piglet ruadhriPoor Rors seems to be suffering at the moment. He often has a stiff this or a sore that. He puts on a sad face and comes up for sympathy. You think he’d know us well enough by now to realise we aren’t going to rush him off to hospital or insist he lies down while we massage the affected area for a couple of hours. It’s not that we aren’t sympathetic – well, OK, it’s partly that – but it’s mainly that we’re in France. And here, any little unexplained niggle or ache experienced by a youngster is put down to douleurs de croissance i.e. growing pains. So that’s what we tell Rors it is.

Now, this is the country where jambes lourdes, heavy legs, which brought misery to millions for years, have recently been dismissed as a real affliction. The sécu will no longer subsidise treatment for this condition, which is now only an ‘alleged’ one. So might the same happen to growing pains? Are they real, or aren’t they? Will Chris and I have to start coming up with other more carefully considered explanations for our son’s suffering?

For the time being, growing pains are definitely real and very popular. Doctors aren’t entirely sure why they happen. There’s no evidence that growing bones are painful so it’s most likely the pain lies in muscles or tendons. There’s no swelling or anything, or any outward tenderness, so kids don’t mind the affected area being rubbed and soothed. Genetics and how sensitive a child is can have an impact on how bad their growing pains are too.

Growing pains are a diagnosis of exclusion, which means that, unlike French parents, you should only resort to them as the obvious explanation of what’s wroing if all else fails. You should really investigate and rule out all other possible conditions first. However, in Ruadhri’s case, since they often occur in the morning before school, and can often be associated with recent physical activity, it’s a fairly safe bet that the worst they can be are growing pains. We wouldn’t be French – or at least expats in France – if we thought otherwise.    

And to explain our apparent indifference to Ruadhri’s ailments before you report us to social services, it’s the price he pays for having rather old, knocked-about and outdoorsy parents. Chris’s knee has been taken apart and put back together several times and is now held together by a walloping great bolt, and since my hay bale wrestling incident, my neck creaks all the time and occasionally threatens to seize up, which is a trifle worrying. We’re invariably covered with stings and bites from unfriendly plants and insects we encounter during our chores, and cuts and bruises from activities around the farm – Chris especially, and he also has a special line in acquiring nasty splinters as well as taking chunks out of his legs with the hedge trimmer. So when the youngest apple of our eye puts on an exaggerated limp as we’re setting out for the school bus at 7.25am, or a mournful expression at bedtime, Chris and I, who often sound like a bowl of Rice Krispies with all the snaps, crackles and pops when we stand up (assuming we can stand up at all!), well, we don’t take it that seriously!