The other day, Joshua and I had a conversation that almost brought me to tears. He was on the toilet, obviously, as he usually is when he is inspired to initiate in-depth and philosophical conversations, such as why his eyeballs are squishy and the grading of his farts dependant on how ‘smooth’ they are (whatever that means). To be fair to him, many famous creators have had their best ideas whilst in the bathroom – Steve Jobs would sit on top of a toilet and dangle his bare feet in the water while thinking. I just wish that Joshua didn’t feel the need for me to be in the room when he had these moments of inspiration, but rather could talk to me through the safety of a toilet door which would shield me from the toxic gases escaping his rear end. But, alas, our son is a special variety of human whom not only insists on stripping naked but also on having company whilst he unloads his bowels. Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, I was not in a great place, after experiencing an unexpected heavy bleed, which turned out to be the loss of what I was so sure in my mind to be a successful round of fertility treatment. I hadn’t slept in a week and Joshua was playing on my last nerve, throwing an end-of-the-world tantrum because the cup his milk was in was not his “favourite” cup, even though it WAS his favourite cup yesterday. He took a breath from crying to announce that he needed the toilet, and no matter how angry you are with a child, you don’t risk it for a biscuit when they threaten you with a dirty protest. In the midst of pooping (Joshua, not me), we had the following conversation:
Me: I’m sorry for shouting baby, mummy isn’t feeling very well so she’s just a bit grumpy
Joshua: That’s OK mummy, I’m sorry for being naughty, I won’t do it again
Me: Aww, thank you baby. I love you.
Joshua: I love you too. And I love daddy.
In that moment, the world-ending tantrums of 5 minutes ago faded into insignificance and my heart warmed. I couldn’t be sure whether the tears that started to fill my eyes were due to the kind and wise words of my 3 year old, or the noxious gasses that were filling the only toilet in the house without a window. Either way, I was taken aback by the maturity of the tiny human sat butt naked in front of me. And when I retell this story, this is where the conversation ended. In truth, he then went on to say that he also loved Alex (the cat)…and trams. Then he asked for an ice cream.
The phrase “out of the mouths of babes” originally has biblical roots (Psalms 8:2 & Matthew 21:16), but has been more recently used by the likes of Oliver Wendall Holmes and Rudyard Kipling, amongst many others, to describe the truth & wisdom that comes from the comments of children, who are, by nature, both honest and innocent. This honesty can sometimes be brutal, as children will simply say what they think, without consideration of the consequences, as if the filter between their mouth and their brain has not yet been developed. Matt Coyne (Man vs Baby) likens toddlers to drunk people, in that they can be emotional, destructive, and fearless; they slur their words, fall over, and pass out in random places; they have no impulse control, sometimes p*ss themselves and they remove their trousers for no good reason. And when the mood takes them, they really, really want to fight you. But as well as this, they pretty much say what they want, when they want, without inhibition. Sometimes this can be heartwarming, like the spontaneous “I love yous”, and sometimes it can be utterly confidence destroying like when Joshua loudly remarked that mummy’s legs were “hairy like a big hairy tarantula” whilst stuck in a supermarket cue with no means of escape. Sometimes these commentaries can be highly amusing, like the other day, when Dave had cycled to work and left his work jeans at home. When dropping off said garments, everyone in the carpark at Dave’s work was greeted by Joshua waving a pair of jeans out of the window shouting at the top of his lungs “trouser delivery daddy!!”.
Whether it be brutal or uplifting, emotional or amusing, the one thing a toddler’s utterances will always be is honest. And we accept this honesty as refreshing, regardless of how hurtful it can be, because a child doesn’t understand the social laws surrounding freedom of speech. It is only when we start to grow up that we apply social norms to filter what is and is not acceptable to say, in order to spare the feelings of people we care about and to be accepted in society. In general, as human beings, we seem pretty good at this; we can go about our everyday lives without reducing ourselves to Jeremy Kyle level bullying, expletives and chair throwing. The recent exception being on social media platforms. It seems that from the safety of a computer screen, people are far more willing to put their two pence in, when they can’t be judged face-to-face. It’s a really difficult one, because so much is lost when in writing – expression, sentiment, tone, sarcasm – and the way something is read could be completely different to the way it was intended. I recently learnt that something in one of my blogs was taken completely differently to how it was intended and was blown completely out of proportion. I made the mistake of assuming that a piece of knowledge was in the public domain, when in fact it turned out that it was not, and my mistake ended up hurting someone’s feelings. For this I wholeheartedly apologise, as it was never my intention and I am truly sorry. When I was asked to start this blog site a couple of years ago, after recovering from PND (often downplayed as the ‘baby blues’) and a fair amount of body dysmorphia, I agreed to start writing with a two prong goal. First to use as an outlet for my own feelings – like an open diary I suppose, for therapeutic purposes and with the knowledge that very few people will actually read it. And secondly, as a relatable read for anyone else who may have experienced similar situations. There’s nothing more to it, bar some dry humour, sarcasm, and innuendo. I certainly never meant to offend anyone and nothing I write is ever meant in a vindictive or hurtful way.
