Walking into the house again after five years, it still smells exactly the same. You still use that lemon and vanilla brew on the stove to freshen the kitchen, still use the same brand of shoe wax on Dad’s boots in the hallway. And underneath it all, I can still smell the Windex.
Windex and vanilla, shoe wax and lemon: the smells of my childhood. Val is four, now. Her childhood smells of lab chemicals, frozen dinners and oil paints. Mum, I’m sorry.
I found Dad in the kitchen, peeling potatoes of all things. I’ll never know how you manage to wrangle him into kitchen work like you do when we grew up with him swearing it was women’s business, girl jobs. You’re amazing. A force of nature.
Dad hugged me, congratulated me on my promotion while he handed me an apron and your second best peeler. Hasn’t anyone told you yet that the only people who categorise their peelers are washed out, nineteen-fifties housewives? Mum, I’m sorry.
I’m sorry I’m not everything you ever dreamed of. I’m sorry I’m not Ramona, with her two-point-one children and her white picket fence, her stay-at-home lifestyle and her church-every-Sunday. I’m sorry I followed in Dad’s footsteps and forsook yours. I’m sorry my brain wasn’t built for cleaning, that I could never find any joy in endless, cyclic, thankless scrubbing. I’m sorry that I find the make of genes more intriguing than the ironing of jeans, that my child knows the taste of frozen carrots and store-bought cheesecake, that I grow my greens on a petri dish instead of a home-dug garden.
I’m sorry, most of all, that this makes you sorry.
Val, at least, can’t disappoint you. Although I’ve already applied to enrol her in the advanced science stream next year when school starts, she loves the kitchen too, loves mixing and brewing and beating. She owns more cooking equipment than I do – she thanks you for the cupcake set, by the way.
What she loves most of all though is art. She’ll sit and watch her father for hours at a time. A four year old! Sitting still! It’s astounding. I used to have these dreams, when I was pregnant, when we found out we were having a little girl… I used to dream that she’d grow up just like me, practical and unromantic, logical and not at all homey.
And then she grew up, and she loves glitter and sparkles and ponies, loves dress ups and tiaras and pink. Oh, she’s logical, my darling little baby logician who demands why she has to eat her pumpkin when carrots are better for making vitamin A anyway; but she cooks, and she loves to paint.
I know, all children love to play at house, love to get their fingers messy and smear colours across a page. I probably even did. But Mum, how do you bear it? What do you do, that moment when you first realise that this person that was once like a second heart in your own body is now someone distinct, someone different – someone not you?
Mum, I’m sorry. I love you. Thank you for everything.