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Felix: the boy loves his trains. And grass and stones and stories and running and jumping, and the giggles of his baby sister.

Antonia: she loves the grass and stones and dirt and sticks and leaves and space to crawl and rocks to climb and oh she loves her brother.

Linking with Jodi for a portrait of my children once a week in 2015.

I took these pictures in the museum gardens in York this afternoon. It’s our last day here. We’ve done everything I hoped to. We even made it to the second birthday party of the son of a dear friend yesterday, and it was fabulous. We went back to the train museum today, and later, when the weather cleared, chilled out in the museum gardens. When we arrived I was so utterly tired that when Felix asked me to play with him I sent him off to make friends with random children, left Antonia in the stroller for a minute, and stretched out on the lawn. This could not last long – Antonia insisted on crawling around and I had to watch them both, but I noticed after half an hour or so, I didn’t feel so weary. I did play with Felix, and after a brief battle, the train and the cars went to the supermarket together, and swimming in the sea, and had a sleepover, and it was all rather sweet. There’s no playground in this park but it’s conducive to play anyway – with ruins to jump from and lawns to run about. It was a lovely afternoon.

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And I couldn’t resist posting this one too, although it’s crooked. My little barefoot pudding in the grass – I could just eat her up. Her clothes get filthy at the moment but I have to let her play.

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York, London, Children, History, Dreams

travel12 Twelve years ago, nearly to the day, I arrived in London with a huge backpack and a brick of a laptop, brimming with excitement, anticipation, freedom, and a few nerves too. I stayed in a grotty hostel in Earl’s court. I went to British library and marvelled at the medieval manuscripts and hand written poems. I visited Southwark cathedral, because a writer I know told me she loves it. I went to Greenwich with a girl from the Maldives who I met in the hostel. I went to the British Museum and looked at the loot from Sutton Hoo. I wandered around peering at maps and looking anxiously for tube stations. Soon, I would travel around a bit before starting a masters in York. What adventures.

travel9 Last week I arrived in London with Felix and Antonia as my companions. Michael was working in the US for two weeks and I didn’t fancy staying at home alone for that time. I had been wanting to come back to the UK for years, and thought I’d better do it now before my maternity leave is over. We stayed in a clean and shiny hostel near Hyde Park, opposite the natural history museum. Once again I was excited and a little apprehensive. It felt so different. London was exciting the first time but also lonely and somewhat aimless – with all that time on your hands, how do you best spend it? Now I had two small beings to look after and there was no time for loneliness or aimlessness. I felt myself ferrying them around in a little bubble of care. We went to playgrounds and the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum, and I loved it. We took a boat ride with my brother to Greenwich. It was nice to go to parks with a purpose – the promised playground at the end of the walk a mecca for all. I felt I belonged.

london11 travel2 travel3 And early this week I arrived in York. Walking around the town centre on my first day, my heart kept clenching in recognition. These were the streets I walked and rode my bike, the streets in which I dreamed and longed and loved. I kept saying to Felix ‘this is amazing, I feel so strange’. ‘Why Mummy’, he asked, and I only said I lived here once, long ago, with Daddy. Arriving in York twelve years ago was a dream come true – after years of poorly paid care-work, I finally had time to read and think and study again, and forge wonderful friendships, and breathe the fairytale air of the north. That sounds romanticised, and it was, but well, that’s me. In York I did my masters and began my PhD, in York I fell in love. Felix and Antonia would not exist had Michael and I not met here.

minster2 So it felt strange and lovely to be back, in this city which is at once pretty and mysterious, cosy and ancient, cradling and awe inspiring. And it felt odd, to begin with, to have the little ones at my side, to not be able to slip into uninterrupted reveries or read for hours in coffee shops. And I missed Michael. But I soon got used to showing the little ones around, and how lovely it was to see Felix entranced by the stained glass window interactive displays in the minster. ‘They cook glass like dinner’, he told me, ‘did they cook the glass in our house too?’ There is a model train shop near our apartment which I must have walked past hundreds of times but never noticed until now – we have to stop every time to watch the train go through the tunnel.

minster4 minster7 I have visited old friends and old places, I have walked old paths. It feels good to be here. I’m staying in an excellent little apartment just outside the city walls, that just happens to be at a midpoint between the two houses I used to live in. It’s just behind a huge painted sign that is visible from the city walls that says ‘bile beans are good for you’ – impossible not to notice.

minster12 It feels right to be tucked away just here, in a place I rode past and walked past and spotted from the walls – here, now, with two small beings. Here, in a place awash with history, I feel I can almost touch my former lives, my former selves. I can wave, but feel no need to go back. I can wave, also, at the self who may visit here in ten years, in twenty, but I am here now, this moment, and it is good.

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York

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Made it to York. Nostalgia plus. Such pivotal years of my life were spent here. It rained this afternoon, so I bought a fancy sticker book about London for Felix and a bath book about rainy days for Antonia in Waterstones, then took them both to the cinema cafe for hot chocolate and hot chips. Travelling solo with two children is not always the most relaxing of endeavours. But on the way to Sainsburys, Felix in the stroller, Antonia in the carrier, a woman noticed I had my hands full and stopped to admire Antonia’s curls. And Felix, too. ‘They are lovely’, she said. And they are. And now they are sleeping, and I have, thanks to Sainsburys, raspberries, creme brulee, tea, chocolate and wine, and all is right in the world.

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Felix: asleep with his mouse and his London bus.

Antonia: swinging with my brother. Antonia is discerning with new people but she loved Jon immediately.

I spent this week in London with the kids while Michael was in America. We stayed in a hostel near Hyde Park and visited my brother and his girlfriend, went to six different playgrounds, five museums, and went on the underground, a London bus, taxis, an a boat on the Thames. And walked and walked and walked.

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Felix: at the beach on our last day in Germany.

Antonia: learned to clap this week! What an achievement this is! She is so so pleased with herself. She’s wearing the most gorgeous cardigan here that my Nanna made for her. I took this photo up at the lawns of the fortress where we spent the day with my aunt and uncle, visiting from Australia.

Linking with Jodi for a portrait of my children once a week (a little late, this time) in 2015.

