As the holiday lingers

We return to home turf after one month, and the residue of Europe lingers in our bones, our fridge, our emotions and our sleep patterns. How do you stretch out a holiday so it lasts as long as possible, even when you have made the return journey?

My holiday lingers in the following:

* 1 kg organic Dutch aged goat’s cheese
* Six olde worlde tea cups
* A bag of second-hand clothes
* 800 photographs
* Five hours laying awake in the middle of the night
* The starter for the best sourdough bread ever made.

I also carry with me a renewed love of group living. In the first house-hold we stayed in lived six people, and the second house-hold had eight. In principle, I have never objected to group living. It makes a lot of sense, when it works. You need fewer resources between people (environmental and ethical), you always have company, there is a shared sense of working together on a project, there is always someone to wash up, you have endless capacity for conversation…The trick is, achieving perfect harmony within the group. You are always bound to have personality clashes and power imbalances. How does a group do this?

I realised after a month of living among a group that the keys to communal living include:

* Respect
* Co-operation
* The ability to listen to each other
* The ability to bend in the wind
* Love
* Humour.

It was wonderful for Elka to be in a large group of people. She always had someone to talk to and play with. At times I would find myself unexpectedly reading a novel, and would look up suddenly, asking “Where’s Elka?”. Rest assured, her sweet voice would float from upstairs or downstairs or from the kitchen as she giggled with and entertained one of her new “friends”. The mother’s load suddenly became lighter. I was there for cuddles following falls, or rescuing Elka from dangerous animals (e.g. bunnies and cats), or putting Elka to sleep at night. The rest of the time, she was happy with anyone. Oh, to live in a village with Aunties and Grandmas and Sisters and Cousins, all sharing in the love and responsibility of a child…And seeing her personality flourish made me realise how great it is for a child to be among influences other than her parents alone.

After five years at boarding school and another four in share houses, though, I know I am temperamentally not well suited to group living. My need for absolute harmony is unrealistic. My tolerance of inequality is low. My need to be alone or with a loved one is too high. As much as I love the thought of communal lifestyle, and love to be a group member for a while, part of me is relieved to be home with my little nuclear family, where life is simple and rhythms are familiar. I have my company in the form of a two-year-old and a 6’5″ man. We tarry along.  Familiar, loving, close.

The cheese will not last more than  a couple of days. I am hoping the teacups don’t break and the photographs last forever. I can only hold onto my European holiday for so long until the residue seeps into the rest of my ordinary, everyday life.

Rain, cheese and some bicycles

A flower from the forest

There was a moment there when I thought I would never again sleep after 4am. Lying awake, listening to the church bell dime four times was like torture, knowing I would not go back to sleep. My main concern, of course, was that I would at some point have to move or sneeze, which would wake Elka. It’s funny how the priority of travelling AC (After Children) becomes ensuring the child in question gets enough sleep. When travelling BC (Before Children), the priority was deciding which museum to go to and which pub to drink at.

We are well rested now. I suppose that was the famous Jetlag in action.

We are in The Netherlands…a country of bikes, cheese and rainy weather. I love it here. I love the healthy faces bitten by cold as people ride just about every where – holding hands, talking on phones and never wearing helmets. I love the endless variety of cheese. I don’t love the rain, because after an Australian summer of endless rain, I am over it. But I love the neat gardens – tiny packages of blooming magnolia, perfect hydrangea and weeping cherry blossoms. I love the old buildings, huddled together as if keeping warm. I love the stylish, interesting shops full of beautiful quality things. I love walking through the forest on paths lined with birch, with leaves so fragile and iridescent against the grey clouds. A bunny hops past into the fields of jonquils. As I ride on my bike with Elka on the back. I imagine myself living here, and I dream about how we can make it possible.

