My daughter and I have a game we play on the way to school. It’s a game we came up with ourselves and we call it Counting Kitties. The way it works is this: every day we have to see a certain number of cats on our way to school, or else we have to give each other a ‘squeezy hug.’ So on Monday it’s one cat – starting the week off easy, not too much stress. Then Tuesday it’s two, Wednesday three and so on until Friday. We take pretty much the same route to school each day, so the challenge lies in remembering our ‘regular’ cats and where to find them, as well as keeping our eyes open for new cats to add to the game.
These cats are everywhere. Some wait on doorsteps, others sit curled in windows or perched on shed roofs, while other prowl and it’s just lucky if you happen to see them. We have names for some of our regulars, Moo-Cow Kitty (black and white), Super Fluffy Kitty (for obvious reasons), Balcony Kitty (where she likes to sit). We’ve also added a couple of dogs we see regularly to the tally and, if we’re really pushed, two magpies equal one cat. We will also accept our local red tailed kite, or as we like to call him, ‘Hawkie’ – he’s often to be seen riding the wind high above, feathers flashing in the sunlight. The rules are fluid and subject to change – recently we’ve allowed a carryover tally, whereby if we have a particularly good day of sightings, we can carry the excess over to the next day.
So why am I sharing this with you?
Well, first of all it’s a bit of fun. I look forward to our walks every day, time spent talking and taking in our surroundings, using our imaginations to come up with silly names and complicated rulings, starting the day with thought and laughter. I have only the one child and that’s it for me, so I’m making the most of my time with her as she grows. I also want to encourage her to look at the world, to see where it takes her and find fun in even the most mundane of things, such as a walk to school.
I remember my grandmother taking me for walks when I was young, pointing out and naming wildflowers, bringing me to the local woods to gather snowdrops in the spring and hunt for fairies at Midsummer. She showed me that the world holds infinite possibility; that stories can be found anywhere. When I grew older and had to make daily train commutes to school and later, work, I would look out of the window and see if I could discover something new each day, or, if it was an underground trip, imagine stories about myself or the other passengers (no staring, of course!). The point is, I made the most of my time as best I could, and so that’s something I’d like to pass on, if I can. Writing is part of it, trying to convey in words what I’ve experienced and imagined. And this is another part, encouraging the growth of ideas in my own child, sharing in her life as she grows.
And this game, I think, is similar to what we do as writers when we write. Taking everyday things, such as the fact we see a lot of cats on our walk, and turning them into something more meaningful. I recently wrote a short story that featured an unusual outdoor light, inspired by the fact that one of the houses we pass every day also has a striking outdoor light. Ambeth is based on a park I used to visit as a child. One day I might even write a story about a neighbourhood with lots of cats. In every day there’s potential for us to find inspiration in even the most mundane things.
And what about you? Where do stories and games lie in your own life?
I had similar ‘walking’ games with my children too (3 boys and a girl). The one they most remember (all left home now) is an after dark walk (to cubs, or the like) where we would play spaceships under attack. We all had 3 lives each and three pretend defence lasers and my children would be little spaceships defending me, the mother ship (who was often slow and steady with a pushchair or dog on lead or both). Every time a car’s headlights swept past us we would lose a life unless we could ‘laser’ them first. If lives or lasers ran out the little ship (child) had to return to the safety of the mother ship (and the indignity of holding my hand or pushchair handle). The mother ship relied entirely on the little spaceships for safely getting to the next planet (home/cubs etc). I could not renew my own lives or lasers once gone but the little spaceships could renew a life by standing directly under a lit lamp post for 5 seconds and renew lasers by standing on a pavement manhole cover. We lived in a large village with enough traffic and very few lamp posts to keep an early evening walk in winter interesting. A stream of traffic caused mayhem in the fleet, but they never let the mother ship die.
