I remember from my own childhood the gruelling hardship and discomfort of outdoor toilets and freezing bedrooms in the mornings, and have always felt that my children don’t get enough of this sort of thing in their mollycoddled lives. How are they going to get tough if they don’t suffer a bit?
I haven’t deliberately manufactured misery and discomfort in their lives, not really, except maybe for the choice not to have a car for many years. This gave them lots of experience of the unique misery of standing at bus stops for hours in the cold and rain. I still remember the worst time, with bags of heavy shopping, holding a screaming baby, with two crying toddlers, in a freezing snow-storm, openly sobbing as we waited 40 minutes for a bus. Ah, those days..!
Usually though, their experiences of misery and hardship have been happy accidents, the result of me just not trying too hard to get it right. Like the time we set off to walk the South Downs Way and I’d forgotten the map. It was planned to be a two-hour walk with two of my boys, then aged 12 and 7, to a rendezvous at a campsite with the rest of the family. It turned out to be eight hours solid walking, arriving with blistered and bloodied feet. We still laugh about it now.
Then there are the walks which end up at a village in the middle of nowhere, where I am always certain we will easily catch a bus back. I remember well that particular anxiety of standing at bus-stops with no timetables in the failing light, and learned over the years that if there are no locals standing there, there probably isn’t a bus either.
Of course, these days, we have hardship and discomfort provided for us on a plate every summer with the advent of summer music festivals. A two-mile slog through thick mud, carrying heavy camping gear, to get from the car-park to the campsite! Putting the tents up in the lashing rain! Really horrible outdoor toilets! Not being able to sit down for three days because the ground is a churned-up bog! Getting trench-foot from all that mud! A time when to walk anywhere is a hard slog, when you learn that rain macs have no point, when you are forced to face yourself and draw on resources you never knew you had.
Oh the utter utter misery and hardship of it all. My children love it.
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