We’re all getting enough of it, but are frequently exhausted, all the same.
We took these photos last weekend at the fortress. Three days before this, when I had been up there with my grandparents, there was scarcely a hint of green anywhere. Now, a week later, nearly everything is green. Our grass has turned green and grown several inches and almost needs a mow already. Spring always seems to turn up when I’ve just about given up on it, like a wayward lover appearing at your doorstep with flowers, two weeks too late.
And then all of a sudden its as if it’s always been here. It’s so warm and lovely here to day I even had a bounce on the trampoline. This place really seems like a different country once the warmer weather sets in. Too bad we’re off in less than three weeks. But I guess it will be spring in America too!
I have a few moments of quiet in my still house, which I feverishly cleaned this morning when I didn’t fall asleep again after his five o’clock feed. And it is good. I need this. I cleaned the table so I could get all my boring paperwork out and mess it up again, but – not yet. Not just yet.
Felix is growing out of all his clothes so I bought him some new tops on the weekend. The green top with the bicycle, the blue top with the red neck-band and yellow cuffs, and the rain cloud. Before he was born, I thought – I will try to be very feminist in my clothing choices – he can wear pink sometimes, why not? Because the utter segregation of girls and boys clothes really bugs me. I even bought him a onesie with pink and purple squirrels.
But it turns out I can’t dress him as a ‘girl’. I don’t want to. Something inside me stops me. Although I hope if I have a girl one day she can wear bicycles and rain clouds too. I don’t believe clouds and bicycles – or trains or flowers, for that matter, or red and blue and green, are gender specific. But I wouldn’t be able to help myself buying clothes to signify her gender sometimes. Strange.
I haven’t actually looked closely at any ‘girl’ clothes lately. In some ways it seems there is more choice with girl clothes and they are sort of more fun, but actually a lot of the time they are just saccharine and drenched in pink. And I love some of the Scandinavian boys clothes, when you look past the racks of navy blue tractors. (Not that there is anything wrong with navy blue tractors, but a bit of variety is nice.)
I am trying to be very restrained in my clothes purchases because we are leaving for America soon and don’t want to carry too much stuff. And I don’t want to spend money unnecessarily, either. But there is such pleasure to be had in dressing the little guy up. I think it’s partly because I have to look at him all day. So many of his clothes have stripes that it’s nice to have a change. And I find myself wanting to put him in bolder colours now. Michael says it shows that the way we’re thinking about him is changing – he’s no longer just a little teddybear, he seems more and more a little boy. It’s funny that just at the moment we mediate so much not only of his experience of the world, but the world’s experience of him.
I find myself constantly watching other boys I encounter. Two very sweet little things who on the weekend fearlessly chased our cat all they way up onto our deck, and then across our garden. (They wanted to pat him.) Two red-headed teenagers, obviously brothers, who zoomed down the hill on their bikes as I slowly pushed the pram up it. And last night, as we walked along the winding street into the forest, groups of children running and talking, involved in intricate games and negotiations their parents will have no idea about. How strange, I said, that he will soon have a life we know nothing about. Like the cats, Michael said, they have their adventures.
And I remembered my own childhood – its wonder and joy and difficulty. (Not that I had a difficult childhood, but that as a child you encounter difficult things from which you cannot be shielded.)
Well, you’ve just survived about the busiest week of your life, with great-grandparents and grandparents to play with! You’ve charmed everybody with your cheeky smiles, ‘agoo’s, and exclamations of delight, and have only got yourself dreadfully over-tired once or twice. You’ve been lugged about to Fredrikstad, Sweden, the fortress (twice), deep into the forest, four different restaurants, a BBQ at a friend’s house, your first train ride and a picnic at the lakes. If there is too much going on or too many people in one day you do get a little overwhelmed, which is completely understandable, but mostly you are happy to watch the world go by and ‘goo’ at those who smile at you.
You’ve decided that you only need three half-hour naps during the day (I’m hoping you decide differently at some point), but you’ve been sleeping most marvelously well overnight – we’ve had several stretches of 9.30pm to 6am, which is pretty luxurious. (And lucky, I know.) Last weekend you discovered your hands but there’s been too much going on for you to really get into them yet. You like pinching fabric now, and you still adore your baths. And your milk. Oh yes.
