Rain fall from concrete coloured skies

We left hospital in a taxi. My husband held our newborn daughter. As we drove I noticed the trees and hedges on the roadside were out in newly unfurled leaf. I commented and the taxi driver asked if I’d been in hospital long.

 A lifetime.

The seasons here are dominated by the light, by the duration of the day. Winter is dark and grey. You leave the house in the dark. You come home in the dark. Even when the sun is out, it sits so low on the sky it has no warmth. Most of winter the cloud is thick and solid grey. The world can seem strangely uniform, especially when it snows, grey-white cloud above grey-white earth, only the vertical sides of buildings to add perspective and colour.

I know there is no truth to it but winters seem to last forever, an eternity of gloom. If you know where to look you can see an orb of light locked behind the cloud. Have faith, it tells you, the sun is still there. Slowly you notice the days are getting longer. Until suddenly they lengthen in leaps of bounds, gaining hours of daylight in only a single week.

regnbueAfter the long gestational winter I missed last spring. Too sore and huge to go out much in the last few weeks of pregnancy. And then too sick and tired at home. My husband took our son for long walks while I huddled at home, feeding on the couch. It was summer before I noticed. I had worried that the long, long days would interfere with my ability to go back to sleep after night feeds. I needn’t have worried. I was too exhausted to notice.

The days get shorter as quickly as they get long. The closer to the poles you are the longer sunrise and sunsets last. I remember last autumn as being full of coloured skies, lighting us in that beautiful golden sunset glow. Green and gold faded. Frost began to nip the air. It became hard to get out. Hard to get to the shops to buy the snowsuits, the hats, the mittens for two growing children. I bought it all at the last minute as winter settled in and I could avoid the shopping no longer.

In Canberra where our son was born I would take him for walks to fill up our days. In winter the nights drop below zero, but temperatures can rise 20 degrees or so during the day; perfectly pleasant for an afternoon walk. In summer I would go for a walk first thing in the morning, before the heat would drive us inside for the rest of the day. At first he would just sit in his pram. Then the walks got shorter, but took longer as he began to toddle. We lived near some wetlands, so there was always something to see, ducks on the pond or cockatoos and galahs in the eucalyptus. Rocks on the shore to pick up and examine. Ants marching across the pavement. ‘Outside’ was one of his first and favourite words.

The sky was always blue. All except for the storms. When it rains it pours, and the wetlands flooded. Thunder and lightning filled the sky. Maybe it is a trick of memory, but the storms never seem to last long. The rain washed itself away. Living a world clean and soaked and glistening as the sun returned.

Last winter it was hard to find the energy to get out. Hard to spend any length of time in the great outdoors. My daughter and I would venture out for the necessary trips: daycare for her older brother, shopping if I needed too. Otherwise it was easiest to stay in the artificially lit indoors. The walls of our house providing us with warmth and safety. We were insulated; isolated.

Slowly, imperceptibly the days got longer. The light grew brighter. The sun rose on the horizon; lateral light that shines directly into your eyes.

First the crocuses popped up through the soil.

They’ve been replaced with bluebells, and the daffodils are beginning to flower.

My daughter’s eyes are opening to the world around her. She looks past her mother, father and brother. She goes to the glass back door. Presses her face and hands against it. Her eyes ask the question she does not have words for. The door opens and as she pads out, fresh air gusts in.

I don’t spend so long on the couch now. We breastfeed just once a day, in the evening. The other night she was tired, sick and hungry. So we just sat, we two, and it felt bittersweet knowing that this, at times resented, part of my life is about to draw to a close. She fed herself to sleep. And lay in my arms much as she did as a newborn, soft and fat and milky.

I carried her into her bedroom. I kissed her cheek and lay down my baby. Her eyes flicked open and I thought she would wake. But she only stretched, rolled over and fell back asleep. A little girl sleeping in her cot.

Every day with a small child is liminal. You are always on the cusp of change.

Soon the trees will be green again.

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Don’t read the comments…

Dear My Flatpack Life,

I’ve been reading your blog, and I do think you go on a bit. All these young women these days you do make such a fuss over nothing. My Great-Aunt Mabel raised 23 children in a hut, and she did it without complaining once. She just got on with it.

She didn’t have epidurals or a water birth. No, she knew it was her duty as the progeny of Eve to suffer. Obviously she didn’t suffer too much, I mean she didn’t experience pre-eclampsia or obstructed labour, or haemorrhaging, or infections despite the lack of sanitation. Otherwise she would have been too dead to complain. But still, you aren’t allowed to complain about surviving a terrible medical emergency. That’s what I tell people who’ve survived a cardiac arrest or are recovering from a stroke- ‘Well, you’re not dead, so just get on with it’. Only dead people are allowed to complain. Did I say 23 children? Well, they didn’t all survive childbirth, or even childhood, but Mabel never complained.

Her life is exactly comparable to yours in every way except all the ways your life is easier. She didn’t have a dishwasher, or electricity. Nope. Luckily, she did have daughters, not too many though, you wouldn’t want too many of those. Just enough to help out around the house and look after the younger children while the boys did their homework so they could learn to provide for their families in manly, important ways.

Despite all that housework Great Aunt Mabel used to watch her children every minute. Every minute. She never stopped watching them so they didn’t have any of those accidents that happen now-days because the parents should have been watching the kids. She never used a phone to check emails because she didn’t have a job outside the home, or electronic bills, or god-forbid, a social life. But she also knew the exact right moment to look away. Because she wasn’t one of these silly helicopter parents with their namby-pamby kids. You can’t watch them forever you know.

And if you didn’t want to become a taxi service you shouldn’t have let yourself become one. Great Aunt Mabel didn’t have to take the kids everywhere. She was too busy Not Complaining to do that. So they just walked everywhere because they had to. No car. No busy roads to Not Complain about. No social services checking in on parents who allow their children to walk anywhere unaccompanied. You shouldn’t do that, can’t be too careful these days.

Great Aunt Mabel never took the kids out to a café and let them misbehave. She never drank a latte in her life. You’re so spoiled. And your kids. They’re spoiled too. Why, the other day a mother was sitting a café with her children as though it was a public space and they had every right to be there. Totally ruined my cappuccino that did.

She didn’t need to have a job either. Nothing that would selfishly take her away from her children who needed their mother to look after them. It’s no wonder kids have so many problems these days with their mothers so distracted by working. It’s no wonder they are all fat without mothers cooking decent meals for them. It’s no wonder they are out roaming the street in those packs –packs I tell you- without mothers waiting to greet them after school. Great Aunt Mabel knew that was her job, and she dedicated herself to it.

Mind you, mothers these days seem to expect some sort of award for parenting. They seem to think the whole world revolves around it. They should definitely devote every single moment to their children but they shouldn’t think it’s important.

Oh No. We never asked Great Aunt Mabel how she felt. We didn’t discuss feelings. No, we never asked if she cried silently over the cooking. We never wondered about the dark circles under her eyes. We never listened on those occasions she chatted with other women. But they weren’t complaining. I’m sure they lived happy fulfilling lives in which they trampled every emotion that couldn’t be written down in a gratitude journal.

Actually, she didn’t write a journal. Great Aunt Mabel couldn’t read or write. So her voice and the voice of countless women have been lost to posterity. But still, no point complaining about that, eh?

Yours judgementally.