Saturday, 30 June 2012

Birth and death

It was seven years yesterday since I first held my baby boy in my arms. And at almost the minute he was born I held our pet rabbit as the life drained from him. He was wrapped in an old baby blanket, the same green flannel wrap I used to swaddle Lewis in as a newborn, to stop him struggling as the vet found a vein in his ear that would take the needle. It was the nearest thing to hand from where we sat in the sunshine near his hutch, but I kept remembering how it had felt to hold my own son as a new mother while I cradled this warm, living thing in my arms for the last time. I sobbed as she checked that his heartbeat was gone for I had felt it stop, and his body go limp. I cradled his warm, soft, grey body gently and wept as I walked to the shed to find a spade, then placed him carefully beneath the nectarine tree while I dug the hole. I unwrapped Storm and arranged him, curled as if he was sleeping in a burrow, then shoveled the earth over him and walked back to the house to get the muffins out of the oven for the birthday party that afternoon.

We gave Storm to Lewis for his birthday when he turned six. They knew each other for just a year. When I told him the vet would be putting him to sleep forever he questioned the timing. "Does it have to be on my birthday?" But that was the day the vet could come and we could not let him suffer for another weekend after the myxomatosis which had ravaged his airways rendered him blind. There was still so much life in him but he could no longer see and there was no longer any hope that he would get better. Lewis was at school when the vet came to visit. He took his friends down into the garden to visit the grave when they arrived for the party. They talked about their pets which had been put to sleep, and then we lit the fire and celebrated my boy as we toasted marshmallows and gathered sticks from the forest for the flames.

Life and death, they are so closely entwined. And there is such wisdom and knowledge in my boy's eyes now he is seven. I am taking him on a hike through the forest to the sea, just the two of us alone under the stars for one night, to mark the milestone. Our packs wait by the door.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

One big family

We took the day off school on Friday to hang out with our friends from the city. My dear friend Jess and her lovely children, who grew up side by side with our own before we moved our lives south. We have celebrated the winter solstice together nearly every year since we became mothers. We wrapped up warm and headed out to one of our favourite beaches to walk in the wind. In summer this rocky cove is crawling with holiday makers. Last week we had the bay to ourselves.

The kids clambered around the rocks and practiced their casting. Hooks and sinkers and bait flew backwards and sideways and finally seaward as the older boys came to grips with their rods and reels. Darcy chopped prawns on the rocks for the bigger boys who did not want to get their hands dirty. Nothing was caught but nobody minded. The sun even came out for an hour or so to warm our faces, and Quinn was as happy to be held in his godmother's arms as he is my own. Lucas and Sol's father comes from South America, where godparents are like an extension of your family. So Quinn is by rights their "spiritual brother." Darcy and Sol slept on the sofa bed that night wrapped in each others' arms after a day running around together in the open air.

I was a little stumped when the time came to write the note for Lewis' class teacher on Monday morning but finally settled on "family commitments" as a pertinent excuse. They are family to us. And family always comes first.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Lovely linen

Rummaging through the bottom shelf of sheets at the op shop on Saturday I unearthed a load of lovely linen from beneath the daggy doonas. Cloth napkins in a rainbow of colours to brighten our winter table (which proved very popular with the sticky fingered little house guests we had over the solstice weekend). Embroidered placemats - an entire set unused except for the top of the pile which was flecked with cat hair. I imagine they sat on the top of somebody's sideboard for many years and were the preferred resting spot for the cat of the house. Another embroidered floral placemat and a pretty apron completed my haul. I brought the lot home for $5.

You can find other flea market finds here

Saturday, 23 June 2012


Old friends gathered by our fire for midwinter's night. Kindling and candles and laughter kept the cold at our door as we drank warm mulled wine and spiced apple cider, toasted homemade marshmallows and feasted on roasted lamb, a rainbow of root vegetables, curries, warm flatbreads and pudding. Most nights this week we have sat shivering despite the fire. For the solstice our house felt positively toasty. I think it was the company - the warmth of so many bodies and some enthusiastic wood chopping as we waited for our guests to arrive. There was birthday cake for our two midwinter boys and more candles for Quinn (and his best friend) to blow out. And when we waved goodbye and the coals in the hearth grew dim we took heart that from here on in the days will grow longer. But for that longest of nights the light of home and hearth shone bright. We took the children walking beneath the dripping Karris, our candle lanterns swinging a merry arc through the night. As we climbed back up the hill towards home, our cheeks bright with the cold and our breath fogging in the darkness, the house shone down at us like a beacon. Walking back into the warm air scented with sugar and spice and good things to eat felt like a hug from a friend.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012


