Her Hands

I’m preparing for a visit from my sister. She lives across the other side of the country and she and I are both finding that as we get older, we are softer to one another. More compassionate about the challenges we face, more cognisant of the similarities than all the differences. I find myself seeing my sister through our mother’s eyes. With a special kind of maternal love and tenderness; a kindness that evaded me in my younger years.  I think we recognise that without our mother, we are the only ones who can bring Mum’s loveliness back. By being her hands, her heart… for each other.

At the local grocer’s, I was looking at the fresh cut flowers, mentally relishing the names of all the flowers Mum loved. I saw the Alstromarias, the Roses (blush pink for the wedding dress she sewed my sister) and the Leukodendrons.  I could almost hear my mother’s voice, patiently showing me how to trim the stems, why we do; chatting as she arranged stems lovingly in a vase. She loved flowers.  I bought the pink roses, the pink and plum-toned Alstromarias she favoured in her garden (they last such a long time, she would say… a brilliant cut flower) and the green and deep burgundy Leukodendrons.  I bought them on behalf of my Mumma, a tribute of her love for my sister.

Earlier, at the hospital pharmacy, my eye was drawn to all the things that Trissy would love. I chose some sugar free jubes, smiling at the memory of how Mum used to squash jubes and marshmallows between thumb and forefinger before popping them into her mouth with a flourish. I chose some jelly beans, because Mum liked them too, she kept them in her handbag and would sneak a few in at an opportune moment. I chose some soap that smelled of Guava, a strong childhood memory portal, that scent.

I feel my Mumma close to me today, as I get ready to see her other girl. My sister and I will chat all weekend about her, about life and love and motherhood and all-the-things.  I look at my hands, looking more and more like I remember hers. The same lines. The same textures and contours. I like that. Her hands, my hands.

Just for a while this weekend; the strength of longing of two girls for their Mum will be satiated by some time spent with someone who understands. Like no other person could.

In the presence of what remains. Each other; sisters, daughters.

Mum’s hands, Mum’s heart.

Speaking of Shoes

I was sure I was ascending the stairway to heaven. This was the address for Angels for Shoes (how apt! Cue the choir of angels) …the shoe shop for big-footed girls. As we pushed open the door, I took a hopeful, anticipatory breath. This place must surely be the solution to my foot problems…!?

I was 14 years old and on my way to boarding school from the tropical turmoil of Papua New Guinea. For two years, I had been wearing shoes too small for my feet. This meant a cycle of ingrown toenails which easily infected in the heat and dirt of a third world country. It was excruciating….  almost as bad as the embarrassment I felt about my shoes. Perspective, right? For teenagers, being able to wear what the others wear is disproportionately important. I’d been wearing my jelly shoes from the last time we’d gone on leave, two years prior. When the plastic had popped under pressure from my toes, we went to the Trade Store and found some men’s karate shoes that fit me. It wasn’t shoe heaven.

Mum had done some research and found that there was a store in Sydney for people with larger feet. It was the store I was about to enter. Angels. We knew that I would need casual shoes and something for chapel. The school uniform shop stocked T-bar boats, and men’s sneakers would suffice, so they weren’t on the shopping list until we got to Melbourne.  But I had in mind a cute little pair of ballet flats and some pointy toed, kitten heels.  Everyone was wearing those.

The store was packed into a tiny two rooms. There were massive shoes everywhere. Orthotic bunion friendly lace ups, garden gumboots, shiny patent high heels, mother-of-the-bride shoes in oyster, blush and pewter. I craned my neck for the door that would lead to the cool shoes. There wasn’t one. My breath rushed out in a disappointed sigh. “Oh.” I murmured. Mum rallied, brightly suggesting I try various things. She rifled through the sale racks and emerged triumphant with a thick heeled teal court shoe, the kind your grandmother might wear to the CWA annual general meeting. With a hat.
“-these are fun!” she said. I plonked down on the padded chair to try the ‘fun’ shoes on. We emerged an hour later, with three pairs of motherly shoes that fit my feet perfectly. A pair of black patent heels (“Classics!” the shoe lady had chortled), the ‘fun’ shoes that I would never wear and some square heeled pearl ivory wedding shoes.  I resolved that somewhere out there, someday, I would find some shoes that I love.

I’ve never lost the yen for a great long shoe. I love shoes.
And when I find shoes I love that fit me, I am a goner.

Fast forward thirty odd years. My twelve year old’s feet have just grown beyond the size range of most shoe stores. This week, she has her best friend’s Bat Mitzvah to attend, so finding her some appropriate footwear is our new mission. Sometimes, you can find flats that will fit a size 11 foot in places like K-mart or The Warehouse, but I think it is time for her to have a pair of leather shoes that feel good. So we’re off to the store that actually does house angels, a store that truly warrants it’s own angel choir. Willow Shoes. This Long-Foot-Nirvana stocks everything, from the podiatry friendly Frankie4 (orthotic shoes have come a LONG way) to funky hot pink leopard brogues. I am certain we can find my girl exactly what she needs. I have in mind these sweet little flats, but I’ll be letting her choose.


