Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Sounds like...

The second most horrible sound in the world is Tricky, post yum cha (or dim sum), shrieking from his cot as he refuses to take his nap. He is the Screaming Tomato but with added dumpling hysteria.

The first most horrible sound in the world is the screaming, as noted above, followed by a sudden thump and then silence.

Somewhere further down the list is the sound of his mother racing up a flight of stairs muttering ‘oh my god’, closely followed by sound of same mother blubbering on the floor as she hugs her slightly surprised but undamaged toddler.

And somewhere near there is the sound of his father who was on the computer in the next room saying pathetically “Oh I thought he was downstairs with you…”

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Crying Room

We go to a funeral.

A father. A grandfather. A husband. A friend.

It rains as we cross the street and enter the church, drizzly and damp but not soaking, and I think maybe I should have watered the garden last night after all.

Tricky squirms and is released early from his stroller but then he starts his vocabulary practice in the middle of the first speech and so C and I take turns holding him in the Crying Room. When it is my turn I think how odd it is that I am watching the flow of all those tears from this side of the glass, the familiar waves of grief washing over the faces of this man’s family and friends.

It is a beautiful service, warm and celebratory, a monument to their love. Photographs flash up on the screen, him as a little curly headed moppet, big eyes and peach face, as a dashing young man with a mischievous gleam in his eye, as a husband with his young pretty wife encircled in his arms, as a father, a grandfather…

...we see him on boats and by water and hear stories of early married life in a boatshed and living on a Chinese junk and stories before that of his father and grandfather and stories of risks and reaching and inspired ideas and beautiful failures. I have only ever known him as an old man in a wheel chair but there he is, dashing and handsome.

A few years ago his wife and I talked about his sickness and its most recent destructive rampage, and I was sorry and said so and she took my hand.

But when I look at him, she said, I still see the man I married.

And we both cried at that, because even love can’t stop this. And now I see him too.

This is not a completely unexpected event, he was eighty years old and had MS for the last twenty years, gradually losing all the strength and mobility we see flashing up on the screen (but never his mind) until in those final days it is his eyebrows that are singled out for their expressive ways.

But he is such a strong presence, a giant on whose shoulders so many people are standing, and such a loved presence, and such a loss, and so when his curly headed moppet of a grandson reads a letter to thank his grandfather for bringing sailing into their family and to tell him he will always think of him when he sails I hug my baby too hard and we both cry.

And because we are human, and funerals are strange reflective events where we can’t help but mirror our own experiences, our own fears of death and loss and our own memories of grief, I think of my mother and her last days.

For outside the world keeps turning and life keeps spinning and the rain keeps falling and time ticks on but in that chair by the bed a whole life can play out in your head from one minute to the next. Hours of silence except for the unsteady rise and fall of their breath are noisy with past conversations, remembered words hashed and squeezed for significance and meaning.

And comfort.

And clear moments, lucid moments, small gestures and statements become polished stones lovingly passed from hand to hand…he said that thing about…she told me about this… she asked Dad if she could just have a tiny smell of his Easter egg and then she bit it!

And we sit in the dark, waiting our turn to say goodbye. The dark of grief and fear and death impending.

But also anger and resentment, not always aimed solely at the disease.
How can you leave us like this? You’re ready but we’re not.

Nursing a loved one to their death is a hard painful journey and I see this reflected on the faces of his family but as prolonged and difficult and heartrending as it is, it is also a bestowal of grace.

And this too shines around them.

A dying person bestows this last precious gift on all those who love him or her. All those who tend, who clean and caress, who lovingly brush their hair or massage their feet or hold their sparrow thin hand in theirs and breathe their air and sigh their name and say over and over in a thousand different ways: I love you.

It is still raining when we leave and C has to get the car for us.

Tricky and I huddle by the steps and I kiss his chubby cheeks and he brushes his eyelashes against mine.

Rain is splashing against the walls and tiny droplets gather on our faces.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Letter To An Eighteen Month Old Fairy Tale

Darling Tricky

Every day more words fall from your mouth. More names, more words for foods you enjoy, activities you prefer, animals and their languges - some of which you have never actually seen except in picture books. The animal noises actually started just a few days ago. I asked you what the Cow said and you told me Moo! and I asked you what the Duck said and you informed me Quack! and I asked you what the Dinosaur says and you revealed it was Rah! and also showed me your teeth.

