There was a child in my flat this weekend, a real child of eight years old. A child of questions, answers, unfiltered opinions and energy. As a woman who bounces between overdosing contraceptives and enforced abstinence, this was a capacious culture shock.
The first problem a visit like this poses is physical. There are books, booze, ashtrays, bin bags, bills, false eyelashes, shoes, porn, horror movies, ornaments, wires, dimmer switches and underwear all over my general area. Everything I own is either a danger to, or in danger from, an eight year old.
The second problem is that I’m inherently jealous of children. It just isn’t fair.
I took my niece (we’ll say niece to avoid a ‘Modern Family’ style explanation) to Alton Towers (that last parenthesis may imply I swipe children, not so, just go with niece). There is a ghost train there that is so lame that I exited it feeling mostly scared that I paid £40 to get into Alton Towers. After the ghost train my niece was the white faced and blubbering level of terrified; and I was really jealous of that.
If I was in any way maternal, I would have consoled her, but I’m not, so I didn’t. Instead, I badgered her with probing questions about what she had found so scary. Was it this particular plastic skeleton? Those foam decapitated corpses? The booming sounds of tortured deaths? Tell me, whimpering infant, exactly what was it that really frightened you?
Between the sobs and reignited memories, she couldn’t explain the specificity of her fear. The fear came from the sum of the Ghost Train’s parts; it had all been so frighteningly stimulating.
After I’d decided the kid had learned more phrases to describe methods of demise than I could reasonably explain to her mother, we went about our day of roller coasters and extortionate food outlets.
My niece’s reaction had made me desperate to remember the last time I had been so openly fervent about something. When had I last been so ardent about a situation that I had an obviously noticeable physical response? After thirty years trying to reduce the amount of public embarrassment caused by my emotions, I now need a massive hit of stimulation to behave like I did when I was a child. I’m chronically jealous of an ability to be publicly unrestrained and not be labelled as ‘mad’ or ‘disabled’. Only children hold this privilege.
About four hours after the Ghost Train incident, while we were in the queue for the Guaranteed Whiplash, my niece looked up at me and, unprompted, said:
“Oh… I’ve forgotten all about the ghost train.” She looked a little bit worried and stared past me thoughtfully. I think she was right to be worried. I wanted to tell her that she should try to remember, not forget the fear, not become immune to low budget stimulation. Instead I said:
As the nearest responsible adult, I’d stuck the knife of reinforcement in. I may as well have said, “That’s excellent, you’ve died a little bit inside. Now just keep doing that over and over until you’re all grown up and being really stimulated by simple things is almost impossible.”
My niece is a clever girl and I have no doubt she will rationalise her ghost train experience very quickly. She will ‘grow up’ a little bit and I will be a little bit less jealous of her.