When past and present collide.

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Even when we go back to places we’ve been many times before, it always feels new.

Last October we were here, barefoot with woollen hats on our heads, feet buried in mud. Today we were here and, yes, played in a stream, but we also went out into the river. People were puppies, people were putting on performances, people were getting splashed by exuberant dogs.

I look at my children and think about the wonder of their childhood. It’s all the best parts of my childhood…except, and this is the important bit, it’s just best bits. Not only what I consider the best, but what each child chooses to be the best. With no time constraints or pressures to achieve certain targets by certain dates, we are free to be flexible and explore.

Explore ourselves, explore friendships, explore our passions. These things might happen under a bridge, naked, in the woods. Or they might happen snuggled on a beanbag watching a bit of Stampy.

I don’t want to live vicariously through my children. I want them to have their own lives, discover and pursue their own joys. But while they are still little (though they’d not agree they were little!), I’m lucky enough to journey with them much of the time.

And happy when their laughter and games remind me of my own childhood. So much of it was spent wading up streams, or alone deep in the woods, or creating crazily dangerous games with my sister. These are the golden joys of my past, and I’m so lucky my memories are prompted by watching my children jump and splash in the present.

Why, yes, I may just be that hippy parent YOUR parents warned you about.

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And so there we were, trooping through the woods. Running from the ringwraiths, climbing trees, finding stuff to stick to art pictures. Making fake campfires, pond dipping, seeing our first tadpoles.

Laughing with friends, eating, sometimes fighting. Stick swords flashing through the air, children balancing on small wooden platforms almost as tall as they are, learning to leap from post to post.

We wandered to the river. My two ended up nude, except for their sturdy little adventure sandals. Jumping and balancing, making rock towers, wading up the river to see what happens around the bend.

I marveled at their easy, unselfconscious frolicking. Their sun dappled skin changing from creamy white to the soft green of reflected leaves. Ripples and patterns dancing across bare legs, water droplets rolling down strong legs and soft skin.

Playing naked along the riverbanks, sliding down muddy hills with bare bums. Friends making up quirky rules to even quirkier games involving sunshine, clouds, and standing on rocks.

This is the marvel of childhood. Trees to water to food to play. Repeat as necessary, repeat all day long, run free and climb logs and expand.

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We are powerful, out here in the garden.

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Naked children running free out in the sunshine,
and I wonder how anyone could think that shady classrooms,
lining up, sitting in seats, staying still,
is more powerful than light, air, water fights, daisy chains.

We are four.

We are watching that magpie nest in the garden, we are drawing
our own hopscotch. We are watering our seeds,
squealing naked bums against slides,
pouring water onto the grass to make muddy puddles
so we can
SPLASH.

We leave all the doors open so we can wander in and out.

If our friends come over, they wander, too. We are watching clouds,
digging up ants, riding scooters, laughing and running
and chasing each other
and we have the space to be, be, be.

This is exactly where we are supposed to be, at four, outside and
breathing deep.  This is where we draw our power,
where we discover heat and rain and
ourselves.

From behind.

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So many of my pictures are taken from behind.

I follow as you explore. Sometimes you are running full pelt, bare feet pounding against long grass, laughing. Sometimes you are just leading the way – your memories and directional sense so much better than mine.

Often it’s just a practical sort of thing. Sometimes I’m in front, sometimes you are. You have places to be and you trust you can get there.

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I trust, too. Most of the time, anyway.

I try to trust myself most of all, because trusting the two of you has been one of the easiest things I’ve ever had to do. Not just with street smarts – though you both are savvy when out and about. (I guess the hellish few months when we started going on ‘walks’ at about eighteen months paid off – though the literal blood, sweat, and tears were intense at the time! We’ve never looked back, and neither of you has been in a pushchair or sling since, except when ill.)

But I remember when M was less than a year old, crying and crying. Neither of you ever cried for no reason, but on this one occasion I wondered. I could not figure out what was wrong, but I kept trying. And weirdly, I discovered a full sized spoon had slipped down the back of his onesie and was trapped.

That was the moment I think I consciously realised how much I trusted you both to know your own minds, to cry or shout or speak them out, for them to be logical and believeable.

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And I don’t mind being behind you – literally and figuratively. I don’t need to always lead the way. I know if you have a question or a thought you’ll let me know. I know that you often discover things more vivid than I would have been able to lead you to, because you notice things I don’t. You make connections I marvel at.

So I sit back as you throw rocks. As you poke sticks into deep muddy puddles. I am sometimes right behind you, sometimes a bit further back.

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My favourite picture of the two of you from when you were younger, that I must dig out, is when you were about nineteen months old. We were at a local private nature reserve, and you both just walked off. No fear, only joy, and you took exploration as your birth right. Your mummy and I sort of froze for a moment, and then this blistering joy spread through me, marking me forever.

Watching you confident in the world, witnessing your first major breaking away that was not uncontrollable toddler running/adult panic, well, it was powerful.

Don’t get me wrong. I like your faces.

I like when you want to be close to me, when you show so much consideration and place so much value on what I say.

But I think you do that, you listen when I speak, because I listen to you, too. Because I step back and just allow you to be the people you are, to wonder about the things you wonder about, because I don’t rush in with all the ‘answers’ and tell you how the world is. You can figure that sort of stuff on your own, much of the time.

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S called the place above ‘the edge of the ocean.’ You guys are poets, astronauts, artists. Engineers, extreme hikers, dancers.

While I suppose most of my pictures are of your faces, it is often these pictures from out and about, these pictures from behind, that I am drawn to. Is it accurate to call you leaders, because I’ll tell you the secret of what I really think:

You are who you are.

You are not practicing for ‘real’ life, for adulthood. You are not people in waiting.

You are here, now. You are yourself, and that is the most powerful secret, the best goal I think any human can aspire to. Authenticity, honouring the self (while respecting others and nature), being brave enough to claim your own creative space with no apologies.

May you keep in possession of your self, even when you are wondering who that is. I will be here, sometimes close enough to wrap my arms around you and lift you up, spinning you while you laugh and squeal my name. Sometimes further away – and sometimes you will feel uneasy and run back to me, and sometimes you will be too busy with your discoveries and your friends to wonder where I am.

I love you either way.

I will be here, watching and wishing I had half the knowledge and confidence of self that each of you has. I am learning how to be more me from watching you be you.

So thanks for that.

I mean it.

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