Breaking Up Is Too Hard To Do

2014

2014: Tropical Vibes Christmas in hot pink, tangerine and gold.

I’m a happily married woman — let me state that, straight up, seeing as though the title of this post clearly implies otherwise.  The Bloke and I have muddled along together for the better part of two decades, and we’re planning to do so for a lot longer yet.

But there are two other men, other than The Bloke, who have made me the happily married woman I am today. Two men who, like my dear husband, have seen me at my best and my worst.  Two men who have witnessed me lose it with my kids more times than I would like to admit, but who have also seen those same children grow to be the beautiful, self-sufficient and (mostly) polite creatures they are today. Two men who have have seen my house look like a tornado has just swept through or like a sparkling jewel where everything is clean and in its ever-so-right place.

2015

2015: Traditional Christmas in red and forest green.

And now, dear friends, (sob….choke…splutter) the time has come for these two men to leave me.

These two men — architects of my continued happiness and transformers of my humble home — are, of course, are my Cleaners.

(Apologies if my tears have actually permeated cyberspace and are pouring through whatever screen you are reading this on…)

To be fair, The Cleaners and I have broken up before. There were a few weeks here, sometimes a few months, when they were too busy, or needed a break, or whatever it was — but this time, this time, it’s for real.

(Extended wail….)

Don’t get me wrong.

2016

2016: Nordic Christmas and the first appearance of the Angel Shazza.

I know in my heart the time has come for The Cleaners to move on. Truly.

Just as they have witnessed my kids growing up (OK…and me…they had to see me doing a whole pile of that growing up business, too), I’ve seen them transform, too.

I’ve watched them grow up, get real (other) jobs, ride rocking rollercoasters of relationships, come out, get promoted, break up (luckily that one wasn’t for real), reunite, get clearer and clearer on what they want in life, get promoted again (and again), and go back to studying. I’ve seen them do difficult things, like navigate visa restrictions in the era before marriage equality, and bury parents and loved ones, and do so with grace and courage.  I’ve seen them succeed in becoming amazing, well-rounded, successful and brilliant young men.

2017

2017: Tiny “We’re Going to Fiji” tree in rainbow ombre to celebrate Marriage Equality

And I guess that’s where we come to the heart of the matter: they are not The Cleaners any more.

They’re truly awesome human beings, one of whom is even more obsessed with Christmas (specifically: themed decorating) than I am.

Seriously — we begin discussing possible colour schemes in October and send each other slow-motion video reveals of our fully decorated trees…and let’s not even get into our long-standing debate over real versus artifical…

And that is why this post is adorned with the trees of the past five Christmases in all their radiant glory, under which there has always been a gift for each of them, and there always will be.

Because they’re not The Cleaners any more. They’re part of the family.

2018

2018: Thrice-decorated (because it fell) gigantic tree in orange, turquoise, silver and lime.

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.

beach

…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.

IMG_0305

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.

IMG_0322

 

 

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.

 

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!

The Old Tin of Worms…

Radiohead minute

It’s easy to get lost in the tin of worms.

My head is going around like a tin of worms.

Not because I’m having a Squirrel Week, but because I have been absent from this small patch of cyberspace for more than a month and my brain is overloaded with partially constructed blog posts, bizarrely random thoughts and more than a few reminiscences.

I was struck last week, for example, that on 16 June 1997, Radiohead released their OK Computer album, followed ten days later, on 26 June 1997, by J K Rowling first publishing Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone.

HP 20 yrs

Two decades of brilliance!

Can we all just take a moment, please, to appreciate the fact that it has been twenty years since these two marvellous creations found their way into the wider world — and in the same month, no less?

I know this happy coincidence may not be considered particulary newsworthy in many circles, but in this weird and wacky era of Fake News and Alternative Facts, I think I would prefer to have my attention drawn to the fact that two of my favourite things in the whole world are celebrating two decades of existence rather than having to acknowledge the things that actually make the papers these days…except we don’t actually read newspapers any more now, do we?

See? That’s what my head is doing — leaping from one thought to the next, much like an Alaskan salmon struggling determinedly yet somehow dementedly upstream to spawn…something…

I mean, this is the time of year that all those Sockeyes and Chinooks and Ketas run, but given that I live more than half a world away from the Kenai Peninsula and haven’t set foot in Alaska for over ten years, I don’t think I can reliably claim to be having a Salmon Week?!

Perhaps it’s because we have finally found ourselves at the beginning of the Winter School Holidays here in the Antipodes that I am thinking such thoughts. Or maybe it’s because I’ve watched a few too many episodes of Life Below Zero on Netflix recently?

I freely admit that Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop have beeng pushing every last one of my buttons lately — including buttons I didn’t even know I had — but I can’t really make my children scapegoats for my scattered headspace, particularly when I know that in addition to being more than usually annoying (because end of term and upcoming birthdays) they have also been responsible for some moments of actual joy I have experienced in the past weeks.

Take Miss Malaprop, for instance. Miss Malaprop was blowing up (and believe me, she possesses explosive power and matches it with unbelievable volume) because she couldn’t find anything to wear when I asked her to get dressed before a dinner out with her grandparents. Resisting the urge to retaliate in kind — a feat I managed only because I knew I would probably be poured a cold glass of Sav Blanc at some point in the not so distant future — I ventured into the demon’s lair Miss Malaprop’s bedroom and proceeded to extricate every last piece of clothing from her overstuffed drawers and wardrobe, removing anything that was too small or seasonally inappropriate, then carefully refolded and rehung what remained, all while speaking in soothing tones and encouraging the fiend my dear daughter to get dressed.

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To keep or not to keep…

Three bags full of charity later (more mine than hers, I thought at the time), Miss Malaprop was suitably attired.  She also behaved impeccably when dining with The Bloke’s parents. And then, a couple of days later, when I asked her whether she really wanted to give away a favourite top that had made its way into the hand-me-down pile (a dark blue t-shirt with a glow in the dark picture of the Millenium Falcon on it) she surprised me — no, she actually humbled me — by saying that even though she really loved that top she would rather pass it on than keep it, because that way someone else would get to enjoy wearing it, too.

Who knew?  Who actually knew that Sunday evening’s shrieking banshee could turn into Wednesday afternoon’s wunderkind?

Because now I feel completely and utterly torn between wanting to keep the top even more, so I can present it to her in twenty years or when her teenaged self most needs it, as a reminder of that beautiful moment when she showed such generosity of spirit — and yet knowing that to keep it would be completely contrary to her own wishes and the selflessness she so willingly displayed.

And so the worms turn yet again, and my mind remains a squirming mess, until my thoughts eventually happen upon Marcel Proust’s musings, and I am reminded that:

We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us. 

Much like Harry Potter, really.

For a minute there, I lost myself…but I’m OKNOTOK now.

JKR

More words of wisdom…