I pulled a pen out of a sock today. And not long ago I produced a number of matchbox cars from my brown ceramic teapot… You don’t think, before becoming a parent, that you will ever be capable of such magic. But there it is: the daily routine is interrupted by extraordinary occurrences: a parent’s kiss heals, a child’s imagination baulks at nothing, going shopping is nothing less than a visit to the ‘piggy market’, and growing up holds all sorts of possibilities. Or so my son revealed at the age of two when he informed me: “First I’m a little boy then I’ll be a daddy then a mummy and then a person.”
For all the anxiety and heartache and exhaustion and fear and frustration that is involved in parenting, nothing can match the sheer bliss of a child’s perspective. Whether it’s something said (“Taking the prickles out of your boobies, mum?”) or something done (that exquisite concentration as they tuck a doll into bed or hammer pegs), there is no doubt that taking the time to watch or listen to a child is to be blessed.
And the opportunities abound! It’s been said that one will be ‘interrupted’ by a child on an average of every one to one-and-a-half minutes. And that’s only one child. The following tale is my description of what happened to me one Tuesday afternoon when, at about 2.45, I went outside to sit in the sunshine, taking my pen and paper and a book…
The three children are playing in the garden. I spread a rug on the grass and sit down. Like bees to blossoms they converge upon me. But, wise mother that I am, I have their pencils and colouring books with me.
“A, a,” the two year old twins chant. This is their language for ‘drawing’ or writing, picked up when their elder brother began singing his ABC.
I write three words.
“Booby,” says one of the twins. After all, I’m a sitting duck.
“I’m thirsty AND hungry,” says the five year old.
Up I get. In I go. Each child is given a banana and a mandarin. There is some discussion as to who has received a ‘daddy’ sized ’nana [banana] and who has received a ‘bubby’. They seem satisfied with the arrangements. I write a few more words, and look up to find mandarin peel scattered on the grass – some energy is required to motivate them to pick it up.
Two and a half year old Emma, who had minutes ago stripped off her clothes, decides that she is now ‘kah’. I help her re-dress. Her twin, Lesley, gets a gleam in her eye. “Kah!” she says. She wants to be cold.
Lesley stands naked on the grass in the early spring sunshine, stroking her body. When a breeze stirs the nearby trees, she giggles, wraps her arms around herself, and points to the rustling trees: “Kah!” I am distracted, watching her enjoying the warmth on her bare skin.
A gutteral “ch ch” sound from Emma is a request for a drink of water. The other two take up the cry, Jeremy repeating that he is hungry and thirsty.
Up I get. In I go. Three cups of soy milk. A jug of water. A bowl of nuts. I sit down again but cannot write. There are cups of milk here, amidst my papers and the rug and abandoned clothes.
Someone has found a very cute ‘bubby’ sized cup in the garden, and is now drinking water out of it. The others want a turn too. I try to help with the pouring. “Me!” Lesley insists fiercely. I adjust my hand position so that the help is more discreet.
I have written one line.
Emma now wants her clothes off again.
Lesley is saying “Yukky”, with an urgent expression on her face. I dash inside for the potty and toilet paper - better bring two…
Next door in the nursery a forklift rumbles into gear. “Nick Whitcomb, please come to the head office,” a crackly voice explodes briefly from across the fence.
I wipe Lesley’s bottom and take the potty inside to empty the contents and wash it out. When I return Jeremy and Lesley are about to start playing with a rope. He wants his sisters to hold each end so that he can jump across, but Emma won’t participate. I suggest that he tie one end to the washing line, an idea that delights him. He leaps over the rope a few times, urging Lesley to lift it higher each time. Once it gets too high the game changes: he starts running around the garden dragging her, still clinging to her end of the cord, behind him. I keep a motherly eye on them.
Emma emerges in a fairy outfit and stands with her back to me so that I can do the press studs up. When I glance up a moment later, she has taken it off. Lesley arrives to be done up. When I glance up she is stepping out of the outfit and Emma is climbing back in. Emma returns to me to be done up.
Moments ago I asked Jeremy not to attempt to climb the washing line via the garden rake. The rake has been left lying on the grass, prongs up. I ask him to put it away.
Emma is now sitting on the potty with an earnest frown. She needs a wipe. I carry the potty inside. While I am washing it out she sits on the first potty that had been returned to its spot after Lesley’s efforts. I wipe the third bottom and clean the third potty. I wash my hands for the third time.
On my way out, I glance at the clock. Three-thirty p.m. So much for the writing and reading.
During the next hour the bowl of nuts is spilt in the grass three times, Emma needs help putting on her pink gum boots, Lesley needs help with a red silk kimono, Jeremy wants me to go on a treasure hunt he has created for me. Fortunately, as I am not wearing my distance glasses, he leads me directly to the three pieces of paper that bear clues to the non-existent treasure.
The children clash over little? big? issues like who should draw where, who should hold the marbles (which should not be outside anyway), and what precious items are permitted inside the bag Jeremy is carrying.
During the hour the marbles are spilt in the grass. The pencils are already scattered around. Various dress-ups have been trucked outside. My gumboots lie forsaken by someone at the foot of the washing line.
I am now sitting alone in the garden surrounded by all of the above. I am eating the nuts (for somewhere to put them?). It is finally peaceful enough to write, but the roof of the house is throwing its shadow across my page and I must collect the washing and go inside to cook dinner – or wear it later.
Besides, it is so quiet, I am wondering what they are getting up to on their own inside…
I was glad that this all happened. And particularly glad that I wrote about it. Not only because of the therapeutic benefit of writing, but because it made me laugh. And when you’re laughing, none of the ‘interruptions’ seem so irritating. They don’t even feel like interruptions. Just stuff that keeps happening. Like Jeremy’s pyjama ‘leg sleeves’ that continually ride up his legs when he’s in bed.
Anyway, it’s just gone 10.20 p.m. and, as he used to say, “I’ve got a big yawn in my mouth” and it’s time for me to go to “feep”. So… goodnight from Jeremy’s “specious” mummy.
P.S. Here’s a koan for you:
Jeremy: Who’s coming today?
Jeremy: Oh. We’ll have fun with her.
Here’s another one:
Me: What do you want for breakfast?
© Liliane Grace 1998 First published in Living Now magazine, Sept/Oct 98.
I recently read an article in which the author, Lori Gottlieb, believes that many women are too fussy in their choice of a life partner. In her opinion, they should settle for Mr Good Enough rather than holding out for a romantic fantasy. She advises her reader: “Don’t worry about passion or intense connection. Don’t nix a guy based on his annoying habit of yelling ‘Bravo!’ in movie theatres. Overlook his halitosis or abysmal sense of aesthetics. Because if you want to have the infrastructure in place to have a family, settling is the way to go.”
And she makes a valid point. We’re fed such a steady diet of Hollywood romances on TV – in fact, her article draws heavily on television characters – that it’s easy to compare real people with celluloid people who’ve had powder dusted on their blemishes, whose words and actions are backed by stirring music, and who’ve had to re-state their lines until the Director is satisfied. So, yep, if you want to be happy in a relationship, you need a decent sense of reality.
“Describe your perfect partner,” someone asks you.
“Okay,” you say. “Tall, good-looking, riveting eyes, sex appeal, intelligent, sensitive, honest, good communicator, creative, spiritual, great in bed, fun-loving, financially independent, aligned with whole health and whole food, romantic…”
The list of glowing adjectives just spills out, doesn’t it? It’s not at all difficult to be a Pygmalion, dreaming up an ideal partner, but let’s just fast forward the film past those first few exhilarating years to when the rose-coloured path begins to look boggy... or even bloody...