Tag Archives: childhood

Word for Wednesday: L is for liminality!

We have books everywhere in this house!  We have shelves and bookcases with books especially for our little girl.  But which books are the ones she most wants to look at?  Ours of course!  And yesterday she toddled straight in to the office and pulled my copy of Theorising Childhood off the shelf.  It is a book by Allison James, Chris Jenks and Alan Prout covering the fundamentals of childhood social theory.

I studied the sociology and anthropology of childhood years before having my own child, so that book was looking decidedly dusty! But as I am currently reading Raising Girls: how to help your daughter grow up happy, healthy and strong, by Steve Biddulph, my curiosity was piqued. There was a bit in the chapter on the broad social theory of childhood that really stood out.

The authors observe that children ‘represent a potential challenge to social order by virtue of their constant promise of liminality, which […] maps out the space of the ordered and the normal.  In this case, this is the taken-for-granted, adult world.’

Liminality (noun).

  • the transitional period or phase of a rite of passage, during which the  participant lacks social status or rank, remains anonymous, shows obedience and humility, and follows prescribed forms of conduct or dress (anthropological definition)
  • the condition of being on a threshold or at the beginning of a process
  • of or relating to a sensory threshold
  • barely perceptible
  • of, relating to, or being an intermediate state, phase, or condition

Derivation: Latin limen meaning threshold.  First known use: 1884.

The term liminality was in use amongst psychology professionals in the late 19th Century, but it wasn’t until a social anthropologist called Arnold van Gennep published ‘Rites de Passage’ in 1909 that the term gained a stable definition.  Van Gennep wrote of the different ritualised phases of transition for individuals and society.  He theorised that there were three components: preliminal, liminal, and postliminal.  Also alternatively referred to as separation, the liminal period, and reassimilation.

I’ve listed a number of contemporary definitions which show that over time the meaning of the word liminality has shifted from its purely anthropological sense to a much broader application.  If you’ve read my Word for Wednesday posts before you will know I have a bit of a word-crush for words with shifting meanings!

The authors of Theorising Childhood say that ‘although adults themselves have to be constrained into social order, in true Durkheimian fashion children offer living exemplars of the very margins of that order, of its volatility and, in fact, its fragility. On a momentary basis, children exercise anarchistic tendencies and asociality up to the limits of adult tolerance and often beyond’. I can second that!

Certainly, when I look at my little girl and her kittens rapidly growing up together, each testing the boundaries of what we adults will accept, each growing familiar with the other, I think of liminality in its original form.  A rite of passage for each of them, as she learns how far is too far when manhandling them and pushing them about in her doll’s pram, and they learn a degree of tolerance and patience I never could have dreamed of!  It’s not a word you hear widely used these days (I suspect it never was), but in the context of children and kittens liminality is the perfect fit.

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In the circus tent…a playroom favourite! She loves the kittens but isn’t really sure how happy she is that they are in her tent; they aren’t really sure it’s worth the risk! But both parties really want to be there! They are figuring it out together – liminality in action.

Island life – humanity and the tourism conundrum.

When I think ‘humanity’ I almost automatically think ‘children’.  This week’s humanity theme for the WordPress weekly photo challenge comes from ThirdEyeMom.  She writes about her own interpretation and understanding of humanity, by way of introduction:

The more I see the world, the more I realize that although people are different, we’re very much the same.  We speak different languages, have different cultures, religions, values, and physical traits, yet we all share common hopes and dreams of love, family, and survival.

I think that sense of sameness, that ability to overcome barriers of language, religion and so on is never more obvious than when you meet a child for the first time.  Children find a way to engage you and interact with you, no matter what.


Kids being kids. Fun in the water!

These children from a local village in the Philippines were completely fascinated by my underwater camera.  They swam out to me, full of curiosity and desperate to have a look at me using it in the sea.  They were thrilled to get their photo taken and then see themselves on screen.


Taking a break from the day job, selling fried bananas to the tourists relaxing on their sun-loungers by the beach.

