I incurred my first running injury six weeks ago, a couple of years after taking the sport up in earnest. I spent an entire Tuesday wearing impractical, but reasonably stylish, suede clog boots while acting as a parent helper on my daughter’s class trip to the botanical gardens. My feet were tired when I came home, and I knew it, but the following day I went out for my usual Wednesday run with friends from my running club. On Thursday, I could barely walk. A visit to the GP resulted in a diagnosis of probable plantar fasciitis, a not uncommon injury for runners, and the treatment plan was simple: rest.
I stopped running, but I am still responsible for my daughter’s school run and our dog’s walks, so complete rest was impossible. Shortly after beginning my running hiaitus, my husband Markus tore some ligaments while bouldering at the rock climbing gym; he was given crutches and an air boot. The GP referred Markus for physiotherapy via the NHS, and Markus started down the road to recovery, following all the advice given by medical professionals.
Meanwhile my foot kept hurting. Running friends began to suggest private physiotherapy, but I have only recently joined the ranks of those able to buy English tomatoes on the vine without being called out for frivolous spending, so to shell out at least sixty pounds for a private medical appointment did not seem like a viable option. Instead I carried on resting, until finally I could walk mostly without pain, although as soon as I rolled my foot to either side, it was clear that I was not completely healed.
After over a month of crutches and the air boot, Markus went to work wearing both shoes and walking without support. This did not strike me as fair. Here I was, with only a tentative diagnosis, still resting, while Markus, who had been far more obviously injured, was recovering more quickly. “Sod it,” I said to myself, “I’m going for a run.”
I chose the regular Monday evening social run. It felt odd to don my lycra after so many weeks in less skin-tight clothing. When I came downstairs all kitted out, our daughter Louise, ten, looked at me askance.
“Are you really going to go running?” she asked skeptically. Louise was more aware of my injury than anyone else in the family; she had been subjected to my slower walking pace and my occasional outbursts of frustration over the refusal of my body to just shape up already for the last several weeks on the walks to and from school.
“Yes, I really am going to go out running,” I answered.
“Do you think that’s a good idea?” Louise said, scowling.
I winced at hearing my own line used against me: how many times I had used that very line with Louise– hundreds? Thousands? “I think it’s worth a try,” I said, grinning ever-so-slightly.
“Good luck,” Markus said, “Hope the run goes well.”
After the first twenty metres my body remembered how to run. I was aware of my foot, but the pain was manageable. I chatted with the several women running in the slower group with me for awhile, until I settled into my own pace, between the vanguard and the rearguard, far enough from both to be effectively alone. Only then did I give myself over, awash in gratitude for the chance to run again through the night, glimpsing the spectral forms of deer in the six feet of fog that hovered just above the ground, admiring the looming, twisted forms of the ancient trees.
I knew I would pay for the run, but I hoped the cost would be just a bit more tenderness in the affected area of my foot. As soon as I arrived home, I stretched, but then I sat down to eat some of the dinner I had prepared, but not partaken of, earlier. I opened the computer, and of course, as soon as I did that, I was glued to my seat for nearly an hour. When I attempted to stand up, pain screamed through my foot, revealing the full stupidity of having listened more to my mind, that wanted to run, than to my body, that wasn’t ready.
The next morning Louise and I left the house three minutes late.
“Oh no, we’re really late,” Louise moaned as we turned out of our drive onto the footpath. “Should we run?”
I looked at her in horror. “I can hardly walk today, sweetie,” I told her, as I limped quickly along beside her,”There’s absolutely no way I can run.”
Louise fixed me with an accusatory glare. “I’ve noticed something,” she said, and there was a pregnant pause as she waited for the response she knew would come.
I obliged. “What have you noticed?”
“You are not sensible,” Louise declared.
I guffawed. “What makes you say that?”
“Pappa tore his ligaments, and his ankle was all swollen, but he has been sensible. He hasn’t climbed since. Pappa is waiting until he’s all better before he goes climbing. That’s sensible. But you,” Louise continued, drawing out the “you” pointedly, “you hurt your foot, and then when you think it’s kind of better, you go running. It was only kind of better! It wasn’t all better! And now you’re limping and you can’t run at all. That’s not sensible.” Louise’s ten-year old face was crinkled with a difficult combination of concern and exasperation.
I love this about my daughter: she lives in the “real world.” Take our conversation three years ago, when Louise was seven; she and I were chatting about where she might want to live as an adult. “I want to live on the top floor of a block of flats in central London, with a view,” Louise told me in her child’s voice, “And I want to have lots of shoes.”
