Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Letter to a 28 Month Old Mover and Shaker

My darling Tricky

As I write this I am hacking and spluttering away like some plague ridden feudal serf.
Most unpleasant.
The source of this latest bout of nastiness I am afraid to say is…you. Last Monday after we got back from visiting One Legged Grandis in Newcastle you had a blazing fever and then the coughing started. Soon after that my coughing started too. We have been a vicious circular Petri dish for at least the last six months and I estimate we get about three weeks break between bouts. Every one of which is of course different and special and it’s Own Thing.

Not unlike you, my darling boy.

As well as our Virus Du Jour you have also picked up from somewhere an alternative to your previous yes and no answers. This alternative is ‘maybe’ and it is usually in response to an adult like me asking a sensible question like “Would you like breakfast?” or “Have you done a poo?”

Maybe. Not particularly helpful but quite amusing, this month anyway.

I think one of your big achievements over the past two months has been sleeping in your big boy bed through the night. This is a shared achievement of course, many people are involved, many books consulted, many sacrifices made, and it is ultimately an ongoing project.

So when I say ‘through the night’ I mean give or take the mandatory curtain calls at the start of proceedings. Last night it took several returns by both the motherperson and the fatherperson and finally a fakely stern Uncle K to put you back and keep you there – it seems he told you that we had “popped out” for a few minutes and so there was no use getting up anymore.

Horrifying, yet effective.

Over the last few weeks since your introduction to Big Boy Bed-dom we have experienced the soliloquies, monologues, ballads, confessions and loud agonised calls for water/back stroking/doona adjustment. Over the weeks, as your vocabulary has grown, so too have your demands become more sophisticated.


Very hard to resist but resist I must if we are to get any sleep at all.

It seems however that once you are asleep there is no more waking in the night and making your way to our bed.

I combined a number of sensible strategies to achieve this small miracle, but the one that stands out is bribery.

Some weeks ago I identified that you have a great love for ‘little people’. Not the dwarven variety per se, but the toy or ornamental variety. I have some of these “little people,” Chinese thimble like figures made out of clay.

When you asked to hold the little people I gave you a couple, thinking they would be a good distraction while I changed your nappy (still known as a ‘mumpy’ most days).

When you gaily flung them to the floor and smashed them I twigged that a plastic version of little people was a damn good idea, but where to find them?

And when, one morning, bleary eyed, sick with lack of sleep after yet another officially Worst Night Ever I piled you and your cousins into the car, got shat on by a bird as I was arguing with the Naughty Nephews about who got to sit in the passenger seat, took them to school and you to daycare, stopped for a coffee on the way home and then wandered, still bleary eyed, still shat upon, into a local toyshop and saw gasp! A Box of Little People! I knew then that the Sleep Goddess had willed it to be so.

If you can sleep in bed ALL NIGHT I told you that evening, I will give you ONE of these Special Little People in the morning.
Your eyes grew wide.
Mine people, you intoned, MINE SPECIAL PEOPLE.
Only if you stay in your bed ALL NIGHT, I insisted. Will you stay in bed?

And lo the first of several all night miracles occurred. Will it last? Maybe…
I now have a ziplock bag of additional Little People I bought for five bucks at a market in Newcastle. They are not as shiny, nor special as the original Little People, some of them are actually animals, not people, but they seem to do the job.

Your tendency to covetousness would not be complete if I didn’t mention the other Special Little Person in your life. Well alright yes, there is new cousin baby L who is 8 weeks old now and whose feet you love to stroke but I don't mean her.

Instead, I am talking about that eternal friend to all mankind, the one you refer to as MINE PEEEEEENISSSSS.
Indeed you are such great friends that mumpy changetime has become a great feat of strength and control often needing two parents, because you don’t want your little friend to be locked away under your nappy. You want him to have the freedom to watch tv, play with your Lego and, as you told me this morning, have breakfast. You want to run and skip and jump, unhindered, calling loudly as you go: peeeeenisss, peeeeenisss, peeeeenisss...

As you escaped from me yet again this morning and went racing across the floor and into your cowboy tent I said to your father, I will check this but I am pretty sure that neither I not my sisters ever used to run around at this age shouting vagiiiiina, vagiiiiina, vagiiiiina at the top of our voices.
Your father smiled quietly to himself. My boy.

