Through a chain of events I have not quite unthreaded, I came home recently to find four children raised in an Amish community leaping around the dining room.
Their father had perhaps the coolest beard to have graced a chin since Abraham Lincoln’s and he had a fascinating take on modern life, but the kids were the real revelation.
If these children had been raised in Britain they might have been defined as (a) future GDP-boosters who have to be pushed through the education system as fast as possible; (b) consumers who demand to be pacified with high-sugar foods and plastic toys at regular intervals; or (c) a noisy nuisance.
But instead they were loved by their parents as young people blessed with the imagination, energy and wide-eyed curiosity that only a child can possess.
I’m told the family had recently celebrated a joint memorisation of St Paul’s 2,000-word letter to the Colossians. This is a different way to spend a few evenings than playing on a Wii but the children – who were taking immense delight in watching a trainee teacher set fire to teabags in the kitchen (they go shooting up into the air!) – did not seem in the slightest browbeaten.
Without a hint of precocity, they could talk on a wider range of topics than the running order of the Today programme.
They did not have the joyless demeanour of children who have only grown-up company and are old beyond their handful of years, but it was clear their parents respected their intelligence and understood their potential to change the world.
I didn’t get the chance to ask the mum and dad about their plans for the future or go through the usual chat about work and entertainment, but it was obvious that whatever they hope to achieve in life would be bound up with the lives of their high-spirited offspring.
It is fascinating to watch a new Government take its first steps, but it is actually parents now nurturing bumbling toddlers who are on the front line of shaping society.
Victor Hugo said: “The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved.” Governments can provide parents with childcare and put teaching assistants in classrooms, but no legislator can make love and devotion mandatory.
They can, however, help create the conditions in which parents are more likely to be able to spend time with the young people on whom our future depends.
The hard work of raising a child will never show up as part of a nation’s GDP, but it is only in their company that we can see our disjointed world through their uncluttered gaze.
As the great Groucho Marx once quipped: “A child of five would understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five!”
A Thursday column
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