I know, most people have read this one already. And you know me and my girls… They are my life.  But they also remind me of The Little Girl In The Blue House… Is there someone missing her? Someone talking to her each day? Is she waiting for someone? Is she okay?

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The Little Girl In The Blue House

I always walk the same way to the train station. I take the shortest route. I have too. Way too early to walk one meter further than I have to. Or one minute longer than what is needed. There is another route. Slightly longer. But all the time in the world if it is so bloody early in the morning. My normal route is an easy walk. Turn right, then a quick left and straight down to the station. A quick and easy 20 minute stroll.  And who said I don’t get enough exercise… But today I had to go the slightly longer route. Turn left, turn right and down the slightly longer walk to the station. Not by much. Just about 5 minutes added. But sometimes the longer route brings more than just a longer walk. And this morning I got more than I wanted. Another reason why I never like walking that route. A reminder. A memory.

My oldest daughter always does the “left turn” walk. Her friend from across the street walks with her to the bus stop. They pick up another friend along the way and off they go. But not this morning. The girl from across the road didn’t feel too well so she couldn’t walk with my daughter. Dad duties called. I am the backup. So off we went. On our left turn. 

We were joking as we walked. Doing our “home boy” walk down the street. Me doing funny walks and funny voices to show her how I was going to embarrass her in front of her friend who has never met me. Doing my typical dad stuff. We got to the house. I gave her a hug and a kiss and watched her walk to meet her friend. And off I went. Taking my right turn down the road. The slightly longer road.

I put my iPod on and was listening to A Fine Frenzy when I walked past the blue house. And it brought back memories of the little girl who lived there. The little girl in the blue house.

She was the first friend my oldest daughter made at her new school when we moved here. They were in the same class. Hung out together. I saw her often. At the school. Or at the park. Or just in the streets when we were walking. But she was always there when we took my daughter to school. Running to great her friend. She was scrawny just like my daughter. But she was a little bit too thin. A little bit too pale.

In summer she always had just a t-shirt on. And in winter. A very worn and tatty thin little jacket. And trust me. It gets damn cold over here in Boston in winter. I remember seeing her with her arms folded to try and keep some heat in that little body of hers. You could see she was cold. But that was all she had for winter.

Her mother was always well dresses. With the latest fashion. Clothes and accessories she bought at the mall. She looked well looked after. And warm. Not like her little girl. But we didn’t see her at school often. Or anywhere for that matter. She didn’t walk with her little girl that often.

And they stayed just down the road from the school. It looked like a pretty house from the outside. That blue house where the girl stayed.

I often took my girls to the park at the school. And we’ll see her there often. On her own. On the swings. And she’ll be so happy to see my daughters. She was always so good to my little one. Running up to her and giving her a hug and a kiss and playing with her. She was a nice little girl. That little girl from the blue house.

My daughter always told us about her friend. And how she shared her snacks at school with her because she never had snacks. So my wife put in a few extra snacks for two. Never mentioned it to the little girl. Didn’t want her to feel odd. My daughter just shared because that is how she is. It was her friend. No questions.

And one day she told us that the girl was so exited about going to visit her dad in Arkansas. Her parents were divorced. And she lived with her mother and boyfriend in the blue house. The boyfriend had a nice BMW convertible. Nice car. Pretty new. They obviously had some money. Just not always for the little girl. But she was excited. She was going to visit her dad.

And then we saw her during the holiday. When she was meant to be at her dad. It was the first time I really saw her sad. The smile wasn’t there. She spoke to my daughter in a low sad voice and I didn’t want to ask too many questions. Didn’t want her to feel uncomfortable. I just wanted her to be a little girl. Playing with her friend. And having fun the way 10-year old girls are meant to have fun. So I let them talk and watched as they started playing and giggling. And the smile started coming back. She was with her friend.

The odd thing was that apart from that day I always saw her smile. A big old child smile. I never heard her complain. Not in front of me in any case. She always looked happy. But you could see that there was something missing. You just had to look carefully.

I always hug and kiss my girls. No matter where we are. When we drop them off at school. When I say goodbye in the morning. When they go to sleep at night. Or just because we feel like a hug and a kiss. Which is often. No matter where we are. And this little girl saw this. Saw how I hugged my girls. And she wanted one too.

I used to see her looking at me and my daughter when we hug. And then one day she came up to me when I took my girl to her school and asked for a hug. She was a little bit shy about asking. But I just gave my girl a hug and she looked at me with her tatty top with the long sleeves and peeked at me. “Can I get a hug please?” “Of course!” I said. I gave her a big old hug. And she hugged back. Hugging maybe a little longer and harder than what I expected. Almost as if she didn’t get a lot of hugs and would like to get hugs more often. She was only ten.

And that was how it was. Whenever she saw me she would come running up to me and give me a hug. And I’ll hug her back. And I’ll give her a smile and ask how she was doing. It became a standard thing. I never really thought much about it. I knew she wanted a hug and I gave her one. We can do with more hugs in this world. And I didn’t think that she got too many hugs elsewhere in any case.

And then one day she was just gone. Just gone. Her mother packed their bags in the middle of the night and just disappeared. Gone. Not even a goodbye. Not even a last hug. Just gone with her tatty little top. We never knew what happened to her. How she is doing or how she is feeling. Is she with her dad? Is she okay? Is she happy? Is she being a kid? Did she get a warmer jacket? Is she still smiling those big old smiles of hers? Is she getting any hugs? Or is she still playing alone in the park?

Time passed and memories started fading. We’ll mention her every now and again and just wonder.

