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The Lost Boys

It's been bittersweet watching my son grow, seeing in his blond beaming face the equally blond countenaces of all the dead little boys, the ballast of loss passed down with heirlooms through the generations, the passel of small ghosts that haunt my family line.

Their photographs - their blunt fringes and naked knees and open smiles- whirl like a kaleidoscope in my head and whisper to the source of my deepest fears, the unremovable anxiety that my son will be lost too, like them.

So to prevent myself from going mad, I focus on the small things. The everyday things. Ladybirds and earthworms. Fistfuls of dandelions.

I anchor myself in the small rituals of parenthood. The tally of clean and dirty laundry. Bedtimes and mealtimes. I tense my spine and squint my eyes like a tightrope walker. Focus only on my breath and the next step and do not, above all, look down. That's where the lost boys wait, and their smiles open up a chasm in the world. A well of loneliness, of unutterable terror that says - How did your parents survive the loss of you? How did they go on?

The Lost Boys have no answers to that. They only want to be remembered. And though they all perished before I was born, I grew with their absence, the sadness that they left behind, my whole life. Their traces were everywhere - black & white photographs, books and toys from forty years ago, the pockets of silence inside every room.

The Lost Boys have never had the chance to grow. They are playful, their passions and concerns are unchanged. They whisper about horses they never got to ride, the dogs they ran through forests with, the berry patches they hid in. They play games of hide and chase through the rays of slanting light.

And they are canny. Though I try to avoid them, they weave themselves in my son's beaming smile. They haunt me in my dreams. Our two worlds overlap, like doubly exposed photographs. For an eyeblink, my son wears different faces. We kneel in other gardens, beneath alien skies. I hear the creak of wooden rocking horses. The overturned plastic diggers and trucks metamorphose briefly into lines of little graves in a grey field.

To love my child, to exult in him is also to grieve for their loss, for the losses of all those other mothers who lived and tried their best before me. It is to be held hostage by every parent's terror of their child's mortality. It is finding a means of letting him go in spite of that.

The Lost Boys are skilled swordsmen. They prefer the double-edged ones. One side slices to the bone, while the other opens up the heart to a sense of vast gratitude and love. It makes a part of me appreciate every maddening, irritating, infuriating parenting moment - because I would rather have this spiritited, obstinate child than a dead one sealed in perfection and idealised memory like a fly in amber.

The technicolour vividness of his rages makes the small phantoms smile wrily, and fade a little. Watching the determined, vocal path my son carves out in the world is a measure of restitution for what was lost. It is a victory. The ancestors cheer from the sidelines. The Lost Boys clap. My own anxious and exultant heart wavers like a flag.

It says: He will live. And he will grow old enough and bold enough to carve out and live his story in the world. And you may argue but you will go on. None of it - not the broken nights, or the broken porcelain, or the teenage dramas will be as important as knowing that you go on, and live to tell your own story.

My son's sturdiness, his robustness, helps erase the Lost Boys from the world. They watch from the corners, my small wheat-haired, blue-eyed phantoms. They whisper: Live a long and happy life.

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