There are many children around who relish tales of how their parents met. Sometimes these are the romantic invention of fiction, whittled over time and worn smooth with frequent practice. Other children have no interest in such frills and fancies.
“Tell me again!” she beams, not because she is a girl, but because she is typical.
“Again?” I glance at her brothers, indifferent to the silent nell of bed time.
“Go on?” she goads. I capitulate, not because she is really interested but because I yield to her desire to avoid bed time for a few moments longer.
“Well…….I met your Dad when your big sister was about 4 years old.”
“How did you know he was the one mom?” I debate the issue of 'the one' when in reality I was already divorced when I met him.
“Lots of things really.”
“Well one day, Dad took me on a very special treat.”
“I am like dah special treat too,” chimes in the one who is not listening.
“To the opera.”
“Hmm well light operetta actually, but lets give credit where it's due.”
“Operetta is better, operetta is better, operetta is better,” he whispers, spittily, combing the carpet fibres with his finger nails.
“I mean, Dad bought some very expensive tickets for our special date.” I cringe now, as I did then. The word 'date' is both foreign and reserved for the young. There were so many obvious and subtle undercurrents in the early days of courtship; to bridge the invisible class division between us, to impress, to romance? “Anyway, he took me to see Puccini.”
“Pooh who, Pooh who, Pooh who,” he hoots softly, in the breathy tone of the distracted.
“Oh, er Puccini wrote operettas, and we went to see Madame Butterfly.” Surely a reference to my circumstances at that time? A young divorcee with an abandoned child? The pathos, although the reality was so different, but it suited my whimsical notions at the time.
“He is dah good guy? Dah Puccini?” interjects the superhero, monitor of good and evil in all situations, no matter how irrelevant. “Er, yes um, I suppose so.”
“Was it a good movie?”
“Oh, it wasn't a movie. The opera singers were on stage and sang the music to the audience, in real life as it were.”
“Was it a good…….story…..er song?”
“Yes, it's about a woman in Japan during the War. She met a man and they fell in love. He left to go back to the States and she has a baby and…..that's sort of the end.” I fizzle out wondering how my well honed tale has gone so awry?
“Doesn't sound like a very good story. Did he lie to her?”
“He beed liar?” gasps the superhero.
“Er, um well they sort of had more of a cultural misunderstanding….you need to be older to understand the…..overall message.”
“What is the overall message?” That people do and say stupid things and pay for them the rest of their lives?
“That……..you can love someone very much…….but……sometimes things don't always work out quite the way you imagine.” Why do I keep digging pits to bury myself in?
“Work out quite, work out quite, work out quite,” murmours the other one.
“Dey are bruvvers?”
“Dey are BRUVVERS!” he yells.
“Like Nonna?” I fail to see the relevance of their Italian Grandmother at this particular romantic juncture.
“Nonna's brothers? Your Great uncles?” I offer with an air of desperation, unable to connect the tiny dots. What is he on about now?
“Er…..” he faulters at my lack of comprehension. I seem to be off track, if not slightly derailed, but my daughter clues me back in to the right theme. “Yeah, right, they kinda sound that same.”
“The same as what?”
“Italiano!” she mimics in the sing song rhythm of her forebears.
“What's that got to do with brothers?” I ask no-one in particular.
“Pooh cheeni is dah bruvver da Pinnochio?” I look at him. I look at his brother as they await my response, jointly. The subtleness of language may be lost on those with a speech delay but I wonder at what other connections they make that I miss? Elements of timbre, rhythm and rhyme. Measure, metre and mire for the unwary. I play for time whilst my brain does catch up, “you know, that is a very good question. They sound like they could be brothers. They both have Italian names don't they?”
“I fink he's wrong?” says the elder.
“Coz you say Puccini is dah good guy and Pinnochio is dah liar.” Three small people grin at me.
“So you can’t have a good brother and a bad brother in the same family?” I guess.
I love the innocence of childhood and how they pull you in and trip you up. I don't know if they're wise beyond their years or whether it's happenstance and gobbledegook. I decide not to disturb the order of his world by mentioning Prodigal sons or Black Sheep. I do know that whether they have words or not, we're all only scratching the surface.