Holocaust Memorial Day 2013.

We will never forget.

These words have been everywhere the last few days, commemorating Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day.

Amongst the six million Jewish souls who were brutally extinguished by the Nazi’s, were 1.5 million Jewish children, only one of whom I know the name of.

Edith, my namesake, was just a young child when her life was taken away from her, along with her mother Sabina, (my grandmothers sister) and my great-grandparents Chaim and Malka. And of course, countless others.

Edith was my mothers first cousin, the only one she would ever have, and yet her death came before my mother was even born. The easy family rapport that spans oceans and forgives absences and long silences was therefore never my mothers to experience. The large family gatherings of shared memories and relatives and marking anniversaries and birthdays together was just a fantasy to stand on the outside of, looking in.

Edith would have one day had favourite foods, books and games. She would have had teen romance and best friend quarrels and anxieties. Perhaps at her batmitzvah, in the forties, my grandmother would have been holding my aunt in her arms just a baby herself, dancing with her sister, Edith’s mother, and sharing the closeness that she would in reality only see secondhand in her own girls. Maybe my own mother and her sister would have been bridesmaids at Edith’s wedding, all dressed up in meringue dresses with giant bows in the dated style of the sixties. Maybe they would have been too old to be flower girls, instead dressing in modern gowns that my granddad wouldn’t have approved of but never would have said for embarrassment and fear of female confrontation. The cousins would have danced together excitedly, maybe best friends or maybe not, but family nonetheless.

My brothers and my cousins were born in the seventies, and never had second or third cousins to play with or visit. I have spent Jewish festivals since i was 8 years old, and many a happy memory, with my second cousins on my fathers side of the family, and I assure you, the words may sound distant, ‘removed’ or ‘third’ but they couldn’t be more kin to me than my own siblings.

Our walls are covered with the ghosts of photos which could have been. The unborn children who should have played and fought together, the hastily snatched dinners of her generation all together when babysitters or favours could be taken advantage of. Me, a little girl in the late eighties, celebrating Edith’s 60th birthday, perhaps covered in cake and smiles I would never remember. The six of us, our mothers children, surrounded by more blurred faces, our second cousins, maybe Edith’s own nephews and nieces had they been allowed a chance at life. As the decades go on, more colourful digital snaps, less spontaneous because we can now try as many times as we need to get it right. Edith, standing with her arms around our mothers at our wedding, me dancing dutifully with her and her children; aching to finish so I can grab my own friends. A shiny image of her holding our own R, her great great nephew a few days after his birth. She would be in her eighties now, vibrant and strong, unscarred by tragedy.

Every memory I’ve listed had the potential to exist. They aren’t fantasy, they should have been our history. They were stolen from her, and stolen from us as well. We will never know the make up of our family had Hitler not decided to murder her innocent soul, before she even took her first steps or said her first words. She was one child, one person, one story. In our own family we have half a dozen more stolen lives, and in our community countless more. As a nation, six million stories and lifetimes were brutally snatched from those of us left behind. Never forget? The true tragedy is that we were never given the opportunity to remember the memories which were rightfully ours.

May God ensure that their perfect souls are resting in everlasting peace.

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Dear Dad…

I’m so sad tonight. I wish I could pick up the phone and call you up and tell you how I’m feeling and let all my frustrations out. You would probably listen awkwardly because I’m a woman and I’d be crying, and then you would tell me a story that hardly seems related, but somehow makes me feel better anyway. I would put down the phone feeling all cried out in the way you normally can only be when you’re by yourself, but in a good way, instead of this lonely aching feeling that I’m left with right now.

You never met R, so I don’t know how you would deal with his visual impairment or his and our frustration at his speech delays. For all I know, when it comes to his medical history, you would be just as unhelpful as my remaining parent, not knowing what to say or do to help, or how to be supportive in the way we need. But I do know for certain one thing, when it comes to his everyday life, you would be here.

You would take me to appointments when I needed the company, you would be phoning off the hook every day to see how we both are, you would hug me when the terrible two’s were driving me mad, or there wasn’t anything helpful left to say. I can’t imagine a day going by where you wouldn’t want to see us both, to hold your grandson, to sit with your daughter, and just while away the time with us both.

