I sat down at school supper last night, feeling refreshed after a couple of hours off which I had spent in the gym with a friend, followed by a nice hot shower (not spent with the friend), only to be greeted by ‘Wow! Matron! You look ILL!’ from the child sat opposite me.
This is just one small example of the way in which childhood observations are differentiated from adult observations by the noticeable lack of tact. The small cranial filter that sits somewhere in between the place where the thought first occurs and the place where it is verbalised simply hasn’t developed yet. The result is brutal honesty. Having been working with children for five months now, I’ve begun to learn how to grow a thicker skin and let these comments role off my back, rather than racing to the nearest mirror to see if I need to invest in a facelift, or at least better makeup. Nevertheless it remains somewhat galling when children tell you how tired you look, considering it was often them who forced that state upon you in the first place. On one particular occasion, a very sweet little boy asked me how I’d slept the night before to which I cheerily replied, ‘Oh very well thank you, Fraser, it’s just never long enough though, is it?’
He looked at me, thoughtfully, for a moment before declaring,‘Yes, I can see that on your face’.
Often I have to remind myself that the children are just as blunt with each other as they are with me. I have two girls in the house who are constantly falling out. Lizzie, who is a prodigiously intellectual child, is in possession of the brains of Einstein and – bless her – the social skills of a gnat. Kara is the opposite end of the spectrum, being much less intelligent, but still endowed with a remarkable talent for rubbing the other girls up the wrong way. I was in the habit of laying the blame at Kara’s door for their spats, until I had the proverbial ‘little chat’ with them both. I explained that life is so much easier if you seek to be nice to each other and encourage one another, rather than bickering and irritating each other. The cockles of my heart were warmed later that evening when I observed Kara trying to broach friendly conversationwith Lizzie. ‘My favourite kind of fish is a starfish, Lizzie. What’s your favourite kind of fish?’
The cockles of my heart were rapidly cooled to absolute zero as Lizzie, without raisng her head from thebook she was reading, replied, ‘Actually, Kara, a starfish isn’t, in fact, a fish. It’s an invertebrate.’
Correction, when it comes as bluntly as that, can be hard to take, but the manner in which it is delivered doesn’t necessarily negate the veracity of what’s being said. One of the constant battles of my life is not to take things – whether they be comments or actions – personally. Being told you’re wrong is a hard pill to swallow, even when it’s administered with the recommended spoonful of sugar, but it is all the more unpalatable when the sweetener is denied you. However, the choice remains you own. Will you allow the lack of sweetness to turn you sour, or will you take the rough with the smooth and enable yourself to learn something? Perhaps one of the most important lessons that can be learnt is how to be tactful yourself when found in a similar position. It is a wonderful gift to be able to correct and encourage people in the right direction without them even realising it has happened.
Lizzie, whose imagination sometimes runs away with her, went through a brief stage of speaking to me,somewhat sarcastically, as if I was the Queen. I asked her to tidy her area, to which she replied, ‘Yes, oh great Matron’. On requesting that she make her bed, I was treated to a curtsy before she responded, ‘Of course, oh mighty Matron of all dorms.’ She once even addressed me as ‘Matron whose name will rumble down the ages’. As I once overheard another child asking my boss if Matron was one of her servants, this made quite a pleasant change from the way the children usually see me. Perhaps I let it go to my head. Maybe I began to see myself in a Cinderella role, my royal gentility unrecognisable under my Matron’s clothing? However, with the extreme lack of tact only a child could muster, Charlie soon brought me back down to earth with a bump by informing me, ‘You’re not a Princess, you’re just a Matron’. And that was the end of that.
True it may have been, but, to quote W.B. Yeats, I would advise you to tread softly young Charlie, for you tread upon my dreams…