Fussing was futile. Hope knew that. She held the wood gently against the lathe until it screamed. She carefully swayed the timber, letting the tones in the sound guide the movement of her hands.
She’d seen so many children raised. Raised some herself. Even raised some for others. She had long since realised where they came from and what they were. Each and every one of them light from the past and dust off the stars. That was enough. Hope had found no order in bringing up children. Not really. Love them and feed them, she thought. Everything else would take care of itself. But how could she tell that to Sarah?
Hope watched as her calloused red hands worked the wood, transforming its rough edges smooth. The familiar ripe smell of camphor pervaded the air. She would soak the wood in lavender before constructing the cradle.
“Goodness knows, this baby will need all the calming it can get if Sarah doesn’t settle,” she said out loud to herself. Finishing one spindle, she started on another.
She’d been so happy to have Sarah home that she’d let them have the cottage. And at first it was wonderful. They were all so full of enthusiasm, wanting a cleaner, greener life. Then Sarah began to run little Bradley ragged, or so Hope had thought. She wished Sarah wouldn’t worry so much. She found herself dropping little hints.
“In the end they all find their own way darling,” and “Don’t worry honey, you didn’t learn to swim till you were seven.”
”That might be so,” said Sarah. “But what’s wrong with giving them a good start? A better start.”
And then on she had gone about the competitive nature of the modern world and how, by now she really ought to have his name down at the right schools or it would be too late.
“Everything is so much harder today,” she’d said. Hope remained silent. They both had the best of intentions.
Outside a car drone became louder and the dog began to bark in the yard. Hope put down another finished spindle and turned off the lathe. Standing up slowly, she pushed back the old stool and hobbled out from her shed. Mountain freshness infused the air. She felt the stretch in her legs and the coolness in her lungs. A silver Range Rover pulled into the yard. The yellow dog barked and jumped up at the stranger’s car.
“Here Cosmo,” she called. “Cosmo” she yelled louder. “Cossie, come here.”
The dog turned and ran towards her. In the car there was another young couple with two children. More escapades from the city, wanting to know about the cottage. Hope showed them around and then said that she’d call. She smoothed the dog’s soft ears and went back to work.
Two railings to go and then she’d be done. She was sure Sarah would like the cradle. A little piece of the mountains to keep close. Hope had seen her looking at brochures and she’d remembered her remark, “Bradley’s old cradle will not do. The spindles are too far apart. It’s too dangerous.”
Oh those ads, promising everything. And yet it was natural to want to keep them safe. But when Sarah had found one about ‘Latin for Three Year Olds’ she could speak of nothing else.
“He’s guaranteed to get into the best school,” she’d said. “It will help him. It will give him the edge. You need that these days,” she’d said.
And so they were gone. Hope wished them all well, but how she had wanted to tell that her beautiful boy banging tin lids on the stony kitchen floor sounded just like a shiny brass band. To remember that the best adventures happen outside. And ordinary is special when it’s okay not to win.
“Don’t be so afraid,” she had wanted to say but in the end all she could mumble was, “I love you.”
“I’ll write” she had added, waving goodbye and she did not feel alone, for she was sure that she wasn’t. The memories of once slight and insignificant events filled Hope’s days as time rippled on.
She worked in her shed, tended her gardens and held them all close to her heart. Every giggle and squeal. That hug, those kisses. The smells of soap and sun. The feelings of fun and pungent things, like dandelions and wattles crushed into small chubby hands. Small hands that held out pink plastic teacups. Each one to be consumed empty with exaggerated expression to delight and amuse beneath the tall shady gums.
Hope remembered the warm rays of sunlight that made rainbows on bubbles as fair haired babies cried tugging on yellow apron strings as she stood washing dishes and wishing. These were the memories that time was to tell. The secrets of how best to measure. And all the while, far away and all around, sweet smelling babies still snuggled in close to their mother’s loving dreams.
“Mothers want the best,” Hope said to herself. And as she finished the last railing and switched off the machine she found herself smiling. One day Sarah would find her peace.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem