Charlie and Me in the Woods
At the back of my daughter's house is a wonderful woodland. Last time I was there Charlie and I spent time in the woods everyday. It is a wonderful time for me that has led me to reflect on the adult-child relationship in a very different way.
Suddenly he crouches down and stares intently at the ground. I look too – there is an ant travelling through the wood. Charlie is fascinated and watches the ant on his purposeful journey. He’s learnt that the large fallen down trees that have become benches for us to sit on are likely to have all sorts of mini-beasts and he explores the logs, bending down to examining closely the bark of the tree. He also knows logs can be fun and holds up his hands to me to help him ‘walk the plank’ – he has only just learnt to walk but he’s ready, with support to walk up and down the uneven surface of the tree, lifting his feet to climb over the remains of a knobbly branch. I point things out to him, unusual shapes, a ‘monster’ lurking in the shapes of the trees; we play peek-a-boo from behind the trunks of the larger trees invoking more peels of laughter. He loves games like this. I then pick up a twig and start to drawn patterns and shapes in the dirt. Charlie joins in with his own stick and then takes it further using two sticks, one in each hand, to aid his creation. He is able to imitate and innovate.
Later on, after we have strolled around the woods, we come back to the ‘hill’ and Charlie goes ‘up, up, up’ without holding my hand. When he gets to the top he turns with a smile of accomplishment and holds out his hand – he’s not ready yet to do ‘down, down, down’ on his own. I praise him for his accomplishment, but he doesn’t need my praise, he is very pleased with himself. We walk deeper into the woods, the first blackberries are out and I pick one and eat it before offering one to Charlie. He takes it and very cautiously puts it into his mouth, takes it out again and looks at it, then gingerly tastes it again and then decides to eat it. Very soon he is picking blackberries by himself, the juice spilling down his T-shirt. When he goes to the red ones or green ones I gently say, ‘No, Charlie’ not the red or green ones, just the black ones’ and he takes notice and doesn’t pick them.
Charlie is also a very social being and the woods are an opportunity to mix with the dog walkers. He goes to the woods everyday and he knows them all and their dogs and they know him. When he sees them coming towards him he stands quite still and smiles his infectious smile until they come and greet him and ask him if he’s having fun. Mabel, Charlie’s dog is with us of course, and she loves the other dog walkers too, especially the ones with treats in their pocket for her. The dogs run round in circles, careful to avoid knocking Charlie down, and he isn’t scared at all, he’s used to the dogs and their games. Sometimes one of the walkers starts a game of ‘peek-a-boo’ and Charlie joins in laughing and delighting in the interaction.
As I reflect on our time in the woods, I realise that it is not just Charlie who is full of wonder, who is seeing things fresh and new, it is me too. Charlie is teaching me to slow down and really see the woods. To marvel at the ant, to notice when something is out of place like the blue circle of plastic, to delight in solving the problem of touching the blue twine and making it sway up and down. I laugh along with Charlie at our achievement and my laughter is that of my inner child as I engage with the child in front of me. Charlie can’t talk yet, just a few words, yet we are communicating, we are sharing our delight in nature, in exploration, in stopping to stare, in listening to the sounds of the wood. We are experiencing the world of the woods and I am seeing it through Charlie’s eyes, it is no longer just a place to walk the dog, it is a world of discovery and I find I am like a child again.
Although I am the adult and Charlie the child, the opposite implied in this distinction is dissolving for me. I am learning from Charlie and I hope I am a good teacher for him as he can benefit from my greater ability to name and label and explain what’s happening in the woods; but the lessons I am learning are far more profound. In nurturing Charlie, I nurture myself. I recognize that Charlie and I are on the same life-long journey of discovery; I haven’t ‘arrived’ at maturity, I am still a learner; he is not an incomplete being on a journey towards adulthood, he is a person in his own right with the same curiosity and sense of wonder in the world that I feel now that he has shown me how to re-locate the child that I still carry around inside me. And that for me is one of the wonders of being a grandparent. We are two human beings delighting in the natural world, sharing our joy and learning from each other.