On Wednesday I heaved you up onto my shoulder and thought – what? You’ve got heavier overnight! You do suddenly seem so much bigger. You’ve been here long enough that I’ve got used to you being around, and got past a certain fatigue that I think I felt around six weeks. But I still look at you sometimes, your shiny little eyes that almost constantly seek out my face, and think, but how did you get here? I am very glad you did.
Sending over birthday wishes to my wonderful Mum. I wish we could join you all for breakfast. xxx
My grandparents left yesterday. They caught the bus up to Oslo, for a night there, before flying back to Amsterdam, from whence they are hopping on a boat which will meander down various rivers all the way to Budapest. They truly are world travelers! I was sad to see them go, but the memory of those few days we had together here in Norway will be precious to me forever.
As we were walking through Gamlebyen on Thursday, Grandma said if anyone had told her several years ago that she would one day be walking through Norway with her great-grandson, she wouldn’t have believed them. It would be better to live close to family, but one gift of living so far away is that it makes the time you have together so special. And we are planning to visit Australia in December, so we look forward to seeing them then!
The evening before they left, Michael’s parents arrived! It was only a little chaotic having everyone here at once, and they were very pleased to meet each other. Michael’s parents don’t speak much English, and my Grandparents don’t speak any German, but they managed to understand one another ok. Anyway, says my Grandma, there’s always the international language of smiles.
It is a very nice thing to share a child, to watch others loving him. Especially as I have absolutely nothing to complain about regarding any of Felix’s grandparents – you hear stories of mothers receiving unwanted advice, but there has been nothing like that coming my way. Michael’s Mum, Moni, said she likes my Grandparents very much, and wishes she had had such nice Grandparents. It doesn’t matter, I tell her, because you are a most wonderful Oma.
Something about this photo – the positioning of the figures, our paper cut-outness, and Felix’s benedictory gesture – reminds me of a medieval triptych. Also the overblown sky – just imagine it gilded! I was perched on a little table, which I knew wasn’t a good idea when I’m already so tall. I love the photo anyway. You can tell how happy we all are to be there.
It felt so surreal on Monday night when my Grandparents arrived at our door, and I opened it and said ‘come in’. Just amazing. And then they came in and cuddled Felix, and Felix said ‘ooo ooo ooo’. And now I’m afraid I’m about to bore you with some details but we’ve been having such a lovely time that I don’t want to forget any of it. Yesterday, we wandered around town a bit, had lunch at our favourite pizza place, and walked to the shopping centre to get Grandma a new phone. G&G went back to the hotel for a couple of hours to have a rest, and then Michael picked them up again. We cooked salmon and potatoes for tea, and finished with icecream and strawberries.
Today, I picked them up at 10 and drove up to the fortress, where we wandered around and looked at the view. We then met Michael for lunch at my favourite little cafe in town (a very baby-friendly place with space for prams and toys for older kids to play with and a big stack of high-chairs and surprisingly delicious food), and called in at the other shopping centre to replace Grandma’s handbag. Felix was content napping in the pram and feeding in the cafe before we ate. We drove up the hill home again for tea and easter eggs and a skype chat with Mum and my aunty. G&G went for a little walk (they have more energy than me!!!) while we chilled out a bit at the house. We then had such a lovely afternoon sitting on the deck in the sunshine.
I’m wearing the amber earrings my Grandparents bought me in St Petersburg, when they took me there nearly seven years ago. (At that point I was doing my masters in York and I’d just decided Michael was rather nice and I was hoping something would come of it…)
Granddad read the copy of the Guardian that Michael had somehow procured for him. I cooked dinner – fool-proof spinach and ricotta cannelloni followed by delicious brownies – while Michael helped Grandma install phone numbers into her phone. It has just been so lovely having this time with them, and hearing stories of their children and houses and early life together (next year they will have been married 60 years!).
While we ate, Felix cooed and gurgled. And it was the perfect, perfect day.
