Christmas Magic

If there’s one thing that COVID has taught us, it’s to reflect on what brings us joy. For many of us, forced periods of lockdown, the disruption to our normal routine has forced us to take time to reassess the way we live our lives. Am I happy? Not just is this ‘thing’ sparking joy in my life – although I did plenty of that (decluttering really does bring me joy) – but am I on the right path? 

In the absence of making plans, people have been able to stop and reflect before making new plans; often changing direction as if reassessing the direction of the wind. New decisions made. The selling and buying of homes. Moving interstate (once permitted). Changing careers. Expanding their families – ‘There’s no social distancing going on here!’ one of my girlfriends declared after revealing news of her pregnancy. The silver linings of what has been a pretty shitty year. 

So when I think about Christmas, the rush, the chaos of it all; I wonder, is this also a time to reflect and reassess? Because there seem to be several deeply rooted practices – at least, in our household – Christmas traditions, that have us working in overdrive.

We raise a freshly cut Christmas tree with an inevitably crooked trunk onto a stand with no greater ease than assembling a cot. Then wrestle with a string of tangled lights, hanging ornaments on the Christmas tree with care; only so the toddler can literally hop on their trike and yank them off – one girlfriend, also a mother of a toddler, calls this the ‘Drive-thru.’ The entire lower section of our tree has been ‘de-baubled.’ 

Passed on from generation to generation, we unwittingly accept the near-impossible situation in which all crucial Christmas Eve activities must be conducted in private, away from children.  (Despite the reality of living with young children meaning that, rarely, do we experience said ‘privacy’ in the bathroom or any other space). And instead of electing small, achievable tasks, we stand in the back yard, dangerously close to little prying eyes, with all the parts and pieces necessary to construct a trampoline facing more pressure to deliver than Jack Bauer on 24.

And even if we are organised ahead of time, evidenced by the Tetris stack of online shopping lining our entryway, wardrobe or shed; even if we have already endured the production line of wrapping gifts that makes ‘elving’ feel more like working in a sweatshop; even if we imagine that the elaborate Christmas Day feast may be assembled with ease, despite the day’s competing demands and the Australian Summer heat; it seems, we are still a glutton for punishment. 

Why, oh why, would one actually volunteer to oversee the nightly ritual of elf relocation, adding to the already long, seemingly unachievable list of Christmas chores? Only yesterday, I entered the boys’ room bleary-eyed, forgetting the positioning of the elf as I yanked back the blind, sending the elf flying as the morning light flooded in. A situation of crisis as the seven year old yelled, ‘Stand back! Nobody touch him!’ In a state of pandemonium, an emergency risk management plan was swiftly enacted by our seven year old in order to keep the elf’s magic intact. A very close call, indeed.

Now, upon reflection, I realise my list of grievances seem rather petty. If fortunate enough for Christmas to reflect a happy time of year, then the aforementioned preparations are of little concern. We do these things because it isn’t Christmas until the smell of pine fills the air. Because there’s nothing as joyful as seeing a child delighting in the wonder of Christmas. Because their magic is our magic.

Merry Christmas.

COVID Normal

In an almost euphoric state, Melburnians everywhere are rejoicing in their renewed ability to rejoin society. To frequent a café. To browse the shops. To travel further than they may have travelled for months. There is much to celebrate in the opening up of society – a bubble, we are trying hard to imagine won’t burst. 

And I personally have been delighted to re-engage with certain experiences. Namely; Date Night. Albeit in its new form of COVID Normal.

Slipping out of the car, we arrive at the restaurant incognito, revealing our true identity as we take our seats. The experience is wonderful, sorely missed. It is, perhaps, the best pizza I’ve ever tasted; truly delicious AND a meal consumed as a party of two. At the conclusion of living out this memory of coupledom, we dab our napkins to our mouths, don our masks and steal away into the night; back to a household of three sleeping children and their much-appreciated grandparents. Time together; alone. The perfect crime.

Other experiences, however, have not left me yearning for more. The return of the shops. 

After roaming the car park for the perfect spot in a half-empty space, I alight the vehicle to join the infrequent flow of foot traffic also drawn to the shopping centre. Standing in front of the shoe store, I read the sign indicating their COVID policy and where to stand before I am permitted to enter. The children are at school and child care. And so – like the rare occasions, pre-lockdown, when my husband and I ventured out on a Saturday night to discover this is what ‘people’ do – I am met with the realisation that this is how ‘people’ shop – whoever these childless people may be. Seemingly, engaging with the shop assistant, they request a variety of sizes and styles, try a bunch on and make their purchase; there is no toddler climbing out of the pram, hedging their bets of whether or not it will topple over. No pre-schooler running loose. No whinging or tantrums or touching things. And yet – children or no children – I am glad to leave the shops.