Willow are online and deliver around NZ and Australia, so if you are across the ditch, or not one of their NZ locations, check out their website. Gorgeous, gorgeous things! The variety always boggles my brain! So much choice. I recently wore their shoes for a shoot. Heaven indeed! So amazing to model in shoes that fit rather than squeezing into whatever stunt shoes are in the studio.  Nothing makes you feel more like an Ugly Stepsister than squishing your feet into a Cinderella slipper.  How amazing are these heels with the blue metallic heel. Swoon!  You can see the whole shoot here, but I’ll be talking more about that on the blog soon.

Thank you Willow, for giving me happy feet. And for being there for my baby girl in our quest for better footwear.

POST SCRIPT:
Mission accomplished!

 

Travelling Companion

471BC, Themistocles established a great military port at Piraeus, near Athens. More than 2000 years later, Joyce, my intrepid travelling Granny, is deep in consultation with her Arthur Frommer’s guide book.  Apparently, the walk to the old Port is a free thing to do, and well worth the effort (FYI… these days, not so safe, so perhaps you don’t want to follow in her footsteps if you are a single female traveller. Just saying!)   Before tackling the port walk however, she pauses over her breakfast at the youth hostel to talk with another tourist.

Their topic is travelling as a woman, alone. Specifically the exasperation both travellers feel being subjected to the unwanted attention of local opportunistic lads, keen for a chance at the burgeoning tourist dollar. These hustlers make pocket-money selling holiday romance by means of flattery and fake infatuation. My Granny, accustomed to male attention but uncomfortable with the cynical commerce of this form, asks her new friend what strategies she adopts with the Greek lotharios.

“I let them carry on, right up until they try to kiss me!  Then I just point to my cheek and say… there, kiss me there. As you would   -your mother.”  The way she nods afterward, suggests this method has served her well.  Joyce smiles at her, finishes her breakfast and takes to the streets in search of ancient port walls.  She doubts whether her fellow traveller’s advice will ever be useful.

___

The day was dry and hot. Joyce walked at a pace, seeking the refreshment of sea views and perhaps a stone wall to perch upon. Suddenly she felt a firm pinch on her buttock. “Oh!” she exclaimed and turned to see who had perpetrated such affrontery. A young boy, around 12, grinned up at her, “Have you got a boyfriend?” he asked flirtatiously. She raised an eyebrow at him, then adjusting her spectacles, looked at him sternly across the top of them. Quickening her pace slightly, but not so much he would fall away, she watched to see what he would do.  He fell in step easily, her spontaneous travel companion.

After a while, they began a simple conversation. When they reached the sea walls, Joyce asked him if he would like an ice-cream. His eyes lit up. They sat there in comfortable silence, eyes on the sea, devouring the cold sweet treats. It was nice to see the boy being a child, nice to be in his company. When he had finished the last lick of his ice-cream, he drew that street bravado back over his young self. Bold as brass, he winked and propositioned Joyce for a kiss. She smiled, remembering the advice of her friend.

“Well,” she twinkled as she pointed to her cheek,
“you may kiss me here…   as you would your mother.”
She would later reflect that she had been correct: that particular advice had never proved useful again, not in all of her travels.

——————————————————————

Last week, my Granny was my travelling companion as we crossed the North Island skies. I leaned in to hear her over the engine noise of our aircraft.  She asked me, if I were able to choose any destination in the world for us to travel to that day, where it be? That was easy.

“Europe,” I replied. I knew she had travelled at least seven times to Europe. I imagined she would be a fascinating travelling companion. As we flew on, she told me tales of her travels; sharing a meal with perfect strangers in Portugal, a heist on the Siberian Railway, her time in the Swiss Alps. How she managed on $25 a day by enjoying the hospitality of travelling clubs like Servas, or patronising youth hostels, finding work whenever she needed to. My Granny makes things happen, it is just how she is. Every time she travels, she has a brilliant time, people adore her. I liked her sweet story from her time in Greece, I thought I’d share it with you.

When our brief trip was up, I took her back home to her little flat. What a wonder she is, my Granny. I leaned in and kissed her soft cheek. Promised to pass on her love to my brood. How fortunate we are to still have our GG. To still have the chance to listen to her stories and sit beside her.  It’s a rare thing to be a grown woman with a granny. For my children to have such an extraordinary Great-Grandmother.  As I waved goodbye a little lump caught in my throat and I found myself hoping I would have another chance to travel with her.

She tells the best stories.
As you would, if you too had 96 years of adventures to draw from!

Mother of God

My mother in law Mary has just passed away, you might have read about that here recently.  She slipped away late in the quiet of night.  I like to think of her last exhale as a sigh; no more struggle. I like to imagine her now, free to move. Happy, laughing and feeling at ease.

The last time we saw her she was having a good day. My husband cracked a joke and her face broke into a sudden grin; she laughed and we saw a glimpse again of the Mary, Mum and Nanna that we know. I like to think about that moment and I am grateful she got to share a laugh with her son. She loved him so much.

