Sunday, December 28, 2014

take a load for free

I’m a bit past letters to Santa, and it’s not like anybody really asked me what I wanted for Christmas this year, at least not in the way that would imply I might actually get it.

But now, pressure off, reindeers long since disappeared over the horizon, I feel I can honestly tell you. What I really, desperately want, and have wanted for the best part of the year, is not to be given anything. It is to have something, lots of things, taken away. I think my ideal Christmas would not have involved receiving of any kind, just lots of people coming to my house and taking stuff. For nothing. No eBay or Gumtree transactions involved, no money changing hands. Just for Christ’s sake come and take this shit I don’t want or need. It is ballast. The dinner sets that have never, in their entire existence, known the sensation of food. The clothes I haven’t worn since the 90s. The stupid, dusty, unopened, unappreciated books (there are beautiful books that are worth their weight in gold, and then there are pointless bricks of paper that many trees died needlessly for). Take them. I beg of you.

In my wildest dreams I imagine a gigantic skip bin placed in my driveway, where I can throw all the ephemera that haunts me and taunts me and weighs me down. I might even open the windows in the lounge room, the ones with no flyscreens, and fling worthless objects in the direction of the skip bin in hopes they will reach their intended destination. Scratched, chipped plates might even shatter in a highly dramatic fashion on the footpath.

I don’t feel sad about any of this, in fact I’m having a hard time summoning any sentimental feelings at all. I just feel a bit angry, if anything, that my belongings have become such a counterweight to true happiness. That I allowed myself to accumulate so much shit. That I fell into the trap of wanting a bigger house, thinking that would buy me more space, more light, more room to breathe, when in fact all I did was fill it with stuff that slowly but surely robbed me of all those things.

I’ve been fighting the urge all year to just up stumps and go somewhere else. Take the husband, of course, the kids, the dog, one car, a few bags. But no baggage. No mortgage. No endless pursuit of something that’s just not there. But I dare not breathe a word of it. It’s such a big picture that it might just swallow me whole. What I can do is make a plan, smash some plates, offload some ballast. And hire a skip bin.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The circle game

And the seasons, they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down.
We're captive on the carousel of time.
We can't return, we can only look behind from where we came
And go round and round and round in the circle game.

- Joni Mitchell, The Circle Game

Today was my very last playgroup, after roughly eight years and three daughters. I can barely begin to put into words how that makes me feel sad, and a bit scared, and maybe a tiny bit triumphant.

I tried really hard not to think about all those things while I sang Dandelion and blew into her hair - "they pick me up in their dimpled hands, and blow my hair away" - and galloped around holding her hand singing My Donkey Has A Bridle - "if ever I should lose him, it wouldn't be for long" - because I could so easily have cried at the thought of doing all these things - things I have done with three beautiful little girls - for the last time.

So instead I tried to think about the cycles, the seasons, the circular nature of life and the fact that time waits for no man, woman or child. Summer becomes Autumn becomes Winter becomes Spring and while we are there to celebrate each of those moments in time, it makes no sense to cling to them. Life goes on.

So I held my baby's hand, and held myself together, for one last time: "The sun says I glow, the stream says I flow, the breeze says I blow, the wind says I BLOW, the seed says I grow. And we say "I know". 

