I arrived at the last Sunday Assembly in a state of great excitement, in the belief that the day’s theme was to be ‘kidding about’. You can imagine my disappointment, deprived of my anticipated adolescent ribaldry, doomed to suffer my way through a succession of warm, profound and heart-felt talks, that the day was instead to be ‘about kids’.
The official title of the Assembly was, of course, “Roots and Wings”, and we learnt early on that this was derived from a quotation attributed to journalist Hodding Carter (who himself attributed it to an unnamed ‘wise woman’): “…there are two lasting bequests that we can give to our children. One of these… is roots, the other is wings.” Slightly to my disappointment it then became clear that these attributes were actually meant metaphorically: roots to symbolize a warm nurturing environment; wings to symbolize the capacity to achieve and succeed.
In fact, the day’s main speaker, Dr Alison Creese of the Open University (and as it happens, also of My House) took some issue with the quotation. She showed that it describes a somewhat Aristotelian kind of conception of child-rearing, in which the parental goal is to produce a fully functioning adult being. But, she argued, this misses out on the existence of various basic ‘childhood goods’ that are available only to children, and are valuable in themselves even when they don’t promote a progression to adulthood. Unstructured play, childhood innocence, that kind of thing. One of the strong arguments for this thought is that otherwise there seems no point in caring for disabled children, whose joy in life is not instrumental to their future adult achievements but instead is something to be marvelled at in its own right. In light of this I think perhaps the quotation should be updated to something like “there are various bequests that we can give to our children: one is roots, one is wings, and the another is the opportunity to roll down a hill in a barrel whilst giggling and stuffing one’s face with Easter eggs”.
The Assembly then took more of a sombre tone, as Alison talked about the flip side of the value of childhood, the immense harm that can be visited on children when they are denied all of the things they should be given by loving parents. It is a testament, I think, to the kind of people and supportive atmosphere found at a Sunday Assembly that members feel open to sharing their experiences and feelings about such traumatic topics. What has the potential to be depressing becomes, in the company of friends, a life-affirming exercise.
Noel, who took on the ‘Doing his Best’ slot, also provided a bittersweet account of his childhood and that of parenting his boy. In fact, this was the only Sunday Assembly in which my have eyes welled up twice in two talks. Thankfully, he finished his account by letting us know that his son – now grown up – is not only happy and secure, but also has a healthy distrust of authority, which seems to me one of the more important instincts that can be imparted to one’s offspring.
The band managed to shake off the loss of one of its key members (to the exigencies of education) and welcomed a fantastic new lead singer Hannah. David on drums and vocal was as ever a stalwart, and if I didn’t mention the raw animal magnetism exuded by bass player Jamie, well, then I would be reneging on my end of a financial agreement.
Particular thanks should also be given to Alex and Vicky for putting on food at very short notice, and I think we should also give Gush a mention for giving us all something to think about during the moment of reflection.