You would probably tell me that it’s her depression and the years of being alone, but you’ll have to excuse me for insisting that it is still not normal for a parent to not want to see their grandchildren. After almost three weeks of no contact, it is not normal for a parent to have to be bullied into spending some time with their daughter and grandchild. And yet that’s what happened today. And I don’t know why I bothered. After an hour and a half of sitting on my couch watching him while I played with him, a large portion of that spent with her eyes closed, she left. My mother hadn’t hugged him, kissed him, read to him, or even touched him. She hadn’t even moved from her spot on the couch to go down to his level and join a game.

It’s true- I might imagine you being here through the tragically rose coloured glasses of knowing you never will be again. But it’s not the fact that you’re gone that tells me you would hardly let R go if you had the chance, it’s just fact. Because somehow, with one parent who told me she had to ‘learn’ to hug me when I needed it, I still grew up affectionate and loving to my friends and family. Even though I’ve been told that I’m loved the least out of her children, I’ve somehow got a sense of self-worth and belief. And I didn’t give myself those things, you did.

So I know, with the certainty of really knowing a person, the way I’m coming to believe I never will know my own mother, that you would be cuddling and playing and singing with my little boy every chance you could get your hands on. You would call, probably too much, to find out how we are and to tell us you care. It wouldn’t be a chore, or something you needed to be reminded to do or argued into.

I don’t worry about R, the way I sometimes worry about myself. He has two parents that know how to make him feel loved and special. Thank God, he doesn’t need you in his life to make him feel supported and worth something.

Sadly however, I sometimes think that I still do.

Imagine if you asked the Zoo for a pet… And then they said yes.

There aren’t many books that were firm favourites a quarter century ago when I was a toddler, and still are today for me to read to my own son. But Dear Zoo is a classic for a reason. Bright colours, fun and educational flaps (made before flap books were commonplace or even seen as helpful to children and pre-schoolers) and a whimsical storyline, it’s almost enough to make us parents not mind reading it for the 17th time in an evening. (Almost.)

This Autumn marks 30 years of the best-loved children’s book, and I was lucky enough to be invited along this afternoon to Pan Macmillan to meet the man himself and enjoy a party in celebration of the anniversary. We had so much fun!!

Before we went, I was nervous that R wouldn’t be old enough to behave himself nicely and take part properly. I couldn’t have been more wrong. My baby boy was nowhere to be seen. In his place was a confident toddler who swiftly began colouring the adorable Dear Zoo worksheets in with chunky crayons, brought me various Campbell classics to read, (I’m Hungry, Spin and Say, and his personal favourite-Oh Dear!) and most incredible of all, joined all the other children in sitting in an ordered huddle to listen to the storyteller. Just watching him emulate the older children and join in the activities would have made the whole experience worthwhile alone.

But it didn’t need to! From scanning the room I know I wasn’t the only adult there who was enjoying the interactive storyteller’s rendition of the classic a little more than we were supposed to. (This is for the kids right?) I practically burst with pride as R got 3 whole animal noises correct as the story was told. A huge step up from the ubiquitous “ssssssss” we were being given a few weeks ago.

Rod joined us for a Q and A session, and was charm itself. Hard to believe that this man was fully trained in Science and knee-deep in research before his love of painting brought him to children’s books. Imagine how different so many of our bookshelves would look! R spent the Q and A throwing Rod a Dear Zoo anniversary balloon back and forth, probably to the annoyance of the rest of the guests. Rod however was patience personified, and for once I didn’t try and get mother of the year award by making him stop. It’s Rod Campbell! And my son is playing catch with him!

Not much has changed since I was a kid, and party bags were always my favourite part of any birthday. This one was pretty awesome, with limited edition dear zoo mugs, board books, a gorgeous photo frame, puzzles and activities galore, as well as the piece de resistance, the brand new Touch and Feel version of Dear Zoo itself. I have to say, I was very excited to see what they had done with it, and the book doesn’t disappoint. Great varied sensory ideas on each page, and very different from the original. The only thing I wasn’t expecting was R’s reaction. He was unimpressed to say the least! Because it is such a favourite in our house, he knows the book back and forward and upside down. He spent the whole time I was trying to read it to him getting more and more frustrated that he couldn’t find the flaps! It annoyed him to such an extent that he couldn’t listen to me telling him to touch the furry or sticky or bumpy bits, and he ended up shuffling off my lap and finding another book instead.
My point I suppose is that the touch and feel version is a GREAT present for someone who doesn’t already love Dear Zoo, or perhaps a slightly older child who will appreciate the coolness of comparing the two versions and getting something different from each one. For a slightly OCD partially sighted toddler who likes things to be exactly how he remembers them… don’t even go there.

