I’ve been talking a lot to my friends lately about just how different Arlo and Huey are: how they hardly play together because Huey is drawn to solo activities like computer games, reading to himself, and listening to music; whereas Arlo wants to play imaginative rambunctious games with as many people involved as possible. This is the elaborate pretext to have a whinge about how I had this whole fantasy that having heaps of kids meant that they would run off and play and leave me alone (ridiculous, right, to think that having more kids would somehow lead to less demands upon me?). And it is usually accompanied by, or more often prompted by, a rather spurious discussion about how similar Jinny and Tycho are, and how they play together so beautifully and make each other giggle and how Jinny’s first word was Tycho (Gago! said many times a day with great emphasis) and how they have the exact same hair and on and on ad nauseum.

But it’s all a load of bollocks really. Arlo and Huey are the centre of each other’s worlds, whether they (or we) realise it or not. Being chalk and cheese doesn’t change that. Here’s a story to illustrate. A while ago, Huey needed a good cry, a really big loud kicking screaming kind of yell. He found it early on, when he asked me what was for breakfast, and I listed a bunch of options, and mentioned in passing that there was no fruit bread. ‘But I want fruit bread!’ he yelled and off we went. An hour of good hard emotional purging later, he lay his sweaty head in my lap, eyes closed, and murmured ‘Let’s have porridge for breakfast. Arlo would like that,’ then drifted off to sleep.

And Arlo did like that.


Back in the valley

We’re back. It’s been a funny sort of homecoming to our sort of home. We left sick, and we’ve come back sick – Tycho in particular is miserable with a nasty fever. But it is glorious to see these hills and breathe this air and hear these birds. Also wonderful is seeing Fi Bert and Atticus. Arlo and Huey have reconvened their Atticus fan club, and he seems quite pleased to see them too.

But the astute among you will have noticed a plot flaw in this story. ‘A year in the country’ proclaims our banner. ‘One last precious week’ I wrote in my last post. But we’ve been here for about six months. What gives?

It was watching episodes of Grand Designs that really brought home to us that we can’t build a house from a distance. We have to be there to watch it grow before our eyes, and we have to be there to fix things when they go wrong, as they undoubtedly will.

Even though we won’t start building until next year, we’ve also decided to take advantage of what feels like a last opportunity to spend a really decent chunk of time with family in Brisbane before we return to the grind in Melbourne.

But still my heart is breaking to be leaving this incredible place. A few nights ago there was a lantern walk – all the children in the valley were there with their handmade paper lanterns, hundreds of them glowing in the dusk as we wended our way through the town. And today, Arlo and Huey and Jinny and I had a perfect play in Fi and Bert’s dam – toes in sand and limpid water, surrounded by blowsy paddocks and trees breathing out their haze into the hot air. There is magic in these hills, no doubt about it.



Six on the road

The car is packed full of things and people. The Hume stretches out before us. It’s 6.53am and the sun is up, laying its gentle light across gum trees and flat paddocks. Arlo and Huey are listening to stories, and Jinny and Tycho are giggling as they play peekaboo around their car seats and jointly flap a floating pillow. Behind us – dear friends, grimy but beloved city, and a block of land rank with long grass but holding the promise of home, one day. Ahead – a last precious week of new/old friends, after school sports and preschool and playgroup, cows and kangaroos, fresh air and an outdoor loo. After that – family, christmas, sticky skin and butterflies and that Brisbane smell in the air. Here we go again.


A few weeks ago we all got sick. Really sick. It was a bit scary. At the same time, some very dear friends of ours in Melbourne were going away for two weeks and said we could house-sit for them. With the help of another dear friend who flew up when she heard we were sick, we packed the Tarago to the gills and did the big drive down. It’s been amazing to be back in the city, surrounded by a plethora of friends. We miss the wide open spaces of Wollombi; the kids miss Atticus like crazy; and we miss Fi and Bert in the same way; but we have been so comfortable here that we have failed to find the motivation to do the big drive back again. Soon we will have to be brave though. Huey wants to spend his birthday in Wollombi, and we are due in Brisbane for a big family birthday at the end of the year. In the meantime, we are making good use of the dishwasher here and enjoying catching up with all our city friends. I’ll try to post some photos and videos of the kids from my new iphone once I work out how.

About three hundred times a day Jinny brings Cristina and I this book.

It was a favourite of Arlo and Huey too, for good reason – I think it might be the nicest board book we have. I know it off by heart, and so does Jinny.

