Oh, we’ve been getting into the festive swing of things here… there are daubs of gold and silver streaked across the oilcloth on the kitchen table and a fresh fall of glittery snippings making my unswept floor sparkle like never before. We’re hopeless magpies, my daughters and I, so our glitter comes from our stash of old chocolate foil wrappings, salvaged gift wrap, ribbons and sequin waste. But when it comes to making sparkly marks I have struggled to find resources that are kind to the environment – Nature is of course sparing with sparkle, reserves it for precious metals, icy ephemerality… and we should be mindful of this. Nevertheless, there are things that twinkle seductively in the depths of our craft cupboard leftover from projects of past years, things that I might not buy nowadays yet feel fairly justified in using up. In particular, we have two tubes of the rather fatefully named ‘Goldfinger’, a metal paste for ‘finger gilding’ that I was assured at the shop is safe for use with children – although I’ve struggled to find out what it contains. I took the ‘Goldfinger’ out with festive gusto this week, not quite realising the lesson in Greek myth that was waiting to squeeze out with all that glimmer:
My toddler’s eyes lit up when she saw the metallic tube, but her rapture was silent to start with. I mistook it for quiet industry as I worked on with the sidelined white poster paint. And so it happened that before I noticed, my toddler’s fingers, her entire hand in fact, was gold… and then so was the high chair… the tablecloth… her apron… her nose… It shouldn’t have surprised me, she is three after all, and I think this must have been her first encounter of the golden-kind. She was like Carter discovering Tutenkhamen’s tomb, basking in a golden glow, and for a time I felt it important to let her enjoy it. But as things took their inevitable course, my daughter discovered what it means to have the golden touch. Her delight very suddenly turned to panic. She went from Carter to Midas in a flash, and we had to embark on a thorough clean up operation before we could restore that twinkle in her eye.
It was a lesson to us both, and one that seems rather apposite as the festive season kicks in. This came home to me as I pinned up our shimmering toilet rolls, and suddenly realised I had nothing prepared to put in them. To quote one of my husband’s better lines, this advent calendar was ‘all headline and no article’ – I’d got so carried away with the shiny surface of things that I’d forgotten about the content of my confection, the consequences of making it, in every respect. I too had invoked Midas – what exactly had I wished for as I’d made all this glitteriness?
And so it is that this year, 25 empty (but glittering) toilet roll tubes have prompted me to address the meaning we place as a family on the season’s celebrations. It seems I have made myself an embarrassingly flashy, hard-to-ignore question mark – I have charged myself with considering practically and mentally how best we should fill these 25 tubes, these 25 days. Regardless of ‘the deadline’ I’m not sure there will be a conclusion. Instead I sense this will be a family process of listening to each other’s wishes, evolving them so that the wishes of each day, each other, influence and inform the next. Each day I imagine what my daughter wishes for as she looks up at the – from her vantage point – full tubes, and reflect on what I wish for her as I look down at them, aware of their empty potential. Our wishes seem so often at odds, and I need to attend to why that is. I so often rush to warn her against her wishes before I’ve really listened to them, before I’ve worked out the wish that lies beneath her question. I suspect that when she asks for a ‘sweet treat’, her real wish comes from a yearning for the harmless, addictive sweetness that comes from invested time, affection and love. It might at first seem more effort than sugar… or a few slices of dried mango, but this kind of sweetness, I realise, is where are our family’s wishes are truly shared.