In dreams, you’re mine

baby-photographyWE WERE at dinner with friends when I saw the bonny baby at the next table. A new-born covered in a light muslin wrap, protected from the too-cool air inside.

His mother was cuddling him in the warmth of her arms. She rocked him back and forth, swaying rhythmically in her seat.

Her beloved one had just woken without protest, but she was soothing him with the closeness of her body, the soft murmuring on her lips.

I was mesmerised. Trapped in a zone with them I could never truly share.

There were no tears from him, no raucous babble; he simply stared up at her with fixated wonder. His mother.

The yearning inside me was powerful, like I’d been sucker punched without warning. It hurt in a distant part of myself I’ve tried to bury. But it’s always there; it grows stronger with age.

It rears its ugly head sometimes when I pass a pram in the street and glimpse the soft skin of infant feet, bouncing with the movement created by the street. My stomach lurches; I look away.

Or like the day when I was walking behind a man carrying a sleeping child in his arms and I put my hand out as if to touch a silken baby cheek. They moved out of reach and I let my possessed hand fall back by my side.

Every so often I cross the road to save myself the heartache. I don’t always have a choice.

This night, I stopped the conversation at our table mid-stream: “Oh god, look at that beautiful baby. Just there. He’s so sweet! Look how tenderly she’s holding him.”

My companions politely indulged me for a moment. I wanted to go over and hold that baby to my chest with a ferocity of feeling that shocked me.

It took all of my strength to resist the urge, but I wrangled it, pushed that dreadful longing down into the dark where it belongs. There’s no cure for it anyway.

So, I don’t tell anyone that it’s there. It’s a private pain that ebbs and flows.

Instead when I’m asked by strangers for the millionth time why we “only” have one child, I say: “No, I can’t have any more children, but really we were happy to have ‘just’ one.”

Or: “IVF was so very hard that we didn’t have the strength to go through it all again.”

And: “Our daughter has challenges and needs so much extra help and support. It was meant to be this way.”

We are lucky. We live with grief. But we have no regrets.

Remembrance of things past

Wonderful childhood days (Malaya, 1956; Dad at far left, his father at centre)

Wonderful childhood days (Malaya, 1956; Dad at far left, his father at centre)

A FEW months ago I was in the car with my parents when my Dad started telling me a story from his adolescence that I hadn’t heard before.

I thought I knew all of his stories, but that day I discovered there are some tales not so easily told, even some 50 years after they happened.

Even my Mum, who’s known him her whole life, had only learned about it the year before.

If you flew a helicopter over the landscape of my Dad’s teenage years, it would look a bit like a war zone in the aftermath of a most terrible battle.

Smoke rising from shattered structures once recognisable as buildings. Emptiness. Despair.

He grew up in a corner terrace house facing Windy Hill in Essendon, with his loving grandparents, parents and two siblings. By the time he was 14 years old, nearly everybody was gone. Dead, dying, disappeared, lost.

The disintegration of his family unit was startlingly rapid, most of it vanishing quickly in the space of only two years.

By the summer of 1965, my Dad and his younger brother were alone in that big terrace house once filled with the sounds of familiar voices and adult footsteps on the stairs.

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Dad surrounded by his grandparents and father (1951)

Within a few weeks they would be turned out of this home, but for a short time it was still theirs. An anchor to a simple family life already past, never to return.

Around this time, my Dad remembers a family friend would visit most days, drink beer and chat to him. He was an Army man like my grandfather and Dad began to regard this man as a father figure in the absence of all others who might fit the bill.

Dad told me that his family had a dog then who had become pregnant and had given birth to three tiny pups.

My Dad has a tough exterior but he’s actually a massive softy when it comes to animals. I’ve seen him hand-feeding magpies and worrying over the welfare of their young.

He watched over his little canine family too, taking special care of them. I can see him now, his sweet face hovering over their sleeping spot out the back of the house. He would have treasured them and wanted to make sure they were alright.

But they weren’t going to be alright. Not in this story, pulled from the wreckage of his teenage years. I couldn’t see his face as he told it but there was something in the tone of his voice that made me sit up straight.

I leaned in despite myself. I didn’t want to hear anymore but it wasn’t for me to stop him in the telling.

The family friend was visiting late one night. He went out to use the outdoor loo and came back with a story of his own.

