I think there is too
much significance given
to just a number.
Will it really make
me reflect on what has gone
and what is to come?
Only in terms of
how much they have grown, and their
best is yet to come.
So the washing machine repair man arrived to sort out the clunking and scraping that mysteriously began during a wash yesterday – which wasn’t coins or rocks or marbles on the inside of the drum. Five minutes later he was out of the laundry and at the kitchen bench:
Off he went to the car.
Blondie: “Ooh, bra wire, how embarrassing!”
JB: “No, not at all – I bet it happens all the time and he’s seen it before. I’m just glad I can finish my washing.”
Back comes Mr WMRM to write his receipt on one side of the bench, while I write a cheque from the other.
He is around 45 with piercing pale eyes and a no-nonsense kind of Germanic attitude punctuated at odd moments with a half smile. Odd.
WMRM: “So I was lucky, the end of the wire was just poking out through one of the holes, and it was out quickly.”
JB: o O (yeah, nice 80 bucks).
JB: “I didn’t even think of that. And I felt across the drum too, to see if it was a coin or rock or marble or something.”
WMRM: “It was right up the front. Most people reach in towards the back.”
WMRM: “It’s not a bad idea to keep bras in a special bag.”
JB: “I do usually. It’s just this is an old bra, so I was cheating.”
WMRM: “Well, there was only one wire, so you might want to keep a look out for the other one.”
JB: “Um, it only had one wire *wince* that’s why it’s an old bra.”
JB: “And that’s probably enough information, isn’t it.”
WMRM: *odd smile*
I’ve just seen Tina Fey’s ‘Mother’s Prayer for her Daughter’ again, which I first read in her hugely enjoyable Bossypants memoir, but it’s also done the rounds as a separate item in the media in recent months – including today via a tweet from the ever-lovely Letters of Note.
It got me thinking there needs to be a boy version, as that’s what occupies my mind. This is my first draft, copying shamelessly from Ms Fey’s style and content, with some original bits left in alongside some subtle (and not so subtle) changes. It may just have to do:
The Mother’s Prayer for Her Son
[With apologies (and grovelling adulation) to Tina Fey]
First, Lord: No tattoos. May neither Celtic symbols for who-knows-what or the Southern Cross constellation stain his tender biceps.
May he be Handsome but not Damaged, for it’s the Damage that draws the needy bimbo’s eye, not the Fine Features of his Father.
When the Crystal Meth is offered, may he remember the parents who picked peas out of dinners. And stick with whatever is Legal, in Moderate Amounts.
Guide him, protect him
When he gets behind the wheel, is a passenger in a car, jumps off things into water, swims with sharks knowingly or otherwise, handles power tools, cycles for fun and recreation, curses under his breath at the big idiot who hears him, downloads one more bloody dub step mp3, sees the woman of his dreams, sees the woman he wants to spend the rest of his life with, and spends more than two hours in any bar ever, anywhere, at any age.
Lead him away from Writing but not all the way to Finance.
Something where he can make his own hours but still feel intellectually fulfilled and get outside sometimes. And not have to wear high heels.
What would that be, Lord? Architecture? Life coaching? Dentist? I’m asking You, because if I knew, I’d be doing it, Youdammit.
May he play the Drums to the fiery rhythm of his Own Heart with the sinewy strength of his Own Arms, so he need not be teased by other Wannabe Drummers who don’t get to lie with Whoever They Damn Well Please cos they’re Hot.
Grant him a rough patch from 11 to 19, or thereabouts. Let him see dogs in clouds and be interested in learning magic for much too long,
For Childhood is short – a Lion Flower blooming burnt orange for one day –
And Adulthood is long and “I’m in my room, leave me alone” will wait.
O Lord, break the Internet forever,
That he may be spared the misspelled invective of his peers
And the online marketing campaign for Rape Hostel V: Girls Just Wanna Get Stabbed.
And when he one day turns on me and calls me a Bitch in front of someone who matters,
Give me the strength, Lord, to yank him directly into a car in front of his friends,
For I will not have that Shit. I will not have it.
