I had a chat with my son yesterday, about responsibility and growing up. About how as he gets older his chore list will inevitably grow. I explained that it’s time to begin carrying his own weight more rather than expecting to have everything done for him. His chores aren’t very onerous. He’s been sick and can’t do as much as a ten year old should. But I am a big believer in doing as much as we can, no matter how we feel. It’s better for the mind, in the end. Even when it is, so hard. His beautiful eyes welled up and it took me by surprise. “Why are you sad, little guy?” “I miss being little,” he said. He crawled up into my lap and let the big tears roll down his cheeks. Mourning the end of babyhood. I confess, I could fully empathise. I often wish I could go back in time and be in my mother’s arms, cradled and cushioned from the big wide world.
Last week one of the mothers from school died in a motorbike accident. Her name was Nikki. At her funeral, the people close to her stood and spoke; so bravely in the face of their grief, about who she was, about how it felt to be without her. She had three children, the youngest was born on the same day as my son. Her son and middle daughter both went through the junior school years with my two.
My most vivid memory of her is the time she hosted our Year Group party at her house. She opened the front door in a floor length emerald green silk dress. She was stunning. The sight of her long, willowy form, the wow factor of her gregarious personality and beauty. It was both intimidating and impressive. It’s hard to comprehend that she is not here anymore.
The tragedy brought into sharp focus the gift that each day truly is. I think this truth is always close to my consciousness, yet still, it slips away sometimes. I forget the inevitable and get bogged down with all the daily tasks and endless aggravations of life. I lose sight of how lucky I am to be alive, to be able to have conversations with my babies as they take on the incremental approximations of their adult selves. To hold them when they cry and raise the bar for them when they need to push a bit more. I’m here, parenting and loving. That’s no small thing at all. But oh, my mind has so many questions!
I’ve been wondering, why. Why we strive for things. I don’t know why I tried so hard to put my kids through expensive schools, now they are happy in our local schools. I don’t know why I care so much about the state of the carpet that I won’t invite people over. I don’t know why I strive to do it all.. all. of. the. time. It makes me grumpy and listless and down. I wonder why I feel like a failure if I’m not groomed, cheerful and deeply fulfilled as I go about my many thankless tasks, like so many other women seem to be. I wonder if I should be. I wonder what it is all for. I wonder if it will all be worth it in the end.
Do you wonder about that?
Here we are, alive and able to love. We breathe, our hearts pump the baseline rhythm, our feet syncopating a melody we never pause to hear. We are so consumed with the minutae of our micro-worlds. The planet turns, ice caps melt, species become extinct, wars burn through vast swathes of humanity, mothers die, stars are born, lava erupts from our molten core. Rainbows arch across the sky above the school gates. And on goes another load of washing.
I’m going to leave here a beautiful song, as a tribute to all the people who have left us, we hope, for a ‘better place’. My friend played it for me last Friday. She’d been to Paul McCartney’s recent concert and she knew I would love this song as much as she does. When Nikki died, her family and friends pulled together a truly beautiful funeral service. At the end of the end there was some kind of tragic peace, some sort of beauty and grace as they faced their final farewell. I wish all my wondering could help me comprehend why things like this happen. There is too much sadness in the world. I hope he is right and at the end of the end, there is no need to be sad.
I don’t have a bucket list. It seemed like a stupid thing to have when I was sick, like a pointless fantasy. So while the well-world went about inventorying all their possibilities, I thought more about the small things I would love to do when I was well. More baking for my family. Swimming in the ocean. Making memories of connection and authenticity; creating those little moments, that pieced together would someday provide comfort for the people I love. Like a soft woven wrap to draw around themselves when I am gone. Like I do with the memories of my mother.
But like all the things I never realised about the ‘well-world’, being in remission has me thinking about this bucket list phenomenon. I suspect the list I am developing is a ‘fuck-it list’ (pardon the crude word, but it rhymes and expresses my feelings in a satisfying manner!) I am seeing opportunities that I never would have taken on previously and thinking ‘…ah, fuck it. Why not?’ Things that never would have been on my radar before I got sick, because, let’s face it; who in their right mind would want to rock climb inside a mountain?