Me: “Poppy reached out and stroked the little calf’s face.”

Jinny: “Haa-ge”

Me: “‘Hello little calf’ she whispered.”

Jinny: “Mmmmmm!!!! Mmmmmm!!”

Me: “‘Moo’ called the cow to her baby calf.”

And so on. Times three hundred.

On the way home from pre-school today, the red light stopped us right next to the sloping paddock where the red cows are hanging out at the moment. “Mmmmmm!” I heard from the back seat, and turned around to see Jinny pointing furiously. So we got out to have a look.

The sky was impossibly blue. The grass was blindingly green. The cows stood out rusty red against the paddock, and a faint mist of yellow flowers provided more ridiculously beautiful contrast. The escarpment glistened in the sun with water running off the hills. The frogs croaked and the birds sang. Jinny and I pointed and mooed and said hello. Her fluffy hair was tossed by the gentle breeze.

It was one of those moments that I wish I could etch into my memory. I’ve had lots of them – they never stick. So I lived it and breathed it and now I am writing it down. Stay with me.

Of sports teachers and fairies

It seems all is not as dire in the land of gender expression as my earlier post may have implied. Two small vignettes:

A couple of days ago, as we were spreading mulch around the fruit trees, Arlo calmly informed me that when he grows up he is going to change his name to Simona, or Simone for short. He’ll be an after school sports teacher, but not the same Simone who is his after school sports teacher here in Wollombi.

Atticus is having a sleep-over. We were outside – I was collecting some wood for the fire, and he was doing a pre-bed wee, when he said ‘Did you know that you must never step on a flower? And I’ll tell you why. It’s because every flower is a fairy home. And I have some pet fairies at my home.’

My head is full of house plans. The floor plan is pretty much done, but we have reached a kind of crescendo this week as we frantically fiddle with windows, and try to cram in as much storage as possible. Most difficult has been figuring out basic bathroom and kitchen layouts (there will be another crescendo with these rooms later when we choose actual fixtures). We are trying to fit so much into such a small house that every single square centimetre is precious.

I’m finding it very hard to really believe that these sketches I am doing (often while stirring the porridge, or pretending to watch some trick the kids are doing) will somehow become real spaces that I will one day walk through. Every now and then a small detail clicks into place and I start to get a faint picture in my mind, but it’s like a dream – I glimpse it but I can’t grasp it. Exposed clinker bricks arranged in a sun-shape around a round window; a green velvet curtain; a deep japanese style bath under a sloping roof – these are some of the images that tantalise me.

At the same time, I am trying to be my best buddhist and live as fully in the moment as I can. This often strikes when I am keeping Arlo or Huey company when they are on the outdoor dunny. They just love a bit of company and a chat while they do their business, but I like to stand angled slightly away from them, and stare at the line of the hills and breathe. It seems so very important not to waste a moment of living. Being here is one thing. Another thing is the tiny lives of my small children zooming past.

Jinny has been sick with a urinary tract infection, and it is only with the benefit of hindsight that I realise (now she is on antibiotics and feeling better) just how crook she has been. These last two days she has spent long stretches of time just noodling around by herself, picking up a wooden block, putting it in a bucket, putting the bucket on her head, picking up a piece of elastic, putting it in her mouth, leafing through a board book, mooing occasionally, dancing and bouncing every time she hears a fragment of music. Every now and then she does something she thinks is hilarious – like climbing into the new wooden walker – and looks up with a hoarse giggle, fully expecting that I will be smiling and laughing right back at her.

‘Tycho Destructo’ as he really ought to be called also spends ages noodling around, but his noodling mostly consists of pulling things off shelves and pushing them around the floor, so that I keep finding things in very odd places. He is also on a new mission to climb everything he can get a toehold on. When I pick him up he wraps his arms around my neck and holds on tight. His fat little hands are brown and paw-like.

It rained all morning and so I promised Arlo and Huey a rainy day movie after lunch (we watched ‘Laputa – the Castle in the Sky’ – it was more full on than I remembered). After lunch the sun came out, but I couldn’t renege and so it was 3pm before I managed to get them out of the dairy. They put on their gumboots and we meandered about, ending up at a puddle on the driveway that they stomped in so hard that there was mud in their hair and I had to take their pants off. I had Jinny in the sling on my back, and Cristina brought down Tycho, who ended up on my shoulders when she had to head back up to the dairy before me. As I was walking back up to the dairy with all four kids, Bert called out ‘you should write a blog post about two mudlarks and two babies on your back!’ So here it is.