I went to my daughter’s school today to watch the annual Book Week parade. I was amazed. Every single teacher and child had dressed up as a character out of a book, with a focus on Heroes and Villains. Ella had decided to be a doctor (“Doctors are heroes because they help people, Mummy”), and very proudly put on her costume I had hastily compiled the previous day, complete with lacy little doctor’s hat and bag (which were actually part of an R18 adult’s Nurse outfit, but let’s not ruin the innocence of the moment).
The teachers had thrown themselves into the theme. The Deputy Principal was Malificent, sweeping malevolently across the netball courts. The Principal was the Big Bad Wolf. (“Typecast”, I head one teacher snicker.) All the middle school teachers had dressed up as Dalmatians, with two Cruella de Vils to keep them in line (literally). “Arrrrr!” snarled a pirate I barely recognised as the teacher from Room One. There was even a giant Yeti (or was it Chewbacca?)
The children, too, had pulled out all the stops. As I watched Darth Vader, two daleks, Harry Potter, Pippi Longstockings and Badjelly the Witch parade proudly past, spitting rain notwithstanding, I again felt so lucky and blessed to be part of the parenthood club.
Today’s parade reminded me of another, smaller one a few weeks ago. It was Fancy Feet day at school, and all the kids decorated their shoes to highlight the virtues of walking to school. As we live precisely two minutes from the school gate, my daughter takes on a rather holier-than-thou attitude when discussing the subject. “Well, I walk to school every day.” It’s hardly an achievement when I could practically just roll you out of bed and into your classroom every morning, I think. But I indulge her self-righteousness. There are worse things to feel virtuous about.
Anyway, we decorated Ella’s shoes with balloons and stickers and ribbons. The balloons on one foot looked, serendipitously, like an elephant with an enormous trunk and ears either side. (There was a more pornographic interpretation but I’ll leave that to your imagination.) When we got to school I was a little afraid that Ella would be disappointed with our efforts. To my eye her shoes looked rather amateur compared to others. Feet and shins were adorned with all manner of things from bells and flowers and buttons to spider webs and giant spiders and angel wings.
When it came to vote for the best shoes in each class, however, Ella’s little classmates, bless them, voted unanimously for Ella. It must have been the elephant (ahem). So one very excited little girl was chosen to join the “Best Fancy Feet” parade in the school hall.
As I watched her shy, excited little face as she paraded proudly up and down, balloons bobbing, I felt the unexpected urge to burst into tears. She was so delighted with her slightly grubby pair of trainers adorned with $2 shop balloons and little stickers.
And I thought: sometimes it is almost harder to see your child joyful than it is to see them unhappy. Because in that tender moment you realise you want them to always be happy, their innocent little hearts always content with a simple and safe little world – and you know that won’t happen. You think: I want to freeze frame this moment, this moment when her little heart is full to bursting – and you can’t. You think: I never want her to lose this capacity to marvel at the ordinary; to find contentment in the sweet and simple rituals of childhood – and you know that, eventually, the world with all its pain and struggle and cynicism will intrude.
Perhaps all we can do is teach our children as they grow that the world is beautiful as well as heartbreaking, and that joy can always be found in simple things if we take the time to look.