From the mouths of babes and their favourite shirts

Posted by Jennifer Hatt on 17 December 2012 | 10 Comments

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It was a Sunday morning fight I just didn't need. Morning comes too early anyway, and the battle between my warm cozy nest and the rigid hardwood of a church pew was raging in my head long before Youngest Daughter twirled proudly in her self-made Sunday best: jeans and a T-shirt. Now, I have accepted that my willfull third-born will no longer tolerate the sweet dresses and matched outfits of toddlerhood. Main goal today is to get her to church with a Christian demeanour still intact. The Lord doesn't care how you look as long as you show up, echoes in my head. Jeans I could live with. The shirt, however, was another story - a tiny pink tee with Tootsie candies proclaiming Let's Roll!, guarded defiantly by its eight-year-old owner despite its faded fabric, cracked decal, and seams meant for a torse two sizes smaller. Bravely, I suggest another shirt. Eyes darken and lips extend in a pout that will ease only after someone cries. With a single bead of optimism, I align three lovely shirts on the bed, extolling their virtues as an auctioneer wooes his audience. This one has a butterfly, see? And this one is purple; you love purple. A glimmer of hope, and the pout relaxes. Maybe purple would be okay. It is my favourite colour, and the Advent candles are purple.

She wriggles out of the Tootsie Roll into a long-sleever with the word PEACE descending on its front. "You know," she offers shyly, smoothing her hand over the letters, "the other shirt was getting a bit small. I just didn't want to tell you." I know, I reply. it is your favourite shirt. it's just that you're growing, and things change. She gazes at me. "This feels a lot better," she chirps, eyes bright now in relief. You can keep the other one for play, I smile. She dashes to her room, then calls to me: can I put it in the bag to give away? You bet, I reply. We have pictures of her in her favourite shirt. That's what is important.

What I saw in her lithe little body, adorned in polycotton that respected her new size, was relief not from the fabric but from the secret. To admit her shirt didn't fit would mean to lose it. Say nothing, and no one would know. But her body knew and in our moments tgether, her mind realized it as well. In the safety of our conversation, she could reveal her secret, and learned that good things come when sharing a burden with someone you trust. Our mother-daughter relationship has been growing since she was conceived, and touchstones like these tell me we're doing okay, and life is that much easier when we have places to share.

The author-reader relationship can also be an important arena for sharing. As writers, we help characters share their secrets and in the process, share a little bit of autobiography as well. As readers, we often shed our secrets in the safety of pages, in other people's homes, lives, and realities that mirror or remind us of our own. As authors and readers, we find success when we build and protect that trust and strengthen the ability to share. We write and we read because it is important to us. It takes time, costs money, and insists we invest our feelings as well as our thoughts, but we continue to do it. We write and we read because as painful as it can be, it feels oh-so-good when it's done. The secret is shed, our trappings swapped for something that fits and feels better.

There will be more shirts, and always, there will be memories. 

Thanks to the reminder of a smart little girl, I'm pumped for more words as well.


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