One day you wake, and you know the greatest show on earth has started.
September 21 is the spring solstice – a global sign of optimism, almost everywhere.
Here, it’s heralded by our lucadendrons and watsonias in the veld, and jasmine and wisteria scents in our gardens.
Most famously of all, spring is heralded in Japan by the cherry blossom.
Truly a sight to behold, especially when it is in full riotous bloom.
“In Japan, the cherry blossom is more than just a beautiful flowering tree,” the Huffington Post wrote some years ago.
“There are thousands upon thousands of cherry blossom trees in Japan, and each year the Japanese people closely anticipate and follow the blossoming of the trees.
“When the trees are in bloom, people come in large groups with their families and friends to view the flowers and to enjoy festivals with food, drink, and music.
“The significance of the cherry blossom tree in Japanese culture goes back hundreds of years. In their country, the cherry blossom represents the fragility and the beauty of life.
“It’s a reminder that life is almost overwhelmingly beautiful but that it is also tragically short.
“When the cherry blossom trees bloom for a short time each year in brilliant force, they serve as a visual reminder of how precious and how precarious life is.”
But this spring, as every year, a sense of renewal requires honest reflection, too.
Especially about our most vulnerable, in our care. And the damage the past winter can bring.
Be warned, what follows is a long, painful list.
Cognition: Impaired readiness to learn, difficulty in problem-solving, language delays, problems with concentration, poor academic achievement.
Physical health: Sleep disorders, eating disorders, poor immune system functioning, cardiovascular disease, shorter life-span.
Emotions: Difficulty controlling emotions, trouble recognising emotions, limited coping skills, increased sensitivity to stress, shame and guilt, excessive worry, hopelessness, feelings of helplessness/lack of self-efficacy.
Relationships: Attachment problems/disorders, poor understanding of social interactions, difficulty forming relationships with peers, problems in romantic relationships, inter-generational cycles of abuse and neglect.
Mental health: Depression, anxiety, negative self-image/low self-esteem, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PSD), suicidality.
Behaviour: Poor self-regulation, social withdrawal, aggression, poor impulse control, risk-taking/illegal activity, sexual acting out, adolescent pregnancy, drug and alcohol misuse.
And, and, and These are the impacts of a brutal, terrifying force:
Trauma. The worst of our winter. And its devastating impact on our children. The list above is by Cathy Malchiodi, a psychologist and art therapy specialist from Kentucky, USA, who runs “Trauma-Informed Practice”.
Just as frightening is a map titled the “Ecological View of Trauma”, by Mary Harvey. Illustrating how trauma impacts practically every relationship in their universe, from financial health to their trust in law enforcement.
In this column, two years ago, we told of a doctor, who faced the daily impact of our violence-ravaged society.
He said quietly, powerfully: “If we want to change what our casualty unit looks like 20 years from now, the single most important action we must take is:
“If we can improve children’s ‘First 1 000 Days’ and then run further ‘Early Childhood Development’ properly, that’ll have more impact than anything else we could ever do.”
Essentially: the challenges in our society are too intractable to “fix”. We need to start at the beginning.
Nobel Laureate Professor James Heckman is one of many influential thinkers who’ve demonstrated every dollar invested in early childhood development “may garner up to seven times that amount in social returns”.
“All families are under increasing strain; disadvantaged families are strained to the limit,” he argues.
We need to do three things, he advises:
One: Invest in educational and developmental resources for disadvantaged families to provide equal access to successful early human development.
Two: Nurture early development of cognitive and social skills in children from birth to age five.
And three: Sustain early development with effective education through to adulthood.
Consider, too, these wise words from Philip Pullman – who received the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, in 2005. Savour these words:
“If you don’t give a child food, the damage quickly becomes visible. If you don’t let a child have fresh air and play, the damage is also visible, but not so quickly.
“If you don’t give a child love, the damage might not be seen for some years, but it’s permanent.
“But if you don’t give a child art and stories and poems and music, the damage is not so easy to see. It’s there, though.
“Their bodies are healthy enough; they can run and jump and swim and eat hungrily and make lots of noise, as children have always done, but something is missing
“But one day they hear a voice on the radio reading a poem, or they pass by a house with an open window where someone is playing the piano, or they see a poster of a particular painting on someone’s wall, and it strikes them a blow so hard and yet so gentle that they feel dizzy.
“Nothing prepared them for this It is as alien to them as the dark side of the moon.
“They suddenly realise that they’re filled with a hunger for something so sweet and so delicious that it almost breaks their heart.
“They almost cry, they feel sad and happy and alone and welcomed by this utterly new and strange experience… They wanted this, they needed this as a starving person needs food, and they never knew. They had no idea.
“The effects of cultural starvation are not dramatic and swift. They’re not so easily visible
“Many children in every part of the world are starved for something that feeds and nourishes their soul in a way that nothing else ever could or ever would,” Pullman wrote.
And where does that all start? With practical wisdom like this, by Nicolette Gowder: “Don’t rush the little wild ramblers, wanderers, dawdlers and dreamers.
“Don’t push or compare the child who tarries and turns over every pebble – who stops to fill overflowing pockets, talk to trees who listens to the wind, current and message of each spiraled shell.
“They will grow up to be the noticers, the connectors and the guardians. Their pace will carry a certain peace back to the rest of the word,” she wrote.
What joy, this time of new life brings.
By carefully nurturing our most precious buds, our children, hopefully we can all blossom. This delightful, precious, exhilarating spring.