|A child with teddy and note to a refugee child, from the group facebook page|
The idea is to get children to send a teddy, with a handwritten note, to a refugee child in Syria. The notes are heartwarming and tearjerking.
But that's not why I'm writing this.
This tea time, I told my children about the project and suggested that some of their vast horde of bears might be usefully shipped off in this way. My ten year old son nodded thoughtfully. My six year old daughter burst into tears.
Tears of real desolation and pain. She wasn't sniffing delicately, she was howling great, loud, snot-laden gulping tears.
'I - don't - want - to give - my teddies - AWAY!' she howled.
My husband and I patted her calmingly and soothingly said we understood, she hadn't got to, nobody was going to make her give one of them away, it was up to her.
That just made the crying worse.
'But I - don't want - them - not - to - have - a teddy - EITHER!' she bawled. 'I don't want - NOT - to give - one away. But I don't want them to go!' Cue a fresh explosion of tears.
And it seemed to me that in her childish honesty she had perfectly encapsulated the mixed feelings most people have about the migrant crisis. We don't want them to be suffering - it is almost unbearable. But we don't want to give up our valued stuff, our valued standard of living, either.
I suggested a compromise. How about we go and buy a new teddy?
'BUT WHAT IF I LIKE THAT ONE TOO AND WANT TO KEEP IT?!' she wailed.
Maybe just her brother would like to send a teddy?
'BUT I SOMETIMES LIKE PLAYING WITH HIS TEDDIES TOO! IF HE SENDS ONE I WILL BE SAD BECAUSE I WON'T BE ABLE TO PLAY WITH IT ANYMORE'.
We will send teddies. To be honest, she has so many she probably wouldn't actually notice a giant teddy cull if I didn't tell her about it - and we can easily afford to buy new teddies if sending hers is too much of a jump. (As her brother pointed out solemnly, he thinks of his teddies as almost like family, so it is a big ask to send one away overseas not knowing if it will arrive safely).
But that voice of her uncontrollable sobbing will stay with me, voicing the thoughts of our inner child - the young, toddler Brittania deep inside our country's psyche - who is struggling to hold together the two contradictory impulses, to help and to hold tight to what is ours.
So lets be kind to our inner child in these debates. Let's name and recognise the fact that it is hard to prise that toddler fist open. We know we want to be generous, but it is difficult. We have grown up being trained to hold onto what is ours, to be careful with it, to know the value of money, to know that things don't grow on trees, to know that we should share, yes, but that they should give us our stuff back at the end of playtime.
Shouting 'don't be selfish!' into the debate is unlikely to work. (My eldest tried it at the tea table. It didn't work). Acknowledging the inner struggle, and that it IS a genuine struggle, is much more likely to be succesful.