And then we started looking at buying a house. And one of the houses that was on the market was the blue house. The blue house where the little girl stayed. So off we went to look at the house. Thinking that maybe we can buy it and make it our little house. Until we opened the front door and walked in.

My wife and myself just looked at each other when we walked in. I knew what she was thinking. It was my thoughts to.

The house stank. It was dirty. So dirty. Everything was a mess. Stuff lying on the floor everywhere. Clothes. Plates. Old food. Ashtrays overflowing. Wet spots. I have never, ever seen anything like this anywhere. And I have been to some places… It has been like this for a long, long time. Our shoes got stuck on the sticky dirt that was on the floors. All the rooms were in a mess. You couldn’t even see what color the walls or carpets were. It was brown. From dirt and cigarette smoke. I felt nauseous. Sick. The ex-boyfriend was lying in bed downstairs watching something on a big screen television. On his huge water bed. With plates and empty bottles and cigarettes lying all around him. A pig in a pigsty.

We went up the stairs to look at the real bedrooms. And we walked into the room that would have been that little girls room. It was a mess. Just a mess. No place for a little girl. Any little girl. Dirty. Filthy. Disgusting. You could see little things she must have tried to do to make it a little girl’s room. A little picture here and there. A ripped out poster. A wonky little table where she must have tried to study. Some girlie jewelery lying on the floor amongst the dirt that she must have forgotten to pack in the haste. But it was covered in a floor that ran skew. Holes in the floors and roof. And cold. And this was in winter. No heating. This was the room of the little girl with the big smile.

My wife and myself just looked at each other. We knew what each of us were thinking. We just wanted to get out. Just wanted to forget that we ever came. That we ever knew that little girl. And that she lived there. Her little room in the blue house.

We sat in the car and just stared at nothing for a while. And then she said it. “She lived in that house.” That’s all that needed to be said. We knew. The little girl in the blue house.

And walking past that house this morning reminded me of her. That little girl in the blue house. Made me think. Again. How did she do it? How did she manage? How did she remain a little girl in that house? How long can she be that girl with the big old kid smile? How long before she falls through the cracks? Is she strong enough? Where will she find the love she needs? The hugs she deserves? How is the little girl from the blue house doing?

The little girl from the blue house. I hope you remember me. I hope you remember those hugs. I just wish I hugged you a little harder and a little longer.

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It started with a simple set of questions… “Dad, what are people doing? Why don’t they want other people to marry? Why don’t they do anything about global warming? Why are they always fighting?”

How do I tell her? How. Do. I. Tell. Her?

1001, 1002, 1003, die… 1004, 1005, 1006, dead…

How do I tell her that every 3 seconds a child dies from something that we could’ve stopped? From hunger. From not enough food. From not having an apple. Or clean drinking water. Or just a little porridge in the morning. That we have it in our power to stop it if we want. But we choose not to. How do I tell her?

How do I tell her that our friends can’t marry because some people just hate their love too much? That love is sometimes not enough. That caring for each other is not what everyone else thinks should be. That the insecurities of the heart and soul of others drive hate instead of seeing the love. How do I tell her?

How do I tell her that some people talk freedom but don’t believe in it? That freedom is freedom even if we don’t like what others do or say. That freedom to marry. Freedom to love. Freedom to see the love of your life die in hospital. That these freedoms are killed by bigots every day. How do I tell her?

How do I tell her the pursuit of happiness is denied for most? That it’s a lie that we are told by so many who deny the happiness of others. That justice, equality and liberty is claimed by many but believed and practiced by few. How do I tell her?

How do I tell her people believe in carrying guns that kill but don’t believe in caring for love? That it’s okay to defend the right to carry a weapon of hatred in your holster but not love in your heart. That it’s okay to defend the right to carry that gun but not the right to love? How do I tell her?

How do I tell her that I don’t know what our earth will look like in her future? That maybe we are killing this world of ours with our greed and want. That wanting, buying, driving, wearing, making, living, eating too much and all those things we do might be killing our world slowly. So slowly that we argue while the pot is starting to boil. Like frogs we are killing ourselves slowly. How do I tell her?

How do I tell her that most people don’t really believe in human rights? That they speak of it as if they care and are willing to fight for it and die for it. But that they will deny others those same human rights. Their right not to be tortured. Their right to marry. Their right to choose. Their right to believe and love who they want. They deny it all. How do I tell her?

How do I tell her that people are willing to let their fellow Americans die. That they can stop it but they choose to look the other way and walk away? That a public option will save lives but some of us are too selfish and scared and would rather offer up American lives. American blood. All because they don’t care to care. How do I tell her?

How do I tell her that so many men carry hate in their hearts. They rape. They kill. They take away. That these are men we see and know. But we don’t see and we don’t know. That it’s okay to love the world. But be careful with who you trust. They will hurt you if they can because we know of those who are dead and missing. How do I tell her?

How do I tell her to not trust the man who speaks of God because they use and abuse His name? That they will hate in His name. That they will lie in His name. That they will give Him different names and still be full of hate and lies. That the hate and lies is preached by bigots claiming every religion – Christian, Jew, Hindu, Muslim – you name it. That it’s okay to love God but to not trust those who speak in His name. How do I tell her?

How do I tell her that there are mad men in caves wanting to kill a dream? That there are enemies everywhere willing to take lives. Innocent lives. And that we live in so much fear that we are willing to do the same as them. We are willing to let innocent people die because of our own fears. That we play into the hand of the warmongers with our weakness of fear. How do I tell her?

How do I tell her all this and so much more? Racism. Discrimination. Child labor. Obesity. Diseases. Sexism. And all this stuff waiting out there in the world. How do I tell her?

