The sweetest song

On some days, my evenings are short and a mess, a puddle of things and undone tasks lying around a messy kitchen.

There is Japanese homework and Maths equations, dinner bubbling on the stovetop, questions about allegory and allusions, maps to trace and viola notes to be perfected. We walk in perfect circles around the things that make up our minutes, the music sheets, the markers, the glue sticks, the cue cards for some presentation. The phone rings several times, the clock moves in obstinate steps and my voice and hers are sometimes lost in the mad scramble. There is so much to do, there is so little time.

We work on autopilot, ticking off invisible lists, my mother’s words echoing in my ears as my instructions perhaps echo in Miss A’s.

“It all passes far too soon,” my mother often says. “They grow up too soon, they leave home when you are not ready and time is rarely on our side.”

On most bustling evenings, I don’t think of the future. I think of the next hour or the next day or the next task before we go to bed. The future is out there, a moody apparition at the end of street, an unknown presence hiding in the nooks of our days, half hazy and half clear, half dream and half reality.

But on some nights like yesterday, time stops rushing and works with me – the kitchen is clean, the homework is packed away and Miss A practices her music in her room and there is no other sound on this wintry night. I can only hear half the notes from where I am.  I don’t always know all her pieces now, sometimes she plays music that is a complete surprise, her fingers scaling the viola, coaxing it to sing.

Most days I knock on her door and go in to listen. I sit at the edge of her bed and nod when she explains her notes. Today, I hover outisde the closed door and hear her play – the troughs, the crescendos, the pauses, the missed notes, all of it in all its  raw glory. I don’t knock. I don’t ask her what she is playing. I wait till she moves to another piece, yet another piece of music that is perhaps familiar and perhaps not.

Because in the chaos of these busy evenings, there are too many knowns and not enough surprises.

And as she grows up and finds her own words, I am learning that the sweetest songs are in languages that I don’t always understand.

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The Seasons

It has been so long since I posted here that the words almost didn’t come at first. They are not always adorable children now, the words, they are sometimes firm almost-teenagers with a mind of their own, they come when they want to and they mostly don’t.

So much has Miss A grown since I last wrote about her. She is no longer in Junior School. She plays for one of the city’s elite music groups – a hand-picked selection of kids her age who spend hours on the perfect note. She doesn’t always write as much, she wants to bake instead. She does the dishes and she serves herself breakfast when I am busy. She is loud and cheerful, shy and quiet, at once the best of friends and the quiet child at the dining room table who teaches herself maths and hiragana script and all these things that I watch from a distance. I don’t deal well with distance though and therefore I am always a step behind or ahead or next to her, offering her tea, asking about her day, insisting that days are not just “good or yeah ok” but always so much more.

Her friends mail and text often and as the rule goes in my house, I read all her texts and mails and sometimes laugh at her wit, her humour, her dryness. Sometimes she says a thing that I could have said or have most certainly already said in another lifetime. She laughs at the slightest thing and she flares at the slightest thing too. She is so much like me that I understand my mother better than ever.

But she is not me. She tries even when there is a chance of failure. She is braver than I was at that age and she is open and wondrous. She sings. With the voice of an angel. With notes that scale heights so easily and flawlessly. She pushes herself off that ledge of music and her voice soars and fills up the forgotten corners of my house.

“I want to sing the graduation song when I am in Year 6,” she had said to me when she was in Year 3, little and eager, her voice soft and full of light.

“ÖK,”I said. Absent-mindedly.

“And win the prize for excellence,”.  So little and eager, like I said. And so many dreams and big words.

“And I want to be house captain too. Okay?”

“Ókay.”

She did all these things last year. Every single one. My heart just grew and grew and it started to cry a little bit because all it takes is one look in the mirror to realise how quickly these children grow up.

I had a box of tissues ready for graduation night.

“No sniffing out loud please, this is my night and I worked really hard for this,” she says just before disappearing backstage, her eyes a-twinkle, her humour as sharp as ever.

”So did I. I earned the right to that box of tissues,” I say.

