Friday flip through the archive

Carefree to care-managed: the art of growing up

Su Leslie, 2002.

I wrote this three years ago, yet think it is as appropriate now as then. The challenges facing my son as an 18 year old are different, but no less real. He continues to rise to them and to be a human being worth knowing.


Carefree: without worries or responsibilities.

We often think of childhood days as carefree; and it is true that watching young children at play evokes a sense of their freedom from concern or constraint.

When the boy-child was younger, fantasy games formed a huge part of his everyday play. Like many children, he loved to create forts out of chairs and blankets, turn cardboard boxes into spaceships, dress up and invent imaginary friends. In his case they were imaginary older siblings, which, for a mother struggling with infertility, was pretty tough to deal with at times.

Incredibly inventive, he was constantly making things. Lego and building blocks were indispensable in building props for his, often quite complex, games. Cardboard sheets were sellotaped and stapled into cars, aeroplanes and once, a huge aircraft carrier (and I mean huge).

Items he wanted but didn’t have were improvised. As a two year old, he…

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Travel theme: feet

" an act or instance of placing close together or side by side, esp. for comparison or contrast.

How far he has travelled. Photo: Su Leslie, 2014

This photo was taken eighteen months ago, just before my son turned 16. I had been rummaging in the “box of memories” and found his first proper shoes. The boy-child could hardly believe he had ever fitted into something so small.

Since then, his feet have grown more and he has traveled even farther — physically and emotionally. He has graduated high school, vacationed with us in Europe, taken his first solo holiday and found a job he loves. He’s also looking at university courses for next year and is starting to think about buying a car.

So I guess this photo is a metaphor for my son’s journey to adulthood; a journey that he is increasingly taking in huge strides, and in a direction of his own choosing. I miss the little boy who wore those tiny buckled shoes, but I am incredibly proud of the man he is becoming.

This post was written for Ailsa’s Travel Theme at Where’s My Backpack.



10 things Tuesday: he’s ready to leave home when …


Broccoli, tofu and cashew nut stir-fry. One of the boy-child’s ‘signature dishes.’ Photo: Su Leslie 2012

As kids grow up and take more and more responsibility for meeting their own basic needs, I think the focus of parenting shift a lot more to preparing them to go out into the world.

If I had to name ten things I’d like the boy-child to do as an adult, those things would be:

1. Cook; that is prepare actual meals from real ingredients. We’ve been making food together since the boy-child was old enough to hold a wooden spoon and I hope that he puts his (considerable) culinary skill and interest in good food into practice to feed his body his spirit and his friends.

2. Have a firm handshake. I hope he is confident enough in himself to approach encounters with new people with warmth, enthusiasm and genuine interest.

3. Separate the whites from the colours and read the washing instructions. The boy-child’s wardrobe consists largely of jeans and t-shirts, which he is incredibly good at transporting to the laundry basket at the end of the day. Actually driving the washing machine is work in progress.

4. Be the person who stops to ask “can I help?”, rather than walking by and wondering. Years ago, I was at the beach with my youngest brother. An elderly man tripped and fell. Almost before I was aware of it, my brother had got to his feet and was sprinting across the sand to help. The Big T is similarly hard-wired for compassion. With these role-models, I hope the boy-child will also be “that person.”

Two of the best role-models a boy could have. Photo: Su Leslie 2011

Uncle and father; two of the best role-models a boy could have. Photo: Su Leslie 2011

5. Wear sunscreen. Yes, I know this is Mary Schmich’s advice – popularized by Baz Luhrmann. It’s still really good advice, especially for a skateboarder in New Zealand.

6. Remember that his mother and grandmothers are women – and continue to treat the rest of my gender with the same respect he shows us.

7. Sew missing buttons back on and put a new hem on over-long trousers. It’s not that hard, and nothing says “slob” like missing shirt buttons.

8. Only make promises he’s sure he can keep. It’s one thing letting his mother down – she loves him unconditionally. Other people, not so much.

9. Check his bank balance before he buys stuff. The boy-child is quite canny with money, but has grown up with electronic transactions and not the sight of an actual empty wallet.

10. Keep his parent’s phone numbers on speed-dial. I know, but I’m still his mother!

This was written as part of my countdown to my son’s sixteenth birthday.

Here’s what’s gone before:

Weekly photo challenge: nostalgic for what?