You like to throw in a few phrases now and then, the Here It Is! And the What Is That? and the Here We Are, possibly just to throw us and make us say..what?! did you hear that? He just said three words together, I heard him!

Meanwhile, your command of the imperative just gets better and better. Up! More! Water! Poo Poo! (actually more a report than a command).

You are like that girl in the Grimms fairy story whose reward for goodness and kindness is to be enchanted so that she drops flowers and precious jewels from her mouth every time she speaks and your father and I follow you around adoringly nudging each other when you Rah and Moo, pushing each other out of the way to lift you Up! or fetch you Water!

We read to you every day and now you also like to “read” to yourself, you turn the pages, point to the pictures, mimic our inflections, repeat the words. I may be deep in some email adventure or half way through writing a scene but I can’t help but eavesdrop whenever you sit down with a book and chatter to yourself. Amongst the burble are words that we recognise, words you have heard again and again as you describe what you can see…fish, hug, Bobo, mumma, Maisy, mix, tickle, grasshopper… and we smile secretively at each other and pretend to be looking at our computers when you look up at us and then as you turn back to your page we lift our hands in the air to try and catch every precious jewel.

Sometimes I cunningly try to combine it all; the words, the story, the computer, the cuddles. A couple of times now you have sat quietly on my lap (an alien sensation) and watched Hooray For Fish on my computer. I actually think I read it a bit better than Emilia Fox but she has background music and the fish move and you get to listen to her on headphones which is a difficult act to follow in anyone’s picture book.

This month you are also enjoying the talents of the musical turtle you were given by your Aunty R and the many many books you received from everyone. There are also many toys that you have been putting through their paces of late, (they really deserve their own post) but your all time favourite toy is my mobile phone which you sometimes find in an opportune place and sometimes are given because you are being a pain in the butt at say a cafe and no one actually thought to bring a toy with them, or a warm jacket, or a bib, so what's the point in having a change bag with us at all, no actually it was your turn to pack it, call yourself a father? Ahem.

Of course I hasten to add my phone is not actually a toy at all it is an expensive piece of telecommunication equipment with probable cancer causing deathrays emerging from it so give it back to Mumma now, give it back, thank god the banana bread’s arrived.

I love the way you insist upon saying goodbye to your bath water, long passionate heart rending goodbyes, all sighs and sad eyes and blowing kisses and slumped shoulders as the last of the water slurps down the plughole, yet you often can’t be bothered to even look at me, frantically calling goodbye, when Dadda is taking you out for a ride in the car (Cah!) let alone wave.

I love the way you run, suddenly, illogically but then as if you have suddenly heard the opening strains of Swan Lake you fling yourself up on your tippeetoes. Sometimes you will also throw yourself down on the floor, again, no reason, just because, and then you might roll, if you feel like it, or perhaps fart or laugh or reach up for a kiss and a cuddle.

I can’t count the number of ways I love you in the same way I can’t count your teeth anymore. Are there more since last month? Perhaps, perhaps not. You do like to show your teeth off, baring then when anyone asks to look , or asks what the dinosaur says, yet clamping them together when I attempt to peer in still further. I have seen molars though, molars have been spotted, bottom gums, one each side, perched alone, proud, small islands of tooth in the ocean of your pink gums.

For Christmas you and the Naughty Nephews were given a trampoline by Santa via e-bay and a good pal of K and N’s who is Handy With His Tools. Result? Enormous, enclosed, hours of fun for adults and children and babies alike. The trampoline has proved very popular with the under tens but often they get sidetracked by cricket practice or cricket on the tv or a discussion about cricket and then we can sneak onto what I like to call “the trampo”. Most mornings we get to hang out here, you and I and your father and various combinations thereof.

