It had been a triumphant evening. In honour of Halloween and Anna-mouse's impressive ability both to cope with new artistic experiences and to stay up almost as late as I can, I had booked us tickets to see an extraordinary, site-specific dance piece in an equally extraordinary 13th Century Manor House.
They gave us torches and little tokens to hang round our necks and every so often plunged us into darkness, out of which a wraith-like figure would emerge to brush past us and be gone. My girl was scared only once, and not worryingly so, and calmed herself by clinging to me and whispering her favourite chant, Can I sleep in your bed tonight? To which of course I quickly reassured her with a yes.
I drove us home in the dark, congratulating myself on the choice of event and on my very special daughter, who was the only child there.
Tiredness had begun to tell on us both by the time we got home. Let's have hot chocolate and a snack and take them upstairs, I rallied, to maintain the festive mood.
As I stood preparing our midnight feast in the kitchen, Anna-mouse stood beside me at the counter, doodling. I looked down and to my horror saw that she was writing on a plastic folder holding some of my precious work with my expensive black liquid eye-liner, which I had left lying there hours before after painting a Halloween spider on one of her cheeks and a spider's web on the other.
Look at this, she says, look what I did for you.
I glance at the writing, and make a snappy comment about her choice of materials.
She dissolves into tears.
But you didn't even look at what I wrote, she wails, You didn't even look at what I said!
For the first time I read her message written in wonky, eye-liner writing:
I love you Mum.
She is howling now, my insensitivity the final straw. I take a breath and remember suddenly where I am, and who I am with, and what is important. I crouch down so that our eyes are level and hold her a little away from me so that she can see my face.
I am sorry, my darling, I say. And you know what? You are absolutely right. Mummy wasn't looking, was she, when she should have been, and you wrote something lovely.
We hug, and she whimpers a little and calms in my arms. And then I straighten up, pick up the eye-liner and write very slowly and deliberately underneath her message to me: And I love Anna-mouse.
There is quiet in the kitchen as we stare at our messages, and I contemplate silently that the love of a child is never a given, always to be cherished, always to be earned.
'Let your life speak'
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