“Are monsters real?” my daughter asked this evening as she was in the bath.
Momentarily, I stopped lathering her up in pink soap suds and sat down on the toilet (lid down, if you’re wondering) and pondered upon my answer.
This could be a learning opportunity here, I thought. We could talk about the fact that, yes dear, there are monsters in this world – bloody horrifying ones; ones that obliterate innocent people’s lives in an instant and ones that deliberately seek out to hurt our children. Monsters do exist and they can be standing in front of us in the queue for the cash point and we may well never know. However, of course, this wasn’t my answer as my daughter is five years old. She doesn’t know what happened in Manchester last week (although she was aware of Mummy’s need to listen and read the news that day), she doesn’t know what happened in London in March and she has never heard of Paris, or Brussels or New York or that a local mother by the name of Jo Cox was killed last year. Because why would she? She’s still so young and so innocent.
My answer, naturally, was to tell her that no, of course monsters don’t exist.
“Then what are the shadows in the night in my room?”
A chill ran through me then.
Shadows that lurk in the night. Shadows that make that last train home, after an evening out with friends, unnerving; shadows that make you run from the sports centre door to your car after an evening gym session; shadows that you spend your life trying to avoid even when you are doing the safest of tasks in your own house, your own street and in your own city. We shouldn’t have to avoid the shadows and yet we do.
“It’s probably just the curtains,” I told her. “You’ll always be safe with us around.”
“Do monsters only come out at night?” she asked, still pushing the subject.
Still seated on the toilet, I thought and thought. Some do, I wanted to say. Some of the most cowardice monsters only come out at night because that’s when we are at our most vulnerable; that’s when our guards are down and that’s when, sometimes, whilst we are out having the times of our lives, that for a moment we stop looking for the shadows in the corners of clubs, bars, pubs and concert venues.
The conversation moved swiftly on to the fact that a boy at school could balance a fidget spinner on his eye but for a few moments, my daughter believed that monsters were real.
Only, they are aren’t they? Otherwise, my daughter wouldn’t have been taught The PANTS Rule in school at just five years old. At five years old, she was being taught about how her body belongs to her and if she ever feels worried that someone, whether it be a known adult, another child or a stranger, is encroaching on her body then she is to tell a trustworthy adult. I find this so desperately sad that my daughter has to be taught this at such a young age but at the same time, I support it whole heartedly because you do whatever needs to be done to keep your children safe.
“My bum belongs to me!” she told me after learning about The PANTS Rule the next day.
I smiled at the childish nature of the comment and yet I felt a like she had lost a little bit of her innocence that day.
There’s no denying it anymore. We live in a dangerous world where monsters can live and breathe among us. Innate evil exists, which is nothing new I know, but it’s just that our children, our young ones, our innocents are starting to notice it too. They see it in us, their parents, when we won’t even leave them alone in our own garden in fear that something untoward may occur; they read it in stories that reflect modern life; they see it on the TV screens as parents dare to click away from CBeebies for a moment just to catch a glimpse of another God awful event that has unfolded in the world and they see it in the eyes of the armed police officers who are currently patrolling our cities, shopping centres and public spaces.
Was I wrong to tell my child that monsters don’t exist? After all, I am in a quite an influential position in my role first as a parent and then as an educator. Am I doing my children a disservice by not telling the truth? Because wherever there is evil, there is good and I should take every opportunity to talk about the good in people. In the minutes I took to read about last week’s tragedy, all I have seen shining through my television, my phone screen, my friends and my colleagues has been goodness and it has left me blindsided. Never have I seen such an outcry of adulation for the UK public services as I have this week. Never before have I seen a picture of an armed police officer or paramedic and felt 100% safe in the knowledge that they are there to protect me and my family and never before have I felt so proud of a community that has come together in love despite the rawest of all pains. They could have rebelled, they could have rioted and they could have wanted their revenge and we would have understood and yet the people of Manchester, they chose love.
I didn’t want to write about Manchester because I think everything’s been said and I think it’s been spoken with such eloquence that I have nothing to add. I have read articles by mothers telling their children to go out and live their lives but I also stumbled across a post by another mother telling her child that she’s not so sure anymore that love always wins. I have even read an article posted by a music loving father and daughter about the rules she promises to abide by from now on when she attends gigs and concerts. The meticulous planning of these rules was almost comical if you didn’t take into consideration the circumstances as to why they have had to be written, especially when twenty two years ago I attended my first concert at Manchester Apollo – of all places – and the only rule my mum had stipulated was that I sat upstairs in the balcony away from the crowd surfers and mosh pit below.
I had the time of my life. As any fourteen year old music fan should. It remains, to this day, one of the best nights of my life.
My most sobering moment – when I learnt that the world was not as safe as my mum and dad would have me believe – was on September 11th 2001 when, aged 20, I had just returned from having spent my summer in a children’s summer camp in Massachusetts and the Twin Towers came down. (Two weeks earlier, I had been at the top of one of them).
That’s when I really saw the monsters for the first time.
And to keep my innocence about the true horrors of this world in tact until 20, well, I don’t think that’s bad.
However, for my daughter to be five and on the verge of losing her innocence about the world around her, well I think that’s sad, incredibly so.
Last Tuesday, as I was waiting to drop my daughter at school, I was trying to listen to Chris Evans talking about Manchester – the place I spent my university years – on his Breakfast Show. My girl was talking incessantly about being afraid of wasps and I kept turning up the radio. She noticed that I was trying to drown her out and she asked what it was I was so desperately trying to hear.
“Someone has hurt some people in a city not too far away from us,” I tried to explain.
“Will they come here?” she asked, meaning our sleepy little village.
“No,” I reassured her.
“I’ll fight,” she said. “Even though I don’t know karate, Mummy, I’ll fight.”
Her innocence, once again, came shining through and yet simultaneously I saw it fading as she should never have to fight or even think about fighting. Not now. Not ever.
She should be able to just be a child.
As should all children, the world over.