He’d killed the pups, he told my Dad roughly. With the back of an axe. They had distemper, he said.

I’d known something bad was coming but hearing the worst thing is different to merely imagining it. Hearing makes it real and you can’t wash it away no matter how hard you might wish it.

My beautiful grandparents (1949, the year they were married)

My beautiful grandparents (1949, the year they were married)

My Dad can still remember reeling in shock and horror as he took in this news. That this man who he’d begun to trust and rely on should commit such an act of senseless violence was shattering.

He didn’t think that his pups were sick at all. Killing them was about something else. Something darker inside the man’s mind.

Looking back, Dad can see that during this period he was trying in small ways to survive the things that were happening to him. Going to school. Playing footy and cricket. Tending to the newborn animals.

But stripped of the protective forces of his family, he was as vulnerable to the impact of an axe-blow as those poor, defenseless pups. Who could he tell anyway? There was no one left to listen.

And we can’t ask the man why he did it, no matter how often my Dad has tried to understand; the dead take their secrets to the grave with them. Let them stay there.

Not for the first time, I wanted to reach across time and rescue that lonely, young boy. Take all of his pain away. I can’t fathom it, what his life must have been like then.

I wish that I’d been there to protect him, to help him somehow. But the past is the past and Dad knows and accepts that better than anyone.

Dad in 1961.

Dad in 1961

I’ve asked him so many times why he isn’t more sad or angry about this time and he shrugs enigmatically as though the movement could cast off all the hurt he experienced as a boy.

I project my own pain for the boy he was onto the man he is today. But it’s not my story to shape, I’m just passing it on with his blessing.

My Dad is passionate about family history now, collecting and cataloguing hundreds of wonderful ‘lost’ images for all the family to see. They’re a joy to him and a gift to us, so we can remember his people as they were and connect with his life before and after the reckoning of 1963-65.

It’s a more recent project for him, starting only in the last few years. I think he uses the pictures to reconstruct the life he once had and make it whole again.

The happy times, when all of the people he loved were still together and he could just be a boy who loved aeroplanes and playing sport and had his beautiful family wrapped around him, holding him tight.

* For my brave, wonderful Dad, thank you for trusting me to write about your life. I love you.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways

Taking a spin with a true dancing queen

Taking a spin with a true dancing queen

THIS week, in the midst of Christmas and all of the merry freneticism that its celebration brings, my family lost someone very special.

To me, she was my beautiful Nan. To my Mum, she was an adored and most cherished mother. To my five-year-old daughter Amelia, she was Grandma, with the soft grey hair who loved her very much.

To all, she was the whip-smart woman with the piercing eyes and the gutsy spirit that sustained her until her final moments. Her last breath on this earth.

I already find myself desperately searching my memory for thoughts of her; certain conversations, or just the sound of her voice. Oh, that voice with its unparalleled beauty in speech and in song.

What a gift it was and now I will never hear it again beyond what my mind can recall.

And her lion heart, which she gave to me so many times over the years, always when I needed it most.

Like when Amelia’s deafness was diagnosed and I sat across from her at the Rosebud RSL, tears streaming down my face and I said to her, “Nan, how could I not have known something was wrong?”

She fixed me with those intelligent eyes, filled to the brim with understanding, and simply said, “But you did know, my darling, you did.” As usual, she was right.

My Amelia in safe hands

My Amelia in safe hands

Nan always understood me and more importantly, she totally ‘got’ my sweet but headstrong daughter. She embraced Amelia’s differences, even learning to sign some key words to her in Auslan.

Among her last words to me was a specific message of love for her great-granddaughter. She could hardly speak by then – that lovely voice now ravaged by her illness – but she wanted me to know that she felt a special connection with Amelia: “We clicked”.

Where else should Amelia’s defiant approach to the world come from, but the pioneering stock that has produced some of the toughest, most wonderful people ever born?

They’re family myths, I know, but we hold tight to their significance in our lives. They make us feel part of something bigger than ourselves. We are not alone if we are together.

I shared so many passions with my Nan. We both loved to read and to swim in the summertime. Those summers spent on the Rye foreshore were some of the happiest times of my life. Kicking back on a lilo, burying each other in the sand, and laughing. Always laughing.

The happiest of times at Rye with our Nan

The happiest of times at Rye with our Nan

I know that memories fade, and it makes me panic to think that I won’t be able to remember as easily or clearly the sounds and sights of these times with her.

