Once upon a time, I used to be a lyricist. i even dabbled in a lil storytelling. i used to spend hours coming up with words that rhymed across multiple syllables. poems were simply experiments in making flesh from the rib of a single sound, phrase or idea. i was the kind of girl who used to make up stories.
just give me three words, any three off the top of your head: fish, blue, german.
i’d come up with an on-the-spot story about a fish that lived in the tobago waters, who learned german from all the tourists who came to bathe in the sea, who began to have conversations about declensions with a corbeaux who, against all assumptions about corbeaux, used to fly to venezuela just to hear the rustling of trees in a true true jungle and who learned spanish from the pink dolphins who liked to laugh by the river banks. corbeaux would sit on the maracas coconut trees and whisper in different tenses to the blue crab, who’d scuttle back and forth to the ocean, and translate to the fish. in this way, when all three met ziya one day at the beach, they each taught her about tobago reefs and river mammals and moonlight runs across the sand, but because no one would believe that birds, crabs and fish could talk to little humans with curly hair, they told her to keep their stories a secret. that’s how she first learned what a secret was, first in spanish, then in german. and when mummy asked her how she came to know those strange words and what they meant, ziya just acted like she had a gundy, and as the crab showed her to do, she put it to her lips. then she made a funny face like a fish and pretended to fly away, fooling the silly adults into thinking that she was suddenly discovering her child’s imagination.
maybe this is what happens when you survive the first year. you begin to find again the parts of yourself that you lost in the deep wilderness of utter exhaustion. you begin to hear your voice breathing lightly in your chest and tickling your ear. you remember you loved words, stayed awake at night twisting in sheets of poetry, rested your head on the softness of stories, dreamed of pens chasing letters across recycled pages that floated out from the bedside table.
on those few nights when i defer overdue reading or i fall behind on keeping up with world news, sometimes the words return like distant friends, and i feel a little like an old self, from a lifetime ago, before motherhood, saving for a mortgage, staying on top of work emails, and managing the negotiations of marriage. those words actually, incredibly, make me feel young, light, happy. i had thought maybe they were gone, from a past time when i had more time and less adulthood. but these last few days, as i’ve started making up stories to put ziya to bed, i’ve caught glimpses of them in between the curtain shadows that fall across the crib. all of a sudden, zi has begun to discover words and so, in the midst of the blur of motherhood, it seems like i’ve kind of rediscovered a bit of myself that has nothing to do with her but has found an opening to emerge anew. in this way, the rhymes return shyly, slipping in with the cool night wind.
it’s a bit cheesy, i know. but what else can one do sitting in the dark, when you don’t want to turn on the light to read because it will distract her and saying ‘put your head on the pillow’ another time just means she puts her head down but keeps her bum up, and then pops up her head again a minute later to answer ‘up’ to your ‘down’, in that endless game you can’t win. when the youtube videos and universal children’s songs and lights are off, when you want just a tinkling brook to shhh her to sleep, you tell little stories, you make up mother’s songs. you remember that mummy once hoped to be poet and so has words hidden in every chamber of her heart.
i like to sing to her: little ziya, don’t be afraid, mummy loves you, dadday loves you, don’t be afraid. all your hurts and all your hungers, will go away. when we come to your rescue, no troubles remain. all your tears and any fears that darken your way. we are here to care for you so none of them stay. little ziya, let your light shine through day and night. have no worries because everything is alright. little ziya, live in the moment, let the past go. there is a future, that is waiting for you to grow.
and we’ve started to practice words together: goodnight trees, goodnight sky, goodnight stars, way up high. goodnight clouds, goodnight moon, goodnight animals, see you soon. goodnight rivers, goodnight seas, goodnight birds and goodnight bees. mummy, daddy i love you. goodnight world that needs love too. sweet dreams all when you close your eyes, it’s time to sleep, farewell until sunrise.
and you know, it works. i hear her humming in this high pitch like a little mosquito, with some tune she’s still making up to match the one she’s hearing. she hasn’t started to sing the words yet, but she listens. and she knows the cadence of a story even if she doesn’t know how it starts or where it ends. but the words will come to her, hopefully waterfalling into songs and stories, and loving experiments with rhymes and life, just as they are coming yet again to me.