I generally lie on my back with a book in my hand (currently and inexplicably; Death On The Nile by Agatha Christie) because I am forever optimistic that you might choose to “play quietly” beside me for twenty minutes or so. I am also forever wrong. Some may say, rightly so, what do you expect, this is not a banana lounge alongside a kidney shaped pool at a Balinese resort with a strapping young man named Edwardo to serve you cocktails, it is a trampoline and you are meant to be entertaining your eighteen month old and also it’s only 9.30 in the morning, stop daydreaming, he’s about to unzip the net wall and bounce straight out onto the paving stones. At those moments I sigh and put down my whodunit and my caprioska and position myself between you and the net flap of doom and exhort you to “run round and round”. You see, you don’t actually jump on the trampoline, such things are beneath you, but you do run round and round pumping your little legs up and down in an entertaining fashion. At some point in the round and round you usually fling yourself into the net wall and breathlessly fall back beside me, gurgling with laughter, eyes shining, shovel feet flailing, and I look at you and wonder at how lucky I am, how blessed we have been and then when you roll yourself towards me, still laughing, for a cuddle, I nearly self combust with pure joy.

This month I have been struck by your growing separateness from me, your movement away from babyness towards real-person-ness. You have your own logic and agenda and it all makes sense under that curly dark hair, all the running (but not the jumping) and the shouting and food throwing, the toddler tantrums and the daily grieving of bathwater.

It’s very hard for me to bid farewell to that baby image of you, that soft, snuggly, weeny bundle (“oh, he didn’t even make 50 cm,” said the midwife when you were born) but month by month he moves further and further away from us.

All I can do is sigh and wave and blow kisses as he swirls further down, into our past. I wrap my little boy in his bath towel and hug him tight as he calls bye bye to the bathwater and then I search for his pyjamas as the scent of bruised flowers fills the air.

With love from your very own

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Things Are So Much Better Since I Wrote This Six Months Ago

because i have mushbrain i can write without punctuation

(Recently discovered manuscript fragment by Janice-Maree Joyce, little known Australian descendant of the more famous James. Suffered infertility but through application of various sharp and pointy devices and nasty tasting herbs experienced the miracle of birth. Now experiencing the miracle of one year without proper sleep… )

yes it’s the life yes isn’t it look at him lying there with a foot in the air of his stroller yes staring out at everyone i wouldn’t mind that lie back on comfy toweling mat with stuffed clown dangling in my face and just be pushed up to the shops and back wave my foot in the air too here kiss this and look at my toes yes fuck it where is his sock now i put it on just before we left the shop and now its gone again he likes to pull it off and put his toes in his mouth they were nice socks too not like those blue ones that stretched out longer and longer everytime he pulled at them i had that dream again last night yes between feeds yes it was the one where im with that spunky young guy we met not long ago god the very fact that i find myself saying young guy instead of just guy makes me feel old and flabby yes he was holding my hand and saying i was beautiful this handle’s not properly adjusted must get my husband onto it and i was very virtuous thinking of baby and husband and so on and also we had tickets to the theatre so i said no no our lives are too complicated and also the shows about to start even though i wanted nothing more than to shag him senseless and then last nights dream it was the same guy but now we were in his flat and it would have been brilliant yes i just know it yes except that for some reason one of my friends was in the flat too doing the washing up and saying don’t mind me love i just have to get these dishes done which tended to ruin things aha i see that sock now i stuck it in the pocket of the baby bag yes when i told my husband the dream he was working on his computer and he didn’t even look up he just said mmm i bet i know what you need and i said well yes actually yes why does the footpath run out here as if they decided they would have footpaths in front of the shops but not the houses i see an old man on his what is those things the gopher electronic sit on thing driving along the road yes not safe surely poor old man comfy though i bet thats the life might be nice sitting on a gopher thing and tootling up to the shops get to like it pretty quickly yes listen to him clapping his hands the darling having a sing now he says ay ay ay yesterday i said ay ee eye oh you i thought well at least he could start with vowels yes then we can build up to consonants people ask me what is it you are writing now or are you just being a mother and i want to punch them except i don’t have the energy why are some women back to full energy and more all super organised and boxes ticked and writing their third novel since they went into labour yes whereas i have mushbrain sleepless still one year has it been that long all i can do to write out a shopping list some days but look the darling starting to fall asleep the motion of the stroller thats the life will i have that dream again tonight all symbolic that stuff yes the dreaming pretty obvious though no time to do all the things you want anymore although we could have time for sex if we forgo dinner that could work yes then could eat later when i get up to nurse him wait lost his other bloody sock yes and now i should look back and retrace our steps yes or sod it yes and just buy new socks yes he has feet like his fathers tiny shovels yes i love him so much yes and his father too yes though we are both so tired yes and fuck it did i leave the chicken back at the butcher yes oh bugger bugger yes.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Stick this