We tried the little guy out in the sling today. I’d sort of been aiming to all week, but was defeated by all the different straps and buckles. With a bit of help from Michael I’ve got the hang of it now, and it’s actually pretty simple. The instructions say with babies this small they are supposed to face towards you, not away from you, but he hates that, and I think this is ok for short periods. I want to get him used to it so he can stay in it for longer when we’re traveling or going for walks etc. He wasn’t as dubious as the photo makes it look, and I think he actually quite liked it. He likes to be able to see what’s going on.
He’s started gripping on to fabrics and things, like the side of his pram. And today I saw him look at his own hands for the first time. Tiny, tiny little steps, and I know all babies make them, but it gives you such a thrill when it’s your own. And he laughs at us, sometimes, too. And we are always laughing at him.
Now. I was writing this on Sunday evening, and was interrupted by a phone call from my Grandma who had arrived that morning in Amsterdam, but was calling to say she didn’t know if they could get here on Monday as planned, because her handbag had been stolen and her passport was in it!!! So we felt very sad that we might not see them and worried about them both. Luckily the embassy sorted it all out on Monday morning, and they managed to get a later flight the same day, so arrived on Monday night. It is so so lovely to have them here, but I am a bit busy for blogging right now. We’ll try and take some pictures tomorrow.
Remember this post? In particular the picture towards the end of the post, of four happy expectant parents, lined up in the back garden of the Berlin hostel in the autumn sun. Well, here she is, my gorgeous second cousin once removed, little Mala, born just three days after Felix, and similarly several days overdue. The first grandchildren for all concerned, and the first great-grandchilden too, at least on our mothers’ side. Joseph and Caitlin had been living in London, but moved back to Adelaide before she was born. That’s my brother looking straight into her eyes. It breaks my heart. Gosh I miss my family today.
And there’s my cousin Jose with his little girl – agh! just reaslised it’s not at all! It’s his brother, my cousin Sam! I really have been away too long. And one more for good measure. She looks so much like Felix – I guess this is what eight week old babies look like! Sorry J+C I haven’t checked if it’s ok to post these – if you want I’ll take them down. Sorry also that they’re a bit small but that’s the size they were emailed to me. The photos were taken at a farewell family lunch at my grandparents’ house on the weekend. It was a farewell lunch because my grandparents are hopping on a plane tomorrow, to visit me! (Well, mainly to visit Felix, I think.) I can’t wait to see them, although I dearly wish I could see all of you. Sending you all so much love. xxx
Four years ago I started this blog. Blogging suits me because I like to write, and reflect, and turn things into stories. I like the scrap-book approach of sticking everything in together, and putting up photos so that when you scroll through them they make a narrative. Sometimes I do it for my family, who are far away, sometimes for Michael, sometimes for the writers of the blogs I read. And I do it for strangers, who might stumble across this site and stay a while, as I do with other blogs, loving the windows they give into other lives. But mostly I do it because it satisfies a need in me, to record things, to create things, to write things down.
Four years ago I couldn’t have imagined my life today, although I suppose it’s a fairly predictable trajectory: PhD, House, Wedding, Baby. Each of them utterly exciting. Along the way there’s been plenty of traveling, and flying high in the sky, and watching the seasons come and go, and a couple of very sad things too. And of course not everything is perfect, and there are things I don’t write about. But lately I have found myself thinking of my friend Kate, who died. Who should not have died, but there was a stupid accident, and she did. Kate had a lovely life, and loved life fiercely, but twenty-seven years is not enough. Sometimes when I stand in the kitchen of my little house, and look at my child, I am sad that Kate didn’t have the chance to experience all this. I am grateful for my life, and for my little family and the lives we are building together. I am grateful I can watch the rain ploshing circles on our deck.
I am a little nervous about our next adventure – in a month’s time we leave for six months in the USA, and there is a lot to sort out here first – but I am grateful for the opportunity. And then we plan to visit Australia, and then to return to our cosy little house and the tail-end of another Norwegian winter. Bring it on.
Michael took these gorgeous photos of our beautiful cats last night.