The stage is dark like it always is. The piano awakens in the corner and the opening notes of Joni Mitchell’s ‘The Circle Game’ fill the auditorium. And then she walks out to the centre, she of the sticky fingers and play-doh days, mike in hand and she sings.

Yesterday a child came out to wonder
Caught a dragonfly inside a jar

Her voice, the piano, her classmates walking in with candles.

Fearful when the sky was full of thunder
And tearful at the falling of a star

Still that voice, still the piano. The teachers who taught her to read and write and fall and play and tended to scraped knees and lunch time fights walk in.

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down

More people on stage. A collage of the years of primary school. Old photos and some new ones. Laughter. No tears yet.

We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round in the circle game

The tears start to form in my throat first, a hot and stifling pain almost that won’t go away. There are so many of us in the audience, mothers and fathers and grandparents, teary eyed and stoic as we watch the ceremony, as Miss A sings.

But my eyes, they stay dry.

It is much later after she gets her prize, after the house flag has been passed on, after the candles have been lit that the music starts again.

She hold hands with her best friend. She walks down the stage and disappears in the wings, still in tune to the music. No longer singing, the largest of smiles on her now grownup face. The collage plays again and I see her in a photo from another lifetime, she the girl with the baby soft cheeks and the fringe, the eyes full of wonder. She is there for a moment and then she is gone. Backstage to where the stories, the new ones will begin. In the wings for another adventure.

The tears come then. The tissues become soggy.

For the growing up.

For the days now gone forever.

For the seasons, the past and the future ones.

Mostly because we can’t return and we can only look, like the song says.

I didn’t know this when she was little, but I do now.

You grow up twice. Once when you are a child and once when your child grows up.

The second time hurts more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A little bit of magic

She is 11. She loves reading historical fiction and stories about the early settlers. She knows about scalene triangles and has been to the Parliament house and has strong views on the government’s migration schemes. She is quick witted, dry almost in her humour, subtly sarcastic. She writes plays and short stories and poems that make me think that she houses a deeper and significantly older soul.  She cries when her C Melodic Minor doesn’t sound the way she wants it to, when her viola does not co-operate. She tells me about characterisation in drama lessons and how she is writing some dialogue in French.

Yesterday, she rummaged in her drawers for a fairy costume because it was magical day at school. I caught her sitting cross legged by the fireside, my 11 year old with a fairy dress on, a dress that was too short and showed her scraped knees, a plastic tiara in her dark and wavy and untamed hair, a song on her lips. She looked so small and so fragile, a little person hunched up over pipe-cleaners.

‘I am making a wand,’ she said. ‘With a star and all.’

And because I know that one should be quiet when magic happens , I just nodded.

I saw a million sparks dance in her eyes when she looked up at me.

‘I made it by myself, see?’ she waved the wand about.  Pink and purple pipe-cleaners and a heart that was large, too large.

‘You are magical,’ I said, stopping to kiss her.

She kissed me back and went back to her wand.

‘So magical,’ I said again.

And she looked up at me and said, ‘Yes, Mum, I am.’

I don’t always see the old soul in her, sometimes I see a young and innocent heart and then I know that she already has enough wisdom and wonder in her for any magical day.

And the wand. There is always the wand.

There is always the magic only you can create for yourself.

 

When We Were Young

I was convinced I would grow stronger and invincible as an adult. I believed the little things would not hurt me so much, not any more. I thought I would learn to separate the big battles from the small ones and the small battles from the ‘not-battles’. I thought fear would fade like a sketchy nightmare – strong and unpleasant and then grey and wispy and then just a memory.

And yet when Miss A announced her intentions to run for house captain at school, I was a child again. Eager and trusting and full of impudent hope. Oscillating between those wretched twins of victory and failure. Not knowing and at once knowing. Sure and unsure. Proud and scared.

I helped her with the speech. I got a teeny bit carried away when I asked her to stress on some of the words. I talked strategies (like how the Year 3s were too little and probably would not understand nor care about her plans for house meetings, how the Year 5s would vote honestly, how all good speeches needed humour) and I talked dreams with her, her the little child that once said “Tupsember” instead of September.

When she said in her speech that everyone had something to contribute, I nodded. When she said that a house needed athletic people and painters and singers and maths wizards and good friends and great listeners, I cheered.

