Friday, December 03, 2004

Remembered Childhoods

I'm grateful to Victoria Coren in last Sunday's Observer for the insight into the dreadful impact that a misplaced consonant can have on one's life and reputation. If only Philip Larkin had read the proofs more carefully, and noticed the single miss-set letter in the first line of his sensitive poem about an idyllic childhood: 'They tuck you up, your mum and dad'.

But would it, after all, have made any difference? I've been thinking about how we think about our childhood, and how it differs from the way our parents remember and feel about the same events. And all because of Tom's comment about the chocolate Advent calendar he wanted and was never allowed, and his miserable old dad's grumbling about the Advent Calendar pictures 'not having much to do with the real message of Christmas'.

I didn't have the (mis)fortune to grow up in a vicarage myself, and neither did Alison, so we've had to make it up ourselves as we went along. We may have done it 'properly', or at least, the way generations of clergy have done it before us, in the sense that we've left our children with psychic baggage about being vicarage kids that they are going to have to deal with for the rest of their lives. It's not only clergy parents who leave their children with lifelong baggage, mind you. I've already blogged about some of what I feel about my dad and his expectations of me that I found burdensome, or contrary to what I envisioned myself to be. The truly terrible thing is that this doesn't just happen in abusive and damaging families. Even our most loving and best-intentioned ones leave scars. Even the parents who did the best they could, in circumstances where they were stressed, distracted, selfish, depressed, exhausted, anxious, poor, just plain human, leave their children with unintended wounds.

I particularly cringe at the image I now have of myself in that puritan hat I have so dreaded and suffered from in my own inner life. Spoiling my son's innocent, childish Advent joy and delight in - of all things - chocolate! and conveying the image that Christmas is somehow dour and joyless. Out of the best intentions, to try and honour the story of God's own gift of self; yet taking away from the enjoyment of so much else that he has given.

Oh yes, a part of me wants to say, Let's hear the parent's side of the story too. (A bit like wanting to read Philip Gosse's version of his son Edmund's book, Father and Son.)

But that would be an excuse. The fact is, Philip Larkin has got it right. Your mum and dad really do tuck you up. With a capital F.

posted by Tony at 12/3/2004 04:20:36 PM


Sun said...

Just for the record, though, I wouldn't have wished to be tucked up by any other Mum or Dad xx

12/5/2004 12:29:59 PM  

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