AIDA AUSTIN: Aida Austin: Family life feels forever fixed in time

My sister’s house, Sligo, where children hold your hands, drink their milk and family life feels forever fixed in time.

Four year-old Lola seems exactly the same; she still goes about all her important daily business- feeding the hens and amassing beech nuts in her dumper truck- while swishing her wispy Linda McCartney mullet like Princess Elsa from ‘Frozen.’

And she still treats their black labrador Nelson with the same kind of loving disregard you’d show your favourite armchair; flopping down on him to watch Mrs Doubtfire, rearranging his limbs expertly so as to maximise her own comfort, and then giving him a couple of strong-armed little shoves to expedite the matter.

But change is coming. The musical shenanigans- where Lola slips away quietly into the conservatory to press ‘auto-tunes’ on her older sister’s keyboard- thereby draining its battery- are new.

At least I’ve never seen them before- and I’d know if I had, for watching Lola dance all by herself to auto-tunes, as if possessed by the spirit of Animal, from the Muppet Houseband ‘Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem’, is not something I’d ever forget.

And Mrs Doubtfire is new. My sister thinks Mrs Doubtfire has even overtaken Princess Elsa in Lola’s affections. She only gets to watch it once during my four day visit, but it’s not for want of trying.

Her favourite bit, my sister says, is when Mrs Doubtfire throws a piece of fruit at Pierce Brosnan. And she loves it when Mrs Doubtfire waves at Pierce Brosnan from the window, then flips her hand around afterwards to give him the middle finger, behind his back.

Obviously, she totally misses the meaning, my sister says, and long may it last. She’s not explaining to a four year old what giving the finger means, “apart from anything else, if I tell her it’s rude and never to do it, she might start doing it.”

What with Mrs Doubtfire and the electric mayhem, life is moving on for Lola. But that’s not all, my sister tells me, for Lola has fallen in love.

“Don’t think for a minute it’s with you,” she says, “she’s only after you for the Maltesers.”

“Who is she in love with then?”

“Her new teacher, Aisling.”

“That’s who she’s saving her Maltesers for,” I say, “I thought when she said she was saving them for Aisling that Aisling was a friend.”

“She keeps asking me if children can have two mummies,” my sister says. “It’ll pass, though I don’t know when. She’s crazy about her.”

“That’s why she sidled up to me and asked if I could do a painting for Aisling, like the one I did for you in the kitchen,” I say.

“She’s a devil,” my sister says, “a devil in love. She told me yesterday that she loves Aisling with her diamond heart, her golden heart and her princess heart.”

We collect Lola from her Steiner nursery, where my sister has enrolled her in the hope that all the ‘soul nourishment,’ and the ‘gentle beeswax-modelling’ might rub off on Lola.

We look through the window. Aisling is singing a very gentle goodbye-song, in a very gentle voice to five children seated on small wooden chairs. Lola is fidgeting on hers in a long, pale-yellow crochet dress, a truly jaw-dropping second-hand shop find, all her own pick, which comes down to her ankles. She gazes up at Aisling, her face glowing with pious devotion.

Inside, Aisling, in the same very gentle voice, suggests to Lola that she shows me around. Lola, with all due solemnity, shows me the kitchen, where they bake. And the felting. And the strips of beeswax, “which you only allowed to do on Friday so don’t touch.”

Then after the tour, Aisling bends down to Lola, to say goodbye in that very gentle voice and stands at the door to wave goodbye.

And as we walk towards the car, Lola, up in my sister’s arms, waves back at Aisling over her mother’s shoulder all the way down the path.

And then, with all the love in her diamond heart, her golden heart and her princess heart, she gives Aisling the finger.


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