I remember when they were kittens, thinking how nice it would be when they were grown up cats and could just hang out on the deck with us. And it’s very nice indeed, especially when you add a baby or two, some friends and some Sunday afternoon scones and tea.
Mermos caught a bird on the weekend, though. I guess it was only a matter of time. Thankfully he didn’t try to bring it into the house. Here they are checking our their next catches:
Ps. If you live in Halden you don’t fancy adopting them for six months from the middle of May, do you? We will be away and they are such lovely, lovely animals… Also by then they’ll probably have shed their winter coats. Right now there is fur on everything.
Feel free to ignore this endless stream of Felix photos if you’re not family or otherwise smitten… With one set of grandparents in Germany and the other in Australia, I feel justified showing you all his little face several times a week. And then there’s all the rest of my family in Adelaide, quite a lot of them. So…
Here are few more smiles for you all! On Wednesday the little guy will be exactly two months old. It’s such a sweet age as he’s smiling and interacting so much more, but he is still a very small baby. It’s so strange to think that two months ago we hadn’t met him yet.
This is his latest trick – sticking his legs up in the air.
And here he is late in the afternoon, worn out from a long day’s playing, sitting in his little chair watching me cook dinner.
In the few quiet moments I can salvage, I am trying – very belatedly – to pull together a book proposal out of my thesis. Every time I sit down to do this, I think – but no one will ever be interested in publishing a book out of my strange and obscure thesis. How do I defend my choice of authors? Why these four, and not others? But at the very same time, I’m really proud of my thesis. I know it’s well written and interesting and some of it – enough of it – is new. And why shouldn’t it be published, when it reads so well, and I know some people, at least, would like to read it. So. I cannot afford to remain blocked at this point. Which I have told myself a thousand times, and now the baby awakes.
We had a really lovely weekend which involved much sitting around in the sunshine. And pushing prams in the sunshine. And bouncing in the sunshine. And drinking tea in the sunshine. And eating scones and Russian soup with friends in the sunshine. And flying a remote controlled plane in the sunshine (well, we tried at least but it was a bit windy). It was just what we needed.
(In other news, the little fellow has slept from 11pm to 6.30 or 7am for three nights in a row!!! I’m not counting on it continuing, but it’s pretty nice. He’s eight weeks old today, and as gorgeous and smily and cuddly as ever.)
Chilling with Daddy.
It’s hard work being a babby.
By the way, that’s the final episode of season 4 of The Wire you can see in the background. Brilliant series, but I don’t really recommend you watch it if you have a seven week old son. Its focus on the school kids of Baltimore is just too devastating.
Yesterday when spring decided to show her face again (today is back to dense mist, but at least it’s not snowing), my friend invited me to her mothers’ group meeting up at the fortress. It was still pretty chilly, but we all sat around the fire and roasted sausages! Well, the others roasted sausages, I don’t eat them. But it was all very charming, and very Norwegian – the older kids (3-5 year olds) in the kindergarten do this in the forest once a week. Felix’s gorgeous knitted overalls which were much too big for him a few weeks ago now fit him perfectly. (They’re not too small yet, they’re just riding up a bit here.) We trialled our first outdoor breast-feeding session, huddled in a blanket against the wind, and that went fine too.
Then we went for a lovely walk beside the golf course. Yep that little pond’s still frozen. And there aren’t any leaves yet. But it’s very very pretty all the same. The ground is sort of golden and bare as it emerges from the snow. Some patches are still strewn with autumn leaves which have been hiding there all winter.
And I couldn’t help myself but to walk through the fortress itself to the lookout over the harbour and the town. You can see that the harbour still looks pretty iced over, but that not far beyond lies the clear and shining sea.
When my Dad told me he had a copy of Gail Jones’s Five Bells that he was going to post over to me I was very happy indeed. I first encountered Gail Jones’s work back in 1998 when I was a second year student at Adelaide University. It was included in a module on postmodernism. I don’t remember the name of the book, but it was a collection of short stories and I remember being impressed by its lightness, strangeness and lucidity. I have seen her name come up a lot over the years, and intended to read her other books, such as Sixty Lights and Sorry, but never got around to it. In addition to this, ‘Five Bells’ is one of my favourite Australian poems, and I couldn’t wait to see what she had done with it.