And you are a boy. A loud, joyous, shouting little boy who loves building towers at 6.30 in the morning with his blocks. Who adores ‘dumping’ on the trampoline with his cousins and little friend S. Who eats his porridge each morning accompanied by yet another rendition of Goldilocks by one or t’other of his clueless parents. You remember things, we drive down a street and you tell us your friend Dood lives nearby, we pass your friend S’s flat and you point it out and then excitedly reminise about the cake you had there on his birthday. You like to go into tunnels and luckily on the way to Newcastle there are several.

But you are still my baby and you still insist on certain baby habits I haven’t the heart to break. Like your milk in the mornings. We heat it in the microwave and sit on the couch and you insist on curling on my lap (or your father’s if he is doing the first shift) and you get me to hold the sippy cup to your mouth like a bottle and we sit there watching early morning birds and clouds and trees through the big windows and I watch your beautiful eyes and stroke your soft curls and feel you gulping down your milk, “nice and warm Mummy” and it is just lovely lovely lovely.
No maybes about it.

I love you.

Your very own



Friday, November 21, 2008

Just one more thing about my feet...

My darling friend Lucy(amusingly i had a little typo then and wrote 'fiend', also apt) in London has sent me a late birthday/early xmas present.

It is a voucher for a massage, manicure and (lovely feet ahoy!)pedicure.

Which, i think to myself as I drool over the beribboned certificate and brochure, is exactly what I need in present circumstance.

Then I get a grip on myself, because who am I kidding , isn't this exactly what everyone needs in any circumstance? Unless perhaps you hate this sort of thing and shy away from the thought of getting your tense muscles kneaded smooth and your horrid dry feet pummelled and polished and your nasty misshapen fingernails filed and painted.

In which case, I suggest chocolates.

But the thing is, another friend lent me a copy of Elizabeth Gilbert's much lauded Eat Pray Love and I have spent a few enjoyable hours lolling on my bed and massaging my feet and reading while the emails pile up and up and up... and in this book, 'Liz' goes through much to recover from what sounds like The Most Horrible Divorce In The World (with bonus new relationship breakup) and travels to Italy, India and Bali to...well...to basically fulfil her book title.

And the universe works for her in mysterious ways, perhaps due to her insanely rigorous chanting and meditating, perhaps because this is after all a book, that she has written, and so in this story she actually is her universe, as it were.

But let's say it's because she has opened her channels etc and allowed the right things to happen/manifest and money, jobs, people, gelato and other necessities for healing fall into her lap when needed.

And so yesterday when out of the blue Lucy's voucher with the word PEDICURE standing out like a beacon appeared in my letterbox, I was shocked and delighted but also quite pleased that I was managing to manifest the things I need for myself and the universe was coming to the party.

Either that, i decided, or Lucy read my blog.

Just in case it was the first, I tucked the voucher into my bag and ducked down to the corner newsagent for a lotto ticket.

I'm thinking, ok universe...today pedicure, tomorrow three million bucks.

And though I haven't written about wanting three million bucks or needing three million bucks, i reckon it's just like that everyone, any circumstance voucher.

And/or chocolates.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

two feet under

It was Grumpy Grandad's birthday yesterday.

Only my youngest sister, K, was there to visit him. I feel bad about this but a couple of days earlier he had told me that he was sick of people reminding him about his birthday. Funny, I remembered him asking my father a few days previously if he thought he would make it to his next birthday. It was important then, when he was scared that he was not going to survive the amputation.

K told me that he mostly dozed through her visit except when he woke to grouchily accuse her husband, a sensitive and gentle man, of 'wanting something' because he had the audacity to say earnestly "Pat you're looking so much better, it's really good."

This is a young man who came in alone to the hospital on the night of Grandad's operation, after he finished work, to sit quietly by his grandfather-in-law and hold his hand.

Good God, I said to K. Did Grandad really say that?
Yep, said K. And in a really loud voice too so everyone in the ward heard and T went bright red and felt humiliated.

So... Grumpy Grandad in fine form, really.

A director I worked with once told me that the human brain is like a waiter carrying six bowls of spaghetti on a tray.

