Recently my brother, 8 years older than me, and as it happens, celebrating a birthday today, revealed to me that when I was a child, and he was officially babysitting me, used to put me to bed and then nip off to the pub. He would then have a drink with his friends, and pop back from time to time to check that I hadn't suffocated, drowned or burned to death.
Until the time that he told me this a few months back I had been completely oblivious to this. I was, I think, quite a "good" child. It would never have occurred to me to come downstairs for instance, once put to bed, and so, even if I were reading in bed, I wouldn't have noticed that the house beneath me was quiet. Very quiet!
When he told me this story, we both fell about laughing. We didn't dwell on the safety issues that might have been at stake, and to be honest I was not a tiny child. I just thought how funny it was that he had pulled the wool over my eyes for all these years.
I also thought back when he said this, and remembered that on one occasion, a summer's evening, I was reading my book in bed. My brother stuck his head round the door and told me off for reading in the half light, and put the light on! I was so shocked because I thought that I was going to be told off for reading at all. It's all relative though isn't it? He knew that he was bending the rules, and I knew that I was bending the rules. But, concerned for my eyesight, he made sure that the light was on while I read - and he (presumably) nipped back to the pub across the field to spend his babysitting money.
My parents too, when we were on holiday in Spain, me aged six, used to put me to bed and go down to the bar in the apartment block for a drink. Every so often one or other parent, or one or other older brother would pop back to check on my safety.
I was fine.
I was asleep, and blissfully unaware.
I was lucky too, in that there were no funny people lurking about, either in the rural village I lived, or on holiday in Spain, who wanted to steal a child.
As parents ourselves we have always eaten with our children in the evenings on holiday. We customarily eat together as a family anyway, and so when on holiday we just extend that. If it is late we don't worry, in that they are on holiday and the odd late night won't hurt. Similarly, Continental Europeans are far more laid back about children in restaurants, and as such it is never been an issue to have them with us.
But, I also think that it is very sad that parents are not able to trust society to be able to leave children asleep in what is effectively a hotel room, and go into the restaurant for something to eat. Realistically it should be as safe as having food at home once the children are in bed.
It should be, but sadly it isn't.
Equally I think that none of us as parents can cast stones at the McCanns. It may not have been the wisest choice to leave them unattended as it turned out, but which of us parents can honestly say that they have never made a mistake when it comes to child rearing? I have five children, and have made plenty of mistakes over the years - and there but for the grace of God have been fortunate in the main. There isn't a day that goes by though that I don't worry about my children, or pray that they will return safely to me from their school buses or school trips or whatever else they venture forth in.
When they go out in the morning I say to each of them: "See you later". If I don't say it, or if they don't respond, it niggles at me all day until they return. If they are going on a school trip I always say "don't let the coach driver crash, don't drown in the swimming pool, don't get run over."
"Yes Mum! Goodbye!"
I drive them all mad with it. Hubby thinks I'm a nutcase. Which I probably am. It's my safety net though. We all have them. I, in my funny sort of way, believe that I am keeping them all safe by willing their safe return........
There is not a family in Britain whose hearts have not been touched by the story of little Madeleine McCann. I am so sad for those parents, and for the little girl. How frightened she must be.
Don't though, let us ever forget that it could have been any one of us parents who made a mistake.
To err is human.
Please can she be returned safely and unharmed?
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