So last week I started my 5-week ‘Writing for Children’ course at the Sydney Writer’s Centre. Nice small class & eclectic mix of people, including an ex-policeman, a lawyer, a retiree and a TV crew girl…guess there are a lot of aspiring authors out there, all hiding under our “day jobs”!
And for our homework the first week, we were asked to call up a vivid memory from our childhood – and write it as if it was a scene in a children’s book.
Well, I wracked my brains and came up with one of my earliest memories of life in the UK: a visit to London Zoo, in particular to the “children’s petting zoo” area…where I disobeyed my mother and sneaked off by myself to have a look at the ponies in the stables…and one of them took a chomp at my arm. Enough to bring up a perfect half-moon of purple, teeth-shaped bruises on my little 6yr old bicep…but I swallowed my tears and never told my mother, in spite of being in terrible pain for days afterwards.
The thing is, it wasn’t so much the pain (although that was pretty bad! You know the kind of pain when your heart suddenly races in your chest and you feel like your eyes are bulging out? ) – but more the whole thing of not wanting to be found out that I had been “naughty”.
I don’t know if 6-yr olds understand “pride” but I think that is sort of what it was. My mother had always warned me that if I was naughty and disobeyed, Something Bad would happen to me…and I was determined not to give her the chance to say “I told you so” – even at the expense of not having her comfort me and help me relieve the pain. (Thinking about it now, it was a good thing the bite hadn’t broken skin and wasn’t a more serious injury as it could have gotten dangerously infected!!)
Anyway, it got me thinking about all the other times I was “naughty” and got caught out. OK, I have to admit – I can pretty much count them on the fingers of one hand because – I hate to say it – but I was one of those nauseating “goody-goody” kids who always followed the rules and did what they were told.
In fact, when I was 8yrs old and we lived in the U.S., I attended a Catholic school in a little town in New Jersey – and I used to really struggle when we had our obligatory ‘confession’ with the school priest every week…I had nothing to confess! I used to cast desperately around, trying to dredge up one respectable “sin” that I could report and more often than not, resorted to making things up to tell the priest (“I thought nasty thoughts about my little sister”), as I didn’t want to disappoint the him or face the embarrassment of being the only one in my class with nothing to confess…
I mean, come on, let’s face it – the average life of an 8yr old doesn’t exactly lend itself to a wild life of crime. And I was the kind of 8yr old who still believed in unicorns and Disney fairytales and whose biggest ambition was to grow my hair as long as the ground, so that I could be a “real princess”. Yeah.
Still, there was one naughty “sin” I never confessed to the priest because I was just too embarrassed to be caught out. But first I have to tell you a dirty, little secret: when I was a child, I used to love picking my nose. Nothing beat the furtive pleasure of rooting around in my nostrils when I thought nobody was looking. Of course, I was seen by my parents once or twice and warned that if I continued my nasal excavations, I would end up with a huge nosebleed.
Of course, I ignored them – and of course, they were right. One day, I brought them running with my screams as blood gushed out of my nose and down my chin.
“You were picking your nose, weren’t you?” My mother demanded.
“N-no,” I said, tearfully. “I – I wasn’t.”
“Then how did this happen? I told you…I know you were picking your nose again.”
“I wasn’t! I wasn’t!” I insisted, near hysterical now but still stubborn.
Well, the tears and blood were wiped up and all was forgotten until a few days later when I was sitting with my parents in the living room, bored as they watched a programme on TV. My little fingers wandered absently up to my nose…then I caught my father (stepfather) staring pointedly at me. Quickly, I dropped my hand again. But old habits die hard and the longer I sat there, the more the urge ate away at me. Finally, I couldn’t stand it any longer. I just had to find a way to defy them.
I don’t know who it was who always went on about the “innocence of children” – I don’t remember being that innocent myself. At any rate, I was capable of thinking up pretty cunning deceptive behaviour from an early age. Getting up as nonchalantly as I could, I mumbled something about getting something to eat and pretended to wander off to the kitchen – but instead, ducked into one of the bedrooms. There, in the dark, I sat down and blissfully stuck my finger up my nose, delighting not only in being able to indulge in my favourite past time again but also in outsmarting my parents…
Then I heard someone behind me. I turned around. My father stood there.
I braced myself for the telling-off but instead, he leaned towards me and said drily, “Shall I get you a spoon?”
Well, that was the last day I ever picked my nose again.
So go on – tell me – do you remember the earliest times you were naughty or disobeyed your parents? Did you get in trouble??