I want to start this week’s column by talking about a tree. I know, I know, you might well be thinking, “Oh dear, Matthew’s finally lost it. It’s time he retires.” But I promise you there’s a reason I want to talk about this tree in Pierremont Park, Broadstairs.
I have spent a lot of time recently thinking about Bryan and his persistence in entering puberty without my permission; I want him to stay as a child for a long time, but he has other ideas; he wants to continue to grow, and I can’t blame him, as much as I miss what’s passed. My parenting style will need to continue to evolve, of course, and I’m fine about that; he needs to learn and grow, and he will need my continued support as he explores the world and figures out how to deal with the world safely.
As his dad, I’ll be helping and guiding him as much as I can, and sometimes – when it’s appropriate – that’ll be by letting him think through a situation and consider the outcomes. And this is where the tree comes in.
On Friday evening, we spent a lovely couple of hours in Pierremont Park; as we were leaving, Bryan really wanted to climb a really big, bent-over tree. I really wanted to go home. But I paused for a moment and thought, “What’s a few more minutes? He wants to explore something new. What would really happen if we were five minutes later home?” Nothing would happen, of course, so I said, “Yes, of course, Bryan, go for it.”
I was ready to immediately start offering advice on where to find good footholds and how to climb, but I stopped myself; Bryan was already looking at the tree and clearly thinking. So I did something that’s not always easy for me; I closed my mouth and waited to see what Bryan would do next. We have often talked about being safe around – and respectful of – nature, and he has a naturally kind personality, so I wanted to see what he was thinking.
It was a genuine pleasure to watch, and I was so glad that I hadn’t pushed my own suggestions forward on this occasion. He went up to a safe distance, looked around, and came down safely, beaming with pride at what he had done. I was bursting with pride, of course, and gave him a hug. He had earned something greater than that, of course; the knowledge that he could think about that problem and come up with a solution, and also that I would be there to support and cheer him on.
I was a fairly quiet, introverted child when I was eleven, but I had still been instilled with the values I had been given by my family; parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles … and friends who I observed at school, of course. I made mistakes as I grew up (and continued with more mistakes well into my adult life …), but they taught me as many, or more, lessons than my successes. Bryan will make mistakes as well along the way, especially now that he is beginning a journey towards more independence and learning more about himself as a human being, but he will learn from them, and I will continue to be there for him.
Incidentally, in adoption circles, there is often talk of a “honeymoon period”, where you’re all on your best behaviour and perhaps keeping part of yourself back. That eventually disappears as you show the entirety of yourself to your parent (s), and vice versa. Bryan and I have been out of that honeymoon period for quite some time now, and I’m glad of it; this is the true family dynamic, when there is enough trust between us to be far more honest. He reminds me in no uncertain terms of my hair loss, begs me not to sing in the shower, and rolls his eyes when I floss in front of him and his friends or siblings with the sole intention of trying to wind him up.
I love it; that means he’s more likely to trust me and speak honestly during times of strife and difficulty in his life, and it means that – even when we argue – we can still come together after we’ve calmed down and remember the love for each other. I wouldn’t change any of this for the world, you know?