Teething Problems

Rooftop BalletMarvel Girl lost her first tooth last night.

It was always going to happen sooner or later — later, in Marvel Girl’s case — but like many of life’s milestones, I am never as ready for these things as I think I’m going to be.

In the midst of her excitement, her jubilant preparations for the impending arrival of the Tooth Fairy (not to mention Miss Malaprop’s massive meltdown at the sight of her sister’s bloodied mouth), I felt torn between sharing the intensity of her joy and the old familiar tug of…of…of that feeling for which we have no adequately descriptive word in English.

It’s a blend of something like nostalgia, sometimes tinged with regret, but somehow resurrected by pride.  It’s born of the knowledge that my Marvel Girl and her sister are growing up.  And it’s inevitably followed by a rushing reminder of Gretchen Rubin’s ever so accurate observation that “the days are long, but the years are short”.

The Portuguese, bless them, have a word for this feeling, or something very like it: Saudade.

“Saudade” translates, to the best of my knowledge, as “a nostalgic longing to be near again to something or someone that is distant, or that has been loved and then lost”, or as Anthony de Sa puts it, “a longing for something so indefinite as to be indefinable”.

I feel saudade most acutely in those moments when part of me recognises, at some deep and otherwise undetected level, that after this, things will never be the same. These are the occasions when I feel that I am bearing witness to life — most frequently, for me, to the lives of my daughters. These are the moments that are captured by my heart’s camera, imprinted between heartbeats, indelible impressions of life most raw and pure.

You can get a free printable of this quote here.

You can get a free printable of this quote here.

I watched my Marvel Girl’s spontaneous dance of joy last night, her tiny tooth held tight between her fingertips, thrust up towards the light, and I knew the moment for what it was.

I won’t forget it, just as I won’t ever stop reminding her how much I love her, or how much she loves to dance.

And when I confessed to a dear, dear friend today that I was still feeling torn between saudade and sweet delight, he reminded me, ever so gently, that there was never ever any going back.

There is only the moment, to enjoy as much as is humanly possible.

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The Little Things about Home

ShowerSchool holidays are over once again, much to the disappointment and chagrin of our entire household. It seems somehow fitting that today, the day the kids have returned to school, the rain is pouring from a grey-stained sky while the wind is gusting close to gale force.

We snuck away south for the second week of the holidays, lured by the beaches of Bendalong and Mollymook and of days filled with surf and sand.  As with many of our other beachside holidays, The Bloke would have stayed away for three weeks if he could but, strangely enough, after four or five days the kids were asking when we were heading back to old Sydneytown — not because they were dissatisfied with the experience, but just because after a full and busy first term at school they have really enjoyed spending time pottering around at home.

And here’s the thing: I love being at home too.

Much as I enjoy getting away, I have been guilty of occasionally referring to vacations with children (especially children of the small variety) as being rather more like “same gig, different venue” than “relaxing, restorative break”…particularly if said getaways involve foreign languages, flat batteries on any devices possessing small screens, or more than four consecutive hours of travel. Throw in a lack of appropriate snack food (because they’ve eaten everything you packed and nearly started on the wrappers too) and sometimes it seems it would be far, far simpler to just stay home.

Because let’s face it: there are some things that make staying home worthwhile.  Really.  They’re generally only little things, but they’re often the ones that really count.

Here are a few little things that I think make staying at home utterly superb:

1. Home is where your pillow is. Some say that the best thing about coming home from holidays is sleeping in your own bed, but for me, being able to rest your head on your own pillow is just as important — if not more so. In the interests of full disclosure, I suspect the main reason that the humble pillow tops this list of little things is that I forgot to pack my mine when we went to Mollymook. I remembered to take Junior Monopoly, clothes pegs and two kinds of sunscreen, but I forgot my wonderfully comfortable pillow. Returning home, I greeted it like a long lost friend. (Yes, I may even have hugged it.) A good pillow is life-affirming.  

2. Home is where the second drawer in the kitchen contains everything you need. Ah…the much maligned second drawer. Every home has one, but it is not until you’re on vacation that you suddenly (and sometimes desperately, when children are involved) need something from that crazy, cluttered drawer.  Cling wrap, for example, or a knife that is actually capable of cutting. Band aids, rubber bands, a piece of string, blu tak, salad servers, a screwdriver — I defy you to think of a single holiday with kids when for some bizarre reason or another, you didn’t need something from the second drawer of your kitchen at home.

3. Home is where the chargers are. The chargers? Yes, the chargers…all the chargers. The phone charger, the regular camera charger, the video camera charger, the laptop charger, the iPod, iPad and Leap-pad chargers, the Kindle charger, even the bluetooth speaker charger.  In this dizzying digital age, attempting a vacation without packing a vicious snarl of electrical cables is virtually impossible, and heaven help you if you leave one behind — unless, of course, you want to leave them at home and unplug (gasp!) as well as unwind?! The fact that said chargers occupy one person’s quota of carry-on luggage is beside the point…at least at home, you know where they all are.  Either that, or you have enough other cables and bits on hand to Macgyver up something that connects to a standard power point…

4. Home is where you fully understand how the shower works. This brilliant thought is not actually one of mine (you can find more like it here), but the more I think about it the more I know it to be true. At home, you know exactly where to position the shower head or the flick mixer, or how many times to turn the taps, or whatever it is that you do in your shower, to make it just how you like it. Because God knows there aren’t many finer things on this green earth than a hot shower.