The thing is, if I can go through all those years of sickness, I can do most things. And yesterday I figured if I could put this fat body in front of a camera, I could put it on a caving expedition too.
Let me preface with the fact that the last time I climbed anything was a tree when I was a teenager. I’m not agile, I’m not yet fit. And I am carrying a lot of weight, even for my 182cm frame. I’m 110kg. So when we arrived at the Legendary Blackwater Rafting Co. in Waitomo (I was with our friend Tatijana from Macedonia, and CC from China) the plan was to glide on black inner tubes through the cave rivers, under the glow worms. It was a real disappointment to discover that the rains had flooded out all but one expedition: the most challenging of the three expeditions, the extreme 5 hour Odyssey caving adventure through the heart of the mountain. Humouring the girls (both teeny creatures), I agreed to see if I passed the ‘fit test’, where you have to physically force yourself through a tiny low tunnel constructed in the ticket office. It bends around a corner and the theory is, that if you can fit through there, you can fit through the cave crevasses on the trip. Inside the fit tunnel, I had a little hyperventilation moment. Two young tourists I didn’t know giggled at my predicament. I said no to joining Tatijana and CC on the trip.
We went for lunch at the nearby Huhu cafe. It was delicious. I enjoyed a glass of wine with my lunch, and as I sipped, our waitress (who summers as a cave guide) wanted to know why I wasn’t joining my companions on the climb. I explained the fit test squeeze and she said her partner who is bigger than me could get through the mountain, so I could too. And besides, the tightest bit is only ten minutes long (puh! says my hindsight!). Was it her? Was it the wine? Was it the encouragement of my tiny and enthusiastic companions? We went back to base, I spoke with the cave instructors, and I signed up.
Even when they attached my harness and ropes to me, I didn’t really think about why we needed them. Even when they put the helmet on my head, and passed me some men’s size tens, I didn’t really think about what was ahead. I suspect my brain had ceased all extra function, I was already into the first challenge of my trip, and I was all denial. It’s nothing I thought, it’s been done before, it will come to an end… it’s fine. Thoughts ominously reminiscent of going into labour.
About five minutes into the cave, I had to bend double to fit under a rocky outcrop. “I hope there aren’t too many of these” I thought, clueless. At that point, my feet were still on flat ground and I had balance in my favour. For the next two hours, I would be squeezing my generous self through the narrowest spaces, balancing all my weight on one toe, or holding myself up with my weakling abs and two fingernails. It was a kind of torture. The girls ahead forged on, laughing and chatting with the instructor who was guiding them. My instructor, Tim, calmly pointed out footholds he liked to use. Inside my head, there was a litany of swear words for Tim and his favourite footholds. I wrestled my long, large self, up, over and under the bumps and edges of limestone, willing myself onward. Sometimes, my legs were so weak I had to lift them by pulling on the fabric of my overalls. Sometimes Tim would push my foot into a hold, and once, he planted his hands on my bum and pushed me upward. I was so horrified I lost my grip and slithered back down the slippery rocks; he broke my fall. “I’mfhotyu!” (I’ve got you!) he tried to say, but his voice was muffled by the arse in his face. It was not my finest moment on (in) the planet.
The two hours of ‘squeeze’ replay in my memory as a kaleidoscope of close up views of rock. The feeling of rocks pushing against my back and diaphragm, the pain of resting all of my weight on my knees or hands, the scrape and panic, the trap and terror. But just like labour, I kept going, thinking that the only way ‘out’ is to keep going onward. I tried to focus on my breathing, on the circle of light from my helmet. I looked intently at each section of rock in front of my nose, refusing to let myself lose it.
