When I was a child, now and then I’d pick up a handful of gravel and throw it up in the air, catching it with the back of my hand as it rained down. All of this was accompanied by a little rhyme along the lines “How many kids will I have when I grow up?” and the answer, obviously, came in the number of pebbles that had landed on your hand. At times it was thirteen (major shudder). At other times it was one.
I must admit to doing this gravel thing out of rote. Where other girls played with dolls, I mainly used mine to attempt various versions of decapitation, and give me a choice between a heated rugby game and a make-believe tea party, and I was all for the rugby.
“A tom-boy,” my mother would sigh, giving my dirty skirt and dishevelled hair a despairing look.
“A tom-boy,” my father would grin, helping me to make yet another bow – or sword.
I was thirteen when my gender caught up with me. One moment, I was as fast, as lithe and as rough as the boys. The next, I had these very tender bumps on my chest, and the boys would look much more at them than at me. My figure developed proportionally to my loss of speed and agility, and where once I was a much respected (and quite brutal) sweep, I was now no longer on the team. Major re-set of my self-image, let me tell you.
“Grow up,” my mother told me and handed me some relevant coming-of-age book to read.
“Grow up,” my father sighed and put away the wooden sword and shield, the helmet and the bow.
At fifteen, I discovered the benefits of my gender. Falling in love was a terrible, frightening experience that left me on a constant high – for the three weeks this passionate but innocent relationship lasted. He went his way, I went mine, but thanks to Tony my eyes had definitely opened to the possibilities offered by the opposite sex, and in my book they were all good – very good.
“Don’t grow up that fast,” my mother said, giving me an admonishing look. (Confusing. Teenagers have that effect on their parents, that they start contradicting themselves)
“Yeah,” my father agreed. “Not that fast.” He threw a longing look at the sword and the shield.
At twenty, I met the love of my life (and no, details of the interesting, chaotic, emotionally quite dramatic years between fifteen and twenty are not forthcoming. Use your imagination – or think about your own teenage years). It took me some time to make him realise I was his number one – seriously, men (and especially young men) can be quite dense at times. But once he did – well, we’re still together on that very heady journey we began all those years ago. My parents didn’t say all that much – they mostly beamed.
The love of my life, I said. And he was – is – until baby number one made her appearance. Can anyone prepare you for the rush of protective adoration that sweeps you when you see your baby? I think not, but the feeling is such that I would be fully capable to tear someone’s arms off if they threatened my child. Baby number one was perfect (and yes, I know we all think our babies are perfect, but just so you know, my babies are perfect – objectively speaking) all the way from the reddish hair that decorated her head to her itty, bitty toes. I fell utterly and irrevocably in love – again.
“Totally normal,” my mother said, counting the baby’s toes. “You were absolutely perfect too.”
“Totally normal,” my father agreed. “But this one is more perfect than you.” Huh.
When I discovered I was expecting yet another child I was torn between joy and anguish. How could one possibly love two people with the devoted, fierce love I felt for our daughter? How was my heart to cope with all these emotions? My mother laughed. “The heart isn’t a loaf of bread, honey.”
“Nope,” my father said. “Not at all a loaf of bread.”
Well, thanks very much, but I knew that already.
My mother took my hand. “A loaf of bread can only be sliced into so many slices. But your heart can accommodate as many people as you choose to love. Trust me, I know.”
Turns out she was right (Phew!) These days my heart hold very many people, first and foremost my husband and our four children. Given that the kids by now are tall and strapping, the boys all young men, our daughter a woman, it is something of a miracle that they fit as well as they do inside my chest. But then I guess that’s what love is – a miracle. And maybe that’s why five loaves could feed so many at the Sermon of the Mount: Jesus wasn’t distributing bread, he was giving out love. And as to those two fish Jesus handed out – I have no idea. But give me some time and I may come up with a plausible explanation for them as well.