“I was Captain of the Blue House too,” I said to her. A million times over. Another country and another time but it felt like I was passing the baton on. That like recipes and family stories, this was yet another thing we could share.

And then at night, a sleepy face turned to me and said “Mum, I have butterflies in my tummy and I may not even win.”

“You will,” I said. And that all-knowing adult inside of me, said “Umm, actually there is a chance she won’t.”

“What if no one votes for me?” she asked.

“They will,” I said. And the adult laughed and whispered that children can be cruel and children can be whimsical and that children do not follow norms when it comes to choices.

“What if I don’t get even a single vote?” she asked again.

“Of course, you will,” I said. Glad for the dark in the room because adults become children too when there is no light around.

And that voice inside me, cold and clever, reminded me that children fail. Oh yes, they do. Because everyone does. That is how life works. That is how we grow and fall and walk and stumble and eventually get somewhere.

“If you lose,” I said, the words bitter and sharp in my mouth, “you just congratulate the people who do.  And get on with the hurt because nothing hurts forever. And you will win so many other things. Sometimes it is okay to just try because only ridiculously, brave people try even when they know there is failure involved.”

I believed myself then, I really did. You have to be a grown-up to understand some things. I wouldn’t have said these words as a child because I knew words like forever then. Now, I know how transient everything is and it makes things easier, as sad as that is.

“You will dream a million dreams,” I told her after she had fallen asleep. “And so many of them will come true and so many of them won’t. But it won’t matter Miss A. Because you will dream a million dreams.”

I did the dishes then and I went through her speech again. And this song  came on and my bubble burst and I sobbed for the little person who had a speech ready and a house chant and who did not think to ask anyone to vote for her because “that would be like forcing them, Mum.”

You do not see your children growing, you miss the way their limbs grow and their faces change, the way their baby lisp disappears overnight. You get to see their horizons change though, you see the scraped knees and the broken hearts and their stash of hopes and you know that they will open the door soon and go chasing things in the clouds, that growing up and adulthood is here and that there are lessons around the corner.

I kissed her and told her that she was wonderful and brave and awesome the next day when we arrived at school. I told her she would do so well, oh so well and that I was so, so proud of her. And then, I tried not to tear up as I waited in the car while she walked to her classroom, her speech cue cards in her hand.

I had butterflies in my stomach when I went to pick her up at 4:00 PM. I only looked at the clock a few thousand times throughout the day. I practiced my “Well done, I bet you were great” and “I love you and it does not matter” in a daisy chain all the way in the car.

And then when she shrieked and said “I got it Mum, I won,” I forgot to hold my breath and I started to breathe again.

I did not cry this time though there was a knot in my throat. I wiped my eyes when she said she had walked over to the others and given them hugs and said they had done a great job too.

And later that night, still in the dark, just before falling asleep, she said “I was not afraid, Mum. I saw the big girls with their Head of the School speeches and I realised that this was just one milestone out of many. I knew that if I lost today, I could win other things.”

That is when my voice gave away. There was no use pretending anymore. Her childhood and mine were both getting wispy, there was so much to do and so many bends in the road and so many horizons ahead.

You don’t cry because your child is growing up. You cry on days like this because you realise that once your child grows up, the last links to your own childhood become obsolete too. You cry because you realise time does rush by. That it changes, all of it, life and age and everything you knew. And there is not a damned thing you can do.And yet, there is much wonder in the years ahead.

So many milestones.

Some which we will meet, some which we will miss.

A million dreams. Missed and not missed. But most importantly, a million dreams.The things time cannot steal from us.

A Whole New World

Dear Miss A,

On some days like yesterday, I forget what life ever was like before I started loving, worrying and living for you. That is not supposed to be corny but truth and love are ridiculously corny and hence we must not make excuses for either. Here is the thing – time is a wretched, wretched sieve. There is so much I remember about the last 11 years and so much else that I don’t.

