Monday, 16 February 2009

Morale disorder

I am still curious as to what Lashes learns in his 'morality' classes at the gulag. As I have explained before, at Belgian school, in a uniquely Belgian take on creating multi-faith harmony, you have to select your religion and have separate classes with only your fellow believers. Presumably the idea is that you get together and talk about how all the other faith groups, and worse, the heathen, eat babies for breakfast. Coming from the house of heathen, Lashes is in the godless group, which is called "Morale". The Dutch system is better, I think, since they call the heathens "free thinkers" and when they are twelve they get to have a special "free thinker" ceremony (intended to be a substitute for Communion/bar mitzvah) for which parents get an official day off work. How magnificent! A day of holiday granted by the State for bringing your child up to believe in NOTHING. But you know, slag room, krullekes, snot vallen. Phlegmish is hardly la langue de Molière and the idea of Fingers and Lashes having a secret language they can use against me is less than appealing.

Lashes is not happy with morality, he tells me, and would prefer religious education. His position on God remains fluid, thanks to the tension between Mamie's guide to the Old Testament and my own "you die and then that's it; endless blackness waaaaah" approach to spirituality. However apparently the religion classes get to watch more tv.

"But Lashes, I know for a fact you watched cartoons for the whole of the first 4 weeks of term because they didn't have a teacher!"

"Now we have one" he says brokenheartedly "And we have to do exercises". He injects the word with impressive pathos.

I take every opportunity to rifle through his school bag and check out the irreligious education folder. Morality seems something of a mixed bag (I am sure Kant would agree, innit?). There is a lot of colouring of Disney characters, a picture of Lashes trick or treating with his cousin (remember that? Green & Blacks and exquisitely hand-stitched costumes in the fleshpots of Chiswick?) and some gibberish about politesse (I am not sure what the stick people are doing that is polite. I will take a picture next time the folder comes home and hopefully you can assist). The bit I like best is the section on FEAR.

Apparently, there are two types of fear. Real, and imaginary. Lashes has been asked to provide an example of each, complete with drawings.

"Real": I am scared of being squashed by a car

"Imaginary": I am scared of being eaten by a monster shaped like a brain

So. Leaving aside the question of where this fits into 'morality', if I analyse Lashes' most recent fears, presumably I should place ohgodI'mgoingtodiewe'reall goingtodie in the "real" category and eery button eyed puppets coming to get me! in "imaginary". I am not sure what the point of making this distinction is. I mean, are brain shaped monsters less scary than death, when you are six and a half? Are we saying it's ok to be scared of real scary stuff but not pretend scary stuff? Who knows.

I would however like to know more about this topic please, Morale, since I if there is any advice out there on how we, the heathen, are supposed to offer comfort to existentially tormented six and a half year olds who have quite understandable difficulties with the idea of ENDLESS NIGHT (as previously mentioned on these pages), I would love to hear it. So far, we have reached the morally dubious position of me suggesting that conceivably someone might invent a 'cure' for death by the time he grows up. I am a coward, and he knows I am bullshitting him, but it gives momentary comfort. Now he spends his dark nights of the soul deciding what would be the optimum age to take the elixir of eternal life. It's an improvement.

As for those terrifying button eyed animated ghouls, well. They're almost harder than death. Take last night. Small quivery voice comes down the stairs. Can I come up and talk to him. I drag my Ian McShane style withered legs up two flights of stairs muttering Goop friendly parenting mantras*("listen, listen, even if child is driving you fucking crazy..". I paraphrase.). Am greeted by woe-fillled bush baby peeping round its bedroom door.

"I can't stop thinking about the scary button eye marionnettes that we saw in the cinema"

We sit down on the bed for one of our hopeless, circular therapy sessions.

"I know. They were really really horrible, I agree. But you know they aren't real, don't you?"

"Yes, but they are in my BRAIN. Right here behind my eyes".

"You need to try and push the thoughts away by having lots of nice thoughts, like baby chameleons, and Pokemon theme parks, and Japan, and swimming with dolphins and breaking walls with your bare hands, and baby koalas in the bath looking hideous but also terribly appealing"

"I can fit all those things in and there is still lots of space for the BAD THOUGHTS. Look" he gesticulates to the left side of his head. "All the good stuff can fit in here, and here" he points at his right eye "I can still see the marionettes with buttons for eyes".

