A couple of weeks ago, on one of the first warm days of the year, little daughter and I were hitting tennis balls back and forth in the back garden. Suddenly, she cried: Mommy, I figured out how to climb the willow tree! Watch me!!
When she had settled into her perch, she said (with real satisfaction): In the summer, I will come up here to read. This will be my secret place and no one will be able to see me.
Although she meant it innocently enough, I couldn't help but wonder: At what age will she want to start hiding from me?
The next day, my youngest daughter left for a week's school trip to France. Although we could see pictures of our children on the website, we didn't get to speak to them. It was a strange feeling: for the first time, she was experiencing a new world that I couldn't access or be privy to. When she returned, I was afraid that she would be changed in some way . . . although she wasn't; not in any apparent way at least. She was still excited to see me; still wanted to share every detail of her week. Change is always a more gradual thing, isn't it? It has an imperceptible, but inexorable, creep.
Yesterday we were having a picnic outside -- our first of the year. Minstel was stretched out so fully and lazily in the sun . . . his abandoned pose made us all laugh. I quickly snapped this picture of my oldest daughter stroking our funny cat -- and later, while studying it, it struck me that she is completely obscured to my eye. It often feels that way. She is still here, still in our house -- but we don't know what she is thinking or feeling most of the time. Politely, but firmly, she has erected an emotional wall. If we are lucky, and catch her in a light mood, we get to see through one of the chinks.
Sigmund sent me a funny card which makes fun of the difference between mothering and fathering children.
A mother knows all about her children.
She knows about romances, best friends, favourite foods, secret fears and hopes and dreams.
A father is vaguely aware of some short people living in the house.
This is true enough to elicit a laugh; but his message inside added so much more to where we are now in the parenting cycle. We no longer "know" our oldest daughter -- not as much as we'd like to anyway. I still know what she reads, and likes to eat, and who she talks to on the phone (or rather, texts), but I don't get a look in to the really important stuff. I think that's what defines getting older. A shame, fear and reluctance to share the hopes and dreams.
Today is Mothering Sunday in England, and I'm struck by the different emphasis of the words. In America, it is Mother's Day -- the biggest restaurant day of the year, and it's all about the mother. But here, but today, I feel that I have been doing the mothering and the emphasis has been entirely on the children. But isn't it always that way? It's the emotional responsibility that never stops. I sometimes tease my mother-in-law that when you have five children, at least one is bound to be in a crisis. If I really need to talk to someone, if I need unconditional love, my own mother is still my first port-of-call.
When my youngest daughter was a much smaller girl, she somehow picked up on the jargon of "quality time." Today, as we took a long walk/bike ride together at her request, she said: This counts as five chapters of quality time. (I owe her several days' backlog of bedtime reading because her father has been demanding his own quality time.)
This puppy isn't part of my family, but I saw him on Friday afternoon and his expression has stayed with me. He was in the trunk (or boot) of a car, gazing wistfully out of a dirty glass.
Even in the most loving families, someone is looking for attention and someone isn't giving it. Someone doesn't want to be looked at, and someone else is doing their best to see through barriers seen and unseen.