Monday, October 13, 2014

big love

Sometimes you make decisions and the results are instant, whether good or bad. Sometimes they take a while longer to be realised. And then there are times like today, when a decision I made more than 12 years ago came to be so much more than I ever imagined.
I kept all the cards I was sent when I first became a mother. All the celebratory notes, the sweet hand-written words that welcomed me into the exclusive club of parenthood and more importantly, welcomed our baby girl into the world.
I kept them and put them into a display folder, the kind usually reserved for boring business presentations or school projects, but the best thing for the job. They are displayed so that you can see the pretty pink pictures on the front and the beautiful, personal messages inside. I did this for my first daughter and my second, and then my third, because I wanted them to know, in case they ever doubted it, how much of a celebration their lives had brought about. How much they were welcomed, treasured, loved.
I had never shown the girls their folders, mainly because I had thought they would be older before they could grasp the intention behind them. Perhaps they might still come in useful in times of adolescent angst. But tonight Freya was talking about her namesake, the Norse goddess, and how her class is beginning to learn the myths of Freya. I remembered that I had printed out a beautiful illustration of my Freya’s goddess when she was just a few weeks old, and put it in her folder. Naturally she was fascinated, and proceeded to look at and read every card. Elsa wanted to know if she had a folder too, and set about doing the same. And maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I think her wise 12-year-old eyes saw past the pink baby carriages and the embossed booties into how big her life was to us, even when she was just a tiny dot.
So today I took just a moment to congratulate myself on that decision 12 years ago, on the $2 purchase of a crappy plastic folder that holds so much love and so many promises. Not just for my daughters, but for myself too.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Dear Dad

I didn’t get you a Father’s Day present this year. I’m sorry about that, although I don’t think you’ll mind. Rather than buy something you don’t really need, I thought I would give you something I made myself. It always went down well when I was in primary school.
It’s not a hand-made card or a pencil holder, though. It’s just words, because I am best at writing things down and I think you have always seen that in me and helped me to believe it.
You have always been great at the Dad things - building stuff, fixing stuff, giving directions and having a good laugh. But you’re great at the other Dad things too, which are harder to put a name to.
My first, best memory of you is holding onto your arm and you lifting me off the ground as though I weighed nothing. I could barely fit my arms around yours, but I knew then and I know now that they would never let me fall.
The words “Happy Father’s Day” seem a bit hollow to me. A bit hollow and a bit commercial and a lot about somebody else's idea of what a father means. So I have some others to give you and I hope you like them. I love you, and thankyou for everything.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

mind if i share?

I am alone and the house is quiet, except for the hum of the dishwasher and the occasional clatter of a cat hurling itself at the walls and down the hallway. I’ve been alone all day, although I did manage to leave the house for a few hours. But even though I was surrounded by people, I was still alone.

This time last week I would have given anything for the ability to be alone, doing nothing, with no noise or distractions or feelings of guilt at not having enough entertainment planned for the kids. Time to myself, to think about what I want to think about, to make plans, to read or write or even sleep in the middle of the day if I wanted to. But on this, my third straight day of such blatant luxury, and for the first time in living memory, I am not so sure that I like being alone any more.

The girls have been staying with my Mum and Dad a couple of hours away, and while it’s something I sorely needed after a couple of bouts of the flu, it’s never easy to drive away from them knowing it will be days before I see them again. I know they will be having fun and they will be happy, but it doesn’t stop me from feeling rotten that I have to leave them somewhere miles away just so I can get some time to myself.

Not that I haven’t had a lovely time these past few days with my dearest husband and soul mate. I haven’t cooked a single meal, we’ve done dinner and a movie and just enjoyed the closeness that comes from not having three other people in the house. When we arranged the break, I knew he would have to work all weekend but he’d be home every afternoon and we would have the evenings together. What bliss, I thought, to have two days to myself. What will I do? Where will I go? Cafes? Shopping? Long walks on the beach?

Day one I went shopping, but it wasn’t as much fun as you’d think. Because the other word in it was ‘grocery’. Good job to get out of the way, but by the time I got home it was midday and after I’d had some lunch (okay, a chocolate chip muffin and a cup of tea) I really couldn’t get motivated to leave the house again. I put on some music and enjoyed the beautiful winter sunshine (and empty clothes line) instead.

Day two involved a trip to the farmers market for supplies, a hit and run mission to avoid the babies and cute children all rugged up against the cold that played into my mothers’ guilt. I hauled my bags to the car and thought about calling a friend to see if she was up for a visit. Knowing how busy she always is, and how long it’s been since I’ve seen her, I thought twice. I drove to a weekly trash and treasure market that I’ve always enjoyed looking around with the girls, and today was no exception. Lots of trash and a few little treasures, plus a chance meeting with a friend from high school who is just as lovely now, maybe even more lovely given my scarcity of friendships and desperate need for adult conversation.