In the beginning, I used to think of her irreverently, as
‘Mary: Mother of God’
…because, like many doting mums, the sun rose and shone in the eyes of her boy. As if he himself were God! I thought wryly.  It seemed that he could do no wrong, and when we visited, her whole world would shift to revolve around him completely. I remember we were talking about him one day, soon after he and I had got back together again after a breakup; I stated what I thought was the obvious, “-yes, but even he is not perfect you know, Mary”. She looked at me and her mouth dropped open, just for a second, and I realised that in her eyes, he just was.

mary-mother-of-god-iconOf course, I wasn’t a mother myself then, and now that I am, I understand her better. In her eyes, her son was perfect. She loved him completely and unconditionally.  That kind of love is the special reserve of mothers. He is a lucky guy to have been so loved, so adored. I’m sure it is part of why his self esteem is so robust. She has always been his unwavering cheer squad, his bringer of supper and endless cups of tea.

Sometimes, believing that your kids are perfect makes it hard to love their partners. Mary and I didn’t think the same way, and there were times that I thought we would never breach the awkward misunderstandings between us. It seemed impossible for her to know that we were actually allies in the same quest; to love the man she raised and the man I chose. Maybe I just wasn’t the sort of girl she understood, but I always felt the love I gave him was not the love she thought he needed.  I agonised over it for years, wondering how I could do better or convince her that my intentions were pure.

I suppose it is common in mother-in-law/ daughter-in-law relationships. Many of my friends would say I am not alone. I persevered with the relationship because I knew that family was more important than those feelings. That there would be a time when she might need me.   As she got sicker and the Parkinson’s Dementia took hold, she often spoke to me about Rachel, her son’s wife. Because in those conversations, to her, I was someone else entirely. During those times, I enjoyed a friendship with Mary that I hadn’t experienced before. It was quite good for both of us.  I’m grateful for all those times when we were able to see each other through fresh eyes, and find something in each other to love.

The visit before last, in a rare moment of lucidity, she told me she just wanted her boys to be happy. My mother heart understood that so completely. Her eyes seemed to implore me to take up the torch, to make sure of it. I held her hands and told her I would do everything I could, but I knew even as I said it, that neither she, nor I could do enough to ensure her sons’ happiness. And that is the pain of love. To want to make everything perfect, to smooth the way, to lower the barrier, to ease the burden. We wish to do this for the ones we love even though we know that  we cannot control the hardships of life. They are not ours to command.

I held him in my arms after we heard that she had passed. He’s a big guy, my hubster. I held that big man and listened to the boy within, as the realisation began to wash over him. I held him and I thought about how far happiness was in that moment, and I offered him instead, comfort. Empathy. I listened and I helped him pack his suitcase. I made him a coffee for the midnight drive home.  I wished I could take away the shock, the loss, the thoughts of what might have been.  I know from my own loss, that those things are the price we pay for having had the love of a great mother. I could no longer take them from him than take the sun from the sky.

I think of Mary and imagine her soaring high above us, her eagle eyes watching out for her boys like she always has.

I know I am failing her still, failing to make him happy in the ways she wanted for him. I cannot be the sort of wife she wished me to be. I will not subject myself to the sort of life many women of her generation chose. I just cannot believe in my heart of hearts that the pathway to marital happiness lies that way. At least, it certainly doesn’t for the hubster and I.  When I am subservient to him, it simply breeds resentment. It’s not our recipe for success.

Still, these days I feel softly towards her for her expectations. In my head, I ask her to forgive me for not meeting them, because I simply can’t.  I ask her to look again at him, to notice. He loves an imperfect woman, lives an imperfect life.  And, he is already happy, in all the ways that count the most.

Rest now; mother Mary.  Rest safe in the knowledge that in any way I can, I carry your love forward into the future. I cannot mother him as you did, those times for him are treasured and past. But your boy, he’s safe in my arms,
I promise.

I don’t think there is a more fitting song than this one for this post, it was written by Paul McCartney, about his own mother Mary who died when he was 14. This one is a cover by Vazquez Sound, I just loved that it was sung by a child, because nothing renders you closer to your inner child than the passing of your mum.  So this is for my man, and for me too.

The Keeper

When he decides it is time to do something, he gets stuck in. And then he keeps on keeping on until it is done.

My hubster is one of those men who works in an office. His days are spent going from meeting to meeting and in between, plowing through the outstanding tasks at his desk. He’s employed a great team to work with, so at least there is a good measure of hilarity in their office banter. But it is a sedentary kind of occupation. Hard for a busy kind of guy.

Before he got saddled with kids and then, a sick wife (thank goodness I am not anymore!) he was all action stations. When we met, he spent most weekends out sailing, at the gym and in his workshop, building stuff.  Fixing things, tootu-ing (that’s kiwi for messing-about-with-intention).

So when my guy is on holidays, the way he winds down is to get busy. Productive. It’s weird, it is like the opposite to the rest of the world, who holiday on sun loungers, sipping cool drinks in the shade. My fella likes to get physical, out in the water or on a DIY project.  If he doesn’t complete something significant during his holidays, he feels like he’s wasted them (I know, right?!).

So, he decided it was time we updated our living room. We inherited a rather loud ‘feature’ wall of tangerine juxtaposed with maroon. I’ve always hated it! Of course, I had decided it was time we updated our living room a week before we moved into the house, eight years ago. But as with most of the practical tasks in this house, nothing happens until the hubster decides.

image003

And he did! It seemed like we got interrupted in the task constantly, but finally, last night, we finished. The final coat of paint went on the mantel and we were finished!  I can’t even tell you how happy it makes me. I keep standing in the doorway, just gazing at our lovely room.

