In the middle of the night

‘Bye Mum’, the delicate voice is lost in a flurry of chatter, giggles and luggage being loaded on to the school bus. A haze of pink, a smile in her twinkling eyes, a tiny hand waving to me even as the bus pulls out of school driveway.

She has been on camps and sleepovers before. But. Yet. Even as I wave back and put on my bravest smile and blow her a kiss, a raw and fragile vulnerability overpowers me. She has packed her stuffed toy She has two best friends. And the teacher knows her and loves her and will ensure that she eats enough. There is sunscreen in her bag. Sandwiches. Water. A set of clothes for every day that she is away. Night cream. Lip balm. Spare socks. Extra jackets. We have practiced how to set up the sleeping bag and how to unpack her bag. But like everything else in life, you only get to share the dress rehearsal with your children – the final performance is theirs alone.

I hang around desolately with the other parents even though the happy campers have left a while ago.

“The girls will be fine” we tell one other. An unwritten promise of faith.

“The teachers are fantastic”. And they are. Truly.

The days pass by in a blur. I wonder what she is upto. I wonder if she remembers to wear her bed socks. And hang up her towel to dry everyday. Who will help her brush her hair? Does she eat enough?

She gets back two days later. Happy, excited, chirpy. Full of tales. The hair, one presumes, wasn’t brushed much. The clothes are messy but she smells of the open skies and blue water and warm sunshine.

She eats her dinner even as I ask a million questions. Some things she does not remember, others are too exciting.

“Did you miss me?” I ask

“Uh huh”

“Like heaps?”

“Uh huh. But I thought of you and I didn’t cry”

“Oh sweetie, did you feel homesick?”

“No.  Not really. It was just two days, and I thought of you at times and felt happy. Not homesick.”

A longer pause. I think of her asleep in a strange dorm at night with Scruffy the stuffed dog for company. I think of her sharing the breakfast table with her friends, with sleep in her eyes and a giggle in her voice.

Then out of nowhere comes the next link in the chain.

“Charlie cried one night”

“Aww, was she homesick?”

“Yeah, she missed her Mum. One night as I was about to fall asleep, I heard a sound. Someone was sobbing. ”

“What did you do?”

“The other girls were asleep. But I could see Charlie’s bed empty. So I sat up and forced myself to stay awake”

“And?”

“And I said, ‘Charlie are you ok? Are you crying?’. But she didn’t say anything. Because she was sitting next to the fireplace crying”

“What did you do then, A?”

“I got down from the bunk bed. And made my way to her in the dark.”

In the dark. That is where the monsters hide. In the dark. In a new room in a new place. 

“Then I held her hand and said everything would be ok. And asked her if she was missing her Mum”

“And she cried some more and I held her hand. And we sat there by the fireplace. But there was no real fire there. So it was a bit cold”

You can find your way in the dark. If you know where you are going. Your feet never needed a light. But it is easy to forget.

“I sat there chatting to her. And then the teacher heard us from the next room. She came over to look after Charlie.”

“And the teacher thanked me and said ‘Go to bed now, A. You need your sleep'”.

You have to wait till you can pass the baton on to someone else.  Till someone comes along with a light. In the dark. You have to wait, no matter what.

“So I picked Scruffy up and went back to bed. Charlie was okay the next day, I think”

There are so many things I try to teach her. Mostly I second guess myself because it is fragile – this power of shaping someone’s life. Somedays when she refuses to learn her tables or eat her dinner, I feel a sense of failure, a sense of wondering what else needs to be taught and learnt and shared and exchanged.

Somedays though, I see the light clearly. I see it in the eyes of a little person who waits in the dark holding a friend’s hand, stumbling along a new landscape even though she hasn’t been here before, with much faith in the journey. And then for a few glorious moments, I do not doubt myself or her. Or the light even.

The biggest storms come softly in the night when we are tucked up in bed. We never know this at the time and there is usually no one around to watch us – but we grow up in the dark, every single one of us. 

For it is in the chambers of darkness that our eyes learn to read the light.

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