A couple of years ago I wrote about the importance of ‘people variety’ in a child’s life. My view remains that children benefit tremendously from spending time with people who can provide differing experiences to those that they receive with their parents or carers. I think it’s vital that we provide them with access to a rich tapestry of characters, personalities and divergent views whenever we can.
Our 94 year old friend is one such person. My children have known her all their lives. I met her when we moved into her neighbourhood over 15 years ago. Each morning she would wander past our home with a cloud of dogs in tow and stop at the front gate for a chat. She knew everyone on the street, not by their name, but by the name of their pets. “That’s Coco’s house. Her owners aren’t home much“, or “Brownie used to live there. Now they have a cute little Pug dog. They also have a tabby cat who likes to lie on the front fence and terrorise passers-by.” We’d chat and gossip idly. It was a morning ritual that we both enjoyed tremendously.
We’d share the occasional lunch or supper and once my children were born, they loved nothing more than playing in her back garden, picking fruit from her 50 year old orange tree or ferreting around in her garage, that for a time housed a 1950s Citroen motor car. She has remained single, has lived in the same suburb all her life and still lives in the home of her childhood. It is full to bursting with a lifetime of her memories.
Quirky little knickknacks line the picture rails, old fashioned canisters overflow with bits and bobs on the kitchen bench and her treasured piano takes pride of place in the formal living room. Sweet little Violet plants nod their heads to the dappled sunshine that streams through lace curtains. A book of Latin and a bible sit on her dressing table. Her home often smells of curried sausages and the gentle ‘tick tock’ of a tall grandfather clock is a constant, reassuring sound. There is no television. A small wireless is tuned permanently to the ABC.
Last week the kids and I visited for lunch. Her eyesight and hearing are failing badly so the children know to speak loudly and slowly for her. They ramp up their manners (with not a word from me) as they enter her front gate. In short, they adore her. They love the whiskers on her chin and her paper-thin skin. Anything she prepares is wolfed down.
But most of all they love listening to her stories. She’ll happily reminisce about the Sydney of her childhood. A childhood when there was no harbour bridge, no technology (except the wireless that she still has) and kids roamed the street in packs playing rounders or elastics. Kick the can was also hugely popular. Milk, ice and bread were delivered by horse and cart and 1p could buy a never-ending bag of lollies from the corner milk bar. Her street was not tarred until the 30s and the streets of the CBD were crammed with trams. Calisthenics was compulsory at school to which she had to walk several miles to attend. Her storytelling enriches their sense of place and community.
I don’t want my children to have a ‘same same ching ching’ approach to life, filling it with people of similar backgrounds and beliefs. I want them to learn to independently seek out rich cultural experiences, hunt for differing opinions and learn, with maturity and grace, to accept that life is jam-packed with diversity and it is precisely this diversity that will enrich their lives. In fact, I see it as part of my job description as a mother, to provide them with access to unusual people, places and situations until they are old enough to do it for themselves.
Do you think ‘people variety’ is important?
Until next time…