Sweet Home

The lights of home are a warm yellow.  There’s no strip light cold hard fluorescence blinking into life; here.  They are a soft light; home light.  Benevolent. Outside the wind is howling, it is a perfect day for turning on the lights before dark has even come. I pull all the curtains and blinds closed against the weather and tuck myself into bed.  We have a thing for flannelette sheets.  Warm snuggly cosiness. I wiggle my toes down through the sheets, they are still warm from before I got up to light the rooms and close the windows. I’m hunkering down and pulling the heavy covers over me.  Safe and secure, in my own bed.

I got myself out of hospital last night by telling a bit of a lie.
I exaggerated my progress and the house officer signed me out.  I couldn’t bear one more moment there. A lonely weekend, the frustrations of not being in control of my own treatment.  Home here, where the light is warm and the bed is mine.  This is where I can help myself. Better. But I see that I have been a little ambitious.

Healthy people are speedy people.  Have you noticed that?  They move at what seems the speed of light, whizzing around the place, flitting from one thing to another.  Barely stopping at all.  It’s exhausting to watch.  It makes you feel like you need to be rushing about, too.  So I did, for a bit. I hung out some washing.  I put some more in the machine. I climbed the stairs and made a bed.  Then my body flicked over in to ‘NO’ mode.  I felt internally shaky, weak and so tired.  The contrast between me and the speedy ones so stark. I felt like one of those figures in the midst of a time lapse scene, the world blurring past me as I sat motionless.  
I lay down.  I watched the wind out the window whip the trees and push debris up the road.  The rain slanted down on my washing; turning the reflections of the traffic lights at the top of the street into watercoloured puddles.

So I slept. The speedsters kept speeding through the day and eventually I got up again. I called my little guy over to work on some homework.  We got out the watercolours.  And got absorbed by them.  Long after he’d finished his poster, I was still playing with them.  What a beautiful distraction from the feelings in my body. I focused on the colour, bleeding out from the brush onto the paper. Filling the spaces with colour and light.  I thought about the strokes, the shapes, the way colours moved together.  I thought about my Mumma, her artsy legacy spreading out across her children and her grandchildren.  She’d like to see me there, playing with paints.  Filling my mind with colours to push out the pain, the ache, the things at stake.  I thought about her cup, the one she cradled in her hands every time she had a ‘miley’. Her cup.  Her hands.

I remembered my Dad, last week, standing there in the kitchen, holding it out to me.  That small moment when my breath caught in my throat and I realised the treasure he was giving me.  Her cup. His tears, my tears.  We could fill that cup with our bereft sadnesses. But she is not here to drink from it.  I placed it on my shelf of treasures.  I thought about that cup with the paint brush in my hand.  I painted a picture with the paints.  And packed them all away.

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I slowly make my way back to bed.  To stretch down into the benevolent yellow light.  The comfort of home. I will sleep some more and join the fast ones later.  Together in a circle of light cast onto the table from the pendant above. Food, family… home.
Sweet Home.

Property

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The sheets I lie on have HOSPITAL PROPERTY stamped all over them.  I wonder who else has slept on them, cried on them, died on them. The room itself is a perfect duplicate of every other ward I’ve spent time in at this hospital.  I could make my way to the bathroom with my eyes shut. The differences between wards always end up being the people. The patients, the staff, the tea lady.

Today I can hear great guffaws from the nurses’ station.  Brisk footsteps along the corridor.  A child trying out the acoustic echoes in the atrium outside my window.  The child is five floors down… the acoustics are impressive. Once there was a violinist who played down there.  He used to come and practise there, attracted by the same sound qualities that fascinate the yelling toddler.  The sound circles around the atrium and returns, fuller than before, echoes onto itself, folding, as though the sound itself could travel backward in time.

The nurse came in with towels this morning.  And a fresh gown. My room mate commented that it was the first time this week anyone had suggested a shower.  I showed her where the linen cupboard is, for next time she wants a rebellious, self-determined shower.  There are things you get to know when you are a frequent flyer.

