THE SISTERS' SONG coming in January 2018 from Allen and Unwin. Sign up to my newsletter.

I sat on the plane feeling empty and bereft. It took off, up and westward, following the sun. The buildings below quickly became matchboxes, and the clouds drifted in and thickened into a matted carpet so I could no longer see the city below, the city where I’d left you. The plane kept flying, oblivious to my tears.

I want to tell you how much your Dad and I have enjoyed your life so far. If we could have put in an order, you’re exactly what we would have wished for—your sweetness, kindness, and humour; your hard-working self-discipline; your wisdom, confidence, and maturity. You’re everything I wish I’d been at your age.

You, like your sister and brothers, were born out of love. After months of excitement, you arrived. The excitement gave way to a fatigue the likes of which I’d never experienced—you weren’t a sleeper, as we’ve reminded you many times and which I’ve written about before. Night-after-night, we bounced you in our arms. For months, the only reason I crawled out of bed in the morning was because I knew I could stumble back into it again that night. Day-after-day my lids twitched, wanting to close.

Then came the fear. Fear of the unchartered waters of first-time motherhood. Fear of doing the wrong thing—of feeding you too often or not enough; of being too lenient with discipline or, god forbid, too harsh. Fear of scarring the perfect being in my arms. Fear of the responsibility that lay in my lap.

And there was pride. The pride of seeing your tiny mound in the bassinette. The pride at what we had created, that we had made you. 

Meanwhile, the love grew. A love so deep that skin-to-skin wasn’t close enough—I wanted to pull you inside of me, tuck you within. I sat and gazed at you as you slept on my lap or in the bed beside me.

And there was joy. The joy of watching someone grow. Of watching your personality emerge, of seeing you become an individual, your own unique person. The joy of learning about you, of discovering who you were—which Banana in Pyjamas you liked best (B1); that you liked to dance in the nude; that your favourite colour was brown. You weren’t what I’d imagined—you were even better. More unique and more beautiful than anything I could have dreamt up. 

There was also the joy of not just bearing witness to your life, but of being a special part of it—of seeing you smile when I appeared, of being wanted, of feeling loved.

Then we brought home your sister. At first, you welcomed her, wanting to hold her and help me bathe her. Soon came the pain of not being able to play with you or pick you up when you asked because I was busy suckling and changing and rocking. I had to ask you not to hit her—the first time you’d ever been scolded. And when you didn’t stop, I sent you to your room, where you cried. I wanted to say ‘I understand. I hate how this baby has taken me away from you, too.’ We both took time to get used to it.

There were frustrating times. Trying to teach you that just because you can climb out of bed doesn’t mean you should. At one am. Or two am. Or three am. And do you have any idea how difficult it is to strap a tantrum-throwing two-year-old into a car seat? I soon learnt why there are child-proof locks on car doors. And what about the time I nipped into the supermarket for dinner supplies, your sister in my arms, and dragged you up and down the aisles on your knees as you cried.

There was the pain of prising your tiny fingers from my skirt so I could go to work—the pain of leaving you crying and the feeling of emptiness each time.

Then, when you started school, there was the guilt at walking out on you. You, I might add, didn’t look back.

There was pride when your class sang at assembly and I was sure I could hear your voice above everyone else’s. Pride as I waited for you to recite your one-line solo—there were other children on the stage too, but I didn’t notice them. There was pride as teachers told us how good you were, how neat your writing was, how musical you were, and I was convinced they’d never had a pupil like you before.

Teachers mentioned your quietness and I tried not to worry about that—I knew you needed time to get to know people before you came out of your shell. I knew, too, how daunting you found big groups and how much you enjoyed being on your own. I also knew how much you could talk when you did relax—I loved how you followed me around, chat-chat-chatting, giving me a blow-by-blow description of your day and barely pausing for breath! I saw the inner confidence that your quietness belied.

There was the anxiety as you prepared for performances—the thumping in my chest and how I stopped breathing until you sang or played that first note. Then I played along with you, moving with you, breathing with you—as if by doing that, your own breath wouldn’t run out.

There were tears and anger when someone was mean to you—your tears, my anger. And later, when you’d forgotten all about it, I still remembered.

Remember how you loved Harry Potter, the novels of Tamora Pierce, and anything to do with King Arthur. And your love of AFL and the Eagles. I remember, too, how you impressed a group of boys with your knowledge of planes.

Then came high school and more fears. The fear of getting a bad mark. I wonder now why I worried about all of that—it didn’t matter after all. And there were other fears: worrying about how much independence to give. The tears when you disagreed and wanted to be in every ensemble, every sport, every production. I put my foot down and said, ‘No, it’s too much.’ And you said, ‘But they’re good things to be in.’ I agreed but each year repeated, ‘No, it’s too much for a thirteen-, or fourteen-, or fifteen-year-old …’ Then I worried that maybe I was wrong—maybe I was being overprotective and should let you judge for yourself. It was the only thing we ever argued about.

There was the hurt when everyone else but you had been invited to a party—out you came in floods of tears after seeing the photos on Facebook. My arms went around your shoulders, and I told you to forget about it, that it wasn’t worth your tears. But inside I felt so angry and I’ve barely been able to glance at that person since.

Still there was joy—so much joy. Joy in your company as increasingly we chatted like friends and shared our thoughts. You told me of your dreams and I told you to go for it—to study hard and work hard and take the opportunities as they came. Not that you needed telling.

There was the joy at seeing you strive for your goals and reach them. Joy when you got an ‘A’, or were selected for the swimming team, or won your section in an Eisteddfod. There was more anger too—at stupid teachers who didn’t give you the mark you deserved; at stupid coaches when they didn’t put you in the team; at stupid music examiners and stupid judges at Eisteddfods who announced someone else as the winner—how could they possibly not see your talent?

Now you’re an adult. My job as mother of a child is done. At times, I’ve fumbled my way through, making mistakes, saying and doing embarrassing things, but I’ve tried and kept on trying. I looked to parenting books and experts to guide me when I didn’t know what to do. And I listened to my heart—which, I think, gave me the best advice of all. 

Most of the fear and worry has dissipated. Instead, there’s excitement—the excitement of watching your future unfold. And there’s also peace—the peace of knowing that you are happy. 

I give you to the world now, and go, with my blessing. I’m here and I always will be, waiting with my arms open, ready to give you love. Always love, whenever you need it.

Your Mum x

 

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THE SISTERS' SONG

Coming January 2018 (Allen and Unwin)

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