So there are the things I’ve missed, things I largely haven’t, and things that are simply a necessary part of life. A strange kind of ‘normal’.

Awkwardly, I stand at the entrance to the doctor’s clinic, reading the sign, pressing the space either side of the intercom button as if feeling my way in the dark. Finally, like a high-five, I make connection. A recorded message speaks to me. I wait for the long period until I may give my response. ‘Have you…or are you experiencing…?’ 

‘No,’ I say.

The recorded message speaks again. ‘Please read the list of symptoms…have you or are you…?’

Someone is exiting the premises and the door opens. Naturally, my son steps inside. I begin to follow. Rookie mistake; I have not answered the final question. Another voice chimes in. This one is not automated. ‘No? Did you say ‘no?’’

‘Yes,’ I say, ‘I mean, no.’

Intrigued by the contraption standing before him, my son steps up to the mark to check his temperature. ‘Temperature normal,’ says a calm, robotic voice; making me wonder how its angry might sound. Thankfully – and rightfully so – my result is also ‘normal’ – although in the presence of a robot and the onlookers of the waiting room, the experience feels reminiscent of the time I bolted from the playground with the arrival of police; despite obeying all COVID restrictions, somehow, I had felt we should leave.

The whole process, but particularly this calm, robotic echo of ‘temperature normal’ that intermittently fills the space as new patients enter – not unlike a friend’s broken fire alarm that beeps intermittently during our Zoom call – is for me, like something out of a science-fiction film. As we leave the correctly spaced, but sparsely furnished waiting room, I jokingly make my ‘Gattaca’ reference – a film I taught years ago to Year 11 students, depicting a near-future dystopian society in which a new underclass exists based on their DNA; a finger-prick test, required upon entry to verify one’s identity.

The doctor looks at me as I offer further explanation. ‘Really?’ he says, ‘To me, it just seems normal.’

The Things That Shape Us

In a glass-half-full kind of mentality, many are acknowledging the positive effects of being in lockdown. Time spent with immediate family in great supply, drawing young siblings closer together; time to write; time to contemplate – the latter, not always a good thing. But lockdown is also robbing of us experiences close to our heart. Today is my father’s birthday and as my dad enters a new decade of life, a momentous milestone of a life well-lived, I am wholly aware that the greatest gift is the one I cannot deliver; time spent with the family. So, instead, I wish to give him the gift he has largely imparted to me; the gift of words.

As the most well-read person I know, devouring books at a cracking pace – my mother calls my father’s book of the moment his ‘safety blanket,’ carrying it everywhere should a small window of time present itself – it is often my father who supplements my hunger for literature. Laying down an open book at the kitchen table, or, more recently, presenting it to me from across the fence, Dad will insist, ‘Just read a page. Start here.’ And in that snapshot of well-written prose, ranging from vastly different texts, will be the kernel of an idea. A concept on impressionistic art, Dad making the connection between painting and writing; both the artist and the writer learning to portray what they see, rather than what they know to be there. Or another text, the cumulative effect of language portraying the drudgery of a soldier’s existence, the language mirroring the weight of the soldier’s pack, the exhaustion of his unrelenting journey into combat. Whatever the text, it is an offering from Dad to me, presenting one of life’s many truisms; that literature should be shared.

Though Dad insists he is a reader, not a writer, he has a keen eye for observing human nature; be it via the lens of his camera or through conversation. Attracted to interesting characters, Dad takes genuine interest in the stories of others. With the ease of a storyteller, Dad will sit at the head of dining room table reeling off any one of the stories he has collected, told and retold across the years. A young Scottish lad referring to his curls in a thick Scottish accent, ‘I ‘ate them.’ Dad as a young man finding himself on the back of a truck in Greece being transported to a quarry, with several others; the driver and his burly companion emerging from the cab, demanding their passengers ‘load rock’. Dad’s stories have been a part of life for as long as I can remember. Known mostly by their punch lines, it is only in recent years that I have had the foresight to take note of their preceding story.