I had my shower, sinking gratefully into the shower chair.  Wishing I had one at home.  I let the warm water cascade over my head for longer than usual.  Closing my eyes I thought about my home, my bed.  The peaceful quiet.  A song slid through my mind and remained there, playing on refrain for the rest of the morning.

“…in the easy silence that you make for me,
it’s okay when there’s nothing more to say to me
it’s the peaceful quiet you create for me
and the way you keep the world,
at bay
for me”

Dixie Chicks

There’s no place like home.  I feel like a big old baby, lying here in this bed, wishing I could go home. I want the nurse to come in and murmur something motherly.  Something definitive.  A time frame, a decisive sentence.  Instead we all lie here, suspended from the rafters by invisible lines.  We are the puppets on long strings, the marionettes who lie jumbled in a heap, waiting to clatter to attention when the consultant arrives. He stands there at the end of the bed. Discussing you for a few moments with his humbled registrars, before sweeping off to the next jumbled pile of limb, heart and head.  As he leaves, my pieces clatter back onto the bed, out of order, out of sequence.  I want to put them all together with superglue and snip the strings.  I want to walk out of this marionette maison, better than when I came in.   The longer I stay the less my body wants to work as a whole.  My pieces and parts falling further away from each other, disconnected, fractured, dismembered, disarrayed.  How will I keep pulling myself together?

I know I am the glue.  My own determination is what holds me together.  But it dilutes with every hour I am here.  Starved of the peaceful quiet I so need; the words of comfort or reprieve.  I look down at my hospital gown. Hospital Property is printed all over the blue fabric. I am branded like the sheets.  I am morphing into the patient puppet.  Voiceless, quiet, does-as-told.  It’s too hard to fight against the system.  It’s too big, too entrenched.  I close my eyes tight against the day and the thoughts and the words.  Against the visitors to the bed beside me; loudly eating fried food.  The teenager’s parents, hovering over her, worried about her poor head. Cradling it in their arms and cooing soft sounds into her ears. I wish they would all go away.
I wish I could go away.

Instead I stay.
Property of the Hospital.

The After Hours

Part Two :: A Day in the Life

The phone rings and beeps and gets answer-machined. My sleep doesn’t happen.
Dad calls in with a giant roll of paper for the kids.  They are going to love that!  I see big posters being created over summer, murals and magic pathways and city-scapes and maps. We have a cup of tea and catch up about the family.  His visit is short, but I am grateful. My stamina is low today.  I need to get back to bed before school pick up.  Just a bit more horizontal time to get me through the next bit of verticality.

The phone beeps again.  It is my friend Cami, she is popping in before school pickup.  But I am pleased, she knows me like family, so she bounds up the stairs and joins me on my bed.  She’s one of those pocket rocket girls who always has energy to burn. We chat, solve some problems in our micro and macro worlds and then, it is suddenly time to go.  I gingerly move to stand. My balance has been a little off today and I am wobbly walking down the hall. I sink into the car seat with relief. A fifteen minute round trip for pick up before I need to stand again.

school pickup

Zed is a box of birds at pickup.  He has much to tell me about his day.  We have a little chat about what the afternoon holds and I acknowledge that he has lots of girls to handle back at home. He says “Mum, did you know that you are the only girl I don’t have to handle?”.  Ha!  He’s a funny little fella! His little funnies are an infusion of happiness every day.  The drive is an easy one, school is close to home. I look through the windows of the car at a stunner of a day.  It’s a gorgeous city; a really pretty drive. The breeze tickles through the window when we pull up at the lights.  We’re nearly home. I park the car and pull myself up into a standing position.  The walk inside is short, I make it up the stairs using both hands on the stair rail. Zed and I tackle his homework while the girls do theirs in their rooms.

4 pm.  I look at the clock.  Zed’s homework is complete and signed off in his homework diary. That makes me feel some accomplishment. It doesn’t always get done which makes me feel ashamed. He heads off to build Minecraft Worlds with the girls. I have at least an hour before I need to start dinner, so I sink back into my bed. It’s such a relief.  I can hear happy noises coming from the kids.  I decide to start this second post about the rest of my day.