I love meeting children, reciprocating their warmth, playing with them and getting to know a little bit about them.  But I’m also aware of the potential pitfalls.  These children were incredibly friendly, but also really tenacious street sellers, peddling holiday trinkets to the tourist market that floods this island year-round for the diving opportunities on offer there. Although their smiles were endearing, the young sales teams could become a bit of a nuisance, badgering the same people day in day out to buy something from them.  But more importantly, in order to be on the tourist beaches desperately trying to sell their wares, they were missing out on school.


Smile for the camera!

Unfortunately it was a common problem on the island. For many poor families struggling to make ends meet, the immediate and urgent need for income took priority over securing future earning potential through a solid educational foundation.  It is easy to make judgements about ill-advised parenting choices, but when people are living genuinely hand to mouth, sometimes the choices just aren’t there.

While I was on the island I spent some of my time teaching school children about basic marine science and conservation principles.  Part of the role was also trying to inspire the children, extolling the benefits of staying in school and getting a good education.  Classrooms were crowded, often with forty or more children crammed in a tiny space.  With children spilling out of the room, teaching from the front using the chalkboard – the only teaching tool available – was the only way.  Despite the rudimentary conditions, the children were always engaged, enthusiastic and eager to learn.  A scatter-gun approach to attendance, based on family earning needs, must make educational progress far harder for the children.  But at least those that go learn some of the basics while they are there.  Hopefully that counts for something.

Over the weeks I saw this little girl hanging around a lot outside one of the dive shops on the island.  I think her mum worked inside, and so the little girl took care of her own day care needs on the beach outside.  I often wondered what future she had ahead of her.  Such a bright, happy-go-lucky, bubbly little girl, but in all probability, lacking sufficient financial security and family support to seize the educational opportunities available to her.


Finding her own amusement. Shy, but always ready with a smile.

As a tourist, it is such a dilemma.  Education is so important.  A genuine lifeline.  But money made on the back of the tourism industry by these children and their parents can actually keep the poorest families afloat.  If you make a stand and don’t buy their wares on principle – a statement that children should be at school not selling on the beach – those families suffer.

Short term pain for long-term gain is a laudable principle, but the reality for some families is that it can mean doing without food, medication, clean drinking water.  It is that stark.  I found it very hard, watching the very real struggle between economics and education, played out on such a human level every day.  I haven’t got the answer, but when I look back at these cheeky, smiling faces it leaves me with a real bitter-sweet feeling about humanity and the global inequalities in education and opportunity.

When is a laundry basket not a laundry basket?

When is a laundry basket not a laundry basket?  When it’s a ball-pit of course!

With babies and children, one picture seldom tells the whole story.  Some of my favourite photos are part of a split-second sequence. Or they show a developing story over months and years.  So I love this week’s ‘dialogue‘ WordPress weekly photo challenge for the opportunity to convey the dialogue between two pictures.

Recently our little girl has had a real interest in everyday household objects.  Car keys, saucepans, mummy’s ‘big girl’ hair brushes. But the clear favourite is the laundry basket. Turn it upside down and climb over it, put your dolly on top and push it, Sit in it and get daddy to pull you along in your own personal ‘sleigh’.  The possibilities are endless.

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These are two of my favourites – there were many other laundry basket possibilities!  With a child in the house there is always a pile of laundry, so the basket is always about somewhere!

Maya Angelou once said ‘you can’t use up creativity.  The more you use, the more you have‘. I am learning that the enormity of childhood creativity is a wonderful, beautiful thing.  I wish us adults could hold on to it a little better.  At the very least, I hope our daughter holds on to hers for a long, long time to come.

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Hands up – I confess I am a bit of a Pinterest procrastinator! So when there’s something important to be done you can usually find me looking at pinned quotes or considering the feasibility of some overly ambitious Pinterest inspired home projects.  Here’s a sentimental little quote I came across earlier in the week.  I thought it seemed particularly apt:

‘Today I will be thankful for all the little socks and the grass stained jeans and the endless piles of laundry.  For there will come a day when the laundry basket is empty and these days will be profoundly missed’.

That day will come, of course.  But even when the laundry basket is just a (rather empty) laundry basket once more, the memory of ball-pits, sleighs, and baby obstacle courses will remain.