The Joy of Sticks
From top: gun, sword, wand. AKA ‘kindling for Granddad’.
I’ve never thought brandishing a stick was a good idea. We were always told by our parents that it was dangerous, which I could see was theoretically true, but only in the same way I could see that it was theoretically possible to break your arm falling off the monkey bars. It could happen, but only if you were an idiot who didn’t know what you were doing.
Then when I was in Year 1, my friend’s big sister, Naomi, was speared through the cheek by an idiot who was running through the playground with a stick. Oh, properly realised every kid who knew her. It is dangerous to run with a stick. If you have a great stick, but it’s stuck in your mate’s cheek, you will not be getting that thing back. Don’t risk your best sticks by running with them.
I’ve carried that through into parenthood. Coupled with my pacifist stance and refusal to let my kids watch violent TV shows, there has really been no place for sticks in our play. Sticks become weaponised very easily. I was not having any of that. And it was pretty easy. For the first five years I had kids, they didn’t really seem interested in sticks.
Then Garnet turned three. For his birthday present, he asked for a walking stick. How natty, I thought. Why not? He probably wants to be like Fred Astaire. That’s adorable. How did I not see that he cared nothing for the YouTube tap-dancing videos I was always making him watch, and was instead modelling himself on Mr Todd, the dapper arch-criminal fox character from Peter Rabbit, who uses his walking stick mostly for badger beating?
After that he started picking up sticks everywhere he went. Every time we left the house he’d gather an armload, which he would tell me were for the fireplace at his grandparents’ house. He’d bring them home and store them beside his bed, in the toy boxes, or down one leg of his trousers. Every few days I would get cross and clear out all the ones I could find, but like a toddling interwar Germany, he’d just quietly go about his rearmament program, confident that I had never managed to find all his little weapons caches that were in the swimming bag or the back of the Tupperware cupboard.
I started to mellow a bit about the sticks. I brought into effect Operation Drop Standards. I still said there could be no actual toy swords or guns, but I supposed a stick was all right. Then along came Harry Bloody Potter.
As a half-competent parent, I can read a book aloud while simultaneously thinking about whatever the hell else I want, which is my way of remaining sane. It’s a dissociation technique I learnt from a show about how to survive torture. It comes in very handy as a parent. You might argue that the Harry Potter books are excellent and why wouldn’t I want to pay full attention to them while I am engaging with my child, but the answer is this: I don’t get to read all of Harry Potter, I get to read half of Harry Potter. Our kids are big on fairness, so every night, if we are both home, H and I take turns reading to each kid. That means I have read every second few pages of many books. And so I don’t really ever know what’s going on and I find it hard to care. So I let my mind wander while I read, which is how I came to be unaware that there is a sword in Harry Potter, not just wands.
Garnet’s too little to really listen to much of the Harry Potter books, but it turns out that he has a sort of audio google alert set up in his brain for mentions of swords. And when he heard mention of some sword or other in the second Harry Potter book, it seems he switched off listening to what was being read to him and started listening to May Blossom’s book. (There is a significant amount of people reading aloud to no-one, not even themselves, that goes in in our house of an evening.)
So while I was reading Hairy Maclary to the air, he was listening to Harry Potter and formulating another plan to overcome the weapons ban.
He started by asking for a wand. I have no beef with wands, I thought. Wands are magical. Wands prompt imaginative play.
Wands, it soon became apparent, are just sticks that have slipped through the net of parental control; sticks that you are for some reason permitted to wave around dangerously near your own and others’ eyes. Wands are magical because they disarm parents who are trying to disarm you. And wands are extraordinary, because once you have one in your grasp, you can magically turn it into a sword. Like in Harry Potter. And before your idiot mother realises, she has heartily endorsed you running around armed with a massive pointy stick.
Now the house of cards of my rules and regulations concerning weapons has been swept to the ground with one tap of a stick-wand-sword. My rules have gone from no sticks, to no running with sticks, to no running with sticks in the house, to no sticks in the bath, to no running on my bed with sticks tucked into your underpants. I’ve realised a long stick is a safer stick, because you can only endanger other people’s eyes and not your own. My new benchmark for parenting success is that my children making it to adulthood with their eyeballs intact, and if their mates don’t have stick-holes in their cheeks that will be a welcome bonus.