Sunshine Sunday ~ Grandparents

Despite my little family moving into my Grandma Joyce’s house the week after she died, I have not spent a lot of time thinking or missing old Joyce. It sounds harsh, but it’s my nature. I do what I do in the present moment, and find it hard to reflect on what’s not immediately present – like my old gran, with the booming voice and the penchant for saying “B-rrrr-own”, like a proper English Lady.

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In her last years, she sat in her cane chair in what is now my little sunshine home, but was then her little cottage. Morning until night, she barely moved, except to toddle to the kitchen to get a black tea, or later in the day a scotch. She sat, cradling her tea by day/scotch by night while Kimba, her Golden Retriever, lay faithfully at her feet. She entertained herself with cooking shows, and her dirty little midday secret, Days of Our Lives (which was promptly shut off as soon as someone walked through the door.)

Her fridge was stocked with five packets of butter, several litres of milk and a whole corned beef roast in case Dylan dropped in for lunch. The pantry was full of several packets of breadcrumbs, and bottles of fish sauce and soy sauce, some of which dated back to 1989. A friend once suggested that perhaps Joyce’s hoarding and tendency to buy five of everything was a lay-over from the Great Depression. But reflecting back herself, Joyce assured me that the Great Depression didn’t affect her in the slightest. She always had plenty.

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Sorting out things from her loft after she died, it appeared that butter and breadcrumbs weren’t the only things she bought in excess. Joyce had seven of the same spotless white canvas shoes, and several ‘uniforms’ from each decade of her later life. The slacks from the 70s, the straight linen dresses of the 80s, and the box linen skirt with matching cotton shirts of the 90s and naughties. All sets were made expertly by a local seamstress, in only the finest materials.

The daughter of business man who drove one of the first cars on the north coast, as she aged, Joyce continued  to choose quality regardless of the price, despite living on a pension.

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She was proud, and known for her ability to talk – about nonsense mostly, or at least something you had heard twenty times before. But people loved her. The butcher brought her cuts of meat and eggs. The woodman came and sat with her and smoked a cigarette inside, because she said it was fine. Lance – I think he’s an electrician – just dropped in for a chat, even when her fridge was working.

She befriended most of the local kids. They’d drop by too. Mr Clifford, the gardener visited most weeks until he died, and fed Kimba under the table. Her great friend, Velma, lived within walking distance, and the two would nag at each other and about each other, but loved each other dearly.

Joyce was loud – proud – looming and sometimes frightening (if you happened to marry one of her children). But she was funny, and warm. When I brought Gregor over to meet her for the first time, she was in her bra and undies, trying to put on her stockings. She didn’t stop talking for a moment, even to put on her clothes.

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Beneath the large glasses were vulnerable watery blue eyes, that welled up with any mention of her children or grandchildren. She couldn’t talk about her late husband Charles without choking up.

In the last year of her life, I visited her with Elfie. I had to put Elfie in a clothes basket before she could sit up, because there was nowhere for her to lay which wasn’t covered in dog hair. I put the first great grandchild – the only one she got to know – at Joyce’s feet, and Joyce taught her to clap hands.

I asked Joyce a few questions about her youth in Mallanganee, and about going to boarding school in Armidale. Her stories were broken, and wandering. They meandered like a dream sequence, and she told me things that made me realise how vulnerable, and how scared she was, despite the occasional haughty English pronunciation of “brown” and “cow”.

Joyce had the best legs on the north coast, according to her doting husband. I read their love letters in their engagement period and could see why she loved him so dearly.

In her last few days, she was half-conscious, not eating and not medicated in hospital. She drifted in and out. When her oldest son sang her The Way You Look Tonight, and whispered that she could leave now and join Charles, she finally let go.

So although I am all stuck in the moment and all that, lately I have been really missing old Joycey. I miss how she drew people together. She was the linchpin of every family occasion. I miss that she rang me and everyone else if there was an event in the family, like a birthday, or someone winning an award. I miss that love I felt emanating from her. Big squishy love. Even in those quiet, lonely hours, someone – Joyce – was in her cane chair, talking about me to her neighbour or an old friend, and I was remembered, and loved.

