She lay under the willow tree, the cool breeze blowing the leaves above her, she watched God’s fingers of light shine through the branches, the shadows dancing across the patches of green grass below. The sound of the river trickling down into the centre of town, the smell of moist grass caused her senses to dance with delight.
She lay still waiting patiently. Waiting for that familiar sound, the sound of her father’s footsteps, down the dirt road. She listened intently, impatiently. Why was he taking so long? She looked up into the branches, and watched a mother bird tend to her young, preening them, and cooing softly in a sweet song. Just like the lullaby her mother would sing to her.
The footsteps suddenly came closer, rolling onto her belly; she watched to see the familiar black shoes, and black trousers that belonged to her father. She watched as the footsteps slowed down, and then came the familiar clearing of his deep voice.
“Amber, oh Amber, where is my pretty girl?” she heard her father sing.
Amber put her hands over her mouth to stifle the giggle that was welling up inside her; quickly she leapt to her feet and ran through the tangle of willow leaves. Leaping into her father’s waiting arms.
“There’s my pretty girl, I knew she wouldn’t be far,” he said kissing her cheeks and golden hair.
“What’s mum cooking for dinner?”
Amber snuggled in deeper into her father’s neck, then looking up into his eyes, taking his stubbly cheeks into her hands, and squeezing them tight until he made a kissy face, she placed a firm kiss on his lips, as he blew a raspberry back on hers. Giggling with delight she pointed to the left, as she always did, pointing the direction to which they were to walk.
Amber’s father quickly swung her up onto his shoulders, with a loud exaggerated groan.
“You’re getting a big girl, you must have eaten all your fruit today.”
Amber reached down and kissed her father’s face in response. They reached the old farmhouse and there was her mum standing on the creaky loose boards of their veranda. Amber could see the clothesline full of white fluffy towels next to the old hay shed, tied between two old trees. Her father carefully lifted her down before kissing her mum and holding her tight. She watched as her mum’s eyes lit up with love and delight that her dad was home. Amber knew just how she felt, her dad was the love of her life.
She followed them through the old screen door hanging off its hinges, watching her dad sit down at the kitchen table, take off his shoes and socks, and stretch and wriggle his toes. She copied him, watching her dad out the corner of her eye.
“How did Amber go at the doctor’s today?” he asked his voice changing from the jovial tone to one of concern.
Her mum sat down at the table across from him, rubbing her eyes. It was the first time Amber had noticed that her mum’s eyes were red.
“The tests came back,” she said.
Her dad nodded his head.
“It’s what we thought then?”
“Yes, they said she has Down Syndrome. They said she can live a normal life, but it will take her a long time to learn.”
Amber watched as tears began to fall down her mother’s cheeks, her father stood and went to her, holding him in her arms.
“It will be ok, we will deal with it, just as we have done all things, this isn’t going to change our love and our family.”
Her mum nodded, sniffing and reaching for the tissue she kept in her bra, wiping her eyes. Amber slowly stood and walked over to her mum, placing her head on her lap. She heard her mum giggle and felt her warm hand stroke Amber’s head. Amber looked up, trying to form the words in her mouth that were written on her heart.
“Mum,” she whispered.
Both her mother and father stopped, it almost seemed as they had even stopped breathing. They stared down at her.
“Did she?” her mum said staring at her father questioningly
“Amber, did you say ‘mum’?” her dad asked, getting down on one knee, and holding her around the waist, pulling her close to him.
“Mum,” Amber said a little louder.
“Oh my God, George she did!” her mother started to cry, these tears though Amber knew were happy.
She repeated it louder and louder until she was shouting.
“She said it! Amber you said it!” her father cheered, picking her up off her feet and tossing her into the air, and catching her again.
“Amber said mum, Amber said mum!” he sang, dancing around the old dusty kitchen.
Her mother stood, and joined them in a dance. Amber was held between her mother and father as they waltzed around the kitchen, her father singing, and Amber shouting her word.
And her mother crying happy tears.
“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