In many ways, Dad has given me the tools to write; and to live. It is through years of observation that I have long known and admired Dad’s commitment both to his family and his work. The notion of hard work demonstrated through long days at the office, through his scrubbing of dishes and kitchen surfaces as if preparing for the arrival of the Queen, through his time spent seated at the kitchen table with this daughter of his working on maths homework or the like. It was around the time Dad gave me one solid piece of advice that I began writing in earnest, developing a daily writing practice. ‘It doesn’t matter what you write,’ Dad said. ‘The important thing is that you keep writing.’ 

Dad’s praise is not easily earned, but when it is felt, boy does it feel good. In my final year of high school I applied myself to my schooling with even greater vigour than before, filling my afternoons and weekends with a strict study regime. Heeding Dad’s mantra that featured heavily in my adolescence years, ‘Not a Good Idea,’ I was sensible to the nth degree. The morning I received my VCE results, I discovered that all my hard work had paid off more than I ever could have imagined.  So stunned at the result appearing on my screen in the form of an official text message, I rose from bed to find Dad pulling on his socks for work and angled the screen toward him. Without a single word spoken between us, Dad slipped on his glasses, read my result and threw his arms around me; my mother discovering us at the front hall, not knowing whether our hugging was in misery or celebration. When I finally looked up at Dad he had tears in his eyes; the same look he gets upon witnessing some Olympic feat – emotion tied with Dad’s own identity as a sportsman; Dad running with the Olympic torch in the torch relay preceding the 1956 Melbourne Olympic games as a boy of sixteen; Dad, the recipient of the VFL Under 19s Morrish Medal in 1959, playing for Fitzroy.

Though Dad’s stories reveal a sense of adventure and daring, as a father, Dad always seemed to move at a steady, sensible pace, like the way he runs; Dad teaching me this too, how to breathe to increase my longevity as a runner and perhaps, more profoundly in life. There are many lessons Dad has taught me, qualities he has instilled. The value of hard work. A love of literature. But also the joy of life. Something Dad projects on to the next generation too, as he takes our four-year-old to see the boats and eat ice-cream by the pier – or as he had done several months ago. Two people, big and small, sharing in the fulfilment found in togetherness by the sea; an experience close to both their hearts. This joy of life felt just as keenly now – albeit in smaller bursts from across the fence – as Dad performs for his grandchildren teetering on the edge of a puddle. And then, much to our children’s delight, Dad, losing his footing, resurfacing with wet socks and a smile on his face. 

Happy Birthday, Dad, you’ve certainly made quite a splash!

The Park

The Return of the Park. The Park Strikes Back. These are titles that denote the last couple weeks. Where parents everywhere have been unleashing their children, releasing them from the home, the monotony of the daily walk, a walk well-travelled. A welcome babysitter of slides and swings and monkey bars. I’ll be honest, it does feel just a little naughty. The logic a little hard to fathom. Scenes of kids everywhere, butting up against each other to hurry down the slide, kids racing to make it first up the ladder, little ones nearly being bowled over while others test out the swing’s capacity to go ‘higher’; juxtaposed with scenes at home behind gates, longingly watching the rubbish truck or the mailman, where our son seeks regular clarification on the day of the week, while the other son asks ‘is it morning time?’ late in the afternoon. A reel of contradiction.

As we make our way up the hill on our daily walk, the morning parks are set to reopen,  I wonder how long it will be before our park is reinhabited by children. As we draw near, I see that despite the early hour, the park is already serving its intended function; children playing on the equipment, as natural as breathing air.

Our middle son, so well-versed in ‘Coronavirus’ as the explanation for everything we are not permitted to do, stands at the edge of the playground, arms folded.

‘No!’ he says, when we encourage him to go play, ‘Coronavirus’.

I often wonder about the frustrations children experience in coaching their parents –  my mother used to call it ‘bringing up mother’ – how difficult that our son must be the voice of reason. I’m sure our toddler experiences this on a daily basis too, vigorously nodding her head when we ascertain what she is after; as though frequently frustrated by our incompetence. 

When we insist our son go play, pointing out the other children swarming the playground, kids being pushed on the swing by their masked parents, shooting hoops, climbing, swinging, running; our son unfolds his arms. 

‘Is the Coronavirus over?’ he asks.

It seems the logic of opening parks is lost on our four-year-old too – the same child who had stood forlorn in front of a sign erected beside the playground that read ‘Area closed,’ when the play equipment was still adorned with red and white safety tape. 