“That sounds wonderful,” I said carefully, “But it may be rather expensive.”
Louise was unconcerned. “It won’t be too expensive for me. I’m going to have a well-paid job,” she assured me. Then she asked, “What is a well-paid job?”
I smiled. “You could be a salesperson,” I suggested, “Like Pappa’s friend Rachel. She makes a lot of money, but she spends it on traveling instead of shoes.”
“Oh, I want to travel too. I want to go to Mount Everest. I’ll be a salesperson,” Louise said merrily, as if her future was now written in stone.
In many conversations since then, Louise has demonstrated her instinctive grasp of the power of money and the necessity of working to earn it. But she is not the sort of child who will be joining the Young Entrepreneur’s Association, because though financially savvy, she is not driven by business; what truly motivates Louise is social engagement. Louise’s satisfaction rating for any given school day is solely determined by how well her group of friends played together during break times. Louise hosted her first sleepover within months of entering primary school, and her social calendar to this day is the busiest of all the family.
Already, at ten, Louise seems to navigate the vicissitudes of interpersonal relationships more adeptly than I do at forty-seven. It took years for me to become comfortable with the parade of small friends coming to play that Louise required, because I am not like Louise; if left to my own devices, I lean towards the hermetic. When I was Louise’s age, I was calling myself “Beth from Mars” and drawing an endearing picture of the spaceship I had arrived in— which I had christened the “poong-a-doong”— next to my signature. I was fascinated by the monumental statues of the remote Easter Island in the Pacific, and I fantasised about living there, in a cave, with only a raccoon for company (my distant aunt, whom I admired, had briefly kept a pet raccoon, so at least the peculiar pet choice could be traced). When I was in my last year of primary school, a year older than Louise is now, I spent all of every break time leaning against the red brick wall of my primary school, with my nose in a book, on a three-foot high cement block that jutted out from the wall into the playground. I was not completely antisocial, though; I was one of those girls that finds a best friend and doesn’t let her go. But I was in my twenties before I joined friendship groups the way Louise has already.
Then there’s money. Andy Stanton, the author of the Mr Gum books, describes the career history of Friday O’Leary, the heroine’s right-hand man, this way:
“He had been an inventor, a travelling musician, a sailor, another sailor, an American footballer, a fashion model, a Lego model, the King of Sweden, the Queen of Sweden, the first man never to have walked on the moon, a jet pilot, a detective, a mountaineer who explored mountains, a fountaineer who explored fountains, a ninja, a stunt-car racer, a film star, an earthworm-tamer, a famous French chef called Monsieur Canard, a TV presenter, and a professional apple.” (Mr Gum and the Secret Hideout, Andy Stanton, Egmont, 2010, p. 19-20)
My own curriculum vitae is not as colourful as Friday’s, but it is almost as long; it includes job titles such as busker, newspaper section inserter, shop assistant, barista, supply French teacher, telex operator, waitress, full-service petrol station attendant, ice cream scooper, teacher of English as a foreign language, poodle walker, typesetter, and receptionist. When I reached my mid-twenties, I acknowledged that my bachelor’s degree in English (with a minor in French) was not helping me land any sort of qualified career; graduate school held out the carrot of an actual profession, but which should I choose? I remember consulting books that forecast demand and earnings for various professions. These books spelled out for me that professions like “writer” or “musician” were very bad choices indeed— the odds against making a living in either of those fields were despairingly high. With that in mind, I looked for a career choice that would incorporate some of my skills and interests but still earn me a living; my memory of that sifting process is fuzzy, but somehow I settled on speech therapy. I believe my parents gave the idea their blessing, and Markus, my husband, was ready to jump on any bandwagon that would mean I got a “real job”, although the degree would take three years to complete and would land me in the sort of debt that the great majority of American college students have accrued by the time they’ve walked off with their diplomas.
I finished my degree, but I failed as a speech therapist. I preferred the touchy-feely side of the profession— helping children under five learn to use language— to the more practical side, such as teaching older children to perfect speech sounds, or working with adults on swallowing or on regaining spoken language. But it bothered me that I was being paid handsomely for work that, because I was not the sort of inspired therapist who came up with cohesive lesson plans, was not really much more than engaging tiny children in conversation. I may have been able to learn how to lesson plan, but what did me in as a professional speech therapist was my inability to keep my empathy in check. The children I worked with were all inner-city children in Brooklyn— my caseload included Skyler, a boy who came to school several times with deep bruises and cigarette burns on his arms, Ophelia, a selective mute, and Rima, a girl with limited expressive language and a history of sexual abuse. These children were all under five years old. Skyler, the boy with the bruises and burns, bounced back and forth between his parents and the foster care system; I dreamt then of adopting him, and still do, fifteen years later. I can picture Skyler’s shielded eyes and the defensive jut of his chin, and just as vividly I can see the scores of barrettes attached to Ophelia’s painstakingly-perfected plaits, and Rima’s grin, appropriately fierce for a girl who had lived through more, at four, then anyone should be made to endure in a lifetime.