15823705_10155013076835815_5929149139477652785_n

That man of mine installed new coving, skirtings and architraves. Built floating shelves, plastered and painted the ceilings and then all the rest, too. He had some help from me, but I was definitely his sidekick. I marvel at his skills. It’s rare, these days, for guys to know how to do all these things. I feel stupendously lucky! He used muscles he rarely uses anymore, and engaged a part of his brain that brings him satisfaction and respite. Sometimes, he groaned when he stretched his office body out at the end of the day. But most of the time, he grinned. He’s got a great grin, my hubster, among other things.

15844663_10155014937965815_3766322535093940271_o
As one of my friends said “he’s a keeper”!

Here are some more pictures.
Reckon I might keep him on. 😉

15822855_10155013076890815_8938200870446585426_n15822746_10155013076870815_2082051107072841295_n

 

Little Girl Lost

15541476_10154935855890815_8524986864316231070_n

the rainbow comes and goes,
and lovely is the rose,

the moon doth with delight
look round her when the heavens are bare,

waters on a starry night
are beautiful and fair;

the sunshine is a glorious birth;

but yet I know, where'er I go,

that there hath passed away a glory from the earth.

An old school friend of mine lost her mama this week.  Her mama was Clara, a lady whose life converged with my family’s history and made our story better for having her in it. She was a beautiful, gentle, loving person, a special friend to many; but to her children she was the beginning of love itself.  To not have her here with them now must be so hard to come to terms with.

15492475_10154935855880815_6263121681606393142_n1
there is beauty even in the end

Losing your Ma is a journey I know well.  It’s the trip you never want to take, the inevitable traverse through times that test and trouble the very fabric of our identity. Because, who are we without our mothers? Can we walk through life without them? Can we possibly take the torch of their wisdom in our families and communities… are we even ready for that?

I remember how Mum’s death was a relief and also a shock. We’d been with her as she battled seven years of cancer. So it was a relief to know the pain was gone, the struggle ended. But I wasn’t prepared for the finality of death. The absolute ‘gone’ of death. No more smiling waves and see-ya-laters. No more one-more-times.

15391039_10154935855825815_6031317141086810511_n

The strongest feeling I had the day of my Mum’s death was a feeling of being little girl lost. I remember being about four, lost in the shopping mall. It was a terrifying feeling; an empty wide chasm of fear and abandonment opened up in my little heart.

I retraced the way we had come, hoping to find her back in time. She was nowhere. The tears obscured my vision, I sat down and howled. A nice lady took my hand and led me to the mall head office. I was placated with a lollipop and the loudspeaker called my Mum. When she found me there, my relief was complete.

Losing her to death reminded me of that feeling I’d had as a child. I didn’t know if I could do life without her. I didn’t know how I could carry all the weight of my love for her, now I couldn’t give it to her anymore.  I wished there was a Universal loud speaker system that could bring her back to me.

In some ways, there is. I see her in the beauty of life, even in the peonies that are slowly fading in the vase. I feel her when I am mothering like she did. I hear her words coming out of my own mouth and I see her expressions in my daughter’s beautiful face.  I didn’t know if I could do life without her, but I have. I didn’t think I could carry all that love, but I do. Sometimes, I give some of it back to myself.  I mother myself because she can’t do it anymore.

I still cry a lot about losing my mum. Things set me off. Like trimming our Christmas tree, or a song, or seeing a mother and her grown daughter meandering together through a mall.  Sometimes just talking with my siblings or hearing a laugh like hers can do it. Seeing my children do something my Mum will never see them do. Watching from afar as Clara’s family gracefully carried her through her final days. The triggers are everywhere. The sudden upsurges of grief never far from overwhelming me.

I will always miss her. I will always yearn for her to be here with me still. That’s the nature of love.  There’s no time limit on grief, it is just an ever present part of life without her.

This poem meant a lot to me during the early days of Mum’s absence.  I return to it, days like today, when we are remembering the beautiful woman that Mum’s friend Clara was. She will be so missed.

Daniella, Geoff and all of the Tabor/Ila clan, my heart is with your hearts. It is so hard to travel the days without your Mama. I know you will find strength in what remains behind. But I wish she hadn’t had to leave so soon. I imagine in heaven, our mamas will be together.  It’s nice to think of them together.

Love to you all from my family. Clara was one in a million. A truly beautiful soul.

we will grieve not, rather find
strength in what remains behind;
              
in the primal sympathy
which having been must ever be;
              
in the soothing thoughts that spring
out of human suffering;
              
in the faith that looks through death,
in years that bring the philosophic mind.

The poem is ‘Intimations of Immortality’ by William Wordsworth.

The flowers are my vase of peonies that I can’t bear to throw away; every day they seem more beautiful, even as they draw near to the end.

Constance Hall and the F Bombs

Being REAL in a world full of curated gorgeousness is so needed.  We are all so desperate for a breath of fresh air!