I lugged my treasures back to the car and decided to call my busy friend. True to form, she wasn’t home. In fact she is not home almost as often as I am home. Which is all the time. Literally every waking moment. When I am not driving to or from school, which amounts to roughly 25 minutes each weekday and nothing on weekends.

So here I am. I have had my nap, I have read the Sunday paper, I have even done a load of washing to satisfy myself that I still exist. But despite having wished for this time, time to myself, time alone, I now realise how very alone I am. Maybe not lonely, because that’s a different thing. But sadly and forlornly alone.

I thought a bit of reading might help. But everywhere I look there are people leading full and interesting lives and feeling the uncontrollable urge to tell everyone about it. The newspapers are full of horrible characters, from the news pages to the social pages, and the online ‘presence’ of anyone with opposable thumbs is doing my head in.

In the past two years I’ve let lots of things go. Some go easily, others are harder. Hopes of an overseas holiday don’t seem to matter so much until you become an unwilling observer of somebody else’s holiday snaps and realise they are the closest you will ever come to that side of the world (or country). And nobody begrudges a person for having fantastic hair but it does make it all that harder to look into any reflective surface and be reminded that nine months have passed since your last visit to the hairdresser and the grey on your head is starting to match the grey of your face.

People are everywhere, sharing the minutiae of their lives every single second it seems. They have so much to say, but it doesn’t stop there. There’s all that information that somebody has decreed we the public must know. The newspapers are full of it, churning it out in great meaningless slabs that can really only be discerned from the David Jones and Myer sales ads by the altered font.

The vast majority of this is information I neither need nor want. My brain is overloaded with other people’s memories of misery and abuse and suffering and the only way to avoid it is to leave the newspaper at the front door in its plastic cocoon. I don’t want to know these people. I want a real conversation with a real person. It seems I want too much. It seems my company is no more appealing to others than it is to me.

I know I’m feeling sorry for myself. But the one thing I miss about being alone is being able to write. To take all the crazy thoughts that fall over themselves inside my head and get them out. So it is done. I have not walked on any beaches, mainly because Are you kidding? It’s freezing outside! And I have not visited any cafes, mainly because the point of going to a cafĂ© is to meet somebody else there and enjoy their company. The point of solitude, in contrast, is to be alone. And not just alone surrounded by people. Actually alone. Like I am right this minute, save for a mildly concussed cat, although I am still really wishing I’d had somebody else to sit down with today and just share an hour and a hot chocolate. Unlike filtered Instagram photos of overseas sojourns and blissful firesides, that’s the kind of sharing I miss.

Monday, May 19, 2014

the arrival of oberon

A few days after losing Mao, I had a dream that another cat found me. He was a big chocolate-brown bear of a cat, so naturally enough I called him Bear. It may or may not be pertinent that I have a thing about bears, and also a thing about John Irving novels, which also have a thing about bears. But I digress.

When looking for our next cat, I was not really looking for a cat at all, and not for a Mao either. I was looking for a Bear. When I found the little Tabby/Tonkinese cross on Gumtree I was not sure he looked much like a Bear, but I wasn't sure what name would suit him. Then one morning I flicked open my very dog-eared baby name book and the first word my eyes fell on was Auberon (also spelt Oberon). And the meaning: Gentle bear.

We picked up our little bundle one recent overcast Sunday, after a long drive to the surprisingly affluent western suburbs of Sydney. And after the long drive home, we introduced our Oberon to HRH Violet and the result was not entirely unexpected. Much hissing and spitting but very little actual contact ensued for the next several hours until they settled on a respectful distance and realised that they in fact had more in common than first thought. By the next evening I had both of them asleep on my lap. At once.