How do I tell her all this? How do I tell her that if we all just wasted a little less. Wanted a little less. Cared a little more. Believed a little more. Loved a little more. Spoke out a little louder. Did a little more…

How do I tell her that I see the faces of those kids dying? I know their names in my dreams. That they are my kids. Our kids. Not a number. Her kids.

How do I tell her that I feel the love of my friends being denied? That I only feel threatened because they are being denied the right to love and live in love the way I do? They they are not gay. That they are me. They are her.

How do I tell her I believe in freedom? That it’s worth fighting for even when others are trying to kill it with their freedom-my-way-or-no-way lies and bigotry and double standards. That I fight for the rights for all because I fight for her rights.

How do I tell her I don’t believe in guns? That I hate guns. That guns have killed in my family. That I will still defend those who want the right to have a gun. But that I expect them to fight and defend the right of my friends to love just as hard. That those rights are all hers.

How do I tell her that I don’t know everything about global warming? That I don’t know the science that well. But that I know that it’s better to be safe than sorry. That I will fight for this planet because it is all we have. The only one we have. It’s all I can give her. This little planet in the middle of nowhere is her planet.

How do I tell her that human rights means we have to give it to everyone? To those who are like us. Who love like us. Who live like us. Who believe like us. And those who don’t believe like us. Don’t want to be us. That human rights means we take the higher road and don’t torture. That human right means we allow everyone to be treated the same way we are treated. In love and in marriage. And that I will speak out and fight for those rights. Every single day until we all have it. Because it is her rights.

How do I tell her I believe in justice, equality and liberty? That I believe it is fundamental to who we are and how we want to live. Even though other say it but don’t live it or truly believe it through action. That I will fight for her to have justice. That I will stand up for her to have equality. And I will defend her liberty. Because justice, equality and liberty are hers.

How do I tell her that I don’t want these Americans we live with to die? That I want them to live. I want to help look after them. I want them to have an option to get looked after when they are sick. And that the only option for them is a government option. That I have not option but support an option that will let Americans live. Because I believe that Americans are good. And that it is our duty to love them and respect them and help look after them. Because we are them. American health is her health.

How do I tell her not all men are bad? That there are good men out there. Men who love and care. Men we can trust. And that it’s worth trusting and finding the men we can believe in and trust. That we men will fight those who hurt. Because these are her men.

How do I tell her that God is good? That it is okay to believe and not be part of the lies told by those who claim Him – no matter what they call Him. That God is good and God is love. That I will fight for Him and claim Him back from those who use and abuse His name. Who lie and spread hate in His name. Because He is her God.

How do I tell her not to fear the mad man in the cave or anyone else who lives to hate? That fear is not what makes us who we are. That love makes us who we are. That the love we have is stronger than the hate of others. That love should never be seen as a weakness. Because I will fight for it. Because this love is her love. My love for her. My gift to her. Love.

How do I tell her that when I am alone in my thoughts… On the bus. Running. In a hotel. Flying. That I cry inside when I am alone. And sometimes I cry on the outside for all these strangers to see. Thinking of this. Knowing that I don’t know what we are doing. That I don’t know what we are leaving for her tomorrow. For her future. Her world. I just don’t know.

I don’t know what world she will inherit from us. I don’t know what world we will leave behind. For her. And for her kids.

But I do know that I will fight for what I believe in. I will fight for her rights. Her right to love, believe, be free, have no fear, carry a gun, marry who she wants. her right to be herself. My big angel. Because I love her. And it’s all I can give her.

I want to tell her that the world is full of good people. That every single day I work with people who make this world a little better. One step at a time. Sometimes small but always forward. I want to tell her we will fight the good fight. Every single day. There are more of us than what the world might think. And we are strong. And we will never give up.

I want to tell her I do what I do because of her. That I see her face when I work. I see her face when I fight for what is right. I see her face when I live my life. It drives me. I want to leave her a world to be proud of. I want to leave her a dad to be proud of.

But I don’t. I don’t tell her any of this…

I take her hand and we dance on a Saturday. I joke with her and I tickle her. I play with her and I tease her. I help her with her homework and I say I’m proud of her great work. I have fun with her and walk her to the bus stop. I hang out with her and watch Harry Potter with her. I lie watching music videos with her and write silly stuff to her on Facebook. Sometimes we talk about Madiba or God and space-time limitations. Or science and mathematics. Geography or food. Even a little bit of serious stuff like politics and rights. And then I talk to her about crazy silly things and give her my books to read. I pull her finger and burp as loud as I can. I go mess up her bed and chase her around. I just do the things a crazy silly stupid dad is meant to do. Because she is my girl. My oldest girl. My big angel. And I’m just her dad. That’s all I want to be. The cool guy who loves her more than life.

She is my Ubuntu. I am because we are.

So I don’t tell her. But I know. I know we have to fix this world to make it ready for her. She deserves nothing less. She is perfect. She needs a perfect world.

We’ve got work to do. My big angel is coming and I’ve got a world to clean and get ready…

I have two girls. Two beautiful girls. A little princess. And a slightly bigger angel. My girls. My life.

My girls they love to dance. Ballet. Jazz. Hip Hop. Tap. Crazy. You name the style and they have it. Just a shame their dad was born with two left feet…

I have the dancing ability of the Elephant Man. Some say it is cute. And then laugh when they can’t keep a straight face. Others just burst into laughter straight away. But it hasn’t stopped us from dancing our life away. It hasn’t stopped us from having our music moments. Let me tell you a bit about those moments…

I lie in on Sunday mornings. Not too late. But a little. My beautiful and suffering wife takes on Sunday mornings. Making Belgium waffles or pancakes or vetkoeke. And bacon. In the words of my little princess… “I loooove bacon”. But it sounds more like “I luuuuuuuuv bay-kin”. It’s Boston you see. It is rubbing off on her. But I lie in like a lord while the smell of love fills the air.

