Childminding days

Something has caught Farrel’s eyes and he seems enamoured. I follow his gaze onto the courtyard. The compact courtyard below the theatre coffee room windows always reminds me of the ‘naalukettu’ we see in the old traditional houses in Kerala. Farrell is looking at a small bird which is twittering loudly. He thinks it is a blue tit and I wonder if it is a chaffinch. It flies closer and the colours are more visible. We notice more birds of the same ilk amongst the grass and plants. The tail is too long for a blue tit and Farrell concludes that it is a grey wagtail. I have been attempting to attract birds into my back garden and the children have been helping me. We scattered the birdseeds on the ground, in empty flower pots and even made improvised bird feeders. The children got quite excited when they realised that all the scattered nuts had disappeared the next morning. We continued scattering the seeds hoping that the birds would return but found out that the squirrels and magpies were the culprits and not the pretty birds we were wishing for. 

The children will be back again tomorrow to stay the weekend. “We will be here for five days”, gushed an excited Lakshmi last Saturday as her mother dropped her off. “Please don’t keep reminding me”, I wanted to say. One or two days is fine but five days. Will I end up a nervous wreck or will I be okay, I tried not to think. Soon the laughter, the giggles, the frustrated squeals and screams rang out from every corner of the house. On a dry warm day they played tag and hide and seek in the garden. “I got it, I got it, I gotten it”, Lavinia would say in her calm voice as she tried to catch the ball I threw to her. I did not correct her. Lakshmi also uses words like ‘buyed’ and ‘bringed’. This is the time for them to experiment with their vocabulary. The time for corrections will come. 

In the evenings they helped me water my new plants. At times they fell out and shouted for me to intervene as one snatched a toy from the other. Lakshmi acts the entitled one as most of the toys are hers. Lavinia disagrees and stands her ground if she feels it is worth the battle. “Chechi’s not sharing”, “Lakshmi snatched my toy”, or “Chechi won’t let me”, Lavinia will call out. If Lavinia was the offender Lakshmi offered wise advice “sharing is caring”, she would remind Lavinia and the tug for the item in question will gather pace. I let them fight it out sometimes. To become self reliant adults they need to learn to fight their own battles. 

On Wednesday Lakshmi had to be dropped off at school for breakfast club. We had to be there before eight. The girl who normally wakes up at the crack of dawn waking everyone else up decided that she wanted a lie in. “Get Winnie ready first”, she whispered as she slunk back under the duvet. I had to resort to country roads to avoid the peak time traffic to get to the school in time. Lavinia and I had a peaceful morning together. I got on with the household chores as she made herself busy playing on her own. Come lunchtime we had to make another trip to pick Lakshmi up. 

Lakshmi always has lots of tales to tell after school. “Lunch was a picnic today”. A buffet style spread on the class porch. She had sandwiches, crisps, chocolate and drinks. The word ‘chocolate’ leaves her lips accompanied by a smug smile. She knows chocolates are reserved for special treats and so the naughtiness with which it was eaten resonated in her sudden adult tone of voice. “I am full and can’t eat anymore” she declared as she continued to tells us about her morning. When she had nothing more to say, she turned to Lavinia, who was listening to her stories and said “When I was a baby in Epping, you were not there. And then I had to buy you with lots of money, and now, you can talk!”. Lakshmi ran out of stories at this point. Then a soft voice from behind me took over. It was Lavinia’s turn. “We spoke to Muthassi, and I used the toilet”. 

The five days did not last long. We went for a walk in the woods and  had our first pub meal out in three months. Amongst all the hullabaloo there were moments to remember. The times when Lakshmi dons her adult voice and acts the ever loving elder sister when she is ready to do anything for Lavinia with a “Of course my darling” take. The moments when the two snuggle up to me for their evening bedtime stories. The moments when only ammamma can fix their problems. The moments they know that what they are doing is something ammamma doesn’t approve but let’s take our chance anyway moment. Moments that will not last forever. I read about the Japanese concept of Wabi Sabi. It values simplicity and imperfection, while recognising the impermanence of all things. It teaches us that we are surrounded by everyday magic and how we can access it. There were times when my patience was tested to the limit but most of the time the magic worked its miracles. As Lakshmi would remind me as she gets ready to perform her show “the magic is here”. 

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