Last weekend we returned to the Parental Home to have our last few days of fun with my sister AJ and the Nephews/Niece. My sister and her family live in a small, picturesque corner of New Zealand; a country seemingly made of nothing but small picturesque corners and the occasional large flightless bird. They were due to return this week and while I had detected a certain weariness amongst my parents, I could also see that they would be sorely missed.
AJ, being the mother of an 8 yr old boy, a 6 yr old girl and a 4 yr old gorilla, seems perpetually tired but in a sort of gentle, gracious Earth Mother-ish sort of way. Whereas I, mother of a screaming tomato aged 2 and three months, am also perpetually tired, but in a thrashing, writhing Earth Worm-ish sort of way.
On Saturday night AJ, our surfy naturopath sister T, our stepmum D and my husband C went off to one of the local pubs to watch a rather grumpy Australian singer play her 90's hits. Meanwhile, my dad and I fed the all kids, bathed them and put them to bed.
With Tricky's new jack-in-the-box style of sleeping and the NZ cousins' own sleep related pecadillos, it meant some clever tactics for the grownups.
For me it meant attempting to be more calm, more zen about the whole sleep battle thing. One of my friends has a pre-schooler and she described the crucial period when she would lie next to her toddler, patting her back, until she fell asleep. It took about twenty minutes and this particular stage lasted for six months.
"Six Months!" I had exclaimed in horror.
"It's ok," she reassured me. "Once I accepted that there was nothing else I could do I just lay there and came up with script ideas. I wrote two animation scripts in my head during that six months."
So as I lay next to Tricky on the Big Bed and stroked his back (more doking Mummy) I tried to ponder script ideas and exciting new plays. Instead, all I could think about was the frightening news my producer had shared with me last week when she told me they were making a 'behind the scenes' thing to go with the television series and the writers would be filmed talking about their episodes and also their 'process'.
What could I say about my episode, I wondered. What could I say about my process? And most important of all, what should I wear?
Give or take a few false sleeping alarms (Tricky can be practically snoring but has his eyes wide open and ears alert for any sound of escaping parent. Mummy! More Doking!) I was out of the bedroom by 8.30.
My dad, I noted, had set up a chair between the bedrooms of the NZ nephews/niece and was sitting there, keeping guard and growling if anyone dared to sit up. Which was not dissimilar to the technique he used on my sisters and I when we were kids.
The NZ kids aren't naughty per se, but like most kids they are...well... intense in small spaces.
Also quite adventurous and selectively deaf.
These two things combined can be fairly gutwrenching for a gentle soul like AJ. My sister took her kids on an outing to the Sydney Aquarium. After a good hour or so of examining the sharks and octopi and multitude of brightly coloured reef fish, their little group emerged blinking in the sunlight and stood for a few minutes by the edge of the wharf. When AJ stopped blinking she found that her youngest, the gorilla, was missing.
After calling his name in more and more desparate tones she decided he must have fallen over the edge of the wharf and into the harbour. As she flung her bag onto the ground and prepared to leap into the water she heard an answering call - naughty gorilla child had wandered back into the aquarium and couldn't understand what all the fuss was about.
At which point AJ felt her knees buckle as she fell to the ground and howled.
This was probably the lowlight of her holiday, there were a few sleepless nights and shouty mornings, one rather badly hungover day which she couldn't really blame on the kids, but give or take some conflicts over eat your dinner! brush your teeth! and stay in bed! I think they all had a great time.
This was perhaps measured best by the intense reaction that occurred on Tuesday when, AJ enjoying her penultimate day in Australia with a relaxing hair treatment and a final jolly catch up with our younger sisters (and newest Tiny Niece) before her return to NZ on Wednesday, discovered rather late in the morning that she had in fact got her dates arse about. She had drifted onto T's computer to check her bank balance and called out in a perplexed tone: why does your computer say today is the 28th? Answer of course being: because it is.
It seemed that in fact, Tuesday, ie the 28th, was the day she was meant to vacate the country.
Cue a lot of frantic and hysterical packing of two and a half weeks of collected holiday shite into three too-small suitcases. Also some handwringing over failure to properly farewell Aphwa, visit Grandad etc. Also, just sort of random non-copeyness. My dad described her as looking like a rabbit in the headlights as she stood in the middle of the bedroom staring, helpless, at first one suitcase and then another while T and K packed like demons around her.
I was in Sydney at this point but discovered the situation when I rang to find out how Grumpy Grandad was faring - another post - and then, while dad drove AJ and the kids two and a half hours to Sydney Airport I got online to try and check them in (only for domestic flights) and failing that, try to find the right number to call someone and explain the problem (you want to speak to a human, are you joking?).
The plan was for C to drop me at the airport so I could be there to help wrangle the kids (and my sister) to the check in counter and help keep them together until they could be shepherded onto their flight. This worked reasonably well, although there was one horrid moment when I tried to find my 8 year old nephew who had suddenly gone AWOL and I stood in the middle of the airport searching for a glimpse of curly black hair and thin running legs and thought:
Maybe one really is enough.
But then he was found (I told you I was going to the toilet! I did!) and all was forgiven and Crispy Cremes were selected and packed into handluggage (you can only eat these when you are sitting in your seats on the plane, with your seatbelts on!) and then my sister was in floods of tears again and mumbling about her wonderful family and how she must be insane...
And then they were gone.
Later that night as I sat by my toddler, doking his back, and trying to think of script ideas, I thought about how close my sisters and I have become as we have gotten older, how much we like each other as adult women.
And I remembered how, when I first caught sight of her oldest son, dripping wet from the pool, face split with a huge grin as he ran up to say hello, I nearly laughed out loud because his face was AJ's face but her face as a child - a face I hadn't seen for more than thirty years. It was like being in a time machine and being taken back to Penang and Werribee and Carlingford and all the little corners of our childhood.