But I don’t lie alone. My big angel comes to join me. Just the two of us. Little princess is in the kitchen with mom learning how to cook. So we lie in bed. She lies in my arms and together we listen to music. No. We “play argue” about music. Channel hopping between VH1 Classics and MTV. She laughs at the big hair of the 80s and the crap music back then. I laugh at the lack of proper lyrics and new styles in the music of today. And we argue about who has the best music taste. She rolls her eyes when I go “Yeah” to Springsteen dancing with the Courtney Cox or do my MC Hammer impressions to “Can’t Touch This“. I laugh at her doing a hip hop impression with her skinny legs and the girlie voice when she goes “Yo!”

But sometimes we go quiet for a moment. A song comes up that makes us go quiet. And we just lie there. She in my arms. And I hold her a little bit tighter than before. It’s then that the music knows no age. It’s when the music goes straight to the heart. And the stomach. It just tells you to lie back and listen to the voice and melody. The words doesn’t even matter. It’s just a song that reminds the two of us that we are lucky. Lucky to have a mom who loves us. And a mom we love. And a little sister that’s a little bit crazy. And lucky that we have our little Sunday morning of music. And love.

We always goes quiet when Sinead O’Connor tells us Nothing Compares. Because we know. Nothing compares. Nothing compares to the laughing and the music in our house. To the love you can almost touch in our house. And nothing compares to the big angel and me lying back and enjoying our Sunday morning of music. Just a dad and his girl.

Sinead always does that to me. I look at her face and remember that she was the first crush I had. But it was just that video. And when she cries. When the tears starts rolling down her face. All I wanted to do was just hold her and say “It’s okay Sinead, we love you”. Of course I knew it was just a video. Just a song. But I always felt that she just needed a hug and a whisper that “it’ll be okay”.

But there is a new song that also makes us go quiet. A song of today. It’s not the words. Like Nothing Compares wasn’t about the words. It was about Sinead being lost without love. She reminds me about those out there with no love. Those with no Sunday mornings. This new song just reminds me that there isn’t enough love out there.

It’s different from Sinead. This song doesn’t make me feel sorry for singer. The song doesn’t tell you about the love that is missing in that life. But this song hits me. Always. I don’t know what it is. But it reminds me that most people don’t know that love. Love that hurts because it is so good. Love that makes you cry because you are so happy. This song haunts me. It makes me miss people I don’t even know. And I can see my angel feels the same when we lie in bed and listen to this song. Watching the tv. But not seeing the song. Just letting it flow.

That’s my Sunday morning of music. And love. And then there is the Sunday afternoon of music and love. Crazy music. Crazy times. Crazy love. That’s my little princess. And Love Is In The Air.

It’s from one of my favorite movies of all time. Strictly Ballroom. Make no mistake. I am not into ballroom. Or musicals for that matter. But this is one awesome movie. This guy can dance. And you should see me and my little princess make our moves on this song.

It’s just crazy. I never tell her when I am going to play it. Never. I just switch it on and watch her reaction. She’ll be in the lounge and I’ll put the boom-box on in the kitchen. Loud. No. LOUD! All she needs are those first few keys to play. And then she runs into the kitchen and shouts, “Louder dad! Louder!” So I turn it louder. Max. And then she jumps up for me to catch her. And hold her. Hang on baby, here we go!

You start off with a few slow swings. Her legs clamped around my middle. I take her hands and she falls back. Her long hair almost hitting the ground. And I wiggle her arms for her whole little body to shake. I swing her up and grab her by her middle. And flip her up in the air. Her head almost touching the roof. Her eyes jumps open wide with a mixture of exhilaration and happiness. I can hear her laugh and giggling throughout the song. I swing her around my body – over my shoulder and around my back. Her feet never touching the floor. It’s wild. And it gets wilder. She stretches out like Superman while I hold her up in the air and move her forward and backwards. And spin her a bit more. And then the song hits a high note and beat. And I swing her head back. Holding her head with one hand and her back with the other. And I start spinning. Around and around. Keeping up with the beat. And going faster and faster as that piece builds up and builds up. And then… BANG! “Love is in the air!” Full swing. I see nothing but her face laughing. Her mouth open with the happiness of just dancing. Her eyes wide open with pleasure. Her arms swinging outstretched. Complete trust that her dad will hold her tight enough no matter how fast we go. Her complete love for her crazy dad dancing his silly dance on a Sunday afternoon.

And when it is over? “Again dad! Again!” Love Is In The Air. On a Sunday afternoon.

But this song is also different. The words are true. The beat belies the words. The words…

Love is in the air
Everywhere I look around
Love is in the air
Every sight and every sound
And I don’t know if I’m being foolish
Don’t know if I’m being wise
But it’s something that I must believe in
And it’s there when I look in your eyesLove is in the air.

Love is in the air
In the whisper of the tree
Love is in the air
In the thunder of the sea
And I don’t know if I’m just dreaming
Don’t know if I feel safe
But it’s something that I must believe in
And it’s there when you call out my name

Love is in the air
Love is in the air

Love is in the air
In the rising of the sun
Love is in the air
When the day is nearly done
And I don’t know if you are an illusion
Don’t know if I see truth
But you are something that I must believe in
And you are there when I reach out for you

Love is in the air
Everywhere I look around
Love is in the air
Every sight and every sound
And I don’t know if I’m being foolish
Don’t know if I’m being wise
But it’s something that I must believe in
And it’s there when I look in your eyes

Love is in the air
Love is in the air

Love is in the air
Love is in the air

Sometimes with music. Always with love. Sometimes on a Sunday. Always every day. Love is in the air. In my home.