Somehow a version of this game could not be made to work in the day time, but we did other things similar to your cat game. Walking and talking is a great way to teach children to be observant and curious and although it falls away a bit when they get teenagery and discover the delights of headphones and that their parents are really quite stupid and ‘duh, so what if it’s called a red kite or whatever’, those earlier things WILL stay with them. At the time of playing the games I thought I was just staving off the boredom of a long walk for them but I am sure that it’s been character forming. All of my four are adventurous, open minded and kind. They tend to be doers rather than writers but they love stories.
Oh Barbara, that’s fantastic! I love that game, how much fun it must have been for you all. I also love how you remember all the details of it still 🙂 Counting Kitties isn’t quite as exciting but we do have another one that involves us being dragons (for cold days when our breath is like smoke). Thank you so much for sharing xx
I think it’s wonderful that you can enjoy your walks to the school gate so much…and I adore cat watching, have 2 myself. I had a very vivid imagination as a child…mostly about fairies. I sincerely believed the wee folk lived at the bottom of our garden. I used to make all sorts of fairy dens and decorate them with flowers and anything pretty I could find outdoors. When my own daughter was very young we would write notes to the fairies on tiny pieces of paper and leave them inside flowers. I had some much fun writing the replies on rolled up scrolls sprinkled with fairy dust ( aka glitter). For years my daughter truly believed in fairies…she was quite cross when she discovered the truth that her mother was behind it all along!
Oh, that’s really beautiful, Sarah 🙂 My daughter believes in fairies and I absolutely encourage her, just as my grandmother used to encourage me. The tooth fairy leaves a glittery note when she comes to visit, but I love your idea of leaving messages in flowers. We have a ‘fairy tree’ on the way to school where we sometimes leave interesting stones or flowers as gifts – one time when we were doing so an elderly gentleman stopped and, when I explained what we were doing, he proceeded to pull a piece of weathered sea glass from his pocket and gave it to my daughter to leave at the tree. I love stuff like that, it’s what keeps magic in the world 🙂 Thanks for sharing your fairy memories xx
Umm there was a draw back. Aged about 9, daughter asks just before Christmas, “Mummy Father Christmas isn’t really real is he?’ You fill the stockings, don’t you?’
Deep breath….my reply (thinking oh god I can’t have her teased at school by her peers, I can’t lie, have to be honest.’
So I reply something along the lines of, ‘yes you are right he’s not real, like the tooth fairy.’
Screams of utter despair from my daughter… What !!! the tooth fairy’s not real? I don’t care about Father Christmas, but the tooth fairy.’
The devastation caused by by my reply is brought up every now and again by now daughter (now 21) she’s never got over the trauma of discovering the tooth fairy was ‘mummy’
I can’t believe it was the tooth fairy that upset her and not Father Christmas! Children are amazing, aren’t they? I think I have another year or so before I have to come clean about everything… 🙂
Sarah, I was surprised you held out so long. 9 is quite old to discover the dreadful ‘truth’. My own mother had a good plan when I challenged the existence of Father Christmas. She just said, ‘you could be right but just remember that Father Christmas doesn’t come to children who don’t believe in him.’ Clever lady using my own greed against me. I also remember telling her once that I didn’t think fairies could exist (had never seen one in my garden) she shushed me with the warning, ‘every time someone says that fairies don’t exist, then a fairy dies. So you must never say it, just in case.’ She looked so serious and I blushed, I thought I had killed one, oops. Kids are complicated and want to figure out the truth but love the myth. I tested the tooth fairy idea by not telling my mum that a loose tooth had come out. The next morning I was quite upset to find my tooth still under the pillow but was more bothered that I wouldn’t be getting a coin for it, so I went through the whole charade for the next night and got my coin. At that point I kind of joined in the game these silly adults play so you get extra treats without being spoilt. I repeated all this with my own children and they got it quicker than me. My insistence meant that I missed a stocking one year!
Your mum sounds wonderful, how funny! She knew just how to get you. I do agree, children are complicated beings. My daughter has kids in her class who don’t believe in Father Christmas. She shared this with me in shocked tones but when I asked her where their presents came from, she shrugged and said ‘I guess their parents do it.’ So I think she might be on the fence and playing both teams at the moment (to mix metaphors shamelessly)! 🙂