Christmas is the time when we reflect on the kingship of a newborn, and over the last couple of weeks I have been reflecting a lot on the connections between infancy and monarchy, but for not particularly Christmassy reasons.
I’ve been reading ‘Wolf Hall’, a novel about Thomas Cromwell, a commoner who rises to become one of Henry VIII’s chief advisers. Henry himself is, of course, one of the main characters, and what really struck me, as I read the book, was how much he reminded me of Tilly as she is now.
They are both so fickle in their affections. Tilly shifts her allegiance from Susie to me and back again several times a day, while Henry went through as many chief advisers as he did wives. The difference between Tilly and Henry though is that when you fall out of favour with Tilly she will just refuse to give you a cuddle, whereas with Henry you tended to lose your titles, your property, and your head.
For both Tilly and Henry, their changeability also extends to the emotional realm. One moment they will be charming, the next enraged, the next in floods of tears; and it is impossible to anticipate how they will react from moment to moment to identical circumstances. For Tilly, the brushing of teeth can either be a delightful game or a brutal act of torture depending on her mood. Unfortunately, as Henry’s reign predates the invention of the toothbrush, we can only imagine how he would have reacted when Nursey whipped out the Oral B. As an adult though, he was notorious for his bouts of anger and fits of tears.
I wonder if the similarities all boil down to the same thing – lack of impulse control. Toddlers are developmentally incapable of controlling many of their impulses and emotional states, and despots just simply don’t have to. I guess that’s what makes them both compelling and terrifying, so large in their affections and so ruthless in their cruelty. Henry was often tearfully regretful of the loss of wives and advisers only days after ordering their execution. Likewise, Tilly will toss her doll down the stairs, and then wail ‘Poor Pathy! Poor Pathy!’ (see my previous past to make sense of the name) as she cuddles her broken body.
The obvious challenge for Susie and I is how to raise Tilly to be adult that keeps her sensitivity, spontaneity and charm but doesn’t fall into the trap of impulsively hanging, beheading or ritually disemboweling her nearest and dearest. I’m not sure how we’ll do it, but my suspicion is that step one will be promoting the benefits of carefully reflecting on the decisions she makes.
ps Read ‘Wolf Hall’.