One year down, one to go

I took the lads back to Berri (the mister’s home turf) via Adelaide for Christmas while the mister stayed here Abu Dhabi.

Landing in Australia, putting credit back on my Australian SIM card, I felt the relief that you feel on arriving somewhere that takes no real effort. The relief that comes from knowing the language, the laws, and what to do if you lose your purse. We could get sick, robbed, lost, but it would be okay and, anyway, we wouldn’t get sick or robbed or lost, because we were home.

Except I was a little bit lost.

Well of course I was.

I’d just taken my lads to Paris for what must surely be, even if I am only half way through it, one of my life’s highlights. I’d dropped in at Abu Dhabi just long enough to remember how incomprehensible it is; to have a farewell coffee with a wonderful friend who won’t be here when I get back; and for the mister to wash my knickers and shove them back into my suitcase not-quite-dry. Then I pulled my clot-preventing socks back up and collected my boarding pass.

Back in Adelaide, I found, as people always do when they return, that everything was all at once different and the same. The light and the smells and the sound hit me with their forgotten familiarity. The air was dry, no crane in sight. But our house is rented out; we wouldn’t be spending the Christmas-New Year break on Kangaroo Island; the people who bought my Grandfather’s house have knocked it down and built a new one in its place; and a few days after I arrived in Adelaide the sale of my Dad’s – our family – house was settled. Dusted and done.

I was home, but not.

Mostly though, I was lost, because this was the second Christmas after Dad’s death. The second Christmas of being parent-less.

I think that in the grieving cycle, seconds are a bit more complex than firsts. Maybe not for everyone, but for me. In the second year, it all becomes real. In the second year, the shock has worn off and the protective numbness is receding. In the second year, that loss has been layered by births, illnesses, marriages, break-ups, break-downs, deaths, graduations, birthdays, bushfires, redundancies. Life has gone on as it does, layering our experiences minute by minute, days at a time. And so, at the second Christmas, you look around and you realise that this is how it is. He’s gone.

Intellectually, I know that I am a middle-aged woman without parents. I know this. But emotionally, I’ve lost my bearings, and I’m still not quite sure where I fit in this post-parent age. Even physically, I have to adjust, because my body still feels the absence of my parents as an emptiness above and around me. Somehow or other I have to work out how I can grow into that space.

As much as I try to keep Christmas low-key, it as at Christmas time that absences loom large. I do have places to be and people to be there with. Other families, of which I am a part, love me, welcome and care for me. Really, it’s quite something and even just thinking about how beautiful people were to me, I cry. But the absences are still there.

I’ve got welcoming places, but I haven’t got parents. I have safe harbours, but my anchors are lost.

Still, however lost I did feel, however overwhelmed, I was always glad that I’d made the trip. I watched the lads play with their cousins and have sleepovers and trade pokemon cards and go for swims in the river. I sat in backyards and in cafes and on the beach with my aunties, uncles, my step-family, my in-laws, my cousins, my friends.

I drank too much and stayed up way past my bedtime every single night (one time, almost til dawn, and it wasn’t even New Year’s Eve – brilliant times). One of the things I especially liked was sitting with my cousins and my friends, the ones who are around the same age, people I’ve known a long time or through tricky times, all of us who have looked, or are looking, around and thinking, ‘my goodness, look where we are, how did this happen and what are we supposed to do now?’

We cried and laughed over the years we’ve just had and the decisions we’ve made and the things that have turned out right and the things that have turned out wrong and the things we’re glad we’ve done and the things we should-oughtta have done. I wallowed, then get over myself, then wallowed, then get over myself again.

And it’s interesting, that even as each conversation acted like a little anchor, each one adding to the other, giving me more and more steadying weight, I felt myself able to leave them again, able to return to this incomprehensible place and say to the mister, ‘We should go and buy a bougainvillea to plant in the courtyard this weekend.’

Rite of passage

My youngest boy quickly realises that commission-based flyering isn’t the deal that he thought it was. I have told him that for each person he convinces to come to the show, I’ll give him one pound – after only one day he is demanding fee-for-service.

I knew this time would come. My dad’s political career saw me cycling all the way around our country town, putting pamphlets of my surprisingly well-groomed father in people’s letterboxes (there were no ‘no junk mail’ stickers back in those days). ‘A new packet of pencils,’ I would say. ‘Only if I can get my ears pierced.’

We start the dealing, my youngest boy and I.
‘Fifty pence is over one Australian dollar,’ I tell him.
‘Yes, but we aren’t in Australia, are we?’ he says.

We settle on a daily fee. It doubles his pocket-money for the week and my financial loss is already so great that it makes no real difference to my bottom line.

We stand on the Royal Mile, the four of us, one adult for each child. The mister manages to give away two flyers.
I give away a few more.
They fly from the children’s hands. Almost no-one says no.

