“I sigh that kiss you,
For I must own
That I shall miss you
When you are grown.”
That little rhyme by WB Yeats was brought sharply to mind as I was watching the infants’ nativity play at the local primary school where my children began their education, and where I am now a governor. It’s all too easy to be overcome by nostalgia. In a few short years, my adorable tots have been transformed from innocent little angels dressed in white pillowcases, with tinsel halos falling over their eyes into…teenagers!
As they have forgotten the words to Away in a Manger, they have learned every swear word in the book and developed a well-honed skill in delivering crushing put-downs to each other and their long-suffering parents. Instead of making gingerbread stars or sticking sparkly spangles on cardboard crowns, they now enjoy texting people they’ve only just parted with, instagramming embarrassing photos of themselves to all and sundry and watching X-rated TV shows on the family tablet when they’re supposed to be asleep in bed. How did this happen?
Amid the tantrums and exam angst (the daughter is doing ‘mocks’ as I write), it can be easy to overlook some of good things about living with teenagers. Without them, I’d be more intolerant, less well informed (particularly about music) and definitely more set in my ways. Every day, I’m getting a clearer picture of the mature adults they’ll soon be, and while yes, I miss the little children they once were, I’m also looking forward to what I hope will be a wonderful friendship between grown-ups just a few more years down the line.
Some of the conversations I’ve had with my teenagers recently have been amazing. The things they come out with are not only surprising but often profound and incredibly thought-provoking. It’s hard not to feel privileged to be able to share their thoughts and feelings as they learn about the world and their place in it. Politics, celebrity, freedom of information, the nature of justice, why slavery still exists… we’ve discussed all these things and many more over the past year. You name it – they have a view on it.
While they like to parade a veneer of world-weary cynicism, not far below the surface, you’ll find a pair of idealists and dreamers, two young people full of potential who genuinely want to learn and make a difference in the world. As I enter the middle stretch of life’s journey, I want to tell them to enjoy every moment, live life to the full, and not be afraid to reach for their dreams, while all of life’s choices are still open to them. In sharing their hopes for the future, they remind me that, if I can borrow a little of their optimism and good faith, it’s not too late for my dreams to come true either.