Finally, our son relents, drawn by the lure of fun. As our kids join the other children, there is a strangeness to overcome, as though defying the rules, or defying logic. We may join a park full of children, but we are not yet permitted to welcome a guest to our home. But as our sons run, unencumbered and free, our daughter delighting in conquering a climb and swinging on the swing; I must admit, this ultra-normal, pre-COVID activity of park play; it feels, well…normal. 


Often it can take weeks, or even months, to establish a good routine and just when things seem to be under control, something changes and what worked before doesn’t work anymore. Baby isn’t tired. Baby is overtired. Baby is teething. 

Yet the disturbance to a carefully cultivated routine is actually what we aspire to, progressing from milestone to milestone until our babies can do ‘all the things’. How crushing, how soul destroying then, when a baby’s development seems to stagnate.  

In the days leading up to our daughter’s eight month check, some part of me understood that our daughter was not where she needed to be. Like an exam we were always destined to fail, baby and I crammed right before our maternal health nurse appointment; doing tummy time, double time. It seemed that after the early months of feeding and expressing around the clock to bring up her weight – a challenge I’d not anticipated after two gutsy boys – the tummy time our baby experienced, when safely out of the clutches of her older brothers, had not sufficiently strengthened her muscles. So it wasn’t so much a surprise when the maternal health nurse commented on baby’s inability to hold her head up with ease.

Her recommendation; paediatric physiotherapy. I hadn’t realised there was such a thing. Who knew such little people could be assigned exercises to strengthen their muscles? 

The physio was both nurturing and reassuring, insisting that this would be a temporary hurdle. But when I asked how far behind baby was, the physio hesitated like a tight-lipped doctor not wanting to alarm their patient. 

‘Do you really want to know?’ she asked. 

I nodded, needing to know what I was dealing with; how much work was yet to be done. 

At eight months old, our baby’s physical strength was in line with that of a three or four month old. Although, I was told, she would likely progress naturally over time, the physio explained that because, mentally, she was an eight month old, over time, she would become frustrated, her body, not in tune with her mind. 

‘See, she’s very bright. You can see she wants that toy,’ the physio said, baby batting for a toy she couldn’t play with; not without the physical strength to hold herself into sitting. 

When I left the physio, I was determined to take our homework seriously, this time we were not going to cram. In short bursts, several times per day, we practiced. Baby leaning over a couch cushion laid on the floor, pushing up with her hands, while I held her knees in place, firmly against the cushion, so that the emphasis of her weight-bearing didn’t shift. For weeks, I committed to this cause, stressed and anxious, thinking of little else. 

We returned to the physio four or five weeks later, so soon after our initial appointment because we were due to jet-set. When prompted, I  suggested that, yes, I had noticed some improvement. The physio took one look at my little girl in action. 

‘Oh Mary Clare!’ she said, ‘I think you really undersold the level of improvement here. Just look at her!’ 

I beamed. It was like our baby, all of a sudden, had decided to ‘perform’.

‘She wasn’t doing that at home!’ I said, the two of us laughing, stunned at how far baby had come. 

‘You won’t need to come back,’ the physio said. 

She was the loveliest paediatric physiotherapist I’d ever met – the only paediatric physiotherapist I’d ever met – but I was thrilled at the thought of never having to see her again, of never having to look back.

As we finished up our session, baby and I leaving the clinic as another ‘good-news story,’ the physio equipped me with a realistic expectation for our daughter’s continued physical development. 

‘Most people associate the first birthday with walking,’ she said. ‘But walking at 18 months is still considered within normal range.’  

In the end, our bright, slow-moving baby conquered walking at 16.5 months. Though this is now a blip in our lives, a slight hurdle compared to the heart-wrenching situations thrust upon some parents, I am grateful to the mothers who shared their personal stories of babies slow to progress; as I am glad to share my mine. 

‘The Favourite’

‘Which one is your favourite?’ a woman asks when I tell her I have three children.

‘See!’ she says, when I pause. ‘You do have a favourite!’ 

I once read an article whereby a mother confessed; ‘I don’t love my children the same, I love them differently.’ Like their individuality was some kind of revelation. I too, love my children differently, for their own unique qualities.

As I consider how to respond to this woman’s question, it occurs to me that, perhaps, the question itself is more telling. In the absence of a response, the woman adds, ‘I was one of three – and my parents didn’t love us equally.’

