Lilly Martin Spencer, “Domestic Happiness”, 1849. Source: dia.org
The house I grew up in was a project, much like my family. My father would pick up bits and pieces from scrap yards and skips and the deadwood and bolt them into the rest of the house, a little like my mother did with my siblings. The heart of the home was the kitchen, at least I think it is the earliest room that I remember. I have a recollection of sitting on the split linoleum as a toddler, splashing a plastic toy in and out of a washing-up tub as my mother was kneading bread and flour sifted down onto the surface of the water. Mother says I must have made this up, that I was too young to remember, but accusing me of an over-active imagination was really one of her only criticisms of me. I knew my parents had always wanted me, because they told me so. They had chosen me when I was only a tiny baby, and then when I turned six they had taken in two more children, my new brother and sister. My parents loved me and looked after me, gave me a strict but fair upbringing, and considered the most important things in life were to be both good and kind.
They called me Sienna, and I never knew whether this was the name my birth mother had given me, or whether it had been changed before I knew that I had been chosen. The year before my brother and sister came to the house Papa made a sandpit in the small yard that counted as our garden. He spent a week of evenings after work cutting and measuring planks of wood, cutting small crescents of plywood to act as seats. He worked with his shirt off, glasses fogging slightly with the exertion, and I squatted next to him in bright pink shorts and red wellies, sucking my thumb. There’s a photo somewhere, just after he had filled it with sand and declared it finished. He is smiling, his hair slightly curled with sweat, and I am sitting happily with a bucket and spade, staring up at somewhere beyond the camera. Each corner of the sandpit has a seat, and there I am in the middle without a care in the world. It was before I learnt that, for people like my parents, nothing can ever be considered complete.