Family Tree

Posted: February 14, 2011 in Short Stories
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Family Tree

It never ceases to amaze me that children find it so easy to discuss matters that would give any adult pause for thought…

“Are you my family?” Jaia asked Warren the question with a touch of innocence that could only come from one so young. Her small face was screwed up just a little, as she pondered over the question.

“Sorry sweetheart?” Warren replied, pausing, his hands submerged in a sink full of dirty dishes. “What do you mean?”

“Well I’m doing my homework for Mrs. Roberts’ class and we have to do a family tree. I was just wondering what you were to me again,” Jaia said. Her tongue was pushed firmly into her cheek as she concentrated all of her efforts on the sheet of paper in front of her.

“I’m your godfather Jaia, you know that,” Warren said – glancing across at the seven-year old girl perched at the kitchen table. She was holding a pencil in her hand as though her life depended on it. Her left hand searched out a strand of hair that had escaped one of her pink butterfly style hair clips.

“Yes, I know that, but where do I put you on this family tree – I can’t figure it out?”

This situation had never occurred to Warren before. He had been in and around Jaia’s life from the day that she had been born. Her mother, Dawn, had not hesitated when it had come to asking her best friend to be godfather to her first-born child. Whilst Warren had always accepted that Jaia was an essential part of his life, just like a daughter in fact, he had not prepared himself for the time when Jaia would be pondering the question of how Warren fitted into her life.

“I’m not sure where you would put me sweetheart, I don’t know if godparents go on family trees.” Warren spoke to Jaia as he carefully got on with the task of washing the greasy dinner dishes.

“Mrs. Roberts says that I should put all of my family on the tree though, doesn’t that mean you should be on there?” Jaia said, a little frustrated, not allowing the issue to drop so easily.

“Mrs. Roberts said that I should put all of my family…” Warren corrected.

“What?” Jaia asked, not picking up on the fact that Warren was correcting her grammar.

“It’s a past tense sweetheart, so it is said, not says.” Warren explained.

“Oh.” Jaia said, rolling her eyes, not entirely impressed by the unwanted lesson. “Mrs. Roberts said that I should put all of my family on the family tree, all the family that I could remember.” As Jaia spoke each word it was accompanied by a precocious rock of her head from side to side.

“Well, who do you have on there so far?” Warren asked, moving across to where Jaia was perched on the edge of her seat. Picking up a dishcloth, Warren dried his hands, to make sure that he did not drop water on to Jaia’s homework.

“I have granddad and nana, mum and dad, aunty Rachel and I am going to put uncle Martin on there as well,” Jaia said – looking extremely pleased with what she had accomplished so far.

“Well that looks pretty comprehensive to me,” Warren said – tracing his finger along the branches of the family tree.

“What does compre… comp… com-pre-hens-if mean?” Jaia asked, struggling to put the word together.

“Um, it means that you have put a lot of work into your homework and that I am very proud of you,” Warren said – smiling.

“Do you have a mum?” Jaia asked. The question came like a bolt of lightning out of a clear blue sky.

“Yes, we’ve talked about this before Jaia. My mum lives a long way away.” Warren forced himself to remember that he was speaking with a seven year-old child and that this sometimes meant that she understood far less than she appeared to. Jaia often asked where Warren’s mum was, finding it difficult to keep track of the fact that she could not remember ever meeting her.

“Have I met your mum?” Jaia asked, twisting her head from side to side, as she thought about making a change to her family tree.

“You met her when you were a little baby,” Warren answered. “You were wrapped up warm in your pushchair, all cute and quiet. Your mum had brought you round for a visit.”

“Oh.” Jaia said. “Do you miss your mum?”

Conversations such as this were a regular event with Jaia – she always had one hundred and one questions to ask and no time to wait for the answers.

“What’s with all the questions sweetheart? Don’t you have to get this finished before bedtime?” Warren attempted to move the conversation back onto the topic of homework – even though he knew avoiding the issue was not going to be successful at all. Jaia was an extremely curious child – one who loved to find out all there was to know about anything that caught her attention. “Come on, mummy will be calling you for bed any minute now.”