'A Queen is a woman who just wants to love other women and not do that bitchy thing that so many of us do,' says Constance Hall.
‘A Queen is a woman who just wants to love other women and not do that bitchy thing that so many of us do,’ says Constance Hall.  (photo source abc.net.au)

 

Constance Hall is refreshingly real. She’s the actual ‘Bad Mom’ (have you seen that movie?  I hated it, but I got what they were trying to say… it’s time to let go of the ridiculousness between women that exists in mama-land).  She’s a skate-in-sideways chick. An Australian sensation, mother of 4 and insanely popular mummy blogger. And she has just released a book. It’s about her, about mothering four kids. It’s a no-holds-barred look at relationships and life after babies.

bookcoverconstancehall

Today I went to her book release Q & A session hosted by The Women’s Collective and the Pullman Hotel in Auckland. I knew she would be irreverant, I knew there would be some shock-factor stuff, because that is her trade. I knew there would be challenging statements, because she is the Constance Hall of the recent social media cyclone over the ditch (a fellow mummy blogger let rip about Con’s manner of mothering and Con retaliated. It sparked a ‘mum war’ on the internet). I stayed well clear of it because I hate the nastier side of social media. It makes me so sad.  But I was curious about this raw kind of mother. The tell-all kind of mum. It bucks the trend alright, I wanted to see if she was just a sensationalist, or if there was something deeper driving her work.

Me and my fellow Queens this morning, Trudy and Pascale.
Me and my fellow Queens this morning, Trudy and Pascale.  Yep, I am a Big Bird, and no, I am no longer going to stoop to try to be more diminutive than I am!  #tallgirlsproblems

I was fascinated. Con (we’re at nickname status already cos that is how she rolls) blew onto the stage like a kind of mini tornado. Her hair was frizzy in a way I recognise from my own morning mirror, but on top of it she was wearing a crown of flowers and jewels. She’s tiny in stature and massive in presence. You could say she kind of exploded onto the podium like a freak weather bomb; blowing in out of nowhere and taking off the roof.  Within two minutes she had reassured us that she was wearing undies, unlike the other four days she’d been in New Zealand, because she’d be catching a plane later and she needed somewhere to hide her wee. Her humour is as raw as she is and the whole way through her talk, f-bombs exploded like colourful fireworks, punctating her florid discussion. She’s kind of like what would happen if you could cross Frida Kahlo with Reese Witherspoon and Whoopi Goldberg. Kapow!

I loved her. I think everyone in the room did. I loved that she said out loud some of my hidden, inner thoughts. I even loved all the f-bombs, because they made us laugh. I dated a comedian in my younger years, he always said that people laugh at what they relate to, especially when it is rude. And because every human being can relate to toileting, sex and death, regardless of their individual circumstances, most comedy covers these subjects. It’s just funny for us to see our not-talked-about experiences mirrored by others. It makes us feel more normal. Apart from wees and poos, Con’s Q & A covered: marital sexy time, break-ups, behaviour management (of kids and husbands), dealing with a history of abuse, death of children and grandparents, suicide, wine, why it’s best not to fight in front of kids, the age-old working mum vs. stay at home mum debate, the importance of support, multiple birth mothering, dyslexia, The Sisterhood, dealing with judgmental people and the importance of connection.

I can’t wait to read her book; Like a Queen. She’s just adorable. She makes the very hard job of mothering feel so much more achievable. She makes us feel like we’re doing a great job. Like everyone has days when it goes to custard. I think we forget that, in our intensity around getting it right.  We forget to cut ourselves some slack occasionally. We forget that having a loving mother is much more important than any other type of benefit we can achieve for our kids.  That having a loving mother is more than many kids have.

There were tears today from we women in that packed out auditorium. Tears of recognition and relief.  I’ve come a long way since the early days of parenthood and my babies are much older than most of the little ones at the venue today, but the message was as relevant to me as for the new mums there.
Take a deep breath. Do you love your kids? Do they know it? Love wins, every time. And you know what? Extending a bit of that love in your own direction is a brilliant idea too from time to time. Might just stop you from losing your mother-f#$%ing mind!

This afternoon, I’m going to assess the impact of Cyclone Con. I reckon she demolished a few of the ideas in my head that were damaging my peace of mind. I am grateful. Who needs perfectionism anyway? All it has ever done for me is give me reasons to feel like a failure.  Good to see that particular idea hitting the dirt. And what  purpose comparison? See ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya. And that ol’ flower, success? It’s moved into a new neighbourhood. Into the love camp. Over there I am already a raging success and that matters more than anything else.  I’m going to make like Queen Con, and take heart that my heart is the most important part of mothering.

Open your windows, let the winds of change blow out some of your cobwebby corners, too. It’s liberating!

If you’re keen, you can buy Like a Queen, here: www.likeaqueen.com.au

A Day at the Races

I got to be a lay-dee yesterday.  Tra-la!

This is my oldest brother, Shaun. He took me with him to a corporate function at the races. It was lavish and lovely. The people were so nice and I chatted away until my voice was completely gone.  So today I am ordering lemon and ginger tea via sign language!

14915150_10154778420150815_2665675005019630273_n

We were hosted by Swire Shipping, with whom my brother does a lot of work. He ships modular hotels around the place on their ships. Swire Shipping is over 200 years old, and have had an enormous impact on the development of Australasia and the Pacific. I thoroughly enjoyed talking with people about my childhood home of Papua New Guinea. Swire and their affiliate businesses are heavily involved in that region, and many of them know my hometown, Lae, because they have lived there too.