I left speech therapy after just over two years in the field, when Markus and I moved to London. Last year, after thirteen years without paid employment, I took on a very part-time position as a storyteller for preschoolers, filling in for the storyteller who had landed a role as the fairy godmother on roller skates in a pantomime production of “Cinderella”. I was made redundant after less than a year, although my employer kindly assured me that my dismissal had nothing to do with my storytelling skills and everything to do with the business’s irredeemably dire bottom line (I have reason to believe her, as the establishment closed its doors less than a year after I left, but the brevity of the role didn’t do much for my sense of employability). During the thirteen years that I didn’t work for pay, the reactions of my friends and family to my inertia regarding work outside the home ranged from concern to bafflement, from joshing to derision, from mild irritation to sizzling anger. Markus, the person most affected by my disinclination or inability to find and keep paid employment, doesn’t often raise the subject now, but I know that if I were to announce my imminent reentry into the workforce it would be a miracle of such magnitude for him that he might even reconsider his stance as a committed atheist. Although I’ve padded it with the many volunteer roles I’ve filled during my time out of work, my LinkedIn profile is so thin that I shudder whenever I receive word that someone with an official job title would like to join my network.
I do have a job title, albeit unofficial, after my name on my profile though: “Homemaker.” I’ve held this particular position since the birth of our son nearly thirteen years ago; when our daughter was born two years later, the likelihood of another title superseding “Homemaker” in any near future became miniscule. Motherhood, for me, was all-consuming, and particularly when the children were under five, I teetered dangerously close to implosion. The weight of parental responsibility— what I should be doing that I wasn’t, what I was doing that I shouldn’t be doing, and what effects both the omissions and the additions would have on our children— felt like a wooden yoke, so heavy it continually threatened to make my next step the one that would buckle my legs. When our children were very young, a dear relative, Anna, came to help a few times when Markus was away on week-long business trips; mid-way through her second visit, Anna called me out.
“You can’t go on like this,” Anna said, exasperated. “You can’t make the children’s needs so much more important than your own. It’s not really doing them any favours.”
“But the children are more important,” I protested. “Don’t you see? I have to get this right, or it could mess them up for life.”
“You’re taking motherhood far too seriously,” Anna retorted. “The worry definitely isn’t good for you, and it won’t be good for them either, in the long run. They’re fine, and you’re fine. You don’t really need me here— you can do this on your own, you know that, don’t you?”
I bit my lip. “I don’t think I do know that,” I replied. “And I’m not sure that I really can do it on my own.”
The older our children have grown— the more they have become their own people— the easier I find motherhood. I feel less compelled to constantly maintain the persona of a responsible adult; I can laugh with the children now, something I rarely did when they were small. Even when making an effort to exude parental gravitas, there is a particular half-smile that often creases the corners of my mouth when the children say or do things that catch me off-guard. But panic— about the children’s development in general, and about my performance as a homemaker in particular— still creeps around in the wings, and sometimes takes centre stage.
Failure is easy to achieve considering my job description: the cleaning, the shopping for and preparation of nutritious, home-cooked meals, the management of and often taxi service to our children’s many activities, the homework support— with all of these tasks it is simple to fall short of even satisfactory performance. Those are some of the basic requirements of my “profession,” but I’ve expanded the role to include many extras, such as modulation of the emotional climate of the entire household, adding extra cheerfulness if I spot grumpiness, equilibrium if I detect volatility, or tamping should I notice excessive exuberance (this last adjustment, if made while Markus is home, leads my husband to roll his eyes and tell me that they are all “just having fun”). In every area, I don’t hit my targets: the upstairs sometimes goes without being vacuumed for two weeks, the kids don’t always eat enough fruits and vegetables, I don’t always get Louise to activities or even to school on time and Christopher doesn’t have enough play dates, the children spend too much time on screens and not enough time doing homework. As for the extras, like maintaining an aura of contentment with only occasional negative emotions, well, adding that to my internal to-do list was folly in the first place.