We have photographs to remind us, but how will I conjure up the touch of my Nan’s hand in mine or the melodic sound of her voice in my ear?

Who else will tell me with such direct and brutal honesty when I’m looking too tired or sick or thin (or not) or if I’m cutting the vegies the ‘wrong’ way? Who will fix me with eyes of steel and not let me lie and say that I’m alright when I’m not? “Come on, Lindy Lou, I know you”.

She did know me, she really, truly did. And I knew her like the skin on my own body or the thoughts in my head that remain unsaid.

Her name was Joyce but people called her Joy. And she was an embodiment of that name: a joy to know, to hold close and count amongst our own.

Be at peace now, precious woman. It’s time to rest.

What’s love got to do with it?

Where it all started.

Where it all started.

Since becoming a parent over five years ago, I have received lots of asked-for and unsolicited advice on just about any child-rearing topic you can imagine.

Every parent experiences this at one point or another. When you have a child with special needs – my daughter Amelia is deaf and has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) – there are unlimited opportunities for people to weigh in and give it their best shot.

Many observations are like little gems; I hold them between my hands, turning them over to feel their warmth and absorb the good vibes within. These ones are keepers for sure.

Others, however well-intentioned, delivered by experts or drawn from experience, miss their mark, creating only harsh notes as they glance my shoulder and crash to the ground.

However surplus to requirements these opinions are, I still find myself carefully turning a few of them over in my often stressed-out brain.

This isn’t always a negative or masochistic process. It can be incredibly empowering to drag up some old advice handed to you about your life and see with increasing clarity just how misplaced it was and remains still.

One special example of this springs to mind, and it seems to grow in meaning to me the more I think about it.

The gap between my experience and this particular (I guess well-meant) remark has stretched so far apart you could fit the Pacific Ocean between the places we’re coming from.

It happened during a conversation I had with someone soon after Amelia’s ASD diagnosis was formally confirmed. We had spent many weekends going back and forth to a clinical psychologist and the results, which surprised no-one, were in.

Mostly what I hoped for from people was a simple acknowledgement of the news, and perhaps in that a sort of agreement would be forged among those closely connected to Amelia that we shared the same aims. To help her. To make things better.

That’s my personal definition of support. We confront a problem, give it a name and then we portion it out, dissect it and work out the best way to move forward.

I love her to death, but it's not enough.

I love her to death, but it’s not enough.

But not everyone approaches life this way. I’d begun saying to this person that I was feeling sad for Amelia about her diagnosis but that I thought we could now help her through treatment, but they stopped me and said, “oh you don’t need all of these LABELS, you just need to LOVE HER. That’s all she needs”.

Just love her. That’s all. As though love could ever be enough.

I was a bit shocked at the flippancy of it, at how far the words missed the point, but in that moment I didn’t really know what to say. I was trying to stifle tears and I knew that my thoughts wouldn’t come out clearly or kindly. So I gulped and pushed my response down until I was in a position to consider the comment properly.

There’s something so misguided about saying to a person who has recently received (more) tough news about her child in a family already dealing with so much that she only needs to love her and essentially everything will be fine.

Because everything is not fine. It wasn’t fine at the time and it’s not fine today. And just saying it’s fine doesn’t make things better. It just makes me angry, like molten lava could spew out of my eye sockets at the mere mention of the words ‘just love’.

If love was enough then I would not have discovered fertility issues in my late twenties and that we needed to undergo IVF in order to conceive a child.

If love was enough, I wouldn’t have had to be injected with hormones every morning by my husband for months and months until I was bruised inside and out.

If love was enough, I wouldn’t have had to endure the desperate weeks of waiting to discover if the two fertilised eggs placed inside me would make it. One did. That wasn’t a miracle of love – it was a victory of science.

If love was enough, I would have been able to have more children instead of finding out that my ovaries had withered on the vine by my 36th birthday. Early menopause is not a gift of love nor is the wall you have to build between yourself and the endless questions about why you haven’t had more children.

If love was enough, I would have known instinctively that my cherished only daughter was in fact deaf when I first held her, instead of two long, costly years later. That’s not something that can be undone, no matter how hard we might wish for it.

