Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Just call me Aunty

At the playground yesterday, a little boy pointed at me, saying 'Eye-a, eye-a'. I nodded and smiled and said, 'Yes! That's my eye! and here are my sunglasses too!' We did this several times until his father, grinning, told me that the boy was actually saying 'Aunty'. In their culture, and their language, all older women are aunty.

I've heard of this before. Friends of mine who lived in Papua New Guinea speak of the way a crying baby is passed around, even down the line in a crowded airport. Nobody holds a screaming kid for long; you take a turn, and then hand them on. Everyone is woven into the web of care.

But hearing is not the same as experiencing, and yesterday I was thunderstruck. This little boy, who had never met me before, was claiming me in relationship. Claiming me, and making claims on me. For if a little kid calls me 'aunty', then I am going to make damn sure that he doesn't fall off the monkey bars.

Time and again, my white middle class neighbours, mothers pushing prams and looking just like me, start and hurry by when I greet them in the street. Ditto at the playground. After all, what would mothers pushing prams have in common?! It took a year to get past the deep reserve of most of the kinder mums; at least at school the daily drop off means the barriers are breaking down a little more quickly.

I get so tired of it. So tired that at times I can't be bothered making the effort to say hi, only to be rebuffed again. I wonder about the future of a culture where we all pretend we don't need one another, and that our lives don't intersect. How much easier our lives would be if the three families who lived on our street opened their doors to one another, had kids move back and forth between the houses, even shared occasional meals. How much easier if parents at school accept that our lives will overlap for the next decade, so why not at least exchange names? Instead, so many blink like startled rabbits when I greet them, and quickly step away.

In this cultural context, the little boy's greeting was even more special. His word bound me to him, for the moment, and I felt deeply honoured. And I felt responsible. I will help him down the slide, as his father pushes my daughter on the swing. If he runs toward the road, I'll give chase. If he wants to chat, I'll make the time to do so.

I can only hope and pray that, as he grows up here, he retains this sense that we belong to one another. And may I be open enough to learn from him and others like him, as he offers us a vision of a world in which our lives are interlinked, and we depend on, and are enriched by, each other.

1 comment:

  1. Alison,

    Thanks for your writing, for this piece and so many others.

    At the end of days like today, when I feel as though my public musings about spirituality in the everyday are commonly disregarded as trivial and of little real importance, it is good to hear someone else name the things that I feel and so deeply.


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