I know how much it can hurt to be on the receiving end of questionable online comments, as I am no stranger to appearing in online tabloids such as the Daily Fail, for stories surrounding pole fitness and aerial athletics. Unfortunately, you put the words “pole dancing” in the Daily Mail online and it’s like having a big neon arrow that says “Trolls This Way!”. Unfortunately, these keyboard warriors, or ‘trolls’ as they are often referred to, will use any excuse to have a ruddy good dig. I’ve learnt over the years not to read the comments on such threads, but unfortunately on a recent occasion I did, and it is neither possible to unsee nor unfeel things. The comment that really got me what from a person who said that our fertility journey over the last 2 years was unjustified because we already had a child, that I was just doing it for sympathy, and that my documenting of this through my blogs was unfair to people who actually struggled or couldn’t have children at all. I sat on this comment for a while, and as much as it upset me, I tried to let it go. I game-faced my way through my classes like Mr Tumble on Crack, but as much as I tried, I couldn’t shake that comment from my mind. I talked to a good friend about it and how I couldn’t let it go but couldn’t explain why it bothered me so much, and in her response she absolutely hit the nail on the head. Having gone through the loss of several pregnancies herself, she explained that it’s harder to lose something when you know how good it can be. When you’re childless and trying for a baby, it’s horrible not being able to bring your hopes and dreams to fruition – believe me, we went through it the first time round in the 18 months of trying for Joshua. However, as traumatic as losing this dream is, that’s what it is, especially in the very early stages; a dream. However, when you have a child already and you know exactly what you could have, the loss seems so much more tangible. So no, in response to that person who commented online, our journey is not unjust, nor is our right to mourn.
I do take a risk by writing about personal experiences in my blog posts, but I believe that by talking about sensitive subjects, they will hopefully become less taboo and fewer people will feel isolated because of them. Talking is good and it’s OK not to be OK all of the time. The trade-off is that putting something in the public domain, especially on social media, means that it’s open for public debate. This can be especially dangerous from behind a keyboard, as it mitigates the need for niceties and social acceptance and returns us to that toddler-like state of speaking without fear of consequence. The difference being that toddlers speak with innocence, whereas as adults we have the knowledge and understanding of how something may be hurtful but choose to write it anyway, from the safety of electronic devices. This raises the question of “how far is too far” when posting opinions online. Personally, I think the means have to justify the ends. A response has to be relative to the initial proclamation. A statement in the public forum can provoke many reactions, including agreement, disagreement, sadness and anger. It’s how we portray these reactions that is paramount. Aristotle summed it up nicely: “anybody can become angry, this is easy, but to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not easy”. Far too often our response to online content can be taken too far because one of these parameters is broken. Whether it’s directing comments toward the wrong person or without knowing the true context, using inappropriate language or making unfounded statements, or simply having a dig ‘because everyone else is’. Freedom of speech means that we all have the right to say something, but that doesn’t mean that everything we say is right. We all have the chance to be Good people, and it is completely possible to be a Good person and exercise your freedom of speech. Equally, we all have a reason for doing things; alas, if someone were to do something inexplicably bad out of the blue with no reason, it would be classed as insanity. Alice Fraser said that “Bad people are just Good people with a reason, who don’t stop”. We all have our reasons for doing things. We just need to bare in mind when to stop. In the words of Spiderman (or technically his uncle Ben, but for me that always conjures up images of microwave rice): with great power, comes great responsibility. And in the end, this is what defines us from toddlers – the power and responsibility to know when to stop.