Tricky is almost 18 months old which in my schedule meant he was due for his 12 month vaccination. Extenuating circumstances (living in Country Town, various colds and viruses, mother’s general fear of needles and dislike of seeing sharp things poked into baby flesh) had prevented these happening at an earlier time (like say, 12 months) and now, with his pre Christmas weirdness seemingly gone, it was time to visit Dr Jab.

Dr Jab explained that the 12 month vaccination consisted of not two but three needles. “Some people…” he said blithely, “only have two at this point and come back for the third but I say well, the baby’s already screaming so...”

“Mmmm,” I said. “actually I think I will be one of those people. I would prefer for him to have only two needles for this visit. Not because of the screaming,” I hastened to add, “I can handle that perfectly well, but because three seems an awful lot of vaccine in one day.”

Last time Tricky was vaccinated he was glued to my breast at the time which seemed to comfort him quite effectively but since the milkbar had its glorious farewell tour some weeks ago (albeit with a couple of surprise comeback appearances) he was instead seated on my lap, my hands holding his, one chubby thigh at a time gripped between my own.

And so, since the Magical Breasts Of Comfort were no longer available, I had him facing his father instead of me because I didn’t want to see that look of hurt betrayal in those big brown eyes and also so that I wasn’t in his firing line when he began his kicking screaming tiny fingernail clawfest.

I expected the furious shrieks, I expected the tears and the sobs.
What I didn’t expect was that he would stop almost immediately after the second injection and then seem perfectly calm from then on.

I was so surprised I almost told Dr Jab to go ahead and whack that third one in.

I guess that means it really was about the screaming after all.

Friday, January 11, 2008

That's Mrs Slattern to you

For how long is it acceptable to wear maternity clothes after the birth of your child?

I've managed to wean myself from the elastic waisted pants and the long stretchy tops but today I realised I'm still wearing my maternity bras, even though it's been at least three months since I unclipped the little window things and required them to function in a "maternity" sense. It's not because they're that comfortable or even particularly attractive, it's just that I'm too lazy to actually remove them from my undies drawer.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

My life has recently been considerably enhanced and it’s not because we’re getting more sleep nor because I have almost managed to reclaim my breasts.

I haven’t wanted to talk too much about this, but over the past year I have found it increasingly difficult to hear what people were saying to me, especially in crowded theatre foyers.

All that background burble - the tinkling laughs, the earnest discussion, the rhubarb rhubarb, melded into one throbbing, pulsating mess. It was as if my head was encased in a large plastic bubble big enough to admit only one person at a time and only if they were standing uncomfortably close.

At the time I simply put this down to boredom due to the high levels of crap that are usually spouted in such places (I, myself, guilty of similar spouting) and now and then I would scare myself by assuming it was an imminent MS relapse.

More recently it got worse, especially in my right ear, and over the holiday break I spent several days squinting at my friends and relatives, trying to read their lips, and shouting ‘what?’ at them. I was even accused of shouting unnecessarily which meant I had sunk to Grumpy Grandad’s EVERYTHING MUST BE SAID IN CAPITALS status. I tried eardrops which was the proper way and bobby pins and cotton ear buds which are the Totally Wrong And Improper Way To Unblock Your Ears.

A couple of nights ago C and I met up with our housemates (and inlaws) K and N for jolliness at the opening of the Sydney Festival. A whole lot of streets had been closed off and stages set up on various corners with bands, cabaret acts and dj’s akimbo. It was fun to be roaming the streets but a lot of the live music sounded pretty shit through my plastic bubble and that just made me feel old and cranky.