“Attach your clippers now” said Tim. His voice even and controlled. I looked down. Beneath me, maybe four or five storeys down the crevasse, was a roaring river. Between me and the end of the trip was more rock, more rope, more dizzying heights. There were intermittent slippery little metal staples to hold or stand on, and every couple of meters, we had to unclip and clip our safety harnesses from one section of rope to the next. Sometimes, to do that, we had to lean outward and use our body weight to make the ropes taut. I could hear the roar of the rising river below us and the hammering of my heart. Twin thunder shouting at me to ‘get out!’. I intended to.
Twice, we had to trust our harnesses and swing out into space. Once, we abseiled. Neither were things I have ever done before. I panicked with the abseiling. The rope burned the print from my palm because I was gripping it so hard. I was far beyond my maximum ability to keep pushing on, and yet I was. Tim was ahead now, and had cheerily set up afternoon tea at the bottom of a gully. I lurched into the space and sat my shaky self down. I swallowed the sugary cordial in great gulps, it tasted so good! Ems, the other guide, fastened her big brown eyes on us. “Want the good news, or the bad?” she asked. I couldn’t respond, I just stared at her. We had taken three hours to traverse the first half of the course. There was at least one and a half to two hours ahead, of even higher terrain. I looked down at my shaking legs and hands, wondering how I could do it. And she said “there is a way out from here if you need it”.
Striding forward, up the spiral pathway to the outside, my body surged with new energy. I was going to see the outside! I tore of my helmet, and stepped out into the air. The wind whipped my hair sideways. The pale sky rained over my face and muddy caving gear. I tipped my face upward and grinned at myself. I didn’t give a monkey’s about not making it the whole way, I was utterly delighted that I hadn’t died, wrapped in rock, pinned under the mountain. I was free.
I don’t think I will ever try caving, abseiling or rock climbing ever again, but I am glad I did.
As I write, my arms ache from the push and pull of my afternoon underground. My limbs are bruised and swollen, but my self-belief is soaring.
So, I caved. And I caved in. And I made a memory with Tatijana and CC that none of us will ever forget. A small piece in the tapestry of our lives that will connect us forever. And for me, more proof of the universal fact that we are never what we have always thought we were. We can do things that we imagine we can’t. We don’t need to limit ourselves because we are fat, or unfit, or fearful -or any other combination of self-limiting descriptors. If any of these things are holding you back, maybe you should start a ‘fuck-it’ list, too.
I’d just like to acknowledge all the beautiful people I know who are still pushing through the relentless difficulties of being sick, or caregiving for someone who is. Climbing through the mountain yesterday was so hard, but even at it’s worst, in the seconds of sheer terror, it was not as hard as the long journey through Dysautonomia. I tip my helmet to you, because you are the true boundary pushers. You are the endurance athletes. You are the explorers who discover ways to live with meaning through all that struggle. Two words for you my friends.
Candy floss carpets the sky fields outside my window. The sun has ducked beneath the horizon and the last of it’s rays candy the tops of the clouds with stripes of toffee. A spun sugar skyline. I’m flying home from an important weekend away. And it’s fitting that the sky displays such sweetness right before the darkness. It echoes the word that describes my time away: bittersweet. Because, this time, we’ve been in Christchurch. A city close to the heart of my inner child.
The last time I was there was 32 years ago, and I feel so fortunate to have been back. Since then the city has endured a natural disaster none of us expected. It was sad to see the city crumbled; even five years after the earthquakes brought down the buildings, Christchurch is still in ruins. I saw new buildings, yes. Some hotels and the theatre have been rebuilt. There is construction happening. But far more compelling was the yawning chasm of the the cathedral ruin. The heart of the city, shredded and shaken. Taken.
Street art adorns the abandoned buildings, an attempt to bring colour and vibrancy to the emptiness.
Cordons and construction fences, traffic cones and danger signs. There are plans to garden the rubble. To build inner city orchards and green spaces. But I surveyed a scene so different from the Christchurch of my early memories… I felt disoriented. Standing there in Cathedral square, trying to retrace the skyline of my mind’s eye, I could not find my bearings. Time and tectonics have taken the town I knew and replaced it with something apocalyptically new. 70,000 homes have been demolished in the wake of the quake. All of that displacement. Can you imagine what that does to a community? My heart understood that for the first time as I stood there in the places of my childhood. Until this visit, the story of the quakes were just news headlines; bad news best forgotten.