Rod signed books and was happy to take photos as guests mingled and healthy snacks were ignored by children who know better than to accept carrot sticks when there is birthday cake to be had. And we had a truly fabulous time! Arming our goody bag and our balloon puppy (it is the perfect pet after all) we left the party with matching grins. This book isn’t going anywhere in a hurry, I have a feeling I’ll be itching for an invite to it’s 60th anniversary party!

Do the French hate their children?

I’m a big advocate for children’s literacy. I believe that we all should be reading to our children every day, and that once they can read themselves, this should be encouraged with every tool a parent has to use, bribery and corruption included if it becomes necessary.

However, if I lived in France I think I would have a different opinion on the matter. I definitely wouldn’t be letting my son loose in a public library very often.  I stumbled across the following examples of literature from across the pond, and (with thanks to 22words) just had to share!

The Weight of Sorrow.

Two authors and a publishing house all agreed that this was an appropriate message to be sending to small children. If I wanted to show my son that the world is a sad and heavy place to live in, and that he could one day develop sad eyes like the half man half mountain above, I would let him read non fiction. No-one needs books describing what a miserable place the world can be. Especially not children.

Revenge of the Rabbits

What was that sweetheart? You want a pet? Sure! Mummy and I are completely supportive of that, we’ll go have a look at the pet store this weekend! I’m the best? No worries darling. … Oh by the way, completely unrelated, we got you a new bedtime story. 

Lily’s Thief

Obviously the usual “don’t accept sweets from strangers” or Topsy and Tim have a visit from the Policeman weren’t strong enough messages for our foreign friends. Instead, watch a innocent young girl get carried away in her pyjamas by a giant angry running man. Maybe your child has red hair or special blue slippers too? She can identify with Lily and be much less frightened if she ever gets kidnapped herself!

The Day Daddy Killed his Old Aunt

Doesn’t this sound like the title of a serial killers testimony in court? I’m not sure if this is a memoir, or whether they got actors in for the front cover… but if it’s the latter, what are the chances they told the kids parents what they were modelling for? Don’t pretend you aren’t a little intrigued as to the plot-line of this one.

 

The Visit from Little Death

What is the problem? Do French children settle too easily at night? Do they laugh themselves to sleep so loudly that it’s keeping all the adults awake? Are they so very happy with their lot in life that parents think they wont cope in the real world? How can these books get the approval of not just agents and publishers and book stores, but the writers themselves? Oh yes, I write children’s books. Mainly horror aimed at toddlers. It’s wildly popular. Why don’t you try them out on your kids and see if we can start a trend. And don’t worry about bad dreams;  the French are already a step ahead in preparing for the inevitable.

My First Nightmare

Look who’s talking. (R’s story)

Boy, what a terrible afternoon I’ve had. You just wouldn’t believe what my Ima has put me through.

Today I wasn’t with my Ima, because she didn’t exist. Everyone knows when you don’t see someone, they don’t exist. Anyway, I was at work, watching and playing with the nice lady who cooks much nicer food than my Ima, (even though I admit it does look the same) and suddenly my Ima existed again. No warning, nothing, she just arrives while I was eating my supper. Well that put me right off my food, and no matter what coaxing and distracting she tried, I wasn’t going to have one more bite. No sir. I didn’t mind as I was sure there wouldn’t be any consequences.

Anyway, then I wanted to leave right away, and my mean Ima made me have a clean nappy, (what was wrong with the old one?) shoes, (does anyone know the point of those?) and a hat (I didn’t mind that so much-I do look pretty fly in a cap) before we left. Finally we got out of the door, and my Ima tries to put me in the buggy. The buggy! I can’t remember exactly what was so bad about it, but I know I was definitely not going to get in there, so I started walking in the right direction. But Ima wouldn’t listen to me and kept making me go the other way. She seemed to be getting frustrated every time I went the right way again, so even though I was correct I let her make the wrong decision and followed her instead. Eventually we got to the park. It took much longer than usual. I’m sure it would have been quicker my way, and definitely if Ima had stopped asking me to get in the buggy every time I stopped to look at flowers and leaves.