The hubster arrives, close on 5.  He wants to know if I would like him to cook the dinner tonight. I look at him gratefully.  It’s been a big day of pushing through. It’s a huge relief that he sees I’ve been struggling. I smile and thank him.  We have a little cuddle, a small chat. We’ve been talking about getting some help around the place, someone to help us with the things I am not managing, someone to take the pressure of him. We discuss a new plan that we are happy with and he stands and gets going with the dinner. I think I should take a picture of him doing that, to use for this post.  My legs are so painful as I walk into the kitchen.  Somehow lately my femurs and pelvis feel like they are made of elastic.  So weak and achey. It makes me wobble.  I lean on the door frame and take this picture to show you a man who deserves recognition, but miss his head from the shot.  Nevermind, back to bed.

school pickup(1)

And then I lie here, looking out my window on the late afternoon. I am so weary I don’t know how I can adequately describe it.  My eyes begin to droop and I am floating.  Drifting away on the afternoon sounds… more traffic, an aeroplane, the cupboards in the kitchen opening and shutting.  The most beautiful man in the world is carrying us into the evening. I sleep.

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Dinner is busy.  Five at the table. The Hubster, me, Bee, Zed and Em. CC is on study leave, so she is at the shops.  😉  Yummy food. I join everyone at the table for dinner.  Some nights I just can’t do it, but it’s a big priority for us, so even when it is really hard to sit upright, I push for it. Mealtimes are the catch up session, the time we all get together and learn about what the day brought us all. Sometimes we play word games or construct progressive stories. It’s hiliarious!  Sometimes I’m grumpy and it’s not so much fun.  Tonight was a middling kind of dinner time. The kids discussed the latest developments in their Minecraft worlds. Apparently Em’s virtual cat died when it teleported into a swimming pool. So much laughter about that, so I guess it isn’t as tragic as it sounds.  They try to explain to me that in Minecraft Survivor mode you can die unlimited times. I don’t understand the point of a survival game if you can die and then be not dead.  They give up trying to explain it.  Then Em’s parents arrive to pick her up. We have a reciprocal arrangement with them that helps us to manage the kids’ swimming.  Em comes to us on Wednesdays and her parents do the swim run on Fridays.  They are our neighbour friends.  Thank goodness for them. It makes so many things possible.

Tomorrow, the cleaner will come to give our house a proper clean. I look forward to Thursday afternoons, such bliss to have clean floors!  Sometimes I will go and sit in the bathroom after she has cleaned it just to breathe in the smell of the cleaning fluid.  It makes me happy to know it is clean. It won’t last long, but for that moment, it is perfect. We need to prepare for her, so after dinner I perch on Zed’s bed and try to wrestle his recalcitrance into the form of a cleaning robot.  I thought he’d be happier to clean up if we used the robot voices. But, no. There are knights and soldiers and motorised hamsters hanging out with elaborate cardboard sculptures and dirty socks. Time to get on it.  It takes us a long time. By the end of it, Zed’s stuffed toys and I have all gone to bed, long before the kids.

school pickup(2)

We’ve got great kids; they’ll choose their own audio book and get themselves sussed for sleep time, usually.  Tonight Zed is particularly tired, so he melts down before bedtime; his Big Daddy picks him up and carries him into bed.  Bee gets herself organised for school before her later bedtime. Late Spring evening winds are tousling the branches of the tree outside my window. I am finishing this post. Mentally toting up the jobs I didn’t get done today. Berating myself for being so useless, for being such a drain on my husband. I check my thoughts and console myself with the thought that soon it will be time for my favourite cuppa.  The ‘after hours’ cuppa with my man.  I make my way back out to the living room and we sit/lie in comfortable companionship, tonight we’ll watch some Sci-fi we’ve saved.  The whole time we are watching I will be jiggling my feet and flexing my ankles.  It doesn’t help the peripheral neuropathy but I instinctively try to fix it by moving. The pins and needles and burning sensations will make it hard to focus. I will go to bed before ten. I will feel like I have been running a marathon all day.  I will sink into bed like I haven’t seen it for days, even though today it has been my cradling arms of a mother, the sanctuary of my sickness.  The place where I pass my days.  Hello again, pillow.  No need to ask you how you’ve been.

