Monthly Archives: December 2010

Telepathy, guilt and a low care factor…. brava 2011


Each and every year on the 30th of December, I start thinking about the people with whom I feel I’ve been a poor correspondent over the previous 12 months. To my mind this constitutes around 70% of the people with whom I have a relationship and/or with whom I wish to correspond. And each year, I hope to myself that I am exaggerating when I settle on this percentage, although I doubt it. Throughout the year I begin many letters, notes, emails and phone calls with, “sorry for not contacting you before,” mostly concluding with “promise to be in touch soon.” And then the rest of the year happens around me and whenever I think of phoning Great-Aunty Shirl, it is 3 o’clock in the morning or I’m in the car and her number isn’t listed in my iphone. Combined with laziness and forgetfulness, it amounts to disjointed communication and results in my feeling that I am disappointing 50% of the people, 50% of the time.

Today was slightly different. 30 December arrived and as usual, I had begun thinking about all the people I had not contacted during 2010. I then came upon a poem that I had snipped out of a magazine in 2003 when my son started pre-school. At the time, it resonated strongly with me because of the guilt I felt sending him off on his own each day. I must say I rather too quickly got over that. However, the loveliness of the poem has stayed with me.

Telepathy

Today I explained telepathy to you,
and telephone, and television,
on the way to day care,

and I said, sometimes when I’m at work
I’ll think of you,
and if I could send you that thought with my mind,

you’d get it right then,
and maybe you’d smile, stopping a moment at whatever
you were doing, or maybe not

but just going on with it, making a mask out of paper plates
and orange and green cards
with markers and scissors and paste,

or screaming circles in the gym
either being a monster
or being chased by a gang of them, but still you’d get

the picture I was beaming
and you’d brighten inside and flash me something back,
which I’d get, where I was, and smile at.

That’s telepathy, I said
pulling into the parking lot,
looking at you in the mirror.

Michael Dennis Browne

My re-reading of this poem today, 8 years later, had a completely different effect on me. I suddenly realised that the people I care about, know that I care about them. I may not speak with them everyday, in fact I may only speak with them every six months. Regardless of when we communicate or in what format, we pick up where we left off. They never make me feel guilty for my own shortcomings, in fact they tease me and together we laugh and our relationship deepens as a result. We have a kind of telepathy.

Conversely, my care factor for anyone who makes me feel rueful is now low. Although, I’m sure I’ll love them again on January 1.

Happy New Year one and all and may a few telepaths find their way into your world in 2011.

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Three deaths, a small dog and insurmountable Christmas joy.

I promised myself I would never put on paper the story that follows, but the last paragraph has filled me with such joy, I have relented and now wish to share it. I hope you will read this without deeming me too self indulgent but sometimes something so utterly lovely flings itself upon your heart, that you forget (and don’t care) that you might bore everyone rigid and so instantly pick up your pen…

Just on two years ago, my father died. He had been ill for around 7 years, so, whilst I was desperately sad at the thought of no longer being able to talk to, or touch him, my overwhelming emotion was one of relief. I’m certain death was also a relief for him. We all knew that his body had reached the point where total failure was near, and whilst we could make him comfortable, death was inevitable. We offered him our love, constant touch and our tears but no-one resiled from what was approaching, least of all him. When the time was right, he needed to stop breathing. He needed to ‘go’. (In conversation, neither he or I were entirely sure where that ‘going’ would take him, but he was unconcerned, and bless him, tried to convince me not to be afraid for him). He died with surprising ease and calm. If death can be lovely, his was. Some may consider it odd, but I enjoyed holding him after his death. He was peaceful; not bound up, with laboured breathing and a pinched look on his face.

The most fascinating aspect of my father’s death is that it involved two animals. This is interesting only insomuch as he was not at all fond of animals. He accepted that they would always be a part of his life (he married an animal lover), but he only ever tolerated pets. He never really engaged with them, until a slightly overweight King Charles Cavalier Spaniel named Charlie entered his life.

But hold on. Before I tell you about Charlie, I need to talk (just a little) about Molly. Molly was my first dog. She was my first “child”. That looks completely daft when written. When spoken it sounds vaguely acceptable, so try to imagine my voice. She and I were inseparable, even after the birth (and obvious adoration) of my two human children. After their arrival, Molly recognized her inevitable slide in the family pack, but was also wily enough to know that all she need do was crook her head “just so” and I’d melt and let her hop back up onto my bed at night.

5 days before my father died, Molly choked on a bone in the back garden and died.

My children found her by literally tripping over her while playing hide ‘n seek. They came flying to me, screaming “Molly’s dead Mama, Molly’s dead.” And yes she was. Bloody foolish gutso. In her greed, a large bone had gone down whole; the wrong way. There was nothing I could do. I tried kitchen tongs, the Heimlich manoeuvre, violent massage, you name it. Ultimately, what distressed me most about her death is that my children, for the first time, saw me completely undone. I sat for a long time clutching her, rocking back and forth on my knees, my tears splashing onto her fur, while making odd uncontrollable guttural sounds . For someone who shows control at all times, this was a very naked moment. It still makes me feel inexorably sad. It was so unexpected. Horrid, just horrid. Although, I’ve come to think that her death prepared me and my children for the death of my father.

So there we are. Two deaths in under a week. One expected, the other not. The family swung together and made ‘arrangements’. Molly ended up under a lovely hydrangea and a sandstone plinth in the front garden. That was easy. Arranging Dad’s funeral was pretty easy; after all, we’d all talked about what form it would take for some time. The trickiest task was phoning the Priest at the Church in which Dad’s funeral service was to be held to ask, if for the first time ever, an unleashed dog could lead the casket into and out of the church. And so we come to Charlie.

