Pixie looks me in the eyes and tells me that she is not going to cry when I leave her at kindergarten. I nod solemnly and agree, she’s a big girl now. She sits at the play dough table wielding a pair of scissors, showing me proudly how she can cut the dough. I’m going to go now, I say. Just one more minute, she asks. I nod, ok, another minute. I crouch beside her, marvelling at the dough and her cutting abilities. I squeeze some in between my fingers, it’s creamy coloured, warm and soft. Give me a kiss, I ask. And another one please. She turns her face towards me and kisses me each time I ask. I remind her I’ll be back after snack time and then, I walk away.
I put my hand across Bird’s narrow back and gently guide her towards the school gate. I carry her school bag across my shoulder, the baby perched on my left hip. She tells me she doesn’t want to go to school today, the day is too long, it’s too much time to be away from me. I guide her along the narrow path, chatting cheerfully about all the fun she will have. We place her school bag in her box, her reader in the tub, we get out her drink bottle.
I lean down to kiss her goodbye and her face crumples, she clings to me, her arms latched tightly around my neck. I place the baby on the floor, kneel down and wrap my arms around her. She feels fragile, small. My hands wrap around her bones and I pull her towards me. I whisper in her ear: Shhh, it’s ok, it’s going to be ok. She sobs and my cheek is wet with her tears.
The teacher coaxes her into sitting on the mat. I promise to wait at the door for a few minutes. I do. She looks up at me every once in a while, her face distorted, anguished. She is reluctant, she searches my face for something, some way out of this.
The teacher speaks and the children put up their hands, mine included. Her eyes are red and she is hunched over, the occasional post-cry sniff and shudder. She looks at me. I’m going to go now, I mouth to her. Her faces scrunches up, a sob spurts out of her small mouth. I blow her a kiss. I walk away.
I get home and take the baby out onto the back deck. I stand holding her at the edge, looking for birds, making twittering sounds. She responds with coos and ahhs as she peers out into the distance, everything new, everything wondrous. I take her to the bedroom and slowly peel off her knitted cardigan and replace it with her sleeping bag. I hold her and her soft bunny close and sing Here Is The Sea.
Here is the sea,
The wavy sea,
Is a boat,
Wiggle their tails,
Her eyes close gently as I sway back and forth. One of the floorboards creaks beneath my feet as my weight shifts. I slowly lower her into the cot and she cries. I pat her chest and continue to sing. I walk away and stand in the kitchen listening to her cries. She’s calling for me. I go back into the bedroom and pick her up, holding her close, my cheek against hers and I sing and I sway. This time, once her eyes close I continue to sing for a few minutes, swaying gently to the rhythms of my soft melody, looking at her eyes rolling beneath her eyelids, breathing her in, rubbing my lips against the downy softness of her hair.
I lower her into the cot and place a blanket over her. I walk away.
In the kitchen I touch my palm to the red kettle on our stovetop. It’s warm. There is ground coffee scattered on the bench, bowls of half eaten porridge, school notices, milk, vitamin c. Memories of the morning rush.
I reboil the kettle and move slowly through the ritual of making a pot of tea. Spooning tea leaves into my silver pot. Waiting for the whistle of the kettle. Pouring steaming water and watching the leaves swirl through the rush of water. Placing the lid on the teapot. Pouring milk into a small jug. Gathering a teacup, a strainer, a board to place it all on.
I carry the tea over to a small teak coffee table and place the board down first. The little table belonged to my Nana, I try to take good care of it.
I sit down in an armchair made by my Poppa to pour myself a cup. The song mills around in my head, my three daughters the little fish, me in the boat watching as they wiggle their tails and swim away.
Only some days it feels as though we aren’t quite ready to be apart.