How do you begin to describe the love you have for a child, especially in a way that has any resonance or truth for them? And in exploring that love, do you finally begin to recognise and have to accept an inexorable process during which our ordinariness as human beings becomes not merely a revelation to them, but a disappointment, a soft unhealed spot now exposed to their careful aim?
It’s true I always wanted to be good at things across the board. Primarily that was so that as the children grew up they would know you can do lots of things as well as be parents if that’s what you want to do. Without thinking about it too much I wanted to simultaneously be a great cook, housekeeper and homemaker, craftswoman, sewer, gardener, provider of stimulating experiences for the babies and toddlers and, as they grew, the little gamboling laughing squealing girls and their flocks of friends. I loved all those things anyway. Everything clean and orderly: tidy bedrooms, fresh beds, fresh clothes, books and toys arranged ready to play. Birthday parties in parks, balloons in the trees. I wanted to be an impeccable partner and mother. And besides that I wanted to grow my mind and spirit too. So there was a lot going on in any given day, week, month and year in our family.
At some point my gaze must have shifted from the centrality of mothering as a blueprint for my life, to what might be the path ahead for me, for us, once the children became more independent. And in starting to read and study and write, my heart was pleased that I might be modelling more things that can be done. My heart told me I could keep adding to the portfolio of things one could manage as a parent. Work, study, play, maintain the household, help with homework, stay fit. Keep juggling the balls.
I returned to one of the old haunts the other day. Many places around this city have meaning for me as places of the past, of the heart. The car, loaded with three children, food supplies, a car rug, a few toys, would disgorge its frisky cargo at a park or beach. I have a photo on my study wall of the youngest aged about 18 months old (the others would have been about four and seven) in a pink romper suit, standing ramrod straight and sure in the bright sun at the Auckland Domain, gazing steadily at the camera. It may have been a hot Autumn like this one: something about the light in the photo. She’s side-on, looking at me over her right shoulder. I imagine I had snuck up near her as she was eating and studying the various activities going on, and called her name. In that instant as she turned: snap with the Ricoh. Her eyes intensely blue, very blonde hair caught up in a pink ribbon that falls over her fringe, lips pursed in mid-chew. Skin peachy plump and soft looking. Face composed, unsmiling, just looking. In one hand is a nibbled wine biscuit; on the grass, a blue plastic cup. Her foot on the corner of an old car rug is the same plump muscled foot that played a bit part not long ago in photos of a cat in our apartment in Venice.
I circled this area near the Wintergardens warily the other day, glancing through the trees as I drove by slowly looking for a carpark, testing out how it might feel to remember it all, what it must have been like on another sunny day about 18 years ago. I need to reclaim some of these places and memories, to be able to relive the intentions and the dreams, re-balance them with how things have turned out. Recalibrate the present. The other day being a fine weekend, there were families everywhere. For an instant, a vivid kind of pain.
But after a time in the Wintergardens taking photos, it was OK. I wasn’t thinking about anyone in particular, or any one visit in the past. There was just a vague and relatively comforting familiarity, and anyway it’s a lovely place to lose yourself. Maybe it’s the orderliness of it: intense bursts of colour and sensuous lushness contained, crimped and controlled for our viewing pleasure. Satisfied with a crop of photos, I wandered out and across the Domain, through clusters of people paying ball, up the hill toward the War Memorial Museum. Those skies so intensely blue, the air mild, the breezes balmy. I lay on the thick grass and allowed the sun to warm my face. I skirted the Museum, hugging it closer now, taking more photos, suddenly thinking of my father and his time as a WW2 prisoner of war. Anzac Day soon. Then looking out over the city and harbour, again I thought of my little girl in the photo, as the Museum had later become a favourite place for her when she was about 3 or 4. She would visit regularly with her Nana while I went to work.
Puffy clouds passed overhead. Finally I headed down the hill to where I’d started, cutting through the area under the trees where I thought we would have been camped all those years ago, on a similar day. Children’s shrieks and laughter rang around the space. An older girl with a camera shepherded three small ones in front of me over to a park bench saying now you’ll have to sit here and give me a nice big smile. I wondered if it would help to linger for a while, then decided against it knowing it wouldn’t lift the sense of things lost. It was enough to have managed to confront the feeling by walking through, thinking Yes, we were here, and we were happy.