This is terribly familiar from the last time we talked about death. Apparently, however much Julie Andrew's style loveliness I attempt to shove in his head, there is always space for existential doom. Part of me wants to tell him that this is what being alive is like and that I am there for him and we all love each other and the good stuff outweighs the bad. The rest of me thinks I need to kill the hippy claptrap and find a quick solution so I can go back to eating Mini Cornettos in front of repeats of Grand Designs.

"Well you need to think of more and more nice stuff!" I think desperately. My own nice stuff (crumpets, mild sedatives, cashmere blankets, hot water bottles, spa breaks in Bordeaux) will not do the trick. "Couldn't you think of the best, rarest Pokémons you'd like to get? Or what you want for your birthday? Or thousands of baby lizards dancing techtonik with you?"


And once more, we are getting absolutely nowhere. Time to bring out the big guns.

"Would you like me to get Papa to come up?"


Jesus! It must be bad. Papa is like, the nuclear solution. When he is called in, everything blows, in a mushroom cloud of threats and peasant brusqueness.

I pad downstairs sheepishly.

"I need your help. He's scared of the button eye people".

The CFO sighs but heads off with surprisingly good grace. Two minutes later he is back downstairs. There is no wailing or gnashing of teeth to be heard. The CFO settles back down on the sofa, adjusting the robe of doom around him.

"What did you say?!"

" I told him to think of all his Karate moves. Then I told him that the longer he stayed awake, the earlier he would have to go to bed tomorrow".


Morale, I need your help. Send more exercises.

*Belgian Health Warning:
Goop kills
Goop nuit gravement à la santé
Goop is dodelijk


screamish said...

Mmmm. Crumpets.

Kitschen Pink said...

Hmm. It's annoying here too. They teach rights not responsibilities. They teach world religions but are vague about manners towards the person you meet on the stairs every day. They have religious assemblies and then refuse to allow a nativity play, they talk about society and then allow group of yelling kids to charge through doors in front of mum's with pushchairs and toddlers - eugh! It was all so exasperating we just opted out! t.x

nappy valley girl said...

Great post. Loved bringing in CFO as nuclear option.

You could always try quotes from great American presidents. "We have nothing to fear but fear itself."

Lisa said...

Perhaps you could always refer the morality to the CFO. He seems to have a practical approach to it. It's more about bedtime than existential considerations.

Completely Alienne said...

If deciding what they wanted for their birthdays didn't work i moved onto who would be invited to the party and, on the very rare occasions that didn't work (possibly my girls are just very shallow) I just fell asleep on them. They couldn't move and couldn't get rid of me so they gave up and slept in the end. It was no use sending their father up - he had the same effect as Peter Kay in that beer advert.

Mrs Trefusis said...

This is, like, the Morale Maze. I always ask myself, 'What would Gwyneth do?'...

Iheartfashion said...

Existential bedtime crises are the worst!
Luckily, we read the book Coraline before seeing the movie so my kids knew what to expect and weren't too frightened by the visual.
My daughter does have a long-running fear that I will be replaced by an evil double, though.

Leslie said...

Woah. This is so weird to me. I mean what if, regardless what religion or non-religion, you just prefer to teach your kid all that stuff at home? Or what if you ascribe to a really obscure religion? Do you get your own special class?

mothership said...

It seems to me that the CFO has somehow transmuted your own philosophy (you die then click, brrrrrrr) into a very successful bedtime solution.
"We are not dealing with monsters and fear because there are no monsters so there is no fear. Go to sleep or I will create a real terror for you which is to be left alone even earlier tomorrow with only your imagination for company. You will then be free to select alternative belief systems on your own and I will be unable to offer you further assistance."
I think that the school should actually hire CFO to teach Morale. Then children can have 1 lesson per year and will be free to watch cartoons for remainder. All will be happy.

River said...

"you die and then that's it, endless blackness..."

Well no wonder he's afraid of dying,(and sleeping?).