The Grand Hyatt in Melbourne was our base.  I loved the marble bathroom, what a beautiful stone to walk on! So soft and satiny. I felt like Queen Rach just going to the bathroom!  The day started very early for me, with rollers in the hair, scarf on top and down to their award winning buffet breakfast. I felt a little conspicuous in my rollers and scarf, but nobody batted an eyelid.  The service and food at the Grand Hyatt were incomparable. I thought the breakfast smoothie bar was super cute!

14721711_10154778434585815_6553519811940704127_n

Back in the bathroom I tackled the face thing. I was worried that my makeup wouldn’t last the distance of a whole day at the races, in the 25 degree heat. Melbourne really put on a cracker day for it! But I needn’t have been concerned. Our venue had a ‘pamper room’ where we could go for perfume spritzing, hair and makeup touch-ups. It was so lah-dee-dah!  The area where our function room was located was lined with the most incredible gardens. It was a riot of overblown blooms and colour, colour, colour. Beautiful women sashaying around everywhere in the most incredible fascinators and dresses.  Just breathtaking, really. What an event the Victorian Derby is!  Like nothing I have ever experienced.

14716049_10154778458595815_3164891425419178834_n

14610868_10154778444315815_5974790601009839615_n14900413_10154778444195815_1968046132667949806_n

14657523_10154778455310815_7142654828172613626_n
My beautiful jacket and dress (by Chocolat) made me feel elegant without sacrificing comfort. It was the perfect thing, so breezy and pretty!

I’ve never been to the races before, so I had to learn about betting and sweeps. Our venue had a great view across the track and we had a bookie in the area with us for last minute bets. My brother, who has good instincts, did well with his betting, finishing far better off than his outlay. I bet the princely sum of $10 each way on Highlad. He came in last, of course. But I didn’t feel at all unlucky, waiters and waitresses swished around with trays of finger food and replenished my PIMMS whenever I needed them to. Then it was sweepstake time and one of my horses came in!  That won me a ticket for the major sweepstake, and I won a very cool prize!  One of those action camera thingies that you attach to your head and video stuff. It even works under water!  I was so chuffed! And slightly tiddly by then… so you know, effusive in my joy!

14720358_10154778449000815_8041494210365326873_n

14595647_10154778476045815_6679997348955827557_n

The horses were so magnificent. I can finally see why horse racing is the thing it is all over the world. It is a celebration of the extreme beauty and power of these extraordinary animals. I can see how they have come to represent so much in powerful circles. It’s not just the money they make for their owners and trainers, it is who they are. They are elite athletes and the sight of them, in person, thundering down that track is exhilarating! It was nothing like the TAB TV’s blaring out of dingy shops on the street, it was classy, compelling action.

My little pair of flats in my handbag were complete genius.  I walked back in comfort to our coach, feeling terribly sorry for all the ladies inching their way painfully along the track in their stilettos. It was a brilliant day and I loved it so much. Thanks so much bro, for flying me over to be your plus-one. Thanks Swire Shipping, for a beautiful couple of days in the big smoke. It was great to meet you all!

Neil Diamond & The Lounge Lady

 

I woke up yesterday morning with tears running across my cheeks. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by that, times are hard around here right now. But I was. I didn’t wake up crying even when my own Mumma was dying. I didn’t wake up crying when I thought my type of Dysautonomia would progress until I could barely function. I didn’t wake up crying any of the times in my life when it might have been warranted. But yesterday, I did. I stumbled out to the kitchen that is so full of memories of times with my in-laws. I popped the kettle on and thought about how integral having a cuppa was to my relationship with my mother in law, Mary.

We didn’t always agree on things, she and I. But we did agree on the necessity of a good cuppa.

Mary has Parkinson’s Disease. She was diagnosed not long after I joined the family and I remember well how it rocked everyone. Mary and John are stoic and proud Englishfolk. It was clear over the years that they would deal with it their way. Our wider family, the social workers and district nurses, the network of support around them, watched on with a kind of admiration for their determination.  John doggedly problem solving his way through her caregiving, devising natty little devices for pill dispensing, modifying her walker, endlessly adjusting, adapting, and rearranging the chairs on the Titanic. And Mary herself, a consummate non complainer, tried hard to mitigate the ravages of Parkinson’s on her brain and in her body. Eventually, as seems to be the pattern for elderly couples where one is terribly sick, the caregiver gets increasingly rundown and their own health struggles set off a cascade of events. It has happened even to John and Mary, the indomitable two.

This week, I’ve been with Mary while John is in hospital down country.  She’s in a nursing home in their little regional town. He’s having rehab after spine surgery. Mary’s nursing home is so beautiful. The views across Buffalo Beach take my breath away. But I’ve noticed that the high needs residents don’t appreciate the view. That the ravages of age steal distance vision.

14484908_10154698794245815_2855424997354555910_n

These unfortunate few stare mostly into space, occasionally focusing on the person in front of them who is typically asking loudly and brightly a series of questions.  A nurse enters Mary’s room:

“HELLO MARY!  HOW ARE YOU TODAY?”
Mary jumps at the sound of the voice so close. Her rheumy eyes try to focus, her hand reaches towards the stimulus. The tremors are bad today and her body is almost bent double, contracting up and in on itself. Muscles tight and unwieldy.
She mumbles something but her words are indistinct.

