It’s the beginning of the holidays and we are loving it – the heat, the freedom, the long summer days. We went to a playpark this morning, realising how good it is to be with our kids, we are making tea in the afternoon. Life is slower than it was a few weeks ago. The builders still mix cement in the garden and lay bricks – they’re building a new classroom for the coming year – but the pace has slowed. It’s time for that.
Just the day before, we finished the year with a party. The mothers and a grandmother came, and we sat in the sticky heat and watched Santa give out presents one by one. You are such a kind boy. You bring so much fun. You are so loving. We told the truth as we see it, speaking out how they’ve shown us what God is really like. And this is what one of our teachers said to me: We used to have to search for their smile when they came. But now, they sparkle. We don’t have to search anymore. She was right, their faces were radiant – shining and sparkling and light, basking in the love of their teachers and mothers. And I looked at the mommies of our graduates and my heart swelled with the heaviness of hope. One mommy brave and clean and tending beautifully, steadily to her child. Another mommy as lost as she has ever been. We licked sticky icing off our fingers and when the front gate finally closed, I made some tea and went to bed. What a day, what a year. I started the year by extending our homeschool circle a little wider – we have the space, the toys, this would be good. But God picked up his needle, unstitched my heart to bleed and never tied things up again.
So it is quieter now, and I have time to lull about the house with my kids. The cement continues to be mixed outside, and I sit with the teachers and plan for the next six months. God blew into my room a few weeks ago and caught me off guard. Give mesix months, He said, and I knew instantly what I thoughtHe meant. Six months to spend time with my three little ones, six months to take my foot off the pedal of going deeper and faster and bigger, six months to sit on the floor with Leo and play with blocks, six months to discipline my mind from dreaming change to being a present mummy – just that. It’s not ideal timing in my head – I feel things are growing and getting stronger and I want to be in middle of that wave, but the teachers are ready for this, and we need it. The last couple of months have been so busy I’ve heard myself shoo the kids outside too many times, reach for the remote a little too easily. I am tired, and so are they, and we need a breather to hunker down and be present only for each other. I trust God about these things.
“Can my son come?” she asked me. “He can’t,” I replied. “This school is for kids whose mothers aren’t there for them at the moment, and you’re such good mommy.” She was disappointed and began to share some of her journey searching for a school. There are good preschools in our community, but she hadn’t found them yet. One forced the children to sleep for three hours until their mothers came, another taught them solely religion, and another beat the toddlers. “I saw it with my own eyes,” she said. “I was working there. The boy was two, he asked to go to the toilet, and they said no, and after a while he peed himself. And that teacher told the other teacher to hit him. After that I couldn’t go back. My mother said I must go to work, but how could I? If I did I would cry every day.”
That day was a low day for me. The cockroaches were getting medown, the boy peeing himself haunted me. I saw a clip on the internet of the community mocking and punching a man with mental illness, and I saw clips of my friends baking Christmas cookies with their babies, and I’ll be honest with you, I wanted to get in the car and drive into greenery and safety and set up camp forever, cuddle my babies and make crafts. But once you see pain, what are you supposed to do? Run away, or run towards? Is this not a defining question of our very lives?
“The school’s in Sherwood Park,” I told her. “Just by Nyanga Junction.” Nicky (one of our teachers) and I sat in a dark, crowded room with a mother who we‘re trying to reach – we want to enrolher two-year-old in our school next year. “I know you!” The mother said. “I know your house! Your brother gave my boyfriend takkieslast year! They stabbed him there by the stairs, he’s dead.”
We walked from her house to mine, she’s swaggering a bit but I know this is out of her box. Her box of a life shrouded in absolute pain. Addiction controls everything, both of baby‘sdaddies have been murdered, she’s lived homeless, out in the open air for years. When Nicky first met her all those years ago she was living behind our local shop, under scrap metal. Her newborn baby had his cord around his neck and was growing blue.
I think about her two-year-old, and how this little sponge is going to soak up language and love and colours and sensory play, and how it will absolutely define her trajectory from hereon. It’s so wonderful I can hardly bear the weight of it. “And the mother is going to change,” said Nicky to me in private, with total surety. “When she comes, and receives the love, she’s going to change.”
We finish our tiny tour, and sit in the garden drinking water. The mother is quiet and her swagger’s gone. “I can’t believe this has happened to me,” she said. “I couldn’t have imagined that this was going to come into my life.” It’s her first taste of mercy, and I drink too. We are all in the garden in the sun, wondering how we ended up here, basking in the unbelievable luck of a Father who is good and says let’s leave the past behind now, shall we?
Yes, Father, let’s.