Monday, February 16, 2015

A gift from me to you

My daughter and I were riding down to Carlton on a Saturday morning. Every now and then, as we were riding, I felt a tickle above my left ear. Each time I’d give a quick scratch, trying to set right the choppy piece of hair that was so irritating.

We arrived and parked the bikes. While she went to her dance lesson, I ran errands. An hour later, I picked her up. We got back on our bikes and rode to our favourite café. As we were riding, I felt another little tickle. I scratched. We arrived, parked and locked up our bikes, then went and enjoyed our Saturday chat over coffee and hot chocolate. We went back to our bikes. I unlocked the bikes, put on my helmet, and felt a little tickle. I scratched. And flicked out a cockroach from my hair.

It landed on the footpath in front of half a dozen people, and ran around in dizzy circles while I hopped out of its way, scrubbing at my head and cursing.

My daughter is very kind. Had the situation been reversed, I would have collapsed laughing. She didn’t. Instead, she took a step back, then offered to hold my bike while I shook my helmet and swore and leapt to avoid the cockroach, which had some sort of perverse tracking device which drew it running back towards me over and over again.

This same daughter recently told me that I was indiscreet when we last had head lice. When I found them, I mentioned it to a couple of friends so they could check their kids’ hair. But when one of the mums said, ‘Oh! I thought it was the new shampoo that was making my head itch’, I got the giggles. And then I told lots of people, with great roars of laughter, and my daughter became quite cross. I explained that it was important to laugh at the minor indignities of modern family life. She said I was embarrassing her and her sisters, and I had to stop talking about it.

But now I’ve had a cockroach in my hair. How do I feel? Well, half a dozen strangers and my daughter saw me flick it out of my hair and onto the footpath, then hop around shrieking. I feel slightly humiliated, and sullied and unclean. So I am trying to think about it in terms of how she might feel about head lice. But, ‘You had lice?’ I want to say to her. ‘Well, I had a cockroach! Beat that!’

And actually, I don’t think the cockroach is my fault. So we have occasional roaches? That’s life in a warm city. That one wandered into the crevices of my helmet, then made little forays into my hair, is disgusting, but hardly a moral failing on my part. I find it hard to sympathise with my daughter, who has asked that I never mention head lice again. So we have occasional head lice? That’s life in primary school. That they occasionally make forays into my children’s hair is hardly a moral failing either.

But this is an opportunity to offer up my humiliation as a gift to my daughter, and as an opening to you. So I am telling you about the cockroach, that inch-long light brown glistening beastie, that I flicked out of my hair. I admit that it’s a plan which will probably backfire. When I tell her that I wrote about it she’ll blanch, and say I’m humiliating her all over again. She’s a very kind girl, mature and calm; but she’s also becoming a teenager. And what teenager wants a mother who is known for having cockroaches in her hair? How embarrassing!

Meanwhile you too may blanch and think, what sort of woman has cockroaches in her hair? Isn’t she embarrassed? Well, yes. But that’s the thing about tucking vulnerability into the crevices of stories: one must actually become vulnerable. And even if you blanch and I feel embarrassed I will keep on telling them, because the stories and the vulnerability build bridges which link together you and me.

Yes, this cockroach of mine is a funny sort of gift: a little bit weird, a little bit gross. You are free to ignore it, or to leap out of its way. As with all gifts, I can only offer it. Acceptance is up to you.

This post has been approved by an eleven-year-old.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...