I have a Sarah. She’s five-years-old. Her favourite things in the world are Lego, princesses, dancing, making cupcakes and reading books. She’s tempestuous and demanding, alternating sometimes on a minute by minute basis from being a ball of pure sunshine to a dark cloud of a thunderstorm; she keeps us all on our toes. She’s clever and quick and feels things very deeply. She’s emotional and giving and loves her family, her friends, and her school very much.
This last week, my Sarah has heard her name being mentioned in the news frequently, and has kept glancing up to the sound of it. “They keep saying my name,” she told me yesterday morning, while I brushed her hair, with the sound of the Sunday news in the background. “They keep talking about Sarah.”
I nodded, but motioned for my husband to turn the news off. There are some things a five-year-old doesn’t need to know about. Some things that can wait to be explained.
Or can they? It was last night, once both our children were in bed, that I suddenly turned to my husband, with worry in my voice. “When do I start telling her?” I asked him. “When do I start telling her all the things she needs to know? All the things she’ll need to do?”
My husband looked back at me with soft eyes, but made no reply.
Because there is no right answer, at the end of the day. There’s no right answer to a question I can’t believe I even need to think about.
Looking at my Sarah, holding my Sarah, I’m reminded of another mother out there who has lost hers. Her daughter, her Sarah, kidnapped from the London streets and murdered by a man in a position of trust. A woman who was, as we all know too well, just walking home. A woman who did everything ‘right’, all the things we are ‘supposed to do’, and still came to harm from a man.
My Sarah has no real knowledge of wickedness yet. Her ideas of evil are formed from fairytales and stories, stories where predominantly a woman (normally old, with magical powers, envious and wretched) plays the antagonist to a princess protagonist. Men in these stories are the wise old fathers, the handsome princes, or the sturdy farmers. In my Sarah’s world, men are figures of love and affection: the adored big brother, the loved Grandfather, the reliable father. In my Sarah’s world, men are still princes on their white horses. They are still kings on their thrones.
All week I’ve been looking at my Sarah and wondering when I burst that bubble. When I start mentioning things like ‘keys between your fingers, ignore the catcalls, don’t go out alone.’ When I start having to warn and remind. When I start having to check and worry.
In a small way, I suppose I already have. Both my children are very aware of my ‘if you ever get lost’ mantra. “Find a nice looking woman, a Mum or a Grandma, if you can,” I tell them, again and again. “Tell them your name and ask for help.”
I never tell them to find a man. It’s always a woman. The seed is already planted in that way.
This last week has made me so desperately sad, so desperately worried and so desperately angry all at once. Women have started to say out loud, “This is not okay.” Women have started to say, “Why are we the ones who are punished?” Women have started to say, “These are the things we have to do.” Is this the first step in a long walk to a better future? I don’t know. I really don’t.
The only thing I do know is that I have a Sarah, and that in fact, every mother of a daughter does. Sarah in Hebrew means ‘esteemed woman’ and that is what we all are.
We’re all a Sarah. We all know a Sarah.
And in these few last weeks, we lost a Sarah too.
I’m going to give my Sarah a big cuddle when I see her after school today, and at the back of my mind, I’ll be thinking of another mother who cannot do the same. I feel for her and her family so deeply.
Because I have a Sarah.
And they had one too.