Tread Softly

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

W. B. Yeats

In the summer of 2016, we were staying at the children’s grandparents’ house in Portugal, when one of our Portuguese cousins discovered a bucketful of kittens behind the garage. The kittens were at that gorgeous, still tiny stage, where they spent most of their time feeding with their mother, stumbling around the logs and bricks that were piled up along the wall, or sleeping in the hot Portuguese sun. The children who were staying at grandma’s house, who were from various branches of our family, all argued about names for each kitten. They took balls of string onto the lawn, and flicked them in the air, playing with the tiny bundles of fur and claiming each one as their own. They picked them up and cuddled them, the kittens wriggling in their arms and the grown ups telling them to be careful and to put the poor kittens down when they had had enough. Our one was ‘Midnight Star’. ‘Jinja’ belonged to the youngest of the cousins. Jinja was definitely the liveliest of the bunch, with a ginger coat and a cheeky attitude.

This Christmas we were back at grandma’s house. A lot has happened since the summer of 2016. Grandfather is no longer there. The house is emptier than it was before. A silence seems to inhabit the corridor where once we heard his voice, calling grandma’s name. Life has moved on, as it always does, and changed the way that things were before. One afternoon, as I stood out on the terrace, I saw that the mother was back in the garden, and that there was a ginger cat slinking along beside her, perhaps hoping that the sound of children’s voices might signal food. Jinja is much bigger now. Almost ready to separate from mum and step out into the world. Not quite there, but definitely well on the way. When children are tiny, they are reliant on the gentle nurturing of adults. They need us to play with them, to give them lots of warmth and attention and love. As they grow older we can be a bit tougher on them, show them how to stand up in the world that they live in, and help them succeed. But when they are tiny we need to handle them gently. And they are only tiny for a very short while. So maybe we should all tread softly, lest we tread upon their dreams.

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