I particularly love the family we are staying with. When I say family, I mean my sister-in-law and the five friends she lives with. They run a company together that creates art and light and beautiful glass works. They eat together, share all the chores and responsibilities and live…harmoniously. There is so much warmth in this old Dutch home, with steep, narrow staircases and ornamental marble floors. People kiss each other on the mouth to greet each other. They share the conversation, like a loved animal passed around the table. Despite lack of sleep, Elka has thrived in this beautiful home. She cuddles up with any of the family members, sits on their laps and tells them a story excitedly. She refuses to let me put her in bed because she knows she will miss out. She tells them she loves them. She sings silly songs about them. Within a day, she felt at home.

We leave here tomorrow for the next instalment – two weeks in Austria, staying in another communal home, which is the home of Greg’s father. But after a week, perhaps I will be scheming about moving there instead.

Walking in the forest with “My Mother”

At Burger’s Zoo

Kunst en Licht

A little cold and wet

In Utrecht

Another leaf

And so it goes…I spent Good Friday crying in a park. Tears don’t come easily any more. Once a wet blubbery mess now I only choke up when someone wins a race or the love birds get together at the end of the movie. For whatever reason, a wall came up at some point  and dammed the river.

Yesterday though was enough to break the wall. Two days of “I want my Daddy” and then a tired little girl crying herself silly because she couldn’t get herself to sleep. We pulled over in the Ballina botanical gardens and I thought I would take her in the sling to get her to sleep. I thought it would nurture our mother-daughter bond. Instead, she screamed louder “I want my Daddy!”, her face a wet mess. At that point the wall came down, and beside a lake of lily pads dappled with sunlight, I howled.

For the first time, in her distress, my daughter didn’t want me. I couldn’t help her. The pain was unforgivable.

I know it wasn’t rational. My husband rationally explained the situation away. But I couldn’t escape the hurt. So much of my motherhood and contentedness of the last two years has hinged on the fact that I have felt unconditional boundless love. Now it felt that conditions applied and it was just little old me alone in the world. Let’s not kid ourselves that kids complete us and we will never feel lonely again.

In my husband’s rational explanation I found one strand to hold onto, although it seemed ludicrous. A few days ago Elka very reasonably decided that I couldn’t carry her in the sling because I was carrying a baby and she was too heavy for me. So she would go with Daddy. Very reasonable. And only days later, I was insisting on carrying her in the sling, despite it being bad for me and the baby. It was just possible that in her mind this all made sense.

That evening, she graciously allowed me to put her to bed, and snuggled into me. She was sad that I had to go to work this morning. And then after work, when I was carrying her, she said, ‘No, Mummy you have a baby. I am too heavy. Daddy can carry me.’

Is it possible that I can still underestimate the emotional intelligence and kindness of my daughter? A new leaf was turned, only to reveal a deeper and more considerate side to my child. Whoever says that children under three are egotistical are wrong. And whoever says that motherhood is a selfless act only need hear my story. I am just as selfish in motherhood as I ever was. Perhaps I should open my heart to my child and learn more.

A new leaf

The time has come for this little mama to take off her crown of “most loved in the world” and hand it to the other main contestant…Daddy.

I know it’s irrational. Jealous. Selfish. But I am struggling a little tonight as my daughter wants “my daddy” to put her to bed and enthusiastically waves her mummy out of the room.

I know I should be happy. Happy for my husband, as the warm glow spreads across his face, his chest and all through his being.

Happy that my daughter trusts others and wants to venture out into the world without me.

That my husband is a beautiful, loving father towards whom my daughter feels affectionate.

This is my first taste of knowing how it feels for my daughter not to need me.

Once attached to womb, then the boob, then to my arm and then to my presence in the room. Now, a brave warrior, she waves goodbye and tells me she’ll be fine.

My motherly instinct cries in pain at the thought of rejection. I feel lonely. Isolated. Unwanted. This is my irrational self longing for that child that needed me so.

My motherly wisdom tells me solemnly that it is healthy for children to need others in their life. She loves me just as dearly. She now has the words and the expression to share that love with others close to her.

I sway between my instinct and my wisdom, leaning into the comfort of the warm imprint she has left in my heart. Her little voice lingers in my ears and the warmth from her hand is still felt on my cheek.

