I spent Monday at a community event – lacing and unlacing skates, dispensing and mopping up hot chocolate, providing the odd skating lesson and a few band aids. I helped kids roast hot dogs and marshmallows, sold a few hot dogs, I talked to parents, I talked to neighbours and I talked to friends.
It was, in so many ways, a magical afternoon. The sun was shinning, the fires were warm, the wood was dry and the children laughed. There were no broken bones, only smiles.
About 2 pm, a little girl came over to me, and asked if I could do up her skates. I laced them up, and sent her out on to the ice with a helmet and a chair, so she could work on her skating. I made sure the older boys playing hockey knew to watch out for the skaters, and I reffed an out of bounds call with a puck. About 20 minutes later, she came off the ice, and I undid her skates and sent her off to roast a marshmallow.
I did it quite without thinking, kneeling down in the snow, unlacing skates. It was just another task, another thing in front of me to do. It was in no way unpleasant, and perhaps that’s why I was so surprised when her father found me to say thank you. I wasn’t surprised by the courtesy, just that he felt that he needed to find me. In truth, I wanted to thank him. I wanted to thank him for allowing me to spend a bit of time with his little girl, I wanted to thank him for giving the gift of children, with smiles, with delight, to the world. It is a rare thing that a single marshmallow, roasted can give so much pleasure. It is a grace that taking off some one’s skates can be the single biggest act of service they could want, and a smile could so brighten my day. It is a good thing to have children, to share those children with those around you.
It is such a hard thing to explain, to justify. It is freeing, this business of living child free. I can simply enjoy children and there is less angst. I know the final answer to that heavy infertile question: I know that I will have no children of my own. Knowing that, I am free to simply enjoy the children around me. I can smile, laugh, and not wish and hope. She was a compelling slip of a girl, with her brown bear and her missing front teeth and her light brown hair. She was cute and clever and I enjoyed her. I enjoyed her in a way that I never could have in the throes of infertility and grief and death.
I wouldn’t have thought this. I wouldn’t have thought that things could switch so completely. Suddenly I wasn’t looking at a little girl named Lucy and yearning for her, or one just like her. I wasn’t hoping that my daughter would be like her, I wasn’t seeing her and regretting what I didn’t have. I didn’t have to think about the unfairness of the world. Suddenly she was just Lucy, often called Lu, and I was just Mrs. Spit, the woman that took her skates off and handed her a marshmallow and a roasting stick, and for 5 minutes we smiled at each other. I was just another kind adult, and she was just another sweet little girl, and we could enjoy each other.
And at the end of the day, when she ran back to me, so that I could kiss her bear good bye, I kissed the bear, tousled her hair and went to help clean up, and my heart did not hurt.
I wish I could say thank you to her dad. She gave me a gift. I had forgotten, in the middle of my desperate wanting, how very much I like small children. I had forgotten the delight of little girls. I had forgotten how to see the world through a child’s eyes, I had forgotten how much fun they are. I had forgotten how to like children. I forgot how much fun an adult not your parent was, all in the middle of my yearning to be a parent. I had become less happy and less able to love.
All of these things we don’t say to complete strangers. All of these things we don’t discuss in polite company. But thank you Lucy. Thank you for giving me back something I didn’t know was gone.