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Felix: posing at a mock castle with Michael’s SLR – Felix had such fun taking photos on our holiday (another post to follow soon, hopefully).

Antonia: loving the beach at Schonberg Strand, near Kiel, on our last day in Germany.

We had a fabulous time in Germany (or Deutchland, as Felix insists), and got home last Sunday. I have so many photos to share with you but our internet is broken! I am snatching ten minutes of internet time in a cafe while Antonia naps in her stroller.

Linking belatedly with Jodi for a portrait of my children once a week in 2015.

Grandparent love

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We’ve been staying in a holiday apartment in Kassel, but spending a couple of hours every day with Michael’s folks. They’ve loved having us around for so long. We took these pictures in a restaurant known as the Waffle Queen, which serves the most remarkable array of waffles. They took me here the first spring I was in Kassel, ten years ago. Michael says he doesn’t remember it, but I have been itching to get back every trip since. I had a lebkuchen (christmas gingerbread) waffle with chocolate icecream and sour cherries. It did not disappoint.

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22/52

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Felix: contemplating something, crumbs and all, in a playground in Luxembourg.

Antonia: so excited to try out the baby back pack. Felix never really got into it, but she was so very pleased with her new view that she sat there smiling to the point of laughter for half an hour, then fell asleep.

Linking with Jodi for a portrait of my children once a week in 2015.

Nine Months

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You have learnt to wave and say bye bye. This sounds like a simple thing. It is not, it is not. On Sunday night, I ducked inside from Richard and Polina’s dinner table to fetch a glass of water. When I came back, Polina and her mother told me – ‘she said goodbye when you left’. ‘What?’ I said, astounded. Shortly after that, I picked you up to take you upstairs to bed. I held you on my hip and you looked at everyone, grinning broadly. ‘Bye bye’, they all said. And you waved. You lifted one of your arms, and you waved at them. ‘Ba – bye’, you said hesitantly. And grinned some more.

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You waved at your Oma and Opa today, too, when we left. I gave you plenty of time. You smiled and smiled. And then lifted one arm and waved, and my heart flipped over.

You are so very pleased and proud to be learning this social convention. It feels like entering a whole new world. You have to think about it, hard, and you seem a little amazed yourself.

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You love to giggle and bounce – I wake every morning to the round and cheerful face of a gambolling baby who dive-bombs my face to plant huge kisses, and then tries to climb on top of me. If you wake in the night and there is not a nipple in your mouth within seconds you give a cry of such desolation – you would think we had abandoned you in a mouldering cave. But you are easily soothed. You are squidgy and soft and never stop exploring. As your Oma says, you have new curls every day. I sing to you: ‘I love you ba-aby, and if it’s quite alright I need you ba-aby’. Felix consoles you in the car if you every get upset: ‘Anti-Banti it’s not so bad.’ Your father calls you Anti-Banti and Bubble Delicious. Dear, dear baby. We love you so.

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Felix: leaning on huge stone ball he discovered in front of a palace in a park in Kassel, Germany.

Antonia: I just love this photo. She was completely blissed out, humming quietly to herself – hhhhhhhhnnnnnnn – and gazing at her Daddy as we explored Luxembourg. Just so happy and relaxed. This weekend, for the first time, she waved and said bye bye.

We are one week in to a three week stint away from home. We are spending most of it in Kassel, with Michael’s parents, but we just returned from a weekend in Luxembourg, staying with my cousin Richard and his family. Richard moved to London from Australia almost exactly the same time I moved to the UK, about 12 years ago. I remember wandering some London markets with him before I started my masters in York. He visited me in York many times and I stayed with him in London frequently – Stansted airport was my main route out of the country and I made full use of the mattress on his floor. We would go out for an indian meal and then stay up late discussing life, love, and everything.  We both met our partners in the UK and now he’s based in Luxembourg and I’m in Norway. Last night we had a BBQ on his balcony and our boys capered around playing hide and seek and ghostbusters as we sipped red wine and Antonia chewed on asparagus. ‘It must have been a bit like this for our parents when we were small’, he said, and it was a funny thought. And a nice one. Watching our sons walking along, holding hands, is one of the sweetest things I’ve ever seen.

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The secret path (20/52)

walk Okay it’s not really a secret path, it was only a secret from me, not being a particularly avid map reader. I am in fact a terrible map reader, to the great and recurring frustration of a certain nearest and dearest. But Michael got a book of family friendly walks for his birthday, and I am determined to use it. The first one starts a mere five minute walk from our door, and follows a hidden valley down into town, so we can end up in our favourite cafe. I had never noticed noticed the beginning of the footpath sneaking past a garden, although I have walked past it so many times. walk2 After initially being nervous that it would ‘take too long’, Felix thought ‘oh, come one’ (his words) and decided to join the adventure. We first walked it yesterday and got drenched by a sudden downpour half way down (part of the adventure, I assured Felix). We spotted the waterfall but couldn’t walk past it, as the path there was steep, narrow and muddy, and I had the stroller with me. Luckily there was a way out back to the main road at that point. Today we walked it again, taking Antonia in the ergo carrier instead. walk5 Felix was impressed the stream criss-crossed the path via a series of pipes. walk6 I couldn’t believe this was all just here, so close to the road we drive up and down daily. It felt a little bit like I’d stumbled through a fairy door to a magical forest. Which is romanticising things considerably, but, well, that’s me. walk3walk9 We nearly didn’t take the steep muddy path after all (I had visions of one or other of us tumbling down the slope, and how was I to rescue Felix with Antonia strapped to my chest), but after Felix’s howl of disappointment I thought why not give it a go. It wasn’t as bad as it looked and the scary bit didn’t last for long. We were very proud of ourselves to come out the other side. I can’t wait to explore some more! walk4

Barnas Dag II

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Looking back on this post from last year made me so nostalgic. Who is that little boy clutching his raggedy bear, nervous about meeting the police? Bear still sleeps with Felix but he is not essential and never leaves the house. Felix wears the same overalls but we don’t need to roll them up any more. This year at Barnas Dag, we met up with some friends and had a gorgeous day. Felix played the piano in our favourite cafe, examined the tulips, bounced on a bouncy castle, got to try a fire hose, and queued impatiently to sit in the fire engine.