Add to the equation that as a homemaker I receive no taxable income— although an internet search turned up several articles suggesting that if stay-at-home parents were paid for the work they do, they would earn six-figure salaries— and I have no formal performance reviews, and it is not surprising that my occupation, such as it is, has not always had a positive effect on my already shaky self-esteem. Christopher, for some years, kept track of what he deemed my acts of less-than-optimal parenting: “September 15, 2010: started screen-free Sundays. March 7, 2011: shouted at Louise unfairly. August 8, 2011: didn’t let me play tennis before leaving for the holidays. January 21, 2012: shouted at me.” Markus, if cornered, will reassure me matter-of-factly that our home is running more or less as a home should. Louise— our sweet daughter— often expresses deep appreciation for dinners she finds tasty, and sometimes tells me that she loves me.
Given the nature of the role and my awareness of my previous employment history, with its many gaps and its appointments lasting no longer than a year and a half, I would not have even considered applying for the position of homemaker without a very grounded partner with whom to job share. I met Markus, my husband of twenty-four years, when I was seventeen; he came to my high school for an exchange year abroad from Sweden. It was love at first sight; Markus was gorgeous, smart, and not only did he live in the real world, but he was like an ambassador from a world much wider than the one I had known until then. The night of our first date Markus loaned me a cassette tape with New Order on side one and Simple Minds on side two. As soon as I arrived home that night, still fantastically giddy, I popped the tape in the stereo, pressed play, and minutes later married Markus. Our actual wedding took place a few years later.
I once had a good friend, Mindy, who had a handful of maxims she often shared with me. Some I liked, such as “Don’t take it personally,” but one of Mindy’s precepts always irritated me: “You only stay involved with people if they fill a need.”
“No,” I would say, squirming, whenever she repeated that particular nugget of wisdom. “I don’t believe that. I think sometimes you just love people altruistically.”
Even as I retorted, I knew I was being naive. Need sullied my shiny fantasy of unselfish love. If Mindy was right, relationships seemed less like a noble and beautiful calling, and more like an earthy tit-for-tat, lasting only as long as each party benefitted; that idea terrified me, because it meant there could come a day when Markus wouldn’t need me anymore. What I underestimated, when that fear swept through me, was the strength of our particular symbiosis; I am like a helium balloon, and Markus is like the person holding the string. Without Markus to shepherd me, I would float off, only to become trapped or deflated by obstacles or, worse, to vanish into the ether, never again to be connected, even by surrogate, to the ground. It is harder to see what Markus stands to gain from holding me: I asked him as much, years ago, before parenthood made separation a prospect with far greater repercussions, and he told me that without me, his life would be too straightforward. Markus comes from a family of foresters; his people are down-to-earth both literally and figuratively, while my family tree includes, among others, a couple of writers, numerous alcoholics, and a Moravian minister. Markus’s greatest fear was of boredom, mine was of becoming unhinged; we were a perfect match.
Both of us pay for our arrangement. I am more safely led, but am tethered in my flights of fancy; Markus is entertained, but limited in his movements by the constant responsibility. But either because the benefits outweigh the costs, as Mindy’s motto suggests, or because our love transcends equations, as I prefer to believe, our partnership works; our marriage has lasted for nearly a quarter century.
Like me, Christopher, our twelve-year old son, is not sensible, but unlike me, Christopher has a label; he was diagnosed with autism at three, then re-diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome at five. In Christopher’s world, there is only black and white; everything is either good or bad, right or wrong— there is no in-between. I was in my twenties before I began to distinguish shades of grey, so I understand Christopher in this regard, but other than that, his world, while equally as removed from “the real world” as mine was in my childhood, is incomprehensible to me. If I had to guess, I would say that Christopher’s internal dialogue is not dialogue at all because it is not based on spoken language; but it may also be that his mind is full of language of which I am unaware because sharing his thoughts has never been a priority for him. Either way, I worry about him. Sometimes I’ve mentioned my concerns about Christopher’s ability to lead an adult life that will conform to societal standards of success to my mother. “Don’t worry,” Mom always says, “He’s a kind, handsome boy. He’ll find someone to look after him.” I raise the topic of Christopher’s future less often with Markus, but when I do, I invariably close with my mother’s nearly exact words, expressing my hope that we will one day hand the string holding Christopher’s balloon over to someone who will take on the role of earthbound partner as Markus has for me. Markus doesn’t argue, which does not necessarily mean he agrees, but does assuredly mean that he doesn’t strongly disagree.