He can only balance six at a time and if he tries to load on a seventh the whole thing tips and crashes. Pasta disaster, as it were.

And so this week, juggling my six bowls plus the salt and pepper and a wedge of parmesan and one of those microplane grater things and a bottle of very rough red on my emotional tray, I decided to quit. Grandad was in a short term better place, my surfie-traditional-chinese-medicine-masters-student sister had flown back north, my dad resumed his holiday down south and that left me and my youngest sister K holding the babies.

And I felt exhausted and sick and on the edge of tears constantly and so it seemed a good time to head back to Sydney and the warmth and noise and exuberant energy of the Big House and the (not so) Naughty Nephews. But also I decided that I can't actually work during this time, that I had to let go of the Monday new play deadline and the eleven script assessments and the meetings for next year's productions and just sleep and rest and mother my son.

And to see my friends and their children.

And eat better.

And look after your feet, T the surfie TCM sister told me sternly. We die from the feet up.

She is not speaking literally, I don't think, although for diabetic one-legged Grumpy Grandad, it is almost true. These latest events began with an evil little ulcer on one toe, unseen, unfelt, untreated.

But the real beginnings, the diabetes, the lifestyle choices, the crappy diet that lays the foundations and points the way for our life journeys... he was a slum kid from Elephant and Castle in London, he was a soldier in the army in WW2, he moved to Australia in the fifties with his wife and kid. My sister-in-law N tells me that the first generation of children born to settlers and convicts alike in this country were significantly taller and larger and healthier than the equivalent aged children back in the mother country. And that was despite being malnourished.
Sadly for Grandad he was already too old at thirty-something to benefit from the miraculous air and sun and water of his new country.

Yesterday when I caught up with Operasinging Mummy and Screenwriting Mummy I saw how they had lovely neat feet with polished toenails. Whereas mine, with their split nails and hairy toes just looked uncared for and unhealthy.

You should massage your feet every night before you sleep, said T. And even pedicures are good, she added, because it draws your attention to your feet and makes you mindful.

And so I mindfully defuzz my toes and massage in the L'Occitane cream and think very seriously about booking a pedicure as a little Christmas present to myself.

And I laugh to myself as I hear Tricky playing hide and seek downstairs with his cousins and shouting wuntoofee coming weddy o nott!

Tricky and I go back to Newcastle today, refreshed and rested and with much nicer feet. Hopefully C will be able to meet us there after a big week in Country Town. I will be encouraging him to massage his feet too. And to briefly just...stop.

Sometimes it is very good to put down the tray, and maybe just dance around the tables a little and juggle the cutlery.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

good bad good

My dad arrives in the middle of the night and then the next morning he heads off to the hospital with my sister T.

I stay at home doing various toddler related duties. The last time I took Tricky to hospital, the last time I saw Grandad conscious and sporting both legs, I had to bribe him with half a bag of jelly snakes to sit nicely and be quiet. Toddler, not grandfather.

When they get back they tell me that there's no need to override the full active care decision at this point because, actually, he's um...better.

What are you talking about, I say? How can he be better?

But later, when Tricky is having a nap, I go into the hospital and the young intern pulls me aside. He is doing really well, she tells me. We had a horrible night but now he is having two other painkillers as well as the morphine and so the pain is much better managed, he's less yellow and we think that we have got all the infection.

She is an extremely beautiful woman with quite delicate features and as she smiles at me, delighted, I think that she could easily have been a very successful actor. Film even.

You know how they have that flawless skin?

She seems to be waiting for me to respond and so I say..."oh, isn't that great?" And I think she sees my confusion or my cynicism or maybe my close scrutiny of her perfect tiny pores and so she adds...but he is still a sick man. A very sick man. And I still don't think he will necessarily leave the hospital. But for now he is doing well.

And my face twists to register this good bad good news.

I like him, she tells me. He's feisty. And he gives us a hard time. but then...he's been through a lot, allowed to.

And so when I finally go in to see grandad and he reaches for my hands and asks if they are going to chop any more of him off I can say without a lie that they think they have all the infection so there will be no need to chop other bits off and that he has made the doctor smile because she thinks he is doing very well.

And that makes him happy, for now.

