Tomorrow, my Joel will turn three. Admittedly, he’ll have no idea until Saturday – the usual daddy’s-working-all-day-so-we’ll-delay-it-while-we-can-still-get-away-with-it tactics that we’ve employed successfully so many times before. But the fact remains. Tomorrow he’ll be three. My baby.
My littlest. My sweet, sweet boy. Who *may* also be a little bit snotty right now.
Tonight I’ll be wrapping presents. Octonaut toys and a Disney Planes umbrella. Pirate storybooks and a train whistle that I’m already regretting.
Today he’s watched Paddington, bounced on the trampoline and bombed around the children’s centre like a madman. As a two year old. But tomorrow he’ll be three. Three years old.
Just like that boy.
The one on the beach. Face down in the waves.
He could have been my boy. Every time I see that picture, my stomach turns. I stop breathing. Just for a minute. Because that boy – that sweet sweet boy – he could so easily be mine. The size of him. His clothes. His little arms. He could be Joel.
Except that he’s not. That boy is dead. Drowned. Washed up on the beach like driftwood. And my heart is broken.
We can debate the morals and the ethics of putting dead children on the front page of a broadsheet until the cows come home. I’ll admit that we live in strange times when your facebook feed shows drowned bodies in between your best friend’s holiday snaps and Johnny-down-the-road’s latest coffee shop outing. But the fact is, all the words in the world would never have stopped me in my tracks the same way that picture did.
Words are easy to say. They’re overused – and often misused – by the powers that be. But that picture hit me square in the guts.
He’s dead. The first time I saw it, I prayed that I was just being fatalistic. That he was just injured. That someone would pick him up. Just in time. That all he needed was a quick stay in hospital, and he’d be fine. Back to playing football, or terrorising his brother, or winding up his mum.
But it was too late. For him, and so many others. His brother was five years old. The same age as Elvie. He drowned too. An entire family ripped apart and destroyed. I can’t even comprehend it. Goodness only knows what happened to his parents. Either way, they’re finished.
Next weekend Joel will have a birthday party. Gruffalo cake, and pass-the-parcel with ten of his little friends. Next year he’ll have another one. And the year after that.
That boy will never have another birthday party. Never open another present. Never chase another pigeon, or refuse to eat another vegetable. Because he was born in Syria. Because his family was desperate. Because he had nowhere else to go.
I don’t know a lot about politics, or migration, or refugee movement. But I am a mother. And I know that no parent on earth would take their children on an overcrowded, unsafe, potentially deadly boat trip to another continent unless they had absolutely no other option. I certainly don’t think they’re in it for the dole money.
I don’t know the answers. I don’t know if there are any. But I desperately want to help. There’s a petition on The Independent website, asking the government to take in our fair share of refugees. I’ve signed that. I’m on the lookout for anything practical that I can do. If there’s an organisation or a charity that’s helping out, please let me know.
This morning Joel watched Paddington. As the little bear prepares to leave for England, Aunt Lucy tells him this:
“Long ago, people in England sent their children by train with labels around their necks, so they could be taken care of by complete strangers in the countryside where it was safe. They will not have forgotten how to treat strangers.”
That boy’s name was Aylan.
Please. Let’s do something.