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Today I am Lily!

Today I am Lily. No not another sub-personality or alter ego as those of you who know me will think. Today I have been my grand-daughter’s daughter.

"Nana, you’re Lily. Today is your birthday and you are ten. You can help me make your birthday cake. Come Lily, let’s go to Nana’s cupboard and get what we need to bake the best cake ever."

In the kitchen I search for baking food that is past it’s sell by date for her to play with. A packet of pizza dough circa 2011, pumpkin and poppy seeds and an old bottle of red food colouring left from the days when I could bake birthday cakes for my children without the guilt of encouraging hyperactivity by numbers (‘e’s?).

She settles with her brother to bake special birthday cakes for her special ‘girls’, of which she has named me 'Lily', the eldest. Hours of play later the cakes are ready for my party.

“Look Lily, look at your lovely birthday cake. It’s an owl cake with baby owls. I’ll just write you a message so you know what it is. Look daddy has made you a hedgehog cake.” Both creations well-battered and hammered after a morning’s messy play.”

“It’s your special day Lily and we will do all your best things when you have helped me clean up the kitchen.”

She pulls me into the living room and throws herself down onto the settee. I notice that she has stuffed one of her dollies up the front of her tee shirt as she thrusts out her stomach towards me.

“Quick Lily, you baby sister is coming. I have five girls and this new one I will call Mia.” She grunts a couple of times and whisks the ‘baby’ out.

“You can hold your baby sister Lily because you are old enough now. You are ten today. Hold her gently and be careful not to drop her, she’s fragile.”

She makes up a makeshift bed from an upturned shoe rack and some old cloths that were once her mother’s white terry nappies, the likes of which have never touched her own modern little bottom.

She pours water on the cake to make it soggy and wraps it up.

"Look Lily, here is your birthday present."

I unwrap it to see the soggy play cake.

"I gave it lots of water to bring it back to life. Mummy says water keeps youy alive." It's your favourite hedgehog money box your mummy bought you when you were ten. I broke it last time I stayed. Accidents happen you said but I know you were sad. This is a special one 'cause it is alive and has diamond sparkly eyes."

She hands me the soggy paper containing a gooy mess that was until quite recently my special birthday cake.

"Give your little owl a cuddle Lily, it misses its mummy."

I snuggle the parcel up to my face. It's soft, warm and I talk to it to reassuringly.

"Let’s go somewhere special for your birthday and you can wear your lovely birthday shoes."

For some unknown reason I drive her to a community farm situated on the land where I had played as a child long before the advent of such places. It was somewhere, as a young teacher in the 80's I had taken class loads of children to get them out into the fresh air away from the classroom. My own grandchildren had not been there before today, I had long since forgotten all about it. It was grey, dark and drizzling but nothing dampened my grand daughter’s spirits.

"Come on Lily let’s go and see the Queen Mother, she will just love your gold shoes. We’ll just stop to feed the pigs and chickens on the way."

The Queen Mother, alias a volunteer worker offering a painting experience involving a spinning dish, driven by someone peddling like crazy on an old bike.

“There Lily, I’ve made you a sun to brighten your day and keep you warm cause you've only got your pyjamas on and your special gold birthday shoes."

“Hurry Lily let’s go and find the woodman before it gets too dark. Don't fall over in those high heels.”

I followed her as she tripped-trapped over the very same bridge I had crossed many a time as a ten year old child. Chanting every word of the Billy Goats Gruff syory as she ran along biding me to be quick before darkness fell. There deep in the heart of woodland, in the very same spot I had sat both as a child over fifty years before and with my class over thirty years before, sat a woodman whittling a spoon out of a piece of wood.

“My nana used to do that with children. She made a mallet one day, a very long time ago. She takes it camping still”

We sat under a parachute draped between the trees as I had once done under my own silk parachute. It was considered a strange thing to do then when I had written about the value of such things long before forest schools became fashionable.

"My nana's a wise old owl but Lily is only ten she tells the woodman. It's her birthday and she is wearing special gold shoes."

The woodman down at my mud crusted golden heels and smiles a wry smile.

"Who's Lily and who's your grand mother." She points at me, "she's both of them" she says looking at me as if it's the most natural thing in the world to be two people at once . He smiles a wry smile as only a woodman can smile.

We drive home in the pouring rain.

"Go on then Lily stamp in the muddy puddles. You know you want to. I told you you could today. I will clean your shoes before you go to bed."

Inside she hands me the baby. I rock the baby. She watches me.

“That’s enough. Time for bed Lily. I am going to feed Mia." whom she stuffs under her tee shirt once again.

She puts a blanket over me and tells me to put my feet up on the ‘bed’.

"If you’re a good girl I will let you have your ipad for 30 minutes to listen to a story before you drop off to sleep." I'll come and tell you a story of today when Mia goes down.

She gets an ipad and checks it.

"That’s fine, it’s only Peppa. You can watch Peppa. I will come back to turn it off soon." Then I tell you a lovely story about a woodman in a forest."

She runs back.

"Get out of bed quickly. It's not night time any more. I forgot it’s your special day and we have things to do before bed."

"Look at your cake."

She sings happy birthday to me as we look at the cake. We replay scenes from earlier in the day as if nothing had come between them.

"I have five, no six, beautiful girls now – I forgot about baby Mia. I have Lily, Maybelle, Isla, Edie, Anya and oh yes, baby Mia. You wanted six babies like me when you were a girl didn't you Nana?" How could she have known?

"Today you can wear the special golden shoes because it’s your birthday. You are the birthday princess and I will take you somewhere special. Don’t worry about your pyjamas no one will notice them because you will have the golden shoes on."

She thrusts a pair of gold stilettoes on my feet.

"You look beautiful Lily, just like auntie Lala." (the real owner of the gold high heels. Stiletto shoes me - I floated barefoot through life without a stilleto heel in sight but as a child my little feet did clip clop in my mother’s shoes.

“You can wear your golden shoes when we go to visit the Queen Mother. She's not wicked though. If you want to jump in muddy puddles you can do it today because it’s your birthday and I will wash your shoes when we get back home. You don’t have to wear your wellies to play in mud today.”

"It's a lucky day today Nana because I remembered to take my umbrella when we went to the farm and my lovely picture did not get wet,"

It did not matter that night came in the middle of the day as our imaginary play darted all over the place between the two.

Coincidence or synchronicity? Fantasy and reality merged into one as I got carried along by a child’s creativity and imaginary play.

If pain can be passed down the generations in the memory of every cell in the body then I guess it can work for the dreams and fantasies of childhood in the same way. Not so strange then, that in reality, I visited places and things only known to me and a few others outside this reationship with my grand daughter. How else could she have been able to play out so many things that I had lived or dreamed of in my own childhood when no words about them had been spoken between us?

Strange too, how, on that very day she took me as ‘Lily’ to a place we had never been to together before, that we found real people in the woods doing what I would have been doing so many years before. Deja vue! Nothing else explains all the connectivity between us that had not been shared or voiced until this day. A day spent in the here and now as ‘Lily’ my grand daughter’s daughter.

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