When my youngest child was small, she couldn't read for the longest time. Her father used to read to her devotedly every night. He would read the old favourites to her as well as the collection of fairy stories. Later, they graduated to Jacqueline Wilson's collection.
She went to a nursery where she was read to but not taught to read. Oh, they did letters and numbers half-heartedly, but most of her nursery days were spent learning how to speak French (and 'proper' English) and playing in the small compound. It suited us just fine, because she was such a happy little girl who came home each day with colourful artwork that mirrored her happy day.
Later, she went to a school where there was a selection process. Fortunately, Miss Hazel did not take a dim view of the child who told her, "I can read, but no thank you, I won't read. My Daddy reads very nicely to me so I don't have to."
Didn't matter that she didn't do so well in school in the early years. She asked great, insightful questions and she was learning a lot.
"How do you make a Human Bean, Daaaad?" was one such question.
Her father would hug her close and told her his secret recipe with a big smile, "First, you fill her up with lots of cuddles, lots of kisses and lots of love. Then you put the lid on and ...... you shake her hard to mix all the good stuff up."
And he would shake her up and down in his arms until her laughter filled the whole house.
This was she at five. You could literally see joy emanating from her, the joy being a product of her endless happy days:
In the beginning, I was more traditional. I believed in a set bedtime and pre-discovering green smoothies, I believed in children eating up all the greens on the plate. This child just wanted to eat ice cream. My mother reminded me that I was just the same. "You got your calories from ice cream and cake," my mother reminded me. "And look at you now, a health food fanatic."
Once, I popped into her father's office unexpectedly because I locked myself out of the house. To my surprise, six-year-old Georgina was sitting smugly next to him, chatting away nineteen to dozens. "What is she doing here?" I asked. "Shouldn't she be in class?"
"I've had enough of class," she piped up. "So I came to my Daddy's office to help him with his work."
Today, this little Human Bean is sixteen and preparing for medical school (though her parents are trying to entice her to choose a simpler life). She plays football and basketball internationally, and often struggles to balance her sporting commitments with the heavy academic workload.
"Chill a bit," I would advise her. She spent the whole of her Saturday studying Chemistry instead of going to the beach with her friend.
'I've chilled all my childhood, Mum!" She exclaimed.
Her father sneaked up on her and grabbed her into his arms. He then proceeded to shake his 60kg heavy child up and down. "How do you make a happy Human Bean?" he asked merrily, shaking her like he did in the old days though he is now 57-years-old.
"Stop it, Dad, you're going to hurt your back!"
How come she's not lazy and undisciplined? I asked her father.
His answer, which I thought was very insightful is something and that I wish to share: "Because we kept her busy all childhood long, and because all that sunshine, laughter and cuddles in her are just bursting to get out."
The storms in her teenage years are short and temporary. Her over-riding joy rules.
Here's the face. Her father is right. My own mother is right. Happiness comes first - always! - when raising a child. The rest will find a way, as surely as night follows day.
First published in www.raisinghappystrongkids.com