I was at my nephew’s 5th birthday party at the weekend. It was an old school affair – family, few friends, bouncy castle, booze for the parents. The sort of perfect day when the sun shines and children’s giggles fill the air. Perhaps I was soaking up the chilled garden party vibes too much and that was the reason I was caught so off guard.
My boy loves a bouncy castle and we like to throw him into the mix and then hover with a nonchalant nervousness close by. A couple of minutes in, he piqued the curiosity of one little boy I didn’t know.
"How old is he?"
"He’s five" I replied.
"I’m five too."
He looked puzzled for a bit and I was about to explain that he was little for his age, but before I could he blurted out in the cut-to-the-chase-and-take-no-prisoners way kids do.
"This is a bouncy castle. He should be bouncing. Why doesn’t he bounce?”
"Because he can’t bounce."
In the space of a few seconds I looked at all the other kids – the typical five-year-old boys Gabe would be in a parallel universe and some even younger – jumping up and down with splendid abandon and flashes from the past flew through my head. The painful “will he stand; will he walk” physio conversations; the frustrated days when he would throw himself back rather than sit; the shameful envy as other babies wobbled their first steps; hospital appointments instead of playgroups and parks.
I waited for that gun-shot pain of loss and regret to hit. Mentally patting myself down to see where I was bleeding. Would it knock me down? But there was nothing. Nothing. I felt like whizzing around the garden, arms spread wide, shouting: “I’m okay. It’s okay. It didn’t hurt." Boom. It was all good. Because in those split seconds I’d looked down at my beautiful, perfectly imperfect child and watched as he sat in the middle of all the fun giggling his head off. Screaming in glee without a care in the world.
And you know what I realised. My boy does bounce. He bounces along with the rest.
You don’t need to actually bounce, to bounce. You don’t need to be up on your feet to feel that can’t-catch-my-breath-and-I-may-be-sick-from-laughing-so-hard feeling. You don’t need strong ankles to soar on your swing through the sky and try to touch the sky. You don’t need to run to feel the wind rushing through your hair when you have a brother who will push your wheels down the hill (and give mum a slight coronary episode).
You don’t need to understand all the words to join in with the joking and be convulsed with chortles. You don’t need to know the rules to steal a turn at banging the dice lever down in a game of Frustration. You don’t need to march and stamp across the lands to explore, to discover and examine life’s treasures. Hell, you don’t even need a bouncy castle to bounce.
All that matters is that you believe you are bouncing. If it feels like bouncing, then it is bouncing.
Life is too short to fret about what our children can or can’t do. There will always be a peer that makes them appear to fall short. No matter the multitude of achievement, there will always be something else to worry about. It is not about how we bounce. Or whose bounces are the biggest and the best. Just that we love to bounce and that we keep on bouncing in our own individual, wonderful way.
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