I am typing this on one of the pay internet computer thingies at the hospital. For some reason the wireless at dad's place is up the shit and I can't get online without extreme effort on my part. Everything seems to be so hard. Driving from Sydney to Newcastle I got round the corner to discover that some arsehole had smashed in part of the front of my car while it was parked on the road and the wheel was rubbing against metal. My car that was once my grandad's car, I add. And I'm tired and it's so hard doing this with Tricky.

This afternoon my grandad told me with annoyed surprise that he has been informed he will no longer be allowed to use his walker. I nod and raise my eyebrows as if the thought had never occurred to me.

And...he told me, it took four blokes and a woman to wash me today. So...how they expect me to do it, I don't know.

Hmmm, I nod.

They couldn't take my blood, he tells me, so I told them what to do and now it's good.

That's good, I say.

He grimaces and I wipe his face free of some orange liquid and then clean out his nose, by request.

Is that good? I ask.

That's good, he grunts. Now what I really want is for somone to cut my hair. With the clippers, so that I don't have to bother combing it.

There are no black and whites in this dying malarky are there? I remember with mum it changed hour by hour, good news, bad news, good news, fucked news.

He's not in pain so that's good and the tube is out of his nose and now he will be able to eat slowly and that's good too. But then, he's got bedsores and that's bad, and the boss from his retirement lodge is coming to see him this afternoon and tell him what happens next. And that's going to be bad because it will be the nursing home. But then that's only if he makes it out of hospital and no one can tell us how long he has to stay before then. They don't think his body has what it takes to properly heal after the operation and so that's bad isn't it? Isn't it?

What is good? What is bad? What is hope? What is best?

He is talking and complaining and shouting and being "feisty".

His nose is clean.

His hair needs cutting.

He made the intern smile and there is no more chopping and so, for now, he's happy and that's enough.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Last legs

Poor old man. These are the words that flash into my mind when I walk into the ward this afternoon. 

Poor old one legged grandad, draped in his crisp white sheets, mouth open, tongue cracked and dry. Up his left nostril is a tube that will provide all nutrition from now on, above his bed is a new green sign announcing NBM.


Within the tube I see greenish liquid floating in and out his body like the tide.


Morphine is his friend. Morphine could be a much better friend but we discover this evening that “his family” and indeed himself have said they would like “full active care” meaning that he will have to endure a considerable amount of pain as various obstacles and setbacks present themselves.


My sisters and I flutter like angry sparrows. Who was the “family” who said they wanted full active care? It wasn’t me. It wasn’t me. It must have been dad and grandad, that first night when the doctor said his leg should be amputated.


But we realize that the only person who would know what that actually means, minimum pain killers, intrusive procedures in response to the litany of organ failings, would be youngest sister K, the nurse.


Grandad’s eyes flutter open and shut. The whites are still yellowish but the centres are clear pale blue.


Last night I dreamt that I was trapped in a room and my big toes were bitten off and I tried to run through a shopping centre with blood splashing underfoot.


He said he wanted to be alive for his birthday which is in a few days. I don’t think he will be. Or maybe he will but he will wish he wasn’t.


My dad is six hours away. He is driving back to Newcastle as I type.


I ask them to correct the name on the whiteboard above his bed. They have James written there, they call him James and indeed James is his official name.

But the name he prefers is Pat. And finally I ask them to correct the name and they do.

“Pat” It is like a suggested action for comfort.


There are three other patients in the room and I realize this afternoon that they are all amputees. Except for one man who sits, fully dressed, on the bed with his knees drawn up to his chin. I think he is saying goodbye to his legs. Nobody else in the room seems to get visitors but one lady is surrounded with loads of flowers.


They are talking about ventilators. Pat’s chest is wheezy. But if he has a ventilator that will be curtains. Curtains with a ventilator.


I stand and stroke my grandad’s hair just like I stroke my toddler’s hair when I am trying to get him to sleep, just like my mother used to stroke my hair when I was a little girl, just like I stroked her hair when she was dying.


