Friday, August 24, 2007

Freedom to Run

It had been a lively day at the Childcare centre. I had hardly seen you at all. You had played mostly with Lisa, Alex and Noah while I had been on nappy duty.

I hated those weeks. The whole reason for working there was to be near you – to be a part of your life. We had so much fun together. The great thing that week was that I worked the early shift. That meant two things. The first was that you always arrived early, you were the first there – so that week we had the first hour setting up together - on our own. Second, I finished early which meant I’d be able to take you out of there and we could go home together. We spent a great time in the car talking – we talked religion, psychology, philosophy, science, social behaviour. Obviously you were not able to put those words to our conversations – but essentially that is what we spoke about. Sometimes we had the whole afternoon together – just you and me. There were no other children and no other adults with which to compete.

That particular day was perfect for an afternoon adventure. It was your choice and as always, despite suggestions of the beach, park or McDonalds, you chose the Museum. So at the stroke of 2pm, you and I bailed out the door and drove down the windy roads of the Domain. The Museum was always a majestic sight across the tailored cricket pitch that sprawled before it. It wasn’t far so to increase the sense of adventure I drove fast over the speed bumps, screeched around corners, and then would slow to a crawl. You laughed and laughed! Eventually we found a carpark right next to the open fields that you enjoyed so much. We piled out the car and ran.

You loved running. We ran and ran and ran, as fast as we could, as far as we could. You were beginning to out run me and I was beginning to wonder if I might not be able to keep up. The wind was blowing and the leaves were dancing around our feet. You raced to the top of a small hilly slope. “Come Babees”. You couldn’t have wiped the smile off my face for anything.

I joined you at the top of the slope. You put your hand in mine, explained the rules, then yelled “Run”. Together, hand in hand we ran down the slope. The grass dragged our legs as our bodies flew faster and faster. The wind rushed past our ears. Our mouths shrieked with delight. It was all too fast, all too fun as we sprawled down to the bottom of the slope. There was a moment of silence. We both waited to see if it had been enough of a fall to bring on the tears. Quickly I noticed the grass stains on my jeans. I pointed to it in mock horror. Your mouth dropped as you nervously looked down to the grass stains on your own trousers. You looked to me for a reaction. I lifted me knee and blew onto my trousers “Look mine won’t blow off – will yours?” You giggled and tried to blow the stains off your own knees.

We munched on a banana and took a swig of cool iced water we had brought along in an ice bag. Then a drop of water fell from the sky and landed on your nose. Your smiled broadened as you realized it was time to head indoors.

Inside the lobby of the Museum the sound echoes. It forces people to talk in whispers. We brushed off the wet droplets from our fleecy tops and I shook your hair so it that it stopped dripping onto your face.

We looked around. There were a few tourists hovering at the help desk. We didn’t need any help – we knew exactly what we wanted to see and how to get there. As usual I didn’t have any cash on me so as we approached the turnstile we both put on our charm. The ticket lady fell for our bedraggled looks and let us in without a donation. I maneuvered you through the stile quickly. We looked left, we looked right, as the excitement rose. Soon we were surrounded by Whare – Maori meeting-houses, food rooms and huts. We wove in and out of the posts that held up the ancient structures, and dodged the tourists.. It was a hushed atmosphere and I could feel your desire to run! I held fast onto your hand. The hall was gloomy, and off in the distance we could hear the sounds of children. Slowly you edged closer to me as we tiptoe round the corner. The scenery was changing. The light from the far hall seemed brighter. A large shadow cast a dark shape across the entrance. “Is it in there?” – you asked in a mixture of excitement and nerves. “I’m not sure – but that is a big shadow over there – I wander what could be making that shadow?”. You gripped my hand and looked up at me. You grinned, a nervous grin. “I think that’s it” you shudder. Suddenly it seemed as if you were pulling me forward.

Your eyes lit up as you glared up at the enormous elephant towering above you. It’s large tusks jabbed the space above your head, its trunk tickled the tufts of hair that spiked out from your fringe. You quickly pulled me closer, not moving. We stood in silence. Then as your body begins to relax we edged our way around the enormous beast. Your hand eased its grasp of my fingers, and, once we had reached its tail, I realized the tension was over!

On with the adventure, your eyes scanned the awaiting room. Your gaze came to rest on the tall artificial tree standing in the middle. “Shall we go up there?” you asked. “If you want to”, I said. “You go first”, and I noticed your small hand gently coax me in the direction of the tree. We walked forward, the tree’s hollowed entrance seemingly growing in size and darkness. “Well you have to let go of my hand if I’m to climb the ladder”. Your fingers eased from mine and quickly found your face as they half covered your mouth and nose. I climbed. When I reached the top you heard me yell “Boo!”. I looked down and noticed you still standing inches from my feet. “Are you coming up?”, I asked. I could feel your head push my legs to the edge of the ladder as you squeezed yourself up through the middle of the tree trunk. I made my way down – there was never room up there for two. You climbed gingerly. “Arrrggehhh!” you say in mock fright. “Hey, that’s not scary” you exclaimed, but you climbed down quicker than I expected. It’s all over now. The fears had been faced and the freedom to roam had returned.