Love Is In The Air

Love Is In The Air

My youngest daughter is a wild one. She loves to just run around. Sing out loud. Throw out all the toys on the floor and play. Climb the monkey bars. Slide down head first. Just do what slightly wilder kids do. Be wild. Be kids. Oh, and not concentrate on what you have to say if it is in the way of her jumping of the edge hoping you will catch her. Yeah, she is a wild one.

She is not naughty. She doesn’t break things or hit kids or throw tantrums. She’s just a little girl who likes to have fun and laugh. Slightly wild, but we only pick up on it because her older sister so different. that in is Miss Mellow.

Our older daughter is more level headed. Everything must be perfect. Her room is the tidiest room in the house. And we don’t touch it. I irritate her by jumping on her bed. (Yes, we all wonder who are the real kids in our house.) She is the hard working student and it shows in her school results. She just loves school. She dances 5 days a week and plays the saxophone. She plays with one toy at a time while her sister throws all the toys on the floor. And she is a deeply caring kid who always have time for others. Always the one who hold their hands or sits with the new kid in class.

They are different kids. But they are also the same.

The little one went apple picking last Monday. It was a school trip. A few mothers were asked to go with and help with the kids. We gave the little on “the speech” before she left. “Listen to what you minder have to say. Be polite and be nice. Don’t just run off screaming like a mad thing.” She nodded her head and said, “Yes daddy. Yes mommy.” I wasn’t so sure she listened. She was about to jump off the chair while I was talking…

They were in groups of three. One minder for three kids. We just hoped she will listen and not drive the poor woman crazy. And off they went…

Afterward the woman who looked after our little one came up to my wife to “debrief” her. (“Oh what has she done?” must have crossed my wife’s mind at the time.) And the woman said…

“Your daughter is the nicest, sweetest and most caring kid I have ever met”.

Apparently the little one walked next to her the whole time. And even though she is the youngest in her class, she helped other kids up the ladders, helped them pick apples, made way for them to go first and looked after anyone who looked unhappy or who hurt a knee or elbow. The woman said she was just the perfect little girl and more. And that she went up to a little girl who was missing her mommy and said, “Don’t worry. Your mommy will be waiting for you when we get back. She loves you very much. Now lets have some fun and pick some apples”. She was the little girl who cared. Not once did the minder even have to think about our little one. She was always around and always polite.

She didn’t jump off the edge once. Most likely spoke the hind leg off a donkey, but still. She was the perfect little girl and so much more.

And when they got back to school she went up to the woman and gave her a big hug to say good bye. No one asked. No one told her to do it. She just went up to the woman and said, “I am going to miss you”. The lady said she felt like crying. Because of this sweet little girl.

She does that often. Give hugs to people. If we know them or speak to them she trusts them and want to give them a hug. We think it is a good thing that she does it without checking with us first or us telling her to do so. Love and caring should come naturally. Ubuntu – It’s like breathing… Remember?

When I got home she ran up to me to tell me about the apple picking. Her little bag with 7 or 8 apples. But she didn’t just show me. She showed me the apple she got for me. And the apple she got for mom. And the apple she got for her sister. “You can eat it at work when you get hungry daddy.”

The school teacher told my wife that the little one is just the most caring little girl in class. Always there to sit with someone who is crying. She can be heard saying, “Don’t worry, your mommy and daddy loves you very much and they will come to fetch you after school.” She sits with the kids who feel lonely or just a little sad. And the little kid who fell while playing. She looks after them. The youngest of them all.

My wife wasn’t feeling to well these last few days. But I had to go to work. And then take the oldest one to the library to stock up on some books. Guess what the little one did? She stayed in the room with her mom and read her stories. And gave her wet facecloths to wipe her face with. She looked after her mom while there was no one else in the house. She’s five.

A few nights ago we were watching the news. And they had this story on of this family who is living out of their car. A father, mother and 3 little boys. The husband lost his job because of the construction industry being in a slump. His wife worked as a waitress and didn’t earn enough for them to survive. They lost their home and their possessons. So they packed the car and drove to San Diego. Hoping for a better life. And they are still waiting. Looking for jobs during the day. Their kids get a meal at the school they attend. The little one goes to daycare for kids of homeless parents. They wash and brush their teeth at the toilets on the beach. She cooks on a little camping stove at night. They sleep in their car because the centre that take in homeless families don’t have any space open at the moment. But they can catch a warm shower there. The car is a bit cramped at the back, but at least the boys are small…  And during the day they hunt for jobs and pawn their wedding rings to feed the kids.

My wife started crying. I didn’t notice it at first. But I saw my little one get up and walk over to her and ask, “Are you okay mommy?” She lied, “I’m fine my girl. I’ll be fine.” We are never fine when we know this. And my wife looked at me and said, “These are not lazy people. They haven’t done anything where they blew their chances. Or blew their money. These are decent, decent people. They are trying everything to stay on the right path. Just look at those three little boys they have. They are a decent family. How can people just stand by and look on and do nothing?”

We got up and were standing in the kitchen talking about it when our little one came in. She had some plastic flowers in her one hand and her favourite toy in her other hand. She held it out to my wife.

“Here mom. I love you. This will make you feel better.”

She kept on coming back to check if my wife is okay. No one asked. No one encouraged her. But she does this often. Giving us flowers when we look sad or down. Giving us a hug and a kiss when it looks like we are not smiling enough or really smiling at all. Giving us plastic flowers and toys.

