Thursday, July 29, 2010

Waiting for Mummy

Waiting for Mummy

When I was a child, my mother worked. She was a minister, and juggled working from home with working from a church office; we kids juggled playing at home with cooling our heels in the church hall. During the week, she made phone calls while stirring pasta sauce, held meetings in the lounge room, and ran around frantically Getting Things Done. But Sundays were the worst. While other kids fooled around and went out for lunch, we hung around after church while she had just one more, and one more, and one more conversation. If we had the temerity to stand near her or, god forbid, tug her skirt, we'd be resolutely ignored; then later we'd have The Conversation about how this was mummy's work and we had to let her be. All very well, but my sister and I were stuck there too, just waiting, waiting for mummy.

A more gentle sort of waiting is encapsulated in the beautifully understated book, Waiting for Mummy by Tae-Jun Lee and Dong-Sung Kim. In this story, a little boy waits at a tram stop, 'nose flaming red', for the tram which will bring his mother home. As tram after tram goes by with no mummy, the boy exchanges a few words with each driver, leans on a pole, drags a stick along the ground, or just squats. The resolution, when it comes, is wordless and requires the reader to examine closely a picture of a town blanketed in falling snow; this restraint lends the story great strength.

The illustrations are exquisite. They remind me of the gentler forms of manga, or perhaps the rich imagery in Miyazaki's brilliant film, Spirited Away: trams swoop dreamily out of the sky, the sea, and the trees. Just as I saw the world as a child, here the landscape looms in mysterious form and reality is far richer and more layered than adults comprehend. Trams and adults and steps are enormous, snow falls out of a yellow sky, and a little boy's hands go red with cold. In the background are soft images of a traditional Korean town: many-storied shops, men hauling goods on bicycles, and women with baskets on their heads.

My sister bought the book for us to read, but as I, like my mother, juggle other commitments along with child-rearing, my children find no small resonance with the story. After all, they too wait for mummy, and no doubt will do so until they are mummies themselves.

Waiting for Mummy is a pearl, but especially for the child whose mother works out of the home. It gives dignity and beauty to the experience of waiting – and reminds the parent just how patient our children can be.

> Tae-Jun Lee and Dong-Sung Kim Waiting for Mummy (Elwood, Vic: Wilkins Farago, 2006).

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