‘Quick! Quick!’ cry the children, ‘You have got to see this!’ We all rush from our tents and caravans and there are the children – Jasmine and Charlie, Daisy and Megan, and Ewan – with a dragon!? Well, it is actually someone dressed up as a dragon, but it is still a very good dragon. We wonder who it is? Is it perhaps ‘Herr Flick’ … or ‘Helga’ … or even ‘Madam Fanny’? Or is it another boy from the campsite who has been persuaded to dress up as a dragon? Every weekday morning on our campsite near Bayonne there is ‘Kids Club’. From 10.00 a.m. until 12 noon the children who want to go are taken off their parents hands for a couple of hours and entertained by some of the campsite staff. They all seem to really enjoy it, and every day they come back around 12 noon to tell us what they have done and show us what they have made … and they make some excellent things … windmills, and flowers and so on. Today the dragon is taking balloons and invitations around the campsite inviting new children to come to Kids Club, and those children who already attend are helping him.
We are so impressed by the children we have got to know since we have been here. We have become good friends with Simon and Charlotte opposite, Graham and Alison on a pitch just behind ours, and Matthew and Fiona just along the road. Between them they have five children – Jasmine and Charlie, Daisy and Megan, and Ewan – ranging between 4 to 8 years of age. They are all delightful children and seem to have adopted us as honorary grandparents. They are always calling in on us to find out what we have done that day, or tell us what they have done, or just to sit with us if any of their parents have stopped by for a drink or a chat. They are full of life and energy but so well behaved – well most of the time – and a real credit to their parents. They are also very helpful and love to go and fill up our water container from the standpipe or even help with the washing up, would you believe. Not all the children on the campsite are so well behaved. Some are ‘little horrors’ and some actually obnoxious?! Having said that, we couldn’t help but laugh when two little French boys crawled under the doors of all the toilets, wash rooms and showers in the toilet block near us, and bolted every one from the inside. There was quite a queue gathered waiting for them to become vacant before someone finally twigged what had happened?!
Jasmine and Charlie, Daisy and Megan, and Ewan’s parents seem to have found the right balance between love and discipline when it comes to bringing up their children and we are impressed with them all, and really enjoy their company. Not all the parents here are like them. We have come across a couple of sets of parents – one English, the other South African – who have adopted the ‘modern’ approach of treating children as adults rather than children. We have been party to a couple of conversations where the parents were reprimanding their young children by explaining to them (in very adult language) what they had done wrong and why they were being punished, and how they needed to behave in polite society in the future. Allowing their children to ‘express themselves’ is all part of the package even if the children actually aren’t capable (because they are just children) of having an ‘adult conversation’. The children clearly didn’t have a clue what was going on – they didn’t understand half of what was being said to them or what they had done wrong or why they were being subjected to some of the (to my mind at least) awful punishments their parents had dreamed up for them. I mean telling a 4 year old that she will have to stay in the tent all day tomorrow because she has ‘spoiled Mummy’s evening’ would you believe. All that seemed to be achieved by this ‘modern’ method of treating children as adults – instead of recognising that they are children – was to make matters worse!? The screaming got louder and the behaviour worse … and all because of the arrogance of parents out to impress others by their ‘modern’ approach to parenthood. In contrast Jasmine and Charlie, Daisy and Megan, and Ewan’s parents didn’t ‘give a monkey’s’ about impressing others with their parenting skills – they just got on with it in a quiet efficient way that pointed their children in the right direction whilst still allowing them to be what they were, children!
I was reminded of the occasion when Jesus took a small child and placed that child in the middle of a crowd of adults and told the adults that if they wanted to enter the Kingdom of Heaven then they needed to become like this child (Matthew 18:3). It is interesting that he didn’t take an adult and stand that adult in the middle of a crowd of children and tell them that in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven they needed to become like this adult? There were clearly attributes and characteristics that Jesus saw in children – their honestly, simplicity, faith, acceptance of one another, are perhaps a few examples – that adults tend to lose (particularly when we become ‘pompous’) and need to relearn. Perhaps instead of having ‘adult conversations’ with our children, it would be more helpful for them to have ‘childlike conversations’ with us?
Later on the same day – the day when the dragon appeared at Kids Club – Julia and I are sitting by our tent enjoying an early evening drink when Jasmine (aged 8) comes by on her scooter. She has a big bag tied to the handlebars full of balloons and invitations to Kid’s Club that she is taking round the campsite distributing to new families with children. ‘We thought the dragon was doing all that this morning?’ we say. ‘Yes, he was supposed to’ says Jasmine, ‘but a French boy (we will call him ‘Georges’ because it seems appropriate) didn’t like the dragon … so he punched him in the stomach … and the dragon had to go off to see the doctor … so I am taking the balloons and invitations round, instead!’ I wonder if ‘Georges’ parents were proponents of the ‘modern’ method of bringing up children as well?
I have never been a parent, but I do wonder about parents saying their children are their friends. Parents surely are meant to be parents and children children, not friends. But I am saying that without any experience of being a parent (sadly!)