Yeah. She’s a wild one all right.

Some days are more difficult than others. The walk home from the train station feels like it will take forever. My legs get heavier and heavier with each step. It’s just one of those days. When it all gets a little bit too much. Some days I just feel older than the mountains. My soul feels drained. I am tired to my bones. I am going home. But all I want to do is get into bed and sleep. Curl up and switch off the lights. The light inside my head. But not everyone notice or care.

I haven’t even hit the first step to the porch yet when I hear it. “Daddy’s home!” It’s the little one. And she has been waiting for me to come home. But not tonight. Tonight daddy is tired. He needs time to switch off. Daddy doesn’t feel like much tonight.

I open the door and my oldest runs up and jumps into my arms. “Hello Dad!” Big kiss and a hug. The little one is patiently waiting for her turn. She is still to small to jump. But she tries. A little hobble and a bump and she almost hits my knees. I pick her up and give her a hug and a kiss. She gives me a big squeeze. “Hello daddy. I missed you.” I put her down and put my bag down. Go into the kitchen and kiss my wife. I am in robot mode. Doing what I do because I love them. They don’t have to suffer my tiredness.

The little one shouts, “Hey dad! We’re having goggas tonight. Ooh, I looove goggas”. Goggas is spaghetti bolognese. A family favorite. We call it goggas because of the spaghetti strings. Goggas is spider or bugs in my language. A bowl of spaghetti looks like spider legs. And she loves goggas. No, she loooves goggas.

I stand in the kitchen with my wife. Just listening to how her day was. Packing away the dishes and packing the dishwasher. Taking out the bowls and forks. My wife can see I am not myself. She knows this mood. When I feel as if I am away from my body. Staring at myself through a cloud. She’ll ask me what’s wrong. And I’ll just say, “Nothing”. Really nothing. I am just tired.

I hear her voice shouting from the lounge. The little one. “Dad! Come look here. I made you something!” I drag myself to the lounge. She jumps up with her big smile and bigger eyes. Sparkling. “Look dad. I made you a picture. See? It’s you and Mommy. And there’s a tree. And a princess. It’s me. And there’s another princess. My sister. And a cat. And some broccoli. I looove broccoli. I made it for you daddy.” She smiles and her eyes shines with happiness because she gave me a present. I put up my best smile. I say thank you for the pretty picture. I ask her to put it at my bag. I’ll take it later. I hardly looked at the picture. I smile at her and go back to the kitchen. No focus. No attention span.

We sit down and eat together. The four of us. I am quiet. My oldest one tells me of the book she is reading. I nod my head and flash a smile. The little one pipes up. “Hey dad! Knock, knock.” “Who’s there”. “Banana.” “Banana who?” “Banana is naked and crossing the road. Haaaaahaha.” I smile at her. She doesn’t get all the jokes yet. But she tries. And she finds them extremely funny. I am still in a daze. Everything clicks over so much slower in my mind when I am like this.

Dinner is done. The little one eats her desert while I clean up the kitchen. She is done. And she runs up and shouts, “Dad. Pick me up! Pick me up!” “Please girl. I am tired. I just want to do the kitchen. Just eat your ice-cream please.” “I’m done daddy. Pick me up. Pick me up! Let me touch the roof!” I sigh. “Oh girl, daddy is really tired. Just once okay.” I pick her up and lift her high up so she can touch the roof. She giggles. “Again! Again!” “No girl. Really. Dad’s tired.” “Just one more time please daddy. Let me touch the roof!” I sigh. “Oh girl.” I pick her up and lift her up sideways. She really has to stretch for this one. And she giggles and laughs. “I touched it daddy! I touched it. Thank you dad!” I give a half-hearted smile. “Well done girl.”

Time to get her in bed. “Come let’s go bath. Quickly girl. Daddy’s still got lots to do. Let’s move it.” “Carry me up dad! Carry me up.” I really don’t have the energy. “Please girl. Daddy’s tired. Can’t you just walk up the stairs?” “Please daddy. Carry me up?” I pick her up. She puts her arms around my neck and puts her head on my shoulder. I can see her smile from the corner of my eye. She whispers, “I love you daddy”. “I love you to girl. Daddy’s just tired okay? Let’s just get into the bath and get it done okay?” “Okay daddy.” She is still smiling.

But it isn’t okay. We get upstairs and I put her down. She runs around like a crazy thing. This little girl with the build-in nuclear energy reactor and the smile. She runs into her bigger sister’s room just to irritate her. She runs in and makes a silly face, wiggles her bums and runs out laughing. She runs into our bedroom and jumps on the bed. Off on the other side. Chase the cats. Runs into her room and runs out. “Come on girl. Please. Move it. Let’s get into the bath. I am tired. I still have lots to do. Please.” I am begging now. She gets on the toilet and makes a wee. I get her bath ready. I walk past her to go get her toothbrush. She grabs my legs with her short little legs. Trying to trip me. “Oh please girl.” She giggles and laughs. “I got you daddy.” This is turning into a long night.

She is done on the loo. She flushes and closes the lid. And then jumps on top of the lid. It’s next to the mirror. “Come daddy. Time for a photo.” “Oh please girl. Not tonight.” “Come daddy. Just one photo.” I lean forward and she leans over to me and grabs my shoulders – and on her tippy toes leans over to the mirror for the “photo”. She looks at me and says, “smile for the photo daddy”. I give a fake smile and she smiles with her teeth showing all over the place. “Cheese daddy.” It’s done. “Wait daddy. A funny one.” “You said only one girl.” “But we always do a funny one.” I am getting impatient. “Come on now.” She leans in again and pulls what she thinks is a funny face. I pull a funny face. She laughs as if it is the funniest thing she has ever seen. “Come girl. Let’s just brush your teeth.”