Yesterday I could stand it no longer and I went to see my doctor. She brought out an enormous shining metal syringe full of warm water and balanced a bowl on my right shoulder.

“Have you had this done before?” she asked.

I had not. I smiled nervously and asked her if she thought ear candling had much to recommend it. She snorted into her metal bowl. Then she let loose with the syringe. The sensation was not unlike that of an enormous hot wet slug rushing at the speed of light through my ear canal singing Wagner at the top of its tiny lungs. It sounded quite shocking actually but not as shocking as the sound of my ear feeling OPEN at last.

“Oh my God”, I gasped. “That is incredible! That’s the most fantastic…”
I stopped. I had just caught a glimpse of what was now floating in the water of the shoulder bowl. “OH MY GOD WAS THAT IN MY EAR?”

“Yup,” said the doctor. “Don’t worry, I’ve seen worse.”
“That is possibly the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen,” I told her. “But would you mind checking the other ear?”
She peered into my left ear and hoisted her monster syringe back into action.
“Ok," she said. "We’re going again.”

The difference has been extraordinary. Clean ears make me feel brighter, more energetic, more intelligent. I feel like running up to complete strangers, people who look sad or irritable or unhealthy or ugly or just anybody really, and exhorting them to HAVE YOUR EARS SYRINGED!!

I even feel excited about loitering in theatre foyers again. I can’t wait to see if all that crap I could hear really was just the stuff between my ears.

Monday, January 07, 2008


Tricky and I had lunch together. We both ate ravioli except I used a fork and his was cut up and presented as “finger food.” This makes it sound almost dainty, like something you might serve with champagne on the chamomile lawn.

I was reading a book at the same time so it wasn’t till I heard the sound of gagging that I looked up to see his mouth was completely stuffed. His cheeks bulged, his eyes watered and yet, like a cross between Augustus Gloop and some mad foraging rodent, he was determinedly grabbing still more chunks, in both hands, and trying to wedge them in his mouth - even as he made little sicky noises in the back of his throat and gobs of partially chewed spinach and ricotta ravioli rolled down the front of his pirate bib.

Lunching with Tricky is like having a meal with one of those savage children of past centuries. You know, the ones presented to civilisation that were lost as a babe in the woods and given up for dead but then, miraculously, rescued and raised by wild chipmunks.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Letter to a Seventeen Month Old Landscape Gardener

My darling Tricky

You are past 17 months now of course, but what with Christmas and New Year and Mumma’s not so secret drinking habit, this letter comes a wee tad later than usual. No need of course for apologies and groveling, we’ve got plenty of time for guilt in the future. (And indeed the past, boiled baby foot anyone?)

17 months means that you are big enough to sing to yourself during car trips or just generally song-worthy moments, strange foreign words from the Land of Tricky which you punctuate with arms flung high into the air and knitting of brows. As the ultrasound indicated so many months ago, you are indeed a keen dancer, and during the festive season it took little more than a burst of Hark The Herald Angels Sing or Deck The Halls or Night Flight To Venus to cause immediate swaying of your body and stamping of your feet - much to the delight of my dad who was permanently disabled in the 70’s with Saturday Night Fever and keeps not one but two mini disco balls in his computer room.

Of the words I can recognise, it’s still all about the BUTTONS. CRACKER and WATER are also high on the playlist but just lately CHEESE has become your new best edible friend. Also a word that is unspellable but recognizable as a signifier for watermelon, which you will almost certainly eat off a BOWL with your SPOON in your CHAIR, as well as a similarly unspellable but consistent word for MILK. In the mornings you call loudly for your breakfast which sounds like you want BUTTER and believe me I’d be tempted to get it out of the fridge and taunt you with it except that I know you’d think it was CHEESE and just the sight of something yellow and cold is enough to set off your excited shrieking. Outdoors, your interests include playing with the BALL, riding in the CAR and spotting various aircrafts including COPTER and something that means AEROPLANE.

