Penetrating the heart of darkness

Who can say what goes on in the mind of a child? Even if you were to fill a conference centre with child psychologists and ask them to agree some key principles, I bet you’d only ever get part way towards a satisfactory answer.

It has gradually dawned on me that spending more time with the girls doesn’t directly correlate with gaining a better understanding of what goes on in those cherubic little heads of theirs.

Being eight months old, Mina’s concerns seem to centre on her next source of milk and/or food; what’s nearby that she might shove into her mouth (closely linked to the first point); and whether I’m about to put her on her stomach again in an effort to encourage her to crawl.

Having witnessed her older sister though, I’m well aware that Mina’s psychological profile will become more complex as time passes. This is where it becomes difficult to know quite what’s in there.

There are some things that are easy to pinpoint in Lola’s mind. Princesses, fairies and teddy bears’ picnics feature prominently, as do sugar and spice and all things nice. Great swathes of her infant psyche are pink and glittery, of that I’m convinced. Yet trying to get to the crux of what goes on in there is like looking at one of those early Victorian maps of Africa with the big blank space in the centre of the continent.

I’ve chosen the Africa analogy for a reason. Africa demonstrates my point better than anything else. This is because some time ago Lola decided that she was more interested in the continent that gave us Tutankhamen, Mo Farah and Nando’s than virtually anything else. Even more than princesses, fairies and teddy bears’ picnics.

Lola’s favourite place

To this day I cannot say what sparked this preoccupation. It came about while Lola was at pre-school, but not from anything they covered in class; at least that’s what she’s always claimed. It was simply the case that Lola spontaneously began mentioning Africa in conversations, and particularly that it is a very hot place where it never rains. Had it been December, I would’ve attributed this to her hearing Do they Know It’s Christmas on the radio but it was another time of year and no rational explanation presented itself.

A couple of years on and the Africa thing is still there. Refuses to budge. I’ll hold my hands up – I’ve encouraged it. As you do if your kid shows an interest in something, right? I got her a couple of books from the library, one on Egypt, the other on Kenya. She didn’t seem much the wiser after we looked at those. So I left it to Santa to pull out the big guns and slip the DVD of The Lion King into her stocking (that’s right, resort to Disney if all else fails).

This didn’t achieve quite the intended shift in perception. Having watched The Lion King, Lola still believes that Africa is blazing hot and lacking in precipitation but now also thinks no people live there and that it is entirely populated by anthropomorphic warthogs and meerkats ready to launch into Hakuna Matata at the slightest provocation.

While I accept the blame for this, Lola’s mum hasn’t done much better. In an effort to put Lola off the place, she let slip that there are pirates in Africa. Of course when a four year old hears the word “pirate” she doesn’t imagine a Somali with a sub-machine gun; no, she imagines Long John Silver with an eye patch, peg leg, parrot and all. So mix that in with the talking animals and you end up with an interesting view of the continent.

That’s the mind of a child. Who knows what will snag on it and what will remain? Not those child psychologists, that’s for sure. You could be the equivalent of a David Livingstone or Henry Stanley and still struggle to get into some parts of Lola’s mind. Compared to that, penetrating the heart of darkness on those Victorian maps was an undertaking of the utmost simplicity.


As usual, there’s more on my Instagram.


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