I’ve skipped forward in time from my first letter, about the days immediately after you were born, to this week, the week before Christmas 2015. I will go back and cover the past 18 months later.
You are heading off to daycare next year. One day a week at daycare and two days with Nana Di and Grandpa Tim.
I have known for some time that this was going to happen but today I heard that you are going to have your first two-hour session and one-day trial in January, while we are on holiday in Tasmania.
So we won’t be there when you take your next big step in growing up. But your mum will be and that will be more support than you’re going to need, you being you.
My confidence is partly based on your first visit to the daycare centre, exotically named Camelot.
Your mum took you there to enrol you. During the process, you were variously exploring or destroying (depending on your point of view) the Director’s office. You were banished outside to play with the other children in the sandpit. You disappeared without so much as a parting gesture, let alone a tear or any hesitation. I know your first days of childcare will be like this.
I know you are going to take to daycare like a duck to water but it is still a little bit of a wrench for Nana Di and Grandpa Tim. As a general rule, you only have one way of approaching new and different things: flat out.
Nonetheless, I still have mixed feelings.
The little boy I know will be growing into a bigger boy whose life is going to revolve just that little bit less around Grandpa Tim and Nana Di.
There is a story, a parable really, of the bell tower and the acorn. For some reason, I always imagined this parable to be set in the Italy of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
At the beginning of the story, the tower is still standing, its walls and roof mostly intact. Over time, it has seen many events, great and small, great wars and great loves, and the lives of many people, also great and small. But those events are over and the people have moved away.
One day a bird drops a small acorn on the grassy floor of the tower.
The tower says to the acorn, “I will protect you. I will protect you from the storms in winter and the heat in summer and provide water to help you grow.”
As the years go by, the acorn grows straight and tall, protected and nurtured by the tower. But as the young oak grows, its branches and trunk begin to push against the crumbling walls of the tower. The more the oak grows, the more tower crumbles. Eventually, all that remains is a tall, strong oak tree.
The stones of the tower have been taken away to build cottages and fences in the nearby village.
I first read this story when I was 10 or 11 and remember being somewhat perplexed by the ending. I’d grown up on stories that always had happy endings. This ending was rather more nuanced and my response to the story was somewhat ambiguous. As I have grown older, I’ve become more accepting of ambivalence and nuanced endings. Now, I think this is a particularly beautiful story.
It’s a story about the inevitability of growth and loss. It’s also about the love that grandparents have for their grandson and the nature and limits of that love. In the greater scheme of things, the tower could do nothing other than protect and nurture the young oak, just as the young oak would eventually outgrow the tower.
Winton, Grandpa Tim and Nana Di at The Fair Foodstore 2014
I would love to be there for your first days at daycare. I know that I see you almost every day but somehow these first days are strangely important. I think I need reassurance that your first day will be okay, but I also know that there is nothing I can do to help with this process or protect you from its vicissitudes.
On the days that you stay with us, one of us is never far from you. (Probably one of the good arguments why children should go to childcare.)
Whenever, you are in the living room and Nana Di appears down the passageway, you shriek with delight and run towards her in the funny stiff-legged run of yours which often doesn’t keep up with your intentions and launch yourself into her arms. A cuddle is never far away.
My fear is that you might feel abandoned and cuddles too distant.
Nonetheless, you handle parting from the loved-ones particularly well.
We have only recently been able to persuade you to give your mum a kiss goodbye when she leaves you on Grandpa Tim and Nana Di days. I think you’re beginning to realise that the people around you also need love and cuddles too.
I am suddenly aware that you are going to spend your time with strangers, sympathetic strangers no doubt, but strangers nonetheless. And you must learn to deal with people who are not like Nana Di and Grandpa Tim.
In fact, going to daycare is about just that: loosening the ties with those who love you and dealing with those who may not.
I have great confidence in your ability to charm and beguile. You’re a small master of that.
But I wish that I could be a three-year-old in a daycare centre, knowing what I know now, loving you and riding shot-gun for you.
Perhaps you’ll find an older woman like Millie, strong confident, wearing Blundstones and twice your age, to look after you.