Watching a documentary about the disappearance of Madeline Mcann this week, 10 years on from that well-documented night in Portugal, I was reminded that a happy childhood isn’t something that’s guaranteed for us all. Who knows what happened to poor Madeline – or whether we’ll ever know – but regardless of your opinions on the culpability of her parents or the likelihood of her still being alive, what often gets forgotten here is than an innocent five year old was ripped away from her own life that night.
Why as a society do we have such a morbid fascination with crime, murder cases, missing people? I won’t deny that I’m one of those people who is gripped by the BBC documentaries or drama series such as The Missing. I guess it makes us feel better about our own lives. But these images on our TV screens – so far away and yet sometimes so close to home – also remind us not to take what we have for granted, to hug our loved ones just a little bit more tightly when we see them next.
As a child, you think you’re untouchable, that the horrors of the world are reserved for somebody else that you only see on the news. And why shouldn’t you think like that? Once that innocence is gone, it’s gone forever – and I blame no parent who wants to try and keep their child in rose-tinted glasses for as long as they can. How my heart breaks for the millions of innocent children in Syria who have had their childhoods brutally torn away from them, who have seen things that no child (or human) should ever see. For the children who have never known anything other than a life of fear and poverty; for those born in refugee camps or whilst on the run, for those who have lost their families in the blink of an eye.
And of course it’s not just happening in Syria. A happy childhood is not guaranteed for anyone, regardless of where you’re born in the world, how much money you have or how loving your family is.
I’m therefore so grateful to have been blessed with what I would class as a perfect childhood, to have been sheltered from the horrors of the world for as long as possible. To have been able to be a child right up until when I didn’t want to be one any more. Myself and my younger brother never wanted for anything (but we were never allowed everything we wanted in Toys R Us either – gravely unfair, I know); we had a hot meal on the table every day, we had holidays, days out, birthday parties and ‘happy day presents’ – and we had two parents who loved us unconditionally. There was genuinely nothing to worry about, except for the distressing unfairness of my brother not doing the washing up properly, or that time when we were chastised for cutting off an Action Man’s leg with a hacksaw and throwing him over the fence (Dad promptly marched us to the shops, where we each had to spend our pocket money on a brand new toy to donate to charity. It did not happen again!).
Losing a parent is horrifying at any age, but I’m so thankful that I had my Mum with me right through my childhood. To have had her taken away from me at 28 means that I won’t have my Mum at my wedding or there for the birth of my children; that I won’t get to call her and tell her I’m engaged, or ask her advice when I have a baby. That I’ll never get to share another hug in happiness or excitement, sadness or fear. These thoughts cause me unbearable pain, but thank goodness I had her there as I was growing up.
I’m so grateful to have known my Mum and to have been able to grow into the person I am today because of her. I love it when people tell me that we’re alike, I’m thrilled to know that I might have even just a tiny bit of her personality within me, and I’m so grateful that I had her for those 28 years. That I had her to take me shopping for my first purse before starting infant school (I can remember it vividly: mint green with a little bow on the front, the perfect size for my lunch money), to proudly come and support me in the school play even though I was only the prompt, to get up early with me every school day so that I could take my acne medication an hour before eating breakfast, to help me persuade Dad to let me get my ears pierced aged 16. To talk to me about becoming a woman, to stay in a hotel overnight on my first day at uni in case I felt alone, to rush out to buy a pregnancy test for me at a moment of panic, to cry with me after a break up and to subsequently help me move house. Thank goodness that I had my Mum there to help me navigate the tricky path from childhood to adulthood; my heart breaks for anyone who didn’t.
It’s not about the material things, the things you have or don’t have as a child; it’s about being given the freedom to grow up in a world that looks bright. To wake up and think only of what games you’ll play or what friends you’ll see that day. To be hugged by your parents and told that everything will be alright – and to believe them. Who knows how things will turn out really? That’s not important. I’m so grateful to have had exactly that childhood.