Andrea Mara

Official website

Wise little bird

Your big sister likes facts and figures and general knowledge. She’ll tell you about Tom Crean or the American Civil War or the latest episode of My Little Pony if you like. And your little brother likes whatever comes into his head at any given moment. It might be stealing bagels from the cupboard and stuffing them almost whole into his mouth, or it might be playing with Barbies and Lego, or it might be wandering out the front door because he just feels like it. And then there’s you. The child who isn’t so up on general knowledge yet, and has a tendency to be hazy on facts. You don’t remember names – you’re not a detail person.

But you’re the one who just gets things.

Like when I said petrol for a car is like food for your body. “And if you put the wrong fuel in your body or your car, they don’t work properly anymore, right?” you replied. Good analogy I thought, looking at the head-sized cookie you were carefully nibbling, round and round, from the outside slowly in.

Or when your sister told you that what you were wearing wasn’t a “proper style”. “Well, I think style is just whatever you want it to be yourself,” you replied. “Everyone is different.”

There was the time you asked me why people cry when they’re hurt. I got into a complicated and waffly explanation that included science, hormones, emotions, the internet, an article I read, and finally, an intention to google it. “Maybe we cry because we want someone to come and help us?” you ventured. Oh yes, good point.

Or when you were all trying to talk me into doing the mums’ race at next year’s sports day. I said I hadn’t run a race in thirty years. “You’ll be fine mum,” you said. “It’s like when you get new shoes, they feel tight at first, but then you just get used to them and it’s like they were always there. Running will be like that.”

You’re the defender of the siblings, big and small. “He didn’t mean it mum,” you say, hugging your little brother, who has just spilled a third glass of milk.

“I think she’s really hurt mum,” you say, comforting your big sister, sensing my under-reaction.

You’re our resident potty mouth, especially at the dinner table. “He’s always farting,” you say about your little brother over lunch. “Hey, not at the table,” I warn you. “Yep, he does it at the table too,” you reply, delighted with yourself. Blue eyes crinkled with a gleeful grin.

pier date

Your best friend is your little brother – you’re his buddy, his partner in crime, his cheerleader, his protector. As a playmate, he’s your equal – there’s no age-gap. When he says something nonsensical or storms off over an imagined slight, you exchange a knowing look with me. The age-gap is back, but now you and I are the confidantes. “What is he like?” you say, with a shake of your sunset curls.

Your other best friend is your big sister. You make up elaborate games, arguing over who is the princess or who is the mom, but quickly figuring out a solution and getting on with the show. You hold your own – little provocateur. A nudge here and a taunt there when you feel aggrieved, and you have the good grace to look sheepish when your sister’s over-loud over-reaction gets her into trouble.

Every day, you catch me off guard and keep me on my toes. I ask your opinion because I love hearing your answers, and because so often, your suggestions make sense. And sometimes, you stop me in my tracks. Like last week, when I shouted at you, stressed as we tried to get out of the house on time. Your eyes welled up with tears. You said nothing at first. Hurt and angry, you stared back at me, hands by your sides. You turned and walked away. Then turned back. “Mum,” you said, your voice breaking as frustrated tears spilled over, “Mostly when you’re cross with me, I think you’re right, but this time, you’re not.”

The change was instant, the tension diffused. I knew straight away that you were right. Because you’re almost always right, wise little bird.

Like yesterday, when I said this is the most beautiful autumn I’ve ever seen. “I know you think that mum,” you said, your autumn-coloured hair wild in the breeze. “But I suspect you say it every year.” I suspect I do.

autumn girl






Click the button below to sign up to my Penguin newsletter.