Harry Potter and the End of an Era

HP 5It was always going to happen.

Always.

Two nights ago, the girls and I had three chapters plus the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows left to read. Last night, we simply couldn’t stop — could anyone have stopped, I ask you? — and I kept reading aloud, and drinking peppermint tea, and reading aloud some more until the book was finished.

And now, quite understandably, we are feeling a little bereft.

It seems like only a month or so ago that we started reading Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone, embarking on our J K Rowling odyssey. In reality, it was several years ago, and we even had a considerable hiatus between books four and five to allow our (very visual and emotionally sensitive) Miss Malaprop to be sufficiently old enough to cope with the content without having nightmares.

There have been so many laughs along the way, as well as tears, as Harry Potter and his friends have woven themselves in the fabric of our existence. Whenever any of us has to read something less interesting or onerous, we trick ourselves into persevering by inserting the words “Harry Potter and the… before the title. Recent examples of works made far more palatable by this process have been Harry Potter and the Land Tax Exemption for Land Used and Occupied Primarily for Low Cost Accommodation, and Harry Potter and the Effects of a One Year Development Programme for Recently Graduated Veterinary Professionals on Personal and Job Resources, and the truly inspiring Harry Potter and the Australian Privacy Principles.

See? Every so much more fascinating once you add in a dose of Harry. A little magic goes a long way in such cases.

But a little magic helps us get through life every day, doesn’t it?

HP2Both my children have the words Nox and Lumos on their bedroom light switches. Both have Hogwarts robes, Gryffindor for Marvel Girl and Slytherin for her sister, in their wardrobes. All three of us have our wands, which chose us (of course) at Ollivanders, and mine (since I am a Ravenclaw) sits beside my laptop, ready for use at any time. I even have my Hogwarts letter, apparently redirected many times over until it finally arrived, courtesy of a dear friend and a then much smaller “owl” who flew it to my doorstep on my 40th birthday.

All of these things are treasured.

The world is not a smaller place now that we have finished reading the books. Rather, each of our universes has expanded to include the realms of possibility, of imagination, and of magic. We are all more conscious, every day, of the saving power of love.

And it was hard last night, really hard, not to tear up when reading the final portion of the seventh and final book in the series to my children, particularly when I read these words:

Of house-elves and children’s tales, of love, loyalty and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing. Nothing. That they all have a power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he has never grasped.

How fortunate are we, to have the benefit of these so-called children’s tales, and to know their power really is beyond the reach of any magic.

HP1And so we will embark on new adventures, in search of new tales, perhaps with Sparrowhawk as he wends his way from the Isle of Gont towards becoming an Archmage, or with Zaphod Beeblebrox tripping through the galaxy, or perhaps we will stay closer to home, roaming the streets of colonial Sydneytown with Beattie Bow, or dancing in the Anzac Deli with Mareka Nikakis.

Yet I know, deep down, that in years to come my children will more than likely read the Harry Potter books to their children, and will love them just as much then as they do now.

After all this time?

Always.

 

Waking Late and Winter Walks

two

We shall not cease from exploration…

We’ve had the best time.

Nothing makes me happier than hearing my children say these words — particularly when we’ve just spent the school holidays, in their entirety, at home.

I mean, we have left the house every now and then, because good old Sydneytown has turned on a run of truly spectacular winter days. It’s wonderfully warm in the sun, and even though it’s been windy the skies have been mostly clear of clouds. Staring skyward has been like looking up at a shimmering swathe of pale blue silk, stretching high into the heavens.

But the best bit has been the freedom. 

For me, there is nothing more liberating than turning off all the alarms on my phone, knowing that we are — blissfully — not bound by routine for two whole weeks.

Being winter, we have slept in, relishing being able to get up with the sun at seven rather than scurrying out of bed in the dark.  Even better, there have been days when we have stayed snug beneath our bedcovers, reading books or revelling in the very real pleasure of not having to be anywhere at a specific time.

We have enjoyed other simple things, too. We have walked in the winter sun, sometimes with a destination in mind and other times just because we can. We have watched Captain Marvel and endless episodes of The Adventures of Merlin, reminding ourselves that magic should be part of everyday life. We have planted flowers to brighten the back yard. We have played board games and card games while sipping hot chocolate and even hotter coffee. We have baked more muffins than it’s sensible for humans to consume.

