I have just returned from a few days with friends in the south of France. We had a lovely time, despite truly British – dare I say Scottish – weather.
One of our jaunts out took us to the port of La Rochelle. I have fond memories of this place, having spent a riotous four days there in late 2009 on stopover prior to departing for an insane yacht race with ten other boats all the way to Rio de Janeiro. Good times – well, the bits I remember anyway.
Returning to La Rochelle the year after my return from Brazil with the family on holiday, I was mortified to be met with a hug and an effusive welcome by the proprietor of the port’s only Irish Pub – he apparently remembers me downing impressive quantities of some shocking cocktails called After Eights and thereafter dancing on the tables accompanied by other slightly inebriated sailor-type companions. It was not one of my finest parental moments – being displayed in front of my children – but they were so “Meh” about the whole thing that I believe I got away with it. Phew. Note to self: Must learn to lead children by example…..
But – staying on point – this visit included a mooch around the shops with our friends, where the children were amused to come across a series of Mr Men books written in French. The one that tickled our funny bone the most was “M. Non.” Just that – Monsieur Non. We fell about laughing on reading it, as we all immediately identified the elder male Stratton in the character – he who was browsing in a model-making shop at the time (because sensible people stay home and make models, not gad about the globe in glorified tin cans for the fun of it).
My husband – now M. Non forever more – is, let’s say, one who errs on the dark side. Not wholly negative, but not completely positive either. A planner and procrastinator. He’s most definitely a “No, but…” person when discussing ideas, people, concepts etc. whereas the rest of us are much more “But, yes…” He’s a “Can’t”, not “Let’s” person.
(Note: This “Non” does not, however, extend to bottles of French wine, for which he demonstrated much more “Mais oui!” this weekend than was good for him. Since his only failing here was to get louder in proportion to the quantity of wine consumed, this is a minor issue, although our poor friends may need to consult ear specialists this week as they recover from having us to stay.)
This inherent negativity has led to many clashes en famille as being with M. Non can somewhat limit spontaneity, creativity and simple learning through childhood (and adult) experiences. My son, for example, is protected from hurting himself with too much gung ho launching off walls and scaling of trees etc., by M. Non. He would say it is health and safety awareness, but I would argue that our son could also be less dexterous, less able to problem-solve and more cautious than he would otherwise be if allowed to experience more. My daughter is prevented from certain fashion choices and from experimenting too much with her hair. M. Non says non. But is that stifling her creativity, “cramping her style” or just his fatherly way of protecting her from peer ridicule?
It’s hard to know. I am a different animal altogether. I fight M. Non on many fronts myself. I believe in having a go, pushing boundaries and accepting the consequences as they happen. Not necessarily thinking about those consequences in advance. If I had, I would not have even been dancing on tables in La Rochelle, or scaring myself silly trying to manhandle a 68 foot bath-tub across the Atlantic for six weeks. “Non” is not a word I use much at all, unless we’re talking about tattoos or piercings on my daughter’s beautiful teenage person. That’s not so much “Non” as “Over my dead and rotted body.” Me and M. Non are, for once, in agreement on these issues.
But I do have to concede that without M. Non’s practicality, forward-thinking, hazard avoidance and foot-putting-down-ness then myself and the kids would teeter on the edge of potential disaster much more often than we do. While I find all that flying by the seat of my pants stuff terribly exciting, I do accept that it does not make for great parenting. Many meals and much of their formal education would be missed as we windsurfed our way across to the Canary Islands or trekked cheetahs in remote jungle bush, if their parenting was left purely to me.
So, here’s a tribute to the M. (and Madame) Nons of this world – those who we may moan about and rail against, but who keep us safe, love us enough to stop us doing too many silly things, and give us the secure base from which to leap into the unknown prepared and protected as much as they can manage and arrange.
Without my own M. Non, Madame Oui-Oui-Oui here and the little Oui-Ouis would not be the happy, healthy little unit we are. More time would potentially be spent in A&E than out enjoying ourselves. We must appreciate him and all he does (without the loud bits, obviously), even when “non” means no.
(She says, sneaking off to have a go at base-jumping before her ancient and creaky knees seize up altogether and/or M. Non finds out!! Just kidding, M. Non, honest?)
(Photo credit: http://broken-tv.blogspot.com)