It began as a secret. A small, quiet act of defiance to carry her through the day. As she walked (tarried, resisted) out the door to go to school she would feel for the little zip in the side of her school dress. She’d pull, frustrated, as it stuck, and then, just as it seemed we were all in for a hard morning, the zip would release, and our eldest daughter would calm as she set about her self-made act of survival: stowing away chosen items in her pocket that reminded her of home.
At first they were items tied to me in some way, a piece of jewellery, a sparkly broken end of an earring, a photo of us.
She asked me the other night when was the first time she did it. When was the first time she thought to tie herself secure in this way. I said at preschool. When I was a little girl? she asked. Yes, way back then.
Back then, her teachers would tell me, she would often hold onto to her secret thing when she was upset, weighing and shifting it in her hand, going through the motions of coping. Until one day she no longer needed to.
Perhaps that was when we started giving it its name, the one we still use at home now, part of our common family parlance, along with nicknames, and in-jokes. Everyone, perhaps even Baby J, knows what we are talking about when we mention E’s ‘think about thing.’
What should I use for my think about thing? she asks the living room out loud. Whereas we used to do a crazy scramble dance to find the right something to be thought about, something with resonances of home, precious but not too, and most importantly small enough to fit in the palm of a child-hand or pocket, these days she mostly answers the question herself.
In fact, just recently there has been a significant shift. The ‘think about thing’ has become part of an act of creation.
I wonder if we all have them, individual ways to deal with our fears, idiocyncratic methods of coping. I wonder what my pocket-pieces are? The things I carry around to assure myself there is order in the chaos, anchor in the deep. I know I have them. It’s something I often feel guilty about, that I’m not quite like everyone else, not as strong, as confident, as naturally able-to. I’m a grownup so the secret’s more subtle than a pocket-companion. I’m no longer afraid of school, but I have my places, spaces I feel less than secure, like certain social situations, planes (I’m catching one next week. More on that later), cars. I share my fears with those close to me, of course. But other times, I try my hardest to hide my insecurities, sure if I let them see the light they’ll betray me.
I think about it as I watch E bent over her ‘craft table’ at night. (A fancy name for the small piece of bench in our too-small kitchen given over to her daily ritual of cutting and colouring, pasting and shaping.) There’s no doubt about it, the kid has the introvert sewn deep into her, Dr M and my overactive blood throbbing through her veins, working its way out into her fingers in the form of colour and shape. But, I ask myself, is that really so bad, or, looked at from another angle….is it actually quite the opposite. What if these funny particularities are, in fact, not hindrances but quirky goods?
* * *
Her adjustment almost startles me, one moment she clings to me at the school door, the next (or several weeks later) and she is walking confidently in. She no longer wants me to step over the threshold. I’ve got this, she says, ever the rule follower. The teachers say no parents anymore. I expect her to want to please, she’s like me, she disdains being disliked, but what I don’t expect is for her to be so pleased about it. I wonder, what has shifted, why is she suddenly about to do what before seemed near impossible?
* * *
There is a new energy at the craft table. Discarded paper flys to the floor, scissors snap with intensity, stickers, magazine pictures, it’s all abuzz with the fervency of her action. We tell her we love her work but it’s time for bed. Even artists, especially artists, need their rest. I just need to finish my think about thing. I told D I’d show it to her tomorrow. D is E’s new kindy friend. Two beautiful, sensitive souls who found each other at just the right time. In the afternoons we’ve started staying after school so D and E can play, two sets of relieved parents watching on, shoulders a little lighter. But this is new information. The ‘think about thing’, it seems, is no longer a secret. At least not entirely. D is in on it too.
E arrives home and tells me she no longer has it. What? I ask. My ‘think about thing,’ she declares almost matter of factly.
Where is it? I ask her.
I gave it away, she says.
Uh huh, she nods. And to ……She reels off a list of kids names in her class. Kids I’ve hardly if never heard her speak about before.
They all loved the sparkly stickers, she says. They were really happy to have them….
I stand a little in awe in the silent whoosh left in the absence of my firstborn, flesh of my flesh, running to her craft table to work on tomorrow’s pocket-piece. She has, after all, friends who are depending on her.
And I don’t just wonder, I know, that what we may think of as peculiarities can be in fact particular forms of good. Nothing is wasted in a world that needs, most of all, not perfection, but creative acts of love. Acts that often begin, but need not stay, in the recesses of our own hidden places of weakness.
Image credit: depositphotos