Happy 18th Birthday
The Matilda Saga
Matilda turns 18 today, the 26th January 2022. She has been on count down since 27th January 2021. She plans 3 tattoos and a belly button piercing….this from a girl who leapt off the bed howling the one and only time she had her eyebrows waxed. Her older sister recently moved to London. I overheard Matilda facetiming her on Sunday morning, just after I’d attempted to lure her from bed before the day disappeared into January dusk.
“I have to set some boundaries for mum….she can’t just barge into my room without knocking. I want to move out.”
Within 10 minutes she was downstairs, fully dressed and repentant, looking to encircle me with her arms and say sorry. I’m sorry too…I can become exasperated, and what starts as a persuasive exchange can rapidly descend into me making demands. That Sunday morning after her outburst she decided “ I just want to go and live in Never Land….I don’t want to grow up. I want to be Wendy Moira Angela Darling”….for the uninitiated that is the full name of Peter Pan’s love interest and I have no doubt Matilda knows who played the character in each of the films. There’s a lot more going on inside this girl’s head than just excitement about her coming of age.
In an attempt to capture the essence of Matilda’s first 18 years and highlight how having her in our lives has given us the opportunity to live a life right in the eye of a magnificent, multi- talented hurricane, I have been writing it all down and gathering bits and pieces written in micro-moments over her life-span so far…I am getting there. Here is a little snippet in celebration of Matilda’s 18th birthday….HAPPY BIRTHDAY MAGNIFICENT MATILDA xxxx
THE HILLS ARE ALIVE WITH THE SOUND OF MUSIC
It’s a late summer 2021 Saturday night and all Matilda’s siblings are out…2 younger, 2 older. She spent the evening watching, in her words –
“An inappropriate film….there was some shooting, it was a bit violent.”
Matilda’s and her siblings’ lives are beginning to look very different and I suddenly remember the first time I noticed this happen. Probably almost exactly 10 years ago, the twins would just have started school and have been allowed to start playing out the front in the village we lived in, as opposed to the cocoon of our fenced in back garden….Matilda was the only one left at home as I distractedly stirred something bland and forgettable for dinner. Suppressing tears and remembering I knew this would happen one day, I fought an overwhelming sadness at this new reality that left our gorgeous, gregarious daughter to wreak havoc in the solitary confines of her own home, while all 4 of her siblings were exploring the great outdoors. They included her in all aspects of their lives, but some things were too great a responsibility for a group of siblings so close in age, the eldest less than 4 years older than Matilda. The youngest was her garden guard from the age of 18 months….shouting loudly whenever she saw Matilda scale the fence in one of her almost continuous escape bids. Sometimes Matilda’s innate desire to escape almost broke me, at a time when daily life meant just existing from sun up to bedtime and making sure everyone was still safe and fed….those felt like the bare minimum requirements yet most days they were a stretch, especially when the twins were new borns, Matilda was a newly walking/ running/ climbing toddler and her two older siblings were in p1 and 2….and it has perhaps taken this long to realise that those long years of existing in a state of perpetual panic, have shaped us all and most likely colour my children’s lives as well as ours.
So that late summer evening came back to me now as I write…and I realised we’d been naïve to think Matilda’s life would follow the same trajectory as her siblings. Don’t get me wrong….we lived in a lovely village, Matilda attended the local school and she was well loved and accepted…accepted I think rather than wholeheartedly included in her community. There were of course exceptions to the rule and there were some occasions when the doorbell went for her…but they were few and far between and it took a special kind of kid or family to make the effort to include Matilda….and that’s the thing. It takes a bit more effort to include Matilda. You had to tune in to her speech, especially when she was younger and still peppered her speech with lots of Makaton signing. You also had to be quite responsible for her erratic and acrobatic physicality. Offers of play dates where kids quietly entertain themselves or wander to the park for the afternoon were rare. But those who made the effort to get to know her were in for a delight. For Matilda is a girl of magnetic personality and fantastic humour who finds something exciting and engaging in every encounter. The world is like an old fashioned Kodak coloured photo viewed through Matilda’s idiosyncratic lens. She is enthusiastic and lives life in the moment, engaging the dourest of old men and the most awkward of teenagers. Her natural vivacity and friendliness know no boundary and this is something of an issue as life moves on. But then, when she was 7, the middle of 5 siblings ranging in age from 4 to 11, she was the ring leader of her own gang…the one who did the talking and social interacting while the others played out the genetic shyness with great aplomb. But of course time does not stand still….
And so here we are 10 years later, approaching what feels like another crossroads, another momentous change. I breathe and blink and reluctantly try to loosen my grip on this young woman’s hand….grasping thin air as she moves beyond me and pulls back, circling us right now and unsure what direction she’ll head off in….only time, patience, support and a lot of love and guidance will tell. And she will tell us. Much as we will try to steer her, Matilda is nothing if not her own person with opinions and personality. Our position as her loving parents and legal guardians is to help her make the right choices to give her the best possible life….what a huge responsibility…especially when all she really desires is to go to UCLA….apparently to study to become a bikini model….not just any old model, very specifically a biking model….you understand it’s not an easy parenting moment.
Onwards and upwards into the wonderful adventure that will be Matilda’s adult life. (Bottle of Blue WKD from her brother just out of view….)