Sunny mornings and an afternoon glow

Easter

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Easter6 The sun bathed these little bunnies as they hopped around the garden, searching for eggs. Elfie graciously gave every second egg to her keen sidekick.

They proceeded to destroy themselves on chocolate.

Family came over. We ate good food and drank champagne in the garden among teapots of flowers.

As the sun hung low and orange over the The Serpentine in Ballina, the girls attached themselves to a crew of children hunting for hermit crabs. There was simplicity and peace in that late afternoon glow. The phone sat forgotten on the kitchen bench at home. We were bare footed, and the hem of my dress was wet from crouching in shallow waters.

“Hand?” said the littlest one, holding out her hand for a tiny meeny hermit crab.

I have never known two small children to fall asleep faster than they did tonight. Good night, Easter. ‘Til next year.

How was your Easter? What simple pleasures have you enjoyed lately?

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The House Husband

the house husband

He wakes to the sound of small voices, and the coffee machine. Reluctantly, he drags himself out of bed. The sleep-in (or so called) is the last luxury for the day. He weighs himself and performs other morning rituals before breakfast.

Coffee, breakfast, and then his wife tidies away her plate and coffee cup and disappears into the office. It is his task for the next seven point five hours to keep small children busy, so they don’t clamber over their mummy trying to work.

Between washing up breakfast plates and cleaning the coffee machine, he monitors his youngest scaling various pieces of furniture, and answers his older daughter’s requests for assistance as she puts together a puzzle.

Like magma, toys flow away from the centre of the volcano, pooling in the centre of the living room. Shoes are distributed across the room. The house husband picks his way across the debris towards the garden, carrying the full washing basket to the line.

“Dad!” one girl calls. “I need you!”

“Dad!” another calls. “E-I-E-I-O!”

“Dad! I need a Jutie!”

“Moo!”

“Just one second, girls,” he calls back. “Just have to finish this. Okay, here’s your Jutie.”

“Dad! I need an ear!”

Next thing, the house husband is lying on the day bed between two children – each drink from their milk bottle AKA Jutie, and each hold a Daddy ear.

“Okay, girls, we need to go shopping now.”

There’s a parade of feet. One after the other, and after much debate, they choose their attire, and the patient house husband dresses them to the specific requirements.

“Right, shoes!” Again, a hustle, as the shoes are sought and found, and then the hats, then the sunscreen.

“Bye, Mum! See ya, Mum. Bye!” They march to the car, and the house husband straps them in.

They do the shopping, and stop by the play park for an obligatory play before heading home for lunch.

When they return, the toy magma flow continues. He feeds the children, and then sets the older child up with the iPad, while he takes the younger one for her sleep. He holds the toddler to his chest, singing softly as he rocks. When her eyelids close, he places her gently into the cot.

His attention is now on his older girl. She wants to build a city, so together they saw, and paint blocks of wood left over from a building project. They talk Dutch while they work.

The toddler wakes. “Dancing!” she points to the piano, and then heads to her cupboard to fetch a dress. He goes through the dressing ritual once more – dresses specific for the occasion.

While they dance, the house husband dons his apron, and prepares the dinner. He finely chops the garlic, onion, beetroot, aubergine, and zucchini. He sautes the vegetables in spices, like fennel and cardamom. He loves experimenting with flavours.

At last his wife is done for the day, and if there is time, he sneaks out for a run before dinner, while she hangs out with the girls.

After dinner, he lets her bathe them, and play with them before their bedtimes, as he washes up

While his wife takes the girls to bed, he folds the washing in neat piles, restrains the cascade of toys, and sweeps away the dust and grime accumulated from the day. He’s still going while she blogs (about him).

“The only way you can appreciate what women have done for families for hundreds of years is to become one yourself,” he reflects as he sweeps.

At 9pm, he is done. It’s been a full thirteen or fourteen hours of domesticity, and he longs to put on his ear phones, and work on his music tracks, or simply sit next to his wife with a glass of vino, and chocolate, watching comedy.

