Saturday, September 25, 2010

Star, Butterfly, Star

At last!  I've been given something I've always wanted.

As anyone with a six-going-on-twenty-six-year old daughter will know, a mother's behaviour can sometimes go beyond the pail.

So it was for Anna-mouse the other morning, when I asked her casually if she would be cold without her cardigan.

No, Mummy,  she replied dutifully.

Are you sure? I said, as I do.  As I always, infuriatingly, do, having asked the question and received a perfectly good reply.  Doubly, I suspect, if the question is anything to do with whether or not she is/will be/might possibly not be warm enough.

A small hurricane ensued.

MUMMY! she yelled.  I'm a BIG girl now!  If I say I'm sure YOU DON'T HAVE TO ASK ME AGAIN!

Honestly, I muttered to myself, I only said 'Are you sure?'.

Right!  That's it! she cried, sounding so like me I couldn't help but notice,  Mummy, you are getting a star chart! 

Really?  This I had not expected.  I tried hard to sound nonchalant.  What for?

But she had vanished, only to reappear several minutes later with a bright pink piece of paper marked up with fourteen irregular boxes and wording as follows:
Mummys are you sure chart
if she says are you sure see gets nothing.
Prize if mummy dosent say are you sure is a masagine

I'm doing awfully well.  I haven't missed a day.  Every morning Anna-m gets out her stickers and rewards me with a shimmery star or shiny butterfly, filling the little boxes in a satisfying, alternating pattern.  Tomorrow I shall get another butterfly, and the day after that, if I'm lucky, a star.  Anna-m is impressed.

The prize, I must say, I'm looking forward to.   I love a good masagine.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


It was dusk.  She was coming home after a glorious yoga week in Italy.  She had dropped off her daughter and was driving down the middle lane, lights on in the half-light, when she saw traffic ahead.  She slowed.  The huge, articulated lorry behind her did not.  

She doesn't remember much of what happened next.  She knows that the car was spun the wrong way into the inside lane.  She opened her eyes and saw the traffic coming towards her.  She remembers calling out - Don't let me be hurt!  Don't let me be hurt! - and then somehow the lorry hit her car again and she was pushed off the road to land, nose-down, in the verge.

The Lithuanian lorry driver thought that she was dead.  She knows this because she watched him stumble over to her, his hands covering his face.  But he helped her out, and she told him she was fine, and tried to calm him down, and then the off-duty ambulance appeared, and a passing driver, and soon after the police.

She wasn't too bad when I saw her on Sunday.  She was shakier today. Instinctively I touched her when she told me, touched her flesh-and-blood arm and said Oh thank God you're okay.

She isn't an old friend, but she is a very dear one, being the closest I have here in Kent Town.  We began a spiritual journey together four years ago when we found ourselves the newest attenders at a Quaker meeting and discovered an instant, mutual bond.  And so it was for her, really, that I made the effort to re-arrange life and childcare arrangements to attend the Peace Vigil this evening, which she had principally organised. 

It was an unexpected pleasure, to sit in silence as the air grew dark around us.  One long candle stood at the centre of the table, and as twilight turned to night I became aware that other, smaller candles had been placed on the wooden ledge running along the walls of the room.  No-one spoke.  For one whole hour fifteen people's thoughts turned themselves to the vast and open question of Peace.

I soon found that I needed to think of Peace with a small 'p'.  I couldn't find any hope of making an impact unless I addressed peace as it applied to me, working with the principle that starting with the individual is not a bad approach to changing the world.

I was aware of my bruised, troubled friend two seats away, and wondered how her thoughts ran.  Her words came to me again - Don't let me be hurt! Don't let me be hurt! - and it struck me how very much, recently, I have lived by them myself.  How fear, not peace, has ruled my shaken heart.

The light around us shrank until there was only candlelight and a warm yellow from the streetlamps outside.  Window shadows quivered on the walls.  

Little by little the meeting gathered until we became our prevailing thoughts.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Bim and I

The Bim has got a thing about me again.  I know this by a number of escalating, none-too-subtle signs. 

First, I found myself the object of several longing, loving looks.  Then he would come to find me in the kitchen (it's often the kitchen), put his once-welcome arms around me and give me a hug.  Most alarmingly, he has even once or twice attempted to put a kiss somewhere on my face, as near to my mouth as he can get it before I turn away.

I am beginning to understand that the Bim thinks that if only I were to soften, and we had one of those conversations you see in the movies - romantic comedies, mainly, usually towards the end, after a rather nice night-time montage of the man and the woman alone in their separate houses, pacing the floors and pining at windows to a lovely saxophony soundtrack - if only we were to have our own little epiphany, we could live happily ever after.

He has dropped unmistakeable, unwieldy hints to this effect.  I think that he thinks that if I made a huge effort and just decided to give it a go, all would be well.  He has done his penance, he has done his time in his nice flat in a horrible place in Kent Town, and a year and a half is about long enough to have dimmed the edges of all our memories about how very, very badly we were getting along by the time the woman said 'Livvy' to me one Friday night in February and handed me the letter which would change all our lives, and it would all just make so much sense for him to move back in.

[I apologise: I always link to that bit, that bit about the woman, and the letter, and the day that changed our lives.  I have a feeling that when I am able to write about it without linking it will mean that I have become extremely enlightened and qualified to write a self-help book and make inspirational podcasts].

The Bim's parents have just been over from Ireland, and I could tell that they think it would make more sense, too.  They stayed at his flat, as they do now when they come (bringing a great, personal relief that I do not have to have the conversation with my mother-in-law about the best way to get my white sink white again - a discussion which never failed to make me feel woefully wanting in housekeeping prowess), but I was more involved in their visit than I have been of late.  This meant that they saw much of me and the Bim in parent action; and the thought wafted clearly through the room more than once: if only he works hard enough at it, Livvy might change her mind.

The Bim understands, now, what he lost.  And for understanding, I guess, he feels he deserves to have what he lost restored.

What he does not understand is that Livvy would never, ever have let him leave the family home had she not known that it was forever.  She would never have put Anna-mouse through that desperate time unless she was sure.  Livvy knew then the toll that the Bim's leaving would take - on Anna-mouse and on herself.  Livvy did her thinking/angsting/chest-beating at the time, and in the agonising months before that, so that the woman-with-letter was merely the catalyst, not the cause, for what ensued.  

But... for the record, and because I am asked the question alot, actually, by all sorts of people, as we are frequently seen together in our parenting capacity, and because we have to our credit managed to maintain an amicability which astonishes even me:

No, the Bim and I will not be 'getting back together'.
Yes, I still ache to my core to know this and yes I pretend not to most of the time.
No, there is no-one else in either of our lives.
Yes, I know one day I'm going to have to revise the enormous distrust I have developed of the opposite sex.
No, of course all men don't lie, I know that!
Yes, it was as much about what I said, or did, or didn't say as it was about what the Bim said, or did, or didn't say.
No, I don't like the sound of that either: it would be much easier to act the guiltless wronged than take some of the responsibility myself.
Yes, I still love him.
No, not like that anymore.

Yes, I'm going to have to say all this to the Bim.

No. No, not tomorrow.