The Postman’s Knock

This made me laugh this morning. I think I need to watch this movie!

Also, a question: does anyone know the origins of the “Postman’s Knock” game? I know it started in England at least 100 years ago, but I’m trying to find a rough date and not having any luck…

UPDATE: Apparently the trailer above can’t be seen on some browsers. Sorry! If you’re having trouble, here is a direct link to watch it (it’s Spike Milligan in The Postman’s Knock, 1962).

Stop just a minute

Tea

This is all happening too fast.

It’s not just the growing, it’s the developing, the knowing, the maturing. “Stop growing up, start growing down,” I tell them, and they roar with laughter. “Again?” requests Ralph, “Will you tell me to grow down?” (“Grow down,” I obligingly order him. “NO!” he yells in evident delight).

Ralph started toilet-training on the weekend. I have always said this wasn’t the kind of parenting blog that would share the details of my children’s challenges, and I’m not about to change that now, so I’ll spare you the details of that particular story (although you can ask me in private if you want to: there is much hilarity for people who can appreciate or relate to that sort of thing). But I didn’t need Ralph to keep reminding me “I’m a big boy now!” to reinforce the significance of this time. Nappies = babies. Undies = big kids. Once my last baby is out of nappies, that tender, sweet, all-encompassing stage in my life is gone forever.

Oh, it’s such a boring cliché, I am bored even as I write it and you are probably yawning, if you’re still here at all. Alert the media: Mother Mourns Passing of Time.

Ballet

Each little milestone, announced with such pride.

Scout: “Mummy, watch me. I can skip!”

Ralph: “Mummy look at me standing on one leg!”

Scout: “Is this how I write my name Mummy? I am very good at this.”

Ralph: “Don’t help. I can brush my own teeth.”

And Scout (beaming with pride): “Maman, comment ça va?” (“Je vais bien, merci,” I reply.) Scout (nodding her head approvingly, like a wise old lady): “Ah, bon.”

Daisies

Here is another cliché that is true: every age is the most wonderful and the best.

Whether they are cloud-gazing or deciphering words, practising new skills or teaching one another, seeing the world through their eyes is a great privilege, a front row seat to the theatre of life as it unfolds, all over again. Just like it was for me when I was their age, I imagine, but I was too busy doing the growing to pay attention to the sheer wonder of it all.

Last night I lay them on the carpet side by side after their bath, to get them dressed. They turned to face each other, giggling and playing, each one using the other one’s hand as a pillow, feigning sleep, cuddling, kissing.

Suddenly it all hit me.

I stopped trying (and failing) to get them dressed, and started paying attention, proper attention, to the moment. “Look at them!” I wanted to open a window and shout to the whole world. Why couldn’t everyone else see what I was seeing, the absolute miracle of these two human beings?

(A mother’s ego that everyone must naturally find her children as fascinating as she does.) (Nobody does.) (Plebs).

Time stopped and it didn’t matter any more how big they were getting or how small they still were, the new skills they had mastered or their adorable mistakes, it was just them. These two amazing individuals, and their love for each other. Such a love that I have never seen between two people for each other. Ever.

Mangoes

Later, we three snuggled together and read stories. I read to them from Amazing Babes, a book that celebrates women of courage, of conviction, of creativity, and of compassion. We had conversations about women’s rights and war crimes, about equal opportunities, about the law. It wasn’t easy to explain these things in ways that a four-year-old and a two-year-old could understand, but I loved them for trying. Those little furrowed brows: concentrating, questioning.

Leaf prints

Small fingers tracing over the dark skin of Mum Shirl. All the questions! About prisons and prisoners, about Indigenous people in prison, about the whole history of colonialisation. Those big grey eyes looking up at me, round as little stars. “What did the people from England do to them that was naughty?” I took a deep breath. “Well, they took away their homes, and they hurt them. They tried to be the bosses of them, and they were cruel to them.”

Those eyes again. “Why?” Oh sure, let’s just solve the entire problem of racism during a cosy bedtime-story chat. “Because they were different,” I said at last. “They looked different, and believed different things, and spoke a different language, and lived a different way. Because they were different, the people from England though they were better than them.”

Scout stroked the dark-skinned face of Mum Shirl again. “Shohana has dark skin like this,” she said, thoughtfully, “and Bella,” naming her best friend. I pressed the advantage. “Do you think any of our friends are better than others, because of the way they look or what they believe?” She shook her head solemnly. I could tell she still didn’t understand: racism wasn’t just wrong, it was genuinely incomprehensible.

“Vaishali looks like that,” Ralph piped up all of a sudden. “Yeah and Rajetha!” Scout returned. “It is a little bit like Yulia,” Ralph continued (he pronounced it “Loolia,” be still my heart). They started naming everyone they knew and loved with skin that was any colour other than their own: friends and teachers from India, Iran, Pakistan, Singapore, Indonesia, China, Peru.

Cloud gazing

Last night I talked politics and race and feminism and creative expression with my two kind and compassionate children. Yes, they are growing up, and it is an honour to witness the growing.

Permit me a proud-Mama moment, cliché or not.

Mail art – prickly post

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Yawwwwwn. I was up until 1am last night making mail-art gifts for some friends. Those parcels (three of them) are not pictured here, because there wasn’t any natural light in which to photograph them once I’d finished, and Mr B took them off to post when he left for work at five o’clock this morning. We are a sleepless family!