Sweet little angel of mine

I am still hanging out for those terrible twos to begin. We are nearly four months in, and we have not had a hint or whisper of anything remotely terrible. On the contrary, my dear friend. Elka is an angel. Heaven sent to improve us mere mortals, educating us in the ways of kindness, love and affection. A few scenarios to enlighten you about her glorious nature…

Recently, my husband got into a bit of a debate with someone close to us. Tension flicked between them, but for Elka’s sake, and everyone else’s, my husband composed himself, hiding his emotion behind a blank expression. Elka sidled up and held his shorts. She looked up at her daddy and asked: “Poppy, are you OK?” She stroked his leg with her warm little hand.

On the weekend, I was staying at my parents, and I feverishly eyed off my father’s iPad in all its iGlory. “Can I have a turn, Dad?” I asked.
“Sure,” he says, “but please be careful!” I promised I will, but as I am handing it back across the table, it slips from its protective sleeve and lands face down with a bang.
“Bloody hell!”
“Shit, sorry!” Voices erupt in dismay.
Suddenly, Elka is at my side. “It’s OK Mama, don’t worry,” she says, with the wisdom of the Dalai Lama. “It’ll be alright.” Of course, she was right, and we had all acted erratically. It only took a two year-old to bring us back to reality.

Elka spends most of the day listening to “The Smartest Giant in Town”, by Julia Donaldson, on audio CD. The giant is sad because he’s scruffy. The giraffe is sad because his neck is cold. The mice are sad because their house burnt down. The fox is sad because he dropped his sleeping bag in a puddle. “Poor giant,” says Elka, her head cocked to one side, “really sad!” And so she continues to sympathise with the ill fortune of the characters in the book. Elka applies the same sentiment to most things – dollies, teddies, duckies… “Oh, poor {insert name here}. Really sad!” She prescribes breastfeeding, hugs or walking them singing Hallelujah.

Sharing has been an issue much discussed amongst friends with toddlers. Believe me, Elka has had her “Mine!…No! It’s MINE!” days. But mostly, she approaches a child with an outstretched hand bearing a gift. “Here you go,” she offers with her kind, warm voice and her doey brown eyes intent on revealing her best intentions. Having  very recently been shy, or so she told us, only yesterday she was in a cafe sandpit when she approached a child she had never met before with a toy from the sand. “Here you go…do you want to play with this one?” The child, flabbergasted at the generosity, accepted her gift and the two played merrily until the babycino arrived.

When I take her on the toilet, she says, “Thank you Mama. Thank you for helping me.” She asks politely for things she wants. She thanks us for everything she is given. We honestly made no attempt to teach her manners.

Elka is also affectionate. Always a co-sleeper and a sharer of blankets, she has recently taken to sharing my pillow and tickles my ears with each hand as she falls asleep. She breathes sweet milky breath directly into my face. I have to admit, I love it. If she has had a conversation with you for more than a minute or if her parents kiss you goodbye, good luck leaving without a big fat Elka-kiss on the lips. If you kiss her cheek, she will request a rematch. If you are related or spend any amount of quality time with her, she will cuddle into you on the couch and press her little head into your chest.

She loves like I have never seen another person love. Sometimes she gets “cwanky” but she’ll own it, and name it and not reject you or blame you for how she feels. She will rationally explain her state as caused by tiredness or hunger or thirst or just because she’s cwanky. Usually, she will self-medicate with a bottle of milk or Playschool to “feel better”.

Although my husband and I are generally kind to one another and try to be kind to those we know, I can’t quite believe how kind and sweet our daughter is. Where does she get such wisdom? As a tiny baby, she taught me patience, strength and resilience. As she grows, she teaches me kindness, love and forgiveness. Although I have a supportive husband and family, it is Elka that makes my life as a mother easy. I glide through without barely a whimper because she is magic.

Whatever becomes of you, Elka, piercings, tattoos or inappropriate leather-lad boyfriends, I would just like you to know that when you were two, you weren’t terrible. You were angelic.