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Once it was his turn he efficiently tried every switch he could get his hands on, until he actually managed to turn on the siren! Luckily he managed to turn it off again just as fast.

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We didn’t succeed in getting a fireman’s hat this time as we were at the shopping centre at the wrong time, but Felix did spot two men dressed as what he assumed to be ghost-busters, and as we walked back, he didn’t stop asking me what the ghost-busters were doing there, because he thought ghosts didn’t come out during the day. Maybe ghosts are real, Mummy, he said.

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Felix: off for an adventure, umbrella in hand, prancing along the wall of a ruined Norwegian farm house on our way to find some bronze age stone carvings. We were cooped up at home on Monday and Tuesday as Felix was sick, so by Wednesday we were ready to explore.

Antonia: Nine months old yesterday, gleefully showing off her newest skill, covered in strawberry stains from breakfast. Everyone tells me she’ll be walking soon. I tell her there’s no rush!

Linking with Jodi of a portrait of my children once a week in 2015.

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Munchkins by the sea

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It’s the tail-end of a long weekend here and I’m pleased to report that we did something fun outside every day. On Friday we went to an outdoor kids day in the forest with some friends, and Felix got to shoot an airgun. (With some help from me and careful supervision from the experts.) There were other activities as well, mostly aimed at slightly older kids. It was a little stressful as we weren’t sure how it all worked and to be honest we have a preference for quiet trips to the forest, but I’m glad we went, and I’d be game to go again next year. We took the camera but didn’t have the right card in it, so no photos.

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Yesterday I took the kids to the harbour in the morning (see previous post), and today we went with some German friends to a beach in Sweden. I had tried to meet them there nearly two years ago and got lost on the way, so this time I made sure we followed them.

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Felix had a wonderful time hopping on the rocks, peering at the shrimp that our friends caught in the net, and trying to build a dam in a little stream.

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It was also a good weekend for baking: waffles, scones, pancakes and ANZAC biscuits, as well as a delicious vegetarian shepherd’s pie, and Michael mowed the lawn.

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We tend to fall into a rut and just do the same old things, so I’m glad with a little encouragement from our friends we tried out a couple of different things. I also managed to play with Felix a couple of times – this doesn’t sound like much but too often I get to the end of a day which has been punctuated by repeated requests to play with him, and find that I have not. So during Antonia’s first nap this morning instead of saying immediately ‘no I can’t – I need to do this first…’, I said ‘ok’, when he told me we would play with the digger and the truck. He drove the tiny digger around on the mini truck, and it was my job to dig the holes. ‘What are you going to dig, Mummy?’ ‘A foundation for the new town hall,’ I said, remembering Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, which Mum has read to Felix lots of times. So we dug lots of foundations and used the magnet shapes to build buildings on top of them, and it was lovely. rosso3

I felt a bit flat and aimless at the beginning of last week, but I managed to turn it around, making sure I spent time with friends and their children. On Thursday I took Antonia to an ‘open’ barnehage – a place with kindergarten facilities but you can’t leave kids there – you have to stay and play with them. She was badly in need of some new stimulation and she had a ball – I’ll definitely go again this week. Everyone keeps saying to enjoy this time before I go back to work, so I have decided that I will. And it is so nice on a Sunday evening to have the memories of the silvery light on the water and the little balls of seaweed, and the clear air all around.

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My boy, bearing a gift. Felix loves flowers. A couple of weeks ago, when we were in Fredrikstad, he picked six different kinds of brand new spring flowers on the way from the park to the car, and was devastated that they had mostly died by the time we got home. Just under a year ago in Fredrikstad he managed to badly cut his finger on a rose thorn, and still talks about how some pink flowers are spiky.

We took his bike into town today and he rode around the harbour, like this time last year. After a cinnamon roll at our favourite cafe Felix rode around and around the harbour – it was a golden, expansive, perfect five minutes and he picked a flower for me. Then he realised the outing was not going to include a toy shop and suddenly he ran out of energy and the ride back to the car was not so relaxing. But you get to choose which five minutes to hold on to, right?

Dear Antonia. The photo I wish I took of her happened yesterday: Antonia sitting in a tiny island of space in the midst of a sea of ALL the wooden trains and train tracks strewn about her, grinning up at me, cheerfully chewing on the tail of a plastic stegosaurus. Felix had decided to tip all the trains out while we were busy packing a picnic lunch (and to visualise this properly, you probably need to be familiar with quite how many trains live here), but we couldn’t be annoyed – the two of them were so delightfully content, sifting through the trains and tracks together.

But the camera was not nearby. So here is my darling in the cafe at the harbour today, just before we went out there with Felix’s bike. Some of my friends have said all along she reminds them of my Mum, and in this photo I see it.

Linking with Jodi for a portrait of my children once a week in 2015.

And now I have to show you all the other photos I took of Felix, because they are just too adorable. The dandelion is now wilting in my bag, after I rescued it from being eaten by Antonia in the park. But who could resist?

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Nine months later

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It’s nearly nine months since Antonia was born – we are nearly at the point that she has spent more of her life outside of me than inside. Tonight the long spring evening was calling my name and I snuck out for a walk, as I did nearly every night for the last four months of my pregnancy. I could not stay out long – Antonia is a notoriously bad sleeper and I didn’t want to leave Michael with an inconsolable baby. Though, touch wood, the evenings are improving slightly at the moment and pretty soon I think there’ll be a two hour window when she doesn’t need me, so hopefully more evening walks are in my future. They are just utterly lovely – quiet, glassy, cool, the sky strewn with pastel clouds, and no small creatures asking me to play, or for another drink, or why can’t they have jelly for breakfast, or MAYBE they can have a new toy, just MAYBE, or even snuggling or sucking or crying, or crawling under coffee tables. Just the pale sky and the tiny leaves on the hedges.

Thanks in part to how wretchedly sick I was about a month ago, I now fit comfortably into all the clothes I wore before I got pregnant. I no longer need to roll over sideways to sit up in bed. The ability to sit up directly from lying down still impresses me – it took nearly half a year to return. I’ve been wearing my old favourite pair of jeans, and it’s funny to think about the point at which they got too tight, the small firm lump I never tired of checking was still there, that grew and grew. Before bed I would look at myself in the mirror, with wonder.