If love was enough, Amelia would not have also been born with what the doctors call a ‘complex array of developmental issues’, including ASD. We don’t yet know all of the problems we are dealing with so we just attack them one at a time.

I don’t list this roll-call of personal setbacks to suggest I’ve had it harder than anyone else, or that I sit around every day feeling sorry for myself. Compared to Amelia, who am I to complain?

What I’m saying is that it has been my experience at the sharper end of life that love really isn’t enough. Interventions, by science and technology, by expert outsiders like audiologists, specialists, psychologists and so on have been unavoidable and necessary realities in the short story of my family.

Love is a fine anchor, a base from which to spring, a strong foundation, an incredible motivator, but on its own I’m afraid it’s pointless.

Over the last few years I have learned the hard way that work is the thing that, well, works. IVF works when your body can’t do the job on its own. Hormone replacement therapy works when you can’t sleep because you’re sweating six times a night like Albert Brooks in that scene from Broadcast News.

Rigorous and frequent exercise works when your mind can’t take the strain of the things happening to you. Regular tests, therapies and lots of practice work to help Amelia to speak, to be calm, to be well.

Without a doubt, I love Amelia more than I ever thought it possible to love another person. And this never stops, even on the most demanding days when she seems to hate me and the world for dragging her into it without asking.

Love (and Amelia’s early-bird body clock) gets us up in the morning for appointment after appointment with speech pathologists, our occupational therapist, a clinical psychologist, paediatrician, GP, even genetics specialists, but it’s sheer stamina that keeps us going, ever on to the next thing.

If you know all of these things about me, my life, my child and you can still look me in the eye and say, ‘don’t worry about all of that stuff, just hug it out when things get tough’ then you have failed to really see us and understand what we need.

To me, love is acknowledging our pain and our struggles as well as celebrating the amazing progress and milestones that follow. Anything less is a massive negation of that struggle, of the reality of our daily lives in the trenches.

I need more than whatever love is supposed to do for me. Along with hugs (which are great) I also need time, space, exercise, information, silence, solidarity, respite, contact, friendship, conversation, laughter, truth and action, to name a few key things.

If I ‘just’ love Amelia, then what else does she miss? It feels like a code for denial to me and I’m not playing that game. No way.

I wake up every day with a limitless base of love for her, but it’s the hard work and resolve that’s gonna get us over the line. We’ll keep our fairy tales for the night-time, when our toil is done and Amelia is happy, safe and well in the strongest arms designed to hold her. Mine.

It’s a small world after all

When I had a baby, one of the things I expected was that my world would contract while our little girl, Amelia, worked out how to live outside of the tightly confined space of my body after nine long months.

Nothing can really prepare you for the intensity of that newly contracted space as the changed dynamic of a family of two adults adjusts to life as three, including one small person who is completely defenceless and totally needy.

But the thing that got me through the life-changing chaos of those early days was the promise of growth, of progress – of the eventual expansion of that changed world we now occupied. Its limits would open out to include old experiences temporarily shelved or new ones we had yet to discover.

Expansion could mean anything, like us being ready to go outside and take a walk with our baby in the pram. Or feeling able to sit down at a café and order a coffee while (fingers crossed) she slept. Just 10 minutes, not long, to feel like moments of the old life could be incorporated into the new.

During the first year, progress included things like visiting people or taking short trips together. Our first holiday was a driving expedition across the state for two fabulous weeks. Amelia was seven months old and apart from the logistical challenges and the cold weather, we created some of our best family memories on the road.

The world of our family grew at about the pace you would expect – just fast enough to adapt to the challenges of each main stage. We imagined that this expansion would just go on and on. And hopefully, it would bring more SLEEP (it didn’t).

Our ambitions for growth extended to things like going to the zoo, the circus, the movies, or that brilliant outdoor production of The Wind in the Willows performed in Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens every summer. Amelia would join other children and follow Toad, Rat and Mole down the River Thames.

Silly things, I guess, but they’re the stuff that parental dreams are made of, at least for us. You picture sharing magical new events with your child and it’s only a matter of time before you get there.

But it’s not. Not for us, anyway. Before Amelia turned three, I thought for sure we were on track to growth and progress but since then (and with the escalation of her autistic behaviours) our world has been steadily contracting again, even where seemingly trivial things are concerned.

It’s not exactly like the first few months of Amelia’s life, that almost suffocating isolation of early parenthood, but some days it’s not far off.

