Knock ‘em dead, dear daughter…

2013-09-30 07:54

One minute you were a Grade One in a tunic and tie, with skinny legs in white bobby socks, the next you’re poured into a figure-hugging burgundy sheath, stealing my breath away as I see you all dressed up for the matric dance (a fitting before Friday's Big Night), all grown up, morphed from pocket-Venus to beauty. You have a bakkie organised to take you and your beau to the dance, a limo you say, will not make it around the turning circle at Kelvin Grove. That’s my girl!

I remember your shining five-year-old ballet face, your gap-toothed grin, as you stood in your tutu and pink leotard and stretched your graceful arms out into your fingertips and spread your smile for the camera. I remember creating costumes and sewing on elastic and ribbon on pink ballet pumps and sitting through endless Eisteddfod performances.

I wish I’d sewn those costumes more happily. My God, I got so bored, I wanted out of there to do my thing, whatever it was at the time I can’t remember. I didn’t take particularly well to mothering. I was a product of boarding school. I knew I had to be more than a matron, I had to do more than switch off your lights at night and collect your laundry. You tell me now I didn’t hug you enough. I’m telling you now, sweetheart, all those ballet performances I sat through, the Parent Centre classes I battled with (life would have been worse if I hadn't done my homework), I read Raising Your Child’s Self Esteem and Raising Daughters and more, I did what I could.

And how was that obsession with World Wrestling Entertainment when you were ten or so? I was worried that you didn’t understand, had no idea at all, that the aggression, the violence, was a Soap Opera, that if a ‘Killer Kowalski’ tore off a competitor’s ear in the ring, it was all staged. I wanted to ban wrestling outright. But you were stubborn. And addicted to Rey Mysterio and John Cena, and the family had to watch the crew battle it out on Thursday nights (you can't beat 'em join 'em, and I admit I quite enjoyed the drama).

While your older sister wore kitten heel shoes and rip-off Chanel jackets and clips kept stray strands off her forehead, your curls were wild, you dyed purple streaks in your hair, you painted on eyeliner, wore studded bracelets, black clothes. My only comfort was an ad that ran at around that time: a family much like ours sat at a dining room table waiting for their Emo daughter to come down from her cave for KFC. That was us! Your typical face was a ‘Mom, you’re ruining my life’ scowl. You scrawled barbed wire and lightning bolts on the pages of your school note books. You slammed your door. I found a pack of cigarettes in your handbag.

I made a mental note to start saving for your therapy sessions. I’d bear the blame of being less than a perfect mother. Where did I go wrong? What happened to my mooi dingetjie, my darling Lou, my jelly tot jiving along to your older sister’s Spice Girls tunes?

I remember the time I was called to fetch you from a Sunday afternoon birthday party after a Jack Russell had bitten you. Your face. And faced with flaps of skin and puncture wounds and blood and tears, I was distraught. I couldn’t drive. As a result of panic, I couldn’t remember how to use the damn phone to call your dad, a doctor, anyone. And the day you disappeared from the house: workmen were traipsing in and out; the front door was open. Your father ran to the police. ‘You’d better find her soon,’ the cops warned. Hours later, just as I got home from work – no one had told me a thing, they knew I’d be devastated - you walked sleepy-eyed out of bedroom cupboard.

While Jess debated up a storm and wanted to be the President of South Africa, you came through your wrestling phase (relief), you rediscovered your agility and did cartwheels and handstands at gymnastics and at home in the passages. You dreamed of being in a circus act. It was always fine by me, baby, and fine by the Greek stoic philosopher Seneca who wrote, a happy life is ‘a life that is in harmony with its own nature.’ And you got your wish. You twirled from silk ropes as the audience gazed up in wonder.

Sweetie darling, with all the challenges, the tensions, the provocations, I don’t tell you often enough that I’m so proud of who you are. Through all the mundanities, the intermittent boredom of raising children, from changing nappies to progressing too fast to roles of ATM machine and taxi driver (which I begrudge, and then I put you on the train and you complain), in all my clumsy efforts to teach you to teach yourself, I forget that you need hugs.

It’s a challenge being a mother. Maya Angelou sums it all up perfectly for me, in her memoir Letter to My Daughter: ‘I am convinced that most people do not grow up. We find parking spaces and honour our credit cards. We marry and dare to have children and call that growing up. I think what we do is mostly grow old. We carry an accumulation of years in our bodies and on our faces, but generally our real selves, the children inside, are still innocent and shy as magnolias. We may act sophisticated and worldly, but I believe we feel safest when we go inside ourselves and find home, a place where we belong and maybe the only place we really do.’

I’ve tried my best to be grown up, sweetie, to love you and do the right thing by you. Now you have to live your own life. You have to find that place inside called home.

In the meantime, the dance is days way. Go and be beautiful, doll. Don’t fall off those six-inch gold glitter-heels of yours. I’ll be waiting for you after the after-party. I’ll be there to bring you home. For now (phew) it’s where I am.

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