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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.

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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.

Hiatus

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.

Today we took Arlo, Huey and Atticus to a local market. In the car on the way there they clutched their gold coins and speculated about what they might buy. ‘I hope there’s fairy floss,’ said Atticus.
‘I hope there’s fairy floss too,’ said Arlo.
‘Baba, Atticus said he hopes there’s fairy floss. I hope there’s fairy floss too,’ said Huey.
Cristina and I looked at each other in the front seat. ‘No way,’ I said quietly.

When we got there all thoughts of fairy floss were abandoned when they spotted the crappy plastic toy stall (side note: after today we won’t let them buy from one of them again – I’d rather they bought the darn fairy floss). It was even smaller and crappier than most of these affairs, but the boys took their purchases very seriously. They were about to buy a plastic sword each ($2) but I spoiled their fun by announcing a new family rule: ‘We don’t buy realistic weapons in our family, and Atticus you are with us so that means you too.’
‘But I have a gun and a sword at home!’ protested Atticus. I stood my ground – they could only buy what they could afford, and no weapons. Atticus toyed with some Ben 10 knock offs, but settled on a fighter jet ($5).

Huey wanted to buy a colourful noisy electric toy ‘for the babies’ (he loves those things more than they do) but chose a monster truck ($3) when I said we didn’t need another baby toy.

But Arlo took a long time to decide. He thought about the monster truck; he wanted the same jet as Atticus but didn’t have enough money; he wanted a water pump that was also too expensive. And then he spotted some mermaid dolls. He’s always loved pink and sparkly things. His hand reached out and he asked me for the red one, and then he pulled it back, and said, ‘No, I only want boys’ toys.’ I said, ‘Boys can play with these too’.
‘No they can’t, and I only want a boy’s toy’. I showed him some shiny colourful monster trucks. I hoped that being both sparkly and trucks they might solve his problem. ‘No, they’re girls’ toys, I only want a boy’s toy’. He hovered over the mermaids again, and said wistfully, ‘I want a boy mermaid.’

I found some fighter jets that fit his budget ($3), and because Atticus had chosen a fighter jet, Arlo was happy with that (yet didn’t play with it again).

But I still wish that he had brought home the red mermaid.

Last week we helped our neighbor move his cows along the road from one paddock to another one (he moves them around quite a lot to let the grass grow). Not a single cow died. Here are some photos.

Not that way you silly things

That’s more like it

Bert had a big stick

Huey had a small stick

In you go girls

 

Happy grazers

Cristina and Tycho

Me and Jinny

Arlo

Awful: Arlo regularly and painfully ‘booms’ us (pronounced with a short oo, as in looking). This involves him running into me at top speed and banging me with whatever part of his body he can – head, arms, chest. A related move is a leap onto my back when I am sitting down, usually followed up with a dive over my shoulder. Yesterday Cristina was sitting with Tycho on her lap in the kitchen doorway, watching Jinny puddle around out the front of the dairy as Huey and I worked together in the kitchen. Arlo was at a bit of a loose end, so ran up to C and threw himself onto her back, knocking her face onto Tycho’s head. She banged her eye and was really upset. He said ‘sorry mama’ in a most unconvincing manner and veered off to do something else. This boy loves roughhousing and I do as much as I can with him but I cannot keep up with his need for strong physical contact. He won’t submit to cuddles either, so we get the rough contact but rarely any gentle touch (unless we are role playing where he is the mama and I am the baby). Also awful – deliberately carrying through a behaviour that I have attempted to prevent by asking nicely. Only a physical limit works, and I can’t always manage that, what with three other small children around.

Awesome: He just listened to Cristina read the entirety of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. He almost could have listened to it in one sitting – he was begging for it all day long until they got to the end. He has amazing concentration and ability to follow a complex story. His interactions with the babies are getting better and better – much less roughness, more singing and gentle caresses and talking to them. A few days ago he spoon fed both of them with tenderness when we had to run from the table for some reason or another. His craft and drawing are getting more and more representative – for example he made a gorgeous dinosaur out of play dough, with spines along its back, eyes and fangs. Sadly he squashed it before I could get a photo. And yesterday he made a light sabre out of a piece of spaghetti, two beads, and two pieces of sticky tape. He is still completely extroverted and charms the pants off many people that we meet. He also remembers all their names. He has a very sweet desire to tell me the narrative of every tv show and book and story that he comes across. His desire for knowledge is as fierce as ever, but his questions are much less annoying than they used to be.

Huey

Awful: It may not be appropriate to talk about this on the internet but I have had it up to here with the frequent wet patch on his pants. He is completely capable of taking himself to the toilet but he just doesn’t go and jiggles and wiggles and wee leaks out and it seems that I have to bully or sweet talk him into going to the toilet at least five times a day. Even though I know it will fix itself, it is not soon enough for me. It’s something about being at home – today he was completely continent all day at pre-school, yet by dinner time there was a wet patch on his pants again. I’ve had to bring back Looey, who is a creature who lives in the toilet and chats to him while he is there, in an attempt to make toilet trips more appealing – not that it is working. Also, he is still vicious when he doesn’t get his way – poor Arlo gets a bite at least once every week or two. And sometimes the babies suffer too – he will punish us by hurting them, though there has been a little less of this lately (touch wood). He also is a master of the oppositional behaviour that I described with Arlo, and with Huey it is accompanied by a maddening wicked giggle. Argh!

