'What I do is me: for that I came.' G M Hopkins

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Bells and Babies

I was at the dentist the other day and it struck me that his gentle talk was designed to conceal the torture he was about to inflict. I needed a replacement filling because the one he put in a fortnight ago came out with the muesli the next morning. Full of apologies, he injected my gum with a ‘Just a little scratch’ and sent me off to wait five minutes for the big freeze. Suitably benumbed, I returned to the big chair where he settled me back and said, ‘Just a little water then.’ Just a little water? He was hovering over me with a mini pneumatic drill and he thought he should warn me that the dental nurse would be squirting a jet of cold water into my mouth! Of course, that’s what I want when I’m in the dentist’s chair – reassurance, lies even, if it makes the whole experience more bearable.

We pretend all the time, making believe that things are not quite what they seem because the truth is too terrible. We’re in the throes of a very busy time: two weddings and a baby over the next few months and if another person says it sounds like a film, I shall scream. Wedding #1 is in less than a fortnight. Our darling baby girl is going to leave us and go to live with a boy and the man and I are pretending it’s all ok.

At the hen weekend we dressed her up in a big fat wedding dress and the trashy guests paraded her on the Lisburn Road. For some reason I had been instructed by the bridesmaids to come dressed as the father of the bride so I wore the man’s tux, got mistaken for a lesbian and made a speech which concluded:

It’s hard for me as her father
To lose her to another man
I hope he takes care of her as I have done
My pain no one understands

For I have loved having her at home
To brighten up my days
And I am going to miss her
In oh so many ways

For she has been my sunshine
Every day and every hour
Please raise your glasses to the bride
My beautiful sunflower!

We love her fiance (although I’m not sure about the animal print babygro he wore on his stag this weekend) and so does she, but do we really have to let her go without a struggle? We will all dress up, that’s if I can walk in the shoes I bought online, and smile for the cameras and dance till dawn but what we’re really doing is giving her away! Just like that! In one short ceremony, she will become someone else’s responsibility, for life! I’m not sure that I can bear it. I gathered all the photos of her together before the hen do and I cried for the years that have gone and can never be recovered. She is my precious girl and now she’s getting married. She can’t wait; I can.

Once it’s over the whole shebang begins again for another wedding next June. This time we’re giving our daughter away to a foreigner – a South African, no less. His mother came to stay this week to meet her future daughter-in-law and check out our mad family. She is lovely and we had a good time together but she and I both acknowledged that in the future one of is going to be apart from our children and grandchildren. We actually smiled and pretended that that’s ok too. What’s wrong with us? 
And then there were the cupcakes. Our eldest daughter and her husband invited us over for dinner and served us delicious homemade cupcakes for dessert. Each one was decorated with our names in honour of the occasion. What occasion? I could not see my name but the cake labelled ‘Gogo’ was clearly for me. Gogo? Gogo is a term used in Africa for an old grandmother!  The man’s cake said ‘Papa’. Naturally we are delighted that they’re pregnant but it’s a massive change in our roles and relationships. Their cakes said ‘Mummy’ and ‘Daddy’, but I’m the mummy, aren’t I?

In a time of such massive fluctuation, is anything staying the same? No! Our children are children no longer and their lives and loves are blossoming and bearing fruit. We cannot hold back the tide of change but sometimes it feels like our time is over and all we can do now is cheer from the stands. How’s that for a mixed metaphor? Have I done enough to prepare her for married life? Have I been a good enough role model?

I love Stanley Kunitz’s poem The Layers where he asks,

How shall the heart be reconciled to its feast of losses?

He hears a voice which instructs him to live in the layers, not the litter. The only way forward is to step over the debris of the past, embrace the changes and welcome the new people, married, in-laws and as yet unborn and allow them to enrich who I am so that I can become who they need for the future.  I don’t have to pretend it’s all easy but I can choose to say bring on the bells and babies and whatever adventures lie ahead.

I turn
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go,
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me…

No doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.