Even ‘easy’ activities like going for walks to the park, or actually being at the park have become fraught with danger and the promise of failure.

Last weekend the sun greeted us upon waking so we thought, ‘why not try for a walk outside and see how we go?’ We jumped into the car and headed to a lake area with a lovely walking track and playgrounds at either end.

But we didn’t get too far. About 100 metres actually, in about 40 minutes of movement in large, frantic semi-circles punctuated with frequent tantrums while fellow families streamed serenely past on bikes, scooters or just on foot, ever moving forward while we stayed in one place.

The ease of their walking and forward progress, this evidence of how different their lives are to ours, made me feel desperately alone.

If I do manage to get Amelia to a playground (usually by car for sanity’s sake), she will invariably become anxious or angry about some indefinable thing and so we have to leave. It’s like she’s suddenly forgotten how to just be at a park, how to play on the swings and slides and enjoy herself.

The zoo (like any busy, public place) is a nightmare venue to take Amelia and I have tried it several times. She doesn’t really understand how she’s meant to behave or what she’s supposed to be looking at. Such a shame for a girl who loves animals so much.

The sights and sounds seem to overwhelm her auditory and visual senses so we cover little ground before another meltdown kicks in and our departure becomes long overdue.

I used to visit my Mum frequently to break up the stress of the days spent at home, and Amelia always enjoyed this time with her beloved Nan. Now she becomes highly fearful and angry at the mere suggestion of going there so I’ve had to cross that safe house off our list for the time being.

If I manage to convince her to go there, Amelia will begin insisting that we leave as soon as we have arrived and repeat this request incessantly into my face or by urgently curling my hand into the Auslan sign for home until I acquiesce. You can see it’s hardly worth the stress.

So, for the most part, the world has contracted once again to the boundaries, nay the limits, of our family home. The walls have closed in and sometimes it’s hard to breathe. Sure, we can enjoy the garden together, the lovely outdoor spaces when the weather allows, but some days that doesn’t feel like enough.

It’s school holidays right now and those weeks are by far the worst. Not for reasons you might expect – I love to have Amelia with me and to slow our routine down to a lazy jog rather than the frenetic sprint it usually feels like to get to kinder and the like. We make our own fun with paint, play dough, cooking and silly games.

No, what makes me feel so bereft at these times of the year is the painful exposure of just how small our world is, how limited the opportunities are for being out and about together.

Lots of other families get to plan things like long trips or day excursions or even just walks to the park. They say they’re going to do it and they just go and do it. Idea becomes reality; the run-of-the-mill activity or the special childhood dream event happens and the photos are added to the scrapbook.

The novelty of this is like a curio I’m peering at through a glass cabinet – I can see it but I can never reach out and touch it for myself. I’m told that things will get better and our world will expand once again but I can’t afford to create more fantasies that are beyond the capabilities of my daughter to fulfil.

It’s not fair on her and it just breaks my heart.

[For TR, who’s in the trench with me and I wouldn’t have it any other way.]

On being brave like Coraline

“Being brave doesn’t mean you aren’t scared. Being brave means you are scared, really scared, badly scared, and you do the right thing anyway”.

“I’ve started running into women who tell me that Coraline got them through hard times in their lives. That when they were scared they thought of Coraline, and they did the right thing anyway”.
Neil Gaiman, on Coraline (2002)

Coraline, the intrepid traveller

Coraline, the intrepid traveller

Neil Gaiman’s book, Coraline, tells the story of the eponymous girl-heroine who goes through a mysterious door at home and finds a parallel-but-more-than-slightly-off version of her family life.

At first the door opens onto a bricked-up wall – a barrier between the here and there – but for Coraline it later reveals a once-hidden corridor to a place where her parents have buttons for eyes and everything is a little too perfect for comfort.

Like Pandora and Alice before her, Coraline’s curiosity (and profound boredom) compels her to open the door and enter without thinking first about the risks. Her mantra is and remains, “I’m an explorer”, and because her parents are too wrapped up in work to notice her departure, she takes advantage of the free rein.

In the breathtakingly spooky stop-motion animated version of the book made by Henry Selick in 2009, the door is a tiny cut-out set low to the floor. It has been papered over but its outline and keyhole are still visible and the old key still works in the lock. It’s a door that just begs to be opened.

