World book day is not something you really have to worry about until your child starts school. In nursery you can make a half arse attempt to get involved by allowing your child to fish out any mildew covered fancy dress outfit from the dressing up box. For example, today, Tait who is 3, went to nursery dressed ankle to neck as spider man but wearing a pirate hat and wielding a rather heavy cutlass. I conveniently ‘forgot’ the book that depicts Spiderman disguised as a pirate and just rolled him over the threshold. Tait’s keyworker Emma was dressed as the Witch from ‘Room on the Broom’ by Julia Donaldson, a book that holds a very special place in my heart.
On the day that our daughter Ally was brought to us in the Acorn suite at Southmead hospital, my husband read this book to her twice.
Now this may not seem that unusual, many people read books to their children in hospital, books that they love from home that they’ve heard a million times, to bring them comfort. The difference here was that Ally was only 8 days old and had never heard this book before. She hadn’t had the time to learn all the things that fell off the Witch whilst she was in flight, or to love all the animals that the Witch lovingly welcomed on to her broom.
And the Acorn Suite was the room in which Ally was brought in to die.
As parents, we hadn’t had the time to experience many of the special moments we share with our children, moments that we don’t always appreciate. We had changed her nappy and had held her, but we hadn’t been able to take her home to see her bedroom, she hadn’t squeezed a teddy bear and she hadn’t had time to fall in love with a story. We hadn’t had the chance to read her anything and have her gesture for it to be repeated a million times until we knew the words off by heart.
In a time when you look at your baby and know that they will soon be gone, there are no guidelines as to how you conduct yourself. How do you spend time with your baby knowing that this time will shortly expire? I could only stare at her and try to keep control of my constant urge to vomit.
I could only stare.
My husband reached inside a bag and produced ‘Room on the Broom’ and started to read. This was Noah’s first birthday present and had become a household favourite.
It was perfect and imperfect in equal measure.
When he finished reading we continued to stare at her. Our perfect little girl.
Then some time later, he picked up the book and read it again. The second time was harder to process because we knew it would be the last.
“the witch tapped her broomstick and whoosh they were gone”
That is how the story ends.
But it wasn’t the end of our story. We will always be a family of five.
When I dropped Tait into Nursery this morning I marvelled at all the little-ones dressed as their favourite book characters. All of them representing the books they had heard a million times read to them by their family’s… and then I saw Emma as ‘the Witch.’
It made me smile.
As Noah and I left Tait to head home Noah shouted, “look a butterfly, its Ally”, (for some reason, all around Portishead where I live are these Butterfly stickers on lamp posts. I doubt many people notice them but when I first saw them on every lamp post on my street I cried. I’ve no idea where they came from or for what reason, but it has a hell of an impact on me). Noah points at 3 butterflies together on a lamp post by the bus stop and say’s “I love you Ally”. I then asked him what he thought Ally would be wearing today for world book day if she were here? He ‘umms’ and ‘ahhs’ and says, “I don’t know”. I suggest “maybe Peppa Pig?” and Noah replies that “yes” that’s exactly what she’d be going as. Noah, who is five, then asks “Ally is alive in Heaven Mummy isn’t she?” I say yes then no and then yes again because I don’t have the answers. Noah then tells me he is freezing and that he wants the heating on full blast when we get home for breakfast. Boof, just like that, a subject change so profound it gives you whiplash. That’s kids for you.
As we walked passed all the kids on our way home, we encountered several Harry Potters, a banana and what can only be described as a giant tomato scuttling towards their various schools. As we tackle the impending apocalyptic weather and a disastrous decline of bread rations at Waitrose, I’m aware that for all the moaning we do about costumes, everyone makes an effort. I think we realise the importance of books. Books make memories and memories cannot be taken.
As we reach home to stuff some cereal down our necks before I throw Noah across the road to school, I think of Ally’s costume. She would be two years old and would possibly be conducting a dirty protest as she wanted to have sweets for breakfast. She could be tantrumming because she didn’t want to go to nursery and wanted to trash the playroom instead. I would attempt to exchange good behaviour with the promise of chocolate later and that would fail miserably. I would be considering giving up and then would remember her out-fit. I’d whip up the stairs and back down with the cloth bellowing behind me, hidden from view. Ally would be incandescent with rage over ‘Masher and the Bear’ finishing on TV as I produce what I’ve been hiding behind my back. She goes silent as I say, “here is your costume stinky.”
And I can see a smile spread across her face as she simply points at it and says “Witch”.