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I Let My 9-Year-Old Read The Ocean at the End of the Lane and Other Parenting Confessions

by Sophie McNeill

I Let My 9 Year Old Read The Ocean at the End of the Lane and Other Parenting Confessions

I would like to convince you that this was a one-off parenting lapse. But truth be told, my husband and I have a bit of rap sheet when it comes to letting our oldest do things that she, by any objective measure, isn’t quite ready for. Broadway shows at age two? La Traviata at age six? Neither of these was a disaster, but neither was it the brilliant idea it seemed at the time.

In justifying our ill-conceived parenting decisions, I would point out that there is little more blissful in life than sharing something that you love, with someone that you love. Or, perhaps more realistically, we just got a little ahead of our skis.

Anyway, when my husband announced that he’d given our eldest daughter The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I thought okay. He knows what he’s doing. Neil Gaiman, didn’t he write Fortunately, the Milk and Stardust? I’m sure it’s fine.

Then I read the book. And I felt rather guilty indeed. Because it’s a beautiful, gorgeous, hauntingly nostalgic read, but it’s dark, oh-so-dark. With terrible scenes between a father and son that could put a kid off baths for life. And a scary, beautiful lady-monster that’s really an old flapping grey sheet. And vulture-like birds that want to devour your soul. In essence, a long list of things that could haunt the dreams of a sensitive 9-year-old for weeks.

So it was with trepidation that I asked my daughter what she thought of the book. “I LOVED it!” she said, eyes shining. “Really?” I said. “But wasn’t the flapping-sheet-lady just so scary? And the poor father… And the sad bit at the end?” “Yes,” she pondered slowly, “yes it was a little sad, and a little scary. But what about the part where they pass through the field of waving tails, and they pull on a tail, and it turns out to be the kitten with the blue-green eyes that they call Ocean? And Ocean cuddles the boy and soothes him to sleep with his purring.”

“Really?” I said. “I don’t remember that part.” So we went back and re-read the scene together, and it reminded me once more that there is nothing as blissful in life as sharing something that you love, with someone that you love.

Kids never fail to surprise me. And it seems that at least some kids have ways of processing books that enable them to focus on the parts that are beautiful and meaningful to them. Or maybe I just got really, really lucky this time. Again.