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Columnists

Growing pains

Jude SImpson

SimpsonMy son was sitting in his buggy humming not-a-tune and fiercely hugging two large leeks to his chest. The man behind us in the Co-op queue (whose basket of oven-cook beef bourguignon and three bottles of merlot suggested a lifestyle similar to mine but for entirely different reasons) looked down at him, then smiled at me.  
'They're wonderful, aren't they?' he exclaimed.   
'Oh yes!' I enthused, not sure for a moment whether he meant leeks or children, but quite happy to agree with either.  
'A handful, but a marvellous handful!'  He sighed and then grinned down again at my tuneless, vegetable-hugging offspring .  

Way too emotional for leeks, I decided.  Or indeed, for his own kids still to be at home.  

I was right. There ensued a polite exchange of small details about the ages at which various progeny had first walked, talked and potty trained, and whereabouts they had now gone off to university - leaving their father to remember only the marvellous bits of their growing up.  

The conversation was punctuated by the kind of mutually-admiring noises you learn to make when someone's telling you about their children and you're pretending to listen. In actual fact, I'd just noticed that the extra-strong mints were on offer, and was trying to work out whether I could reach for them and add them to my basket without technically stepping out of the queue. (It's a bit like netball, you can pivot as much as you like, but you have to keep one foot on the ground.)

It was a heart-warming encounter.  The kind that reminds you that when God made people, he (initially at least) sat back and decided he'd done a pretty decent job.  

But what it really made me think was, why doesn't anyone ever say, 'They're wonderful, aren't they, grown-ups?' After all, God made the chicken before the chick, and it was the fully grown version he was looking at when congratulating himself.

It's like when a stranger smiles at a baby on a bus or tube train. Why shouldn't it also be socially acceptable to smile at an adult simply because they look like a nice sort of person, without being stared at suspiciously as though you're a potential kidnapper / flash mobber / evangelist (or, indeed, just someone who smiles at strangers on trains)?  

Grown-ups are wonderful.  Most of us are just as cute, engaging, interesting, infuriating, unfathomable, ridiculous and extraordinary as children  It's just that our heads are in proportion to our bodies,we don't toddle and we have more than a 50 per cent success rate when clapping our hands together.

You're not risking much when you smile at a child, yet it allows you to engage in the kind of emotional self-expression that would otherwise require participation in an episode of Strictly Come Dancing.  It's a little me-treat in a world of being careful and reserved.  And it's perfect if you need to practice your gurning.