It is my belief that parents, as a rule, have only the best of intentions when dishing out their love. But isn’t everything a matter of perspective?  

I can serve up two perfectly identical peanut-butter sandwiches, with sliced apple and a piece of cheese. Yet our eldest son will immediately form an opinion about which of the two identical lunches is the biggest, and thus the best.  

‘Who do you love the most?’ he asks me one night, as I tuck him into bed. 

I hesitate; a question to be answered with care.  

‘You can’t answer the question, can you?’ our son says – because I hesitate or because he’s asked this question before. ‘But you love us all the same, don’t you?’

I nod – Though, I guess, in hindsight, it would be more accurate to say; ‘It’s true, I love you all so much my heart could burst. But I love you for the different ways you enhance my life; which, like my love, are wholly immeasurable.’  

During our usual morning walk, I comment to my husband how beautiful it is to watch our boys run. How freeing. The wind in their hair, their eager, quickened steps as they come to share with us their discovery of finding worms in the gutter. And the way they describe the worms brought out by the rain. Purple and pink with sections of gold. I never thought of worms in this way, nor would I have noticed them there in the first place were it not for the boys’ discovery. The worms, perhaps, a metaphor for the ways our children enrich our life. For the things they make us see. 

I recall a kinder mum describing her son as a ‘Unit’. I hadn’t fully understood the term, but from her tone, the glint in her eye, I understood that she was still working him out. And that her discovery of him, of his own unique self, was a delight to witness. The beauty of having children; what we may discover in knowing them. 

My mother tells of when I was born, a daughter after three sons. My father looked at his newborn, a chubby baby in pink and said, ‘Who’s this?’ – Clearly, he was still working me out. And I like to think that, mostly, I’ve surprised and delighted him ever since.  

Though our eldest is only seven, I know that sometimes – maybe because he’s always been big for his age or because he’s the oldest child – we are probably guilty of treating him older than he actually is; expecting him to be responsible, reliable, forgetting he’s still very much just a little boy with a fantastic sense of fun and a wonderful imagination. Sometimes he can be infused with so much energy that the best thing for him is to run laps outside. I love that about him. His energy, his enthusiasm. His zest for life.

Our second child has always been fiercely independent, stubborn, affectionate, extremely charismatic. An interesting mix. Stubbornly, my husband and I both credit each other for our son’s stubbornness. Whether he is in the midst of asserting his own independence or giving one of the best cuddles I may ever experience in my life, he is so endearing that it is impossible to ever imagine this ‘baby in the corner’.

Our third (and final) child holds the position of the youngest and the only girl. She is demanding and beautiful, playful and sweet. Possessing qualities similar to our second child that had me wondering how on earth we would manage not one, but two strong-willed children; and yet she is entirely her own person. While, at times, the parent in me struggles to keep up with her fast pace, her determined, head-strong nature; the feminist in me loves that she is a girl who knows her own mind. That she is capable and smart and demands to be heard. That she does not fit any of the pre-conceived notions I may have had about how different it might be to raise a girl. It is an absolute joy to be continually delighted and surprised by her. And I’m sure, I’m still working her out.

My mother says of her mother that she had this ability to make each child feel as though she was their mum; to each feel the uniqueness of their own special bond between mother and child. A tradition that continues, I believe, as I, myself, have been pulled up by my brother for referring to our mother as ‘my mum’. 

While often, I must ask for our children’s patience, their acceptance that there are three of them whose demands I must meet; it is my hope that all three of our children will feel my love in its own unique form, and that in years to come, they will remember, that I am, was, and forever shall be; their mum. 

Time and Space

For a mother, the term ‘Me Time,’ doesn’t quite cut it. It implies time away from children spent luxuriously, a bubble bath by candlelight, a quiet spot to read a book for hours on end; an indulgence. What I’m talking about here is ‘Space.’ Not a luxury, but a basic need. Time out to take a few quiet breaths, to regroup from tantrums, whinging; from any and all of the demands of having young children. The last time I felt this way, I had just given birth to our third child. 

‘There is no space,’ I said to my husband. ‘There is nowhere for me to just be.’ 

And even when I sought space in our small, small house, taking a shower, letting the hot water wash away the day, preparing me for another night of broken sleep, there was no solitude. The boys bursting through the door. My husband hovering, trying to settle an unsettled baby simply in need of her mother. Even if no one actually entered my physical space, I felt the demands weighing heavy on my shoulders. I couldn’t relax; what if they needed me? 

