The Great If Only

Tonight is full moon, the last before Ramadan; it is known as the night on which a person’s decree for the coming year is written, when one’s destiny is laid out, in that wonderfully impermanent way; there is, after all, always next year. Everything is apt to change.

Tonight is also the night I abandoned my feeble attempts at enforcing a sort of bedtime dictatorship, whereby, at the ages of 3 and 1, my children ‘should’ be capable of tucking themselves in, saying nighty-night, and dozing off even when it is still daylight outside and everyone else in Spain is only just slinking out from under a cool rock and coming to life again.

Thankfully this period of Victorian nannyesque insanity only lasted a few days, or rather, a few long, horrible evenings racked with hysterical screams (Cavebabe) and pitiful whimpers (Caveboy). It hit me that, with their father away, and a great many complicated adult emotions lurking under the playdough exterior of family life, there was ultimately nothing more awful in this world than a heartbroken kid. Anything that eases that heartache is worth a try, even if it does give me bruises on the shoulder (how??) or broken nights (argh) or long evenings curled up with my beloveds telling stories in bed (hold on, is this the same sentence?)

There was one piece of advice which had stuck in my head from recently reading Faber and Mazlish’s How to Talk So Kids Listen and Listen So Kids Talk: acknowledging a howling child’s fury/sadness/jealousy will help them deal with it, but if it’s still causing turbulence, grant them their wish in fantasy. Tell them you wish you could fix that biscuit with edible glue and make it complete again, and then go and buy a huge box full of biscuits and shower them over their head until they could never imagine a broken biscuit again.

It might sound dubious, but this approach strangely seems to work. Perhaps it’s because the tangible world for a child is so quick to merge with an imagined one, so that merely thinking about all the amazing things they could do is just as good as actually doing them – perhaps even better (no car trips, disappointments, broken bones).

So, tuning into a screamingly obvious vibe from my son, I asked him if he wished we could send Rosa away for a bit, have a day just for ourselves, and of course he said yes. What would we do on this day? I began to have a wild fantasy about taking him out to a restaurant and the cinema, which was admittedly more my own fantasy than his, but his ideas were all so sweetly prosaic: dig in the sandpit, play with his pulley and bucket, buy a wheelbarrow.

Just wishing we had a day to do all those things together, an acute tension broke between us, and we were back within our old bond, Rosa Nour asleep at last on the other side of the bed, out of his sight. The tenderness invoked, the devoutness with which we codesigned our imaginary day together, made it feel quite prayer-like, and I was reminded of the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (s.) that even imagining how one might distribute charity is rewarded with the same blessings as actually giving that charity.

He fell asleep almost immediately, mumbling something about not taking apples to the beach, and I went to hang out my laundry under a beaming great moon, and took stock of my own wishes and prayers, or cynical forgetfulness of them. It seems I have forgotten how to wish for something in that young, fervent way, so strongly that there can be no doubt that something will come of it.

Tonight was also the first night that my son twigged what it meant to pray for someone, to wish them well from afar in the belief that somehow it had a effect greater than simply making us feel better. I wonder, then, if praying is something that comes easily to children. Even more, it make us children again. It evokes that plasticity by which anything can be brought out from a passionate daydream into reality.

The Great If Only is, in truth, a Glorious Could Be.