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A pregnancy draws your attention inside, within. I found it ridiculously difficult to concentrate on work in my last trimester. To the point at which I delayed and delayed finishing an article that I ended up having to write in Australia, and to which I am still adding the finishing touches. It would have been easier then. But I just couldn’t.

I had waited so long for this pregnancy. In June 2013 I sat on the sofa for two weeks, knitting. I had just been through surgery to take care of my third consecutive miscarriage, at close to ten weeks. The first two had been much earlier but so sad all the same, and now I didn’t know if it would ever work for me again. It seemed extra cruel that my latest miscarriage happened around the due date of the first one. So I ordered some thick, soft organic cotton, and made a baby blanket. My head and my heart didn’t believe at that point that I would ever have another baby, but my fingers did. I let myself imagine a baby lying on the blanket on the floor. I had no idea how much of Antonia’s early life would be spent wrapped up in it. I called it the magic blanket: it soothed her and me perfectly every time.

For by the end of November I was pregnant. I suspected before I even took the test, because things smelled different. And within a couple of days of knowing, I was sure it was a girl. I remember pushing Felix on the swing in Stirling, Australia, feeling revoltingly nauseous, around nine weeks pregnant, saying to Mum – ‘It’s definitely a girl. I’m just saying this to you now so later you believe me when I tell you I knew all along.’ ‘Don’t be so sure!’ she said. But I was.

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Of course, for the first twelve weeks or so, I was very nervous. And unspeakably tired. And pretty sick – much sicker than I had been with Felix. Not as awful as many women have it, but not pleasant. I was in Australia for the second half of the first trimester, and I told my parents and grandparents what was happening, but few others. I hit twelve weeks just as we left, but I didn’t want to say anything publicly before another scan. I’d had two scans in Australia – one around seven and one at ten weeks – and the little flickering heartbeat was the most beautiful thing in the world. We had a lovely radiologist doing the second scan, and she moved us to another machine so she could print us out a picture. ‘The most important thing’, she joked. ‘No,’ I said, staring in relief at the tiny, persistent heartbeat, ‘that’s the most important thing.’

I remember up to around 20 weeks, or maybe more, looping a hair-tie around the button of my jeans so I could keep wearing them. I had to let work know around 16 weeks, because it was getting obvious, at least to the most discerning of my colleagues.

I am writing all this down now while it is still a recent memory so I don’t forget. The nicest things about that pregnancy were: my chats with Felix, such as those I recorded here and here; my long evening walks; the gorgeous summer weeks I spent with Felix at the lake; and feeling Antonia’s little kicks while I was at work. I interviewed for my dream job when I was about twenty weeks pregnant, and I got it, because Norway is amazing like that. And when they told me I’d won my job, I went downstairs to the little cafe, and sat with a coffee and the article I was reading, as Antonia prodded me gently, feeling like the luckiest person on earth. And all the time, it was you.

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Felix: his latest creation: squares inside cubes. These magnet shapes were his birthday present from my Grandma, and he has played with them so much.

Antonia: crawling at great speed across the hallway, curly as anything after her bath.

Today was Michael’s birthday and we invited some friends over and had a lovely but busy time eating marzipan cake and ANZAC biscuits. I’ve been finding it hard to keep up the photographs recently, so I snapped these just before bedtime this evening (a bit like last week). But I don’t mind the very ordinary moments they capture  – the kids’ scatty energy at 6.30pm, the open dishwasher, the hallway. We won’t always live here, I guess, and I do love this house – its squareness, its snugness, its windows. Antonia is so very pleased that she can open the door from the lounge to the hall herself, and crawl all the way across it and into the bathroom. And Felix, these days, is a non-stop creator – rockets and balls out of magnet shapes, drawings of trees and flags, geometric patterns with his little plastic beads.

Linking with Jodi for a portrait of my children once a week in 2015.

And I couldn’t resist a couple of extra shots of the curls.

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Happy birthday Mum

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This week I bought myself some baggy terracotta coloured pants, and wearing them I feel a little as though I am channeling my Mum, as she was about 30 years ago, when she was young(er), when she had small children. I’m sure she had pants a bit like them. She’s told me many times that the happiest years of her life were those when her children were little. I don’t feel she’s dismissing other times in her life when she says this, but little children are so grounding, you need to be so present with them, it is special. And uncomplicated in a way, although certainly challenging.

Mum always says she loved being 30; she felt when she turned 30 she had it all sorted out. Of course, she adds, shortly after that it all came crumbling down. But I admire the way she sorts it out after all, again and again. (Mostly by realising it doesn’t need to be all sorted out, I think, but loving and trusting and being present anyway.)

Anyway, I was walking into town the other day, feeling a bit like my Mum and trying to remember what she was like when she was my age, and younger than my age – she was only 25 when I was born, but I was 35 when Antonia was born. I remember her wearing autumnal colours and knitting herself a jumper with llamas on it, and talking to me from the kitchen as I drew at the table. And she would buy huge blocks of real clay for us to make things with. And all the time she was piecing together the beginnings of a new career, having decided not to go back to teaching history in high schools.

She will still do anything in the world for me, without it seeming an imposition. She’s happy to mend my clothes, listen without judgement, come for late night walks with me, chat on skype whenever the fancy takes me, play endlessly with Felix, change Antonia’s diapers, travel across the world to be with me when my babies are born. All this and work full time and be similarly grounding and reflective for our whole extended family, the children and young adults she counsels, the psychologists and social workers she manages and mentors, and pretty much anyone else who needs her. Even Antonia adores her, beaming already as soon as I turn on skype.

Her best friend, her sister, her parents and my dad are all having (or have had) dinner with her, so my birthday wish for Mum is a walk in the sun, nowhere special to be, no problems to solve for anyone, a moment to breathe, like the one I had on Wednesday, walking into town in the shiny spring sunshine, daydreaming in my terracotta pants.