5. Home is where you know the exact location of the chocolate stash. Quite honestly, I don’t think this point requires any further elaboration. Besides, I have no wish to inadvertently set off The Bloke’s already highly tuned chocolate sensor to the presence of any confectionary that may or may not be present in our home.

So there you have it: five little things that make staying at home simply wonderful, and wonderfully simple.

Feel free to leave a comment if I’ve left your favourite out!

Blue Jai

Up Down Funky World

Easter falls at an odd time of year here in the Great Southern Land.  Instead of being filled with green growth and the tweets, cheeps and bleats that herald the coming of spring, we’re starting to feel the first cold snaps of autumn.  The pagan seasonal rituals that morphed into the major festivals of the Christian calendar are turned on their head here — it’s an Up Down Funky World, to quote Miss Malaprop (with apologies to Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars for her latest mondegreen). Not that we mind: we have our own traditions and ways of making Easter relevant, despite the seasonal imbalance, and they don’t all involve The Bunny.

Now, I’m not one to bang on about matters of religion — what you believe is your business, what I believe is mine — but here are a couple of the things that have made Easter special, in the true Bruce McAvaney sense of the word, for us this year.

March 2015 044Topping the list is our inaugural family outing to the Royal Easter Show, giving our girls their first taste of what happens when carnies and country folk collide. We wandered through a whirl of colour and light, taking in the giant fruit pictures (all Centenary of ANZAC themed this year) and the intricately decorated cakes before moving onto the animals: the cows and bulls, the goats and pigs, the dogs and cats. The kids had their first look at dressage and competitive woodchopping, tasted their first fairy floss, bought their first showbags (the Frozen bag for Miss Malaprop, while my Marvel Girl naturally chose the Avengers Assemble one).

While The Bloke went in search of the bratwurst and sauerkraut hot dog stall he frequents every time we go to the Show, the girls and I found a shady green space to relax near the Sydney Olympic Stadium, which neither of them had ever seen before. I found myself reminiscing about the old showgrounds at Moore Park before they were revamped into Fox Studios, remembering crowded laneways and redbrick pavilions where you could get separated from your parents in the crush faster than you could say “Bertie Beetle”, but knowing full well that getting lost at the Easter Show was a rite of passage for most kids growing up in Sydney during the 1980s. As I eyed the wrist bands displaying my mobile phone number that my children had been tagged with upon entering the Homebush showgrounds, I couldn’t help but think how much times have changed — probably for the better.

Easter PrizeSpeaking of changing times, the second tradition we upheld this year is a relatively new one for us: attending the Easter Hat Parade at Marvel Girl’s school. Not surprisingly, the Easter Hat Parade is exactly like it sounds: a parade of all the kindergarten children wearing Easter hats they (or more likely their parents) have created. Miss Malaprop was suitably impressed by the various bonnets from her vantage point on the sidelines, but even she knew that the main event came after the Parade: the drawing of the near-legendary Easter Raffle. First Prize in the Easter Raffle is usually so big that the box of chocolate and soft bunny toys is nearly impossible to carry, and the name of child who wins it is repeated reverently for years to come.

This year, Marvel Girl didn’t take home the Big One, but she did end up winning fourth prize, a box stuffed so full of chocolate rabbits and eggs that I was forced to explain that The Bunny doesn’t bring quite so much on Easter Sunday to kids who have been lucky enough to take home such a huge haul. What did please me, however, was the selfless generosity Marvel Girl displayed having won such a big prize: she gave away about half the chocolate she had won, and shared the rest of it with the family — even giving Miss Malaprop the egg in the Wonder Woman box she had been coveting since the second she saw it.

Easter TreeBut then, not to be outdone, it was Miss Malaprop’s turn to surprise me when she requested that we make an Easter Tree. Her reasoning, of course, was that Santa knew where to put presents at Christmas because we had a Christmas Tree, so wouldn’t it be easier if we made the Easter Bunny an Easter Tree so he would know where to put the eggs? We spent a delightful afternoon finding a suitable branch, crafting the decorations, and covering ourselves in glue. Seeing the look of pride on her face when she displayed the results to Marvel Girl and The Bloke was reward enough for me, but hearing their excited whispers outside their bedrooms on Easter Sunday morning before they charged down the hallway to share the experience of checking beneath the Easter Tree was equally heart-warming.

So what else has made our Easter special? The Bloke would probably say that getting to surf four days in a row would top his list — but that’s where living in an Up Down Funky World comes in once again: even though the air temperature is dropping rapidly, the sea temperature is still wonderfully warm. For me it has been curling up with a hot cup of tea to re-read the Tales of the Otori, Lian Hearn’s wonderful series set in an imagined Japanese inspired world. But it has also been getting to sleep for an extra hour, since Easter has coincided with the end of Eastern Daylight Saving Time, and getting to offload more junk, since Council clean up is on too (and many of you already know how I feel about that).

There’s a big southerly due in this evening, one that’s set to blow the chill off Bass Strait up the eastern seaboard. But right now, Easter Monday is sunny and warm, and another trip to the beach is ripe for the picking before the sea temperature starts to drop off too. It’s an Up Down Funky World, but it’s a good one.