draw me a parent (drawing the absence)
Today is my mother’s birthday, next February she will be dead 10 years. There is a photograph taken during the last July she was alive, my mother, my daughter and I, and I see just how long ago 10 years is : I am carrying my daughter on my hip in a sarong that B brought me back from Bali long before I became a mother. My daughter does not really remember her grandmother being embodied in flesh, but I think she has another knowledge. The white shirt I am wearing, the purple skirt and the sarong are still with me today, I can still carry my daughter, but I rarely do.
Seven months exactly after my mother’s death I almost killed us three, my children and I, one morning, driving to school/playgroup. My son insisted on going to school trotzdem (he’s learning German nowadays). I decided to walk home, it took the best part of the day, I carried my daughter for most of the way, it rained and we got soaked, and then air dried in the September sun. We stopped on the side of the road and ate what I had packed for her elevenses, we remember bread and cheese, she remembers stopping and sitting. Before we reached home she complained that it was now sore to sit on my shoulders, it had been a long trek, but we were alive. I have lived through a number of near-deaths experiences but that time I walked away from the shock. When we reached home we were on the side of the living. It had taken that long to come back from hovering in between. It felt my mother had left the door open when she left and I might fall in, but the children kept me on their side.
In the beginning of the grief the most painful thing was the interrupted conversation, but after a while you realize you can still tell in some way or other. With my mother gone the main defining thing was ceasing to have to justify myself, becoming a person. But in a way I am still doing that : about a month ago, I made a sketch for a proposed installation and for the first time in my life the sentence “I can’t draw” did not ring before I put pen to paper as I realized this had happened every single day of my life before that—ah, the manure in your head, good to expel it finally, breathe it out ! It had not really stopped me, but it had in some way disabled me, I had always been drawing trotzdem, fromnowon I can just simply enjoy my near constant doodling-drawing, I have two hands and a good collection of pencils, I can actually draw.
For a while I had on my fridge a cutting from The Guardian when at the end of 2007 the readers had been asked to send in a photograph of their favourite moment in the past year.
When she was eight, our daughter was told by her PE teacher at school that she was the worst swimmer she had ever seen. This summer, aged 16, Alexandra swam the breaststroke leg in the 4x100m medley relay for Great Britain at the European Junior Championship in Antwerp. They won gold and smashed the European Junior record. If you get a chance, take it.
There are always going to be people who will tell you you can’t do something (and not just when you are a child), the trick is not to go on repeating it to yourself when they have gone off on their own frustrated or unhappy way.
[see the labels I concocted for my concoctions, the tarragon vinegar is still naked and so is the new sweet blackberry vinegar, a great Winter friend]