Sending you so much love from all of us – we can’t wait to see you in July. xxx

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Eight months

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I’ve written this post in my head so many times, but I’d better get something down before my dear munchkin is nine months! This month, dear girl, you have been on the move. You mastered crawling (and cut your two top teeth) the week we got back from Germany, so just before you turned eight months. And you have picked up speed ever since. You love doors, swinging them back and forth and then crawling through the doorway, especially the door between the hallway and the lounge. Right next to it is our wood oven, which is also very popular (we’re not lighting it at the moment) and you’ve even managed to open it a couple of times.

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When you’ve had enough exploring you always crawl back to me, cling on to my legs, saying mmmmm mmmmmm mmmmm. When I pick you up you hug me tight, pulling my face towards you and sucking my cheek, or burying your head in my chest. It’s pretty fantastic.

It just about makes up for our (very) fragmented nights, when you need me so.

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At exactly eight months, you weighed 11.65kg, and were 75.5cm.

You have just now, and eight and a half months, started actually swallowing a bit more food. Broccoli and strawberries are still popular, you’re getting good at eating fish, and you’re quite partial to a hot chip. (Not the best idea I know, better start avoiding that…) Plain yoghurt is one of your favourite things ever, and you also love cheese. When we all sit down to eat, you say quietly ‘nom nom nom!’ and it is truly adorable.

You and your brother are quite a team.

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The last couple of days it’s been warm enough to play outside in the afternoon and evening and you have loved it – you giggle your head off if we bounce you on the trampoline, and you love to cruise the grass, sampling grass and twigs, looking for baby pinecones (which I promptly confiscate).

I feel so ridiculously lucky. I love you so.

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A room of my own

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I braved a solo trip to IKEA last week, Antonia in tow, to buy a carpet and an armchair I’ve been coveting for two years. I wasn’t sure the chair would fit in the car, and it nearly didn’t. After fifteen minutes pushing and heaving and repositioning in the drizzling rain, Antonia perched obligingly on the front seat, I was just about to give up when I finally managed to shut the car boot. I raised my arms in triumph and a passing couple cheered. ‘Super mama!’ they said.

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I’m a bit in love with the chair and the rug, and am certain they will be conducive to writing and reading, once I work out what to do with the very lightly sleeping baby in the adjoining room…

The week before I took both kids and we got a bed for Felix.

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He’s very pleased with it, and pleased as well with the little mouse he talked me into buying for him, which has slept with him every night since. He named it Antonia Elinor Celeste.

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Felix: chilling out on a Sunday evening after a busy weekend of baking, socialising, and bouncing in the sun.

Antonia: doing the same.

Often there’s a sweet spot after dinner in which the kids are happy enough to bumble around for a while and we can even drink a cup of tea. This evening Felix was a little overwrought after a full afternoon playing with Michael and our visitors – he was still demanding loudly that we play with him,  but we all needed quiet, so Thomas the Tank Engine and pita bread pizza came to the rescue. There is quite a lot of satisfaction in giving your kid exactly what they need when they need it. Antonia had more energy to play after a big drink of milk. Now both munchkins are asleep (for the moment at least) and we are savouring the quiet. Happy Sunday evening to you all. x

Linking with Jodi for a portrait of my children once a week in 2015.

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Today we went to the Inspiria Science Center for the birthday party of one of Felix’s classmates. Felix could not get enough. He was still scampering around, testing out the various exhibits four hours after we arrived, when everyone else had gone home. His favourite was a magnetic parachute launcher, but these giant amber coloured beads gave me the best photo. Antonia enjoyed herself as well – after a long nap in the ergo she was pretty excited to clamber all the way to the end of this tunnel and out again.

Linking with Jodi for a portrait of my children every week in 2015.

More fun below.

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Happy Easter!

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We normally go away for Easter, and so, for that matter, do most of our friends. This time, we all stayed put, and it has been so nice. I’ve made hot cross buns (twice), done Easter crafts with Felix, lit candles, chilled out with the family, dressed Antonia up like a little bunny, and taken the kids on a walk to look for beavers. And today we went around to our friend’s house for an Easter egg hunt – four little boys careering round the garden collecting their sweets were a sight to behold. Happy Easter!

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Felix, sporting a new crooked haircut (it always takes me a few days to straighten up the ends), lets me take photos of him in the window of the harbour cafe as he gleefully repeats some nonsense phrase that appeals to him for some reason or another, probably concerning planes or cars. He immediately wants to look at the pictures of him saying whatever it was. We’ve just been to the dentist, next door, and are having a coffee (me) and a bun (him) before I take him back to barnehage. I have a fever (and will be so very unwell for most of the week) but it is a nice morning all the same.

Antonia, unapologetic, has crawled into the centre of Felix’s train track. Felix has tried a variety of strategies to thwart her efforts, such as barricades of toys and chairs, but nothing works. ‘Mummy! Watch her! She’s getting there! Stop her!’ Luckily she’s not so destructive as she was during her first few successful encounters with it, now she’s explored it thoroughly already.

It’s been so enchanting watching the little crawling bundle exploring her space. I watched her realise she could crawl round corners. ‘Heh! Hah!’ puff puff puff ‘Dadadadada!’ as she engines along towards Felix’s play kitchen. I plopped her in the kitchen the other day when I was making breakfast, so she would stay away from the aforementioned train track. She bumbled around a little bit, and then she noticed the doorway. She looked through the doorway, to Felix playing. Norwegian doorways all have a bit of raised wood that you need to step over to go through them (I’m not really sure why, maybe something to do with heat retention), and up till now it had visually contained her within a room. But I could see her thinking – hang on, I could get over that. ‘Hah!’ she said, ‘heh!’ And then ‘maaaaeh!’, when after five minutes it still didn’t work. To begin with she couldn’t get her knees over, but later in the day she mastered it, spending a good half an hour crawling back and forth over it once she’d figured it out. I’m so proud of my clambering explorer, and I dearly wish I could let her loose in my Grandma’s kitchen.

Linking with Jodi for a portrait of my children once a week in 2015.

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A long way away

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Thinking of my cousin Hannah and her husband Lochie today, and the loss, too sad for words, of their daughter Chelsea Anne, who died mere days before she was meant to be born, for no good reason. As I go to bed in Norway, a new day starts in Australia, and it is her funeral. We wish it did not have to be. We wish we could all wake up into any other world.