Time, again, the thief. We forget bit by bit, every single day – sunsets and sunrises, meals and laughter, names and faces, dreams and places. This is how life changes – we do it, it is all us –  we move on, we leave things behind and then we claim that we were robbed by the passage of age and time and life. So, this is what you and I need to remember about the year that was. I picked a memory that I suspect will never age. It is okay to forget some things. But this particular one, it defines the year for me. It is a harbinger of the things to be, I want to believe this.

You were Jasmine in Aladdin for the school play. You wore a purple harem dress. You sang “A whole new world.” My heart turned and twisted, my pride spilled over. You were under a spotlight and behind you was a cardboard cut-out of a silvery moon. The audience, I swear, stopped breathing when the opening bars of the song sounded. The live orchestra soared, it reached a crescendo. So did you.

The stage, it was still dark. The piano,it still played. Your voice, it was as sweet and crystal clear. And then there was magic. Your other classmates walked on to the stage, holding candles.  Just humming, barely so. Just harmonising with your voice, a part of your song but not quite. In your eyes, danced a million flickers. You looked towards the audience then, you looked at me, you ended the song.

And the stage was flooded with lights again  and the candles departed to the wings. We clapped then, all of us. We clapped and clapped and we cried a little, all of us. The actors for the next scene had to wait because of the applause. You walked off stage when the song was done, I saw you run backstage as you reached the wings. It was done, the big moment had come and gone, the magic had wafted away. Later, the teachers and the headmistress would write us a note telling us how magical your song was. Later, I would cry again, so many times, for the enchantment of those three minutes.

Memories do not make sounds when they are born. Or perhaps they do. Perhaps they whisper in our ears and say that they are going to be around forever now, that a corner of our heart has been rented till the end of time.

A memory like that is the best gift you can give anyone. And so on your birthday, I thank you Miss A. For the gift of that evening. For the magic, for the song. For a vision that will stay with me till the end of my time.

This was a year of great grades, state honours in competitions and commendable concerts and music exams. I am proud of you for all of this, I am – but it is ordinary mothers that talk only of grades. The things you do, the songs you sing, the music you compose, the stories you write – there is no grading system for these things.

You, my dear child, you are your smile and your curly hair. You are your giggles and your fast sentences. You are your music and you are your stories. You are your friendships and you are your temper. You are your songs and your ABBA dances. You are all the things that make you laugh and cry and talk and rage because you do not do anything by half measures, You are warm and ridiculously witty and passionate about things you believe in. You are funny and brave and kind and rather too beautiful (when you brush your hair). You are all those things and so many others.

Here is another thing this year taught me. Your horizons are yours, I cannot hand you mine.  There is so much about our journey that I do not know yet, there is so much magic that will arrive unannounced in our lives, so many moments of candles in the darkness, so many spotlights, so many harmonies. This is a blessed, blessed thing.

Happy 11th birthday. Sing. Dream. Soar. Glide. Dance. Write.  Eat. Wish upon a star. Stay up late. Sleep in. Chase rainbows. Run amid sprinklers. Work.  Work Hard. Laugh. Often and Everyday. There is a whole new world awaiting us.

Wonder by Wonder.

For you and for me.

Love,

Mum

Only 11…

Here is what you need to know about Miss A. She remembers. She remembers how the sun was warm and ticklish on that day at the beach, four years ago. She remembers how her grilled corn at the fair last month had too much salt on it and too little butter but was still delicious. She remembers which one of her friends jumped into the freezing pool first to get the party started on her birthday. She remembers the little girl selling flowers by the roadside in India and wonders what the little girl does in summer when the ground is dry and cracked and the trees are droopy and poor. She remembers the old woman with sad eyes, sitting three seats away from us, on the bus last week and she wonders if the woman was just having a sad day or whether she is still travelling across some suburb in town, with a downcast face. She remembers, like I said. She is not partial to her memories. The good, the bad, the dark and the light – everything is welcome in her world. She stares every emotion in the face, she meets its unflinching gaze.

She remembers the movie trailer long after I have forgotten about it. When she says she wants to talk about the movie, I presume that she has comments on ‘The Sapphires’ which we went to see the other week. 

“The little boy,” she says, drawing invisible loops on the pillows, the way she does when she is thinking furiously. “From the trailer of that movie ‘Bully’. What happened to him Mum?”