And should he choose to be a Father one day, be my eyes, Lord, That I may see him, putting the kettle on at 4.50am, all-at-once exhausted and in love with the woman collapsed in bed next to his now-sleeping baby, who he has watched helplessly in awe for three hours trying to settle this new little life, knowing all he can do is … not much but be there. Being there matters a Lot, Lord, and let him Know It.
“My mother did this for me once,” he will realise as he gently moves the tiny sleeping form from the bed to the bassinet, and pulls the covers up over his beautiful, snoring wife. “My mother did this for me.” And the delayed gratitude will wash over him as it does each generation and he will make a Mental Note to call me. And he will forget.
But I’ll know, because I peeped it with Your God eyes.
(And if you have daughters, or just want to see how unoriginal I’ve been, why don’t you read Tina Fey’s original and you’ll see why I was inspired 🙂 )
I had a lovely (re)discovery recently – a piece of writing I’d forgotten about which emerged as part of an enlightening package of family memorabilia my auntie and uncle have painstakingly prepared and labelled on DVD for the enjoyment of other family members.
On the DVD are old photographs from my Dutch side of the family, along with a Word document containing transcriptions or translations (or both) of oral and written family history from grandparents and great grandparents from the early 20th century. They’re quite a read.
Right at the end of the document, I was surprised to see my own contribution (I still don’t know where you found it, GJ), which was an entry submitted to ABC Radio National’s The Comfort Zone program in 2002. The nasally eloquent Alan Saunders had asked for listener contributions on the subject of ‘what’s the best gift you’ve ever received?’ Although I didn’t win the competition with my entry, it was given a ‘special mention’ on air, which was pretty exciting at the time.
Now, in the interest of not offending anyone who’s ever given me a present, let me just say that the timing of the competition was perfect, just after my son was born. Here’s why:
“Picture this,” my grandmother said to me earlier this year on one of our increasingly special visits, “a young girl of sixteen, walking along the beach on the island of Vlieland, part of Holland. It’s 1932 and she’s about to go to college, a big step for a young woman.
She sees a wooden coathanger on the sand and picks it up, noting the inscribed ‘N.Y.K. Line’ and immediately has fanciful notions of its owner. It must belong to one of the dashing officers from a passing ship, she thinks, looking out to the North Sea. He probably hangs his shiny uniform on special hangers just like this. It might even have been the captain’s!
And so with these romantic thoughts she pockets the hanger and decides it will be a special but practical keepsake for her college uniforms.”
With that, Oma hands me a coathanger from her wardrobe. The wood is smooth and worn with many hues, but the grain still shines thanks to staining and polishing over the years. The ‘N.Y.K. Line’ is carved in a gentle half circle following the yoke shaped wood, from which emerges the curved hanging wire which, amazingly, is still in shape and devoid of rust.
Below that inscription is another one, ‘R. Kapsenberg,’ my grandmother’s maiden name; and the number 37, her college number. I recognise the deliberate, neat lettering as hers and it blends comfortably with the corporate logo.
Having been to Holland with my husband for the first time three years ago, I have seen those North Sea beaches that stretch for miles under the grey-blue skies of Europe. It was easy for me to imagine my grandmother walking along those shores, young and full of promise, never dreaming that in fifteen years she would leave Holland with her husband and two young daughters bound for Indonesia, where a son was born, before arriving in the totally foreign environment of the Western Australian goldfields in 1950.
After fifty years she calls Australia home, but in 1932 her imagination was dominated by the landscape of her youth and the romantic sentiments of adolescence.
“Here,” she says, “you have it”, because she knows, without either of us saying anything, that I will treasure it as a memento of her youth and a reminder of my cultural history.
“What a coincidence about the 37,” I say, “because that’s how old I am now.”
It seems to have been the right time for me to receive it, because I then tell her I’m pregnant, and in September my grandmother’s first great-grandchild is born.
So now the coathanger rests with a superior air on the nursery clothes rail alongside its smaller plastic, mass-produced relatives, waiting for its story to be passed along.
A few years after finding the coathanger, my grandmother graduated from college. On the DVD are two photos from her family graduation celebration, including this one where she is being congratulated by her mother. It’s the only photo I have ever seen of my grandmother as a young person looking relaxed and happy – isn’t it wonderful!
[Kapsenberg house, Groningen, c1936]