From time to time I have marvelled at my children’s creativity, partciularly when they took it upon themselves to transform a large cardboard box into a Viking longboat in the back yard. I have smiled to myself in wry amusement when they protested having to scrub paint out of their pants when their artistic endeavours haven’t gone entirely to plan. I have admired their generosity when they have gone through old books and clothes and toys and worked out what they wanted to pass on to other kids.

And in the evenings, when the winter darkness falls so fast, we have heated our home by making stews and coming up with new spice blends to season homemade chicken nuggets, all while listening to Miles Davis and other jazz greats, or The Bad Plus working their own kind of wonder with instrumental versions of long-beloved songs like No Woman, No Cry. I’ve probably drunk more wine than I meant to, stirring pots on the stovetop and peeling sweet potatoes and parsnips to bake, not because the kids are driving me crazy, but because I am relaxed and happy — and because these are my holidays, too.

We’ve had the best time.

And I have, too.

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…and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

 

 

Rescued

noI have been saying NO to my children for a very long time.

Despite my best efforts to be a mother who phrases things positively, explaining what I want them to do rather than what I would like them to stop doing, there has been one small, though significant thing I have been saying no to repeatedly — pretty much ever since they learned how to walk and talk.

No, we are NOT getting a pet.

No, not a cat.

No, not a dog either. 

No, not even a fish.

No. 

And it’s not like I haven’t had good reasons for saying no. In fact, both my girls can quote you, chapter and verse, the many and detailed reasons I have provided to them over the past nine years (since our last pet passed on) why we would not be getting a replacement four legged friend any time soon.

There have even been occasions — usually when they have been particularly persistent in their pestering for a pet of their own — when I felt tempted to start spounting the lines from Labyrinth Sarah uses to defeat the Goblin King.  Go on, I would think to myself, try me: “My will is as strong as yours and my kingdom as great…YOU HAVE NO POWER OVER ME!

But the thing is, as it turned out that one small creature DID have power over me.

During the Easter holidays, I softened my hardline just a smidge: I finally relented and informed the girls that they would be allowed to get a small tank and some fish. They would need to be in charge of cleaning the aquarium, feeding and caring for their new finned friends. They also needed to work out how much everything would cost and stick to a budget when making their initial purchases — gravel, tank decorations, the fish themselves, the works.

And then, while we were at the pet store, Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop just happened to venture down to the far end of the shop to a couple of cages containing animals who were up for adoption. They might even have “borrowed” my phone to take pictures of said creatures…or, more accurately, of one in particular.

We went home, set up the tank, washed the gravel, positioned all the plants and the hula hut decoration, got the filter and lights going and and began treating the water so it was ready for fish.

Later that night, once the kids were in bed, I found a series of photographs on my phone. They weren’t great pictures, because many of them had the bars of a cage featuring prominently in the foreground. But beyond the bars was a small, furry feline with tabby/tortishell markings, spectacular whiskers, beautiful eyes and an elegant tail that resembled a plume.

She was one year old. Desexed, microchipped, vaccinated. And she was a stray.

Next morning, I woke up well before the kids.  Without even meaning to, or realising what I was doing, I picked up my phone off my bedside table and began scrolling through the images of the small, furry creature who was most definitely not a fish.

The Bloke rolled over, wondering what on earth had possessed me to start checking my phone at 5:00am.

Ah, he said. I thought this might happen.  I saw her too.

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So, as it turns out, we returned to the pet store that day and came home not with fish, but with a small and ever so delightful cat we have named Tauriel.

And since we got her — or since I said YES — I have made some interesting discoveries.

I have yelled less. We have all been calmer, and made an effort to get along with each other better. We have tried to make Tauriel feel at home, and she was rewarded us with her madcap toy mouse-capades and her speed scampering up and down the hallway, with purrs and playful bites and with the joy only an animal can bring.

The many and varied reasons why we should not have got a four-legged friend remain, and will continue to do so, but after eight or nine years of saying NO, Tauriel appeared at precisely the right time for me to change my formerly made-up mind.