I had thought that she would remember the movie, the songs and the laughs, instead she remembers the two minute movie clip at the start.

He killed himself, that little boy, he couldn’t take the jeers and the taunts of his classmates anymore and he came home from school one day and he hung himself in his barn.  He was an 11 year old boy and then he was dead, just like that. Miss A, with her strawberry shampooed hair, her panda PJs and her stuffed toy, my safe and warm child under the quilts is 10.

“He died,” I say.

“How?” she says. “I gathered that but what did they mean by ‘taking his own life’?”

She knows about things like gravity and she can tell you all about Harry Potter’s horocruxes . She is reading about Cyclone Tracy in Darwin, she loves history. She knows how to tie her shoelaces and she can set the table and when I am busy, she can do odd jobs in the kitchen. She can play “Ode to Joy” on her viola and she sings like an angel. She knows so many things. And she doesn’t know so many others.

“He killed himself,” I say. Slowly, ever so slowly, every word weighed in iron. Because the truth is heavy like that and yet, sometimes the truth is the only thing that will give you a corner to hide. 

“He was 11,” she says. Her eyes glint.  “How does a 11 year old know how to kill themselves Mum?”

“He was sad, so sad,” I say. “And he probably believed he couldn’t go on, that was his only choice. Fear makes us figure out impossible things.”  It sounds feeble and flimsy but the saddest of things sometimes come with weak preludes.

“How did he  do it?”

“He hung himself,” I say.  “With a rope.” The truth needs to be a like a band-aid at times. Painful in short bursts.

She reaches for my hand beneath the sheets and we lie there like that, silent and sad, her warm palm in my clammy one.

“11,” she says again. “I will be 11 soon.”

“All the things he never got to be,” I say.

She snuggles closer and soon I cannot see her face anymore. This is thing, you can stay there and watch the dusk fall in thick slices or you can turn towards the light.

“I need you to promise me,” I say, my voice breaking up even though I am trying really hard, “that you won’t stand by if you ever see anyone being mistreated.”  Because, there are so many 11 year olds everywhere and children can be so cruel.  I think of the boy and his goofy grin and the way his parents have red eyes. I wonder if their eyes will ever dry up.

“I willl, ” she says. “Because no child should have to feel that way, Mum.”

“Not just for now, for all your life, ” I say. “At school. At university. At work. When you have your own children. Speak up, don’t walk away. ”

I know she won’t because she is fair and loyal and because she speaks up. She needs to know that she has a special gift, that I am proud of my daughter because she is never a fence sitter,  she is never afraid to stand up and say what needs to be said.

Then, this.

 “That little boy isn’t coming back,” she says. “Ever.”

“I know,” I say. “But I also want you to know that you can come to us with anything. Like, anything at all.  We will find a fix.  It is okay to ask for help if you ever need it.”

“I know,” she says.

There is a swirl of tears in my throat. I know her favourite colours, her favourite foods, the people she plays with at school. I know the names of the pets of her friends, I know about the schoolyard arguments and of the friendship groups in her class. I ask so many questions every day, I have re-created her world in my mind so that I know how to find my way around her landscape. 

And yet, I worry on some days that I have missed warning signs, hidden roads, whirlpools that I should have treated with more caution. Because she is only 10 and there are so many things she does not know yet. And as parents, a lot of our walks are stumbles in the dark as we wait for patches of momentary lighting.

“Speak up for yourself too, promise? Don’t stand by and let other treat you unfairly. No one can make you feel bad without your permission.”

She nods and falls asleep in a while, her face relaxing into a sleepy haze, her hair spread out over her garish pink pillow.

I hug her for a bit longer the next day when I drop her off at school. I stay in the car and watch her walk across the schoolyard, with her oversized blazer and her lopsided hat, her viola case.

As I watch her walk past the junior school classroom, a little person who can be no more than five years old flings herself at A and squeals in delight. I watch as A puts down her viola case and scoops her little friend up and is promptly bathed in hugs and giggles. I leave them like that, Miss A and the little one who looks safe and snug and warm in her arms.