When you wake at night you call for MUMMA, DADDA and WATER but you’ve also been heard to shout loudly for your aunty N as well as your grandmother (Aphwa). For some reason you often sprinkle an OH DEAR amongst the names which makes me laugh but also you’ve got this really mournful, depressed tone of voice that you’ve managed to perfect. It makes you sound like some long forgotten prisoner shut up in a dungeon on a deserted island and if I actually get up out of bed and answer your calls I’ll trip over your long grey unkempt beard and then be bitten to death by your specially trained pet rats.

Your studies in Toddler (Beginners) are coming along nicely, you’ve managed to perfect Throwing Objects Down Stairs despite our blundering attempts to hinder you and I note that you have been refining these basic movements and applying them to mealtimes too. First you demand SPOON, then you demand a second SPOON, then you fling the first spoon quickly to one side (and I quite like the way you don’t even bother to watch its trajectory, instead watching my face for the slightest twitch of response) then you load up the second spoon with food and fling that swiftly to one side and then while I’m groveling on the floor trying to scoop up wet lumps you drop your BOWL over the opposite side and then scream loudly for WATER.

It may seem like there’s some sort of predictable routine here but in fact sometimes the water is flung first and the spoons treasured until the very end. Every meal is an adventure. Yet, also, sometime in the last month or so, I saw you brandish your spoon, capture a couple of baked beans and deliver them triumphantly to your mouth and your beaming smile of satisfaction as you chewed at your hard won tomato flavoured captives was simply delicious. It made me a little sad this obvious sign of Growing Up-ness but also relieved that if something happened to us, your Willing Slaves, you would at least be able to eat your beans nicely.

I love your laugh, your gleeful, rolling laugh, and the way that so many things delight or entrance you. Mumma doing her Riverdance impression when a certain Irish ditty appears on your Very Clever baby Music cd, for instance. This both delights and entrances.

Also eyebrows: hilarious. And bellybuttons: hysterical. This Christmas, the last word in funny you decided, were the tiny white pebbles in one of Aphwa’s potplants. Pebbles! Tiny! Many of them! The sight of them nestled around the half dead wisteria had you shrieking. Nothing could be funnier, or so you thought. On a whim you suddenly started grabbing fistfuls of the tiny white funny pebbles and throwing them to the ground. Shrieks of laughter! And then you scattered a few over the top of Poppy’s lawnmower. Thighslapping goodness! Sweeping them up with a broom though, that wasn’t funny at all. But then, you suddenly discovered, in another potplant, bark chips. Bark chips! The very idea of it! Brown, irregularly shaped, imminently throwable! You howled with glee as an adult sprinted over the paving to try and halt the inevitable tsunami of mulch and I’m pretty sure you crapped yourself you found the whole thing so funny.

Last year was your first ever Christmas and to celebrate you held it together until your first ever Christmas present was placed in your wee little five month old hands and then you suddenly became the Screaming Tomato and had to be put to bed for a nap and that was Christmas 2006.

This year there was less screaming and hence many more presents to open but also less adoring public since all your aunties were having Christmas elsewhere. Once again there was a pre-Christmas Christmas with the Naughty Nephews and with Gramma, Papa and K and N because they would be south and we would be north with Poppy, Aphwa, Uncle P and Grumpy Grandad. Among other things you were given a ball covered with small knobbly protuberances which you immediately latched onto. Given that we are slowly but definitely weaning now, it was a slightly wistful sight. And then of course you flung it down the stairs.

You have become a small solid beautiful little man with crazy hair that curls or straightens according to the weather.

You still think your parents are fantastic people and amazing adults, you think we’re as clever as all get out and funnier than a pot of mixed pebbles and bark chips. We bask in your admiration and adoration and in return we worship the ground you tip toe upon.

Because of course the truth is we’re actually not that fantastic or amazing, nor particularly clever, nor are we unusually funny (certainly not in comparison with potting materials).

But we are your parents, your mumma and dadda, and every night we lie in bed and listen to your loud protests and practice chats and general warbling and mournful prisoner requests and we thank God and the Goddesses, and baby Jesus, and Santa and Aslan and all the elves and armoured bears and saints for you, our greatest gift of all.

Happy Christmas and Happy New Year our blessed boy.

Your very own