Do you have a house husband? 

I am giving away two hardback copies of How I Love You, Anna Pignataro’s new book from Scholastic. Follow the prompts to enter.

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For more tales from the sunshine house, visit me over at Facebook. You can also sign up for my monthly newsletter, where I occasionally run giveaways for subscribers, and update you with the latest sunshine news.

Linking with Essentially Jess for IBOT.

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.

JOyce

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.

Sunshine Sundays

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The escape

It is dark. I sit in my comfy chair, breastfeeding. My baby nuzzles into me, her sleepy eyes shutting, shutting…they close. While it is lovely sharing this intimate moment with her, it’s been a long day, and am pleased to feel her body relax against mine. I have a Lindt chocolate bar in the fridge, waiting to be snapped in two for Husband and I. Mad Men is already in the disc drive of the laptop…

I gently glide Baby into her cot. It is a swift movement, mastered over many nights of transferring sleeping babies to cot. She stirs, and I place my hand gently on her side. I shush quietly. Eyes flicker, but she sleeps.

I count in my head – 1, 2, 3 – … 50. I am confident now her sleep is deep enough for me to prise my hand from her side, one finger at a time. She doesn’t move.

I stand in the dark for a moment longer, waiting to see whether my touch has been missed. No. Good.

With stealth, and courage, I place my heel on the ground, and roll my foot down. Another footstep. These are the silent steps only a well-seasoned parent can make.

I reach the door. My hand waits gingerly on the knob. I turn, millimetre by millimetre. It squeaks – just a tiny squeak. I freeze, but all is quiet. I keep turning, then lift and pull the door open at exactly the right speed to minimise squeakage. It squeaks, sounding like a garbage truck in the night’s stillness. Light fills the room, and Baby is sitting in her cot, crying out for me.

Inhale. Exhale.

And repeat.

Put Baby on breast. Feed until asleep. Place with great care in cot. Lift hand. Count to 50. Step away. Pause. Walk with stealth of a ninja towards to door. Open door with fear and trepidation. Door squeaks. Light floods in.

Damn! and Repeat!

Put Baby on breast. Feed until asleep. Place with great care in cot. Lift hand. Count to 150. Do a downward dog pose to while away another minute. Step away. Pause. Walk with stealth of a ninja towards to door. Open door with fear and trepidation. This time, I will turn knob and push door with even greater deftness. I will remain patient and calm. The Lindt chocolate beckons me – a luring whisper from the fridge. Please set me free, I whisper as I lift, push, lift, push…Light seeps in, but only a slither at a time. I push further, my breath held.

It’s open. I glide out, and close the door behind me, releasing the knob with surgical precision. It clicks into place – my breath is still held.

Baby cries out.

I am done. That Lindt is never happening, nor is Mad Men. But what can I do? Not all nights are like this. I am just going to go with it.

I lift her out of the cot, and hang my head back against the chair as I feed. My eyes are closed. I breath out. Long, deep breaths. This. This is it – not a big deal. Just a baby who needs me more than usual tonight. Maybe she’s not well. Maybe she’s thirsty, teething…don’t know. Whatever the reason, I let go, and sink into the moment of her and me, sitting in the dark.

Time slides away – maybe I do too, but she is well and truly asleep when I place her in her cot. With ease, I open the door.

Husband, the Lindt chocolate, Mad Men and I hit the couch.

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Linking with lovely Jess for IBOT because it’s Tuesday and With Some Grace for FYBF.

Hands Free Mama

Hands Free Mama book

Rosie stood dressed and waiting, shoes on, at the door. My older daughter lay on the day bed, also waiting. We were going to our friend’s exhibition opening in Bangalow. Somehow I found it very important, at that moment, to take a ‘selfie’ to post on Instagram. The caption was something about going out to an art gallery on a Saturday afternoon etc.

