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A Weekend Break in London with the Elephants

There is something so special about summers in London. In actual fact, when the sun is shining, I find everything special. Happiness just seems to come so much more easily! Taking advantage of this feeling, my husband and I decided to steal a little time away from our daily, planned to the brim, lives. Maybe other people and couples do this more than my husband and I do. This meant not using our free time to go through my self-imposed to-do list and avoiding common topics such as schools, work, new house building, etc.

We walked and drifted through London, admiring the elephants from the special Elephant Parade and periodically entering cafes and restaurants without any bookings. As we explored streets I had never noticed before, a two-day mosaic of laughter, fun and meaningful conversation emerged with the elephants at the centre of it all.

Our weekend of relaxation and self-reflection started by exploring the Elephant Parade; a social enterprise that runs the world’s largest art exhibition of decorated elephant statues. Painted by two famous Indian artists, ‘Baby Doll’ was literally the first elephant I ‘bumped’ into – by chance. Following Baby Doll, we met Hridesh and then Shish Mahal by Rohit Bal. The vibrant colours and art took my breath away. Not only did these life-size baby elephant statues brighten the London landscape, they simultaneously raised awareness for the need of elephant conservation.

These gentle giants were not only a joy and delight to look at, but their presence also reminded me of how little time I take to think of nature and animals, as well as the dangers they face. These stunning elephants helped bring my attention to the plight of these animals in the wild, and with that, my forgotten duties. I have always loved elephants and yet, I have never done anything to support their conservation.

“These gentle giants were not only a joy and delight to look at, but their presence also reminded me of how little time I take to think of nature and animals, as well as the dangers they face.”

As a parent, with strong ties to my local community, I have always actively encouraged my children to give back and support others less privileged than them. But, I wonder now, is that really enough? How can I guarantee that they will develop into responsible citizens of the world? Schools are largely responsible for the formal education and sporting journeys of children. However, who holds the responsibility over their characters in a world filled with ever changing challenges, developments and innovations?

There is no school or activity that can do the job for us, nor a process or programme that we can buy. It’s a path that we as parents need to negotiate and navigate ourselves. It isn’t enough to keep telling our kids to not waste food or to switch off the lights. In my experience, this just turns into background noise and resentment. Clearly our actions can hold them to account and, by example, we can lead the way. But this is also a gamble when children have so many other powerful, competing influences around them.

“This weekend did not give us all the answers, but we definitely felt we were asking ourselves the right questions.”

In reality, I often wonder what I can do to ensure my children stay grounded and do not grow up feeling entitled. To ensure that they build empathy, compassion and respect for others. Is it as simple as embedding spirituality and service into their lives? Or would disciplining them, and taking things away, teach them better? Why is the line between love and discipline so blurry?

This weekend highlighted that whilst our parents worked so hard to make sure that we were educated and had a future that sometimes they couldn’t even dream of, we have a different battle to fight. And if we fail to address it, we could end up leaving our children vulnerable to a myriad of problems that didn’t even exist when we were young.

Our weekend did not give us all the answers, but we definitely felt we were asking ourselves the right questions. I thank these elephants who got me to think more about the important things that can easily get lost in my overloaded life. And so, my promise to myself going forward is to keep making active and meaningful efforts to build empathy and compassion in my children. To be continued.