Sunshine Sundays ~ A Secret Place

The Secret Garden Frances Hodgson Burnett Lauren Child

The Secret Garden

I sit on dry leaves, under a canopy of palm fronds. Our spot is shady, protecting us from the intense midday sun. I pull my knees into my chest for comfort.

My daughter sweeps the leaves with an over-sized broom.

“Just tidying up before Maddy gets home,” she tells me. “You look after Daisy and Tuna? Maddy’s plane is late.”

The leafy enclosure takes me back to a leafy, private burrow in tangled lantana across the road from our property. The burrow was large enough for kids to climb into, but too small for an adult. Like children of the wild, my brothers and I hacked with machetes and made the cavern larger. A boulder sat in the centre. We used it as a table to plan our next battle against the neighbours, Conrad and Troops. We peered through gaps in the lantana to see if Conrad had discovered our hideout.

Around the same time, with Dad’s help, we constructed a treehouse in the dense pocket of rainforest regrowth. One night, we attempted a camp out. My brother sang a tribal song to drown out the chorus of cicadas. When I peered over the flimsy railing, I saw fluorescent mushrooms tucked against the tree’s trunk. They looked like fairy lanterns. By day, they were translucent and invisible. Our courage didn’t last the night, and we retreated home to warm beds.

Not far from the rainforest, was the shade house where I tucked myself into a cardboard box one Christmas Eve after running away from home. Even though I could hear my parents calling out and see their torches, I refused to answer their calls, and eventually fell asleep. A torch shining into my eyes woke me up.

These were the secret places that sheltered and protected us from the adult world…

Back under palm fronds, my daughter interrupts my thinking.

“Now, you be Mary, and I’ll be Dickon.” I try and hide my smile as she talks. She has perfected a Yorkshire accent, like I use when I read her The Secret Garden.

“Look like tha’ spring has come. Look there at tha’ robin. Aye!

“Don’t laugh, Mama!” she says.

We have been reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett most nights. It’s our special place to wander together after I have put Rosie in bed. She loves turning to the beautiful illustrations by Lauren Child and sneaking a look.

Not a lot happens in the story, and yet she is captivated. “When will they find the garden?” she asks repeatedly. I think she enjoys the conversations, and the constant anticipation of the garden about to be found, or the roses about to bud.

The Secret Garden was my favourite book as a girl too. It’s one of the books that stayed with me. It’s like carrying a secret place around inside – a place to escape to, which looks like an over-grown English garden, and smells like the Moore in spring.

I have been inhabiting secret places since I can remember, in my imagination and in the real world. Now my daughter inhabits her own.

Do you have a secret place? Can you share?

If you would like to share your story about a secret place, please link up for Sunshine Sundays. We’ve grown such a beautiful community of bloggers that come every week, comment on each other’s posts and respond with such sensitivity and thought to the theme each week. Sundays have always been my favourite days, and now they are even better. Next week’s theme is “If only…”

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Sunshine Sundays

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How to be a perfect mother (inspired by Mrs Darling)

Wendy's Mother, Mrs Darling

Mrs Darling was a perfect dear. Just the sort of mother one would choose: as sweet as honey with lovely eyes, and a mouth that looked like a kiss. It had got like that with kissing her children so often. ~ from Peter Pan, retold with J.M. Barrie’s permission for Little People by May Byron

We have read a number of vintage children’s stories lately – Peter Pan, The Enchanted Wood, The Folk at The Faraway Tree, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory…Interestingly they all depict the mother character as a kind, gentle creature, full of love for her children. There is almost a holiness attached to the mother figure in these stories. She is the perfect dear.

I wonder about the authors behind these mothers. Was this actually how they perceived their mothers? Was the mother in the vintage era really a perfect dear? Or was the depicted mother more of a fantasy? A hope?

Perhaps Mrs Darling was of her age. Perhaps my Great Great Great Grandmother – Mrs Darling’s contemporary – was like Mrs Darling – a perfect dear, with a mouth like a kiss. I don’t know my family history well enough to verify this.

