Sapphire is now ten years old. A decade. Double digits. Able to move her chronological age from a unit into Tens and Units (“Actually Mum, that’s not correct because a ‘zero’ in the units column doesn’t really count.”)
She was born on the cusp of the fake millennium but the one that sounded more exciting as it changed to 2000 instead of the mathematically-correct 2001. Itwas the year we were all busy panicking and project planning for the dreaded Y2K bug, feeling utterly shocked at the tragedies at Columbine and Kosovo and emailing each other dodgy Monica Lewinsky jokes. Wondering exactly which way the Backstreet Boys wanted it, how to avoid the irritating Venga Bus and realising that watching ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ whilst eight months pregnant meant the urge to pee was far stronger than trying to work out just what the hell it all meant.
Sapphire sneaks a look over my shoulder and sighs. “Oh Mum, you’re not going to blog about me are you?”
Sheepishly, I turn around, and nod, about to say something like it’s because I’m so honoured to be your mother, you’re a huge part of my life and it’s second nature to be inspired to write about the things that make me utterly happy and I’m always dazzled by------ before she says “But you’ve told me that I’m not allowed to surf the internet because there might be weirdos with diseased minds who are pretending to be other kids that might want to kidnap or look at me but you’re now sitting here telling the whole world about me.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell her that my readership wasn’t as wide as all that and she was eventually comforted with a cup of hot chocolate, witnessing my genuine admiration at her crocheting skills and participation in a SingStar duet challenge of ‘Fernando where my arse was thoroughly kicked in the musical sense. Later on, she said, “I reckon if we were the same age and went to the same school at the same time, we’d be best friends.”
I wonder……. How would a pretty savvy ten year old girl today compare to a ten year old from 1978?
As discussed previously, most of my school romances were conducted under the red steamy haze of violence and misfortune. Playgrounds were hotbeds of injury, pain and blood – perfect for young love to blossom. If they’d broken their arms on the whizzy, split their skulls on the adventure playground pipes or allowed me to give ‘em a dead leg at recess time, I was in love.
Sapphire, on the other hand, is decidedly more picky. “I’m not into doofuses, show offs or boys who swear just because they want to be cool.” She told me that one boy in her class told her that he loved her when nobody else was around. Does she love him back? “No, I’m too young for that kind of stuff, that’s for teenagers, but I said I could be his friend. And I didn’t run around telling everybody because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings when he’d been brave enough to come up to me.” I can’t say that I would have done that – I took great delight in intercepting love notes (Do you want to be my girlfriend – tick ‘yes’ or ‘no’) or pointing out a wino ambling along Rundle Mall and saying to a mate, “There’s your boyfriend.”
In my tenth year I decided to quit ballet and piano. Possessing the grace of an inebriated wart-hog and, after three years still unable to read music, I wasn’t exactly begged by either teacher to rethink my decision or rue the decline in the Australian arts scene. Instead, I continued to play my scratchy ABBA records on the ancient radiogram (in glorious mono), tried to hide my terror at seeing the Jaws movie poster on display when we passed by the drive-in and wondered why Dad would never allow me to watch ‘Blankety Blanks’ on the telly but Paul Hogan playing Leo Wanker was OK. ‘Benji’ was the only thing I saw in the cinema that year and even then it was only memorable because I’d scoffed an entire packet of lemon chews by myself and felt painfully thirsty, incredibly nauseous and couldn’t have cared less if the scruffy dog escaped his evil owners or translated the Dead Sea Scrolls.
My daughter tells me that she chose the viola as an instrument because “It has a richer sound than a violin and I don’t have to be the star out the front but a very important part of a large orchestra. Plus I love the music that we get to play.” And the recorder? “You and Dad always say that it sounds like a happy bird when you hear it, and that’s how I feel when I play.” Sadly, the guitar lessons are going to end after this term. “I know you’ll be a bit sad about it but I don’t love it like the other two instruments and I’m busy with tennis, homework, play-dates and being in the junior string ensemble and I still want to have time to spend with Skipper. I hope you don’t mind.” Mind? It will save us $250 per term!
