Bamboo Mother

bamboo mother

You know you are winning as a parent when your three-year-old cries for over an hour each night, and finally falls asleep at 9.30 – 10pm, a perfectly reasonable time for a small child.

After books are finished, and lights are out, I am calm. I lie peacefully beside her, remaining quiet in the face of escalating requests: milk, food, pyjamas, no pyjamas, blanket, song, no song etc… The later it gets, the stronger the emotion and the more ridiculous the requests, and while I take myself away to pretty places in my mind, or try and sing a soothing song, {which is probably more soothing for me than her} my emotions too are rising.

If the episode really does take an hour or more, I often snap. I stand, strut out of the room, frustrated. Or her little, strong legs start hurtling down on top of me, and it’s impossible for me to lie calmly.

‘That’s it!’ I cry, exasperated. ‘I’ve had enough! I have to get Dad.’

Of course, the emotions escalate further…and if I don’t return to a quiet, calm place beside her, there’s no end to it.

Most nights, once sleep is finally achieved, I leave the room feeling battered and weary. The wonderful day just gone is forgotten, as my adrenalin and cortisol levels have left me feeling rubbish, and in need of Netflix and chocolate. I abandon all my evening’s creative aspirations, vent to Husband, and collapse.

Mostly, I am mad at myself, for at some point cracking. For losing my calm, and my cool. For getting exasperated.

But, there was one night, recently, where an hour had passed, and I finally stood with her in my arms. My legs were strong {thanks to jump squats}, and my arms too {thanks to the twelve push ups I do once a week}. She leaned into me, all 24 kilos of her, crying heavily. And I breathed her in deeply. Exhaled.

‘It’s okay,’ I said into her sodden hair. ‘You can cry. Just cry. It’s okay.’

She cried with relief, then, for about a minute, and fell asleep.

I held her, calm and strong, and an image came to be then, which felt like an aspiration for motherhood.

Bamboo.

Strong, yet flexible. You can build houses with bamboo, yet it can bend in the wind. It’s persistent, consistent, and all consuming.

Standing with my jump squat strong legs, and push up strong arms, with an enormous child in my arms reminded me that calm, strong and flexible, like bamboo is what I need to be.

Death and a rabbit named Crunchy

rabbit

Our rabbit, Crunchy, died in the week. She was about three, and lived a happy life, grazing on rabbit-ish food, and snuggling with her sister, Cosy.

She was the bitey one – the one that nibbled your clothes and jumped up to say hello when you went into the enclosure to feed them.

She was slightly less cuddly than her sister, kicking her legs to escape if you tried to pick her up.

She contracted myxomatosis. After a couple of days of suffering, we put her down.

My older daughter came back from the vet carrying a calico bag.

She sat with it comfortably on her lap.

‘This is Crunch,’ she told me.

‘Oh,’ I said. She was so casual.

We buried Crunchy in the back garden. My daughter decorated the grave with feathers and frangipanis.

Later, she came into my office, crying. Howling.

‘I just can’t stop thinking of Crunch,’ she said. ‘I want her back.’

I felt sorry for the other little rabbit, Cosy. She’d lost her side-kick. She sat morosely in her enclosure, probably not aware that Crunch wasn’t coming back.

My daughter’s sobs got louder. Then – ‘Cut off my hair, Mum,’ she said.

I checked to make sure. But yes, she definitely wanted me to cut her hair. She wanted it short short – a little Dutch bob.

It looked adorable. Her spring returned. She grabbed the pile of hair off the floor, and put it on Crunchy’s grave.

‘Now my hair’s short, I’ll never forget Crunch,’ she told me.

My littler one is only three. She too talked openly and curiously about death. The other day she told my husband:

“Dead is when you close your eyes and dream about animals. Nice animals. Not mean animals.”

Meanwhile, little Cosy lay quietly, not munching. Not doing much.

Then the other night, I heard a little scuffle. It sounded like it was coming from the rabbit enclosure. In the morning, I checked. Little Cosy ran to and fro, scrabbling bits of grass and straw in her mouth, and running it into her cubby. She was making a nest.

Sure, she may have just been on heat {though she’s de-sexed}, but it felt like it was part of her grief process. Like my daughter’s was to cut her hair, she had to do something to process something too big.

My husband, who was never really sure about the idea of having rabbits, was characteristically practical about the whole dead rabbit thing.

‘At least, if nothing else, having pets teaches kids about death,’ he said.

Well, I guess that’s something.