Awesome: He is still mostly sweet lemon delicious pudding – chatty and helpful and delightful. He takes great joy in helping with the cooking and the washing up, and tells me what a good job he is doing as he does so (I usually respond by noting that he is having fun or that he is working hard – ‘good job’ comes from other sources!). This morning he made scrambled eggs almost completely by himself – cracked a dozen eggs, stirred in a bit of milk, and stirred them as they cooked in the frypan. He loves to go shopping and will keep up a lovely non-stop banter from the trolley as we cruise the aisles and select items. He’s been telling Cristina and I both that he wants to marry us (me slightly more often), and one night recently he whispered in my ear just before he fell asleep “Huey and Baba: best friends”. He too has become heaps more gentle and lovely with the babies. Also, he can read! Well, I don’t know how one defines ‘can read’ but he can read enough words to be able to read a simple picture book with a bit of help with unfamiliar words. He knows a lot more words than I realise and I am often surprised when he knows them.

Arlo-and-Huey: I think it’s fascinating that they are approaching literacy from completely different angles. They will both reach the same end (I suspect they are destined to be bookworms, as are their parents), but Arlo is getting there by totally immersing himself in language through long complex stories, and Huey is getting there by focusing on the technical skills of word recognition. What’s even more interesting (and I think related) is that Arlo actually has a better ear for phonics than Huey, but Huey has learnt a lot more actual words by memorising them (his addiction to Reading Eggs has a lot to do with this – he just adores the computer and Reading Eggs is essentially a computer game that has the byproduct of teaching a certain kind of literacy). I should also point out, lest any readers think that we are awful pushy parents, that all this has been pretty much led by them.

Every day I see them becoming compadres more and more. They spend all day bickering and negotiating and competing and playing with each other. They have negotiation skills that most three and four year olds could only dream of, but when the negotiation fails – or, as often happens, is skipped as they leap straight into anger – it can get ugly. Every single car trip involves a discussion about who will get out of the car first. If one is given a treat, they will almost always ask for one for their brother and carefully make sure he gets it. For example, Bert has some kind of swanky metal press that makes coins lovely and domed. The other day he gave a pressed 50c coin to Huey (his favourite denomination), but he didn’t have one for Arlo, so he made Arlo a pressed 10c coin instead. The next day he gave Huey another pressed 50c coin because Huey had been so thrilled by it yesterday, and Huey said ‘oh thank you Bert – here you are Arlo, here’s your kangaroo-and-emu one!’ and handed it over to Arlo. Amazing.

Jinny

Awful: I had to really search to find anything awful about Jinny. Her poo smells really bad. That’s about it.

Awesome: And here I will have to restrain myself. I think nearly one must be just about the most delightful age ever. I was so anxious when I was pregnant, and so worried that she would be badly affected and turn out to be a horrible baby, but I was so very very wrong. She is funny and happy and bright and feisty and beautiful. She is working really hard on communication at the moment. She has a few signs – more, finished (but they look the same), pointing, nodding and shaking her head for yes and no, and a sign that seems to simultaneously mean outside and dog. And a few words ‘baba’, ‘mum-mum’ (for Cristina), ‘ha-ge’ seems to mean ‘hello’, and ‘nan-nan-nan-nan’ means ‘no’. She loves peek-a-boo. She bounces when she hears music. She’s working on walking by standing up from a squat with a delighted grin on her face. She has discovered books in a big way, and has a few¬† favourites that she brings over, shoves into my lap and grunts madly to indicated that she wants me to read it to her (ones that Huey and Arlo loved that we brought with us, like ‘Where’s the Kitten?’ and ‘Little Calf’ – she points out the kittens and the calf). She loves all her brothers and her Bean, and once she has got used to them any other adult who will carry her about and show her stuff, but as Huey remarked today, she loves her Baba best.

Tycho

Awful: Um, again not much to report. He wakes up a lot at night. Sometimes he has grizzly days.

Awesome: I could write a book! Tycho is the most chilled out, funny, happy baby that we have. He spends his days pottering around the house making funny faces (duck lips!) and babbling and pulling stuff off shelves and pushing things in front of him. He absolutely loves to go outside and will bolt for any door that opens. He also loves to be in the thick of whatever family activity is happening (to the frustration of Arlo and Huey when that activity involves roughhousing or a board game). And he has a passion for mobile phones and the computer (like Huey!). He is, apart from the odd grizzly day, an absolute delight to have around. And he plays favourites less than Jinny – despite Cristina having done the bulk of his care (we have done much less co-feeding and co-sleeping than we did the first time around, because it is just practically easier to only have to keep track of one baby), he still lights up when he sees me and reaches out. The other day Cristina and I spent about twenty minutes just passing him back and forth as reached first for me, and then for her, and immediately back to me again and so on.

Jinny-and-Tycho: These two babies adore each other. They make each other laugh simply by crawling towards each other. They often roam the house as a little pack, making a break for the outside, raiding the kitchen shelves, pulling up on a hapless parent and asking to be picked up. I’m looking forward to watching their relationship grow.