My younger son called to tell me he was off work, if I wanted to bob round. He has taken a few days off to look after the girls and their Mum, who is recovering from surgery. “You can come and see the…” I didn’t catch the rest as my signal was poor, but hearing my granddaughter’s voice when I arrived, I walked round to the back garden.
“Not bad for a couple of hours’, eh?” said my son, as I admired the cardboard box castle he and Hollie had built a few days earlier, while little Imogen slept. ‘Not bad’ was a bit of an understatement. This is a proper castle, complete with turrets, heart shaped windows that open and close, a working drawbridge, a tower and a dungeon with its own escape tunnel. It is decorated with jewels and artwork, it has a windmill for wind-power… and Hollie insisted that they add some holders for her flowers.
I was given a flower-crown to wear and invited to explore, even though she wouldn’t let me bring any dragons inside. “You’re weird, Grandma.”
Hollie is four, going on forty, and rules her father with a wicked sense of humour. I couldn’t help remembering a four-year old son who had built a full sized aeroplane from blocks, big enough to sit in and ‘fly’ and I told Hollie about it. She reminded me that he is not a little boy any more, so now he can build castles instead.
The castle is brilliant. The magical combination of love, play, time and imagination has created a whole world of fantastical stories from a few cardboard boxes. It is not as if the girls need a playhouse… they a have a wonderful wooden one, painted pink, complete with window boxes, tucked away at the bottom of the garden. Daddy built that one too… but it was Grandma, armed with a glass and paper, who was called upon to dislodge the huge hornet that had found its way inside.
“Grandma’s a crazy woman,” my granddaughter confided in her father. I was touched; their other grandparents are wonderful…they are a close-knit family… so I’m happy to be the weird one who bobs in and out, doing odd things, crawling around on the floor and disposing of monsters. She is convinced I keep pet dragons and that the sword that hangs on my bedroom wall is magical. My arrival at Hollie’s third birthday party, dressed as a fairy, has still not been forgotten. Nor has her very loud, “That’s my Grandma!” that made half the theatre giggle, when the Wicked Witch came on stage in the pantomime that Christmas…
Alex is a joy to watch with his daughters. He is everything a Dad should be. He can be gentle or firm at need, but he is always a loving teacher, even though he doesn’t always realise it himself. As a spot of rain fell, Hollie began to worry about her castle, but he was quick to reassure her.
“If it only rains a little bit, it might just go a bit crinkly.”
“But if it gets ruined,” he shrugged, “we’ll just build a better one.”
“Okay,” said Hollie, in perfect trust.
As the rain started in earnest, we went inside to play and I thought about the life-lessons my son was inadvertently teaching, and had already taught with his cardboard boxes. Lessons my granddaughters will unconsciously absorb. Castles don’t just happen, they take imagination and they take effort. Perseverance. Maybe teamwork and cooperation. Sometimes, they don’t work out…or do not last… but, using your experience of what has gone before, you can build a new one, often a better one. There is always another chance.
Castles and dreams have a lot in common; they cannot simply be bought and they are both products of the imagination, which is in inexhaustible supply. And, just because a castle, or a dream, wilts in the rain, it does not mean that it is forever lost.