For the benefit of my non-Australian readers, ‘Five Bells’, by Kenneth Slessor, was first published in 1939. It is a meditation on death, time and memory, in the context of a reflection on the death of a friend of the poet, who drowned in Sydney Harbour. The five bells are ship bells that ring out across the harbour, and they occur as a refrain throughout the poem. It opens:
Time that is moved by little fidget wheels
Is not my time, the flood that does not flow.
Between the double and the single bell
Of a ship’s hour, between a round of bells
From the dark warship riding there below,
I have lived many lives, and this one life
Of Joe, long dead, who lives between five bells.
The poem seeks an alternative form of temporality in order to seek to touch Joe, who is lost. ‘My time, the flood that does not flow’ is memory, which consists of a different temporality than that of linear time, which marches always in the same direction, measured by clocks. Memory floods the present and rehearses the past.
The poem tries and tries to reconnect with Joe through lyric intensity but in the end acknowledges failure:
The tide goes over, the waves ride over you
And let their shadows down like shining hair,
But they are Water; and sea-pinks bend
Like lilies in your teeth, but they are Weed;
And you are only part of an idea.
The poem refuses metaphor and its own redemptive imaginings. It allows an afterlife but only in memory, and this remembering and imagining can never truly touch the dead. I think the next few lines are some of the most powerful and uncomfortable words that I have ever come across:
I felt the wet push its black thumb-balls in,
The night you died, I felt your eardrums crack,
And the short agony, the longer dream,
The Nothing that was neither long nor short;
But I was bound, and could not go that way,
But I was blind, and could not feel your hand.
Even the horrifically precise image of the water’s ‘black thumb-balls’ is not enough to ensure communion with the dead.
Gail Jones’s ‘Five Bells’ takes the poem as a starting point for a meditation on four individuals, each remembering their own dead. Phrases from the poem echo throughout the book, as do several other places, images and literary allusions: the harbour itself, snow, James Joyce’s ‘The Dead’, Russian literature, Communist China. The book takes place over a single day in which each of the characters visits Sydney harbour, but of course their own rememberings mean that the temporality of the novel is much more complex than that.
All this talk of death makes the poem – and the novel – sound a lot more gloomy than they actually are. The novel, like the poem, has a musical lightness about it, and riffs beautifully on the poem’s ‘diamond quills and combs of light’. I wonder how different an experience it would be to read it if you had never been to Sydney harbour, because it catches so perfectly its dazzling brightness. The novel does the poem justice and is a beautiful thing in its own right. The ending strikes the perfect – if disconcerting – note. I could write so much more but will instead leave you with one of the many memorable passages:
At the funeral there were flowers, and suddenly it made sense, why this might be so. In this town with no florist, this tiny town on the edge of nowhere, somehow roses and lilies had turned up, somehow there were elaborate wreaths and cellophane-wrapped bunches, and yet he had no idea how or from whence they had arrived. Yet it made sense. Something offered so that everything did not have to rest inside words. Something silent delivered from the living world. Something with no purpose other than to declare that the beautiful exists and will not last.
Today I was holding Felix and Mermos (our black cat) decided it was time for a cuddle. He purred and nudged Felix with his head until I put Felix on my shoulder. Mermos promptly curled up on my lap. I passed Felix to Michael. Mermos enjoyed pride of place for a while but then decided he needed to sit on Michael. When Michael passed Felix back to me, however, Mermos followed immediately.
It’s a good thing, my darling, that you give me the most disarming smiles upon waking. Last night you screamed for an hour and a half between one and two thirty, and you have an infected eye and a sore nose and I felt terrible for you. Michael is away. But I held you and I held you and eventually you relaxed. And then I woke this morning to realize I’m getting mastitis again for no apparent reason. It hurts. But then you smiled. And when I carried you downstairs, you cooed twice at your lion and promptly fell asleep. You were still tired. Well, yes, I would be too.