I’ve only been on one teddy bear’s picnic. There were lots of teddy bears, crammed into a little dolls pram, my three year old grand- daughter and me. We solemnly walked the pram to a tree in the park in Melbourne next to the house where they lived.
There, on a cold, slightly misty winter’s afternoon, we carefully propped a huddle of teddies of different sizes and varying shades from honey to dark brown, around the base of a tree. After careful discussion as to what teddy bears might eat, we had plumped for very small brown bread and honey sandwiches – we thought that arbiter of bear behaviour, Pooh Bear, would have approved, and that was all we needed to know really. We thought bears would probably only have wanted to drink water, so that was easily solved….
I was thrilled that she still remembers this occasion now she’s old enough to be at university. And she remembers too, jumping on our shadows the year before, and learning to sing ‘Kumbaya, my Lord’ when she was even smaller (in an English accent!). These memories may be more precious to me than to my grand-daughter, and most grand-parents will understand just how precious they are.
When I look back to my memories with my grandmother, I marvel at what I learned from her, much more, I suspect than today’s grand children learn from theirs. She taught me to knit and sew and do French knitting, and embroider dozens of stitches I’d forgotten till leafing through an old Mrs Beaton cook book recently – daisy stitch, herringbone stitch, blanket stitch, chain stitch, back stitch, buttonhole stitch, cross stitch. She told me the names of flowers and saints and cousins I’d never seen, the stories of dead great uncles in the war. She taught me prayers and proverbs and songs.
But somehow, once the days of reading aloud Pooh Bear and Dr Seuss and Dear Dinosaur had passed, all my grand-children were so engrossed in their play stations and favourite, regular afternoon TV programmes, that there was rarely a space for the sort of boredom or blank days we used to have in my childhood; those times when for lack of something better to do, we mastered a new skill and learned to knit, or read a book considered too hard or too boring before, and which was now discovered to be a treasure.
It was on those long empty days that I discovered the joys of rambling alone with the dog, or daring to cross the weir by the mill with friends, or digging around the Roman mines, hoping after two thousand years to find a Roman coin; it was when we picked primroses in the woods, and carried catkins and pussy willow home as spring announced itself … As we grew older we made egg sandwiches and took a bottle of ginger pop to picnic on empty beaches with names like Man o’ War Bay and Arish Mell Gap, coming home tired and sunburned.
But my grand-children have done it differently. Today they’re not free to roam alone as we were – instead, they went on exciting holidays, in the tropics or to fishing lodges, or learned to sail or ski. But then they’d come to stay with me, and do ordinary and yet totally absorbing things. Leaving their play stations, they’d feed the eels in the river at the bottom of the garden, spend days making boats out of flax leaves, and floating them down the waterfall, building dams, playing Pooh Sticks.
They could spend an afternoon totally absorbed in throwing stones down into another river, far below, and listening for the plop. Another morning in the city when I took all four of them to a secret spot above the harbour, where old oak trees spread, they spent a whole morning searching for acorns and throwing them down into the water. Not aimlessly, but aiming.
And not a question of little things please little minds, but being ‘in the zone’, alive and present. Blowing bubbles from my veranda and seeing who could make the biggest one that drifted furthest and lasted longest; or the ritual playing of hunt the thimble with the same silver thimble every time, seemed to give them more fun and shrieks of laughter than watching their Japanese TV serials and videos or war games on the computer. And grandparents have time for long conversations about the size of universe and whether ice-cream is good for you, and what dogs are dreaming about – and about important things – like ethics – which even small children understand in terms of right and wrong, or better still, kind or unkind …
Sometimes I think that this is one of the few gifts we can give our grand-children in this busy technological age when our grandchildren know more than their grandparents, and learn to teach us, instead of us teaching them. We can give them the time and the space to savour the little things. We can listen to them uncritically. We can give them unconditional love, because we don’t have to make sure they eat up all their vegetables. And the utter bliss of it is that they give us the same unconditional love too. “I’ve got to, but I’ll still be your darling”, said one when I asked him not to grow up!
It’s that ubiquitous bear, Pooh, that ‘bear of very little brain’, who puts into words what I would say to my precious ones in the future. He says so memorably and so truly: “If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together… there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you.”
Food for threadbare gourmets
It’s that wonderful time of year for both birds and people – when the figs are ripe. A friend made the most delicious salad the other day using real lettuce – not mixtures of baby leaves – and tossed them with chopped- not sliced – cucumber, fresh peas, and thinly sliced figs, with a vinaigrette sauce. The sweetness of the figs with the crunchiness of the cucumber and the crispness of the lettuce was delicious with cold lamb and couscous.
Food for thought
…’It often takes great courage to follow intuition. It takes a Viking, who is unafraid to sail in unknown seas…. to live intuitively is to live fourth-dimensionally’… Florence Scovel Shinn, 1871 – 1940 New Thought writer who influenced Louise Hay.