‘I think it’s your clothes, and the way you speak, Dad,’ my eldest boy says. ‘And also, you’re not the cutest.’

We get offered quite a few flyers too. ‘That’s a good ploy,’ one of the flyerers says and nods towards our boys. ‘Better than a bright coloured T-shirt,’ he says pulling at his. From the resignation in his grin it is clear that he has been here before.

The children aren’t a ploy, but when the cast of another production walks past, some of them in suits, the others in boxer shorts, I agree with the mister: ‘I’m glad I don’t have to walk around in my undies.’

‘Are they allowed to walk around in their underwear?’ Youngest boy asks. We are a world away from the robed malls of Abu Dhabi.

There isn’t anyone at the show who hadn’t pre-bought tickets. No walk-ups, flyer in hand. I always told my Dad that how-to-votes at the polling booth would make no difference to the way that people voted.

We go out for a post-show celebratory meal. ‘Mum, giving out your pamphlets is the best job in the world,’ my eldest boy tells me after the first slug of his soft drink. And later, on our walk home, he is still holding a small pile of flyers in his hand, and handing them to people with his politely-worded question: ‘Would you like to see my Mum’s show? She’s hilarious.’

Exhausted, 7.30 am

“And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Dylan Thomas, Do not go gentle into that good night

And of all the gifts my father gave me, the final one was to let me be there to hold his hand. And he waited for a moment when I held no rage. Only love. Thanks Dad.

PS You can listen to Dylan Thomas (I’m pretty sure it’s him) read the poem here. It’s gorgeous.

Nothing a couple of panadol won’t fix

Its enormity, which I believed I understood, has been settling on me in waves.

Like yesterday, as I sat at the side of the bed of a man I love, a woman I have been smiling at all week but whose name I do not know, stopped and said ‘we’re going home’. Her nod, her smile, her look were small. ‘It’s at that point. There’s nothing more they can do for him’. I don’t speak because there is no need and because this time is hers.

I wonder how much more there is I am yet to understand. And how I ever will.

And then, in bed at seven, because I couldn’t stand or sit or think, my boys snuggled in with me. They brought me a glass of water, did sums together, took turns to pat me, and when the mister got home (delayed by fog) they said ‘shhhh…Mum’s got a thumping head’.

footy tipping…

…would be fun, except that there is always someone who takes it seriously. And aren’t serious footy tippers exhausting? And then, don’t you get sucked in – just a little bit – to wanting them not to win. And if someone else has to win, well, it may as well be you. And it’s all downhill from there.

And so, the representatives in our wider family tipping competition are our boys. Six years old and four. This, we thought, would be fun and would expose tipping competitions for what they are.

Except that the latent competitive spirit is obviously genetic and, I hasten to point out, passed down through the male side of the line, and one of our boys – the eldest one – is suffering through learning that if someone is going to win, then someone else must lose. And in footy tipping, sooner or later, you must always lose. Ugly (not me, I hasten once again to add, I am gracious in defeat – always).

It is an opportunity for teaching I tell myself as I follow him up to his room. Again. And hold him in my arms while he sobs.

And then, on Saturday, this classic line from eldest boy: ‘the problem is, Dad, I know the past, but not the future’.

And it was only six months ago (or maybe a little more, I don’t know, doesn’t time fly) that he jumped on the trampoline full of the joy of youth and shouting, as he reached the top of his jump, ‘I can see the future from here’.

Around and about ANZAC Day

The day before and the day before and the day before that
The man who lives in the room next door never closes his door. He has jars of lollies for his neighbour’s visitors and he keeps track of who likes what. He holds the children’s hands and says ‘let me look at your eyes’. The children do.

The day

The man we are visiting lies in bed. I’ve been warned, but still I am shocked. He cries because it takes him a moment to recognise me and we have known each other for twenty years. He will cry again when we leave. His television is big and loud, but it’s not like being there.

I watch for the man I am related to and think I hope he remembered to go. I don’t know which sign he would march behind.

Televised or live, The Last Post always chills.

The man who lives in the room next door is at the service down the street. He is strong enough to march. He joined the army looking for guaranteed meals, but I’m old enough to know it wasn’t as simple as that. He’ll be back in the afternoon, but we’ll be gone by then.

We will fill the space with a three hour drive and a family barbecue.

a question

On a scale of 1 to 10, how wrong is it to take the odd egg from the literal buckets of small but high quality eggs – including ahem lindt! numbering perhaps sixty in each bucket, there being two buckets one for each child – the neighbours gave your children after you returned from your Easter break.

1 means not at all evil.

10 means pretty evil, but obviously not approaching the level of leaving your children unattended in the car while you go into the casino to play blackjack.