Our speakers over the weekend were people working right in amongst the community, people with vision for a more connected, more responsive city. A place of togetherness and possibility. There was much talk about the opportunities created by the disaster. About Christchurch becoming the most accessible city in the country. But among all the positivity, my mind kept turning to the people who have endured more than 20,000 aftershocks. Every time the ground shudders, they’re taken back to the days when trauma shook their bones, broke their homes. Changed their geography and mapped new territories of terror. I keep thinking about how hard the last five years must have been for them all. Five years of hard slog, trying to redress the damage, move on, make do, push forward. It’s so difficult living in the aftermath of all that. I salute them all; those resilient Cantabrians. I feel sorry that I didn’t understand until now. It’s not over for them. It’s a generational trauma. Long after the papers have stopped reporting, after the sensationalism has ceased to make their stories headlines, it goes on. They must be beyond exhausted. Their grief must seep into the mortar of the rebuild. Into the future they create. How can it not?
I visited my old street. My old home. My old schools. I went across to Lyttleton, remembering the lazy Sunday drives through the tunnel for fish and chips on the wharf. I saw the southern skies, and felt the beating heart of that beaten city. Bruised, battered. Beautiful brave hearts.
A bittersweet collection of moments for me, a relentless march of time for them.
I gaze out the aeroplane window at the dark of night. Below me, in inky anonymity, the long white clouds of my country carpet the way home. I am flying back to my harbour city, safe harbour, my home. My family will meet me and I will slip back into my role as wife, mum and aunty. It’s school holiday time. A breather in the usual routine. There will be pyjama days, horses and horsing around. Playdates and dvds, dry-cleaning and the small ordinary somethings of a simple life. Home. I will relish every minute of all of it. My life.
Perched on the edge of the Pacific rim, our tiny country tucks itself into bed for the night. For most of us, there is a childlike faith in the stability of our island home. We like to forget what Christchurch tried to teach us. Tonight I will go home and be grateful for the temporal solidity of my life. For the present state of wellness. Of safety. I won’t take it for granted. I will tuck my temerity in my pocket and use it wisely. We are all at any time, a moment away from our world being shaken into something we do not recognise.
Every year I find myself time travelling over our box of Christmas decorations. All those handmade kid decorations and the sentimental ornaments that take me back to times before. There are the annual ornaments I always received from my Mum, a tradition now adopted by my sister. There are the ones from children I taught, and older ones too from so long ago I barely remember their origins. Garlands and baubles and hand embroidered love hearts. Toy soldiers made from pegs and pipe cleaner reindeer. Jingle bells from the first year I was married and a tiny wax baby Jesus nestled in a walnut shell. I watch the kids unwrapping each one and remembering, smiling as they feel that special Christmas magic. It’s a time of year I adore. The carols play us the lullabies of yule and this mood, this palpable feeling is the reason why I love this season so much. Family, love, memories, togetherness.
Only this year, I can’t manage to trim the whole tree. December First happens to have been a very big day this year and we are all a bit tired. The children lift and bring me each decoration and my arms shake as I hang them; just so. I push myself far beyond my capabilities. My husband puts the kids to bed and returns to find my head in my hands. I am spent. It’s not just the emotion of Christmas. I literally can’t move my legs. The weakness and pain radiates down my legs pinning me to the chair. I stare at the tree. The lights blink through the blur of my tears. It’s Christmas, but not as I know it. I don’t understand this pain I am having, the weakness and trouble with walking. I am afraid of it. It’s not a usual Dysautonomia symptom. Walking is not mediated by the Autonomic Nervous System, but the Central. I don’t understand and I don’t want to even try. I’m just weary. I am upset that even Christmas decorating is now tainted with the wrongs of this body. I try to make the tree come back into focus. It’s beautiful. It’s not finished… but there is tomorrow.