In support of her staff, the principal at the first school I ever worked at, a Catholic school, famously spoke of giving her staff ‘time and space.’ Gently encouraging us in the direction of change. 

Time and space. Two things I had in short supply when I first became a mother of three. ‘I don’t have time for my other children,’ I said, as I felt the dust of mother’s guilt settle with all my energies invested in ensuring our youngest baby thrived. 

Despite the exhaustion, the deprivation of personal space, I tried to find the humour, the joy in the everyday. 

Dancing in the kitchen, in a zombie-like state while sterilising bottles, I gave the last remaining part of myself to my two other children after feeding and caring for our baby – because if I didn’t laugh I would have cried. My eldest son, stood in the kitchen bemused by new dance moves which went like this; ‘And feed’ – arms out in front, ‘Express’ – arms above, ‘And sterilise. And sterilise’ – feet to the side, feet to the side. Because these were the actions of my every waking hour; feeding, expressing, or sterilising; all in desperate need to steadily increase our newborn’s weight. 

‘Mummy’s a cow,’ my eldest son said cheekily, laughing at the rhythmic sucking sound of the breast pump.

This was funny; and not. Because for the first few months of our daughter’s life, life was hard, very hard. Advice was confusing and conflicting. Express at every feed and top up every feed with a bottle. Ditch the expressing and persist feeding ‘naturally.’ I was not a person in my own right, but a vessel for food and sustenance. And this went on for months.

Already a mother to two beautiful boys, I knew how to ‘mother’. And yet our daughter provided challenges I’d never had to face with the boys. 

When our second child was born, my obstetrician visited me the morning after the delivery, declaring ‘Look at this lady of leisure’. 

Sitting up in bed, engrossed in a good book, I had to remind myself I’d just given birth. I almost felt guilty for using up the hospital’s resources when I was clearly capable of doing this mothering thing on my own. 

After the birth of our third child, however, I was shell-shocked. Things weren’t going smoothly as they had before. I buzzed the nurses, daily, seeking assistance with feeding, checking our attachment; because neither baby, nor I, seemed to have any clue what we were doing. After being discharged – our baby narrowly avoiding being admitted due to insufficient weight gain – baby and I attended extra weigh-ins, breastfeeding consultations, community group breastfeeding sessions. I engaged in copious amounts of anxiety-driven research, experimenting with bottle teats, adjusting the amount of top-up feeds, experimenting with baby-led attachment; encouraging the baby’s natural instincts to find the breast. But ultimately, it was a matter of time, and space, until baby and I were able to consolidate a good feeding relationship. 

I wasn’t alone. My husband, is, and was, incredibly supportive. I have very hands-on and doting parents, a close circle of friends and family. But the feeding issues I experienced with our third child were mine to bear. 

Was it worth it? Persisting with breastfeeding for so long, and at such a personal expense to me, and my other children? 

Ultimately, that is not the point here. The point is that this was an incredibly hard time in my life; that while living through it, I felt as though the struggle would never end. 

I remind myself of this time – so difficult, I’d rather forget – to remember that things will, and do, improve. To understand, and know, that while in the throes of a Lockdown that is only becoming more stringent, more difficult to bear; that things will, and do, improve.

In those early days with a newborn, I understood that life would not simply go on in the same way forever. But the days were long and hard, physically exhausting, emotionally taxing, it was difficult to imagine a different reality than the one I was facing. I had to remind myself of the silver-lining, work hard to appreciate my three beautiful blessings; each child filling our home, my heart, with love. 

As I look back on those crazy, hazy days of newborn chaos, of mothering more children than I have hands; as I watch each child develop their own interests, demonstrate their own clever attributes, engage in some small act of kindness; the eldest one helping the middle one find socks, the middle one ensuring whatever he has to eat, there’s enough to share, both boys letting their sister ‘hog the ball’ when we play basketball, understanding she’s far too young to understand the rules; I appreciate ‘time and space,’ in all its forms.

This house is a small house. And some days, its smallness, our close confines, works to amplify the chaos; a zoo within a matchbox. Other times, it holds up a mirror to that which I am most grateful. Some days, this house is just small enough. 

‘Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence.’ 

            – LU XUN, HOMETOWN

Victoria, we will get through this.