Infant class, Sinclairtown School, Kirkcaldy, Fife 1966?

Miss Simpson’s infant class, Sinclairtown School, Kirkcaldy, Fife 1966. I wonder if any of us look back on those days with nostalgia?

Nostalgia: a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition (Merriam-Webster dictionary).

Spoiler alert: I’m not nostalgic.

I can’t really think of a single thing or time from from my past that I get particularly sentimental about, or yearn to relive or return to.

I admit that I kind of miss the few years  in my early twenties when I was slim and promiscuous (these two things are almost certainly connected), but if I’m honest, the sex may have been great but the rest of my life was still a mess.

I don’t miss the past because mostly I don’t remember it with much fondness. That’s not to say that there haven’t been moments when I’ve felt really happy, but in general I don’t think I ever learned how to turn life over to find the bright side. I’m definitely a “glass half empty person” with an uncanny talent for locating large black clouds to stand under.

I’m particularly not nostalgic for my childhood, so I guess my choice of photo probably counts as an attempt at irony.

I hated being a kid. I was all the “un’s”:  un-athletic, unattractive, unpopular and probably pretty un-likeable. I hated school because the only thing I was any good at was the actual schoolwork, and lets face it – that doesn’t really count for squat in kid universe. I think even the teachers didn’t really like me. It’s ok to be brainy, but not nerdy too.

At home I had to contend with parents who were so desperately wrestling their own demons they didn’t have the time or perhaps the sensitivity to notice that I was miserable, stunted, lonely, suffering.

And anyway, none of that really mattered since my main role in the family was to give my parents something to brag to their friends about – preferably a glowing report card at the end of every term with a few sensational exam marks in between. This I did, but no matter how good I was, it was never quite good enough. “Ninety eight percent! What happened to the other two?” Eventually I learned that they coped with my deficiencies by massaging the truth of my achievements a little. I’m not sure if they did Apgar tests when I was born, but if they did my parents would have insisted I got 11 out of 10.

So really there wasn’t much point in trying … Except … Except that I wanted them to love me, and I didn’t know of any other way, so I kept on getting A’s and knowing that without the little plus sign, they might as well have been D’s. For a long time it didn’t even occur to me that there was any other point to education.

So I guess I’ve wandered through vast tracts of my life totally without any sort of navigation device. Which is probably ok, because I didn’t know where I was supposed to be going anyway.  I still don’t really.

If I was making this up, I’d be able to tell you that at some point I had an epiphany; a moment of clarity when it all started to make sense and I got my life on track, blah, blah, blah.

Sorry. As a narrative, this one doesn’t obey any rules.

I’ve probably had lots of mini-epiphanies — epiphanettes if you like. I’ve probably even tweaked bits of my existence as a result. Whatever.

I’m a different person now. Maybe my present – reasonably happy – existence is the result of lots of dialectical hopscotch, or maybe it’s just what happens when you get older and slower and less willing to give a shit.

What I do know is that although I still find black clouds and get caught in their storms, I can also make my own shelter and dry myself off and carry on. I’m not waiting for anyone to rescue me.

I can go back to university after 20 years and get A’s because I want to do each assignment as well as I can – not because I think it will make someone love me.

I still don’t have a destination in life, but I have a morality that helps me navigate each day, and at the end of most of them I feel ok.

So right now I feel no nostalgia; and I almost hope I never do because that would mean life and I had stopped getting better. And that would be a shame after how far we’ve come.

Where has the time gone?

The other day I was doing the nostalgia thing … looking at old photos of the boy-child. I guess I knew it, but until confronted with the evidence I’d forgotten just how long skateboards have been part of his life.

I’ve lost count of how many times people have asked me how I cope with his hobby.

Am I not afraid he’ll hurt himself?

Yes, but I’m more afraid of trampling on his dreams, closing down his passions, stifling him and making him afraid – of pain and worse – of failure.  I don’t ever want to see my son hurt, but I also don’t want him to grow up being afraid to challenge himself.

I know what that is like and if I could have my childhood again, I’d take broken skin and fractured bones  any day.

And, on the plus side, my son has discovered that his niche in the skating world is largely as the film-maker, documenting the crazy antics of his friends.

Here’s a teaser from his latest project; a “feature” length film called Illusion.