Tell me about your grandparents, or your children’s grandparents. Do grandparents play a big role in your life? 

Link your stories here for Sunshine Sunday, and drop in to comment on some of the other posts. Next week’s theme is “Ritual”. And if you aren’t already linked up to my FACEBOOK page, I would love to welcome you there.

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Mum

Mum lives about fifteen minutes up the road. She’s the sort of mum who drives up to Robina to pick up a second-hand piano for my daughter. She drops in for an hour or two after her personal training to play with the girls. On a weekend, we’ll go to her and Dad’s place, and she’ll cook a decadent breakfast of roasted tomatoes, poached eggs and smoked salmon.

One of the reasons we moved to to Northern Rivers was to be close to Mum and Dad. Pregnant, down in Melbourne, I asked myself, “Who’s going to drop everything and come and help look after me if I have mastitis, my husband is at work and my baby’s crying all afternoon? Who will come and make me a cup of tea?” The answer was simple. Mum.

We haven’t always lived near each other. Actually, other than a brief period in 2001, we have lived apart since I was 12.

I went to boarding school in Year 7. It was only an hour-and-a-half away. For the first two weeks, I was very brave. I wanted to be there, and it was a big exciting adventure. Two weeks in, I melted down, and Mum was on the other end of the phone, consoling me through my sobs.

The theme continued until I left school in 2000. I think I spoke to Mum every day, or at least wrote her a letter.

When I moved to Melbourne in 2002 to study art history, I was still calling Mum every day. Most days were just filling her in with what had been happening, and sharing the joy of my learning and my plans for the future. Some days though, she was still listening to me blubber – patient, kind, wise. Her words would put me at ease, and I could slip back into my urban life.

In my first year of uni, we went to Bali together for a month. It was the best time – seriously. We shared double beds in guest houses, and Mum encouraged me to take up smoking, insisting we have a kretek cigarette with a coffee on the balcony each morning. Although neither of us were technically smokers, we were going through a pack a day. She bought me a carton Duty Free on our way home.

When I moved the London in 2005, Mum followed me over, and we spent another month together, sharing rooms with ensuites, and breakfast, and belting out Throw Your Arms Around Me as we wound down tiny Irish roads in a hire car.

When she returned home, and left me in my little London flat, Mum had to again burden the weight of my sadness, as I called her from  phone booths in London lane ways. She told me that no boy was worth that kind of sad, and I should move out and experience the world. I didn’t heed her advice, and instead ended up returning to Australia, weighing less than I had ever weighed, with my first wrinkles pinching my eyes. Mum hugged me at the airport.

Back in Melbourne, I was happy again, doing a job I loved and riding a red bicycle. I shared my happiness and my plans for the future with her on the phone every day.

Then I met Gregor. She was happy for me, of course, if not a little surprised when on meeting him for the first time he told her he could imagine having kids with me and living around Byron. I am not sure what you would call the state of her emotion though when I told her, after spending barely a month with Gregor, that we were planning to get married. Something shifted.

We stopped calling every day. When I saw her, our interactions were often fraught and awkward. It seemed that holidays we spent together were dedicated to clearing out cobwebs and other issues that had accumulated in the closet.

Mum had been my best friend all my life – but me meeting Gregor, and deciding to get married on a whim definitely changed things.

Yet she organised our wedding on a hill. She smiled for the cameras.

When Elfie* was born in the early hours of 2010, Mum was the first to visit, bringing champagne and camembert. She had Elfie overnight when Rosie was born. She holds serious Grandma status for my girls – they love her and talk about her continuously. If it’s not Mum and Dad, it’s Mati (aka Grandma). She earned her stripes just by being herself – loving and gentle. Watching her with them makes me realise how much I was loved as a child.