So here we go again. Melbourne in Lockdown. Melbourne Metro and the Mitchell Shire, collectively breathing a sigh at having been here before, like being in labour and discovering you’re only a few centimetres dilated; still so much pain yet to be endured. 

But instead of dwelling on life’s experiences better served in person than via a Zoom chat, I am making a conscious decision to remind myself of all the experiences I would happily do without as we bunker down for another long and cold – and long – six weeks.

Firstly, supermarket shopping…with children. 

Thank goodness that bringing my children to the shops is discouraged. Literally the last time I was physically in a supermarket this is how it went down. The toddler conducting a prison break from the shopping trolley. The eldest fingering any and all of the lollies at the checkout – kept there for the purpose of making parents’ lives more difficult. The middle one, falling backward upending the trolley after hanging off its side. Me, swooping the toddler up into my arms, whilst catching the trolley with my shin. Never, do I ever, want to take all my ‘wild things’ to a supermarket all at once again; the memory still haunts of their small hands moving quicker than an Aldi shop assistant, the watchful eyes of the other customers staring long and hard, letting their judgement linger. 

Secondly, long car trips…with children. 

‘I love you to Wangaratta and back,’ said my eldest son one night as I tucked him in to bed. Some children love their parents to the moon and back, mine loves me as far as the three and a half hour drive to North-East regional Victoria – and back. But after travelling there recently, I’ve come to realise this is a compliment. Because even a relatively short journey can feel like an expedition to the moon when the dummy belonging to the overtired toddler has fallen down beneath the passenger seat, just out of reach despite all the twisting and contorting spurred on by the impassioned yelling; our toddler’s pitch and volume capable of bursting an eardrum. Frustrating too, is the need for siblings to annoy each other by encroaching on the other’s personal space. ‘Are we there yet?’ met with ‘I’ll turn this car around!’ Clichés that exist through the generations because, without the aid of technology, within a confined space, kids are wired to drive their parents nuts. Dishing out snacks to stave off our children’s hunger and, or, boredom, my husband and I delight in thoughts of having one of those screens found in limousines that divide the front seat from the back. 

Lastly – though I’m sure there’s other experiences I would happily take a raincheck on for a little longer – dining in at cafés and restaurants…with children.

Having our three children sit up at the table, while my husband and I do our best to wade through a disjointed conversation, cutting up their food while ours gets cold, searching for wipes to contain the stickiness, walking on egg shells to prevent our daughter from squealing, to keep our sons in their seats. Not exactly relaxing.

Sometimes though, things do go smoothly. Sometimes the toddler doesn’t try to load or unload the supermarket trolley and the other two do stand ‘nicely.’ Sometimes the toddler falls asleep on long car trips while the other two stare dreamily out the window. Sometimes visiting a café is a success. 

And sometimes, it’s nice to be at home. 


Neighbours. Now, I’m not referring to the TV Soap, strangely popular in the U.K., a training camp for the Kylie Minogues and Margo Robbies of the world. A show synonymous with Harold and his waggling chin. Instead, I refer to the rite of passage of kids befriending kids, particularly those conveniently living nearby. Friendships, that have become, for us, even more crucial in the early days of COVID-19 #stayathome. A metaphorical hand that has pulled our children through to the other side; the return to kinder, the return to school.

Kids often crave things that are actually bad for them: lollies, chocolate – that one’s contentious – TV or experiences beyond what is ‘age appropriate.’ But, if lucky enough to have the kind of blessed childhood, where there is room to feel bored, then sometimes, I think kids are the most adept at honing in on what they need most – except maybe sleep; show me a child that confesses to being tired, who doesn’t become cranky at the mere suggestion, nay accusation, of being told ‘I think you must be tired.’

How often kids play outdoors in the hope of coming across other kids. How delighted they are to stumble across another child while playing at the park, as we once did, or anywhere where the opportunity might allow for a little ‘play.’ For me, growing up, my neighbours were the people I wanted to see most on the weekend or in the long afternoons that followed on from 3:30pm, when hot Milo and cartoons just didn’t cut it. 

One year, after landing back on Australian soil after enduring twenty-three hours of flying from the other side of the world – Canada, my home away from homes – I leapt out of the car, ran down the driveway and leapt out onto the road. There was a spring in my step because of the exhilarating feeling of seeing my best friends who lived across the road after a whole month apart, a whole month of relearning to cross the road in a country where drivers ‘drive on the wrong side of the road.’ As my front foot landed onto the bitumen a woman came around the bend, blasting her horn. Exaggerated hand gestures behind a sealed car window. Unable to cross the road, my confidence shattered, I ran back down the drive and returned home, suitably shaken.

