A few days ago whilst we were driving along the backroads of Phuket we saw these three boys in front of us. The oldest one who was riding the bike did not seem a day older than eleven, swigging Coke from a can whilst confidently navigating the roads like a seasoned rider.
“What a lovely way to grow up,” my children’s father commented. “When they are all grown up, they will have such happy memories of days like this.”
I have a different mindset. My immediate thought was about the tiny boy in front pitching forward and suffering catastrophic brain damage. I looked at my children’s father’s face. I could tell he was remembering his own childhood. He was the South East London version of these three boys. He and his mates would go off cycling deep into the Kent countryside from a very young age. They would go for miles. Once they decided to try to find Dartford Tunnel. They were gone for a long time and when darkness fell the police was called. The tired little boys were given a severe hiding by their mothers but no harm done, there was so much love. It was all part of growing up in a childhood couched with love.
Money and social status counted for nothing. There were no playdates, enrichment classes or tuition where my children’s father grew up. Sure, he could have done better at school and he could have done better socially if his parents were more educated, if they were more ambitious for their son or if they had more money to spare. But they did not and I am glad.
For he has grown up with beauty in his heart from his happy childhood days and has the simple ambition to create the same for our children. In my 48 years of having lived a rich and varied life, I have seen how important a good foundation is in building a happy and successful life. Though academic success is often hailed as the most important foundation of them all, look around you: how many people in successful careers are actually truly and deeply content with their exalted status quo compared with those with humbler lives? Do they actually live ‘better’ lives than those with less grand jobs, the teachers, the office workers, the carpenters, the shop assistants?
It is never worth sacrificing substance for form. It is my strong belief that a child has to have a strong foundation and that foundation is a happy childhood that they can always return to in their minds when the going gets tough, a safe refuge in the belief that there is a happier place always however dire the present is. I strongly believe that as parents, we should invest in building that place for our children. It is their insurance against bad days in their adult lives, far more so than a ticket to glory.
Here’s an analogy. This is one of the many stray dogs (called soi dogs in Thailand) who lives on the beach near my house. I see him almost every day. He is smart, sociable and healthy. The food vendors feed him well. There is a charity called The Soi Dog Foundation that takes care of strays. Someone put a collar on him but he belongs to no one, according to the food vendors. I thought of taking him home to keep as my pet. But I ask myself this, will this dog be happier in a ‘richer’ life than he is living free on the beach? A nice house means nothing. I once knew a person who said he couldn’t wait to leave home – and home for him was a big house in an affluent suburb.
This comes to my point: life cannot be measured in achievements or possessions but in happy moments that make up the story of our lives. To use the old adage, it is not the destination but the journey. It is how you lived the days of your life that matters.