“You never finish answering my questions,” Jaia said, squinting her eyes half closed. “No-one ever lets me talk.” Jaia managed to make her bottom lip droop and quiver in a way that always got her the result she was looking for. Jaia was well aware of the fact that people were afraid to make her cry – at least, she believed they were afraid.

“Don’t get upset. It’s just that we have to make sure that you aren’t up too late, you know how grumpy it makes you in the morning,” Warren said – giving Jaia a gentle tap on the end of her lip.

“Don’t do that!” Jaia said – folding her arms across her chest in an attempt to stop the slow smile spreading across her face.

“Tell you what, how about I help you finish this tomorrow?” Warren asked, noticing that the time was quickly approaching Jaia’s bedtime.

“Promise?” Jaia asked.
“I promise. Cross my heart and hope to die.” Warren answered.

“Ok then. Will you read me a bedtime story before you go?” Jaia asked – her eyes brightening at the thought of having another chapter of her favourite bedtime story read to her.

“That depends on how fast you can get changed, brush your teeth and jump into bed,” Warren answered her. “Come, let me help you put away your homework.”

As Jaia climbed the stairs, making her way to her bedroom, Warren went into the front room to speak with Jaia’s mum.

“You should have been in the kitchen,” Warren said as he sat down next to Jaia’s mum.

“Why, what did I miss?” Dawn asked.

“It was so sweet. Jaia was asking me whether or not I was her family and if she should put me on her homework project,” Warren said – his mind running over the conversation he had just had with little Jaia.

“That doesn’t surprise me in the slightest,” Jaia’s mum replied. “She is always telling people about her ‘uncle Warren’, you would be surprised to see how often your name comes up in her school work.”

Warren took a moment to think about how much little Jaia had grown up over the years. He thought back to the times when she was so small and vulnerable that she could be cradled and rocked to sleep on a dark night. Warren thought of the times that Jaia had fallen and scraped her knees, and the times when she had been unable to feed herself properly – and smiled.

“Do you know that she always includes you whenever she is telling anyone about her family. Every school project and piece of homework has you mentioned somewhere.” Dawn was saying, “you play a very important role in her life, she wouldn’t know what to do if you weren’t around.”

“I know, she means the world to me as well,” Warren said – appreciating just how special Jaia was and just how much she meant to him.

“Let me show you something,” Dawn said – reaching for Jaia’s school bag. “I know it’s in here somewhere,” she was saying to herself as she searched through the small satchel. “Here it is.” She said triumphantly. “This is a picture of her family, she had to do it for class last week.”

Warren took the picture in his hands and looked closely. Jaia had drawn her mum, her dad, Jaia’s dog and standing right next to her she had sketched her uncle Warren.

“I don’t know what to say,” Warren said.

“You don’t have to say anything, not to me,” Dawn replied. “Just realize that as far as Jaia is concerned you are an important part of her family.”

“I’m going to bed now,” Jaia called from the top of the stairs. “Uncle Warren, you said you would read me a bedtime story before you went.”

“A promise is a promise,” Dawn said as she looked across at Warren.

“A promise is a promise,” Warren repeated.

As he climbed the stairs Warren called out to Jaia, “you better pick a story before I get there”.

“I picked Sleeping Beauty,” Jaia said – her small fingers leafing through the pages of the storybook. Sleeping Beauty had always been Jaia’s favourite story.

“Good choice.” Warren said – pulling a chair up to the side of the bed.

“Once upon a time…” Warren began to read as Jaia looked up with a look of anticipation on her face.

Warren didn’t get to the end of the story, he never did. Jaia was starting to fall asleep.

“Uncle Warren?” Jaia said through a stifled yawn.

“Yes sweetheart”.

“Love you”.

  1. Mikael Larsson says:

    How have you kept this skill so secret for such a long time??
    Nice work, Mark!

  2. Rachycakes says:

    Big lump in my throat! Beautiful piece.

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