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I went with my girl friends to see “It’s Complicated” last night.  We laughed and laughed, louder than almost everyone else.  It was complicated.  It was about divorce, of course, but also about children moving out and women moving on, and it was very upbeat about that.  I’ve been remembering how happy I was before I had children, and telling myself that there is no reason why I should not be happy after they have stopped living here all the time.  I am sad, thinking about it, but resolved to look on the bright side too.

In the summer I went to hear Sharon Olds read this poem.  I got her to sign the book with it in, on this page, for my two daughters, but really for me.

High School Senior (from The Wellspring)

For seventeen years, her breath in the house
at night, puff, puff, like summer
cumulus above her bed,
and her scalp smelling of apricots
–this being who had formed within me,
squatted like a bright tree-frog in the dark,
like an eohippus she had come out of history
slowly, through me, into the daylight,
I had the daily sight of her,
like food or air she was there, like a mother.
I say “college,” but I feel as if I cannot tell
the difference between her leaving for college
and our parting forever–I try to see
this house without her, without her pure
depth of feeling, without her creek-brown
hair, her daedal hands with their tapered
fingers, her pupils dark as the mourning cloak’s
wing, but I can’t. Seventeen years
ago, in this room, she moved inside me,
I looked at the river, I could not imagine
my life with her. I gazed across the street,
and saw, in the icy winter sun,
a column of steam rush up away from the earth.
There are creatures whose children float away
at birth, and those who throat-feed their young
for weeks and never see them again. My daughter
is free and she is in me–no, my love
of her is in me, moving in my heart,
changing chambers, like something poured
from hand to hand, to be weighed and then reweighed.

Prendre un enfant par le coeur

Take a child into your heart

Pour soulager ses malheurs

To lighten her load

Tout doucement,sans parler, sans pudeur

Gently, without speaking, with no modesty,

Prendre un enfant sur son coeur

Hold a child to your heart

Prendre un enfant dans ses bras

Take a child into your arms

Mais pour la premiere fois

But for the first time

Verser des larmes en étouffant sa joie

Cry tears of joy

Prendre un enfant contre soi

Holding the child against you

Prendre un enfant par la main

Take a child’s hand

Et lui chanter des refrains

And sing her lullabies

Pour qu’il s’endorme a la tombée du jour

So she falls asleep as night falls

Prendre un enfant par l’amour

Hold a child with love

Prendre un enfant comme il vient

As she wants to be

Et consoler ses chagrins

And console her worries

Vivre sa vie des années puis soudain

Life years of her life with her, then suddenly

Prendre un enfant par la main

Take a child’s hand

En regardant tout au bout du chemin

Looking far ahead

Prendre un enfant pour le sien

And let the child be herself

At the foot of the slope an ambulance was parked silently, drawing our attention to it by its quietly flashing lights which pierced the cold, noisy air full of laughter and happy screams.  Two paramedics in green overalls busied themselves and the doors closed and the ambulance set off out of the park.  The driver looked pleased with himself, his white horse making easy work of the snow.  He was a volunteer, called in to help out the state ambulances which do not usually have four wheel drive.

Three people were left behind. The youngest took off immediately with his sledge for another run.  A young girl of about twelve was crying, and the man took her in his arms and hugged her, and she hugged him, and they stood for a long time, just holding each other.  Eventually the boy returned, and the three of them set off out of the park, the boy carrying his red sledge. One family member missing.

I missed my children then, walking by myself with my dog in the park.  I missed having an excuse to go to the slopes and be part of the fun.  I missed being part of something whole and self-contained, a family group that did not need anybody else but was sufficient unto itself.  I missed, especially, my daughter who had just returned to boarding school.  Yet, I could not wish that we were all still sledging on that slope frozen in a childhood that has grown older: I knew that my older daughter had been there with her friends only the day before and had come back full of her excitement of it all.  An excitement that did not need me, except as its witness.  She was independent and brave enough to go out and find her own enjoyment.

Yesterday I was shopping for food in our neighbourhood store.   I caught a snatch of a small child’s voice.  She wanted her Mummy to buy something so she could make something with it.  Her voice was insistent, confident.  I stopped and listened, invisible the other side of the shelves, remembering how much I had enjoyed making things with my daughters.  Our kitchen was always full of the things that we had made together.  The fireplace in the kitchen an ever changing gallery of the creations of paper, paint, glue, pasta, leaves stuck up with blutack.  Now they have gone, many of those creations safely kept in a box for each daughter in the dining room.  How I miss those craft sessions.  I miss having a huge cupboard overspilling with bits and pieces of art material.  I miss the warmth of the kitchen full of cooking smells and happy children.  The child appeared, dressed in her green and red school uniform, her hair neatly plaited.  The last minute child of a mother of my one of my elder daughter’s friends, twelve years younger than the older sister, and just started at school.

