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.”