In a little country, near a little village, by a little brook, in a little meadow, there lived a family of squirrels. It was rather a large family, and not all of them were closely related. Most were distant relatives, but there were a few squirrels that had joined the colony from other little places, and chosen to stay,
Every Monday evening (for Monday evening is sacred to squirrels), the mummy squirrels all gathered on the highest branch of the tallest tree, sipping nut-tea out of hollowed out acorns, and chatting about the world at large, and the world in small.
On this one particular evening, one squirrel, had quite a lot to say.
“I do not know what to do with my little squirrel!’ she declared to the gathering of nut-tea sipping mother squirrels.
The other squirrels all nodded and ‘hmmed in agreement; little squirrels being contrary was a regular topic of discussion amongst these mother squirrels.
‘She has been hanging around with a bandicoot!’
A wave of shocked silence rolled over the squirrels, and one mother squirrel nearly fell off her branch.
‘A bandicoot!’ they cried. ‘No! This cannot be!’
‘It is,’ the mother said sadly. ‘For all I know, soon she will want to be a bandicoot!’
All the mothers nodded sadly. They knew what these bandicoots were like, always trying to convert the squirrel race to bandicootism. (Which, as you may not know, is where the phrase ‘cooties’ came from.) Bandicoots were an epidemic to the animal kingdom that drove mothers to the brink of despair; a phase that all the adolescent squirrels went through, and no one one seemed able to avoid. And so the mother squirrels sat on their Monday night meeting branch, drinking their acorn-nut tea, lamenting the horror of bandicoots, whilst down below, there was another meeting of a different kind.
For whilst the mothers had their Monday evening catch ups, they thought that the fathers watched the little squirrels, but it was, in fact, a farce. The fathers had paid the wise old badger to keep the children occupied, while they galavanted all over the country side, checking to see where the grass was greener. This particular night was quiet, with the fathers far afield, and the mothers extra loud; their squirrel voices carrying across the brook and the meadow and the village beyond. The small squirrels could hear their mothers talking from the tree top, and the bandicoot-enthralled young squirrel was quite upset.
‘I can’t believe she talks about me!’ she said indignantly to the wise old badger.
‘Well if mothers didn’t talk about their kids, they’d have precious little to say,’ said badger wisely. ‘It would be all talks of tea, and how to keep your hollow clean.’
The young squirrel scowled. ‘Well a clean hollow would be better than this,’ she grumbled. ‘Tainting my good squirrel name to all the other mums; no one will let their kids play with me now!”
The wise old badger smiled. ‘Don’t be silly girl. She doesn’t complain, and mothers aren’t that shallow. She talks because she loves you, and you are on her mind.’
‘Bandicoots are on her mind!’ the girl declared hotly. ‘She is scared I’m going to become a bandicoot! And what is wrong with that? Are bandicoots so bad?’
The wise old badger smiled sagely at the young squirrel. ‘Ain’t nothing too bad about them bandicoots child, and mother squirrels know that better than most.’ She leaned in close to the young squirrel and smiled again. ‘She’s not scared you’ll become a bandicoot; she just wants you to stay a squirrel.’
‘And the difference is?’
‘Mother squirrels never fear that their little squirrels all grow up to be different than they thought. But they do worry that they will lose themselves in trying to be something that they are not. Mother squirrels know just how wonderful their little squirrels are, and can be, and hate the thought that they might lose that in trying to be what they are not.’ The wise old badger, tilted her head thoughtfully as she looked at the little squirrel. ‘Sometimes mother squirrels don’t know how to say that properly to their little squirrels, so they talk to their friends, or they shout at their children, or they say the wrong thing. Sometimes they make up imaginary stories about woodland creatures to put into words, the thoughts in their head, but really, all any mother squirrel wants is the same thing.’
‘And what is that?’ asked the young squirrel, ignoring the chatter of the nut-tea drinking mothers laughing on their high branch.
‘That the world is better because of their squirrel. And that it waits for them to be all that they can be.’
In a little country, near a little village, by a little brook, in a little meadow, there lived a little squirrel who only saw a little world. But her mother saw a big one; a great one; a hopeful one – and she prayed everyday that her little squirrel would see the world the same way, and that she had something to give it. Not by being anyone else, but by just being her.
That perfect, beautiful, wonderful little squirrel.