Once unlocked, it exposes a magical, blue-lit worm tunnel that seems to shudder and move like it’s alive; I don’t think it’s a stretch to see it as a fantasy birth canal, delivering Coraline into the place beyond the door.

Searching for fun, adventure and nourishment, our girl finds her Other Mother and Other Father waiting on the other side to ‘love’ and ‘entertain’ her.

They are creepy renditions of her real parents, like the doll she is given that bears a resemblance to her but loses something vital in translation from fabric to girl.

But Coraline is smart and she instinctively reads a warning in the outer signs of this same-but-different world, like the horrifying, black buttons everyone has instead of eyes. There’s something so shiny yet dead about them – no smile will ever be reflected there, nor anything natural or good.

Though filled with freedoms and delights unavailable to Coraline ‘back home’, this ‘other’ place is really an elaborate trap. It’s a web dressed up to look like her heart’s desire by a very cunning spider (the Other Mother), who aims to catch, keep and devour her.

The request to have her own eyes sown with buttons by the Other Mother is a bit of deal-breaker for Coraline, as you can well imagine. The last time she goes through the door, it’s to rescue her real parents who have been captured by the Other Mother to draw Coraline back to her.

The courageous girl confronts many fears in her fight against the will of the spider-in-Mother’s-clothing; hideous things like dog-bats, a slug in an egg-case “as if two Plasticine people had been warmed and rolled together, squashed and pressed into one thing”, and a shapeless grub, with twig-like hands lunging at her in a dark basement.

Despite this catalogue of horrors, Coraline tells herself that she’s not frightened “and as she thought it she knew that it was true”. One can only marvel at her bravery, at her brilliant use of positive self-talk.

Gaiman’s wonderful, terrifying story and its film adaptation struck a huge chord in me. Aside from the delicious thrill of the tale as I tucked my feet under my body (lest a spidery hand should grab me from under the couch), the idea of being caught in one world while longing for another was painfully familiar.

Most of us live with disappointments and frustrations in the ‘real’ world and perhaps fantasise about an ‘other’ world, where the colours are so vivid and the experiences so rich we don’t have to confront hard things.

Coraline imagined a world where her parents would be different, remoulded into people who cook her appetising meals and exist solely to amuse her, and so she was offered a brief glimpse of what that life might be like.

It is a credit to her that she rejects that life as a lie, even if her real existence is less than ideal.

For me, an ‘other’ world would be a place where I have no big-ticket worries. In it, the Other Amelia, the facsimile of my daughter, is not deaf. She can hear everything and anything and she can speak fluently and tell me her mind. And she definitely does NOT have buttons for eyes.

The Other Amelia is a child without autism. The words disorder and delay are unknown to her, to me. There is no sensory chaos and making friends is easy. Anger, rage and hyperactivity belong to another hemisphere of experience. To another child.

We walk together slowly and she holds my hand, never running away. And we sleep for a very long time.

But if I take these things away from her, who is the child left over? Is it still Amelia or a distilled version of her, a person negated? Does she become like one of those husks left behind when the Other Mother is finished feasting on little souls?

She would be different, yes, and maybe her life (and ours) would be easier, I am not afraid to admit that I do wish it sometimes.

But she would not be my Amelia. To excise one element would be to ruin the whole, to make her less than she should be and much less than her strong personality makes her.

I myself have opened many doors containing fearful things since that first one, when I gave birth to my girl, and there is nothing scarier than suddenly becoming responsible for a tiny, vulnerable human being.

I didn’t know for instance that deafness was behind another secret door in the house of my family. I only knew that there was some dark problem lurking there and it had to be unlocked, no matter how afraid we were.

If Amelia can be brave, then so can I

If Amelia can be brave, then so can I

As for autism, perhaps my greatest fear of all, well, that one has whispered to me through keyholes from the beginning, and over time it has become a shrill and insistent voice, demanding to be heard. Okay, I surrender; we have opened that door now and let the truth of it in.

Like calling out the bogeyman who lives under your bed (or Bob from Twin Peaks who crouched under mine for all of my adolescence and part of my adulthood), the most dreaded thing is never as daunting when you drag it out into the light.

I love Amelia more than I love my own life or anyone else’s. She isn’t defined by her challenges but they are part of what is shaping her, in the mix with her character, her brain, and her heart. So we must embrace it ALL if we are to keep her happy and safe on this side of the door with us.