Yesterday when my sister T left the hospital after seeing him, her last look at two legged granddad, a man walking on the footpath in front of her collapsed and died. He was talking on the mobile phone and he dropped like a stone and my sister grabbed at him and shouted DUDE DUDE WAKE UP. I think this was the surfer in her talking and then the Chinese medicine masters student with a recent first aid certificate took over and she thumped away at his chest while another woman did mouth to mouth until one of the passing ambos came and took over.  It was full on, she said as I gaped at her story. But in some ways it helped me to take my mind off things.


He has said that he doesn’t believe in any sort of life after death, does not believe he will be reunited with my dead grandma, does not even think his essence will be dispersed Harry Bliss style and he will float up and up, spreading thinner and wider, until he is absorbed by the trees around him. This is a shame because just outside his window is a veritable forest of beautiful tall roughbarked eucalypts and anyone of these would make a pleasant receptacle for one’s soul.


This evening it is made clear to me that my granddad will die.


The doctor tells me that she doesn’t think he will leave the hospital. She tells me that she told him the same thing when he was deciding whether to have the operation or not. He could succumb to the infection and just be kept comfortable on painkillers or have the operation to remove the source of infection. At the time I thought, well what would I choose, of course I would choose a shot at life, one legged though it may be. But now I learn that he will die anyway. He was always going to die anyway, there are too many things wrong with him. And so why did he have to have his leg cut off my sisters and I ask each other tearfully. He is in such terrible pain, why can’t he just be comfortable?


Because he made a choice, our youngest sister, K says. And we have to respect that. As a family we can override his choice but we have to understand that it’s what we will be doing.

But he didn’t realize…

But he thought it would do him some good…

But he’s in so much pain….

But it is his choice.


Then just as we think maybe he will drift off in a hazy sea of friendly morphine K tells us that if he does, they will administer Narcan to revive him and that will negate every trace of opiate in his system and so he will be hit with the full force of his post op pain and it will be like being hit by a bus. Worst case scenario, she adds hastily as T starts to sob and say we have to ring the hospital and tell them he has to be comfortable, we want him to be comfortable…this is just inhumane.


But his choice…


And so now we wait for our father, now three hours away, and we see how Pat is tomorrow. And as a family try and make a decision for a poor old man, a poor old grumpy man, rude and cantankerous, stubborn and abrasive. But loved.

Sunday, November 09, 2008


Grumpy grandad has turned yellow.

I have mixed feelings about yellow. It can be sunny and jolly and once I had a study painted yellow because I felt it was very condusive to creative writing but in clothes, for instance, it's a big no no (me being a winter and all) and in my grandad's skin it's all wrong.

But then it is all wrong, all this, getting to this point.

It was diabetes in the beginning but now it's Body Packed it In Disease which includes dodgy bladder, numb legs, dicky heart, several falls and (perhaps) a half tumbler of whiskey a night to get to sleep.

As well as being yellow (not exactly sure but I think medical term is "his liver=fucked") it seems that he will also need to have his leg amputated up to the knee. That would be that creeping infection in the bone.

They do that to you every time, those creeping infections. Start off as an ulcer, hidden in a pair of bedroom slippers, casually whistling, don't mind me I'm just going to loiter around and...fester.

Give them two toes and they take a limb.

Two weeks ago my grandad was already feeling that life deserved the big finger after day after day of botched and buggered up catheter business. The old feller was getting more action than it had ever seen in his tours of duty, except of course having a catheter inserted and reinserted and readjusted and repeat is very fucking painful.

At the hospital I looked at my grandad, helpless and yellow in his hospital bed minus his clothes, and teeth and glasses. And two toes. He is scared. If he survives the operation he will be in great pain and the lodge where he has a little roomette of his own will move him into the high care facility, the nursing home.

"You only come out of there in a chute," he told us once.

He is a big heavy man my grandad. He won't be able to walk and he won't be able to put himself into a wheelchair so there will be hoisting required and cunning bits of machinery...but the staff will be busy, said my youngest sister K, a nurse herself, and so they will end up leaving him in bed.

I stroke his hair, picking little pieces of flaky scalp off as I do and letting them flutter over the side of the hospital bed.

I rub his arm and note how his tattoo, the one he got after D-Day and the Liberation of Paris, is stained with blood.