Our relationship changed again when I had children. It grew up. We grew up. We still have the occasional issue to discuss, or email to exchange, but it’s sortable. The water doesn’t run so deep. We don’t call every day, and I don’t tend to call her when I am a blubbery mess – but I need her and love her.

Despite the way our relationship has changed, Mum has always been Mum. And then, the other day, I pulled out a wicker box of old photos from my Grandma Joyce to look at with Elfie. Many of them were printed from slides. Flicking though, Mum suddenly became someone else – Margaret, or Mig. She was not the mum of three kids, living in rural NSW, while her husband worked 80-hours a week. She was not the Mum cradling the phone for hours while her daughter sobbed somewhere in London. She had freckles and a perky look. She sung joyously with her brothers, Paul and Joff. She posed in a cute 70s outfit, and bared her legs on the beach. She was natural and gorgeous and full of life.

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Mum and I

Mum and me… This could be Rosie and me right now.

I loved unravelling the story of my mum – the person she was before me, or even with me before I can remember.

It’s Mother’s Day 11th May. Since having a child of my own, Mother’s Day has been all about me. But this year I reckon I will make it about my mum, Margaret, Mati, Mig, because she had me, and picks up pianos for us, and more.

What are your plans for Mother’s Day this year? Do you have any special Mother’s Day traditions? If you need flowers for your lovely Ma on Mother’s Day, I’ve found a great Australian online florist called Fresh Flowers and they have a lovely range.

What’s your relationship like with your mum?

Pop over and see me anytime of week over on FACEBOOK.

*PS Elfie is the new pseudonom for my oldest daughter, AKA My Little Sunshine Girl. My Little Sunshine Girl can be a little long and wordy when trying to tell and story, and Elfie is a nickname that has a special meaning to us. Just thought I better clear the air in case you were confused, and thought maybe I had had another child in there somewhere!

Sunshine Sunday ~ Night

Sunshine Sunday NIght

I know it’s not really fitting with sunny Sunday mornings, but let’s talk about the night.

As much as I love my sunny days in my sunny home, I really look forward to nighttime.

I look forward to that moment, when at 9pm, I finally ease out of the girls’ bedroom, gently letting go of the door knob. Soft click.

I hurry to my computer, and write down the words that banked up in the quiet, dark hour of putting girls to bed.

I let the floodgates of Facebook Land open, and flick through the hundreds of emails piled up in my inbox. Open. Click. Delete/reply.

Gregor (Husband) waits patiently on the day(night) bed, reading running mags. We reconvene over a glass of vino that’s been sitting out, airing, getting all fruity and smooth.

We crack open the Lindt Lindor Extra Dark, diligently dividing the block into equal parts. One glass of wine, nine squares of extra dark chocolate, the shoulder of one lover to lean on…

We let the day flit between us. Stories of our girls, mainly. How much we love them, how cute they were when they… Did I tell you she said…?

At some point in our career, we may have broken up television nights playing cards, or poker with dice. Now, we go straight to the comedy channel in iView. We don’t have a television, so watch on the computer. It suits us as we can watch programs we want to watch whenever we want to watch them, from the comfort of our over-sized cushions.

Right now, we are enjoying Season 4 of Portlandia and Season 2 of SpacedGreen Wingone of my favourite British comedies just ended. We catch up on news with Shaun Micallef.

When good comedy is running low, we turn to a series on DVD. The latest has been True Blood. I confess I have a bit of a girl crush on Sookie. She’s so cool and strong. And Bill’s very charming for a vampire. Tonight, we’re starting Season 5 of 30 Rock.

With life, work, girls, housework etc. I don’t make a lot of time to lean into my husband, and feel connected through the day. But even without date nights and romantic rendezvous-es, we do fine. Really fine. We are a team, walking in the same direction, sharing a love of comedy shows, Lindt Lindor, good red wine, and of course our daughters. We don’t need much, but without our evenings together, I think we’d struggle.