I chatted with the mother and the daughter, hearing all about the pink violin that Father Christmas had brought, and the first violin lesson that had not happened yet but was anticipated with such excitement that it was the first thing the child said to me.  And the mother told me all her woes and asked if I would arrange a dog walk with her.  She does not have a dog, so she meant she wanted to walk with me.  I was surprised, but pleased, but part of me saw that she was looking to me for care, for comfort, and I needed people to offer that to me as well.

My daughter phoned up.  She told me that she loved me very much, that she’d pierced her ear again.  Three on one side, one on the other now.  I searched through the list of possible responses, and gave her acceptance, coupled with my wish that she would stop there, that I did not want her to have any more holes in her ears.  She reasured me, told me she loved me again.  We had had the same conversation before Christmas.  But I did not know what else I should say.

Afterwards I asked my elder daughter if she had known about these piercings.  She said she had, but had been sworn to secrecy.  She told me that there was another one.  Another hole, in the other ear.  Now I felt out of control.  This would not have happened if she had been at home, I felt.  The ever present fear of disapproval would have prevented these piercings.  I felt angry that we had allowed her to go to boarding school against my inclinations.  I had to carry through so I phoned her back and told her that I was upset that she hadn’t told me the truth, that she would have her allowance halved if she did not remove one of the earrings.  She sent me photos protesting, protesting how much she liked them.  She also said that she wanted to come home because everyone else was going home, and that was difficult because she was not allowed to come home.  It is so hard being so far away from her, being restricted to texts answered when she has a moment.  It is all so hard.

And yet.  It has to be.  I have to let her go, and find a new life for myself that is not defined so much by what I am doing for my children.  Finding anything that matches the satisfaction of having been at home with them seems impossible, or at least unlikely.  Dangerous even to take pride in how they are for fear of taking away from their own achievements.  They are wonderful girls.  Intelligent.  Strong willed.  Beautiful.  Kind.  Thoughtful.  Polite.  Well mannered.  Creative.  Adventurous.   Interesting.  Demanding.  Both leaders.  I am so proud of them.  We will go and see my pierced daughter on Sunday, and I will hug her, and she will hug me.

“You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.”

The parking spaces were deserted.  Probably a good thing, since my husband told me this was a popular spot for dogging.  Wasn’t quite sure what that was. Or cottaging.  Not what you want to come across.

Our wolf dog is wild in the snow.  I think the smells above the surface of the snow are more potent, because the smells beneath the snow are blanketed out.  I can smell people more in the snow, I noticed.  Their perfume hangs behind them more than it would otherwise, the competition sealed beneath.  So he runs crazily from piss-post to piss-post.  They are quite obvious in the snow, surrounded by sprays of yellow.  Ugliness usually hidden.  Amazing how he keeps some back, to spray a little here, a dribble there, and then shoots off to find the next way point.

The track meets the river and we turn left along the rising cliff.  Here the snow is hardly marked though, oddly,  a neat, narrow caterpillar track has been cut into it.  A quad-bike, most likely.  Must have been fun, I thought.  Then, after a while, blood.  Bright red blood.  On the path.  Not just a drop, but large patches of it ahead as far as I can see.  I don’t like the look of it and hang back.  I feel frightened, let my husband investigate.  All horrors of men gasping their last breaths, suffocating in the snow, clasping at branches.  Off to the side, at the site of the first patch, is a messy mixture of snow and vibrant life blood, and a footprint on top.  But no sign of a body.

The trail leads off up hill, and the dog runs ahead, stopping to sniff each patch, sometimes licking.  It goes on forever, the trail of blood.  A patch here, and then another.  Not constant drips, but heavy pools soaked into the snow.  I imagine the wounded man dragging himself up the rising track.  At its highest point, the bloody trail goes off left into the woods, under a barbed fence.  Definitely something dragging itself along.  The dog follows his nose, trotting along the crimson trail, along a path that is so deeply cut in the snow that he almost disappears and we struggle to see where he goes.  No sign of a corpse, no excitement in him for a find.  We call him.  He sniffs some more then bounces across the deep snow to us.  We imagine the dying animal finally giving up, the carcass becoming cold and rigid.  It’s not what you would call a good start to the morning’s walk.

As we trudge on through the snow we distance ourselves from the sight of it.  We meet another couple of walkers and exchange news with them.  They’ve already been this way and seen the blood.  Poachers, the man says.  Yes, I think.  It must have been.  For anything else is too horrible, and that is quite horrible enough.

We try to walk round in a circle, coming back along the shingle beach, but the snow is slushy under the surface and it is like paddling.  We walk back along the bloodied track, and the dog has another lick of the iron-rich stains, and then we drive to a pub with an open fire, and eat steaming mussels with hunks of bread to dip in the cream soup underneath, and sip mulled wine and thick dark ale, driving out the bloodiness.