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Saturday, 29 January 2011

Kids - Cambridge Tab

Published on Cambridge Tab -

On Sunday, as I reached into a rabbit hutch to retrieve my favourite scarf from the bed of tiny poos onto which it had been angrily thrown, I was forced, yet again, to question why I work with kids. You see, I spend my weekends visiting two 11 year old boys with the SCA Big Siblings project.

And, yes: there have been numerous incidents which have left me wondering why I do it. During the summer, I found myself teary eyed in a rock-climbing centre near Liverpool after a boy decided to ‘Jackie Chan’ me in the bollocks – this involved racially stereotyped shouting and an ungodly level of speed and accuracy. I was left crooked on the crash mats, trying to explain to him that not only was it a stupid and horrible thing to do, but he had violated the sacrosanct doctrine of The Man Code.

But, I’m used to it. Children regularly embarrass, degrade or injure me, and they constantly seek to lower my self-esteem. One of the boys from the Big Siblings project habitually drums ‘knick-knack-paddy-wack’ onto my face. A six year old girl from Yorkshire has vomited into my hands. This Christmas, a 12 year old from Liverpool lucidly called me an ‘ugly specky receding hairline paedo softcunt.’ I thought that was a bit personal.

I’m sure you’ve already anticipated where I’m going with this, but the answer is: I do it because the good bits outnumber the bad bits.

For starters, social norms seem like less of a barrier when you’re looking after kids, and it is refreshing to be out of their thrall. I knew I was challenging the behavioural orthodoxy when I saw the looks I was receiving as we tried to balance McDonald’s chips on a pigeon’s head in the marketplace. The kids are the perfect excuse for a junk food binge, since there is a widely held assumption that kids enjoy an unhealthy diet – I feel fully content in KFC with them, safe in the knowledge that people will think I am taking the kids out for a treat, rather than the cold truth that I am simply striving to assuage my own insatiable appetite for chicken grease and spiced gristle.

The more you invest in it, the more you get out of it. And that’s why I spent 16 hours of my weekend catching up with the Cambridge kids. With Saturday’s kid, I played a few games of pool, which turned into a public spectacle of my flagrant inability to hit a ball with a stick. Afterwards, in one of the most Zen-like experiences I’ve ever had, we chilled out with one of Roots Manuva’s dub albums playing in the background, as we painted onto canvas for a few hours. The resulting paintings were nothing special (though my neighbours concurred with each other that the kid’s was of superior quality, whereas mine was ‘inadvertently impressionist’), but we both appreciated the calm.

The best part of it is, I guess, the hardest to describe, because it doesn’t really manifest in anecdotal stories or in one-off events. Rather, in the awareness and rapport you develop over time. I’m experienced enough to know their tricks now, which is a useful tool in my armoury of self defence and it maximises my enjoyment. If I am asked whether I have seen the weather forecast, I know to retreat quickly because the child brings news of a ‘tornado’ (nipple cripple) in ‘Bangkok’ (punch to genitals). I have a stock of retorts to their tomfoolery, so when one of the kids points at the ground and shouts “You’ve dropped your gay card!” I now just shout back: “It’s okay… I keep a spare!”

So, when I was standing in the garden peeling off the sawdust and carrot from my favourite scarf, I knew as pissed off as I was, it was just part of the process. And anyway, what’s a bit of soiled knitwear between friends?

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