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Here is Felix in Berlin as he prepares to go down the steepest slide I have ever seen. The boy has no fear.

And Antonia not appreciating being made to pose looking into the sun. She has the sweetest little lips. Antonia has mastered crawling forwards this week and cut a top tooth (and nearly a second one). I meant to try to take some photos of her crawling to reach her brother’s train track, but I have not been well at all this weekend, so will try another time.

Linking with Jodi for a portrait of my children once a week in 2015.

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What was I saying about spring?

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We’re back in Norway. I spent Antonia’s midday nap today shovelling snow.

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It’s pretty cosy inside though. Here’s our toy storage space in our living room, with an added box of baby toys. It’s been fun revisiting the things Felix used to play with. The two wicker baskets are still stuffed to the top with wooden trains and tracks, in use almost daily. This week Antonia has perfected crawling forward, so the tracks are frequently in peril.

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I finally managed to hang up a picture of the two of them that I took last year. ‘Do what you love.’

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More love in the park

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I just love this photo Michael snapped of the three of us. Felix is showing me a triangular stone. We went back there today and he found a stone shaped like the tail of a plane. He insisted I actually look at it instead of just saying ‘hmmmm, that’s great’, and it really was!

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We are in Germany at the moment and Oma and Opa have been soaking in their grandchildren.

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Felix and Antonia: having the best time ever in a park in Germany this week. It was Antonia’s first proper swing. (Here’s a post about one of Felix’s first swings In those photos he’s a month older than Antonia is now). Felix insisted on pushing her high. She could not stop chuckling and Felix had a ball. They kept it up for ages. Just the sweetest things. These two adore each other. Tonight in the bath Antonia was laughing and laughing at Felix saying ‘monster!’ in a silly voice and splashing water around.

Linking with Jodi for a portrait of my children every week in 2015. Bonus photos below.

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Spring

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It feels a little cheeky, having entirely skipped the winter, but I am marvelling at spring all the same. The bulbs in the park in town are piercing through the earth, nothing can stop them.

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The buds of baby pine cones on our tree are barely visible, but they are there.

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Felix picked handfuls of the old pinecones yesterday as we picnicked in the garden.

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It was the first time we’ve got out there this year. Antonia slept.

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Whitby came to join the party.

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Felix was so pleased when Antonia woke up again, wearing his old red coat. I thought of all our other springs in this place. Baby Felix peering up at blossoms. Toddler Felix helping build the sandbox. Or playing with the pinecones. Three year old Felix cycling round the deck, thinking about the baby inside me, telling me he missed me before he was born. And now there is another spring, a new one, and I am glad.

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Felix: Fireman’s hat on, so proud of the towers he built while I attempted to put Antonia to sleep. He told me the tallest tower fell over several times but he didn’t mind, he just tried again. He discovered it worked best if he saves the lightest blocks for the top. I’m so proud of him.

Antonia: Recovering from a nasty cold; entranced by her hands.

I took both of these photos on Friday, a good and jam-packed day, despite Antonia being awake for several hours the night before with a fever. Felix goes to barnehage four days a week and stays home with me for one. We had Felix’s four year check-up (a bit of a non-event, but we discovered his eyesight is quite good), ate buns in our favourite cafe, swung on the swings outside the library while we waited for it for open, read books there for an hour, walked back through town, came home for lunch, made block towers, baked ANZAC biscuits, had a picnic on the lawn while Antonia napped in the stroller, bounced on the trampoline, cooked and ate dinner and even cleaned up the kitchen before I tipped the two little ones into the bath. I’m channeling my Aunty Anne these days – she said to me recently, reminiscing on raising her four children: ‘I remember thinking: I don’t need to sit down now, even though I wish I could, there will be time enough for that once they have grown up. And there is.’

I love the concentration on Antonia’s face in the photo above, but I just have to include this one, too.

Linking with Jodi for a portrait of my children once a week in 2015.

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Seven months

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Being seven months old with a big, adoring, bouncy brother is quite an experience. This evening Antonia laughed and laughed at Felix’s game of throwing a balloon to Michael and me, and then trying to catch it himself. This morning when she started complaining in her highchair while I was getting Felix’s lunchbox ready, Felix found a board book about a snowman and ‘read’ it to her to keep her happy.

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I’ve been enjoying kicking around the house with her once again. At seven months Antonia loves to chat, loves to smile at strangers, loves to wriggle around, give slobby kisses, snatch glasses, do downward dogs and get up on her hands and knees, but she still hasn’t figured out crawling forwards. In the car, she still sings herself to sleep. She’s been enjoying talking to my Mum on skype – now she starts smiling already the moment I log in.

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She is our cheeky gorgeous babe and we love her so.

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Felix: Jet-lagged and tired after a day at barnehage, but concentrating hard on ‘cooking’ dinner in his mini kitchen. I love the light in our house on sunny afternoons. Felix has been enjoying systematically reacquainting himself with his old toys. It has been delightful to see how easily he’s transitioned to being back here, though today he insisted that we ring both Grandma and Grandma Ruth. Also this week, for the first time in his life, he’s told us three nights in a row: ‘I want to go to bed now’. Which, I must admit, I do too.

Antonia: Trying to get the camera strap. Many people offer comments about Antonia when I’m out and about. ‘Look at her arms’, said a florist in Adelaide – ‘she’s a Michelin baby!’ ‘It doesn’t look like she skips any meals’, said a Norwegian lady in a cafe last year. My favourite was from a mother at a paddling pool in Adelaide – ‘Oh, is that your baby? She’s spectacular.’ And somebody else, I can’t remember who, said – ‘she has possibly – no, definitely – the best baby cheeks I have ever seen.’ And she is truly delicious. How lucky am I, to kiss those cheeks all day.

I suspect Antonia’s eyes may go hazel-green like Felix’s and my own, but for the moment they are blue as blue, especially around the edges. I love this deep blue cardigan we bought in Australia, and it matches our favourite nick-name for her, Bubble.

Linking with Jodi for a portrait of my children once a week in 2015.