…and the lights go out on another day…

Our Place

 

Where does your sense of belonging come from? Is it a place? Do you have a childhood home you can return to; old haunts and reminisces? I’ve spent most of my life feeling displaced. I have just counted the houses I’ve lived in across three countries. 25 houses that I can remember; there are probably a few short term renters I have forgotten… but 25 I know for sure. That’s sixteen months per house if you average it out.
That’s a lot of packing.

 

My final high school art assignment.  Self Portrait with boxes.    Rachel Mowbray 1992.
My final high school art assignment. Self Portrait with boxes.
Rachel Mowbray 1992.

I don’t have the comfort that comes with walking into your childhood home and drinking in that warm, memory-laden atmosphere.  If you do, I hope you treasure it.  I can’t show my kids exactly where I learned to ride a bike. I’d so love my kids to climb the trees I climbed as a kid, the Willow, The Nectarine, the Guava. But everyone of them has been cut down. I know, because tonight I have been on Google Maps, tracking down every home I remember living in. It was part of an assignment set by my blogging buddy Sarah. She is running a series on writing your own story. If you have ever wanted to record a memoir, her series is great inspiration. You can find it here. Or perhaps, like me, you don’t want to commit to the whole life story, you just really like a good writing prompt! Her stuff will get your fingers tapping! So, Sarah asked us to find our homes on Google Maps, capture the image and create a montage. I was daunted by the sheer number of addresses, but curious. Why had I never thought to look them up before?

What I found made me feel a bit sad. My Mum was so house proud, and a brilliant gardener. But the homes and gardens from my early childhood have been concreted, subdivided, built-in, destroyed. The homes from our years in Papua New Guinea are not google-mapped yet, and I’m glad. I don’t want to see my memories reduced and reclaimed as someone else’s home. I don’t want to see any more of my Mum’s gardens flattened or colour schemes painted out. I’m relieved she can’t see them. I would rather re-touch my memories into brighter shades and fill in the gaps with long lost details. I loved every single house. Each in their turn, they gave me a sense of place, before the sense of goodbye, before the reality of starting over.

Since settling down with my hubster, I have found such comfort in putting down my roots at last. To have my own home and know that I need not move again. Ever. I love that my children’s memories of childhood are easy to locate; their place is secure. Their home, their friendships, constant. There is such relief in having neighbours who are more like family than friends.  And I love that our kids are not forging new paths with the relentless regularity that I did.

One of the favourite picture books in our house is an Australian classic. Window by Jeannie Baker. My mind tracks back to it now, tugged along by the changes in my early neighbourhoods shown on Google Maps. In the book, there is no dialogue, just a view, out of the same window across the span of three generations of inhabitants. The changing view speaks volumes about urbanisation and population expansion. My children loved making up the story of what was happening and who all the people were. They loved finding the clues and seeing the lives unfold. Jeannie Baker’s pictures are made entirely of collage. They are exquisitely crafted. I remember buying that book long before they were born, when I was working in the book industry in Sydney. It contained that sense that I had longed for, the continuity, the solidity of stopping still, growing in the place you are planted.

 

Picture credit: Walker Books
Picture credit: Walker Books
Window
Picture Credit: Walker Books

A sense of place. I have one now. I am learning the way the seasons roll in this home of ours. I’m filling all the nooks and the crannies. I’m finding the ways of living here as I time travel with this house. I am looking through my own window and looking forward to growing old here. I hope I do. I hope I will still be looking out this window onto the corner of our street, seeing the view grow and change, just like in Jeannie’s book. But I will never cut down a tree. Never again. Our Jacaranda will be there for my children’s children. Our house will wrap them in warm remembrances of times long gone. And one day, they’ll walk their kids down to the old park and push them on the swings they once swung on. Remembering how they desperately tried to touch the sky through the branches of the Oak tree, with the tops of their tippy toes.

A place that is their own. A sense of place, a steady home.

 

 

Here is Crosby Stills and Nash, singing about Our House, a very very very fine house  🙂