My favourite part of the night, though, is getting into bed. Soft bamboo sheets. My latex pillow. I have a few good thoughts, then I am gone. Sleep, how I love thee.

How do you maintain a connection with your partner? What are nights to you? What are you watching on television right now?

Share your posts about the night here for Sunshine Sunday. Drop in and comment on other blogs. And if you’re in the mood, come back here next week for “Grandparents” week. If you have any suggestions for weekly themes, I would love to hear them.

Happy warm and sunny Sunday, friends. Pop over and say hi on FACEBOOK if you are about.

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Sunshine Sundays ~ Finding The Music That You Love

Giraffes Can't Dance. We all can dance if we find the music that we love.

I know Woody Allen is taboo at the moment, but I do love his films. One of my favourite scenes is the shower opera from To Rome With Love, where the unknown opera singer, Fabio sings Amor Ti Vieta from Fedora, naked on stage under a running shower.

Fabio’s amazing voice was discovered by Jerry, who is a composer. But when Fabio sung for an audition, he was terrible. Jerry realised though that the world would still have the gift of his voice if Fabio could sing naked, eyes closed, under a running shower.

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I am no Fabio, but I feel like my amazing voice is only heard under running water in the privacy of my shower. To me, it sounds beautiful, full and resonate. And yet, I have only ever had negative feedback from the public.

Singing to Paul Simon or Phil Collins on long car trips as a kid, my younger brother (ironically, now musician Charlie Keller), yelled at me to shut up.

In Year 12, I sang Peter Allen’s Go To Rio on stage at the Gold Coast Arts Centre, when it was noted that I was obviously an actor, not a singer.

Now, my baby girl Rosie has an ongoing joke, that every time I sing her a nursery rhyme, she cries out as if in pain. (*Sad face*)

Will I ever get the appreciation I deserve? Maybe if Woody Allen made me a special shower I could sing from wherever I may go, the world would begin to appreciate my beautiful voice.

But it really doesn’t matter what I sound like, does it? What’s more important is what music does to the soul.

Soul music. It’s the goosebumps that erupt from your skin when you listen to a group  sing their national anthem. It’s the tears that prick your eyes when the Nutcracker plays. It’s Boots of Spanish Leather.

I started singing to my first baby three days into her life. She had discovered her own voice – a deep, pained cry because the world she had entered was painful, and terrifying and still unknown. I held her into my chest and sang a song I have never heard before. A Mama Song. Just for her.

Every day, three or four times a day, I sang to her. Hallelujah. Sweet Low, Sweet Chariot. Amazing Grace. Throw Your Arms Around Me. Rich, syrupy tones. Singing was the antidote to her pain, and helped her sleep. It gave me back my power, and sense of control over the situation. It calmed me.

I took credit, then, when at one, as I pushed her pram through the village, she sang a medley of Twinkle Twinkle, Humpty Dumpty and Baa Baa Black Sheep. She could sing before she could talk.

The sunshine house is no stranger to music. My voice may be second rate, but did you know my husband Gregor is a musician? He spent two decades fiddling around on a guitar and composing experimental punky songs, but has now turned his talent (appropriately) to children’s music.

In the last year or so, he’s written more than enough songs for an album. I’m not biased or anything, but they are really good. The sort of good that gets your toes tapping, and tunes stuck in your head. Naturally he has to practice, so when I am not torturing Rosie with my less than perfect singing voice, he’s entertaining them with his music.

I get the impression that music, like most things, is habitual. It’s bred in bones like good manners. If you play music, sing and create rhythm in your home, you are imbibing your kids with rhythm, or at least a love of music. Think Jamaican reggae, or hip hop from Brooklyn. Or blue grass. The makers of this music grew up living and breathing rhythm. There was no escape.

My little sunshine girl has started piano lessons recently at ISM Alstonville, and we are entering a new domain of music education. This is the more formal type – less heart, swing and rhythm, more do-rae-me.

