the crumbs we settle into

by rachel

if I have a child, I will teach them the wrong words for the quietest of things. I will point to the soft red bump at the end of a pencil and say “dice”. I will trace their fingers through the winding tracks of their shoelaces and christen the plastic loops “hurdles”. I will let them watch the way skin folds – the ripples on their belly, my eyes amidst their laughter, their cheeks when the sky glows on its way to sleep; I will call those … “crumbs”.

my mother is a teacher. a strict one. my best friend and my boyfriend commiserate over how they are both slightly afraid of her. one of my sister’s favourite stories is how my mother would use her “teacher face” and “teacher voice” to get all the teens crowding the front of the public bus to form orderly clumps at the back. she was the woman who would ask her students using “vagina” as a cuss word in the hokkien dialect if they needed a lesson in female genitalia. all the false bravado that a 17-year-old boy had painstakingly amassed? it never stood a chance against my mother.

one of her favourite lines is, “I taught you everything you need to know in kindergarten”.
at the age of 4 I learnt that in order to make the rain stop on your father’s hour-long drive to work, you must stand at the edge of your balcony, mouth peeking through the bronze grills, singing, “rain please stop please stop please stop, rain please stop please stop please stop”. repeat as many times as necessary.

at 5 I discovered the words cocoon, pupa, moth, butterfly. i plucked so many caterpillars from their homes on bushes before I learnt that a butterfly’s wings emerge damp after its slumber. there is an endless patience that must be learned before attempting flight.

at 6 i learnt that, to make and keep the best memories, open the back of your hello kitty film camera before you’ve wound back the film. let all the light in. maybe you’ll never hold in your hands the geysers where, hoodie on backwards, you avoided the sulphur; you’ll never see light fall once more on the field of daisies where you whimpered for every petal trampled upon; nor the train set that you split your favourite bunny sweatpants trying to build. but your mother’s laugh, the “you did what?”, the realization on her face that hers was a child with aperture eyes but amateur hands, that, that you will never forget.

if i have a child, i will teach them the wrong words for the quietest of things. I will stand with them by the tembusu tree, let them breathe in glimpses of early morning school bus runs in between the tree’s once a year siren song, I will tell them this, this is “family”. I will run their palms over the bead box from many arguments ago, the crack down its centre its spine, and whisper the word “patience”. I will touch their two fingers to my throat and another two to my grandmother’s, let them feel the vibration of our voices, hands over our mouths, the way tongue, cheek, teeth, lips pronounce codes foreign to each other, I will let them feel, I will let them feel, I will call it “time”.

If I have a child, I will teach them the wrong words for the quietest of things. Mostly to laugh at the day they look towards chance to solve a mistake, tell a friend that they can’t get their shoelaces through the hurdles, or think about how they really like the crumbs on their mother’s face. but when the air is too cold, the noise too much, I remember a world where clear skies are a prayer, where metamorphosis means to wait, where memories come of erasure. it is then that I realize I will teach them our blundering code so they will always have the language to phone home.

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