“LET’S GO TO THE DINING ROOM SHALL WE? TIME FOR LUNCH!” the nurse shout-speaks chirpily.  Lunch will be in half an hour, but it takes that long to wheel and cajole everyone into position.  Mary’s eyes brighten momentarily, and very slowly, she licks her lips. She likes her food. I smile at my memory of this whippet thin woman, carefully  portioning out her own meals to half the size of everyone else’s at family dinners. She has thrown caution to the wind. Food is good. I think of the bucket of liquorice allsorts I sent up last weekend, now half gone. I’m glad she can still find enjoyment in something.

“HOW’S THAT CAST? SORE?  MARY, ARE YOU SORE?”
“I’m-alright-thankyou” she whispers, barely audible, but they are the first words I’ve heard today. I know it is habit, her responses to questions like this. Every time she moves, she winces. The cast is heavy and cumbersome against her constantly moving frame. Her frequent falls have resulted in a complication in her already broken shoulder. The bones beneath her socket joint hang loose and jut into her ribs under her arm.

“OK THEN! UP WE COME… ARE YOU READY TO STAND? I’LL JUST REACH AROUND AND HELP YOU UP …GOOD GIRL!  HERE WE GO…”  the nurse braces to lift our waif-like Mary. You’d be surprised how heavy a waif can be when you are lifting all their weight without assistance.

“OH DEAR, DOWN WE GO.  MARY?  ARE YOU WITH US? MARY!  HELLO MARY? BIG DEEP BREATHS, MARY!”
Mary had momentarily fainted. It happens most times she has to stand. Her eyes roll back in her head and she is a ragdoll. Quite different from her usual rigid bodied self. Now ensconced in the wheelchair the nurse takes her down the hall to the dining room. It is next to the Lounge, the communal area lined with other octogenarians, glumly sitting and waiting to be taken in for their hot lunch.

14543793_10154698816645815_8600405286305427566_o
Neil Diamond is on the telly. A gentleman fixes his tearful eyes in my direction. I have come to expect emotion in this place, I wonder if maybe Neil’s crooning is making him sad.
“Have you seen my wife?” he asks me, his voice trembles slightly as though he knows the answer will be bad. I remember being here when his wife passed away. I pat his hand. “No, I haven’t, I’m sorry. I am sure you will see her soon” I feel guilty as I say it. But to tell him the truth again and watch the grief anew. I just can’t do that (I’ve seen the nurses tell him many times and he is always so distraught. “Was I there for her?” “Why didn’t anyone tell me?” “Where did they take her?”  “Oh no… no…”  he’d keen, his hangs wringing in his lap and the confusion and distress furrowing his age spotted brow).
No. It’s too unfair.
Within minutes he has forgotten again. His face is blank.  I’m glad I didn’t tell him.

14570465_10154698783390815_5831050359882488542_n

Mary has nodded off. I let Neil’s music transport me back to happier situations. I am toe tapping and humming. I see the slippered foot of the man in the chair beside keeping the beat. He grips my hand.  Meanwhile, Neil drawls and gyrates in his sequin jacket “I’M ALIIIIVE”! The irony is not lost on me.
“I would have been a jockey you know!” say the earnest man. His eyes are twinkling, one of his pupils is blown. I wonder if he did that falling off a horse. “I could do things with horses other people couldn’t do.  But no. No… encouragement…” he sighs, suddenly dejected.
“Oh do shut up!” shouts the lady just past him. “I’ll kick you in the butt one of these days!”
“You shut up, you fat slob” says the woman beyond her. “Take no notice, Love” she says pointedly to the man beside me, rolling her eyes openly at the upstart.  Many of the elderly could care less about politeness. They’ve run out of time for niceties. They just say it like they see it. This Lounge can be a brutal place.

A nurse aide moves Mary into position at her dining table, deftly swinging a giant bib across the front of her. As she does it up, she tells me that Mary helped her children learn to read at the school, some thirty odd years ago.  She was a teacher aide at Mercury Bay Area School. Suddenly Mary is animated. She says the name of the nurse aide’s kids. “That’s right, Mary!” she smiles and then, turns to me, “-sharp as a tack! There’s a lot of people who love this lady”. She pats her gently on the shoulder.  I nod. Kiss Mary on the forehead and say my goodbyes.  I’m sad. We love this lady too. It stings a bit that she can remember those kids, but she has forgotten who her own grandchildren are. The synapses that connect that information to her conscious mind have been stolen by Parkinson’s Dementia. She’s had only one thing to say to our girl Bee this week. That she never did like the colour of Bee’s hair. She hasn’t been able to notice that Zed is even here. These kids who come with me every day to see their Nanna. These kids who have never complained about the grim realities of spending time here with her.  They love her too. Regardless. Gosh I am proud of them. They hug her and kiss her goodbye and she clings to them. I think she knows at some level, some basic biological level, that they belong to her. I comfort them with the facts that her brain misfires sometimes. Tell them, for her, that she loves them.