We stopped for a walk in the Karri forest on our way home yesterday. A gentle stroll through some old growth forest that became home to an art installation after it was saved from the sawmills. Swarbrick is a wonderful intersection of art and nature and a very hands-on experience for even the very young. Giant mirrors reflect the forest as you approach, and Quinn was desperate to find out what was behind the wall of perception.  A rusted disc dotted with a mandala of holes had him breaking a small gum nut from its branch and gesturing for me to lift him up, so that he could post it through a hole. He carried his basket with him and gathered nuts from the branches that had broken and fallen to the ground in last week's storms. A giant casuarina tree had crashed across the path and we found a birds nest still resting in its canopy as we climbed over its mossy trunk.

We are surrounded by nature here but, especially once the winter sets in, it is easy to hibernate inside while the forest drips around us. For one day at least we stepped outside our day to day routine. New words tumbled from my two-year-old's mouth as we took the time to look and listen beneath the trees. His favourite installation, and the one he spent most time wondering at, was one mother nature made herself. He spotted the twisted tree as we headed back to the carpark and stood gazing at it for the longest time. "Twisted tree," he repeated over and over.  I do love art that interacts with its environment, that draws you in and makes you see things anew. The twisted tree felt like the forest's parting gift to us. Not that any scales need to be lifted from this child's eyes. He sees things so completely differently to me and always wants to share his discoveries, from the tiniest frog to the tallest tree.

Monday, 18 June 2012


My baby boy turned two today. I dressed him in the little green vest I knitted while I laboured to birth him, dropped his big brothers off at school and hit the road. We drove deep into the forest to a herb farm surrounded by wilderness. Quinn picked me a calendula flower and we rubbed lemon verbena leaves between our fingers, watching the rosellas and the wrens and the tiny red tailed mistletoe birds flit around the gardens. We drank hot chocolate and ate cake and cookies and I sang happy birthday and a medley of nursery rhymes to him in the empty cafe, with the forest all around.

Quinn slept in the car on the way home and I drove in silence. We iced the cake and sang happy birthday properly, after much practicing, after dinner. He was so excited about blowing out the candles that we had to finish the song in darkness after he puffed them out as soon as I set the cake down. I lit them again but then he looked so worried that he had done the wrong thing that I almost wished I hadn't. He is the boldest, most boisterous of my boys but he has a heart as sensitive as his brothers. His favourite birthday presents were his cards. He has walked around clutching the cardboard cockatoo we wrote inside all day and it now lies crumpled and sticky with icing on the table. How I love this boy.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Room to dream

Darcy hasn't really taken to kindy. And it isn't the kindy as such, he would just rather be at home with me. He still comes along to playgroup with us each week, when he isn't visiting Grandma in Albany. He is the big kid there now, more than two years older than the other little ones. He loves it.

We go to a Steiner playgroup where the children play with natural materials and simple toys. They build cubbies out of muslin and tuck cloth dolls into bed beneath crocheted blankets. Today Darcy improvised a game which involved throwing the hand-felted marsupials from the nature table through the ring at the top of the muslin tent in the dolls' corner. It proved a hit with the little folk. He is a bit of a leader among the two-year-old set right now.

I love the way that Steiner education follows the rhythm of the seasons. One of Darcy's favourite books has always been The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. So making crowns out of autumn leaves and playing king of the forest was special indeed.

We are busy making lanterns in readiness for the winter solstice next week. Our family always marks the longest night of the year by gathering together with close friends to feast by candlelight. We have done so each year since Lewis was born, and I am so happy that those same friends will be traveling to share midwinter's night with us in the deep south next week.

I am trying to stay enthusiastic about kindy and nurture a love of learning in my middle child. I planned on spending tomorrow morning at school with him to help with the craft tables and preparing fruit for morning tea. Darcy was looking forward to having me there and wearing the special fruit-helpers' hat. But a big storm is brewing here in the west and school has been canceled.

