“Honey,” came the small voice in the night.
“What?” and the reply a little too ready and sharp, “Are you really awake? It’s 3.00am.”
“Well, could you ....? Maybe ... just. Oh please can you just go check her, I mean just check if she’s still breathing?”
“Really? Again?” he was sitting up now, running his hands through his barely-slept-in hair, “Didn’t I just get up about five minutes ago?” and he moved towards her dark shape beside him. “She really is okay, you know. You really must get some sleep.”
Rolling over and looking out into the black blanket of night, she could almost see the odd sparkle of a quilted star here and there. And for one tiny moment it seemed as if one star shone that little brighter. She was listening as the clock ticked over a year long minute; she waited for the sound.
From his side of the bed, in darkness he could just make out a small makeshift bed at the far side of the room. Big enough to accommodate a small child, the overflow of its contents forming mountains of bags, blankets and soft toys covering the dressing table and desk it was squashed between and overshadowing all else in the room. Wasn’t he the one who had suggested they try moving her into the ‘other’ room tonight? But there was now something about the off-white glow of that lone toy scattered on the floor that caused his hand to creep nervously up to his chest.
“There! What was that?” her soft voice breaking his thoughts. Was it a small noise in the silence, a foot step on the floor, a tiny cry?
“You’re still awake, aren’t you?” it was a whisper, almost not wanting her to hear but he could sense the all-too-familiar shaking from the other side of the bed and his hand moved further up tugging somewhere near his throat.
“Where are you going?” she sniffed as he stumbled, dragging his feet to the floor.
“I’m just going to check her again. Try to get some rest now please.”
Staring at the shadows on the ceiling alone in the dark, it was as if she could see her lying up there somewhere. So tiny – each little finger and toe with a perfectly formed nail. The dainty face with its rosebud mouth framed by those soft, jet black pretty curls – eyelids closed so tightly .... sleeping .... just sleeping.
And her arms ached.
“She’s fine,” he announced, but she had barely noticed him snuggling back in behind her.
“Is she warm enough?”
“Yeah, I fixed her blankets, she’s asleep.”
She breathed a long breath in and a longer breath out and closed her eyes to his arms now moving up and all over from behind her. She felt the longing where his kiss had begun tingling near her ear. But almost as a reflex, she rubbed her ear towards her shoulder and edged a little further into the dark, pulling the blankets up over her neck and face.
“Fine!” It was almost under his breath.
“You said I should get some rest.”
He rolled over and pushed his hand down flat onto the space between his chest and throat. “It’s fine.” The words seeming to bounce off every shadow in the room and down the hall as he closed his eyes and tried to remember the last time he had seen the top of the desk or his wife sitting at her dresser combing out her beautiful long hair.
And there it was. At last! At first it was a little cry then growing into a loud piercing scream. And they both jumped up together.
“It’s my turn,” she moved towards the door.
“No, it’s okay, it was my idea.”
“No, I need to go. Let me go.”
Jockeying for position, they ran down the hall in the darkness. She got to the nursery first, pausing just briefly to put on the softer hall light, but when she entered the room she was completely alone. The eerie stillness chilled over her face all the way down to her toes as she stared vacantly at the empty cot, trying to remember where she was and why she was here. This was not the right room. There was nothing here anymore.
He found her there a few moments later – standing alone, shivering. In his arms he was holding a small golden haired child he had retrieved from the ‘other’ room. “Here she is,” he soothed the soft, blonde curls as the toddler struggled to get free, “Here’s Mummy,” but he was shaking his head as he looked directly at his wife.
Turning towards him, her gaze traced over each of the puzzled lines of his face and locked onto the reflection of her own deep loss in his eyes. Then she looked at the child.
They both looked at the child.
There was a large tear just rolling down over a rosy pink little cheek, the bottom lip just puffing in and out in rhythm with the rising and falling of the little chest and outstretched arms grasping frantically for her mother.
The woman staggered slightly and shook her head as if waking from a dream. With a sudden sharp knowing she reached forward, eagerly gathering up the beautiful child and pulling her tightly to her chest, pressing her cold cheek over the one lonely tear on the soft warm little face – so alive and so needy – her husband’s hands embracing them both.
But her arms still ached.
“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