It was Monday morning. Fi had already headed off to work. Clover had eaten breakfast, school lunches were made, but Molly was yet to emerge. I had meetings lined up on the half hour through the morning and needed to get the girls to school ten minutes early to make the first of them.
I headed upstairs to find her on the toilet thumbing through her recycled iPhone (a habit she no doubt took from her father).
“I’m sick, Dad. I can’t go to school,” said Molly.
In a tone reflecting my family of origin, I told her she sounded fine, that we didn’t have time for a long discussion, and that we needed to leave in ten minutes. And there was no ‘stay at home’ option available.
Perfunctory. Business-like. Succinct.
She wasn’t overwhelmed by the depth of my compassion and empathy, but she did understand her options. Reluctantly, she kitted up for school. By the time we walked to class, she was quite chirpy. My concessionary offer to pick her up at lunchtime wasn’t required and off she went.
I grew up in a family where a gash in the arm was a scratch, a loosely connected limb would be ‘fine in a couple of days’, and a few hours throwing up at the toilet was an ‘upset tummy’. Ok, perhaps not that bad, but close.
A headache wasn’t a migraine; it was a headache. A chest cold was a bit of a sniffle, not pneumonia. And most things had one of two simple remedies: a hot lemon drink with a bit of honey or a puff of the yellow puffer pack.
Dad had worked for the agricultural division of a pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, when he was young, and we had a (seemingly never-ending) supply of a yellow plastic container of Terramycin powder. It was developed for topical use on sheep and cows, particularly ‘pink eye’ – and, apparently, young children. In our household, it was simply called ‘Puffer Pack’.
Puffer Pack was good for pretty much everything.
Fall off your bike? Puffer Pack.
Chop off half your finger? A bit of Puffer Pack.
Drive a nail through your thumb? “Here, get some of this on you.”
The phrase of my farm-raised father that is etched into my youth when it comes to physical ailments was simple enough: “Get this into you and sleep on bags”.
And so we did. We slept very well as I recall. (The ‘bags’, by the way were the feed bags used for the sheep and cows – the hessian was considered comfortable for the deepest sniffle sufferer.) And I grew up with no skerrick of doubt of the love in which I was wrapped.
Thirty-something years later, I’d marry a fine young woman who’d had a different experience of patient care. While thankfully never prone to exaggerate a condition, she was used to hourly monitoring and constant care. I now realise it was all she knew from childhood.
She had no appreciation for my treatment plan of callous neglect and steadfast denial. Sure, recovery was quick because sickness was rarely acknowledged in the first place, but where were the hot water bottles? Where were the patient notes, the flower arrangements, and the get well cards? I had no idea such things were necessary for a ‘sniffle’.
I make light of it, but it’s something that we’ve needed to negotiate.
We all like to be cared for, but the currency of care is not universal.
These days, I’m a novice parent taking it one day at a time.
As I look at my girls and my role as a Dad I realise that, intentionally or organically, we instil values and character in our kids. Resilience is one of them.
I’m not just waxing on about sniffles and tummy aches here, I’m talking about character and risk taking.
Resilience is about bounce-back. Not whether we fall, but how quickly we recover. It’s often driven by the innate fragility or robustness of our temperament, but there’s nurture in there too. No doubt.
From my extensive sample of two, I can testify that when it comes to resilience, no two children are the same. Some have a little more rubber in them than others. They bounce back more readily. Some need a rope, a ladder, and a helping hand to get back on their feet.
It’s not that resilience is neglected in one and not the other, but the way in which it is cultivated will be different.
Resilience is going to be an easier quality to craft when a child is secure in their environment. It’s no different for adults either.
When a child is confident that they are loved and affirmed unconditionally by Mum and Dad (if they’re both in the mix), resilience isn’t out of a sense of endangerment but endearment. It’s from a place of security.
Resilience is not about being callous or uncaring; it’s about providing the coping tools to thrive. ‘Sleep’ and ‘bags’, for example. It comes from an assurance of their identity, from having tools to dance upon disappointment – or at least deal with it – and from knowing that without any doubt, there are big sets of loving arms to run into whenever they need them.
Before anything else, I want my girls to know that they are loved enormously, without condition. When I ask them “who loves you?” and I get the answer “mumma, dadda, or Jesus”, I knowing we’re growing in the right direction.
No insurance from challenges, no guarantee of independent success, no immunity from catastrophe, but a stable foundation on which to stand.
Get that into you and sleep on bags.