What are your favourite movies and TV shows? “I love watching the ‘Frasier’ DVDs with you and Dad – Niles is so funny. ‘Dr Horrible’s Singalong Blog’ is hilarious and has great songs. ‘Master Chef’ is OK but it gets dragged out far too long which is annoying. I still love watching ‘Wallace and Gromit’ anything, ‘The Corpse Bride’ and ‘Flushed Away’. Do you like the slugs I made?”
Songs? “At the moment it’s ‘Funhouse’ by Pink but it changes every couple of days when I use your old iPod and recharge it. When Pink sings, ‘This used to be a Funhouse – Now it’s full of evil clowns’ I think it’s a really good and clever line.” What other ones have you been into? “Abba anything. You know, for a group that was around in the olden days, they still have songs that are better than anything Lady Gaga, Katy Perry or Taylor Swift – who I also like – can do.”
In 1978, my beloved ABBA didn’t release an album, which gutted me. Their latest record was always my November birthday present, so that year I had to content myself with a 45 single featuring ‘Chiquita’ and a purple vinyl beanbag which I had started pestering my folks for in March when our classroom got three lime green ones for the reading and pom-pom making corner. The beanbag in my own reading corner at home (ie my bookcase moved at a rakish 90-degree angle from the wall) encouraged more day-dreaming than usual and I was convinced that I’d be able to fill in for Agnetha if she needed to take some time off to look after her kids. I knew the words, had blonde hair and the equivalent level of dance skills – what else did BBA (Bjorn, Benny and Annafrid) need? Failing that, growing up to be a world-famous actress who married the kid from Storm Boy would have been fine too.
“Maybe a teacher,” muses Sapphire, “Even though you told me that you hated being a high school teacher and Grandpa said that after thirty years of it he was utterly sick of it as well.” But you’re artistic; could you see yourself doing anything with that? “Yeah, I like watching the ‘extra features’ on my DVDs that show how they do the plasticene and computer modelling for the movies and the cute sets for Wallace and Gromit. That would be great fun.”
Turning ten at the end of 1978, I could already see that mastering stilts, trampolines, trying the intriguingly named lollygobbleblissbombs and disco roller-skating were things to aim for, as well as hoping I could save up the eleven dollars plus postage and handling to join the UK Abba fan club. We’d had some brief discussions in class about nuclear bombs and World War Three, but my aspirations were more centred on whether I’d ever beat Robert at a game of Monopoly or be brave enough to throw a can of Mum’s old hairspray into our backyard incinerator.
For Sapphire, it’s less about things and more about people. “I don’t know, Mum. I’m just happy that it’s May already and I’ve settled in and made some friends.” I squeezed her hand as we walked along to school. “They’re friends that I can tell anything to – they listen, they understand and we always have fun. I just hope that it’s always like that.”
Then, she said it, the sentence I’d been dreading all along. “Do you still need to walk to school with me? Juliet and Sarah get to do it by themselves. Can I walk on my own now?”
My steps slowed as I kissed the top of her warm, soap-scented hair and whispered that yes, of course she was responsible and mature enough to walk on her own, but Milly needed a short walk two times a day and the school was the perfect distance and she so looked forward to it and….. and….
“It’s the highlight of my day. I love laughing with you, finding out about your friends, your class, your lessons, your thoughts and walking alongside you. I love holding your soft little hand as we make up silly song lyrics together and then stifle them as we walk past the high school and don’t want anyone to see how strange we are. I love waiting for you after school at the gate, seeing your blonde halo of hair from across the yard, smiling at me. Let me walk with you. Please.”
She smiled, half-twisted in her self-conscious way of trying to hide how pleased she was with the situation. “Oh alright then Mum, I don’t mind if you still want to walk with me.”
She took the viola and music bag I’d been carrying out of my hands, kissed me on the cheek and ran off just as the first bell rang out. Thank God she didn’t see the tears.
I love you Sapphire.