Reading can lead to trauma
The good woman and I were sitting watching RTE's The Takeover the other night, trying to understand why any employee would choose national television to launch a broadside against their boss when the sitting room door opened and in walked the young lad.
Both he and the younger lad had been tucked away for the night several hours before, but lately he has discovered the joy of books and has been insatiably munching his way through any piece of fiction for kids with a semi-interesting beginning, middle and end.
This time, however, he got more than he had bargained for.
Recently, he got his hands on a book that his 12-year-old cousin had left behind from her last visit. While we thought he was sleeping, he had been spending a few hours working his way through the comic story, which ended on a very poignant note.
'The doctors have said Gangsta Granny won't make Christmas,' he told us, clearly distraught, and seeking some words of reassurance.
A gobsmacked good woman looked at me, and I scrambled my brain to find the right words for the situation.
The book, written by Britain's Got Talent's David Walliams, is directed at older children and while cancer may now be a word that adults hear on a daily basis, when it comes to being able to deal with the death of a character you have grown to love, well, who is to put an age on that?
After comforting the lad and explaining in the most sensitive way possible what had happened to Gangsta Granny (up to that moment we had no idea of her fate) I Googled a review of the book and saw that it is aimed at eight to twelve-year-olds, which is a year and a half outside the age bracket into which the young lad currently fits.
It also made me think about newspapers that are left lying around the house, and what goes through his mind when he reads tragic headlines. Years ago I attended a seminar on the media in Dublin and was informed that the reading skills of an average ten-year-old should enable them to read tabloids, while twelve-year-olds should be able for broadsheets. However, there is a huge difference in being able to read something, and being emotionally prepared to understand it.
We put the young lad back to bed and the next day the good woman took him to the book shop to get him a new book to read.
He picked out a story that was written by the footballer, Frank Lampard, about an imaginary kids' football team that enters a competition in the Wild West. And he loved it.
He was telling his friends all about it at the weekend, and hasn't mentioned Gangsta Granny since. Though you never know what they store away in those huge minds, in such small bodies.
I have learned that a more thorough vetting process is needed whenever we see him with a book in his hand, even if life is such that there is no rule to determine at what age you get to find out that bad things happen.
Thankfully, as guardians, we are in a privileged position to prolong innocence in a world where it is all too rapidly taken away.