It was wonderful to be back in England again with my sons. I went to Harlow New Town because my sister was there and I could help her to lighten the burden of Mother. We stayed at first in Mary’s flat. Charles came over every week-end from London. He was very popular with the boys because he always came laden with chocolates and sweets. In a very short time I was allocated to a small rented house with a garden. There were open fields and woods carefully left close to the rows of houses. Robin was six years old and loved going off on his own to look at the trees and the birds throughout the summer. He was six years old and would be starting school in September.
Today we would not dare to let children of that age wander off. But then, in a fairly small community, we assumed he would be safe. However, one day he had stayed away much longer than usual. I got more and more worried. It was well past tea-time. Finally he sauntered in through the garden gate with a faraway look in his eye. His mind was still there in the woods. I flew at him and started to shake him. I couldn’t stop crying at the same time. I soon stopped. He was so upset poor kid.
I had never done such a thing before and I never did it again. I think it is unforgivable to strike children who are too small to defend themselves. I never did it to my other two, except for when Kate stayed out much later when she was sixteen with a boyfriend. I didn’t have many rules for the children. The two main ones were that they must go to bed at a certain time which got later every year and when they were in their ‘teens and still living with us, they must let me know if they were going to be home later than usual.
Once we moved into the house I furnished it and bought a Mini Minor car, one of the earliest ones. It was a bright red. The boys still remember the many places we went to in it. Everything was so new and exciting for me and even more so for my sons. They particularly liked to go out for the day in Epping Forest with a picnic at the week-end and once every Friday we went to the cinema. Films were so much better, for all ages, then than they are today. Quentin was a particularly independent child. He was outgoing and friendly. Old gentlemen would pat him on the head and press a sixpence or shilling into his hand when he gave them a dazzling smile and said “Hello.”
Robin was the opposite, he was shy with strangers and didn’t speak to them. Quentin knew what he wanted and usually tried to get it. One day, coming out of the cinema, we saw the ice-cream man standing outside waiting to catch a few customers. My rule was that they had one ice-cream once they were inside. Quentin said at once “Can I have an ice-cream?” I said “No. You have had one already.” He then flew into a rage. I took Robin’s hand and walked off towards the car. Quentin of course, ran after us, bawling with all his might.
I opened the car door, Robin climbed in and Quentin too. He cried all the way home, which was not very far. I took the car round to its garage which was just round the corner from our house. Both boys got out and I headed for the front door. I opened the door, Robin went in and Quentin was running after him, still crying. I slammed the door in his face. His voice rose to a roar and he banged on the door. I went in and put on the kettle to make a cup of tea. Robin kept his eyes on me to see what I was going to do. I didn’t get cross often, and he rarely saw me so quietly angry.
Outside our door was a bus-stop. One of the people waiting knocked. I opened it and she said “Your little boy is crying.” I said “Mind your own business” and slammed the door in her face. Quentin was still in full temper.
I waited until he stopped. It seemed a long time but probably it was not. Finally he slowed down to a much subdued intermittent sob. Then I opened the door. Once again he began to rage. I shut him out again. Very soon he stopped completely. Then I let him in. I laid the table for tea and we all sat down and ate. I said absolutely nothing. Both the boys watched me carefully. I had never behaved in such a way. After we finished, Quentin was still snuffling but the tantrum was over.
He said to me “Would it be rude to ask if I can do the washing up?” He said that because he often asked for something he knew I would not give him. I paused for a minute. “Yes. You can” He did it very well and I said “Thank you”. I did not hug him. I remembered a saying I read somewhere. ‘Never reward bad behaviour’.
I was longing to take him in my arms, but I knew it would be a mistake. I thought to myself, if I let him get his own way now, how can he respect me when he is much older and bigger than I am? One part of me was angry with myself. But I was right. He never had a tantrum again. He had accepted that it didn’t work for him.
He has always fought for the important things he wants with great determination and it has always helped him. He grew up knowing the difference between flying into a useless rage and standing firm for what he knows he must do to get the important things in life.