A rescue cat, is Tauriel. And even though we may have rescued her from an uncertain future, I suspect we all feel she has rescued us, too, and that we are as lucky to have her as she is to have us.

And the fish? Well…we finally got them too — and Tauriel takes great delight in watching Mahalo, Taco, Nacho and Mrs Norris swimming around in their tank. So do we.

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Touching Clouds

little things“Fog,” my then three-year-old daughter explained very earnestly to me as we walked along together one day, “is a cloud you can touch.”

It’s one of the many interesting things my younger child has informed me of over the years, but I remember it particularly well because I made a note of it on my iPhone, along with the date she said it.  Every now and then, when I needed to remember to smile, I would look back at that little note and it would lift my spirits.

And if I really needed to feel better, I would listen to a voice recording I had made of her watching the film version of The Gruffalo for the first time. That audio clip captured her little girl giggle, descending into breathlessness as she laughed so hard that no sound came out.

I am feeling rather nostalgic as I write this, because those two things are gone now: my iPhone died unexpectedly last month, and while I had backed up all my photos (thank the Old Gods and the New), I had neglected to include my notes or audio files in that all-important process.

not thingsAnd so, I am left now with just the memory of those things, and of all the times they made me smile.

I am reminded, time and again, that it is these little things…tiny fragments of memory, snippets of conversation, moments in time…that are not the littlest things in our lives at all, but the biggest. And those things, it turns out, are not things at all.

That, my friends, is my little thought for the day.

And my wish is that you, during your travels through life, may also find a cloud you can touch, and know it for what it really is.

 

Tempus Fugit

tempus 2

Time flies, as any wag will tell you, when you’re having fun.

But here in Sydney, as our glorious summer holidays are drawing all too swiftly to a close, my mind has turned to Virgil’s original words, written in his Georgics centuries ago.

Sed fugit interea, fugit inreparabile tempus, singula dum capti circumvectamur amore.

Fast flies meanwhile the irreparable hour, as point to point our charmed round we trace.

VIRGIL trans. Rhoades

We have had a fortunate summer, sun-filled and surf-drenched, with barefoot days and balmy nights.

And while the clocks sometimes seemed to slow during the past six weeks, time — inescapable, irretrievable time — has slipped steadily, stealthily by.

tempus 1I mean it’s there, if I look for it.  I know I could find snippets of it between the pages of the dozen novels I’ve read since Christmas, or catch a glimpse or two between beach towels flapping in the breeze on the washing line. There’s probably a drop or two left in a wineglass on a windowsill somewhere, and a few morsels thrown in with the leftover salads in the fridge. I will no doubt discover a few more bits in with the various brightly coloured cards and plastic pieces of board games we’ve played during the heat of the day, or find some slipped into the pocket of one of my kids’ shorts with a couple of movie ticket stubs.

But now, at the end of my favourite month of the year, there is only a day or two left before school resumes for my girls — a new start for one, a familar return for the other — and I will admit feeling slightly nostalgic and a little bereft. The irreparable hour has well and truly flown, and I am reminded of my favourite childhood picture book, Robert McCloskey’s Time of Wonder, about another summer, spent by another family comprising, as ours does, of a mother, father and two sisters, far away in Maine.

I know this feeling is universal and, ironically, timeless: Virgil wrote about it in the first century and McCloskey was still picking up the theme in the twentieth.

But I also know that there will be a certain heaviness in my heart and a lag in my step when we wend our way from point to point on our own charmed round this evening…down to the beach for one last swim as a family, and back home again for a BBQ and a quiet glass of wine.

That charmed round isn’t going anywhere — and I am well aware we are beyond lucky to live where we do — but it’s never quite the same once school has started again, and the long summer days have lost their laziness, and a perhaps a little of their loveliness.

Take a farewell look at the waves and sky. Take a farewell sniff of the salty sea. A little bit sad about the place you are leaving, a little bit glad about the place you are going. It is a time of quiet wonder — for wondering, for instance, where do hummingbirds go in a hurricane?

ROBERT McCLOSKEY

tempus 3

Home…

Rainy Days

Labyrinth 2

Are you ready for the holidays?

It’s finally raining here in Sydneytown, and — rumour has it — they’re even getting some of the good stuff out west where they need it most.  Not enough to break this godawful drought just yet, but all rain is good rain when there hasn’t been any for a long while.