Of course he needs to learn your views on religion, death etc, but to tell a small child there will be absolutely nothing after he dies is a little harsh. Mindboggling for such a young one to try to come to terms with.
Not being judgemental, just saying..

River said...

Possibly I misunderstood you.

Jaywalker said...

River - yeah, I think you did

Juci said...

Sorry, I have no tips on dealing with his fear, but I just saw something frightening, hilarious and deeply disturbing (and oddly addictive) and I wanted to show it to you: Sorry if you already know it.

Chantal said...

You could read that GOOP rubbish out loud to him, it will either send him straight to sleep or give him hysterics. If you do this I think you should preface your reading with this line (my favourite): "I’d like to share with you some of the findings from brain science".

BRAIN SCIENCE!! I hope I am not the only person laughing at this...

Jaywalker said...

Sorry I got all snappy and humourless there for a second. Let me expand. I do not actually tell my six year old that he will die alone, be dead forever, and be eaten by worms, nor do I tell him he will burn in the fiery flames and be made to eat his own entrails by cackling demons, I promise. I would never get to watch Grand Designs if I did that. That phrase was intended to be a humorous précis of my own fears and thoughts about death (legion, grim).

He expresses lots of fears and I try and find honest ways of responding which basically involve me saying that nobody really knows, and some people believe this and others believe that, and it's all a Really Long Time Away, like the middle class hippy I am. No endless blackness is evoked in any discussions. Right. So that's that sorted.

CA - I love the idea of you just squashing your girls to sleep. Magnificent.

Mothership - I think I love you. Your summary is entirely accurate.

Mrs C said...

That movie must have really been done right. I read Coraline a couple of months ago and was mostly meuh.

Would the Graveyard Book help Lashes any?... Just saying...

And how weird the thing about the religion. You'd never see that in the French system which is so laïque that it's positively brain damaging.

Jenny said...

No wonder Lashes is traumatised.I've just spotted him moonlighting on the Met Office homepage,being menaced by the Scarf of Wrath,a distant relative of the CFO's Robe of Doom.

Jaywalker said...

Jenny - my god! You are right. But have I seen a penny of his fee? Hmm? No. Bad boy.
Scarf of Wrath very fearsome indeed.

Juci said...

Before the conflict between my desperate need for verification and feedback versus modesty (well, not wanting to be pushy) makes my head explode, I'll just point out that you probably skipped my comment along with Chantal's. (I know this because you are the only blogger I know who reacts to everybody's comments, which is an awfully nice thing to do, I think.) It's not that I wrote anything overly interesting, but there's a link in there that might cheer you up.
(If you did read my comment but did not find it worthy for an answer, then please let me just crawl away to a dark hole quietly.)

Juci said...

Worthy _of_. Of course. Sodding prepositions.

Jaywalker said...

Juci - ah I am glad you prodded me. I was on conference call of death, thus distracted. The man babies are part horrific part wonderful. Yikes!

Chantal - I might threaten him with brain science tonight. "Brain science" indeed.

Mrs C - What is this graveyard book? I am ignorant..

bevchen said...

I did actually read that entire post but the only thing that stuck with me was crumpets. I want crumpets now! Why do the Germans not do crumpets?

Frances said...

The most fear-inducing? The fact that that horrific empty-eyed doll you thought fit to illustrate your post with looks alarmingly like me. Disturbingly so. Down the beauty spot, even. Except my eyes aren't quite so soulless, at least not everyday.

It's spooked me, and now I shall never be able to look in the mirror again.

Jaywalker said...

Ooh, Frances, AND you live in Brussels. Is it ok if I threaten him with you coming round to visit if he isn't good?

monk said...

Why, it would be a pleasure. I shall polish up my eyeballs special-like.

In other exciting news, I thought about starting a blog today but then realised I already had one, which was a nice surprise.


Jaywalker said...

Ooh yes Frances and it's quite a nice one. Are you planning to continue? shall I add you to the roll? Because I hate disappointment you know..

River said...

Have to confess I didn't read the entire post. Please accept my apologies.

Mrs C said...

Same author as the button eyed people, just won an award, etc, etc...

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