I am a little at odds with the academic music training – childhood memories of unfulfilling piano lessons in a dark room, and endless resistance against practicing…

So when Sunshine Girl initially resisted piano lessons, and the practice that came with it, I was torn between letting her find her own music – her soul music – and encouraging her to persist, because I know, academically, that music training is good for your brain and all that. See Richard Gill for more – it makes sense.

We are only a couple of lessons in, and her enjoyment of music has crept back into the room. Her report of her last lesson was all good. We’ll go with it, for now, and find the balance between her soul music, and her ability to stick at something she finds challenging. Surely the two become one at some point.

We danced like crazy bears tonight to Dan Zanes Family Dance album, because that’s how we do Witching Hour around here. Gregor took out his guitar, and played his songs for the girls. Our second-hand digital piano arrives this week, and I am excited to fill our house with more music.

Tell me about your relationship to music. What does music mean to you? You can share your posts about music here for Sunshine Sunday. Posts can be old or new. Pop over to your fellow linkers and say hi. Next week’s theme is “Night”. 

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Image from Giraffe’s Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae

Why sleep alone?

helping your child sleep For the first couple of years of her life, getting Sunshine Girl to sleep was a major issue. When I wasn’t feeding her for an hour, I was rocking vigorously singing Hallelujah. Eventually I was able to lie down with her until she slept. It took over an hour some nights. While on holidays with my mum in San Francisco when Sunshine Girl was almost two, I had a breakthrough, and gently as possible encouraged her to fall asleep on her own. But sixth months later, we returned to old habits, and here we are – she’s four, and either my husband or I lie with her for up to an hour until she falls asleep.

“We have to talk about this,” said Dad the other night. Apparently he’d been reading a Ben Elton novel, where one of the characters got his baby to fall asleep after only one night of crying. “You need to make changes.”

“Okay, thanks Dad. But we are happy doing what we are doing,” was my reply.

And we are, generally. Before my second child Rosie was born, I often resented how long it took for Sunshine Girl to go to sleep. But now I look forward to lying down in the dark next to my girl. It’s a chance to reconnect with her, and feel close to her. She touches my ear for comfort, and eventually her body relaxes into sleep. I know my husband also enjoys the quiet, dark hour. He usually has a snooze.

But it’s not about us – it’s about her. Is it good for her to have company while she falls asleep?

My friend came over today and gently suggested that maybe encouraging Sunshine Girl to fall sleep alone would help build her confidence and independence. It’s possible. Hand in Hand Parenting offer resources on the topic.

This last week, Sunshine Girl’s been trying to go to sleep independently. “I want to sleep on my own, like my friends do,” she tells us. She puts herself into bed, we kiss her goodnight and close her door. Fifteen minutes later she calls out. “Can you come? I need a friend.” One of us goes to her, and I’m okay with that. She’s only four, and we really don’t mind.

The conversations with my friend and with my Dad have made me think about why it seems important for children to fall asleep alone.

Until I was about nine, I had a blanky and sucked my thumb. When a mouth plate with spurs made me stop sucking my thumb, I clutched a teddy bear. Even at college, I still couldn’t sleep without holding a bear (…is that embarrassing?) Then I found a man, who trumped the bear, and I couldn’t sleep without him cuddling me. Now I am so desperate to fall asleep, preferably alone, that none of that matters.

Since so much of our human makeup – our wiring, brain activity, etc. – is devoted to building social connections with others it’s interesting to me that aloneness and independence is so highly valued. Why not instead encourage our babies to want company? Why isn’t human connection the underlying value, rather than independence? Surely independence comes on its own at some point. I don’t have the answer – just questions.

I don’t mind that my babies want to feel close to me. In fact, I am grateful. There will be a time that I will be old and redundant, and it will be way too embarrassing for them to lie next to me so they can fall asleep. I am going to treasure this.

Do you lie next to your children until they sleep? What’s your take on this?

Join me over at FACEBOOK for more conversation.

photo credit: demandaj via photopin cc Linking with With Some Grace.

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