But Oberon, or Obi as we have taken to calling him (Obi Wan Kenobi may have been mentioned once or twice), is no gentle bear. He is much more like a tiny leopard, all legs-like-steel-springs and wily manouevres on an ever unsuspecting Violet. He can be such a mischievous little boy, much like I imagine any little boy can sometimes be, and while I chastise him for his endless torment of poor Violet, I think both she and I can't help but love him. They will play, then fight, then play some more, then I'll find them curled up together on a chair where they'll sleep for hours. And when all is quiet at the end of another long day, and I fall onto the lounge to savour my thank-god-that's-over cuppa, I will feel a small presence beside me and my little leopard will jump onto my lap and curl up as quiet as a lamb. No bears allowed.

Friday, May 9, 2014

the story of violet

I knew we would never replace Mao. How could we? But I was less certain how I would get through the pain of losing him without the benefit of a cat. There is no better cure for heartache.

After a week, I searched Gumtree through tears for Tonkinese kittens. They were all outside the state or outside our budget, or both. Then finally a compromise: a Tonkinese/tabby cross in Sydney with a pedigree mum and a mischievous glint in his eye. He’d be ready in just over a month. I paid the deposit and said nothing to the girls. When they asked would we ever get another cat, I just said “One day.”

It was only a couple of days later that a series of random events led to me being at a park where I wouldn’t normally have been. I was with Rosa in the playground and we noticed a fire engine parked at the shopping centre, which seemed odd, but there were only a couple of people standing around so no emergency. Then another, bigger fire engine appeared, with a huge cherry picker on the back. Now any novice who has read her share of Golden Books can tell you that can mean only one thing: a cat needed rescuing. I didn’t think these things happened in real life either, but there you are.

We walked over to the people standing below the trees where the fire engines were parked and found a woman holding a towel. On closer inspection, we found that the towel contained the most gorgeous kitten in all creation, who was purring loudly and completely unfazed by the ridiculous scene unfolding before us. In keeping with the whole storybook theme, this kitten (we found out later it was a she, though there wasn’t ever much doubt) appeared to have escaped from some kind of palace, where she might have spent all day lounging on a velvet cushion and having her silken coat and mile-long whiskers groomed by a thousand tiny cat worshippers.

But she was not in the palace any more. On closer inspection she was covered in fleas, her coat was dirty and she had either given up or never really learnt how to properly groom herself. She had an accomplice, too. Another kitten had high-tailed it up the nearest tree and was refusing to budge, hence the fire engine. Apparently they had been found in the park together, but this little princess was slightly more keen to be rescued than her friend.

When I saw this sweetest of kittens, I couldn’t believe the universe could be quite so generous, I patted her and we both purred, and although I was starting to tremble with the excitement of it all, I managed to ask the lady who was holding her whether she would be taking her home. “I have two cats already,” she said apologetically, “so I really can’t”. Cue dream sequence music, soft focus close-up of Her Royal Highness the luckiest cat in the world, and roll credits.  

We took her to the nearest vet - she rode in the car on my lap and fell asleep - and they confirmed she was female, about five months old and not microchipped. We named her Violet, which suits her beautiful grey eyes and silken coat perfectly, and now she sleeps on a velvet cushion whenever she can and is surrounded by cat worshippers of many shapes and sizes, the largest and most devout of whom is me. Because whenever I see her I marvel at how she found me just when I needed her. And I hope she would say the same about me.

Next: The arrival of Oberon

Friday, April 25, 2014

The story of Mao

This is a story that’s close to my heart. In fact, so close to my heart that I hesitate even to tell it, in case I lose my grip on it and what it means to me. But I will tell it, because in many years I may need to be reminded.

This is the story of Mao, a beautiful cat who found our family when there were only four of us, and made himself a part of it. He was a Tonkinese cat, a noble and handsome boy who loved us from the very beginning. We took a little toy mouse with us on the day he chose us, and we waded into a house full of Tonkinese kittens who were running and jumping in all directions and all looked very much the same. We threw our toy mouse into the blur of kitten and out strode a sweet but self-assured bundle with the mouse in his mouth, straight to us.