“Come on, Mum,” said my three-year-old, clearly fed up. “Put down that stupid thing, and let’s go.”

It’s not the first time she has asked me to put down “that stupid thing”. She particularly hates it when I interrupt our play (which she is so immersed in) to capture the moment on Instagram. She turns away from the camera, annoyed. Looking back at photos of her on Instagram, I realise that she comes across like a grumpy-bum. She’s not at all. In fact she’s joyous. It’s just that every time I capture our moment on the phone, the magic of the present is snapped in two, and she feels ripped off.

I am not the most distracted mama in the world, but I am conscious of the phone and it’s place in our family life, particularly lately as I read Rachel Macy Stafford’s first book Hands Free Mama. 

As Rachel herself puts it, Hands Free Mama is ‘a guide to putting down the phone, burning the to-do list, and letting go of perfection to grasp what really matters.’

Using anecdotes, personal experiences, weekly intentions and reflections, Rachel gently nudges you into realising how easy it is to become distracted from the wonderful present with your children.

She talks about ‘sunset moments’, which are the incredible things that happen in our daily life, which often go undetected and unobserved as we scurry through, busy with life. A sunset moment can be as small and as easily missed as realising your child holds your hand longer than necessary as you walk through the parking lot.

She talks about making memories, and creating ‘well-loved’, dog-eared children. She talks about turning idle times into an opportunity to connect with your child, and hear about their day, rather than a chance to scroll through your Facebook feed. She talks about jumping into the water and getting your hair wet, as you play, fully present with your child.

I realised as I was reading this book that the time spent with children gives us the opportunity to truly connect with another person, and to let go of material or otherwise meaningless stuff, as we submerge ourselves in the present moment with our children.

It’s not always a natural thing to do, and I struggle with it, as my mind tends to wander towards my blog, or things I have read in the news…I am even thinking about soft furnishings as I sit down and play with my daughter. She asks me a question, and I reply with a ‘Uh-huh,’ and she scolds me for using a ‘squeaky voice’ but what she means is that I am being ingenuine, and have obviously not been listening to what she was saying. She is spot on every time. You read it in inspirational quotes, but it’s true – children can teach us if we are willing to learn.

My husband spent seven years living among Buddhists, and several of those practicing Buddhism at a retreat centre. He worked hard to achieve peace, and connectedness with the moment and other beings as he conditioned his mind, through meditation. This time with my girls is my retreat – my meditation. Of course it’s not always relaxing, and I am very challenged at times, but it is a time that demands me to slow down, enjoy the present moment and deeply connect with other people. Isn’t this where happiness stems from?

Although I buy them, I don’t read many parenting books. They sit unread on my bookshelf, mocking me, knowing that I will never have the time or motivation to pick them up and actually read them. But I read this book, and I would happily say that if you had to read one parenting book, this should be it. It won’t tell you how to change a nappy, but Rachel’s words will ring in your mind as you reach for your phone, instead of choosing to sit quietly with your child.

There is a time and a place for the phone, and other distractions, and of course we can’t always fully be present and connected, but it helps to be reminded of the importance of connection and of savouring those sunset moments spent with our children while they are still there. One day, our children will be big, and independent and won’t be around as much. I want to enjoy them while I can.

On Wednesday, I picked my older girl up from preschool. We came home, and sat on the verandah, her on my knee, and we looked at the scrapbook her educators compiled as a record of her year. I read aloud their comments, and we talked about the photos and her drawings. I was filled to the brim as I turned each page. Her soft cheek rested on mine, and her sweet, squeaky voice explained the details about what happened during each activity. I realised how little I knew what she did at preschool. We sat together for about ten minutes, but it was enough. I was full, and so was she.

Hands Free Mama by Rachel Macy Stafford can be purchased through Amazon or Barnes and Nobel. You can also visit the Hands Free Mama blog or Facebook page.

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