The park is my favourite place, but someone had forgotten to open the windows or put the fan on, cause I was very hot and uncomfortable. I can’t see how that would affect anyone else, so I was hoping that Ima would be especially good and well behaved to make me feel better. No such luck. First she offered me some water, which I drank. But then she took out my juice. I’d never seen it before, but it must be mine-as everything is. She started drinking from MY juice! I let her know how upset I was by throwing my glasses on the floor. That’s the best way to show her that I’m cross. She had the cheek to tell me off about my glasses, but didn’t make me wear them again. She gave me my juice back, and I took a sip and decided to keep the lid in my hand so she couldnt put it away. She asked me for the lid. I said no. She asked again. I didn’t answer as I’d already told her no. My poor Ima, she only recently started understanding yes and no, so sometimes it’s hard for her. Then you will never believe what happened, she SNATCHED the lid out my hand and put it back on the bottle! Boy was I angry. I sat on that climbing frame and kicked and shouted. But nothing, she just walked away like she couldnt even see me. Eventually she came back with more juice, and the ultimate insult- a straw. What does she think I am? A baby?! I threw the straw on the ground where it belongs. Gosh I was hot and uncomfortable, and something else… that’s right, hungry. Why was I hungry? Didn’t I finish supper? Why didn’t my Ima let me finish my supper? I couldn’t remember but I’m sure it was her fault. This day was going from bad to worse.

Just then my phone rang from Ima’s bag, and she had a quick chat with the man inside the phone. He sometimes sounds like my Daddy, or Ima’s friend Auntie M, but mostly he sounds like my Nana. I wanted my phone very much, but Ima wouldn’t let me have it for no good reason. That upset me for nearly 7 seconds until I found a breadstick. Remind me what was wrong again?

Things were looking up. I decided to find a new game, and started climbing up the stairs to the slide sideways. How fun! Why do people do it frontways? I wondered. But here comes Ima again, spoiling all my fun. Yes yes, I hear you telling me to turn around and climb properly, but I don’t want to. No, stop it! Stop lifting me off the slide, I want to climb this way! Ok FINE. I can wait.. I can be patient… Let’s pretend I’m walking towards the swings… and yes! NOW! I ran towards the slide and started climbing sideways again, but … OUCH! Why am I on the floor?! Why am I all dirty? Why does my arm hurt? Where’s my Ima and why did she let this happen to me? Horrible terrible parent, why didn’t she warn me this could happen???

For some reason, it was my Ima who looked like she had had enough of the park and the whole afternoon, even though it was me having such a terrible time, and she picked me up and after a quick cuddle put me in the buggy. I was about to moan for food, when she read my mind and gave me a whole packet of breadsticks to eat. Boy, that’s more like it. Normally I only get one or two, which would make me cry when they were done. As I finished the breadsticks, she already had a peppa pig ready on the magic phone for me to watch. It was amazing. She must have been feeling very happy to give me so many treats all in one go. I hope she knows how lucky she is not to be hungry, tired and far too hot like I was, and feeling so rubbish. But I didn’t dwell on it. After all, I wasn’t hungry any more after the 17 breadsticks, and much less tired and hot after the shady ride in the buggy home.

But when I got home, I was angry. What a bad day I was having. Ima didn’t seem to understand, or at least, she wasn’t doing anything about it, so I decided to cry and whinge non-stop for a while. But if anything-she got less sympathetic. I wasn’t sure I could take much more of this treatment. She carried me to the bathroom and started running the bath. A bath! I don’t want a bath, I shouted, I hate baths!

(Ten minutes later.)

Why are you trying to take me out of the bath? I want my bath! I shouted. I love baths!

You probably wonder why I decided to have an Ima in the first place after all this negligence on her part. Well, on days like today I wont pretend I don’t ask myself that question. But most days aren’t like this. Most days she doesn’t make the world too hot, or keep me hungry for what must be hours, or refuse to play with me or be wantonly mean. Most days she tries not to give me too much time to myself, and offers me lots of delicious broccoli and not too much yucky chicken. In fact, as crazy as it may seem, once we all go to sleep at 7pm, I will probably miss her, even today. I will probably miss her enough that after a little while, I will cry very loudly so she comes in and I can have just one more quick cuddle. I know that she doesn’t mean to be difficult. She just doesn’t know any better yet. She’s only an Ima after all.