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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

 

Mothering Myself

This morning I woke up in my hotel room, feeling rested and calm. I stretched one foot out to the right, one arm out to the left, sliding them along the crisp white hotel sheets that I would never have to heave out of the washing machine.  The smile spread from the corners of my mouth all the way to my ears while my eyes stayed shut. It was beautiful. I’d gone to bed at 9pm and my watch informed me that eleven hours had passed between. Eleven. Deep sleeping hours!

For the good of our souls, sometimes just need a break from all the relational roles we carry.(2)

I woke, packed up my things and prepared for the day. I’m down in the hotel bar now having a coffee before I meet the beautiful Sarah, in person, at last. She’s an all-time favourite blogger of mine. The coffee was made for me by a barista who spoke about the complexity of the bean with an earnestness. I smiled at him, but thought about how I will not have to stack that cup in the dishwasher, or refill a kettle, or check the expiry date on that milk.  Just drink it.

I am such a fan of Sarah, as a writer and a person. Meeting her is very important to me.  I can’t wait to wrap her up in a big hug of thanks. To enjoy food and conversation with her and Annette from I Give You the Verbs! Dear Kate had to go and do some very exciting new work stuff, but you can check out her blog here (next time, Kate!) After our bloggy brunch, Miss Annette and I are lighting off for the Yarra Valley for a girls weekend. We’ll take the meandering way, and she promises that I can stop and take pictures to my heart’s content along the way.

Sarah, Annette and Rach
Sarah, Annette and Rach

This trip to Melbourne is something I’ve been longing to do for years. A chance to revisit my past, reconnect with people I haven’t seen for years and finally meet some I’ve been talking to online for a long time. But even more than the gorgeousness of all that, this trip, for me, is all about respite. I just needed to take some time out from all of the ‘adulting’ and be me, on my own, for a bit. The Rach who isn’t looking after anyone but herself, just for a few days.  I need to mother myself.

I need to stretch out, on a big big bed, all alone. To stand next to my soul sisters and spread my arms wide to the sky. To sleep and wake when I feel like it. To please myself doing anything I feel like doing; compromise free. I’ve explored, I’ve shopped, I’ve chatted and I’ve been blissfully quiet. I’ve drunk wine, I’ve taken a trip down memory lane at my old boarding school, I’ve eaten anything and everything I feel like eating without a single bite being cooked by me.

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It’s been gloriously selfish and deeply important for me to do all that.

When you become a mum, you don’t know that you are becoming something other than an ‘individual’. It’s something you have to learn. And once you have learned that by heart, there won’t be respite for a long, long time. My kids are now 8 and 11. The teenagers are now 17 and 18. The family has grown to a point that I’ve been able to set them up to manage their lives without me for a few days. The hubster is doing a stellar job with them. Their schedules are all being met.

I could probably have done this earlier, but I wasn’t internally strong enough to push for it. Sometimes, even with great families, it does take pushing for it. You have to fight for yourself the way you’d fight for your brood.

Respite is something we need to fight for as women, as givers, as mothers and wives. For the good of our souls, sometimes women just need a break from all the relational roles we carry. Freedom to just be ourselves, to turn the nurturing inward. To have a rest from all of that responsibility.  That’s what I’m doing.

I highly recommend it.

It might not be a trip to Melbourne. Maybe, if you have one, it’s a visit to your Mum’s place. Or camping in the spring, all alone. Or a solo movie. It might be a journey to see your cousin, or a drive down winding country roads. Find your respite, sisters of mine. I promise it will feed your soul and bring you joy.

It might be easier than you imagine to make it happen.

Go on.  Tell yourself to have and break and then, for goodness’ sake: go do what you’ve been told!

Deep In Our DNA

My family dispersed like seeds on the wind when they grew up. I remember how it felt, being the last one left at home. The quiet emptiness.  I spent a lot of time with Mum in those late years and as a bonus, I finally got the front seat!  In those years we were living in Sydney.  I still don’t know all the circumstances around the sudden departure from PNG, but I left boarding school in Melbourne to join my parents and my next brother up, stayed on.  He was closer to the finish line.  My Mum was very sad in those first months, adjusting to our new life. I’d come home from school, sad myself and we would sit together on someone else’s vinyl sofa, in our rented house, hold hands and cry.  It all got better, as life does most of the time.  And I do treasure the time I had as the last chick in the nest.

I am one of four kids.  All two years apart; boy, girl, boy, girl.  Pretty impressive family planning… or lucky coincidence?  I’m not sure if having four kids under six could be called luck!  Knowing my mother, I’d say there was no accident in any of it. It was mostly good being the youngest.  They all tease me that I had it easy; I tell them they made the rules tougher, by breaking them before I had the chance. It was great being part of a big family.  Sitting around the dinner table feeling the strength of it, no matter what dramas were going on, feeling the “us-ness” of our circle as we held hands for the compulsory grace before dinner.

Four of us & Timbo(2)

Now, I have a brother in Sydney, a brother in Darwin and a sister in Gisborne.

They’re all a long way away.

But for my recent big birthday, my sister decided she was coming up.  She’s a whirlwind that girl. She began planning, months out from the visit (she’s like Mum that way).  Who would sleep where, what she would bring, what the order of events would be.  There were phone calls, thick and fast toward the departure date. She arrived on the Saturday, helped my hubster put together a primo roast lamb feast for our celebration dinner. Flo arrived with the cakes, (she made two… and yes, I ate them! Yum!).  A new kind of family celebration was had. I sat there at the end of that table, looking around at our circle.  It has changed, but the “us-ness” was present.

My sister, Trissy, spent a night looking after our kids so the BobbyD and I could go out for a night in town. And then, this week, she took them away again for two days and nights in the country with her extended family.  Oh, my!  Such gifts of love!  They are coming home this morning.  I must confess, my nest has been feeling empty without them. But I have slept in, rested and relaxed.  I haven’t had to think about the usual school holiday stuff. I’ve been able to deposit some energy in that account which is usually in deficit. I know the kids have been happy and busy, running around the countryside with their cousin and his cousins. That’s a special kind of break.  I will feel the benefit of her visit for a long time.

There’s a thing, with family.  A kind of familiarity.  There’s seeing your own mannerisms in someone else, and having the same thought patterns about certain things. There’s sharing Mum-memories and feeling like those memories have been shored up for a while. Somehow, when someone else talks about her, I feel like she is less far away.  There’s laughter about things we used to do and petty arguments about what did and didn’t happen in our lives.  There is the frustration of seeing your most annoying habits in someone else.  The mirror family hold up for us. There’s a way of cooking, folding, hanging the washing.  All of it, echoes of my Mum.

I saw Trissy whisk my boy up into a sudden embrace the other day and shower him with kisses.  Like machine gun fire.  Just like my Mum would have done.  I felt a sudden upsurge of grief; then relief. He will know the kind of love she gave because he will know my family. It didn’t end with the loss of my Mum, we still have it.  Deposited deep in our DNA, built into our behaviour.  When ever my kids spend time with my people, they are experiencing some of what it might have been like to spend time with their Granny. Little pockets of love from her, invested in her own kids so that we might carry her on.

Me and my Sis(1)