Fifty years later, my Grandmother was a different type of mother. From what I have heard, she sometimes yelled at her children. She was loud and occasionally obnoxious. But she smothered her children in love, made them ANZAC biscuits while they played in the backyard, and boasted about their brilliance every day of their lives until the day she died.

My mother, while incredibly gentle and loving, was not like Mrs Darling either. My memories are hazy, and on the whole fond, but I am sure she occasionally lost it, being the mother of three children, isolated much of the time on a property in rural NSW.

If you read my article on the Daily Life this week, you would know that I definitely am not like Mrs Darling, (although I like the thought of my mouth looking like a kiss because I kiss my children so often).

The mothers I know, while as kind and gentle as they possibly can be towards their children, are not holy, perfect dears.  They make mistakes. They get annoyed. Sometimes, they even yell at their children.

I try to picture Mrs Darling – her waist pinched tightly to accentuate her bust, her lips perfectly painted, holding a kiss in the right corner of her mouth and her voice so soft and sweet. It’s impossible to imagine her getting mad at her children.

In my quest to understand how realistic the depiction of Mrs Darling is, I came across a credible source on the Internet, which described Mrs Darling as distant and reserved. Her consistent, loving presence started to make more sense.

Personally, I can do Mrs Darling a lot of the time. But there are times I just have to be human. Yes, I check my smartphone. I even express my irritation towards my children. But spending every hour  with your children means they will sometimes witness your flaws. Presumably, Mrs Darling called in Nanny when she felt at the brink of despair, took herself away to the drawing room, and poured herself a gin.

Is there a literary mother you identify with? Are you a perfect dear?

Come by and join in the conversation on Facebook or connect on Twitter.

Linking with Maxabella Loves for Weekend Rewind.

I am Moon-Face: Writing characters for children

Why Moon-Face?

‘Come and give Mummy a hug,’ I say to Little Sunshine Girl.

‘You are not Mummy. You are Moon-Face!’ she cries.

I have been Moon-Face for nearly a month. I miss being Mummy.

Funnily enough, my name has nothing to do with the shape of my face. It is far from round. I would go more with Crescent-Moon-Face, if you want to be accurate.

Moon-Face is the round-faced fantasy character from The Faraway Tree books by Enid Blyton.

Moon-Face

Not really me. Source.

There could be worse characters than Moon-Face.

But I wonder what it is about Moon-Face, specifically, which has so captured my child’s imagination?

He is quite a simple character. He is loveable. He is a friend to the children. He is kind, generous and loyal. I feel like being asked to be Moon-Face is symbolic of my friendship with my daughter; she wants me to play with her as a friend rather than a mummy.

Engaging with children’s book characters, and with children through characters

Playing a character is the easiest and most enjoyable way of engaging with my daughter’s imagination. I find playing games with children surprisingly difficult, but this is a game I can play all day long while doing the house chores and other activities I need to do. As long as I answer back in character.

There is something about bringing children’s books to life which is magical. Since we began reenacting The Faraway Tree, Sunshine Girl has ceased asking to watch television or use the iPad. Her little mind is stimulated and engaged. Some of the story lines come directly from the story itself. Some are completely imagined.

Our play is a stream of consciousness. We move from one character, one world, to another, like a dream.

Through character reenactment, I have the privilege of understanding what my daughter likes in a character, what she identifies in a character, what she wants a character to do, and her idea of an entertaining story line.

Where do children’s book characters originate?

Reenacting characters and stories has been fun for both of us. It’s also been creatively advantageous to me. Occasionally, a little pearl emerges as we play. I capture it, by writing it down. These little pearls become fodder for the children’s stories I am writing. Actually, that’s a bit misleading – we clearly write them together. My daughter suggests a line, or a character, a phrase or a setting, and I use it to tell a story. She responds with a modification or an elaboration. Back-and-forth, the story goes. Stretching out. Lengthening. Twirling. Refining.

We have created some magic between us, we really have.