Louise will not need anyone to hold her hand as she walks through life. Like Markus, she has an innate grasp of the workings of the normal world. Given her sociability, Louise may still choose to become part of an intimate team, but if she prefers to stride through her adulthood on her own, I harbour no anxiety that she then would not integrate fully into society. As with Christopher, I worry about Louise’s future— how will she deal with her lot as a blonde-haired blue-eyed girl? Will she learn to further temper her perfectionism? Will her intense love of sugar morph into something more sinister? But the question of her eventual partnership does not trouble me, because Louise may take romantic involvement or leave it, but either way I foresee that as an adult she will exert her very own gravitational field in the galaxy of her influence rather than orbiting anyone else.
Markus and I kept to our self-assigned roles of terrestrial and otherworldly for more than two decades, but five years ago, Markus was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and I was forced to acknowledge that although I had always seen him as rock solid, Markus was capable of falling apart; his illness reminded me that, although I preferred not to see it, there had always been the possibility of a future that would require me to learn to walk on my own two feet. Indeed, during the years before his diagnosis, when Markus was clearly unwell but when we had no idea what was the matter with him, there were periods when I needed to carry more of the weight of daily life with children because Markus was incontrovertibly unable to do more than just lie in bed and survive, sometimes for entire weekends. You would think that the wake-up call of my husband’s diagnosis with an incurable, progressive sickness would have been the impetus I needed to do whatever was necessary to alter my LinkedIn title from “Homemaker” to, say, “Teacher” or “Translator” or any other position that might provide financially for our family, but you would be wrong; I coped, barely, with filling the vacuum left by Markus’s occasional inability to actively parent, but I could not face the prospect of adding paid employment to my workload.
Medicine was a godsend for Markus. The first time Markus was given intravenous steroids it was like the clock had been turned back to a time before the MS began eating away at his body: I was given my husband back, and the kids once again had a dad who had the energy to both look after them and engage with them. The steroid high didn’t last, but even when it faded, the other drugs he had been prescribed kept Markus more functional than he had been in the long years leading up to his diagnosis. I was relieved of occasionally filling Markus’s shoes; I could revert to filling only my own.
Frequently, however, even my own shoes as a mother and a homemaker feel too big. On bad days— the days I say things that our children may need to discuss with therapists as adults, or I find that the dust behind Christopher’s bookcase is nearly half an inch thick, or I hear Louise complaining of toothache and it hits me that she hasn’t been to the dentist for far too long— I try to console myself by looking at what I have gotten right: my most serious substance addiction is to strong black tea, I make occasional mistakes when driving but other than that I am not a criminal, our children have never been truly hungry, have always had a roof over their heads, and live with two parents, one of whom is me.
I sometimes compensate for my failings in common sense by crowd-sourcing. When Louise was given vouchers to her favourite store for her birthday, she wanted to spend a third of her kitty on a pair of headphones to give to one of her besties. My instinctive reaction was “no,” but I told Louise I couldn’t give her a definitive answer until I had checked with Markus. Markus also said “no,” but when I asked why, his answer— “because it’s too much”— left me still fumbling to formulate an explanation of our position for Louise. I decided to turn to another sensible source for assistance, and texted my father: “Urgent parenting question— please advise.” I knew his answer wouldn’t be automatic, because of the several time zones between us, but I was sure he would reply before the next morning.
At bath time, Louise raised the subject. “So?” she asked, her face already a picture of unhappy disapproval. “I guess you and Pa both say no to giving Tasha the headphones?”
“You’re right,” I said, and her countenance hardened further.
“I knew it,” she said. “But why?”
“That’s the part that I can’t quite explain yet. But I’ve texted Dad, and he’ll have something intelligent to say about it. Lie back please, we have to wash your hair tonight.”
Louise’s expression went from sullen to quizzical with a fluidity only children can manage. “Dad?” she asked.
“My dad. Grampy Jim,” I specified. “Not Pa.”
Louise sat stock still, as if stunned by the idea that I, her (in her eyes, hopefully fully-competent) mother, would ever seek assistance from her grandfather, although she was certainly no stranger to the strategy of asking her own Pa for help.
I grinned. “My dad, Grampy Jim, is one of the most reasonable people I know,” I told her. “He has been on the planet for over seventy years, and he has no doubt run into this same sort of situation. He will have an opinion, and he’ll be able to state it much better than I can. He worked as a lawyer for a long time— they’re good at presenting arguments.”
Louise’s petulance returned. “He’ll say no too, I know it,” she grumbled.