After two weeks of viruses rolling through our family, taking us down one at a time and working through each of us and then having the audacity to try and start all over again… after two weeks of being more up at night than down, and washing more sheets and towels and little pyjamas than I ever thought it was possible to wash, this weekend finally offered the hope of a reprieve. Nobody was ill, everybody kept down their meals, and we managed to wash and dry and fold and put away the mountain of laundry that had become so big that at one point we entirely lost sight of our couch.

Free from family sickness (but in my weakened, possibly hallucinatory state haha), I began noticing things around me again, especially in my little garden.

All too often, I have failed to give spring the love it deserves, the love almost the entire rest of the world gives it. It’s not spring’s fault that it is the harbinger of the harsh Australian summer, that’s just the order of things, after all. But this year, for the first time since high school, I have a garden again. And that makes all the difference.

In the minutia of my tiny garden, I watch the seasons come in and out with new eyes and new appreciation. The ancient turning of planets and sun and growth and death, all played out in miniature in my little garden: a living diorama, kept alive by the clockwork mechanics of Nature and Time churning silently but relentlessly outside the four tall walls of my green little oasis.

And I, peering in, stepping in, and watching.

* The sage bush has grown at least 10 centimetres since last weekend, in the heady potion of warmer weather earlier in the week followed by soaking rains later on

* There was a honeyeater in the Chinese Lantern tree. We never see honeyeaters in the city! Also, on a warm but windy Wednesday, two little doves happily sunbathed on the grass out the front of the children’s cubby house

* The coriander that I thought had died last year is once again alive and flourishing and ready to season big bowls of summer guacamole

* All the dormant trees are budding into life. The pomegranate tree is beyond budding – it has exploded into spring green

* Bluebells! Bluebells everywhere!

* One of my original camellia bushes has gone to god

The warm spring-rain was way too persistent for my tiny little cactus-in-a-pot, so I brought it inside, and that’s what inspired this round of prickly mail-art. Once I got onto a cactus-and-succulent roll, it was hard to stop. These little guys are just so fun to draw!

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Valma’s letters

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When I was a teenager, an old lady named Valma used to write me the longest letters. Easily 20 pages or more, in scrawling cursive on foolscap paper.

Valma and her husband Bill lived in a two-room hut on a little dirt road called Saddler’s Lane, and I came to know them because I would ride by their place on my way to a creek at the bottom of the valley. When she heard the clop-clop of my horse’s hooves, Valma would rush towards me to say hello: she got around with a funny swinging motion on two crutches, because her legs didn’t work. We’d stand and chat at her old farm gate while my horse grazed nearby.

Valma would never accept my invitations to come tea at our place. She said she was too embarrassed to ever return the hospitality because her house had no floor, just beaten earth, and no water.

Sometimes I would bring her gifts of fruit from our trees, or a slice my mother had made, and hand them to her over the farm gate. After we moved away and I couldn’t ride past any more, Valma and I became irregular pen pals for many years, up until she died.

Then a few months ago my parents brought some papers to my place, and Valma’s letters were among them. All those memories of our old friendship came flooding back…

My one weakness

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Recently, I had a conversation on this blog with a lovely reader called Jan. I’m paraphrasing, but the conversation went something like this:

Jan: Have you heard of the TV show “Lark Rise to Candleford?” It’s a period drama set in a post office.

Me: *Instantly leaves office and runs to find it*

Now I’m up to Season 2, and utterly in love with this little show. It is gentle, thoughtful, innocent, warm-hearted, and makes me feel nostalgic for a kind of life I’ve never known.

In case you haven’t heard of it, Lark Rise to Candleford (which is based on a semi-autobiographical trilogy of books of the same name by Flora Thompson) centres around two small rural communities at the turn of the 19th century: the tiny hamlet of Lark Rise, and the wealthier and bigger (but still tiny by our standards) town of Candleford, both in Oxfordshire in the UK.

When in Candleford, most of the action centres around the comings and goings of the Candleford Post Office, which is run, rather controversially, by a woman. The Post Mistress, Dorcas Lane, is truly delightful: wise, loving, independent, glamorous, and ahead of her era in so many ways. She claims to have “one weakness,” although depending on the circumstance, that one weakness could be anything from cake to feather pillows to buttermilk baths.

When Laura, Dorcas’ young niece from Lark Rise, comes to work at the Candleford Post Office, Dorcas takes her under her lovely, protective wing and teaches her the way of the world… and of the post. I have been learning right along with Laura as I watch, and here is what I’ve gleaned so far:

* A century ago, the post was the only real way that people could communicate with others at a distance. It was possibly the most essential community-service of the time

* The post office itself was a community hub. All but the most hardened recluse had need of the postal services at some time or another so, in small communities, it became a natural meeting place for neighbours to gather and chat and swap stories and gossip. To “pass the time of day,” as Candleford or Lark Rise folks would call it

* Postal workers were the keepers of secrets. They knew who wrote to whom, and how often. They could see the looks on faces – the shakes of hands – when letters of import were posted or received. They knew the contents of every telegram even before the recipients did

* The postie knew everyone in the community. Letters were delivered not into boxes but into hands, and the route to every home was an opportunity to observe and greet and forge connections

* And this, a quote from Season 4 (which I haven’t actually seen so no spoilers please!), which sums up rather beautifully the power of a pen-and-ink letter:

“When words are written down, they can be the finest expression of the human soul… Once words are marked down on paper, they can not be taken back. They are in the world for good or for ill. They wither or they endure. Words can be dangerous things.”