The dream was about collecting things from the past. We were visiting a strange city and I was looking in a cupboard for something that would give us a clue as to where we should be going. Was it a scrap of paper? A tourist brochure? I found a pile of papers, things I’d saved. An envelope full of little toys one of my daughters had left behind somewhere when she was younger. My mother-in-law had collected them up and posted them to us.
I got up and walked through the dark house to the kitchen while everyone else was asleep. It was the darkest morning we’ve had all year, and when I stepped out the back door to get chives for my lunch the light was grey and shadowy. I kept remembering things, everything echoed, everything was layered with memories, time was stacking itself up. I drove to school under a muted sky, feeling like I feel when I know I am a writer. A strange feeling of being full and floating at the same time. As if there are a million things waiting to be written. That if I only just sat and wrote, they would be revealed.
The other night in a dream I lost my boots. I thought, this is a dream, if I re-trace my steps I’ll find them. I walked up a curving staircase looking for the restaurant I thought I’d left them in, and as I walked I saw on every step, on either side of me, a myriad of small objects. Little ornaments, shells, small things filling every space on the stairs. And in the dream I was amazed. I knew I was dreaming, and I looked down at all those tiny things and realised every one of them was a symbol.
I’m so aware of time passing. My daughters were babies, once. I held them in my cradled arms, later propped them up on my left hip. That was the way they were carried, soft bums resting on the pelvis that made them, small backs tucked into the crook of my arm. The pose so natural that when I pick up someone else’s baby it all comes flooding back. How many things could I do with a baby on my hip? So many.
At the time I thought it would last forever. Youth, when we are in it, is an endless stretch. An expanse of time that seems to keep renewing itself. Age is a horizon so distant the eye can’t register the pace with which we travel towards it. And yet I see it now. The babies are sprouting, gangly and feisty and full of life. Their interior worlds proliferate. Daily they add new experiences, new skills, new awareness. She is swimming on her back. She moves, without anyone holding her. She has joined the orchestra, she knows how to stop and wait for the next bar when she makes a mistake. She has no spelling words this week, she got them all right the first time.
I am itching to tell them the stories. How I watched them play in the back garden of the house they were born to. The jacaranda tree in the middle of the yard was wide and whispery and underneath it was a blue cube playhouse bought second hand from a kindergarten. There was a plank from the roof into the tree, and a ladder to climb up to the roof. It was a convergence of worlds, each layer a new territory. There were piles of sand, leaves, branches, purple blossoms, books, plastic trowels, a family of soft toy animals, the trike with the trailer at the back. They were always busy, my daughters. They made things, they went places. I could barely keep up with them.
One warm September day we went for a walk and came back with the roof of the red canvas buggy covered with spring’s bounty. Yellow kowhai blossoms, seed pods, bold stalks of green grass, red leaves, tender pale petals. We made art that afternoon, outside on newspaper spread thick because I couldn’t fight the worry about the mess they were making. Later in the day she planted her precious kowhai seeds and watered them. She was sure they’d grow. There’s a photograph of her pale head bending down over a pot of soil, small fingers pressing into the dampness.
I took so many photos. I was desperate to remember. I took so many that in the end, with the limping thing that my brain often is, I couldn’t do anything with them. They wait patiently, digital versions of themselves, for me to attend. Thousands of photographs, each one a marker, a sign on the way to something, a symbol. I walk up the stairs of my mind searching them out, longing to find their meaning, to put them into a story for my three daughters. There are gaps to fill, errors to compute, failings to apologise for. I am waiting, waiting for them to be old enough to tell.