Charlie is a rotund Cavalier Spaniel who lived up the road from my parents. He used to visit every other day, begging for tidbits from my mother’s always overflowing fridge. His owners gave up trying to stop him visiting and he very quickly became a part of our family. Over the years, as my father became seriously ill, Charlie also gave up asking for what might come out of the fridge and instead hopped up onto Dad’s bed and gently laid his head beside my father’s. At first, Dad would feign horror and kick him off. But Charlie persisted and slowly, Dad relented. On the day of his death, Charlie was firmly ensconced by my father’s side which gave both of them great comfort. After Dad had gone, Charlie placed himself in my father’s favourite chair and didn’t move for several days.

On the day of my father’s funeral, Charlie was allowed to lead all of us, ahead of Dad’s casket up the aisle of the church. He sat, head cocked and listened to the service. On leaving, he walked slowly, head low, down the aisle and guided Dad away. It was a very special moment.

And then Charlie disappeared. Vanished. Gone. Mum found this incredibly difficult. We all presumed Charlie had fallen ill, walked into the nearby bush and curled up to die. Mum and Charlie’s original owner posted a $500 reward for anyone who could locate him. Nothing. So, again, we suffered an unexpected, but this time, unexplained death in our family. And again, horrid, just horrid..

And so we come to today, two years on from Dad’s death. This afternoon my mother phoned me in tears to say that Charlie has been found. On Christmas Eve he apparently wandered into the garage of a woman in Liverpool and sat there. She gave him something to eat and next day phoned the local vet. The vet, despite enjoying the last of his Christmas pudding, scanned a slightly dirty little King Charles Cavalier, to discover that his true owner was some 30 kilometres away. Who knows how he ended up there or how he has survived all this time. And quite frankly I couldn’t give a flying fig on the detail. What I do know is that we have all unexpectedly regained a part of our lives that will serve daily to remind us of a father that we still miss very much. A truly special Christmas present.

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Filed under Family, Kids, Outdoors, Parenting, Pets

How to do nothing and enjoy it…

A rerun of a post I wrote in December last year. Still as accurate this year…..

In Australia, for many, December means celebrating Christmas, hot days, gifts, reconnection and relaxation, family, more hot days and approximately 9 weeks of school holidays. We’re a month into summer and the heat can be oppressive. If you’re lucky and have access to a pool, beach or outback dam, the summer break invariably means much time spent cooling off in the water, perfecting the ultimate ‘bomb’ or dive, hunting for sea creatures in the sparkling depths of rockpools and seaweed forests, or catching yabbies in a muddy dam using nothing other than a bit of string and some pongy meat.

However, unless you shut out all forms of media during December, it can be frustrating to have the festive period defined by mainly European and North American media viewpoints of what the season is. Reindeer, snow (and the associated activities the white stuff brings), hot baked dinners, holly and mistletoe, mulled wine and egg nog all abound, to name just a few. Here in Sydney, these Christmas “markers” repeated in our mainstream media just seem plain silly (and lazy on behalf of the Australian media). Every now and then I’ll see a token picture of Father Christmas on a surfboard but that’s about it.

So I thought I’d share what the summer break means to me and my family. Firstly, school has finished for the year and will not return until some time in February. There’s no homework for up to 9 weeks (a personal favourite of mine); endless stretches of warm days, sea breezes and late nights spent attempting to avoid manic and hungry mosquitoes, whilst watching reruns of ridiculous, yet highly entertaining B-grade movies.

It’s spending most of the day in our bathers eating a vast range of summer fruits such as peaches, nectarines, mangoes, lychees, rambutans, strawberries and raspberries and then washing the sticky juice off your arms and legs whilst running under the sprinkler in the nud. (regardless of age). The rules are relaxed on who sleeps where and at what time one goes to bed. I often wake in the gentle, quiet hours of early morning to find my children sleeping on the couch or verandah with our puppies – it’s a delightful amorphous mass of arms, paws, the occasional snort, whiskers, twitches and general loveliness.

It’s getting up early before the day becomes too warm to walk the puppies but forgetting to change out of your PJ bottoms. And then the flooding sense of relief as you meet other people on the harbour track who’ve done exactly the same thing. It’s the daily opportunity to head to the beach, and later that evening curl up in bed with the salt still scratching your skin; waking the next morning with salt-encrusted bed-head. (This is another favourite of mine as I’m CERTAIN it has to be good for you).

There’s a BBQ to be had every other day, entertaining friends who casually drop in clutching a fine bottle of chilled wine whilst shaking the sand from their toes. There’s fresh seafood to eat, books to read, summer quizzes to ponder in a newspaper that offers little else at this time of the year.

It’s watching with delight as my children take the “shortcut” and scale the backyard fence to go play with their mates. Summer break means that beach cricket will be played, Lilos will be burst, Aloe vera will be applied to “Coppertone” bums and bathroom scales will be pushed under the vanity until January 1st.

And whilst my family doesn’t observe any particular religion, this time of year will inevitably find us lying under a Moreton Bay Fig in Sydney’s iconic Botanic Gardens listening to Christmas Carols whilst flying foxes screech overhead.

What I like best of all though? Sydney’s summer break affords me the perfect opportunity to remind my children of how to do “nothing” and actually enjoy it. Without the distraction of school or work, the likelihood of over-structured time or prescriptive play is reduced tenfold. With no formal learning, no rushing here or there, we find ample opportunity to unplug, reconnect with each other and spend way too much time outside in the sun enjoying all that playing outdoors has to offer. I am convinced that this is the best Christmas gift I can give my children.

To all, a happy festive break. Whatever it means to you and however you celebrate, I hope it brings much joy wherever on our beautiful planet you might be.

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Filed under Australia, Family, Imagination, Kids, Outdoors, Parenting, Play