But my anxiety about further unknowns surrounds me always, crowding me for space and air, and I can’t just hide from it in some fantasy world.

Because like Coraline, who my own gutsy daughter adores for her blue hair (and insists her own hair be styled to match), I have to do the right thing and face up to what scares me and keep telling myself, “I will be brave. No, I am brave”.

A scar is born

Sofia Helin as Saga Norén, wearing her scars with pride

I have this tiny scar on my face, just under my lip where my little girl Amelia accidentally hurled an iPad in my direction during our last summer holiday in a lakeside town.

I was half asleep, lying on the bed, so I wasn’t ready for the force of the blow; I could not defend myself as the sharp corner of the device crashed into my face, leaving a deep hole in its wake.

My hands flew up to my chin in shock, and when I removed them I saw the unmistakable red of my own blood, pouring from the wound onto my fingers, and marring the whitest of white sheets (not my own). My god there was a lot of it.

I screamed. Amelia ran.

Frantic, I ran my finger inside my mouth to make sure that my teeth were intact. My nails sought confirmation of structural safety as they travelled gingerly along my gums.

My choppers were okay; my gums were torn but I did not lose any teeth that day.

The women in the local chemist looked dubious at my claims of a close encounter with an iPad of the flying kind. Unbelievably, it was a first for them in the town. How very modern and high tech of me to present with a wound attained in such a way.

They took one look at me and sized up my predicament – band aids and steri-strips would not suffice here, only stitches would do. I was packed off to an ancient GP practicing at the medical centre around the corner.

I was seen to immediately and I thought ‘Oh no, what is this decrepit man with the shaky hands going to do to my face? I’ll walk out of here looking like Frankenstein’s monster”. So vain, so very vain.

But he was in fact a master surgeon in pensioner’s clothing. As I lay on the exam bed in his office, I glanced up to survey the official-looking papers framed there, a lifelong testament to his expertise in greater things than minor cuts and abrasions.

Three stitches later, his exceptional needle work was done. My face was swollen and numb from the solution used to dull the pain of the stitching, but at last the bleeding had abated. Outside the cool, sea-breeze was a gentle salve to my traumatised face.

Amelia didn’t make eye contact with me for 24 hours after her mighty swinging action set the events of the morning in motion. Shame and fear drove her from me.

But slowly she made her way back, drawn to the black stitches protruding from below my lip, fascinated by the sharp feel of them. I let her touch them and talked to her softly about what they were.

Emboldened by my sweet reception, she began play-acting the fateful moment that the iPad left her hands and slammed into my prone head.

As though it had happened to some other mother and daughter, Amelia mimed the story with great excitement and swashbuckling verve. The magnificent Jean-Louis Barrault would have applauded her artistry.

For me, the healing was better and more rapid than I had anticipated. With care, gums, mouth tissue and skin repair quickly and well. In time, Amelia stopped mentioning or performing the accident and I was not one to remind her.

The summer holiday rolled on and I got over it, in body and spirit. But I have this little souvenir – my tiny trail of a scar – to ponder sometimes in the mirror or when my hand strays to feel the slight indentation under my lip.

I really thought I would mind that mark, that I would resent the imperfection, but I have grown to appreciate its presence on the left side of my face.

It reminds me that in some ways my life is not what I thought or hoped that it would be. That things have happened to my family that we did not foresee and we have had to try and accept them.

But like all scars, mine is unique and has its own peculiar beauty, as do those spidery blemishes that seem to enhance the visage of that unforgettable Nordic heroine, Saga Norén from The Bridge. Her scars are like a question with no answer; they foreshadow a depth of experience, but they in no way detract.

Now that it has healed, my small scar sits in harmony alongside the other features on my face, none of which are perfect or conventional in any case. It belongs to me and it is permanent, like so many of the things that have happened to my family, to my daughter.

And yet it is not a cross to bear, just a sign that at times I have known temporary pain and suffered wounds that felt so raw in the beginning that I thought they would never heal.

As sure as the mark on my face that no-one can really see but me, I know that new injuries will also settle and be reconciled with the rest of my life and recede in their importance.

They will become a natural part of the everyday, these scars worn with secret pride in the overcoming and acceptance of a fate very much out of my hands.