Monthly Archives: April 2010

birthday gifts

Dear Sienna,

If things had gone as planned – as promised in the ideal world I used to live in – you would be turning four today. Anzac Day wouldn’t be just Anzac Day; it would be your birthday. And I would probably be wondering if the shops were open because I forgot to buy sprinkles to make the fairy bread for your party.

Things would be different.

But it isn’t your birthday today. Today there is no four-year-old girl at our house. Your big brother is still the baby of the family – though at eight he really isn’t a baby any more. When I see him with our puppy – the way he cuddles and calls him ‘Bubba’ – I know he would have been a great big brother. He’s not supposed to be the youngest.

And Indy? Well I know she wishes she could say the words: ‘My little sister’ without watching them fall to the ground – all meaning lost because you’re not here.

Today – on your would-be birthday – I wonder what you would look like. I remember ‘four’ with the other two. Such a gorgeous age. Would you be blonde like them? When you were born you had your brother’s legs and chin. Your eyes were the same beautiful shape as your sister’s. As tiny as you were there was no doubt you were so much like both of them. I wonder: what funny things would you say if you were four? Who would your little friends be? What would you like to eat? Would you have a favourite toy? TV show? Bedtime story?

But all of this wondering comes to nothing. Because you are not here.

Things are different.

In the void after I lost you I returned to writing. I wrote about you. That was the beginning. A collusion of inexplicable good fortune saw me land a most amazing job. Through it all I fell headlong back into a long lost love affair with the world of words. I became more *me* than I’d ever been. Because of you. The gift of you.

But you know I’d give it all back in a heartbeat if I could have you. Never gonna happen. Because everything is different now.

I don’t believe in heaven any more. Not because of you. Just because. Words like ‘god’ and ‘soul’ and ‘angel’ don’t sing to me. But there’s still one thing that does.

When I planned your funeral I struggled to find a song to play. The funeral people had some suggestions – and yeah Eric Clapton’s Tears in Heaven breaks everyone’s heart but wasn’t right for you. But, the day before you were to be born I got in my car and there, on the radio, was the song.

I knew immediately. Ok, it turns out this is one of the most requested funeral songs ever, so I am rather predictable after all. Nevermind. It still works for me. And this is why. As always, it’s about the words.

When I’m feeling weak/And my pain walks down a one way street

Yep. Not only do I love me a metaphor, but I’ve been down that one way street.

There’s also this:

Down the waterfall/Wherever it may take me/I know that life won’t break me

Yep again. When you’ve been through the worst you kind of adopt a bit of a ‘bring it’ attitude. It’s a strength that you have given me. Another gift.

And here’s the thing – the reason good ol’ Robbie Williams reached me in this way is because I *should* be loving a four-year-old little girl, but turns out I’m not. Call you an angel, call you whatever – but things are different and loving you as a memory, well, that’s what I’m doing instead.

So today,  this life of infinitesimal wonder, confusing and conflicted awe, marrow-sucking, torturous, life-affirming, mind-blowing, O Captain! My captain! Carpe diem–ness – today it sucks in the most exquisitely bittersweet way.

But, at the bottom of it all… I miss you.

Happy birthday.

Mummy

xx

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Filed under loss, parenting, writing

the best pr in town

The narrative of parenting is littered with clichés. From the ‘being a parent is demanding but oh so fulfilling’ proclamations to the constant worship at the altar of ‘unconditional love’ and the declarations that life was somehow incomplete until the progeny came along, parenting is a public relations dream come true. But I find myself occasionally cringing at how readily we spout banalities when we become parents. It’s a soapbox I have been on before but I return to it again because of a little piece of parenting propaganda from the Hollywood machine.

The film I’m talking about is Baby Mama – now don’t get me wrong, Tina Fey is my total celebrity girlcrush and I get all tingly and excited when 30 Rock comes on the tele. But I found myself weeping with both sadness and frustration at the end of the film and questioning how such representations of parenthood both influence and cloud our perceptions.

Baby Mama tells the story of Kate, a single woman in her late 30’s who has dedicated herself to her career and now finds that she has left it too late to have a baby. (How many hackneyed ideas can you spot in that sentence?) Kate decides to go to a surrogacy agency to have the baby of her dreams. The surrogate mother turns out to be a fraud who deceives Kate into believing she is pregnant in order to make a quick buck. Unbelievably both women fall pregnant to their prospective boyfriends and have perfect babies – ‘happily ever after’ seems inevitable.

I chose this film because I thought it would be filled with irreverent humour and irony – and indeed Sigourney Weaver’s turn as the über-fertile middle-aged director of the surrogacy agency was my favourite part of the film. But what I objected to was the ending where everyone had a baby (naturally I might add, so there’s a slap in the face to anyone who may have conceived a child by other means) and the distinct subtext was that these two unfulfilled women would now be happy because they had entered the exalted club of parenthood.