The other thing about being a parent is that no one tells you when to expect brilliant light in your world.  No one tells you that sunlight arrives without warning or annoucements after nights full of monsters under the beds.

And yet, it is the sad stories that teach you to look for happy beginnings.  That is all we need to know.

We are so resilient that way, all we need to do is remember.

Sharing the stage

‘Mum, I went door-knocking with Cathy today,’ she says as I am driving her home from Cathy’s.

‘Door knocking? Why?’

‘Because Cathy and I had to distribute flyers for our play,’ she says.

You never know what lurks behind closed doors, your child dealing with unknowns is never a happy thought.

‘Sweetheart,’ I begin, ‘Was Cathy’s mum okay with this?’

‘Yeah, of course.’ she says. ‘They know all their neighbours. Except…’

My heart starts to trudge.

‘Except what?’

‘Except all of Cathy’s neighbours are getting so old, they are house-bound now, Mum.’

Her face falls. Remember the unknowns? It is not just monsters that hide behind closed doors. Old age and disease and sorrow lurk in sealed off spaces too, who knows what you will find in a discarded chest.

‘We went to Miss Gloria’s house. Miss Gloria is from Italy. She has the cutest accent.’

‘How old is Miss Gloria?’

‘She cannot remember anymore, she says 90, then she says she could easily be a 100,’ she pauses for a minute. ‘She could not hear the doorbell so Cathy and I walked around to the back of the house and knocked on her bedroom window.’

I think of Miss Gloria, alone in her little flat, not waiting for any visitors, her doorbell rusty and defunct over time because no one walks her way anymore.

‘And she was so delighted that she said she would be at the door in a minute.’ Miss A smiles a little. ‘Mum, we had to stand on tiptoe so that she could see our faces, she is so old now that she kind of curls up in bed. She is very small.’

It is a grand circle. First we see, then we do not, then no one sees us. Except on the days that some comes a-knocking.

‘Then we raced to the front door and rang the door bell again. But no one answered. So we went around to the bedroom again and she laughed and said, ‘Dear me, I am so forgetful. I will open the door now.’ We waited till she got into her wheelchair and then we got to the front door before she did.’

My heart, it does somersaults.

‘Then she opened the door and she asked us to come in and we told her all about the play. She looked like a different person when she smiled, Mum.’

The original Miss Gloria, I want to say. The one that came over from Italy on a liner ship many decades ago. The one that did not forget.

‘Honey, I am so glad you visited her, did she like hearing about the play?’

‘Uh-huh. But then she became sad again and said that she did not go to the theatre anymore.’

She looks out of the window and I catch her crumpled reflection in the mirrors.

‘Cathy and I said we were sorry to hear that. Miss Gloria said that perhaps we should not leave any flyers with her because it was not like she was going to be coming to see the play or anything.’

‘And?’

‘We said she could keep the flyers. Even if she was not coming to the play. Then Miss Gloria smiled again. She asked us to sit down and she pushed her wheelchair towards the kitchen. She gave us biscotti Mum, she said she had made it at home.’

A lump in my throat. A glimmer of tears in hers.

‘We said it was delicious. Then she asked us if we wanted some more and we said ‘No, thank you so much Miss Gloria. We should get going now.’

‘Miss Gloria’s face fell again but she gave us a dollar each. Because you are nice little girls, she said.’

‘We cannot take the money Miss Gloria,  we said. She looked sad now, real sad like when she was sitting alone in the bedroom.’

‘Give it to your drama school, she said. A little donation from me since I cannot come to see the play. Because I do not go to the theatre any more. And thank you for the flyer, girls.’

I wipe my eyes. Miss A is still not looking at me.

‘Some days, ‘ I say, my voice a tremor, ‘I bet Miss Gloria does not forget everything. Like today, she is going to remember everything about today.’

‘Yeah,’ says Miss A, smiling a little bit.

‘We asked her to shut the door behind us and she chuckled and said she would remember to do that.’

‘Hey,’ I say a few minutes later, ‘I am so glad you got to do this play.’

‘Me too, Mum,’ she says. ‘Otherwise I would never have met Miss Gloria.’

