Tuesday, 27 May 2014

A cabin in the forest

I felt like running away on the weekend. Packing my bag and bundling my baby under my arm and driving off into the forest to some rustic cabin where there was no television, no pile of marking and no nappies to wash. Where I could listen to the rain and not feel hemmed in by so many little bodies cooped up inside. But hopping in the car and abandoning my family seemed a bit unkind, so I went for a walk instead. I left the boys watching Star Wars (again) while Grant marked and washed the nappies, trussed Thea onto my back and headed out the door. 

I didn't have a destination in mind, so we wandered up the road a little way to where the bitumen peters out into a little forest track that runs between the paddocks. I look out across those paddocks everyday from our front verandah, and at the derelict old cottage that stands between the trees and the grass. A friend had told me she thought the local fox had its den up there, so I decided to go and investigate.

It must have been a warm and cosy family home once, but the windows were all smashed years ago and the back steps have slumped into the kikuyu grass that is gradually engulfing the verandah. Bits of the ceiling have fallen in and the walls are all covered in graffiti. The remains of a fire still stand in the grate across an old piece of roofing iron someone has dragged in from outside. I paused for a moment in the kitchen and tried to imagine my way into the mind of the woman who must have cooked so many family meals looking out across those same green fields, before the squatters and idle youths claimed the space for their own. Someone must have loved that place once, for the most enormous camellias still grow in its garden. I slid down the back steps on my bottom to pick a big bunch and set off across the paddocks, leaving half at a friend's back door.

When I got home and told the boys where I had been they wanted to see it for themselves straight away, so back we went to explore some more. They climbed through the giant wattle that is about to burst into bloom and swung on the old Hills Hoist. Picking our way back through the paddock we found the fox trail and tracked it back to its den below some fallen trees. We might go back with torches one night and see if we can spot it. We walked to the bottom dam and found a dead cow swollen and bloated amongst the reeds. And then the rain swept in and we ran home to the screams of our hydrophobic three-year-old.

Once we were back safely under our own roof and our hair toweled dry, we baked apple pie and made hot chocolate and rugged up under winter layers as the rain drummed down. And just for a moment it was like I had found my little cabin in the forest - with the television switched off, the marking pushed to one side and the nappies rotating in the machine just off stage.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

The unmapped nap

I've always resisted using the car to get my little ones to sleep. I prefer to use it as little as possible anyway - using foot or pedal power whenever we can. But with Quinn at kindy two days a week, he needs sleep more than ever on the days I have him home. And he just wasn't getting any with his baby sister climbing all over him in our bed wanting to play. A week or so into the school year I realised I could either become a slave to my children's sleep routines, or let them sleep in the back seat while I got out of the house and explored the south coast. I chose the latter.

Thea would have a big morning sleep while Quinn and I got jobs done around the house and garden, played in the sandpit or read stories on the verandah, then after lunch we all climbed in the car and headed off down gravel roads to sandy beaches where I swam while the two of them slept. I left the map folded in the glove-box and navigated by chance down dusty back roads, past farms and forests to swimming holes in sluggish rivers. Sometimes Quinn would wake up and join me in the water. Sometimes I would get caught out by roadworks; like the time they laid new asphalt 20 minutes before the school siren while I was still 20km from town. "You're always late!" the big kids protested when I arrived ten minutes late to an empty school carpark. I tried to circle closer to home after that.

We made the most of our summer days, and now that they have gone we have found a new rhythm. Thea dropped her morning sleep before her first birthday and now we all climb into bed together after lunch, read a few books and doze to the sound of the rain drumming down on the roof. Quinn likes to make a nest for himself in a corner of the loungeroom, where he beds down amongst the cushions with a bowl full of almonds and sultanas. I find him there snoring gently when I creep back out to knit, or read, or write. He will be four in a few weeks' time and soon he probably won't be needing the rest. But that hour or two of quiet each day feeds my soul. And I am happy to get it in whatever form I can.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014


Once all the festivities were finished and my family had returned to the city we loaded up the car and headed east. We weren't sure where exactly we would end up. We just knew that we needed to get away. Away from the washing machine and the to-do list; and away from the Easter crowds on a beach somewhere not too far from home. The first two campgrounds we pulled into were heaving with visitors - the beach there so crowded with 4WD's and amateur fisher-folk casting for salmon that it looked more like a supermarket carpark than the remote stretch of coastline it usually passes for. We did a quick u-turn and kept on going. Past Albany a little way, to a protected corner where Grant's uncle worked as a ranger 30 years ago. Nothing much has changed there in that time. Come nightfall you can now see the glow of the city lights against the clouds just over the horizon, but it still feels like you are a million miles away.

We pitched our tent and spent the next three days fossicking along the shore; picking up every piece of rubbish from the long wide crescent of sand that stretches around to a nature reserve and plaiting coits from the salty lengths of rope that had fallen from passing fishing boats. The boys spent most of their time playing with the giant black beetles that crept around the undergrowth and buzzed around our heads come nightfall. They kept sneaking them into the tent, hidden in their ugg boots. We snorkeled around the rocks and watched a pod of dolphins cruising through the bay. On our last morning the sun came out and it was just us and the dolphins under a crisp blue sky. We dived into the icy waves for one last swim before heading home and packing away the towels and bathers for winter.

Monday, 5 May 2014

One (a gastro themed celebration)

Our baby girl turned one two weeks' ago. I thought I would have time to stop and reflect; to write her birth story down; to soak up her last days as a baby and to sing happy birthday to our little girl with just her brothers and grandparents here to shower her with love. But life had other plans. Instead I spent the day washing linen (just about all of it) and then feeling terribly, violently ill.

There was no cake. The one I had tacked on to the end of our annual Good Friday gathering the day before no doubt spread the love far and wide through our circle of friends (sorry guys!). Our eldest starting vomiting just as the first guests arrived, and once the clock ticked past midnight it was Thea's turn.

The rest of the family fell like flies.  My parents minded the boys while Grant and I floundered around, passing the baby between us. We could just manage a slice of banana cake and a belated birthday song once my brother and five-year-old nephew arrived on Easter Sunday. He gave her the very special gift of some projectile vomit all over her head two days later. We'll try again next year...