The age of innocence
As a general rule, I do not allow other males to write romantic letters to my wife. This past holiday I made an exception.
My mother-in-law runs a bed and breakfast on the Dolphin Coast. It used to be their family’s homestead. Then it got converted into a guesthouse. ‘Home’ is now shared with many strangers who are guests of the B&B.
Recently we made the trip ‘home’—to the guesthouse. One afternoon I positioned myself at the yellowwood desk, armed myself with my calligraphy pen, and set about writing a letter. To my wife. As you do.
Who should interrupt me but one of the guests.
The guest was 5 years old. Short. Stocky. With a spiky hair-style. And chubby cheeks. He had an adult, dead-pan face. And insatiable curiosity.
Without warning and without permission, Kai introduced himself, going from guest to confidante in one fell swoop.
“What are you doing?” asked the elbow-high voice.
“I’m writing a letter to my wife.”
“What are you writing to your wife?”
“What kind of words?”
“Words that I love her.”
Kai said it with a poker face. Another thoughtful pause. Kai marshalled his inquiries.
“Where is your wife?”
“What time will your wife be back?”
It was at this point that I put my pen down and decided I had better enter the conversation.
“What’s your wife’s name?” Kai said it intently.
I gave a factual answer. Kai took it on board. Then he took it up a level. He walked over to the wedding photo hanging on the hallway wall. That’s the thing about former homes that become B&Bs. There’s evidence all over the show.
Kai pointed at the blonde-haired bride. “Is this your wife?”
“Yes—” I think my eyes and forehead furrowed.
“Mmm, quite nice.” Kai gave me, perhaps even her, his considered approval.
“Thank you.” I didn’t know if that was the appropriate thing to say.
And then, after a long and well informed pause, Kai reached his own conclusion. “I think I’ll also write a letter to your wife.”
I was lost for words but managed to say “By all means.”
Kai ran off and returned with a note.
It only seemed right that I read it aloud. “Dear. When is your birthday? Love from.”
Birthdays, of course, are very important to 5-year olds. They could even be their language of love.
“I can also draw straight lines!” It was a further overture. Kai proceeded to use a ruler and a yellow highlighter to beautify his words.
Having finished, and with a note of triumph, he held his letter high which was by now riddled with transverse yellow lines.
“Where can I leave my letter to your wife?”
“You can leave it at the door to our room.”
Kai (suggestively): “I could leave it on her bed.”
“You can leave it at the door, thanks.”
“I could leave it on your bed.”
“Or you could leave it at the door.” I couldn’t believe I was negotiating my boundaries with a 5-year old stranger.
“Do you sleep with your wife?”
“I’m not sure how to answer that.” And I wasn’t lying.
“If you do then I can just leave it on both your bed and she can read it later.”
And with that young Kai left his letter (to my wife) on her pillow. With a chocolate. A chocolate he had stolen (it turned out). As a gift. Just for the occasion.
The next day Kai saw my wife.
“Thank you for my letter,” she serenely said.
“You never wrote back!” It was all he said. Then he ran off to play with a toy.
After that Kai and I became friends for the rest of his stay at the B&B.
It was only later that I realised that little Kai had written a letter simply because he had seen me writing one. The art of being a child is that you mirror and mould yourself on what is going on around you.
At age five the world is a big open colouring-in book—just waiting to be coloured in. The shapes in the colouring-in book are often determined by those around them.
Children absorb. They are waiting to be impressed upon, hunting around for models to follow, things to mirror. Kai greatly challenged me about how I relate to children. What kind of a shape do I provide for children to colour in?
And yet, despite that question, I must say that Kai probably had a bigger impact on me. In one brief conversation I was transported back into an age of innocence where every new thing is pure, uncomplicated and full of delight. Perhaps we need children as much as they need us.