My favourite carol floats through the living room. My tiredness overwhelms me. Time for a silent night.
A couple of years ago, we were told that my illness is progressive. Although we had suspected, that knowledge had an immediate effect on the choices we were making. We became mindful about making memories.
Children don’t remember the things we necessarily want them to remember, and we know that the small moments of connectedness, the simple pleasures are really profound. But when we recalled our own childhood memories, so many of the best were holiday memories. We had been hunkering down, like most of our cohort. Trying to get that mortgage paid off, striving to get ourselves into a really secure financial position. We are pretty conservative people and my husband has a risk-averse approach to finances. You know the sort…If we want to do work on the house, we save for it first. So pushing the boat out and taking an overseas family holiday was something we had always seen as a big luxury, something we’d do ‘one day’. But when that neurologist leaned in and said “do the things you want to do with your family while you are still mobile,” we listened. We talked about the kinds of things we’d been putting off. And we booked the holiday-of-a-lifetime.
It was all kinds of joy. The planning was a beautiful distraction. The anticipation provided a daily dose of optimism mixed with excitement. A holiday! It took an enormous amount of planning. There are so many things to think about when you are travelling sick. Our four week trip to the States was a wonderful thing. We have been living off those memories and sharing them together ever since. Our album is already broken from over use, the kids adore looking through and playing ‘remember when’. We have no regrets. Even though so many aspects of the trip were really hard for me, physically, I would go back to those four weeks of family memory-making in a heart beat. Magic. That’s what it was.
And it’s all been on my mind because we’re at it again. We’re about to head off for a shorter trip, this time to the tropics. A week on a tiny coral atoll. It promises to be at least as fantastic as one of Enid’s adventures for The Famous Five (yes, our large family is down to five!). Epic. It will be a new thing for the kids and a chance for me to share with them something of what it was like to grow up in Papua New Guinea, not that we’re going back there… but close enough! My mouth is watering at the prospect of green coconuts, white fish and guava. I can hear the island music playing…!
Also epic is all the preparation. In this instance we will be very far from medical help, so I am taking everything that might be needed. I’m anxious about it from a health perspective, but so very excited from a family perspective. Bring it on. We need a holiday. Bet you do, too.
So anyway, I thought it might be useful if I share eight main things I consider when planning an overseas holiday. There are so many things extra things to to consider when you are ill, accommodations of the disability sort in addition to accommodations of the bed variety. And all that planning and preparation are worth it. Making memories is worth every effort.
Here are my tips: International Travel for the Chronically Ill.
Before you begin, give yourself a hefty amount of time to do all the planning. Don’t book for next week! It’s not worth the payback your body will put you through! Plan it all way in advance, even if you don’t know how you’re going to be. It takes a long time to get it all together when you’re sick.
Consider the destination carefully. How will the climate and altitude work with your condition? I’m not saying eliminate destinations based on climate; just choose with the knowledge of how these aspects could impact you. For example, if you are taking heart medications, you need to know if altitude will compromise their effectiveness. If you are travelling to extremely hot regions and have thermo-dysregulation, you’ll need some ways to counteract the heat and manage.
When booking your airline tickets, make sure you have flexible fares that can be changed if necessary. It is impossible to know when you book whether you will be able to fly when the time comes. So choose the fares carefully, checking the terms and conditions. If you can stretch to better seats, do. Look closely at the airline travel insurance exclusions for pre-existing conditions. Choose a policy that will cover you for any medical assistance you might need while you are away from home. If the generic airline insurance won’t cut it, shop around and find one that will.
