It’s an interactive blog today! For the full immersive effect, please listen to this. It is a piece of music called Spiegel im Spiegel by Arvo Pärt:
There is a perfect moment when you become a parent. The moment when it all falls into place, and parenting becomes your life; when you look around, and the new world you live in with all the hallmarks of parenting – the chaos, the mess, the disruption, the smell (oh God, the smell), the anger, the sleeplessness, the expense, the ruination of friendships and sex – all becomes worthwhile. This is the moment when being a parent makes sense, when it gives you back something you realise you needed all along. It can be over in an instant, but it will never leave you.
The first time the true magic of parenthood hit me was when I was sitting on the floor with Alice. I had an inner-ear infection at the time, I was off work for many weeks, and the floor was the place I went to when the world started spinning, and I needed to clutch on. Alice was just about one at the time, so the floor was her entire world.
She was playing with bricks. It was a March afternoon, and the sunlight was streaming in through a crack in the curtains. She was handing me bricks. I wasn’t feeling great, and I remember at the time thinking “Do I have to do this…?”
I often used to put music on whilst playing with Alice when she was a baby. Sometimes it was jazz, or dubstep, or reggae, or rock music. But this time, I put a CD of Arvo Pärt on.
The piece, Spiegel im Spiegel came on.
With the world spinning around me, and the guilt of being off work for a long period, and a demanding child, it shouldn’t have been such a perfect, heavenly moment. Gradually, as the music unfolded, the glorious reality emerged. Alice was very calm. She was holding bricks in her hand, with that look of rapt curiosity that babies and toddlers have, immersed in her task, sorting the bricks in some random fashion, unknowable to me, but by some criteria that made perfect sense to her.
The afternoon light bathed her. She had a halo of blonde cirrus hair, and she was focussed on her task. At first, I tried to build the bricks, but after a while, I could only take them from her hand. She didn’t say anything. Not a “Dada”, not a “Ba!”, but silently communicating. It was a Father-Daughter moment, a moment of pure understanding between us. She was the explorer, voyaging into the shape and colour of each brick, and I was doing as I was told… taking the bricks proffered to me.
I knew, I knew with every fibre of my being at the time that this was a moment that was rushing past my face, never to return. I was a passenger, and the moment was racing by. In my head were conflicting thoughts, of duty, of illness, of doubt, of impatience, and that other calm and authoritative voice telling me to stop everything at this moment. The moment when the world can cease and you can remain trapped in forever.
It was a moment of bliss only I could experience. Alice can never recall it. Sarah was, at that moment, in the kitchen trying to fight the mess. She certainly wasn’t having a moment. It was an afternoon in March. There are several of those in a lifetime, and they pass by without comment. But for me, in my private reverie, the always-shouting, frequently-collapsing world was on the other side of the veil. Eventually the moment would end, and this one did, probably clumsily or inappropriately: The phone rings, the wife comes in to ask a question, the child gets upset at something… but I don’t remember it ending. All I remember is the rising piano arpeggios, the delicate pianissimo of the gorgeous, sustained notes of the violin… and my child, a crescent of sunlight, beatific and absorbed.
If I could choose a moment to return to in my life, this would be it. Just me and her.
This moment ignores all the future battles, and enraged bellowing, that she and I will express to each other many times.
This moment transcends everything to do with my job. I am not in the office.
This moment makes all money worries from past, present, and future, completely irrelevant.
This moment wipes away past and future traumas and disasters, and illness and pain, and depression.
This moment ignore the horrors of war and the humiliation of poverty. It is devoid of spite and selfishness.
It is a moment of love and wonder, and it is unique to just the two of us. When I think of my daughter, I think of many things. At the core of them all, like the shining sun of that afternoon – growing more and more distant as time wears on – is my daughter’s face in that very instant, in all possible universes, the fixed point. Passive, in wonder, curious, beautiful. A moment together. As family.
All my hopes and fears in my life washed away. I was part of her journey now. With the horrible clarity that comes with adulthood, I knew there was a world outside this moment. A world I needed to return to. But for… seconds?… minutes?… could I remain here?
And she became so powerful at that instant, so immensely fertile with the potential of her future. So full of knowledge to come, of experiences yet to excite her senses, all the love and passion that a young woman can endure, and all the confusion and frustration of a life yet to lead.
Please, let her lead that life without hindrance. May she never have the doubt or pain that some of us have. May she never have a moment of terror; never to be made to feel powerless in the face of disaster, or through someone abusing a position over her, or feel her mind and body betray her. May she constantly bathe in afternoon sunlight, handing me wooden bricks, for no reason at all other than her own private one.
The stillness of the music, the unravelling melody, and the graceful movement of her hand took me away, out of this world. I have so very rarely experienced such a thing. They happen once every few years, and they are fleeting: first kisses; laughing around a campfire; a shared gasp of sexual ecstasy; the glorious sunset as seen from mountaintops and beaches; the first declaration of love; the moment you swagger down the street with your friends like gunslinger rockstar astronauts boarding the spacecraft; the applause of the audience; the entire room howling with laughter at a shared joke; the moment musicians lock together as a team and produce a heavenly sound; a gang of friends joyously diving into water and not caring…
There are so few moments of perfection in this difficult life, it is churlish to ignore them. They change and diminish as you get older into something intimate and private – less shared, more personal.
As for me, I’m keeping this moment with Alice in the most precious compartment of my “treasured memory” box. It’s moments like this that is how I want things to be.