I admit I was emotional when I watched this film (it was around this time last year, on the day my angel should have turned three) but when I shared my thoughts with my best friend she could see my point. While we both love our kids and now can’t imagine life without them, we wonder why we never felt that we could have chosen a child-free path. The unspoken understanding is that it is a choice you might regret – that the happy ending will somehow elude you if you walk the road less travelled. Our consensus was that, biological imperative aside, parenting has an awesome public relations team on the job. As my friend said, “Having kids can be wonderful but so can other things. And sometimes being a parent can be just damn hard.” But this is not something you hear often. If someone does dare to complain about parenting or their children it is almost expected that they will balance the expression with a platitude such as, “But I wouldn’t swap them for quids.”

After watching Baby Mama I was once again left worrying for women who do not have children – either by choice or by circumstance. How do they cope in the face of the overwhelming juggernaut of parenting PR? Anyone who has watched a friend or relative struggle with IVF or other fertility issues undoubtedly knows the answer to that question. And so this week I have been asking: where are the narratives about women and men who are not, and never will be, parents? Where is the happy ending which doesn’t have kids in it?

What motivated you to have children? Do you ever wonder what life would be like without kids?

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Filed under parenting, writing

the muse, the memory, the master

Ok -so uni is back. And this week it was my turn to post a workshop piece on the topic of ‘Nostalgia’.

The reading for the week was a piece by Bruce Chatwin called A Lament for Afghanistan. It was an ok piece. Sadly, I am not a fan of travel writing – am kinda not really a fan of travel itself. But part of this course has a focus on travel writing – being, as it is, a popular genre in creative non-fiction.

Anyhoo – the focus question to do with this reading says: “Chatwin’s memories of his travels in Afghanistan are triggered by thoughts of another travel writer, Robert Byron. Has any writer put you on a journey into your own past? Write about it, weaving your reading into the memory.”

I *knew* what I wanted to write about, but somehow I came out with a garbled piece about nursery rhymes, Enid Blyton and Little Golden Books. Gah!!! And I was running out of time (to say nothing of work deadlines and all that jazz).

Then, in a nice collusion of coincidence and intensity, I reached a point where the piece I wanted to write found its way to the very top of my brain.

The muse is a deadset mysterious thing.

Out it came. A piece about what is possibly my favourite book ever: The Great Gatsby. I could weep at the literary perfection of this classic. I loved it then and I love it now. (I even have the Popular Penguin coffee mug to prove it ;-))

But this is just a short piece, just a taste. I feel there is more as yet unsaid. It will come. When the muse says it is time.

Without further ado…

Of Cocktail Music And First Loves

The yellow cocktail music pulled me in. The words – exquisite, poetic and yet duplicitous – seduced me, while the tragic narrative broke me in two.

And in the protagonist I found myself.

I was fifteen, discovering ‘literature’ after a lifetime of books. It was the year when the whole world was wondering if George Orwell’s dystopian vision would materialise. I was, of course, perilously perched upon the Newspeak/ Doublethink/ Thoughtcrime/ Big Brother ride of the times. Contrarily, Emma thrilled me, because – and this was a surprise – I adored it. Catch-22 felt like a private joke Joseph Heller chose to share with me alone. And John Irving blew my mind when he introduced me to the weird and wonderful world of Garp.

Then came F. Scott Fitzgerald. And I fell truly, madly, deeply in literary love for the first time.

At fifteen – desperate to escape, dreaming so hard the dreams that would be my way out – The Great Gatsby gave breath to my deepest and most tender desires.

Metaphor captured me, made me listen: Her voice was full of money.

As a girl with pretensions to a writing future it hit me in my sweet spot.

And as a girl from a poor family, I got the metaphor on a visceral level. I envied girls with voices like Daisy. I was Jay himself – ridiculously smitten by an untouchable world.

He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning-fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete.

This almost impossible articulation of a transformative love – a love which renders the subject powerless in its wake – sang itself off the page to me with heartbreaking lucidity.

My own first love belonged to that world too. A girl of poetic beauty, whimsical charm and gentle charisma.  Like Jay with Daisy, I never forgot her. She made her way in the world and I watched – West Egg to East Egg – as she transcended. Above. Beyond.

While I waited. Below.

And all the time, beneath my own swirling surface, there burned twin ambitions: to be someone. And to be someone for her. To be worthy.

And then. Slowly I moved forward. Running faster. Stretching my arms out further. Hoping that one fine morning

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Filed under getting older, uni, writing