14606426_10154702659650815_1537913198537514591_n

I’ll be back tomorrow. She won’t know me then either. I’ll be just another friendly face among the many attending to her. My voice will be loud and bright like theirs; do we do it to dispel the despair of it all? She’ll look at me with confusion. She might shout at me like yesterday, or stretch her face into a semblance of her beautiful smile. She might hold my hand, or demand I help her go to the toilet. She might just be drifting, somewhere between Life and the After, talking indecipherably with her long passed sister, long red braids twisting around her youthful hands, skipping along a street somewhere back in England. I hope that she feels loved, wherever her mind has gone. That the warmth of my hand transmits all the humanity of my heart for this frail, vulnerable lady.

I guess the tears are okay. I guess they are just a part of the lifelong process of accepting mortality. Someday, someone might have tears about me. Mary once told me that she thinks of this mortal coil like a fixed sized plane. As babies get born, all our souls get kind of crowded here. Sometimes, other people have to get off, making way for new life. She said it made her feel better thinking of it that way.

Everybody has their time and then one day, they move over. That’s just the way of it.   Take it away Neil:

…everyday

There’s a brand new baby born
And every way
There’s enough to keep you warm
And it’s okay
And I’m glad to say
That I’m alive

 

Chasing Clouds

The colours of the Yarra Valley in winter are muted. Misted vistas of gums and mountains …and the vines, stacked in soft green rows against the ochre earth. Layers of clouds roll across the skyscape, as if in competition with the beauty below. Look up!  Look here! They roll and twist, jostling for the most beautiful arrangement. Australian skies are big skies, the cloud banks dwarf the landscape. I was mesmerised by them.

13427956_10154373946625815_27677651972801694_n

I went to Australia in search of respite. Thirsty for a change of scenery, a change of mindset, just a change from the daily drudge. I came here hoping for a new perspective. Hoping, if I am brutally honest, that I would want to return home again at the end of my holiday.

On Friday, with my eyes downcast, I watched the toes of my converse lace-ups scuffing along the back streets of a country town. It was early. I’m an urban girl, so to me it seemed utterly reasonable to go in search of an espresso at 7am. I moseyed off along the sleepy streets, following the blue mountain ahead of me.  Tiny white curlicues of mist tickled at its edges. The night blanket of clouds was rolling back, ushered away and up by the sun. I felt transfixed by that small space of heaven, where the gold met the brooding gray. My breath misted in front of me and I felt that familiar heavy consciousness; I recognised that I had brought all of my urban angst here with me. Trailed it behind me as I jet-streamed over the Tasman.

I tried to slow my breathing, to slow my thoughts. I tried to name my anxieties and let them evaporate into the gilt of the new day.

13435524_10154384770850815_6793310085815845320_n

The rhythm of my feet brought me past historic cottages, iron fretwork fencing, elaborate brickwork, local artisan studios, darkened cafes and gift shops. The air was crisp with the aroma of fallen leaves, the mountain reassuringly squat above the little town. Golden leaves gathered into drifts at the edges of the main street, swirling in little eddies down the alleyways. It was an old town, sure of itself and its place in the midst of this popular valley. So many gifts of nature and such abundance of produce. The tourists flock here year round, drawn by the wineries, galleries and a slower, more genteel way of life.

An elderly gentleman waved me in through his cafe window. He was a friendly relic from the hippie era, long hair and a handwoven hat. His old eyes seemed to know too much about me, but I stepped into the warmth regardless. He asked if I was looking for a hot drink. Gratefully, I accepted his offer of a cup of organic brew. We talked about his pretty spot there, overlooking the avenue of oak. He rustled up my coffee and began chatting with his next early riser. I fell into silence with my only my thoughts for company; contemplative. The benign presence of kind strangers was a comfort. I blew the steam from the top of my cup and asked myself the question that had driven me here, the haunting of my peace. The crossroads of my heart.

What choice do I need to make?

13445781_10154384769740815_144847632078476642_n

There is a song I have loved for a long time. A woman’s song. The lines of the impossibly beautiful melody danced through my mind. ‘Both Sides’ by Joni Mitchell. It’s about the juxtaposition of perspective. It’s innocence vs. experience.  It’s how I feel about life right now. About wellness and illness, about mothering, being a wife, being in my forties, about my career. There is a bitter/sweetness to the understanding that life is all of the things; the beautiful and the frustrating, the happy and the unspeakably sad.

I spent a lot of time on that week away, looking at clouds. Chasing the kind of girlish freedom I’d had, once upon a time, when I was unfettered by responsiblities. It took most of the week for me to come to the realisation, once more, that all of my life has been borne of choice. I’ve chosen my reactions when I didn’t have control of circumstance, and I have chosen my life’s direction. The biggest choices are already made. I wasn’t choosing ‘for now’ I was choosing ‘forever’. Now, I can choose how I live with those choices. With an open heart, seeking the gilt edges of dark clouds, or with my eyes shut tight against the beauty that might be there.  Love is hard. Life is hard.

As I blew the steam off the top of my cup, staring out through the glass panes of that little coffee shop, I chose to let the light in anyway.

I wish you the kind of clouds that remind you of angel hair. And also the kind that take your breath away with their severity and stormy brooding. I wish us all, the strength to look up, and forge ahead, honouring the choices of our hearts.

Are you like me? A tired mum, frazzled wife, maybe a bit lonely, hopeful, thoughtful …are you yearning for more ice-cream castles in the air? Here’s to you, and me, and the knowledge that what will be, will be.