He sat at the dinner table and glared at me defiantly.
“Don’t put it in your mouth little buddy, it’ll really hurt. I’m not kidding. ”
My seven-year-old house-mate slowly moved the desert spoon towards his mouth, still staring at me.
What to do, what to do?
He wasn’t a relation of mine. I was in his mum’s house staying with them for a few nights. Long before I had children of my own.
“Look” I tried to reason. “If you put that in your mouth it’ll be so hot it could choke you. You don’t like choking do you?”
Let’s call him Kevin. It’s not his real name, but today he’s 6 foot four and built like a wardrobe. I don’t want to embarrass the poor lad.
Kevin plunged the spoon into the back of his throat, and for a few moments chewed extravagantly on the glutinous contents.
The thing about hot English mustard is the way it burns. Sure, it strips flesh from the bone and rips taste buds up by the bundle, but its first port of call is the sinuses. Before hot English mustard does any of that, the vapours drift into your sinuses and stops you breathing.
Kevin’s face changed colour.
He enjoyed a brief couple of seconds foundering in the belief that he was going to be all right, before the full impact of what he’d just done hit him.
Everything was not all right.
Kevin couldn’t breathe, and the pain and shock were so bad he was trying to scream.
He’d already gone red and began to turn an interesting purple. He was foaming at the mouth, gurgling and scrabbling about on the table for something to save himself with.
He sprang off his chair clutching his mouth and throat and dashed to the sink, where he turned the cold-water tap on full bore and bent his head backwards underneath it.
This partly cooled his face, but only exacerbated the problem of not being able to breathe.
I needed to step in before he either drowned or his head exploded.
“Kevin, you shouldn’t have done that. ”
He couldn’t talk, but the look said “No sh** Sherlock. ”
I scooped as much mixed up mustard and water out of his mouth with my fingers as I could, poured him a mug of water and got him to sip it.
I performed a bit of backslapping, a sudden Heimlich Manoeuvre he just wasn’t expecting and held his trembling body as the life tried to claw it’s way back into it.
“That’s mustard Kevin. A tiny little bit is good sometimes, to add flavour. But not a lot, and not often. How are you feeling?”
His breathing came out as a forced rasp. It would be a while before he could talk, even longer before what he said made any sense.
He was a nice lad Kevin, very single minded and knew what he wanted. And he liked to do it his way.
And why not?
Kids need to find out for themselves, and unless it’s life threatening for either them or someone else it’s usually best to let them get on with it, rather than order them to stop and which gives them a reason to go back to it later when you’re not looking.
When children write, and draw, or do anything creative, it’s best to let them go and find out for themselves. It’s not a quick way to do it, but you don’t remove the enjoyment by over correcting either.
Some people learn by being told. Many more learn by doing it and finding out for themselves.
Kevin discovered hot English mustard was more than he could handle, all by himself. It was a lesson he was never going to forget, and he didn’t need me or anyone else to tell him what he already knew.
I even used to ask him if he wanted a bit of mustard with his dinner. “No thank-you” was always his polite reply.
The more kids read the more they will notice what works and what doesn’t work in their own writing, but they need to go through the process. Read everything, encourage them with their writing and allow them the same mistakes they’d make in anything else they try.
Sometimes, on extraordinary occasions, they come up with something exquisite they never would have found had they been over-corrected.
Rob Daniel is a children's author, creative writing, memory and self-esteem teacher. He lives in beautiful Albany on the south west corner of Western Australia, has a passion for mangos, the Greek Islands and bringing the best out of young people. He has been booked to go on a creative writing tour of primary schools around the south-west in September, and is very excited about the adventures he's about to have!
'Rob Daniel's Magical Mystery Tour Of The Imagination’ is calling at Esperance, Boulder and Perth, eight one hour sessions in five schools.
Rob creates ‘turn the page’ children's e-books with illustrators from around the world. You can check out and buy these books instantly from http://www.chocmint.com You'll also find an opportunity to join the chocmint adventure yourself, if you have a passion for writing and illustrating for children.
LATEST book published ‘A Tail's Tale', illustrated by UK artist Elizabeth Stringer. Part proceeds from books go towards sponsoring children at the Bear-Care orphanage in Kitgum.