While you are booking your flights, you’ll need to indicate if you need ‘meet and assist’. This will usually prompt the airline to have you fill in a medical form. Have your doctor fill this in and send it back to the airline. I also get my doctor to write a generic letter explaining my in-flight liquid quantities (I have to carry extra fluids for long haul), medications and my need to mobilise and/or lie flat whenever possible. I keep that tucked in with my passport in case it is needed on check in, during processing or inflight. It’s also good to keep a copy of that approved airline medical form on you. Remember that if you have mobility issues or implanted devices, you don’t need to queue for immigration. Flag one of the officers and explain your situation. They’re usually very happy to help. The Meet-and-assist service is truly wonderful for ill passengers. Someone will meet your flight, pop you into a wheelchair and whizz you through all the difficult bits. If you struggle to stand for long or walk the distances of your average arrivals hall, it’s a godsend. I don’t generally use a chair but on these occasions I never fail to feel grateful for their invention. It’s a wonderful, compassionate service. It means you can keep the energy for something more memorable. And that’s a win.
If you can, try to plan the flight aspects of your travel to suit your best times of day. Incorporate rest days and nights between legs of the journey. In my opinion it is a mistake to push through more than one long haul flight at a time. The benefits of getting some good sleep in between are immeasurable. For our big North American trip, we also mixed up the type of travel. I find flying very difficult, so we incorporated a road trip as well, with lots of time to get from A to B.
Consider the types of attractions you’ll be going to. Will there be standing required? Walking? If you are not using a chair, will you be able to manage? Most attractions can provide you with really sound advice via email. I highly recommend contacting them ahead of time and booking mobility aides if necessary. In particular, giant attractions like Disneyland need advance booking. I was surprised to discover when we got there that my walking stick was not allowed to be used because it has a built in seat. They let me have it when they saw my doctor’s explanation letter (see above) thank goodness I had it with me! But if I had contacted them ahead of time that wouldn’t have been an issue. Plan your itinerary to include a range of attractions, it is miserable if everything you are doing involves moving around when that is a challenge for you. A mix of museums, tours, events, attractions and rest days is a really good idea. I also planned time when my hubster could take the kids to do things so I could recover and rest.
Take all of your medications with you and every therapeutic aide that might possibly be needed. More is more. But don’t forget to take the original pharmacy label from the box or bottle to show customs. They don’t like medications dispensed into pill boxes. If they can’t identify what drugs you are carrying you may have to dispose of them. I do dispense and just cut the labels off the boxes and wrap them in a rubberband. They slide into my inflight toiletry bag. Yes, I take all my medications on the plane. All of them for the whole trip, because if bags are lost, my meds are not.
Documents: Along with your passports, itinerary, booking confirmations and the medical forms discussed above, you may need other information close to hand while you are away. A copy of your prescriptions might come in handy. Research where you are going and what medical services will be available. Record phone numbers and keep these with your travel documents. It’s a good idea to record all the contact details for your doctors back home and write next to them the time differences from your destinations. You or your travelling companions may need to call them and it saves a lot of stress and expense trying to find their numbers from overseas. Keep these with your documents too. I also google-translate into the language of my destination a brief description of my health problems and print that out.
Pack some easy to prepare food or snacks for your own needs. This might not be important for all destinations. Many of us sickies have particular diet requirements. For our big trip away, I packed some easy breakfast sachets that I knew I could tolerate and that were a cinch to prepare (add boiling water). Your preference might be a nutrition shake or other standard item that you know works for you. When you’re on the road, getting food in time for your medications can be a huge challenge. Being prepared will ease the stress and make the day unfold in a much better way.
So, there are my tips. Writing them down makes me nostalgic for our last trip and really anxious about this one! I feel so fortunate to be making this memory with my beautiful family. I promise to bring you back lots of photos and to get some writing done while I am there. I wonder what writing will be prompted in that beautiful place? Wish me luck. Wish you were coming along too!
Post Script: Best laid plans and all… erm. If you have a pacemaker, remember to take your pacemaker ID card with you. I have never been asked for it before, but this time I was! And it was at home in my bedside drawer! Bahaha! I had to show them my scar and let them feel the bump before they were satisfied that I wasn’t seeking a pat down just for the fun of it. I can’t go through the metal detector gates with this little device on board. I guess the ID card is true of all implants? If you have one, take it with you!
Do you have any tips? Suggestions? I’d love to add to the list, add your ideas to the comments below…
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.
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.
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 🙂