In Craigmillar (a residential area of Edinburgh where I used to live) there is a unique organisation called Craigmillar Books for Babies. They have, for over 20 years now, been active in the Craigmillar community by hosting a variety of different activities and programs. One of these is a weekly rhyme and song session for babies and toddlers at the local library. They call this ‘Rhymetime’. Apart from being a fantastic opportunity to develop early brain and language skills for the babies and young children, it is also a superb opportunity for parents to meet each other, socialise and build a community support system. I generally love words and I love singing, so I loved attending Rhymetime. I discovered it when my daughter was born. Her and I went together most weeks till she was 3 years old. Several years later I went back with my son. With both kids it was a treasured part of my weekly routine. Even when my kids outgrew the Rhymetime, I kept in touch with Books for Babies over the years and even ended up doing some work for them. I absolutely love what they do, as I feel they add immense value to people who engage with them.
The Books for Babies Rhymetime was where I met Gareth. I would describe him as a very real person: able and willing to talk about both trivial and deep & difficult subjects with an open mind and a genuine heart. His son is a similar age to my daughter so he used to take him to the Rhymetime at the same time as I took Aliyah. I was surprised, though, to see Gareth there several years later. I had gone back to bring my baby boy Reuben to the Rhymetime, but Gareth was there without a child in tow. Naturally, I enquired. He proudly told me that he (like myself) loved Books for Babies so much that he didn’t want to stay away. He had decided to volunteer his services supporting the staff by doing the various practical tasks involved in the event, for example greeting parents on arrival and helping them to seats, keeping a record of how many attended, moving furniture, helping to prepare snack.
There was one task he took on, which stood out among the rest, as he excelled in it, and did it with remarkable ease, and most apparent enjoyment. This task was stopping runaway toddlers. Let me explain: Toddlers who have recently learned how to use their little legs to run were particularly prone to running away from the song and story circle, to explore the great big space that is Craigmillar library. They often ran quite far before anyone caught up to stop them. Anyone but Gareth that is. He would make a habit of standing a few metres away from the circle. He would put on a big smile, open his long arms and catch the running toddlers. The kids would giggle, there would be tickles, or playing or reading of a story. This stopped the kids from running too far away, and it gave the parents a chance to come and retrieve them. We nick named it ‘The Gareth Gate.’
It impressed me that Gareth decided to take it upon himself to make sure that the toddlers didn’t escape. There was a real expression of consideration, and insight in that act. You see even if the kids were with Gareth for only a few minutes, the fact that he was there with them provided (for us parents) a sense sharing the all-encompassing experience of caring for a small child. It provided a sense of knowing that someone else was watching out for your kid, as well as you. There is an old saying: “It takes a village to raise a child.” I think that in today’s Western society, the feeling of having that village is often lost. Consequently as parents we can often feel that we are alone, by ourselves, and without a village, when it comes to raising our kids, especially when they are young. The ‘Gareth Gate’, for me at least, provided the sense of having that village. I was always most grateful for it, and I suspect all the other parents were too.
It was clear that Gareth loved spending time with the kids. Not only did he know what to do and what to say, how to be with them, but he also got immense joy out of it. He had so much fun. Kids are very good at recognising a person’s genuine state of being. They knew Gareth loved spending time with them and they loved it too. My boy, unable to always remember Gareth’s name, started to refer to him as ‘my friend.’ It was wonderful to watch Gareth as he did his thing, connecting with those children. I always felt like he was truly in his element.
So you can only imagine that I was absolutely delighted when Gareth told me he had secured a job in one of the local nurseries, working with young kids. He was delighted himself. I am positive that he would have been an asset to his team of colleagues, and to every family whose child was being taken care of by him.
These days neither Gareth or myself are regular attendees of the Rhymetime. But I bumped into him while walking recently. He stopped to give me a hug and to chat. He told me that he is now a fully qualified Early Years Practitioner and still very much enjoying working with children. I just love that. I am inspired by the fact that he took time to volunteer doing what he most enjoyed, found that he had a rare and beautiful talent for it, and went on to make it his career. Through the Gareth Gate he discovered his vocation.