Scary stories from a lovely place
The other day I was parked in a shaded grove with my three sleeping sons. Yes, three, all asleep at once. There wasn’t much else to do but embark upon an arboreal reflection of my parenting life.
Trees and their leaves and fruit have distinctive scents. This, and the leaf litter and plants that cover the ground and the animals that call it their home add to the atmosphere. These scents and sounds bring reflection – bird calls and crickets and rustling leaves conjure up all manner of memories.
I’ve sat in the car with my sleeping children hundreds of times. I’ve sat with Stephen and watched waves or whales foundering in the sea in spring time. We’ve shared pide and kormas, burek and chocolate while we’ve listened to our sons sleeping, and talked together in hushed tones about our lives. I’ve done it with friends while we’ve chatted or shared lunch, and I’ve always wondered if they’ve thought I was crazy – ‘can’t your kid nap in his bed’? No, often he can’t.
But mostly I’m alone, parked in my driveway, or at the beach, or in some pretty, treelined street with a book or the New Testament or The Monthly Magazine. Or Ebay. In my boring, yet relentlessly unabating life as a non-working mother, these moments are eerily peaceful. They are heady in their briefness and ripe for quiet reflection.
I remember one occasion in Johannesburg when I only had one sleeping son in the back of my car. I parked my tiny, white Mazda in a street near my house. It was lined with grand Jacaranda trees whose leaves were all but gone, and whose twisted bare branches let the warming winter sun shine through to my face. I wrote down some ideas about racial equity on empty pages of my once busy diary and wondered how on earth all the deeply unfair stuff in the world could get worked out. I agonised over how I could possibly contribute in a useful way to this resolution. And I felt useless, except as I stood guard over a precious, bald baby, breathing mellifluously. And I felt clarity about all sorts of things. Clarity, as I listened to my firstborn’s snoring. Clarity, as I thought about my old home and my new one. Clarity, as I thought about my lovely husband, working hard, and the future.
Now my opinionated children are all but grown out of day sleeps, except on these rare occasions. My baby catches his naps when he can, in between being cuddled and kissed and tickled. Now sleep has become a weird commodity that I don’t really even care about any more. I am awake and up multiple times a night – to comfort and feed my baby, take a son to the toilet, restore covers to a cold body, or rub my husband’s hand. I read news stories linked through twitter in the night and reflect on how grim the world is and how impoverished my nation’s compassion is towards desperate people. During the day if one or two children nap at the same time, I desperately pour affection and attention into the souls of the other kids. Or I steal a few pages in my book. Or I munch some gingerbread cookies. Or I sneak into my bedroom and lie on my bed, enjoying a cup of tea and the light from the sky on the print of my bedspread.
If they all sleep at once, I stop. I breathe and know that it is a rare, precious moment. I say thank you. I look out my windows at the trees, the Jacaranda and the Hibiscus, the Lemon and the Fig nextdoor, their leaves and the shadows they cast. I marvel at life, at my failings, and at the beauty of innocence and potential. I could freak out about all that has been entrusted to me, three precious little boys and their consciences, but I don’t have the time or the energy. They’ll be awake soon and asking for chocolate.