Mary sits on the beach watching the children play around her. Not a single one is hers, but she concentrates on their activities, admiring their spirit and their inventiveness. Whenever a voice raises into a scream she jerks her head around to check the source of the noise.
For twenty years Mary has spent her spare time looking after other people's children, putting her acquired knowledge to good use. She has helped to raise four families of children. Very different families, but children are children and Mary is a natural with them. Each time she learns something new, she stores it away to use the next time. Over the years Mary has developed a deep knowledge of children's behavioural sciences - she always jokes she could lecture for the NNEB - and her understanding of children was sought out by parents wherever she went.
Mary abhors violence. She doesn't understand a society that hurts children, for hurting sake, although she believes in strict discipline, and also considers the choice to encourage children to learn by electronic means damaging to their social skills. She has taught two generations of children to read using trusted books and her own time and patient guidance. She has sat with a child struggling with homework and gently guided the tortured mind to the clarity of subject. She has always instilled good manners and intelligent conversation. Nothing is more fun than the school run, when the children are bursting with news in the car and she must hold two or three separate conversations about homework, friends, school meals, parties - all the things most important to a six year old. She has fixed scraped knees and broken hearts, mended broken toy trucks and exploded beliefs. She has held weeping children in the middle of the night haunted by bad dreams, and helped them to blow out birthday candles. She has cleaned their cuts and sores, marvelled over their dropping baby teeth and proudly measured them against the kitchen door frame. She has nursed their measles, whooping cough and croup, has eased their colds, flu and bad tummies. She has changed their nappies, watched them go to their first day at school, so proud in their new school uniforms, packed their lunches, cooked their meals and washed their clothes. A parent in all but name.
She has raised children that are now parents themselves. Responsible, articulate members of society raising new responsible, articulate members of society. In these adults she sees the manners and behaviour she instilled in them in years long gone, and even the phrases she has trotted out time and time again are reproduced for a new generation - a modern day Mary Poppins. But society has forced her into early retirement, parents are now reluctant to leave their children with an unknown woman, no matter how trusty her references are. Mary Poppins didn't need references, just a spoonful of sugar and a way of making work fun. Mary now feels the world breathing down her neck when she draws a finger across a youthful cheek, or picks up a fallen child with scuffed knees. She can stop tears with a word, put a child to sleep in minutes, spend hours playing with lego or teaching a small child to read, but has lost the faith of the parents in the world. And without the faith of the parent, Mary is unable to gain the trust of the child, a cruel cycle that is impossible to break without one or other making the first move.
The world has changed in recent years. People look upon her with caution and fear when she stops to talk to a child. When she reaches out to stroke a towhead, the mother pulls her child away from the touching hand. When Mary looks benignly upon small children playing, she is aware of the parent watching the 'strange woman' and alert to any cause for concern. When she catches herself watching children maybe lost or in trouble, she feels powerless to help these days. The evil creeping through our society has blighted Mary, through no fault of her own, and made parents sensitive to any adult making overtures to their children.
Mary can't have children. She has never felt the painful joy of birth, nor has had the opportunity to hold her own child close to her breast for the first time. She is comfortable in her life, but yearns, alone, for the child she can never have. She hates that society now looks upon her cautiously as an oddity.
She picks up a pen and begins to write; 'Dear Editor, There must be thousands of us. Outsiders. Hidden away, ashamed of our disability, but unable to speak up for fear of pity or persecution.'
(c) cq 2004