Friday, 20 February 2015
He turned 38 yesterday. We met when we were 18. Twenty years have slipped by so quickly, but we have used them well, to make the life we always dreamed of living together. If someone had come and whispered in my ear that I would have four beautiful children with this boy, as we stood shyly talking in that university carpark, I would have laughed at the absurdity of the idea.
Sometimes I dream myself back into the body of that shy, bookish girl and panic that I will not find my way through the labyrinth of choices I made to become the woman I now am and the family which is my world. But I always wake to find him by my side, a baby snuggled in beside me and three more slumbering in their rooms down the hallway.
Together we are growing older and wrinkled, our hair touched with grey (although I have to hunt hard through his beard to find the errant white hair that sprouts with abandon across my own scalp). Our children already think us old, as all children should think their parents. But my love for him just seems to keep growing. Each year strips away another layer of onion skin, and the soul I find beneath is shiny and new and smiling back at me with excitement at the thought of all the years ahead of us we have yet to fill with love and adventure.
When you are camping just around the corner from home you can strip it back to the basics. A tent, some sleeping mats and bags, a few folding chairs and an esky full of food. We were able to leave the trailer at home for once and still strap a couple of surfboards to the roof. With the Statewide fire ban in place we even left our camping stove behind, planning to cook a few sausages on the barbecues at Cosy Corner. We were a little over zealous in our precautions, but fortunately our friends didn't mind sharing their pan. And we were all queuing like bleary eyed addicts for our morning coffee in the carpark of the local cafe when it opened after the inevitable broken night's sleep in the tent.
But the memories we took home were little snippets of pure adventure. Hours spent playing in the stream as it cut an icy track through the sand to the sea. Walking on the beach while the grey sea surged beside us at sunrise. Surfing in the breakers with my boy, and digging a trench while the summer sea breeze blustered around us and whipped our hair into our eyes. Then those few moments of silence once the kids had all climbed into their sleeping bags, listening to the waves crashing behind the dunes beneath the gently shivering blanket of peppermint trees, before we followed them into our green cocoon of a tent. All this a twenty minute drive from our front door. This is why we live here.
Wednesday, 4 February 2015
A friend asked me recently how life had changed for me since Thea stopped breathing. "Everyone says be grateful for the time you have, but I wonder if there is more than that?" were her words. And I had to confess that I now live with a whole lot of fear. It was a loss of innocence, and our life will never be the same.
I was such a relaxed mum before Christmas. I gave my kids the freedom to run far; to explore and discover the wonderful world around them. But those two minutes on Christmas Eve when I thought that my daughter was dead have changed me forever. Try as I might to crawl back into that belief that life will always turn out okay - I now know that just isn't true. And that realisation is quite terrifying.
Thea came out of hospital a little bit different, and a whole lot more reckless. At first I thought it was the drugs, and once she had been weaned off the anti-convulsants she did seem more herself. But she has absolutely no fear (I carry that for her now) and she charges into the waves at the beach like she is embracing an old friend.
I took Thea to the beach yesterday afternoon, where it seemed half the town was splashing in the waves and playing on the sand. After spending an exhausting thirty minutes plucking her out of the shallows every time a wave came charging at her I sunk onto the sand next to some friends, then realised I could no longer see my baby. Four terrifying minutes followed, frantically scanning the shallows and the shore and the sea tossed foam before we found her on the stairs, blocked from view by the steady stream of people walking up and down to the beach. I scooped her into my arms, tried to still the heavy beating of my heart, and took my children home.
It is as if this child has been sent to teach me a lesson in attentiveness. My boys always stuck to my side like glue, and I used to occasionally resent their neediness. I wanted to hang out with the other mums sometimes, not always be the one coaxing my sons down the slide and holding their hand in a crowd of strange children. But now I have been sent this free spirit who will wander wheresoever she pleases; and her need for me is no less. My place, right now, is by her side. And we will be sticking to the rock pools for the rest of summer.
We followed our friends across the paddocks and through the ti-tree scrub to where the secret river flowed past their property. Our kayak and their tinny were lowered into the tannin stained water and we headed down river, past paperbarks and marri trees, the river widening until it was flanked by reeds and waterbirds on both sides and spilled and spread across the shallow sands of the inlet.
We spread out beach towels and sarongs on an island in the inlet of our very own and picnicked in the shade of the paperbark trees. Lashings of ginger beer, smoked salmon sandwiches, quince tart and cream.
Then we rolled around in the water and paddled through the shallows - six children and a dog all keen for a turn in the kayak, and almost succeeding in piling into it at once. The breeze came in and it was time to head home, back down the river and through the ti-tree and over the paddocks and down the highway. And with that the summer holidays were over.