As I write, my family and I are nearing the end of an long journey by land and sea from south-west France back to Ireland. One car, two adults, two teenagers, one pre-teen, five sets of Dabrowski’s over-exciteabilities, 900 kms and 18 hours at sea, it's enough to make me exhausted just thinking about it! En route, we’ve had some interesting discussions and some tense moments. We’ve discussed art as an expression of language and whether music or painting can convey feelings and emotions better than prose. That led us to poetry where the teen passengers argued that rap is a powerful form of modern poetry in which young people can express their feelings. Eminem was judged by some as provocateur and by others as poet! We adults wondered if the offensive language used by some rappers was really “art” or used simply for its shock-value, but our teens were of the opinion that the bad language was part and parcel of the art form and the artists could no more avoid it as they could a sneeze. A generation gap if ever there was one!
We got much deeper than rap though. The size of the universe and the existence of God were covered in great detail. Which led to the inevitable subject of the catholic church in Ireland. The role of the Vatican in Irish education and state affairs brought us in a circuitous way to the history of Italian re-unification, Rome versus Florence and the formation of the Vatican as a “state within a state”.
From there opened a debate on religious freedom and religious states which involved the Middle East conflict and the powerful hold religion has on state affairs throughout the world. Dipping into some of these questions prompted me to flick through Philosophy for Kids from the wonderful Prufrock Press, where we explored the ideas of Ludwig Wittgenstein on language and feelings, Immanuel Kant on belief versus knowledge and Aristotle’s Correspondence Theory of Truth. Powerful stuff, and very lively when five opinionated minds got stuck in!
Of course we had the more mundane conflicts of getting driving directions wrong and blaming each other (the adults!) and numerous invasions and encroachments into personal space (the kids!). Urgent bathroom breaks, wild-goose chases and episodes of near-starvation also peppered our journey. Many times I wished I was somewhere else, even someone else. I wondered why I don’t have those teens I seem to see everywhere, sullen and uncommunicative, hoods up, heads down, earphones in. When things got loud and confrontational in the confines of the car, I half-wished for those disengaged, disinterested children….anything for a bit of peace!
But here I am on the ferry enjoying a quiet early morning, while they are still sleeping in our cabin. I am sitting by the window as the grey light signals that we are indeed getting closer to the familiar Irish climate. The waves are rolling, the ferry creating great white frothing masses of foam and an occasional herring-gull wheels by on the wind. And I realise that, in fact, I do have the family I want. They are lively, opinionated, engaged, interested and interesting. They don’t shy away from debate or verbal sparring. They are unafraid to hold an opinion and able to defend their position. We may not always agree, I am “ancient and out of touch” after all, but we are all learning to respect each other’s point of view. My family is remarkably knowledgeable about subjects I never even knew they had an interest in. Their powers of observation are acute and they hold some carefully considered views on a variety of topics. So while I might wish for some peace and quiet from time to time, while I may even feel I need a holiday after our epic journey home, I wouldn’t change my family for the world. To have three children, and a husband, who are so alive to the world and so passionate about living in it is a gift I treasure.