Thursday afternoons I’m blessed with picking up my two nieces from school. Cez, who is nine years old, and Rooster, five years old.
Since I’ve had the time to spare, instead of driving I’ve been picking them up and walking them into town to catch a bus home.
It’s a treat for them and for me.
Rather than the stuffy car, stopping and starting in traffic, there’s a leisurely saunter into town, and then you have space to do things like read and draw on the bus.
It’s been a pleasure to hear Rooster progress in her reading from learning sounds – Curly C and Kicking K – to reading smoothly, unraveling unfamiliar words she meets on the page as she goes.
We don’t have this luxury and civility in the car. Taking turns singing songs works for the first few minutes, then it inevitably descends into shouting, “BOOOGIES!”
One time. One time I encourage this game and it now haunts me every car journey.
There are arguments had in the confines of a car that I have not witnessed on a bus. (Yet!) Whether that’s due to the car journey itself or the shorter time in which they can stretch their legs and decompress after school, I’m not sure. Maybe a mix of the two.
Yesterday, quite mild but raining heavily, I walked the two miles to pick up my nieces from school. Hearing the rain on my hood, feeling it on my face, it was a nice walk.
Arriving at the school, already sodden, I collect the youngest, and we wait together until Cez finishes 15 minutes later. Usually we play with a tennis ball on the ping-pong table or draw with chalk on the big blackboard.
This time, Rooster is only interested the big puddles, which she tiptoes around and starts to splash in.
“Careful, my love.”
“You’ll get your socks wet, darling.”
“Come on Rooster, really.”
“You’ll be cold!”
It all felt faintly ridiculous to say.
I spoke with an inspiring and infectiously chirpy young man for the upcoming Humans of Guernsey interview series. Formerly a teacher at a nature school in East Sussex, he is looking to bring the lessons he’s learned there to Guernsey in the near-future (about which, more in due course).
He said something that resonated with me.
Children need opportunities in which they can connect with nature.
Is there anything more natural and heartwarming than seeing kids playing in water, skipping in rain, jumping in puddles?
I swim in the sea almost every day. Half an hour swimming around Bordeaux Harbour earlier this week, and the smile I had on my face afterwards was surpassed only by the smiles I had this Thursday picking up the girls, after I decided: if ye can’t beat them, join them.
So I joined Rooster, her tights soaked up to her shins, and jumped into the puddles, soaking my own shoes and jeans, all the while drawing glances from the parents huddled underneath the school’s shelter.
When the bell rang and Cez came out, I drew her attention to her sister’s legs. She laughed at the state of them. I tell Cez to zip her coat and pull her hood over her head, but she refuses. “I like the rain.”
We waltz on into town, with rain still falling steadily upon us.
I ask them both, “Are you not cold?”
Both say they are not, Rooster pulling her hood down, Cez still bowling around with her jacket open.
“Watch this!” Cez says to us, walking directly through a stream of water falling from a gutter, soaking her head.
“My head hurts, I think I’ve got brain-freeze!”
Rooster, emulating her older sister as younger sisters do, walks up to the stream, and rather than walking through it, stands still underneath it, the stream of water falling directly onto her woollen cap.
“Rooster, really love, come on!” I say to her, tugging her by the arm, in a somewhat hopeless attempt to keep her dry on our journey home.
Every gutter, every umbrella, every anything from which water fell faster than from the clouds, they would walk through – or in Rooster’s case, stand stock-still under until pulled away from.
Kids make people smile so unashamedly, it makes my heart sing. I feel so proud to know little human beings who shine with such love and unfiltered chirp that strangers cannot help but break into smiles.
Finally, we get to the bus stop, and finally, they admit they are getting cold.
They are drowned rats, really, and have done well to say they have been outside for an hour in a downpour in late January, the whole while not attempting to stay dry, but to get more wet.
The group at the bus stop stifle laughs as Rooster exclaims in the face of Cez, “Look! It’s 41! That’s the bus we get to schoooool!” And, as our bus waits in the road for the 41 to make room and leave the stop, Rooster cries, “Ohhh, look! Number 11 is cold and lonely!”
Dripping, we get onto the bus.
This journey I am not prepared with my bag and pens and paper, so I chat to Cez and try in vain to persuade a bouncing Rooster to sit down.
They have started calling me Pedro, recently, and I’ve not a clue why, but they find it hilarious.
“Are we there yet, PEDRO?”
“Can we push the button yet, PEDRO!?”
And so on, and so on. You cannot help but laugh.
Last week’s bus journey, I noticed something: we three, my two nieces and I, were the only humans on the bus without a phone in hand. From the older folk to school kids.
There was a primary school boy sat on the seats opposite ours, head down, playing something or other on his smartphone.
This journey, I had my trusted pen and paper, and we were playing the tried and tested game of team-drawing a monster.
You fold an A4 page in thirds, one person draws the head, one the torso and arms, and one the legs – but you don’t let each other see what you’ve drawn. The results are really quite hilarious.
Whilst playing this game, I could see the boy stealing glances as we laughed at Rooster’s torso, which was essentially a Christmas tree, and my legs, unsuitably posh with lah-dee-dah loafers coming out of them. I found that so sad. You wonder, twenty years back, would he be laughing with us?
Anyhoo, this bus journey, we get off and walk the last few hundred metres homeward bound. No gutters en route, thankfully.
We get to the house, where some impressive puddles have formed. Running over to them for one last jump, Cez exclaims, “Puddles!”
Rooster looks up at me and says, in her precious delicate voice, “I’m not going to jump in the puddles anymore.” And she rings the doorbell with her chilly little forefinger.
Into the house, soaked shoes and sodden clothes off, in front of the fire, hot food on the way.
Is that not how kids should be, after being inside at school? Exercised and knackered and cold and all played out. Just chirping in the rain.