Image from Adam Harvey

Home is where the magic is

 

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We looked at a property the other day. It was steep, looking over an escarpment into the Richmond Valley. It was beautiful. My daughters ate from mulberry trees. There were mature orange trees and other fruits. There were two building entitlements, and lots of other scope for the property. The building land was surrounded by rainforest and stones. Magical places to adventure. The child in me who grew up in forest squealed with excitement. This was the nature dream I was chasing. I knew it then, standing on the escarpment.

My kids ran around, and then, very inconveniently, needed to go to the toilet. We had to drive miles to find one, because although the lot was magical, it didn’t have a toilet.

Coming out of the supermarket, we passed a bits and pieces store.

‘We need to buy something,’ my youngest said.

‘No, we don’t,’ I said, in my bossy, affirmative mum voice. ‘What we need to do is get back to Dad and the real estate agent.’

‘But we need to buy bricks,’ said my daughter, innocently. Duh. Of course. Bricks. To build.  ‘And a toilet,’ she added.

We didn’t buy bricks, or a toilet. We didn’t buy the land either, because when we came home and did the maths, we realised we were dreaming. Literally. Selling. Buying. Living off nothing while we build. The adventurous gypsy in me craves it. But the pragmatist knows it’s pretty dumb. We have a nice abode. It’s modest. But it’s comfy, and it’s affordable, and it’s near a small playpark.

I walk round my suburb sometimes and feel a bit depressed. I think it’s the excessive brick and tile factor. And the fact that we are surrounded by people, but I don’t know a single one. It’s spoilt of me, I know, but I can’t shake that feeling that the gypsy in me is in the wrong place.

I was carrying my depressed feelings with me on a walk down to the post box the other day. My effervescent daughter scooted beside me on the scooter she’s decorated herself.

‘I love it here. It’s so magical,’ she said.

Her sweet words shook me out of myself. ‘Magical? How?’

‘Oh, the frangipani tree. And the old fig tree. Where Moon Face lives. And silky.’

She’s right. Two little munchkins climbing the frangipani tree is magical. As are the conversations had with imaginary Moon Face and Silky underneath the magnificent fig tree down the road from us. It’s completely magical.

And when you are a kid, magic is everywhere.

When I was growing up, Mum talked  about wanting to move towards the coast. I think she probably felt a bit like I do now, walking around my brick and tile suburb. Something in her wanted something else. But like my daughter, I thought where we lived was magical. I had my own magical tree – an old olive tree, I used to sit in for hours telling stories to myself. The dull grey grass paddocks which probably did nothing for my mum were the landscape of my magical universe.

Magic is everywhere when you are a kid.

I wonder how we can bottle this magic – take it with us into adulthood. Be satisfied with what we’ve got and find magic in everything around us.

To be honest, I’ve been feeling a bit flat since my book tour. It’s a bit to do with working hard, and a lot to do with life not being so glamorous. So normal. When I feel down, I dream big. And bigger. I find myself on real estate websites, looking at land. Fantasising. My husband comes along for the ride, and we binge on our dreams until we feel sick, and sick of figures. And then the dream is over, because we know the reality. And we come sailing back down to earth.

The other night though I came home from a bubbly, fun session at choir. The house husband had washed up, swept all the floors and had put the children to bed. A present my daughter had made for her friend sat wrapped in beautiful homemade paper on the kitchen table. I felt a swell of peace.

This is home. This is magic. This is enough.

The memory makers + the memory takers

memory makers and memory takers

Hanging out with one of my best friends in the whole entire world last weekend made me realise something.

I have a terrible memory.

My friend recalls details about my past I have no recollection of. She remembers the details of my 20th birthday – who stayed where and what we did. My memory of the day is sparse.

She remembers every little aspect of our trip to India together. Of when we first met. Of studying together.

I am so grateful to have a friend who also doubles as a memory bank, and only wish I had met her when I was five. Or earlier, preferably.

As I sort through the debris of my memory, there are icons that stand out.

From my childhood, it’s my special imagination olive tree, where I spent days cooped up in its branches. I remember the barren paddocks. The kangaroos on dusk. I remember being followed by our old German Shepard, Sammy, as we walked through the scrub.

Through my adult years, the particularly traumatic, or the particularly emotional moments are the memorable ones. Any occasions coupled with alcohol are vague wisps of something reminiscent of memory.

Memories are so important, aren’t they? Aren’t they – us? We are but a sum of our memories.

I think about this a lot in relation to my kids. What memories are we making for them? Each little day, piled on another day. Those moments, cutting out paper on the kitchen floor, or swinging in the hammock, or playing in the sand…this collection of moments in time. Which ones will stick? Hopefully the good ones?

As I take my phone out to snap a particularly important moment – a lost tooth – for instance, I think about this process of memory keeping. If I take a photo on my phone, am I purchasing insurance for my memory of that moment – or my child’s memory?