Now the Museum was yours to run - you wanted to run. Rushing in and out of rooms, looking everywhere, you talked to me “shall we go that way?”, “where does this go?”, “do you know how to get back”. You always wanted to know exactly where you were and you didn’t want to get lost. But I had noticed that recently you are less cautious in the Museum – confident perhaps that we had always found our way out, or was it because you knew that there were maps dotted around the rooms to show us the way. Either way the Museum continued to be your place – the place of adventure, of fears conquered, of mysteries solved.

Monday, August 20, 2007

A new encounter

The morning had begun with its usual frenzied feel. Parents chatting over the tops of children, children tugging and dragging whoever would come, others racing to find friends – and in amongst the chaos he peered around the whiteboard and smiled.

It was a warm invitation, a hint of tranquillity, and intrigue. In the same moment his face disappeared. As I interacted in the different conversations, I kept my eye on that spot by the door. I knew his name. I had known his brother and his Mum stood close by. She signed him in.

The conversations hijacked my concentration and I became immersed in the dealings of the morning. From my spot in the small chair at the art table, I absently passed the glue to the children struggling with shells and cardboard, discussed the logistics of the latest fundraising event with the hovering parents, and jiggled my knees away from the moving furniture. The chatter was hard to decipher with the clattering of chairs and the rattling of ideas in my mind. As usual the thoughts were blurring and concentration becoming scattered.

And then there was a tap. A gentle tap. It wasn’t demanding, and yet its invitation was captivating. I turned, and entered a new world. The image before me inspired a tender response. Long soft blonde locks floated past his supple chubby checks and cascaded like silk threads over his restless shoulders. A few small freckles sprinkled across his stout nose. His lips stretched across the entire width of his face. Light blue eyes sparkling with excitement and intensity locked into mine. It was just the two of us. “Hello Sian*". That was all it took for his lips to burst and his teeth to flash into an eager smile. It was his first day at kindergarten and we had made an instant connection.

That is what it was like every morning for the first 8 weeks that Sian attended Kindergarten.

*Names have been changed for the protection of identity

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Loto* - 1990

He lies on the far bed, all scrunched up, a lone soul in a large bland ward. The bed sheets are crumpled around his small body. I lean against the doorframe and take a deep breath.

Outside the clouds are grey – a flat grey that dulls the colours of the trees and create a dirty cream on the surrounding buildings. There is nothing to look at out there. I have looked out that window a thousand times. I have seen through that view. I wonder what is holding this small boys attention – fixated on the smudges on the glass. Does he see his demons as I had so many years ago? I have never met a person like him before, but I have been in that bed before. I know it holds onto you, creates a shape for you as if you will be there for the rest of your life.

My childhood is over but I have not yet resolved those demons. All I have are idealistic ideas of how to bring happiness to those in strife. And yet with the reality before me, I feel completely inadequate.

I step into the ward and close the door.

He does not move. His back forms a solid barrier between us – a barrier he erected the second he climbed into that bed. For me, despite the warnings from medical professionals, it still comes as a blow. Apparently he responds to no-one – but I thought he would have responded to me. My idealistic notions are beginning to feel dog-eared. I move to the end of the bed and gently sit in the chair assigned for guests visiting his bed.

The chair is hollowed from a history of numerous anxious visitors, waiting for their beloved children to wake and heal. I don’t belong in that chair. I have never been in a chair like this before.

I begin to chat trying desperately not to sound desperate. I briefly introduce myself and then - I talk about the weather – staring out the window at the small figures walking around the grey hill. I tell Loto my intentions. I’m here to have some fun. It is the holidays (not that it makes much of a difference to him), and if he was bored he might like to have some fun too. I have some ideas of what we can do – but he might like to tell me the kind of things he enjoys doing.


It is polite to wait at least 7 seconds before continuing. I wait 30.

I hear he likes cooking – what about making pancakes sometimes.

“I’m not allowed out of this room”. A response.

It throws me – but it is a response.

Mmmm… Then we will have to bring the frying pan in here.


I continue. I can bring some games in – monopoly, drafts, pictionary. If he wants any books I can bring some. Actually I have been given some money – so something like cars, or balls, whatever – I can buy them.

The people on the hill have disappeared over the horizon – there are more out there but we can’t see them – and it didn’t matter anyway. I know this world – flat, single dimensional, out of reach. They aren’t really people – just shapes.

The silence is beginning to get to me. What else? Where can I go to from here? I have no training, just idealistic ideas. We have been able to see each other out of the corner of our eyes – but neither of us have looked. I lean forward in the chair. I have no way of seeing him now, however he is free to look if he wanted - if he is at all curious about me. I don’t know if he looking.

Well I will be around. I will come back later – if he wants to think about it.

Later in hospital can seem like forever. I stand up. Tug on my jeans – I feel like I’ve been sitting in this chair for days. I look directly at Loto.

I will catch him later then.

I go to the window, tug at my sleeve and wipe the smudge I had been staring at – it doesn’t budge, it is obviously on the outside – 9 floors up.

See ya. I head for the door.

His words make me pause “So you’ll bring the frying pan tomorrow then?” - I smile.

No worries – catch you then.

*Loto (not his real name) thoroughly enjoyed baking in the ward. We tried to make the fire alarms go off – luckily we never managed that. We bought a race car along with tracks and once isolation was lifted we decorated the school room – turning into a jungle. A pass was granted and we invited another patient to come to the movies with us. I don’t know whatever happened to Loto – his condition was quite serious. I hope that he was given opportunities and that he gave himself a chance.