I’ve always loved poetry, but in recent years it helped me in a way I never would have imagined. Every now and again I’d come across a poem that struck me and would even transcribe special favourites into a little book kept especially for the purpose. But being a modern mother juggling work, life, and family responsibilities, I was kept very busy with this important task for many years and had little time for verse.
Then one day when my eldest daughter told me “Mum, I’m getting married”, I felt rather as though I’d been hit by a train. I thought, “Hang on, how can you be getting married? You are my still my little girl.” Then I looked again and realised she wasn’t – suddenly she was a young woman.
It had all happened so fast. Being the eldest she was the first to race through babyhood, go to school, do her A levels, discover music and literature, and go to university. I’d been so engrossed in the practicalities of actually looking after her and the others that when she made her announcement, I quickly realised I was going to have to come to terms with her growing up – and fast.
All at once we were shopping for a dress and, trying on yet another veritable meringue of a gown in a wedding shop, she said, “Mum I look like a child dressing up in her mother’s clothes.” I couldn’t help but agree. So I replied, “Ok, let’s get out of here and think again.” We went for a coffee, thought it through, and decided we needed to find something she felt more like herself in.
Fortunately at that time Monsoon were doing a great wedding collection in traditional silks and soft ivory colours, but with a comfortable, Grecian or bohemian twist for the younger bride. She’d always looked young for her age and is still ID’d even now at 28, so we knew we were on to a winner.
Preparations advanced relentlessly but I still hadn’t figured out quite how to arrange my emotions on this. Little did I know that poetry was going to help me do just that.
Memories of her little girl years came flashing back but hardly found the space to be contemplated properly among the hullabaloo. I recalled how, when she was tiny she had a striking, oriental look that even people we met in the street used to remark upon. My husband and I, both being Caucasian, could never quite work out why. Summer days on Brighton’s pebbly beach and ice creams on the pier also came flooding back. After one such outing her dad and I were suddenly horrified when, adventurous as ever, and aged only 4, she suddenly broke loose and got on a bus without us.
We were left panicking at the roadside with her baby sister in the pushchair looking quizzically on as her big sister disappeared to heaven knows where through the automatic doors. It turned out she’d mistaken another woman’s bereted head for mine and followed her on to the bus. I jumped on the next one and begged the lady driver for help. She closed the doors immediately, leaving the would-be passengers mystified on the kerb as we made off in hot pursuit.
She radioed ahead while I anxiously kept my eye fixed firmly on the back of my little girl’s head as she sat on the bus in front, her long hair still wild and knotty from the day on the beach. I remembered being bolstered by an understanding passenger calling out from the back of the bus, “Don’t worry love, you’ll get her back.” And we did, safe and sound.
Wedding afoot, with me increasingly wondering how to let my daughter go, I never once thought that expressing myself in verse would help me turn the key and unlock my fears.
Edinburgh’s historic Linlithgow Palace was booked as the venue. Her sisters were bridesmaids and her youngest brother, the page boy. We guests all took our seats after climbing the stone spiral staircase to the roofless chapel, accompanied by the haunting refrains of a Scottish piper.
To my delight, the bride and her Scottish husband-to-be, himself a budding poet, had chosen poetry as readings to enrich their ceremony. Already feeling the comfort this might offer, I was thrilled to be asked to read one of them called “On Marriage” by Kahlil Gibran.
Next page I noticed how reading this poem out to the gathered throng witnessing the celebration had helped me face the reality of this milestone ...