My stepmother has been given a book on death and dying and I looked at it before I went into visit Grandis. It is a very good book (and when I get back to Newcastle I will note the name) with some very good things to think about. I took some photographs with me to the hospital, of the family, of my long dead grandmother, of my younger smartly dressed grandfather.

Yesterday we came back to Sydney to pick up Byron Bay sister T who has flown in to see him too. Later today she and I and Tricky will drive back to Newcastle while C drives for 6 hours to Country Town where he is working on an exhibition. Life continues.

As does death.

He won't be able to recognise these photographs, I thought. His eyes have been bad for a while and he's not wearing glasses, he won't be able to see a thing, but I was wrong.

That's Alma Louise, he pointed out. My wife. And there's old Pickles! Our dog! Now she was a ...um...boxer, that's it. And there's the girls when they were little. And there's us in Penang when we went to visit them...there we are sitting outside the Snake Temple...

Funny old photographs, faces long changed or gone, full of stories and memories of the past.

The colours had changed, I noticed, but they do that, old photographs. Too much time or maybe a reaction to the plastic sheets in the old photo album. And I saw how those long ago people, the woman in the hat and the smartly dressed man wearing glasses posing happily by a stone temple wall seem bathed in a sickly yellow light.

Thursday, November 06, 2008


A few years ago I tried to write a one-woman show for a well known Australian tv and film actress. I had done some work with her on another project and she was someone I knew to have integrity and compassion. I liked her work and I liked her personality.
She was one of the people I thought of yesterday, at 3pm, as I hurried to pick up the Naughty Nephews and the Toddler Tyrant, with the radio up loud, listening to the announcement of the new President of the United States of America.

I was late because I had been watching the webcasts as well as making zuchini muffins and I was of course sleep deprived - the night before being officially the worst Night Of Living Hell ever (Toddler screaming starts at 3am, Parents' screaming starts at 4.30 am. All fall into exhausted sleep at 5am).

We had talked a little about the sort of play it could be, this actress and I, and she told me that when she looked at new scripts she looked for stories of hope.

There is too much darkness in this world, she told me. Too much anger, too much hate.
I can't be part of something that simply adds to the despair. For my children if not for me.
There has to be light.

Yesterday, I felt like the whole world was reading the same script and hoping for the same light.

For our children if not for us.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

don't stop now

God it's hard... doing this... trying to write...with half a brain...
I was talking to Screenwriting Mummy as we lolled over cups of tea and our various offspring/spawn of Satan/toddlers were raising tiny person hell nearby.
She nodded slightly, too knackered to actually expend energy on words.
We were trying to talk about the work we had been doing on a television series - both of us having written an episode- and this was a chance to catch up but also to debrief some of the process. Instead we slumped about, talked in half sentences, ate junkfood and yawned a lot.
Tricky, now seemingly entrenched in his big boy bed, is playing his parents for the mollycoddling amateurs they are. When, in some desperation, I turned to Christopher Green's excellent study in the area; "Toddler Taming", I discovered that C and I are textbook suckers for toddler related sleep deprivation mainly due to our willingness to fetch water, replace doona and spend hours stroking his back on demand. As well, we have let him sleep in our bed although in the wee hours I will generally struggle to carry him back.
Another playwrighting friend told me recently that her daughter still sleeps in the parental bed - at the age of five and a half. It was an improvement as far as my friend was concerned. Previously her daughter would cry loudly in the middle of the night until carried into her parents' bed, now she gets up and climbs into their bed herself.
And quite soon, I thought, she'll also be able to get herself up and pop over to the bakery for morning croissants.
The edit section on this blog is littered with the corpses of dead posts I half wrote before the mushbrain hit.
In the same way my Leunig wall calendar is crossed with never-made deadlines and opportunities lost because I've been too tired or fuzzy headed to knock up a proposal.
Which made this news so entirely miraculous:
Congratulations on your successful application to the New Work - Developing Writers grant category of the Literature Board of the Australia Council for the Arts. Please find attached your letter of notification and the contract for your grant...
This is a grant for me to write a second book, next year, which I am calling as a 'working title' (except I really like it): The Unreliable Observer's Guide To Pond Life.
And am I happy?
I tell you, I'd be jumping up and down like a mad thing, in celebration, except that I'm too frigging tired.