I have multiple memories of being eager to see my neighbours. On one occasion, I was relegated to my room – the place, filled with toys, where parents send their misbehaving children. The ‘Ninja Turtle boys’ who lived behind us – labelled by my Dad who was bemused by the costumes they once donned – placed a ladder up against my bedroom window and aided my escape, enabling my return to ‘come and play.’

‘Marrrr-eeeee-Clarrrrrre’ could often be heard from the back fence of my childhood home. As if responding to the calling of a conch, not unlike Piggy’s conch in ‘Lord of the Flies,’ I would run down to the back fence to be greeted by the sister of the Ninja Turtles, ‘Talia-Bree From Over the Sea’ – a name also attributed by my Dad, because of its rhyming qualities and, perhaps, because her’s was a voice that could travel. 

My eldest son, in a final assignment before returning to school was asked to write things he was thankful for: chalk rainbows, teddy bears pinned to fences; signs of solidarity and love. Here’s what I am thankful for.

As I hear the syllables of our eldest son’s name dragged out in full volume across the fence and the conch-like call of our younger son’s name coming from the opposing neighbouring fence, I am grateful for the sound. Because I understand, this is their sound; a sound that will be heard long after COVID-19.

The ‘Window’

Not everyone, it seems, is taking kindly to the mostly young mums posting insta-shots of delectable-looking homemade treats fresh out of the oven, served up for the kiddies – who, by the way, are photographed sitting in their neat and tidy work space, pencil in hand, ready to learn. #stayathome. These micro-level local celebrities, a.k.a. ‘friends’ we like to stalk, who seem to have it all together, are the people we all greatly admire, and, also, love to hate. Because unless included amongst the vision of beautifully-kept children and gourmet delights are the candid photographs of squabbling, snatching, squealing and the like; then the insta-life, for us mere humans, is entirely unattainable.

My day is like sailing on a sailboat, alone and unassisted. It’s success, solely dependent on the conditions. Weather. Mood. Competing Demands. The waning concentration of my school boy. I know I am asking too much, when the electrical impulse running through my school boy has him looking like one of those tall, skinny tube men plonked at car dealerships waving in the wind. This, combined with the toddler, bursting open the doors to the sideboard, pulling out an avalanche of papers previously shoved/filed away, is enough to do it. I don’t even need the third one present to feel a rise in my blood pressure, the return of shallow breaths.

In my last post, after becoming over-involved in my son’s schooling, and then taking a big step back, literally out the door, I wrote: ‘I achieved the trifecta I was after; two, playful happy children, one focused, very mature little school boy writing freely at his designated workspace.’ Yeah, sure, I achieved this – for a time. 

But nothing lasts forever, and that is why I am shifting my focus to savour the small ‘wins.’ The part of my day I savour the most, however, just happens to be when the house is at its most quiet – even my school boy expressed recently that while he generally prefers ‘loud,’ he now also enjoys ‘peace;’ sometimes. 

This is what ‘peace,’ in daylight hours, looks like for me. 

My shoulders relax, my breathing steadies at the last dish dried, the washing folded. From the window, I see the boys jumping on the trampoline, their squeals of delight silenced by the glass between us. I peer into the next room to see Little Miss, bum in the air, fast asleep. I watch her little breaths, soaking in the unfamiliar, yet exhilarating, sound of silence. 

Laid out before me is a gift; a small but precious window – my older brother, who had kids well before us, used to speak of this elusive ‘window,’ back then I found it perplexing. For those unfamiliar to the term, a ‘window’ is a small opening of time before it all falls apart. In this scenario, it is the time before the boys begin banging on the back door – though they need only open it – and the toddler wakes, ready to unload the dishwasher of dirty dishes, unpack the bin of its contents, or select items from the washing basket to deposit throughout the house.  

So, I set the mood. Light a candle called ‘Peace,’ set the TV to something only I like to watch, plate up a sandwich and a segment of orange chocolate; the latter, as Miss Trunchbull from Matilda put it, ‘Much too good for children.’

But first, before I indulge, I step quietly past the sleeping toddler, and duck to the toilet.

And there it is.

Upon opening the door, I feel like a kid who’s just dropped their ice-cream. 

My window; now shut.