Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Listen to your kids (it’s frightening how important it could be)

Middle England. Some time around the mid-1970s. 

A young girl, about ten years old, is excited. She’s started synchronised swimming and is loving it. But she’s younger and a lot less experienced than the other girls in the squad. She has a lot of catching up to do. She’s excited because the coach says she's got talent and with some hard work and extra coaching she will soon catch up.

All goes well at first. A few extra lessons in the pool and a series of exercises to strengthen her arms, legs and tummy muscles. Every week, her mum takes her to the coach’s house and has coffee with his wife while she is put through the motions. In the next room.

Until one evening, something changes. 

As she’s doing her sit-ups she notices she’s not the only one breathing heavily. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees he him semi-slumped in his seat with something fleshy and flaccid in his lap. His flies are open. Her pre-teen brain registers something’s not ‘right’ but this was the '70s, a time when ten-year-olds were still innocent and authority figures weren't questioned, just obeyed. She know what it must be – the bathroom door is never locked in a family of four with just one loo. But any accidentally-seen nudity is a simple matter of fact of family life. Just another body part on a family member, like an elbow or shoulder blade, and in an appropriate setting. Alarm bells are ringing at the back of her mind, telling her this is not the same, that something is very wrong.

He catches her eye and she realises that she’s stopped her stomach crunches and is staring. “Does this bother you?” he asks. “If it does, I’ll stop.” She nods mutely. Yes, it bothers her. True to his word, he packs up his tackle and the session is over. No harm done.

In the car on the way home, she tells her mother she’s changed her mind about synchro. She doesn’t want to do it, after all. Her Mum is puzzled and asks if she’s sure, but accepts it.

Decades pass. One day, the no-longer-young girl confides to her mother the reason for her sudden change of heart. Mum is shocked but relieved that her daughter felt she could say she wasn’t happy about something, even if she didn’t yet have the words or the experience to say why.

More years pass. One day, in the comfortable intimacy of the family kitchen, over a cup of tea, her mother hands her daughter a newspaper cutting. A local man has been convicted and imprisoned for child molestation. His name is familiar to them both. The two women engage a meaningful look, and hug. “Thanks for listening,” the younger one whispers through their tight embrace.

But they both can’t help wondering about those who hadn’t find the courage to speak up, or who were dismissed as "just being silly".


  1. Oh my......such a powerful post. Just change the date to mid-60's and another young girl has memories too....what a world. Well written post too.

  2. I think many of us probably have similar experiences - and sadly many had much worse ones. Kids may have lost their innocence now, but at least there is less stigma about speaking up these days.