Very unusually for me, this is a bit of a serious post, so I am applying a ‘not so funny warning!’
One of my pleasures in going to work part time is that 3 mornings a week, I get to spend 40 minutes on the train reading the Metro in relative peace. Lately, that enjoyment has been becoming tinged with an increasing sense of alarm about what is happening in the world today. Today, I read the front page (not the advertising one with the giant panda on it, the one after that) and decided not to read on. In fact I stopped after the quote from a masked daesh jihadi saying “‘your children will pay’ for RAF strikes on daesh targets in Iraq and Syria.” I stopped because this statement saw the crystallisation of a growing sense of unease which has developed over the last months about what kind of world I have chosen to bring 4 children into.
I grew up in a world of relative freedom to explore Bangor, the seaside town where I was born. I played with friends, went to the park, played on the roads and learnt to sail and swim. I left home after breakfast during school holidays, with my brothers and friends in tow, bags packed with food, and a handful of ha’pennies for the corner shop. We seldom returned before dinner time. I had a pretty idyllic childhood in virtually every way.
My idyllic childhood took place in Northern Ireland at the height of the troubles. Catholic and Protestant factions raged a continuous war against each other, caring little about the innocent people that got hurt. My childhood memories are much like those of any other child, save that I was taught some special rules from an early age. There were certain roads and areas you were never to go to in Belfast. There were certain sorts of people you must never look in the eye. Parking in multi-storey car parks was something we never did due to the regularity with which they were blown up. I remember standing on the beach in Bangor and hearing a large explosion across the water, which I learned was a multi-storey car park which had been blown up. The whole world seemed to shake during that explosion, and undoubtedly, many were killed. Shops had to pay protection money, the police drove armoured cars and carried guns, and the news was regularly populated with details of the latest killings. Large murals depicting ‘heros’ from each faction staked claim to areas of the city, and part of the city was divided by a huge wall to help prevent violence between neighbouring Catholic and Protestant communities. My parents whispered from time to time about the demise of some poor local shopkeeper who had found themselves on the wrong end of a machine gun having upset one faction or another.
When Newtownards was bombed, I called the school friends who lived there to check everyone was ok. As I grew, the troubles receded. This didn’t lessen my parents anxieties any when I started attending school formal dances held at the Europa hotel, the most bombed hotel in Europe at the time. As a child, I was quite blasé, the innocence of childhood making me believe it could never happen to me. Looking back, I wonder how I could bear to have let my children go and do many of the things which I did.
Belfast saw huge changes over the time when I was in England at University. Each time I went home, I saw a more diverse, modern, multi-cultural city. It soon became a city I hardly recognised, for all the right reasons.
My children’s childhood
I moved to England when I went to University. I ended up getting married to a fellow law student, and settled with my husband in peaceful rural Hampshire. When we started our family, I felt excited and in no way afraid of the world into which I was bringing my children. That’s not to say that there were not troubles in various parts of the world which affected the UK, but just that they seemed far enough away to pose little threat.
The last few months have left me feeling increasingly worried about the future of our world for my, and all the other children we are raising. I no longer feel comfortable taking my children into central London. That might seem silly as of course none of us know what threat is where. You might think it even more bizarre given the fact that I was raised and safely survived a childhood in Belfast in the 1980’s and 1990’s. I suppose the difference is that the kind of war I knew was in many ways more predictable. Don’t park in a multi-storey, don’t walk down certain streets, don’t go into certain pubs if you aren’t of the right faith. Perhaps I only think that as it was seen through the eyes of a child, or perhaps not.
The threat facing all of us today seems so much more frightening to me, maybe because I now have 4 invaluable children. It involves so many more people from so many more countries, and so many more faiths. It is a war being fought in the age of the Internet, making international terrorist activities much harder for the authorities to trace. It is a war that I struggle to understand, particularly the recruitment of people from this country to attack the people of this country. I could try to understand more, but somehow those sensitivities you develop when you become a parent (you know, sees three legged dog*cries*, sea lion eats seal pup on nature programme *sobs*) make it something I don’t feel able to bear to know more about. When my 6 year old asks me about what is happening on the news, I find it hard to answer. I don’t want him to worry, but I want him to be wise.
As a child, I got extremely frustrated when no-one would answer a question I carried for many years, and I suppose I still do. I used to ask why Catholics and Protestants were killing each other over the same God, and in the name of that God, when God said ‘you shall not kill’. I asked teachers, Sunday school professors, priests ministers, and my parents, but I never got a satisfactory answer.
For my children, it is the same question, different religions. Surely no faith believes in the seemingly indiscriminate tortutre and exeution of men, women and children? How can I explain these things to my children when I can’t begin to understand them myself?
Some will think I am being melodramatic, and some will share my fears. Some may disagree with how I felt about growing up in Northern Ireland, and others will identify with it. I suppose that I was naive to feel that I was bringing my children into a safe world. For soon, no doubt, I will have to make similar decisions to my parents. Do I let my children go on a school trip to London, or Paris? Do I let my children stay with their Uncle in central Manchester? Do I let them go backpacking on a gap year like so many before them? Do I just let them do all the normal things and say ‘what will be will be’ or do I try and assess the risks in an arbitrary way and avoid them?
Of course I know the answer. They have to be allowed to live their lives as I did mine. I strive to give them as similarly an idyllic childhood as I had. It’s just that I never envisaged that I would have to think about such matters for my children, but then I have learnt that making unexpected and difficult decisions while feeling wholeheartedly unprepared is part and parcel of being a parent.
#scaredmummy #parentingproblems #childrenssafety #terroristthreat #metronews