We brush her teeth. She sucks the toothpaste and plays with the water in her mouth when she gargles. She spits all over the basin. “Look at my clean teeth daddy.” She flashes me her teeth – pushing her whole face forward. “See how shiny they are daddy.” “Very pretty. Now come now girl. Let’s just bath.” Please.

She runs out the bath into our room and turns around. She faces the bathroom like an athlete ready to start the marathon. She runs screaming to the bathroom and when she gets to the edge of the bath she shouts “cannonball!”. And then stops and slowly gets in the bath on little foot after the other.

“More water dad. Make it deeper. More bubbles.” “Come girl. Please! Stop splashing. Just a quick bath tonight. Daddy really needs to get his work done and get into bed. Let’s just finish.” She ggiles and laughs when I wash her feet. “It’ so ticklish dad”, she says while laughing. She splashes around and throws all her toys in the bath. “Where’s my little duckie?” Crisis. “Find it daddy. His mommy and daddy is waiting for him and he is all alone.” I find the duckie and pull the plug at the same time. The water drains out like my energy.

Drying her and dressing her. Never easy. She smears water on my clothes with her wet hands to see what patterns she can make. “Pull my finger daddy.” Oh. I pull her finger and she makes a farting sound with her mouth. Haha. “Wasn’t that funny daddy?” “Put some cream on me daddy. My skin is itchy.” At last time to get her dressed. I slip on her pajamas and she starts giggling. “Don’t tickle me dad.” I know what she wants. She wants me to tickle her under her arms (kieliebakke) when she lifts her arms. She crashes to the floor when I just put one finger under her arm. “Oh dad. I told you not to tickle me.” She says this while lying on the floor laughing and saying “Oh, ooooooh” the whole time. Time for bed. She goes to sleep first and then I must hit the sack. I am knackered. My brain is starting to shut down.

“Wait daddy. I forgot my dodo bear”. “Oh, come on girl. Just get another toy to sleep with you okay?” “But it’s dodo bear daddy. He always sleeps with me.” She runs down stairs to get the bloody bear. I lie down on her bed and close my eyes. Oh please I hope she gets the bear and move it. I shout from the top, “Move it girl!” She runs up the stairs and into her room holding up dodo bear and shouting, “Got him dad!”

She struggles to get up her bed. It’s too high. And the she jumps off. “Oh, I almost forgot to put my baby Jack-jack in his bed.” I sigh. Just hang in there. It’s almost done. I am just going through the motions now. Trying to survive this whirlwind. Almost done.

She grabs a book. It’s Wally (Waldo in the US). She knows where Wally is hiding. She finds them all faster than me. It takes just a few minutes to read. Thank God. “Again dad. One more time!” She wants to do it again… And again… “One more time daddy.” Always a spark and a sparkle in her voice.

My tiredness has caught up and getting way ahead of me now. I am on edge of the abyss staring down. The floor is sucking me down.

“Okay girl. That’s enough. I’ll put on your Nemo CD and you go to sleep now. Okay? I don’t want to hear you again when I go downstairs. It’s time for bed now.”

I get up and press play on her CD player. I wait a split second to check if the volume is okay. It’s done. I get up and start walking out the door. At last. I can finish everything else and get into bed. I am not even going to blog tonight. There is just nothing left in the tank. I am on the edge. I have to go to sleep before I get too grumpy. Or rather grumpier. And then I hear my little ones voice. No sparkle this time. No happiness. Just a sad little voice coming softly from her bed.

“But daddy. What about my huggle* and kissy?”

I froze. It’s like Mike Tyson in his prime just hit me in my stomach. Like a sledgehammer. I winch. It sucks the wind out of my system. The blood drains from my whole boddy. The huggle. How can I forget the huggle?

All she wanted was a huggle and a kissy. All she is is happy about is seeing her dad. From when she gets up in the morning and misses me to when I get home. She phones in the morning to say hello and to tell me she loves me and misses me. She just doesn’t care about how tired I am. She doesn’t care that I had a tough day. Or that I feel drained. Or that I feel the weight on my shoulders today. She doesn’t care because she loves me. She doesn’t care because she has been waiting all day to see her daddy. And all she wanted was a huggle and a kissy.

I stood there for a minute. I could feel the tears coming. How could I do this to my little girl. She just wants her daddy. I turn around and pull my funniest face – mouth skew, tongue out, eyes wide – everything. And say in my stupidest and deepest monster voice, “A tuggle? What’s a tuggle? Is it like a tickle?”

Her eyes lights up immediately. And a huge smile spreads across her face. “No daddy! I said a huggle! Not a tickle!” I run over to her and gave her a tickle that goes on forever. She laughed from her stomach. Big breaths as she laughs her heart out. And then we quiet down and I look at her and say, “I love you so much my girlie”. “I love you too daddy.”

I give her a big huggle and a big kissy. No. A BIIIIIG huggle and a HUUUGE kissy. “One more daddy.” “And another one daddy.” And then she smiles at me and turns around to grab dodo bear. I leave the room with another “I love you girlie” and a “I love you daddy”. And another quick huggle and a kissy.

That’s my little girl. She doesn’t care because she loves me. All she wanted was her dad. And a huggle and kissy.

And as I walked down the stairs I made a little promise to myself. Never again will I chase her on to finish up. Never again will I give her a half-hearted smile. Never again will I tell her to hurry up. Never again will I tell her daddy just wants to go to sleep. Never again will I not smile for the photo. Never again will I feel too tired. Never again will I forget about the huggle and the kissy. Because she doesn’t care. And rightly so. She’s my little girlie.