I used to joke that he was the cat I’d wanted when I was single, when I would have been able to devote so much spare time to just sitting with him on my lap, but he didn’t seem to mind too much that my lap only became available long after dark, when the house fell strangely silent. And when another baby arrived, the lap stopped appearing altogether for a while, along with the silence.

He befriended our Labrador and they often shared a bed, unless Sunday was chased off and then Mao had it all to himself. We’d often see them running full-pelt around the  backyard, Sunday in front and Mao at his heels, tail in the air, then seconds later they’d come back the other way. It was hard to tell who was enjoying the chase more.

He was the Yul Brynner of the cat world, and I could see him in the role of the king in The King And I, all fancy pants and endearingly misguided ego, strutting about with his nose in the air but too lovable to resist. We all loved him, and he loved us back. So when he suddenly became very sick we were all worried. With good reason. Mao had acute kidney failure, and he spent six days at the vet, during which nobody was sure he was coming home. He did come home, and we loved him even more in the hope that it might fix the one thing I knew deep down could never really be fixed. He came good, with the help of daily injections of fluid and a special diet, and he was more loving than ever. He took to being carried around the house on my shoulders, and we walked him outside on a lead so he could get some sunshine. But it couldn’t last forever.

We said goodbye to Mao in early March, and I stayed with the girls, all of us weeping and me trying to console them, while Randal took him to the vet. He came home with the body of our beautiful Mao, who we buried in the backyard under all the flowers we could find. I told the girls that Mao was in cat heaven now, chasing little mice and sleeping in the sunshine, and he would never be sick again. Eventually we stopped crying, but I struggled for several days to come to terms with losing someone who’d become almost a part of me. The things we love most about our pets - their companionship, their apparent empathy, their unconditional love - are the same things that threaten to ruin us when we ultimately have to say goodbye to them.

But then I slowly realised that Mao will never really leave. He is in my heart, and in all our hearts, and I see him curled up there, purring and eternally content, whenever I miss him (which is almost always). And when Rosa, who is four, asks where Mao is now, I tell her he is in our hearts, and he will be there forever and always.

Next: The story of Violet

Saturday, April 12, 2014

On not falling into booby traps

The last time I went bra shopping I was on a mission. A mission that involved leaving behind my third soggy collection of maternity bras and replacing them with new brassieres, distinguishable by their glorious absence of clips and by their focus almost entirely on form, not function. I wanted my next bra to be beautiful, comfortable and flattering. I wanted to be able to put it on in the morning and not touch it or even think about it for the whole day. No itchy lace, no metal underwires and no wonderbras.

Ultimately I found the very bra for me, so perfect that I bought three in various colours. That was more than three years ago, and they have served me well up until about six months ago, when they started to lose their elasticity (much like my skin) and failed to fit properly (much like all my other clothes) while also looking very much the worse for wear (much like me, and all my other clothes).

So a couple of weeks ago I ventured back into the bra department of a certain store which is known for selling big labels at small prices and I must say I was flabbergasted. There were literally hundreds of bras in this place, all on sale and altogether comprising roughly half the world's supply of sponge. Seriously, one misdirected match and the whole place would have gone up like Cracker Night 1978.

I don't care if you want to hoist your tits up under your chin, double their size and create a cleavage that small animals can disappear into. I really don't. It's entirely your business. But surely we should have other options. There was not a single bra in this shop, at least not in my very modest (some would say small, others would say "Why do you need to buy a bra anyway?") size that did not have at least half an inch of padding. Even the teeny tiny training bras, which in my day consisted of two nylon triangles that joined at the front with a sliding hook, would not have looked out of place in certain street windows in Amsterdam.

What is going on? Not only have we deluded ourselves into thinking that our own assets are not good enough, we're conning our daughters into thinking that too, before they even have a chance to decide otherwise. It's taken me 41 years, but I'm at a point where I just want a bra that's comfortable, that says "I care just enough to not leave the house without a bra on", as opposed to "Give me one more throw cushion and I'm wearing a two-seater lounge".

We should take a stand. Maybe take all the abominable foam bras out there and burn 'em. No lighter fluid required.