July 15, 2009

In The Footsteps Of Our Children

I was excited when I saw the book at the airport and eager that one of the children choose it as part of their holiday reading. They were unconvinced at first; it didn’t look like one of the more fashionable books that they’re into right now, almost inevitably one with a film tie-in, Twilight or the like. There was no breathless prose to suggest that this book just might change your life or flashy sticker boasting of the author’s string of best-sellers. This one sat there unobtrusively with its simple cover and even simpler title: I Am David by Anne Holm.

It’s probably my favourite book of them all, this story of a young boy’s escape from a concentration camp and his flight across Europe in search of home. The blurb on the jacket gives little indication of what a great story it is, but I must have read and re-read it a dozen times during my teens. Based on its appearance alone (‘A most compassionate, powerful, moving book, full of hope and tenderness’), I could understand my children’s reluctance but, in the end, persuaded my daughter Lara to include it in her choices.

On the plane journey, I found myself wondering why I felt so strongly that the kids should read my favourite book. Of course, as a parent, I’m keen to see them choosing good reading material but there was more to it than that. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve watched delightedly as first Louis, and then Lara, picked up the book and started to read. I tried to remember what it felt like when I first picked it up aged around eleven or twelve, envied them their first reading of it and wished I could have it over again.

Naturally, the kids picked up on my excitement. Privately, I’m sure they probably found me a little intense, and my interest a little over the top if not downright weird. But they’ve humoured me in that odd way that kids can mother their parents and have shared their own impressions of the book as they’ve made their way through it. And I’ve been thrilled to see them getting caught up in the flow of the book, just as I was some thirty years ago.

Of course, I’m not alone in wanting the children to taste something of my own childhood. My wife Christine is French, from Angers in the Loire valley, and although we typically holiday in France each year, we rarely stay in her native northwest. Instead, we travel to the same places in the south and southwest where she holidayed with her parents as a child and I see in her the same urgent excitement that our children share something of her experiences as a girl thirty years later.

We even stay in the same holiday camps, some of the scores of VVF (now Belhambra) resorts built by the French socialist governments of the ‘60’s in the conviction that every family deserved its annual holiday. Although the brand livery has changed, these camps offer the same mix of activities through their kids’ clubs as their predecessors did in the ‘70’s and early ‘80’s when Christine was a girl.

Like me, she watches with delight as the kids make new friends and head off for a water-polo tournament, or rehearse as she once did for the weekly ‘spectacle’ that’s a staple feature of French holiday life. In the evenings, she likes to take her book, sit with a coffee on the terrace that fringes the various events, and catch glimpses of the children as they get caught up in their own adventures.

These are heady times for us both, as we get to relive some of our own happiness as children. This urge to share with our kids the experiences of our own childhood is a powerful driver and has prompted us to make some significant choices in how we spend our time thirty years later, whether it comes down to the simple choosing of a book or the more weighty question of holiday destination.

I’ve seen something of this at work some years ago when I helped to design and build the go!kids! holiday brand with Michael Lennon at the Westport Woods Hotel, but I’m reminded now even more forcibly of the power of this nostalgia across the generations as I live again the story of a young boy making his way across post-war Europe to find his home and watch my children happily retrace the footsteps of their mother.

Over to you: What holiday nostalgia have you seen at work for you or others around you?

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