Thursday 22 November 2007

Giving Thanks

I am waiting outside the school gates for my daughter. Four wheel drives hug the pavement, mothers chat and laugh. I have perfected my timing so that I arrive as the children come out, so that I don't need to stand around uncomfortably, not being talked to.

My daughter emerges wearing a cardboard hat, with something dangling from the front. Like one of those American joke caps with the hand and the hammer. It turns out I'm not far wrong. It’s Thanksgiving, my daughter informs me (I would never have known) and they have been constructing headwear all day, with the help of some American mums. It’s a magnificent effort, boasting a spring-loaded turkey head at the front and multi-coloured feather-tail arrangement behind. We set off for home on the Tube and people smile, elderly ladies come up and exchange a few words with my daughter at every opportunity. I seem to have a lot in common with elderly ladies nowadays.

As we enter the Tube my daughter asks what I’ve got for her to eat. I usually give her a little chocolate for the trip home. When I tell her it’s a chocolate fish she suddenly jumps up and down, her hat waving around like a gobbling turkey.
“I don't want a fish.” she shouts. “I want a lolly.”
I tell her she won’t get anything at all if she doesn’t behave herself, which sends her into an even worse tantrum. She jumps up and down on the platform, snot spraying around her face like a New York fire hydrant.
“Right, that’s it, you're not getting anything” I tell her.

She is now too upset to do anything. We sit down and wait for the train. I am stony-faced, she whimpers like a small dog. But I stay firm. We don't talk.

I get her home with a firm grip and the odd command. When we arrive I suggest an apology is in order.
“Sorry daddy.” She says. Then she adds “I want to say something else daddy. It’s not sorry.”
“What is it?” I ask.
“I want to say thank you” she replies.
“For what?”
“For making my food and giving me a bath” she says.

It’s little short of a miracle I think to myself. I ask her why she thought of telling me that.
“I didn't” she says. “My teacher told me to. It’s Thanksgiving. I told you.”

Monday 12 November 2007

Running Away

We have run away from nursery school for a few days. It’s the week after half-term and at Westonbirt Arboretum the leaves are a delicate palette of yellows, ochres and browns. An insistent breeze is blowing them in a stream of whirls and spirals. My daughter runs from leaf-fall to leaf-fall with her arms outstretched trying to catch them as they jag around her open palms. She laughs and spins round on the spot, and the elderly people watching her laugh too.

When the wind dies, she stands beneath a huge oak and bends back her head to look right to the top. She blows to dislodge the leaves, puffing out her reddening cheeks and putting all her force into her breaths. Disappointed at the effect she puts her hands on her hips and looks at the tree accusingly.

Going from tree to tree she picks at the ground like a magpie, making a collection of leaves, pinecones, acorns. “Here are some things to put in your study” she says to me. “You can look at them and they can remind you of autumn, and you don’t throw them away. Ever.”

I put them in my pocket and stoop down and kiss her hair, which smells a little of baby, a little of shampoo, a little of her.

“Thank you. I will” I say, putting the handful in my pocket.

A few days later, when I am at home again I put my hand in my coat pocket and feel the dry bundle beneath my fingers. I pull it out and discover the leaves have been fired in crisp shades of brown and red.

I put them on my desk and I do look at them. And I won’t throw them away. Ever.