Baby R has left Playcentre! Well, that probably gives the wrong picture. She didn’t just leave, but graduated to school. And she is far from a baby now.
But Baby R was just that when we started. Little Isabelle, at merely 9 months older, was very much her senior. Isabelle watched Baby R, stroked her gently, saw her playing on her mother’s lap and slowly learnt the skills that she would need in a few short months when she would become a big sister herself.
My next strong image is one from Aidan’s portfolio. Now it is Aidan who is the baby, sitting happily on R’s mother’s lap. And it is toddler R who is the “big sister”, looking down at the baby, a hand reaching out to stroke him gently.
And so we grew together. R’s big sister graduated to school and suddenly, all the big girls were gone. My little Isabelle was suddenly in their place, one of the big girls, being followed rather than following.
Earlier this year I observed R. She played intently and kindly with Orla and an even smaller baby, crouching down to their levels, offering toys, smiles, sisterly guidance, care and undivided attention.
On what was to be the last time I saw her on session, R painted on one side of the easel, and Orla on the other. R painted in 4 year old style – an identifiable (to an adult) smiling face in purposeful colours. Orla’s style was more impressionist, and further down on the canvas! They worked in comfort alongside each other. R smiled gently at my positive noises about her work. I have no idea if she was genuinely pleased or if she was merely humouring me! (These adults say the darndest things!).
Somehow it feels that with R’s departure, a whole generation has come and gone. Despite past experience, I just can’t quite imagine little Orla smiling benevolently down at an as yet unborn baby, teaching, showing, learning, trying on a different role. But I know that we will be lucky that despite her position in the family, she will have a strong experience of a mixed-age environment and the opportunity to learn from different angles – as the baby, as the experienced leader – and as the experienced learner.
We missed R’s last day due to the frailness of the human condition. (Actually I had a podiatrist appointment, but that sounds far too down to earth). Of course, she’s not gone as in vanished. We’ll see her again at a Veterans’ session perhaps, out and about in the community, maybe at the shops. But we will miss her, and notice that what she brought to our sessions is now absent. And as you can never remove the child from their family context, there will be a void where her whole family stood.
Voids like this are never filled, they merely change until the whole system assumes a new shape. And so on we move, until one day when I’m suddenly aware that it is Orla reaching out to stroke the little hand of a new baby friend.