The other thing that eventually turned up was the school holidays, which I was looking forward to beyond measure. Third term was long and full — too full, perhaps — so the combination of rain and lazy days off school has proved, so far, to be a good one.

And yet, only a week or so before the holidays began, several things occurred that filled me with dreadful trepidation rather than joyful anticipation…

The first clear sign I had that something was amiss was when I found a teaspoon in the washing machine.

No, not the dishwasher, but the washing machine.

Yep.  A metal teaspoon in the washing machine, under a load of wet clothes.

How it got there remains a mystery to us all. Various suspects (generally of the smaller two legged variety) were questioned, but answered with blank, wide-eyed stares, shrugged shoulders and mumbled responses along the lines of nope, nup, no idea, or at best, a vague: “What teaspoon?”

Labyrinth 5

What the heck are my kids up to?!

My second tipoff was the Painting Incident, which took place on the (appallingly scheduled) staff development day which gave the kids a Friday off in the second last week of school. I was on a writing deadline and had lined up an interview I was unable to postpone early that afternoon.

“No problem!” responded my (unnaturally cheerful) children.  “We will paint on canvas outside, so we don’t make a mess of the house and it’s quieter for you.”

How lovely, I remember thinking.  How understanding and considerate…what lovely little human beings.

Needless to say, the Painting Incident did not end well.

I was on the landline, recording the interview on my iPhone, and was quite unable to chastise those so-called lovely little human beings when they traipsed into the kitchen a mere ten minutes into the conversation and began rummaging through the junk drawer for various containers of goodness knows what. The artworks were now, apparently, being transformed into mixed media pieces, and all I could do was gently wave my hands at my progeny and keep my focus fixed on my interviewee.

OK…OK…it was more like whole arm windmilling motions combined with aggressive finger pointing towards the back door, all while glaring at my offending offspring and clearly mouthing the words GET OUT.

Labyrinth 4

I may also have said this – both bits.

Twenty minutes later, interview complete, I ventured outside to survey the…artworks. To be fair, they had created some quite respectable pieces: palm trees silhouetted against a sunset, tropical islands, starry skies with actual glitter to make them more sparkly.

That, I think, was also the moment when I noticed there was an entire galaxy of glitter spread across the patio, some of it mixed in with paint in a truly alarming variety of shades. The plastic mat I had intended to protect the patio tiles was bunched up against the BBQ, and more paint was coagulating in approximately fifteen separate paint brushes. Used wet wipes were wafting around the back yard, along with the now empty packet from whence they came.

I turned back towards the house to get more wet wipes, found that one of my dear children had trodden blue footprints on the back doormat and across the living room rug, and then proceeded to discover that there were no spare wet wipes either.

What? I always have a spare packet, because…

(Well, I think by now it’s pretty obvious why I always have a spare packet of wet wipes. Some days I think I should just give up and call the house Gotham.)

Labyrinth 3

Some of this experimenting is quite perplexing.

I then remembered where I had last seen a large quantity of wet wipes, which also — naturally — reminded me of the third clue I had received indicating we were all in need of a holiday: there had been a large, curiously yellow coloured wodge of wet wipes (I believe that is the correct technical term) in the bathroom bin several days before.

Sigh.

A Science Experiment (unoffical and most definitely unsanctioned) had been conducted in the bathroom a couple of days earlier, which had involved my younger child liberating a bottle of bright yellow food colouring from the top of the pantry and attempting to make slime.  She had, to her credit, attempted to clean up the ensuing mess (hence the wodge).  However….the pale blue bathmat began to turn an unusual shade of green when wet feet were placed upon it (more food colouring on the floor, methinks?) and the toilet seat still sports a rather large yellow spot no cleaning product has yet managed to shift.

Not surprisingly, she has not yet confessed to the other indgredients with which she attempted to concoct her slime conduct her Science Experiment — which is, upon reflection, probably for the best.

Labyrinth 6

I told you the spandex was bad.