Writing for children is about getting into a child’s world, and into their mind. I am in the perfect place to create characters for children’s stories. I live with an articulate and imaginative three-and-a-half year old, who’s mind is still so fresh and fluid. And thankfully, she tells me what’s going on in there. She tells me about the characters that interest her. Through my daughter, I get to understand how the characters need to think.

I take notes when we play, and when we read together. As much as possible, I am trying to tap into this magical time. It’s a privilege. When my children are older, I will have to get better at imagining what children actually enjoy reading to be able to write for them.

What makes a good children’s book character?

Although the fantasy worlds captured in storybooks are often far removed from reality, the best stories for children are those that speak to the heart of the child. They usually have a very human element; deal with a complex emotional problems, or a real experience the child is dealing with. The classic example of this is Max from Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. Little Max is frustrated, and feeling aggressive. Sent to his room, he disappears into a fantasy world where he is in charge of wild creatures. Although the setting and characters are partly fictional, Max’s emotions are very real.

The same could be said of the Harry Potter series, aimed at older children. I think one of the reasons why this series is so appealing to so many age groups is that, fantastical as the setting is, the characters and their problems are very identifiable.

The character can be magical – a wizard, a talking animal, a Moon-Face – but to work, they need to have a heart like a child.

This post was inspired by Ashley Howland from Ghostnapped. A group of bloggers are playing a little “Secret Subject Swap” game, where each blogger gives another a secret subject on which to write. Ashley’s subject was very appropriate – ‘writing for children & creating characters for children’.

Other participating bloggers include:

The Velveteen Rabbit

the-velveteen-rabbit

In the chaos this is our house, my daughter found a copy of The Velveteen Rabbit this evening. She wore uggies, and sat on the floor, poring through the thin book. I guess we found it at an op-shop or the boot market. I can’t remember.

Margery Williams tells the story of a rabbit who wants to be Real. It’s a tale about becoming mortal, rather than immortal.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

Elki's velveteen rabbit

Elki’s velveteen rabbit

Maybe because it is the Easter weekend. Or maybe because life is one big effort to become Real. Or maybe velveteen rabbits, like this one, just do this to you. I don’t know why. This book made me cry, sentimental that I am.

My first love

This was my first love.

Mum. With my second baby Eve the day she was born.

Mum. With my second baby Eve the day she was born.

This was a close second.

blanky

My baby blanket. Blanky. Stitched with love by my god mother. A patchwork of satin and cotton scraps, patched and re-patched when it was love-worn. I would move it around, while in bed, trying to find the cold bit. The corner that hadn’t been clutched. When that part was warm, and I would circulate blanky to find a corner still to be loved.

That was my first memory, though I am still sure Mum was my first love.

My thumb was a close third. My orthodontist didn’t call this love. Nor did my parents, when they saw the bill for squillions of dollars.

Soon after those early loves came this:

T435 PL REP  FC

and this

clive-cover

and this.

winnie-the-pooh

 

These books, among others, gave my little thoughts words and my little ideas pictures. I would take these little words and little ideas and weave magical worlds, where things happened, and people talked. These stories kept me company down the bottom of the paddock, and tucked up in bed with blanky and thumb.

Later, these stories found their way into a typewriter. I can’t quite remember, but can imagine six-year-old me sitting straight-backed at Dad’s typewriter, giving form to my stories. The paper fed out the bottom of the grey machine. The letters clunked heavily under small but conscientious fingers.

When I was six, I published this:

fairystory

fairystory1

fairystory2

 

fairystory3

 

There were others stories. On finding this anthology last week, I was sucked back to the mind of that girl, sitting at her dad’s grey typewriter. This is the closest I get to feeling what she felt and thinking what she thought. An imprint. A trace. An icon from six-year-old me, carefully filed away in a green plastic ring binder.

Those were my loves. That was me, clinging onto a blanky, sucking my thumb, thinking stories. Loving my mum.

{Linking with Josefa for Conversations With My First Love and Grace for FYBF}

{Disclaimer: Although my mum was my first love, I am sure Dad, rather than blanky, was a close second. Maybe even equal first. But then that would be a different story.}

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