In the afternoon, we lie together in bed. My son is full of cold, but he won’t sleep. His eyes are red, but he won’t let them close. ‘No,’ he says when I ask him again. So I sing to him. A song I have sung to soothe him since he was a baby. ‘All I Want’, by Joni Mitchell. ‘I am on a lonely road and I am travelling, travelling, travelling, looking for something, what can it be?’ A dear friend told me some years ago, when I sang it drunk one night in a rented room in Ireland, that maybe it was time to stop singing it to my children. ‘Oh, I hate you some, I hate you some, I love you some. Oh, I love you, when you forget about me.’ But I won’t stop, not today. ‘I want to be strong, want to laugh along, want to belong to the living. Alive, alive, want to get up and jive, wanna wreck my stockings in some juke box dive.’ For me this yearning song is what it means to be alive. For them, now, it holds their mother and her voice, and all the years I’ve loved them to sleep.
So, I’m singing this song, and he’s staring out at the view from my bedroom window of a winter coppiced plane, its spindling branches tangled like a web, the hard solid brick of the houses behind. I know he’s not thinking about the view (or lack of it), and the fact you can’t really see the sky from my bedroom window, just as he’s probably not thinking about the ‘love’, the ‘hurt’, the ‘jealousy’. I’m not either. Instead I’m thinking of all the things that have been on hold since he’s been off school sick, the lost work days; how I can never get on top of the mess.
The stark February light makes bright white stars on his eyes. His eyelids try to close, and I hold my breath… But then he stretches them open again. I continue on, more slowly than the meaning behind the lyrics allows, ‘I wanna have fun, wanna shine like the sun, wanna be the one that you want to see’, and I wonder, not for the first time, if this is a love song.
Then he tells me. He turns to me, my six-year-old boy, his pale wide face like the moon, and his eyes smile. He speaks to me without saying anything at all. He says: I love you.