking to her about doing things that scare you. I’m such a hypocrite. I never do things that scare me. I don’t swim deep in the ocean for fear of sharks, or go ballooning for fear of heights, or love too deeply for fear of being hurt.
As an adult I have learnt how to avoid the things that scare me. That’s the privilege of being an adult; unlike a child I can say NO. It’s called a choice. Or is it avoidance? I guess when you also have the privilege of choosing your mindset you can choose what you prefer to believe about yourself. Kids don’t get to do this. Kids just have to put up with our bullying them into doing stuff we think is good for their development. So I’m talking, as per usual, kind of narcissistically enjoying the sound of my own voice. I like hearing myself talking calmly and in control telling my kids about the world. For a minute I think I sound like an actual adult, instead of pretending to be one like I usually am. It’s one of those Mum conversations about taking risks and that it’s okay to fail and all that jazz. I have given this talk so many times the words don’t even hit home any more. It’s just me doing the blah blah. I imagine like my other kids Ivy is just letting me give the talk. These kind of talks are often more about my feeling like I am the kind of mum who gives meaningful talks to guide my children’s psychological growth, rather than conversations or points of change and revelation. It’s about me teaching my kid, not the reverse. I am an all-knowing adult. I know it all. Ivy looks at me seriously and says, ‘That’s the point of getting older, Mum, isn’t it? Getting braver.’
It’s so simple. It’s profound. How can a little kid manage to say something so true? How can she manage to tell me something that I have forgotten along the way? How come I suddenly feel that she has more of a grip on this courage thing than I do? And why have I forgotten to be brave? Or more accurately put: ‘braver’. Not there yet. But slowly and continuously engaging in a process of growth that means advancing on my fears not retreating from them.
So many gurus, self-help books, spiritual teachers, religions, philosophers and thinkers try to help us fathom the point of existence, and here is an eight-year-old who seems to have nailed the whole meaning of life. In the car, driving home from choir. Yes, life is finite. Yes, we die. The point isn’t living forever. The point isn’t winning. The point isn’t just trying to avoid dying. The point is getting braver. For me it’s an epiphany. I say, ‘Yes, darling, that is the point. That is exactly the point.’ I feel tears pricking my eyes. It’s one of those reactions I have when I hear something that moves me, or something that wakes me up. I’ve always been embarrassed by this sudden flush of emotion. I generally try and hide it, because I think it makes me look vulnerable. I am frightened of not being in control. I guess if I took on Ivy’s sage-like wisdom, I would realise that yes, getting older is about getting braver and being comfortable with my emotions and my vulnerability is possibly something I should have confronted a few decades ago. I’m very clever at hiding.
So clever that not even I know where I’ve hidden half the time. If it were a game of hide and seek, I’d be so well hidden when they yell ‘I give up, come out’ I wouldn’t know how to. We get home, and I feel changed. Like a door inside has opened. I never expected to learn something in an ordinary 15-minute drive that I do every day.
But I did. In one moment I learnt more from my kid than from any therapist. But I didn’t tell her that. She might start charging.