It is not so much that the curtain falls on all of us. It is that we share the stage with wondrous actors and sincere extras, with graceful dancers and acrobats that waltz across a spotlight, hands akimbo and feet keeping perfect rhythm, even if it is for the tiniest of moments. And sometimes, we learn our parts from the people who do not have the most lines. Age is a great leveller like that.

From Within

“I want more sauce” Miss A declares. That, by the way, is her general philosophy in life. More sauce. More gravy. More trimmings. More bells and whistles. Yes, she would like fries with that, thank you. But I digress.

We are having a yum-cha night in front of the TV, watching “Arthur and the Invisibles” for the hundredth time. Actually, she insists it is only the second time ever, but we do a mean job of exaggeration around here. Makes cold and sullen evenings bearable and all that.

The sauce has a mind of its own. It clings steadfastly to the insides of the bottle and no amount of cajoling makes it edge any closer.

“It is the cold”, I tell her. “Maybe the sauce is too cold to move.” Outside, on cue, a banshee storm wails and hisses.

“Try again”, she says. So we do. Because there is the urgency of a half eaten spring-roll.

No dice. This way and that, we twist and turn and shake and roll the bottle, our efforts a glorious zilch, there is no sauce through the nozzle.

She goes back to the couch and I am left with an adamant bottle and a crest-fallen child. There are no simple problems on somedays.

I think of substitutes and excuses. Of why things are not the the way they should be. Of why we write paens on failing and yet success makes do with punch-lines and imposed brevities. 

I open the bottle top to see if anything is wrong with the nozzle. And then I notice that the cardboad air seal of the bottle is still intact, still holding back everything that should now be free. The sauce moved but could only get so far.

The seal is ripped off, the bottle top is re-instated and the sauce comes out in plump drips and gives the spring-rolls a new lease of life.

 “This is good” Miss A says. 

“Very good”  I add. See note above for success having to do with meagre descriptions.

“So what was wrong with the bottle?” she asks. Nothing really, now that you think of it.  So I tell her the story of how I couldn’t even see what was stopping the flow. From inside.

  We carry obstacles inside us, every one of us.  The world is just an excuse.

Because the things that stop us – they almost always come from within.

The Road Map

She lets go of my hand and breaks into a run as we reach the theatre.

“Bye Mum”.

I do not take the hint. I hang around the entrance and watch as she picks up her scripts and makes her way towards her seat. A group of “big girls” troops in after me.  Miss A has changed classes this term, she is now in their drama group.

They settle down a few seats away from her and start reading from their script.  She looks at them, then at her script and tries to find the right page. Alone in the second row, by herself. Dressed in a pink blazer, her hair pushed by a giant hairband. A bottle of water next to her.

I wave and ask her to join me outside for a second.

“Mummm, please go. I am fine.”

“A, do you know anyone here at all? Should I hang around?”

“Noooo. You can go. I need to get back.”

“Bubs, are you going to be okay sitting by yourself?”

“Yeah, of course. Because we are all in the play together. And I am new here – so, of course I do not know anyone yet.”

“Maybe Mummy could sit with you for a  bit.”

“Mummmm, please. That would be so embarassing”.  That is the thing about love, baby. It can be embarassing.

So. I bend down and kiss her. And allow her to push me gently as she goes back. To sit by herself in the second row. Alone, did I say alone? I drive back home and stare at the clock. All this while my heart is doing somersaults and sinking lower.

She troops out behind the other kids when I go for the pick-up. Outside the winds are howling, the night is cold and the sky is sullen and inky. I help her with a thick coat and hold her hand as we walk back to the car.

“Was it okay?”

“It was great.”

“Umm, did you talk to anyone?”

“Yeah, Mary talked to me. She said I had a nice hairband.”

“Was it bad sitting alone?”

“Nah, I forgot about it after a while.”

“Are the big girls nice?”

“Very nice Mummy. They let me read the big parts.”

She seems eager to go back the next week. Next friday,we go through the motions of kissing and reminders about water bottles. She sits alone by herself like the week before. I smile and wave. Why didn’t Mary (and which one is Mary) sit next to her? When she will have friends to giggle with? But she seems to be lost in her script and the doors are closing and Mr D, the drama teacher is already up on the stage. So I leave her to do her part.

