Across Australia, parents recently endured Book Week, where promoting the love of literature meets competitive parenting. I sneer, but with irony and self-awareness: given the opportunity, I jump at spending a few hours sourcing, glueing, and stitching random bits of stuff together to meet my kids’ ever-so-detailed and entirely non-negotiable creative briefs.
I don't think the event promotes reading, but I just can’t help myself. I’ve toiled for days to achieve the right look, or spent hours trawling two-dollar shops for just the right style of hat. When time hasn’t allowed such indulgences, I’ve hatched costumes hours before the event, or recycled ones from previous years (at a new school), or thrown together things from the dress-up box. But I’ve never missed the deadline. And no matter how slapdash or long in the planning, I have always stood back and felt a ridiculous sense of pride at sending my kids off proud of their costumes.
But this year was a particular thrill.
This year, our eldest went off to book parade bouncing with excitement, wearing my childhood kimono. (Our youngest — not yet at school, yet not to be outdone — was there in my sister’s one.)
The costume was a fudge. Rather than taking a book as inspiration, we worked backwards. We already had the kimono, so found a story to match. With minimal effort, off she went as Princess Kaguya, from the Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, who broke the Emperor’s heart when she fled to her people on the moon.
All I had done was put a few stitches in white socks to make her a pair of tabi socks, but she was thrilled, and proud and excited. And so was I, not because of the effort I had put in, or for meeting the brief, but because I was seeing my kids enjoy things I found joy in as a kid.
Perhaps it’s because I’m an immigrant and get little opportunity to share places, objects and activities from my childhood. Perhaps it’s about reliving a childhood, whatever that means. Or maybe we all do it. Whatever it is, I have noticed recently how much I want my kids to share in some of the stuff of my childhood.
These kimonos were particularly special. My dad had brought them home after a business trip to Tokyo. He worked for a Japanese company at a time when overseas travel wasn’t just another form of public transport. So when he came back he was laden with gifts exotic and rare. There were toys that were kept in the top cupboard in case we played with them and damaged them. An early lego set with instructions for making an elegant villa. Food stuffs that wouldn’t make it to Cape Town for another decade, like nori, and fish flakes, and green tea.
South Africa was a closed, isolated place at the time, so these beautiful things from a faraway place were fascinating. The kimonos were treasured. We fondled the fabric and pored over the designs with such intensity that the texture, colour, weave, pattern, weight and fall of them is still so familiar to me. I think I can even remember how the stains on the hem of the larger one got there.
And now they are a delight to our girls. Wrapped in their kimonos, they did exactly what my sister and I did. They whirled around so the wide sleeves trailed like wings. They tested how tight they could bear the sashes tied. They shuffled along modestly (sometimes) as the outfit requires.
But mostly I delighted as they delighted in a treasured gift, rare and exotic.