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Back

I need to write some of this down before it fades. The flight back went very well, despite some anxiety about boarding passes in Kuala Lumpur airport. The kids slept well and played well and were generally agreeable, and did not get sick which was appreciated. I got some motion sickness tablets for Felix and who knows if he needs them or not but every other long haul flight over the past two years has ended in vomit, so I’ll definitely be packing them from now on. Felix was a little bored sitting around on the plane but he entertained himself admirably. I didn’t even have an ipad for him. He was absolutely gorgeous in the airports, insisting on walking himself and pulling his little suitcase, but quite happily going as fast as I asked him to in order to find our gate. In Doha airport by the time they announced boarding for families with small children and business class passengers, everyone else had already started queuing, so I decided to barge past them all. ‘Excuse me!’ I said. Felix piped up gleefully: ‘Coming through! We have a baby and a little guy, coming through!’

We were all so happy to see Michael again. We arrived at 7.30 in the morning and Felix did not stop talking all day, not even napping in the car on the way back to Halden, until he crashed into bed at 6pm. Antonia chuckled and wriggled whenever Michael looked at her, and when we went to our favourite cafe in the afternoon, was only interested in tasting Michael’s bun, not mine.

Driving into Halden felt so strange. Michael said it had felt strange to him to – in your mind are still all the roads and paths and light and routines of the place you have left, and you have to let them go and replace them with those of this place, but you are reluctant at first, you try to hold on. Norway has obliged by making it as easy as possible for me with a week of cold sunshine and frosted grass. Yesterday morning I looked out of the window and there were four young deer stepping carefully across our lawn.

Our friends are eager to see us. We feel welcomed. Felix has slotted back into barnehage life without a hiccup. I haven’t quite got enough winter things for Antonia to wear, but we are getting by. The days are light-filled. It was very clever of me to skip February.

When I walked in the door to our little house I thought – how is it possible to live in a house so small? It is perfectly possible, of course, and very lovely even, as long as you stay on top of all the cleaning and putting stuff away, so I have been attacking those things with gusto, making the small changes to our living space needed for a nearly seven month old baby instead of a three month one. An extra box of toys on the shelf instead of the box of changes of clothes we had down here before. The difference in Antonia and in the shape of our family after a space of three months is significant. She sits at the table with us now in her highchair. We need four glasses for water at dinner, so I pulled out a jug for water for us all, and it felt special. Antonia loves to drink water from a glass – she flaps her arms out wide with excitement, then grips the top of the glass and takes a couple of sips before blowing raspberries in it. Soon the novelty of all this will collapse into the every day, but I hope some of the specialness can stay.

At the library

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These photos taken at the library didn’t quite work out but I love them all the same. I have so enjoyed taking Felix up here to story time once a week, and Antonia has enjoyed watching the other children and playing with these bead things.

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After a month of coming to story time once a week I was starting to get to know some of the parents, and last week a few of them said ‘see you next week’, and I had to say, no, actually, you won’t, we’ll be in another world by then.

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Felix: trying to blow bubbles outside my Grandma’s house. The bubbles weren’t working too well by now but I love his patient concentration and the way the light reflects up at him from the sunny pavement.

Antonia: cheeky smiles in the park. Bonus photos below. Tomorrow we hop on a plane (well, three planes) back to the cold.

Linking with Jodi for a portrait of my children once a week in 2015.

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Over the bridge

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Felix woke up this morning with his loud voice. I could hear it from my bedroom as he bossed my Mum around: ‘Gwanma!’ When Mum left for work he brought his loud voice into my bedroom, cheerfully waking Antonia and flopping on our bed.

‘I want to go to Marion Bridge!’ he announced. ‘Murray Bridge’, I said, ‘Why?’ (Knowing full well it was just because Mum was working there today.) ‘To go over the bridge,’ he said.

And the darlings are finally asleep and I should be too but it is too tempting to stay up and breathe. The success of my days is measured in smiles and cuddles and windswept playgrounds but sometimes I lift my head.

The tiny achievements of the small beings closest to me are endlessly fascinating to me. My heart skips a little to see Antonia edge closer and closer to crawling. The moments I want to remember are those when they are ‘in the groove’, doing their thing, curious, content. Antonia singing to us – ‘bababababa!’ Felix deciding to pick mint, basil and tomatoes for dinner, and finding appropriate bowls for them from the cupboard. He can do it unsupervised, knowing to leave the green ones to ripen.

Like I said, endlessly fascinating – to me and Mum and Dad and Michael, and hardly anyone else.

And of course there are the other moments which I don’t particularly want to remember at all.

And apart from that, here, there’s my family, and my old old friends, and parks and gorgeous sunshine, and I’ll be leaving it all soon and that’s ok. Somewhere in the air and the light here is the self I was twelve and fifteen and thirty years ago, and if I look sideways briefly I can almost see her. And somewhere, I guess, is the self I would have been if I never had left. I see her in playgrounds and in libraries and I wonder.

But an aeroplane and a white house and cold air and a tightly coiled spring await me, and I’m coming.

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Felix licks the spoon, Antonia has to content herself with the unused juicer.

I took these pictures on Tuesday in my Grandma’s kitchen. We turned up unannounced early Tuesday morning, and Grandma declared delightedly – ‘well, that sorts out my morning for me! I’m not going to the gym after all.’ We played on the lawn for a while while Granddad worked in the garden, and Felix made a duplo train track outside. Antonia had a short nap. Felix flicked through one of Grandma’s fancy cook-books, and asked ‘can we make these?’ ‘They look a bit too complicated’, said Grandma, ‘but we could make muffins.’

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Felix carefully mashed the bananas and measured out the chocolate chips. He was entranced by the special drawers Grandma has for flour and sugar, just as I had been as a child.

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When Antonia woke up, Grandma gave her some cups and things to play with, just has she had for Felix, three years ago.

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As the muffins cooked, the pair of them capered about on the floor for a bit. One of the worst things about living in Norway is being so far away from here, but right now, for another week, we are soaking it in.

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Linking with Jodi for a portrait of my children each week in 2015.