And so I am welcoming the Rainy Days these holidays, and we are filling our spring break with baking and jigsaw puzzles and long periods lounging around reading books or watching movies. The girls have marathonned their way through the extended cut of the second Lord of the Rings film and have moved on to watching Labyrinth.  I rejoice that they are are old enough to enjoy these things, and will definitely take their veneration of David Bowie (even when wearing spandex pants) as a parenting win.

Let it rain, let it pour, I say — from here to the end of the Western Plains.

As I write, the wind is currently whipping the rain against the windowpanes, so washing clothes is out of the question.

At least I won’t find any teaspoons in the washing machine today.

 

Every Single Day…

habitSome time ago, I was reading a book by Gretchen Rubin when I came across this phrase: The days are long, but the years are short.

These words resonated with me — not least because at the time that I read them, I was the mother of two pre-schoolers. My days seemed to be filled with repetitive, mindless tasks that revolved around keeping my children happy, healthy and (by obvious extension) clean, and that work — because it definitely is work — was often relentless and mind-numbing. The days were long (and the nights could be even longer), but the years were flying by with alarming rapidity.

Don’t get me wrong: being a parent is — without question — the single most rewarding role I have ever taken on, and this post is not about to descend into an extended diatribe about just how hard those long days and nights can be. (Besides, in my experience, even when a child has behaved absolutely diabolically while awake, that same child can somehow, miraculously, completely restore your faith in and love for them once they are soundly asleep — particularly if they stay that way for an extended period.)

No, the reason I recall that maddening yet magical part of my life is because I chose HABIT as Blue Jai’s Word of the Month for August.

What now? Parenting is a habit?

Not at all. But I have been reading Gretchen Rubin’s book Better Than Before, which tackles habits and habit formation head on, and brought to my mind the wisdom of the ancients, specifically this observation from Aristotle:

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

Now that my children are growing up and increasingly self-sufficient, I would prefer not to think about the tasks I performed with increasing Aristotelian excellence when they were smaller, save to say — as a random example — that I reckon I could wrangle just about any kid into a five-point harness car seat while blindfolded. Possibly even one handed.

habit 2Aristotle’s adage did make me think, however, about the things that I repeatedly do now — because these, my friends, are my habits. Sure, there’s all the obvious basic personal hygiene and basic living habits like showering daily, cleaning my teeth morning and night, eating a decent breakfast, that sort of thing. But what else, I wondered, do I do every single day?

Well, I read…and I write…and…if I’m totally honest I probably check my social media accounts…

I mean, what do you do every single day?!

And that brought me to another one of Aristotle’s little gems: Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.

When we know ourselves, we know what repeatedly do. We recognise our habits, good and bad, and know which of these we want to cultivate with further repetition and which we want to eliminate. One of my friends, for example, makes a habit of keeping a gratitude journal, of taking time each evening to record what she is grateful for every single day. She also encourages her children to say what they’re grateful for too, and even if they don’t yet write it down she’s hoping, by repetition, to help instil the same habit in them.

Another friend makes herself a properly brewed cup of coffee every single morning. For her, this is a good habit: not only is it something that she enjoys drinking, but she also enjoys the ritual of making it. For her, it is an important act of self care (not to mention the fact that it provides a caffienated kick-start to her day). And that’s where self-knowledge kicks in too — my friend also knows that drinking coffee all day long is not good for her (or anyone), so she relishes that morning cup all the more.

Needless to say, the same combination of repetition and self-knowledge can assist in a business setting, too. Religiously checking your business bank balance won’t improve your cashflow, for example, but billing clients regularly, offering multiple methods of payment and chasing your debtors often will all help. It’s about knowing what you need to do, and repeating the necessary actions to make those things happen.

So I ask again: what do you do every single day?

Does it match up with what you know you could be doing every day?

Because, just like when I wrote about eudaimonia and human flourishing, I think those ancient Greeks were onto something. Sure — for a modern take on it, check out Gretchen Rubin’s book (she really does unpack the whole habit bag, even if I did get slightly annoyed about her frequent references to wearing yoga pants all the time), but I think — as usual — what we’re all aiming for is what human beings have been aiming for for thousands of years. And yes, the Greeks had a word for it too:

 

habit 3

So I wish you well with all those things you do repeatedly this August, and with the habits your self-knowledge asks you to cultivate in the future.

Sophrosyne here we come!