“Probably, but at least he’ll have concrete reasons. Now lie back,” I ordered. Louise complied.
With Markus able to parent, and with my small but strong support system, I can seem like a sensible enough homemaker. Most days, I can do the job. But I am keenly aware that it is not a “real” job and that I still have not fully inhabited the “real” world. I aspire to one day alter that state of affairs. I take comfort from the words of John Grant, a songwriter and musician who floundered in addiction and self-destructive behaviours for years, effectively preventing him from truly joining the “real” world himself. The two albums Grant has released since getting clean have been both critical and popular successes; Grant now earns a living through music. In an interview on BBC6Music, Mary Anne Hobbs asked John Grant to speak on “How to Overcome Your Demons” during the “Three-Minute Epiphany” segment of her radio show. All three minutes are worth hearing, but these sentences have stayed with me almost word-for-word since I first heard them— Grant tells Mary Anne that he finally said to himself:
“There’s gotta be a place for you, somewhere. And there’s gotta be a way for you to figure out how to get through this smokescreen of fear and self-hatred so that you can show up for life. So that you can become part of society, and contribute.” (5 October 2014, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p027zxxp, my transcription).
My version of contribution will not look like Grant’s, but his example inspires me; he learned how to tame his interior chaos sufficiently to ride it, rather than letting it throw him every time he tried. If Grant, who for many years acted even less sensibly than me, could find his way, then surely I too can manage to increase my contribution to society someday.
As it stands now, my legacy, for better or worse, will be whatever effect my parenting has on our two children, whom I fervently hope will outlive me for many, many years. I am not narcissistic enough to imagine that my personality and my actions are at the top of our childrens’ lists of ingredients, but I know that I do figure in that list somewhere, maybe in a similar position to salt in a loaf of bread. As with salt, my influence may add flavour in small measure, while it would ruin the taste if overdone. Louise, who is precociously astute for a ten-year old, has already sussed out that the dissimilarities between my umwelt and Markus’s affect her own behaviour.
“I cried when Maggie died,” Louise told me as she dried herself off after her evening bath recently. Maggie, my mother’s sweet golden retriever, passed away a few months ago. Louise had only met Maggie a few times, but had taken to her immediately, despite fearing most dogs. I knew Louise had felt something when I told her Maggie had left our world, but she had kept her tears hidden at the time.
“Did you?” I asked, surprised.
“Yes. But I didn’t cry when Farmor died.” Farmor, Markus’s mother, passed away two years ago, after a long battle with dementia.
I began a silent, fevered scan of possible responses, searching for one that would reconcile my own grief at Farmor’s passing with Louise’s self-reported stoicism. I needn’t have bothered looking for the right words, as Louise was not waiting for my input.
“I think it’s because I don’t speak Swedish very well,” Louise hypothesized. “And when I did meet Farmor, I couldn’t really talk to her.”
“That could explain it,” I agreed.
“But also, you and Pa are different. Pa is more closed,” Louise pointed out.
This time I was ready with a rejoinder. “You have to remember, just because Pa isn’t as obviously emotional as I am doesn’t mean he doesn’t have feelings. Farmor would have had her 90th birthday the day before your birthday this year, and that morning Pa put a picture of her up on Facebook.”
“He did? That’s so sweet! So Farmor’s birthday was the day before mine?”
Louise had known about the proximity of Farmor’s birthday to her own at several points throughout her ten years, but rediscovered it anew that evening, the way children are wont to do.
“Yes, her birthday was the second, and yours is the third,” I confirmed. “By posting her picture, Pa was showing his feelings. He just doesn’t wear his on his sleeve, like I do.”
Louise rolled her eyes. “Too true. You can be a really soppy mum sometimes.”
“You mean like when I cry at any performance that you’re in?” I asked.
“Exactly. Sometimes I even think you’re disturbed,” Louise said, adding tonal italics.
“I’m definitely not your most sensible parent, and I may very well be a bit disturbed,” I conceded, “But I’m the only mum you’ve got, and I do the best I can. And most of the time that isn’t too bad.”
Louise abandoned her tween posturing and instead opened her arms wide. “You’re the best mum ever,” she declared, “And I want to give you a big hug.”
Whatever my shortcomings, I am, in fact, sensible enough never to refuse the gift of a hug from my daughter. I spread my own arms out and waited.
“Are you ready? It’s gonna be a bear hug,” Louise advised me as she approached.
“I was born ready for your bear hugs,” I said, as Louise squeezed me tight.