Four

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Happy birthday to my dearest four year old, who whoops with delight at his bright green ice cream cake, then blows each candle out gently, one by one, then insists that everyone tastes it, and checks that we can save a piece for Grandma. Who makes friends with ‘little guys’ in playgrounds and cafes in two seconds flat, but is nearly too scared to listen to a picture book about little chicks and a fox, and then listens anyway, his hands over his ears. We couldn’t have invented you. We love you so.

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We had pretty much the perfect day on Felix’s birthday last Friday. I stayed up past midnight the night before re-building the trackmaster Thomas tracks he received for Christmas, as his most dearly held wish for his birthday was more ‘plastic trains’, and he would need to be able to try them out immediately. (This is a feat about 20 times as complicated as it sounds, but I can say that now I’m a pro.) He unwrapped his presents on the steps in the morning. ‘Plastic Charlie! . . . ‘Plastic Emily!’

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Mum had most of the day off so we took him to the Royal Copenhagen ice cream shop in Brighton for a pancake and ice cream breakfast. ‘We should come here again’, he said, whilst polishing off substantial portions of his chocolate smeared crepe, strawberries and chocolate ice cream. He then made friends with a little girl and sat in the window seat with her pushing his little car back and forth.

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It was then time for sandcastles, a swim and a wander on the jetty, before lunch and heading back home to play. My Grandparents came over for a simple dinner. Felix was absolutely adorable the entire time. He didn’t even kick up a fuss when he realised he had received his final present. After dinner we were all sitting downstairs and he said to my Grandparents: ‘Will you come to my birthday next year in Norway?’ My Granddad started to explain that it was a bit far away, but Grandma interrupted: ‘Peter, don’t say that. Of course.’

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Felix, four this week, meeting a parrot at the zoo. When I showed him the photo he said – ‘so cute! It looks just like Klara!’ Did I ever tell you about Klara? Remind me to tell you about Klara.

Antonia loves her broccoli. I love her curls and her squidgy arms and her dear sweet eyes seeking mine. 

Linking with Jodi for a portrait of my children every week in 2015.

Six months

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Today, my beautiful girl, you are six months old. This week you have cut your first two teeth. I’m unaccountably but predictably proud of you, and relieved that there was a reason behind a night three times as restless as usual. You’ve spent a lot of the past week chewing on your hands.

Your head is still so soft and smells so sweet. It gets plenty of kisses.

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Over the past month you’ve tried lots of new food, most of which ends up all over you, your high chair and the floor, but you love to chew on it. Broccoli and cucumber, peach and plum, pumpkin and asparagus.

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You’ve perfected scooting backwards along the floor and can even get up onto your knees but haven’t worked out how to go forward yet, meaning that you often end up under tables and chairs.

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You’ve done lots of playing with your brother,

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smiling at your Daddy,

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and snuggling with me. We love you so. x

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‘The colour of the sea should have astounded, but the boy was seldom astounded. . . Nevertheless, the colours had entered into him, printing a brilliant memory.’

Randolph Stow, The Merry-go-round in the Sea

Exploring: above and below.

Felix, despite being a bit nervous about heights, decided he needed to make it to the top of the complicated climbing structure in the playground. He did.

Antonia spends her days scooting along backwards. Here she was exploring my Dad’s workroom.

(edited: I changed my mind about which portraits to include this week!)

Linking with Jodi for a portrait of my children once a week in 2015.

Early birthday

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We had an early birthday party for Felix today in our favourite local park. A perfect selection of grandparents, great-grandparents, aunties (one of Mum’s sisters and one of Dad’s), cousins and second cousins attended.

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I was very proud of the four tier strawberry sponge cake I made and Felix helped to decorate but I managed to smudge the icing just before serving, and had to patch up Thomas’s face and wagons with berries.

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Felix liked the jelly best anyway.

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Michael heads back to Norway next week but I’ve decided to stay on with the kids for another month – I’m not ready to say goodbye to my family or the weather.

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We organised the party in a bit of a rush over the past couple of days but we’d been talking about it since September when we booked our tickets. It was just so nice and I’m glad we had it early so Michael could come too.

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Felix kept asking when we were going to have ‘the race’. The park has a cute little bike and scooter path and he expected all his second cousins to get on their scooters and have a race with him! At one point he said ‘we’re never going to have this race’. Luckily enough of them obliged by getting on their vehicles and scooting around. I think Felix was the only one really aware of the ‘race’, however. He won.

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Writing now

Writing an academic paper whilst on maternity leave with two children in tow is one of my more frustrating ventures. Antonia doesn’t take a bottle, so I can’t leave her for long periods. (Disclaimer – I haven’t tried. Expressing does not appeal.) She also refuses to go to sleep for the night before about 11pm, which apparently is just what I did as a baby. Today Mum said – let me look after the kids this morning, so you can write.

Once Antonia goes down for her first nap, I sit down to begin. Mum and Felix are planting in the garden. Then my lovely aunt Anne turns up on her bike, so they all decide to have a cup of tea. ‘You can go in my bedroom if you like’, says Mum. So I did, and try working there for a while, reading over the draft I printed last night. I make some progress but after half an hour or so grow frustrated with the distracting conversations drifting in from the deck, combined with the strains of ‘Memory’ growling in from next door (my parent’s neighbour, it seems, is an amateur opera singer). There is something a little bit lovely about it all, but it’s hard to think.

I decide to move back to my bedroom, to take my chances working beside a sleeping baby. I sit on the bed. There isn’t really enough light but I ignore it. Then it is time for Anne to leave so they all move around to the front of the house so I haven’t escaped the conversations after all. The neighbour has stopped singing now and comes out the front and Mum has a chat with him about the bins. Antonia wakes up. She’s lifting her head and smiling broadly as I type, twisting her head around to peer at the window and then back at me.

Baby cuddle. Antonia is soft and snuggly and oh so pleased.

Dad and Michael take Felix to the shops. He looks so cute crossing the road with them, his little blonde head only reaching Michael’s waist. Mum takes Antonia for a walk.

Tea and toast. Back to it.

A dog barks. Maybe I should change this blog post to the present tense.

I read over a bit more of the draft and make some notes.

‘Mummeeeeeeeeeeeee!’

They are all back. Felix bounds in to the bedroom and lands on top of me. His back is strong but his cheeks are soft and he is oh so pleased.