And bit by bit, I learn to gather the pieces of my heart and take them with me when I leave. Bit by bit, I walk back a step and then another and yet another. Bit by bit, I learn to trust that she will take care of herself.

She is a child with a stuffed toy named Piggy. She hates runny eggs. She plays the viola. She doesn’t have a sweet tooth. Her best friend has just moved across the country. She smiles in her sleep. But. And yet. She sits by herself and reads her lines. She blends in a group of strangers and falls into place. She takes cues and share the stage with people she has not met before. Somedays, she is more than the sum of her parts. Somedays there is so much more to her that I do not know about.

Somedays my daughter surprises me because I forget to see her spirit, her heart, her art – all I see is a little smiley face, her warm hand in mine, a pair of footsteps following mine through streets lined with the produce of autumn.

“My turn to come up with an act next week”, she tells me as I pick her up. “Mary and Jessica are hoping they get a part”. New names and such old ease. The circle has widened. It always does, but you have to wait sometimes.

And just like that I know that if she is to act the best scenes, write the stories that will shape her, find the characters that will mould her – I have to let her go. And let her grow. I have to let her sit alone on some days. I have to wait on the outer while she find her way into new friendships. I have to wait till she fails because I cannot be the substitute to her experiences. Some things, she will learn on her own. Some things, she will only learn when I trust her and let her read the map.

“I am going to give you the road map. But find your own road”, my father always tells me. Somedays you got to hand those lessons forward.

My heart does somersaults again. But this time, it does not sink. I think they call this floating.

The House Of Quilts

As I write this, Miss A has set up camp in the family room. She has draped a giant quilt over two chairs and claims she has moved into her new home. A pack of muffins and a couple of stuffed toys share her current dwelling.  She has two handbags and two hats – clearly, one needs to be ready in case fancy dinner invites come a-calling. She also has a phone in case I need to call her. No, I cannot just go door-knocking – and not just because the house of quilts and chairs doesn’t have a door.

I have drafts to re-edit, a presentation to put together and a whole bunch of socks to wash. Acutally, the socks are more important at this point in time, but we will let that pass. The point of sharing my laundry details with you (note to self: resist puns about dirty linen) is that I have heaps to do and I should be happy that she has moved into her little tent for the day. But I am not. Already, I have crawled into her tent a few times and have been firmly and politely pushed out.

“Come and have lunch”, I say.

“Not now”, she says. “I am not hungry, Mum”

“Do you want a snack?” I ask

“I have the muffins”, she says. The muffins are from the bag she packed yesterday when she told me she was running away because I made her practice her viola. Yes, that is fodder for another post. It was raining and she kind of loves her viola, so she agreed to come back inside.

So, I call her on the fake phone. Except, she asks me to leave a message. Because she is getting ready to take the stuffed toys out for the the day and she cannot talk to me right now.

I follow her around the house, moping a tad.

“Maybe you could mind my house for me” she suggests. Because she is busy and stopping to talk to me every now and then is slowing her down.

I am the keeper of her memories,the guardian of her dreams, the keycode to her likes and hates. I am the official demon that makes her repeat her times tables and the homework nazi that makes her rub out words that are not spelt correctly the first time. Some days I am little else other than being the wrapper around her world.

One day she will have her own world with real doors. And I will have to knock. Or call. Perhaps I will offer muffins on these days in the future when my daughter is no longer camping out under the same roof in another part of this very room.

But now and here, when she asks to mind her house, I leave my drafts and my laundry and my Sunday lunch and offer to move into her tent.

“No, you don’t need to do that”, she explains with much genteel patience lacing her voice. “Look after the house from where you are.”.

And so, perched on the couch, alternating between work and words and things bubbling and hissing on the stove, with the May winds whipping up a gale outside, I look after the little world she has created for herself while she explores her surrounds. 

“Are you going to be long?”, I ask her.

“You can go and do something else if you like, Mum” she says.

There is nowhere else I would rather be. She doesn’t know it but that tent is my house too. Because my heart follows her around like that. One of those days when I am little else other than the wrapper that makes up her world. One of the good days.

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