Children these days get a bad press. Of course we parents are generally to blame for spoiling them rotten and sparing the rod and all sorts of other nonsense - but it is a truth that even the youngest children get a rough ride in the press these days.
I’ve listened to (and actively participated in, it must be said) numerous discussions around the attitudes of a younger generation who, it seems, are increasingly self centred, undisciplined and prone to temper tantrums which leave my hormonal rages looking like a civilised tea party. One view of ‘Supernanny’ is enough to leave most of us parents quaking in our boots and while such extremes of behaviour are thankfully not the norm, there is not one mum or dad out there who can watch such programmes without offering up a quick “there but for the grace of God, go I” intention.
It’s not often enough then that we tell the stories of children who make us so proud that our hearts want to burst with pride. It’s certainly not often enough that we hold these children up as examples of what it truly is to be a decent human being who appreciates that acting selflessly is something to be admired and not a sign of weakness.
I’ll admit the story I’m about to tell is a little on the biased side but this week I have been so touched by the actions of my seven year old niece that I couldn’t not mention her in this column this week. In many ways Abby is a typical seven year old.
She has bags of attitude, an obsession with Hannah Montana and High School Musical and the ability to wilt you with a single glance. She’s just about passed that stage where she thinks everything her Auntie Claire does is cool and funny. Now my silly dances or corny jokes are likely to be met with a warm-hearted roll of the eyes as she tries her best to humour me. I can no longer make her laugh ‘til she pukes - which frequently was the case in her baby years.
While she adores her little cousin (my five year old) there are times now when it is clear she is merely tolerating his primary one excesses as she is now a big primary three girl and, obviously, much, much cooler.
She likes to dress in Uggs and slather her face with her Auntie Lisa’s sparkly eye shadow. She makes up dance routines along with ‘Dancing on Ice’ and makes us score her as if we were the judges. But for all her precociousness she is at heart just a seven year old and one who adores cuddles and kisses and curling up on the sofa with her loved ones.
And she has a heart of absolute gold.
Sadly, for her young age, she has been dealing with a very difficult situation for last wee while - knowing that her lovely granny (her daddy’s mammy) had cancer. It is the hardest thing in the world to try and explain cancer to a young child. Harder still to explain to them that their beloved granny - who they have adored from the day and hour they were born - was not going to get better. Sadly Abby isn’t and won’t be the only child ever to face such a loss.
Last week she was taken to visit her granny in the Foyle Hospice - and we all knew at that stage that unfortunately things had taken a further turn for the worse and it was just a matter of time. hearts and flowers Abby came home - understandably quiet - and ran upstairs to talk to her granddad (my daddy).
A few minutes later she ran back downstairs, opened the drawer in the kitchen reserved for all sorts of bits and bobs and lifted a Foyle Hospice copper hunt box and ran back upstairs. It was the following day, when I visited her again, that I saw what she had done. She taken the box, turned it inside out and decorated it.
Her childish handwriting spelled out ‘Help the Foyle Hospise’ (sic) and ‘Show You Care’ and ‘Show you love’. She had drawn on hearts and flowers in bright pink marker and reassembled the box.
In the true spirit of her seven year old attitude she had then taken to not letting anyone in or out of the house without first securing a donation for the people who were looking after her granny Lynne. She had then insisted on getting all her family members to bring the box into their workplaces and see what support they could rustle up. Sir Alan Sugar would have been proud of her ingenuity - but not half as proud as I was and am.
Yes, it breaks my heart that any child has to know what a Hospice is in the first place. It breaks my heart that sadly her granny lost her very brave battle on Tuesday night and that my gorgeous little niece is now dealing with grief for the first time at such a young age. But I cannot express the pride and the love that I feel for a child who thinks that such an action can make a difference - perhaps not to her granny (who I’m sure would have been so hugely proud of her too) - but all those people who need the help of the Hospice.