When I need to remember something in particular, I write it down. Even if I never read the note again, the act of writing helps commit the memory. Is it the same with taking photos?

Maybe. Maybe not. There are a million photos stacked on my hard drive, and in books, and on my computer. My husband thinks it’s ludicrous. I will never ever get to look at all those photos surely. But I haven’t the heart to delete them. I have to keep them. This bank of memories. It’s much more reliable than my own sieve.

I wonder sometimes whether the act of taking the photo itself diminishes my ability to simply remember the moment.

When we travelled when Elka was about two, I was walking back down the mountain, and she was running towards me. The joy on her face, and the childish enthusiasm of her run made me want to snap a picture. I did. And she immediately turned on her heel, and ran away from me. It was like popping a bubble. The moment evaporated with the click of my camera.

Lately, I find my memory’s worse than usual. And the reason why is obvious. There is so so much to remember.

I don’t mean commitments, or appointments etc. I remember those things quite easily.

I am busy, yes, with preparing for the launch of my book, and the other things on my plate. But it’s more than that.

We are flooded constantly with potential stimulus for memory. Each time I scroll through social media, the list of things I could potentially remember exponentially grows. And grows.

Trawling social media feels a little like using a metal detector on the beach. We look and look, and wait for something to stick. And at last the beep goes off, and that particularly cute image of a cat wearing glasses glues.

And the minefield of visual information is competing with the actual stuff in my life I should be remembering.

Like that wonderfully cute and hilarious thing Rosie said the other day. What was it again, that made us crack up so much? I have no idea. I swear to myself I need to write those comments and quotes down when they happen – not later, because later they are definitely forgotten.

I wonder what all these images, and all this information will do to our collective future memory. Will it be sharper, as we expose ourselves to more? Or will it diminish, as we rely more and more on technologies to remember things for us? {Phone numbers. Calendar dates. Passwords…} Maybe there’s just not enough space in our tiny human brains to handle the vast amount of material coming our way.

So, this week, I am conscious about where I place my attention. I am going to aim to place it carefully on things that matter. Precious moments with my children. A beautiful children’s book. I am going to gaze into that moment, and let it gel. Then, when it has settled, I’ll break my gaze and carry on.

And I really should remember to write that stuff down. And take a photo.

How’s your memory? And how do you make it better?

Into darkness :: How the darkness has become my creative mentor

into darkness

The night is quiet. Well, almost.

A little chatter comes from one side of me. A sound – like a twitch, if you can imagine that, comes from the other.

There is tossing. Turning. My arm is in the wrong place, apparently. So is the blanket. More tossing. More turning. This can last for over an hour.

Not long ago, putting two squiggly children to sleep drove me somewhere in the direction of insane. I breathed deeply, trying to keep my cool. But if one squiggly child seemed to be sleeping, then the other slightly more squiggly child squiggled in the wrong direction, and woke the sleeping child up only to begin the hours more of squiggly activity – my temper would crack open.

‘Enough!’ I would yell into the not so quiet night. ‘Enough! You children need to sleep!’  The children would cry. My arms would tense around them. More tears.

I would, of course, feel awful.

From the minute my first child was born {five and a half years ago}, my up and down relationship with the night began. I have been blessed with beautiful, beautiful children who are blessed with squiggly genes.

And because we are the parents we are, and we believe the stuff we do, we’ve decided to lie next to them to guide them into sleep.

One squiggly child is enough. But two is more than twice the work. They keep each other awake. And fuss is contagious, apparently.

Earlier this year, my sanity was in shaky ruins. It was give up altogether, or rope my husband into lying-down duties. My youngest wouldn’t like it, but she would have to learn to, otherwise mummy would flip altogether.

So we started taking turns. After a couple of days of resistance, my youngest accepted that one night was mummy’s turn and one night was daddy’s turn.

My sanity returned. My guilty-mum levels plummeted. And I suddenly had an extra two to three hours a week of time to spend writing.

Now that my lying down responsibilities have halved, I have come to enjoy them. And my creativity needs them. That hour-and-a-half of darkness is essential to opening channels in my mind. I process stuff, and then ideas start to drift across. Stories and characters form.

As a new mum, getting my baby to sleep was probably the challenge I found hardest. Singing Hallelujah on loop as I rocked her incessantly felt like a strange kind of torture.

But what has been most challenging has also been about the best thing for me as a person generally and as a creative person. I have learned patience, yes. And in a busy life, I am forced, in a way, into a kind of creative meditation.

It’s almost magic, what the dark can do to a mind.

Do you have any creative pockets in your day? Are your children good at going to sleep?

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