It is the kind of thing I dreamed about happening for all my school years but never a day did we miss. Bushfires and storms have forced the local schools here to close twice in the last six months. We live much closer to the elements in the country it seems. Not that we mind. We will stoke up the fire and bake cupcakes while the storm rages outside. It is where Darcy would prefer to be, after all. There is room for him to dream here.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Down by the sea

We went down to the beach to take some photos for a corporate magazine. The boys climbed on the sand dunes while I snapped two burly miners fishing on their day off. We climbed over the rocks to where the spring cuts through the sand to the sea. Storm clouds gathered on the horizon. They threw handfuls of sand into the stream - it sounded like fairy music and looked like a tiny cloud when it landed. It felt so good to be outside again, breathing whole lungfuls of fresh sea air. We skipped nap-time and Quinn now lies sleeping in my arms. Dinner can wait.


Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Working with kids (and animals)

We have all been a bit under the weather for the past two weeks. I spent a couple of days in bed with the flu, and it has taken me a while to recover. There aren't many occasions as a mother that you get to lie around in bed all day, and if I hadn't felt quite so unwell I might have actually enjoyed my days of leisure. The rain poured down and the wind whipped the red and gold leaves of the Liquid Amber tree into a frenzy outside my window.

And then the rabbit got sick. Storm lay listless in his hutch, his eyes oozing.  He has myxomatosis, but one of the less virulent strains which he may yet survive. Having yet another body to nurse felt like more than I could muster energy for. I called the vet and started drip feeding him electrolytes, keeping him warm in a washing basket lined with straw by the fire.

When the vet came to visit this morning she had her six-week old son tucked under one arm. I bounced him on my knee while she injected Storm with antibiotics. We sat on the rug and breastfed our boys while discussing the treatment plan for our Storm bunny. And it was just so inspiring to see somebody combining new motherhood and work with such grace and ease.

I have been reporting for the local newspaper for a month now. I do my interviews over the telephone if I can. But I have always preferred to talk in person, especially if it is for a colour piece requiring a bit more human emotion. For my first face-to-face interview I felt it was very important that Quinn be asleep. So I put him in the pram and went for a walk around the river in the sunshine before pushing my sleeping boy up to the hospital and parking the pram in a quiet corner. He woke towards the end of the interview and sat on my lap eating chocolate biscuits from the tea tray while I finished up my questions.

My co-reporter has since accompanied me to a building site where he sat on a pile of packaging, ripping up pieces of polystyrene. He tipped toys all over the floor while charming the nannas at the Country Women's Association. And he comes in quite handy as a photographic prop too. It is the sitting down and writing of the stories that Quinn rails against. So my times for writing are limited to when he is asleep, or Grant is home. We are having fun as a mother and son reporting team - it sure beats hanging out the washing.

But that was all pushed to one side when the kids and then I fell sick - as it must. Stories remain un-researched and unwritten. And that is the reality of working while also caring for a home and family full time. I don't have any sick benefits, but then I am not really doing it for the money either. And having the freedom to say 'sorry, but I can't manage it this week', well that is worth its weight in gold. Now please excuse me while I go and syringe some more gastrolyte into our rabbit.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

The Farm

The house feels different this weekend - there is a space, a void where the words and noise and laughter of our eldest usually dwell. My baby boy, Lewis, who will turn seven at the end of the month, is away visiting his grandparents in the city. Nana drove down to pick him up and take him home with her  - a 900km round trip. She is taking him to watch a football game before they head out to their farm for a night and then drive south again on Monday, a public holiday here. He will be away for three nights - the longest we have ever been apart.

His tooth fell out the night before he left. That mark of passage from infancy to childhood. It was like a sign that he was ready for the separation - and he left with a gap toothed smile and a delightful lisp.

We don't get to visit the farm much these days, but spent many happy days there before we moved back to the south coast. We lived on a farm just over the hill, in a 100-year-old mud-brick farmhouse, when I was first pregnant with Lewis.

I was 19 years old when my parents bought their farm. It was the realisation of a dream they had put to one side when my Papa sold his farm when my brother was a baby. Life on the land was swapped for a suburban existence for the length of our childhood. But the farm is where they are most happy and at peace. And it is a magic place for little boys. Lewis will be gathering freshly laid eggs for breakfast and driving around the paddock checking on the new calves.

Darcy and Quinn play differently when Lewis is not here. It is a different dynamic. A chance for them to grow. But there will be much joy and silliness when they reunite. "Yo Yo? Yo Yo dere?" Quinn has started to ask incessantly whenever his big brother (Lew-Lew) is away. We will drive north to the edge of the wheatbelt to meet for lunch in a tiny farming hamlet and collect our boy tomorrow.

Lewis and his Nana on the farm six years ago