___________________________

* Note: A huggle is a word she created. It’s a combination of a hug and a cuddle. A big hug. No, a huge hug. But with lots of love. A huggle.

I never noticed it before. It has been there for a while. This picture of Martin Luther King Jr on our fridge door. You know, that space that kids occupy. I hardly look at the fridge door – just open it to grab something to munch on or a cold one. But there it was. Amongst all the fridge magnets and numbers and pictures of the kids. I guess it didn’t stand out because it was white on white. Yes, we have a white fridge. The reason why it stopped me was because it looked a lot like my dad. And you know about the relationship between me and my dad.

So it stopped me in my tracks a bit. Who would draw a picture of my dad? No one around liked him or knew him well enough to do that. Is he haunting me? But then I saw the heading – Luther King Jr. I moved the African dancing figure magnet out the way and saw the whole name – Martin Luther King Jr. And yes, he was white.

I knew who drew this and couldn’t help but smile. It was my oldest daughter – my 10 year-old. She did it during the last holiday celebrating his life. And I knew she didn’t forget to color in his face. Or decided against it because she didn’t want to shade it in and lose the details. No. She did it because that is just the way she sees the world. I thought about it for a minute and chuckled. I knew where she came from with this. And I love her for that. Let’s go back to when she was just a little girl of 6 months – back in South Africa.

I read to her every single night. One story after the other. And she loved it. Lying there and listening to my voice tell her about the world of princesses and princes. Of wolves and pigs. And that last one did not refer to the cops. I tried to vary it by making up my own stories. But my wife said I had to stick to the original versions. No way can I place Snow White as a junkie in the street of Cape Town and the seven dwarfs the seven “bergies“. (Got to be South African to understand – dwarfs in Afrikaans is “dwergies” and that rhymes with “bergies” who are specific homeless characters from my region. And they have character!) No, I had to stick to the original version. And I got sick and tired of telling my little girl lies (apologies to my wife).

So I decided to read her Nelson Mandela’s story – Long Walk To Freedom. His autobiography about his life from when he was little to when he got out of jail. It was something I wanted to read and thought she would like it. It wasn’t as if she understood what I said when I read Cinderella either. Hey, I didn’t get it so how would she? So I started on Long Walk To Freedom and got my first bit of indoctrination of her ready. And she loved it. Because she could hear in my voice that I enjoyed it and that mattered to her. Always did to her. You know, the caring for others bit.

She grew up in a house where no form of any racism was allowed. That was one of the main reason my dad got banned from our house. I just never knew how to talk about race in South Africa. Not when it was still such a raw issue in my homeland. So we just never spoke about it. Oh of course we spoke to her about Apartheid and how Nelson Mandela fought against this corrupt system and got thrown in jail for his beliefs. But we somehow managed to not talk about race – never spoke about someone being black or white. It helped that our friends were from all over and came in all different shapes, sizes, sexual preferences and color. And her best friend was a little “black” girl called Imani. But there is a reason why I say “black”. Imani was black, but her natural mother was white. The dad was black but we never knew him. So in her little eyes it was the most natural thing in the world. Not knowing color or race. Imani was her friend and she had a nice mom who was friends of mom and dad. That’s it. The color of someones skin never made sense to her. At least not when talking about someone or trying to describe them. Why would it? Why would you want to describe someone as black or white when they are just your friend and have so many other reasons why they are your friend. Being black or white did not count when it came to picking friends so no need to talk about it. And then she went to school.

I was dreading it. At some stage she was going to be exposed to the issue of someone being black or white. I just didn’t know how to prepare her for this. She was so little. I didn’t want to influence her. I wanted her to learn about this world and come to me when she wanted to know more. She was always wise beyond her age. Her school was a nice mix so I was happy. A good school that reflected South Africa more or less – kids and teachers. And then, one day, it came. The “my black friend” reference…

I picked her up at school and, as always, I asked her what she did, was it nice, what did she have for lunch, etc. And without thinking she said that she played with her black friend and they had so much fun. I could feel the blood drain from my face. Who the hell told her to call someone black? But I prepared for this. And started asking her about this “black” friend of hers. I was going to get to the bottom of this and find out who taught her this… this… this bloody reference that had no place in defining your friends.

And when she told me the story about her “black” friend? I just packed up laughing. Stopped the car and gave her a big kiss and a hug. She had no idea why. But it was just so typical her. Her “black” friend wasn’t black at all. Not even close.

Her “black” friend was a white as Snow White. That was odd. So I asked her why she was her “black” friend. And the answer? “Because of her hair, silly dad. Her her is black daddy.” That’s when I stopped the car and gave her the hug and kiss.

You see, she heard someone talk about black and white people. And the only way this made sense to her was the color of their hair. She loved hair. And that made sense. Someone who is “black” had black hair and someone who was “white” had white hair. And she had a few “brown” friends and even a few “red” friends. Thank God she never met the punks in London back in the 80’s. She would have “purple” friends and “blue” friends and any friend you can think of. Still hold – those old ladies with the purple hair, but I guess they are too old to be her friend.

I felt proud of her. So proud of her. I knew she will be okay. And she taught me something I always hoped was true. You are not born a racist. You are made a racist. Shed a tear for those little kids with the hatred in their eyes who call people names. Those people grow up to make more racists. It’s a vicious circle. But they start off as just kids.

Martin Luther King Jr is white. And I couldn’t be prouder. I think he would be proud. I know she will continue to live his dream.

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