Scenes from Suburbia

I stand in the supermarket, staring at the shelves in front of me, searching for a single pen. Beneath the bright lights are rows of gaudy plastic packages — pencils, pens, permanent markers — but none of them are what I seek.  How is it, I wonder, that an entire brand of felt-tipped pens, the pens of choice in my childhood, could have disappeared, replaced by the apparently ubiquitously popular Sharpie? How is it that my decisions, as a consumer, are being dictated by a duopoly of chain stores that stock only what is trendy or what is cheap?

Fuelled by a combination of nostalgia and disgust, I stalk out of the store to a newsagency around the corner that carries the brand I am looking for. I survey the shelves once again, shelves in desperate need of re-stocking, and select a pen. It costs $4.80 — nearly double the price of a ten-pack of pens at the supermarket — but I buy it anyway.

It’s not even the colour I want.


I sit in a cafe, lured in by the breakfast special (a toastie, a coffee), somewhat dejected by my newsagency experience until I take out my new pen and begin to write. The smooth slip of the felt tip across the paper is soothing, satisfying, and I stop only when a woman sits down beside me and I have to heave my shopping out of her way. “Don’t worry,” she says, “I’m sitting by myself at a table for four.” We smile, complicitly, staring out into the cafe, silently sipping our coffee, savouring moments of stolen time.

A woman at another table is speaking — clearly, distinctly — to an older man sitting opposite her.  Not her father — an uncle, perhaps, or an old family friend.  She tells him that her mother has remarried, has moved away, has moved on. She does not know the people of whom her mother now speaks; new in-laws, new neighbours. She glances around frantically, speaks more loudly, but her words do not reach her companion. He is burdened by his own flailing, failing romance: his lover wants a ring, but not marriage. He says he will buy the ring anyway.

Outside the cafe, a grandfather rides up and down the escalators with his granddaughter. The child squeals and kicks joyfully as he tips her stroller back so she can see the blue sky above, secure in the knowledge that he will never let her fall. Inside, the woman falls suddenly silent as she recognises the table before her is a chasm.

And then a small bird, a starling, alights on the back of the chair in the space between us, bringing with it nature’s blessing in the midst of this consumerist temple of concrete, steel and glass.


I drive home in my husband’s car.  My car is with the mechanic, being serviced. This car, an old blue station wagon strewn with tubes of sunscreen, CDs and smears of surfboard wax, feels so different from mine. The steering wheel is broader, yet the grip is thinner than what I am used to. The accelerator feels twitchy beneath my foot.  Unfamiliar plasticky rattles fill my ears.

Stopped at a traffic light, I turn towards the back seat, trying to see what could be making so much noise, and catch a glimpse of a fine, golden hair — my younger daughter’s — snagged on the upholstery, and feel the comforting rush of the familiar in that single strand.

Always hope

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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