Waiting at the bus station the other night, waiting for an inter-city voyage, I had a headache and was feeling as grumpy as hell. I was tired and wanted to be at home on my sofa with a cup of tea and a book. People around me were smoking in that slightly desperate way people do at bus stops, when they only have ten minutes before they have to get back on the bus. There was a throng of kids with bags and pillows, off for the school holidays. (Isn’t it dear how kids take their pillows with them on journeys? A squashy parcel of home.) People were fiddling intently on phones to avoid having to make eye contact with anyone else. Around the edges of the bus shelter roof, the rain splattered down.
I don’t smoke and don’t have the kind of phone you can fiddle with (I still have a dumbphone, circa 2008) so I leaned against a pole, pulled my scarf up around my nose to filter out the cigarette smoke and tried to use my meditation/yoga skills to ease myself out of headache and funky mood. Straighten spine, relax shoulders, deep breaths, imagine the mind as an empty blue sky, thoughts arise, notice thoughts, let thoughts go…the headache is a knot in your head you are slowly unfurling with your breath….
Then this young girl turned up with her Mum and teenage sister. She was just there to bid her sister goodbye, so she didn’t have the nerves of the kids waiting to board buses. In what felt like a mass of grey and black and drizzle and smoke and headache and cold, she shone out – all orange striped tights, heart sneakers, apple skirt, gangly foal energy, in short ….brightness and lightness. She was happy. She hopped and skipped and did some awesome dance moves, enjoying her body, reveling in herself. She swung around poles and smiled at people. SMILED at people, in that grey melange of winter gloom.
Sometimes I get what I call ‘girl pangs‘ and they are a mix of regret that I didn’t have a daughter (I have two sons and my baby-making days are over) and some kind of weird yearning feelings around my own girlhood. That particular girl energy, when fully unleashed, when not tempered or squashed or societally-hemmed or dulled….it’s a sparkling, joyful thing.
I wrote a poem about my girl pangs a couple of years back, called ‘here is a grey little surprise for you‘. It was published in the Manawatu Standard and two different women emailed me to thank me for the poem and told me that they, too, had some sadness around not having daughters (one had sons, the other had not been able to have children at all). This made me feel better about the poem, which in a classic reflex of post-publication regret, I’d worried seemed self-indulgent and gothic in the context of the daily news. This is life, though, right? We carry with us everything we did, and many of the things we didn’t do, through choosing what we chose…
I have three nieces, I have a god-daughter, I have friends with daughters. I’m not silly enough to think that having a daughter means you have a pliant ‘mini-me’, that it’s any easier or more fun than having sons, that girl children are any less individual, challenging, button-pushing…but still, these girl pangs, I have them sometimes and how it manifests in me is a sharp poke of longing in the upper-gut region.
So my girl-sprite at the bus station. I wanted to capture something of her, but it’s downright creepy to take photographs of other people’s children, right?….so I held my camera at hip-height, pretended to be fiddling with it’s settings, and went click click click click click click as she jumped and danced around…just snapping her legs, leaving her the privacy of her face. (For the curious: long, wavy, tawny hair, a sweet round face, glasses.) ((Is it creepy that I did this? What about street style photography? Oh man, …worried now.))
Do these photographs give you girl pangs, too?