I discovered this book – James Herriot’s Treasury for Children – when I followed the Ambleside Online curriculum. My younger daughter adores animals. This book is just perfect – she loves it. Actually she loved most of the fiction in the curriculum except for the History spines, which she found boring. So we have been reading consecutive stories out of the book every night for bedtime, for the past few nights. Although our style of home education at present is not really Charlotte Mason inspired, we still love reading the stories for fun.
Yesterday night, we read a story called The Christmas Day Kitten. It was a bittersweet story about a mysterious cat that brought its kitten to a lady’s house it usually visited for short periods, when it was about to die. Then it died in the lady’s home soon after, which was very sad. It’s kitten grew up to be a very strong and playful cat so it did have a happy ending – see, I did tell you it was a bittersweet tale. Very memorable and very well-told. In fact, my son requested me to read it again tonight. Only for my younger daughter to say “No, I don’t want you to read that story again. It gave me nightmares.”
We eventually agreed to read the next story in the book – Bonny’s Big Day – a gentle, peaceful story about 2 old horses, well looked after by their owner, a gruff solitary farmer who had no need for much human interaction but was content with tending to farm matters all day, every day, in the beautiful stretch of hilly farmland he owned. And then this farmer, under the suggestion of the vet, decided to enter one of his horses – Bonny – into the local village’s pet competition, and his horse did win in the end.
A very benign story indeed. I bet that won’t give my younger daughter nightmares now.
Every now and then, we realise how things which might seem harmless to us can actually appear disturbing to our children. Strangely, after my daughter said that, I tried to understand why she might feel that way about the kitten story, and I started to see why she might have felt it was a bit scary. If I was a child again, I might have felt it too. But I will say now again that it was a great story, yet I do not think she should listen to it again if she is not ready to. If my son wants to hear it again, I will read it to him out of her earshot (unless she’s ready to hear it again).
When I was a teen, I read a lot of horror novels and watched a lot of horror films. I was a very sensitive child when I was little, but it was as if by the time I was a teen, I was trying to desensitise myself by viewing all those horror shows and reading horror novels. Perhaps something was lost along the way by doing that. Horror and gruesome sick scenarios are not really stuff we should desensitise ourselves to. We are naturally put off by these things because they represent a lot about what is dark and cruel in this world. And so we should be, or we lose the urge to make the world a better and kinder place.
I’d certainly forgotten about how sensitive children naturally are – how sensitive I was as a child – and only when I had kids of my own did I realise this again. Kids have great gut feelings and are very attuned to the underlying currents in their surroundings. Their fears are valid and real to them and we’d do better to try and understand their point of view and help them mature and develop, without unnecessarily desensitising them too soon. Anyway, my fascination with horror shows and novels wore off by the time I reached my 20s and I now think of them as the equivalent of junk food.
When I was in labour with my youngest child, my home birth midwife came to my flat to attend the birth, and she remarked to me that I was a very stoic person. I think she said that because I didn’t make much sound even when my labour contractions were so intense. I didn’t sound off much even when it came to pushing my baby out. Well she should have seen me when I was in labour with my first kid. I screamed throughout the entire labour and birth. Yes, just like an actress in one of those horror movies I’d watch as a teen trying to desensitise myself to creepy, spooky things. In fact I feel sorry for the others in hospital who had to listen to my racket. But it seems that by the time I had my 3rd child, I was well and truly desensitised to the pain of labour and birth. In part, I have Hypnobirthing to thank for that. I took a Hypnobirthing course when I was pregnant with my 2nd and was determined to be less terrified of labour and birth. And to be honest, experience helps. After the unpleasant painful experience in my first birth – of being given an episiotomy when the local anaesthetic had not worked – and the subsequent week of extremely painful recovery when I was literally unable to walk, it left me feeling convinced that I can handle any pain. So desensitisation is not always a bad thing, I guess, but I think that sometimes… it is.