Easter at home

Thought I’d better do something about the lack of content here. I’m still only taking photos on my phone (something I plan to fix within the next month) but these are better than nothing. This morning Antonia totally bailed on the Easter egg hunt (she’s not into sweet things and couldn’t see the point) but Felix declared today to be one of the best days of his life. He woke up early and put two fleeces on and went for a solo ‘expedition’ with Whitby to the forest to check if Easter Bunny had been yet. She hadn’t. Luckily Easter Bunny managed to sneak out quietly before making waffles.

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Easter starts early in Norway (it’s closer to a week than a weekend) and it’s been so lovely to have this time to potter around with the kids. It’s been filled with everything good: gardening, hiking, crafting, baking, reading, knitting, hanging out with friends, and wandering down to our little beach. With some cleaning and sorting thrown in as well. At times (especially Friday, when Antonia had a fever all day) there has been a bit too much screen time for the kids, but it’s always worth it when we manage to peel them away. Michael’s been making a real effort to take Felix hiking – he complains a bit but I think he’s getting better. We’ve been pushing Antonia a bit too, though if we make her walk anywhere it’s slow going as she likes to roll around on the ground every 20 metres or so…

It hasn’t been entirely without challenges but on the whole it’s been really nice, and exactly what we needed. We finally sold our old house on Tuesday, and we had a somewhat stressful few days of emptying our loft and basement before we handed over the keys. (We’ve thrown a lot of stuff away but are still not sure where to put everything, so will have to get rid of a bit more.) But it’s been so nice just to slow down and hang out with the kids and enjoy being here. I remember really enjoying staying in Norway for Easter two years ago, when Antonia was still a baby. We tend to try to get to Germany for Easter, but last year that was so gruelling that we’ve decided to take a break from that particular endeavour. It’s just not warm enough yet to make it easy to hang out there with the kids.

Also it is just so lovely to get the chance to cultivate a few of our own traditions. We’ve never spent Christmas in our own house with the children (in fact we’ve only ever spent Christmas in our own house once, when I was eight months pregnant with Felix). So it feels special to have this time just for ourselves, to have an egg hunt, to make the hot cross buns. You can’t buy them here and Easter just isn’t the same for me without them. Felix helped make them so they are quite rustic to look at but they were delicious. They have orange rind, apple pieces, sultanas, dried apricots and cranberries inside, and plenty of spices. We spent last Easter dreaming about this house and deciding to try to buy it – we had a look at it the day before we left for Germany, and bought it the day we returned. I looked out of the window this morning and saw a squirrel preening itself on a tree branch. It is good to be here.

Yesterday we walked down to the beach after dinner. The sun had come out. We had to pester Felix terribly to get him out of the house, but as soon as we got to the beach he saw that the little wooden landing was in the water again, and he clambered out to it straight away, deciding that it was a magical vehicle that could be a boat or a plane or a car. Antonia was more or less happy to go with his storyline (“you’re fishing in the air now, Antonia, not the water, we’re flying.” “Ok”). He navigated us to magic land and cloud land and beach land, fetching rocks to throw into the water to get the “bad guys”. And it was pretty perfect.

Reading to Six Year Olds

As Felix has approached six years old, I’ve been looking for ways to introduce longer bedtime stories. When I was in York in October last year, I spent several hours browsing the bookshelves of a large bookshop, and came home with Pippi Longstocking, Flat Stanley, and The Magic Faraway Tree. We haven’t got onto Pippi yet, partly because Felix was annoyed that the illustrations were different from the abridged version Mum bought the kids in Stockholm last year. He adored Flat Stanley. I remember my very first teacher in primary school reading this aloud to us. She was fabulous. He’s very intrigued by the Magic Faraway Tree but finds it a bit scary, so we are only about five chapters in…

Michael has a collection of five minute Batman stories, which Felix practically knows by heart.

In Australia we picked up Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which he has loved. I managed to find the sequel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, in my library, and he gulped that down too. Michael and Felix have also got through Fantastic Mr Fox, but I think Danny the Champion of the World is a bit heavy for now. For Christmas I gave him all four Bad Guys books by Aaron Blabey, which he thought were hilarious (and a bit scary), but he was devastated when they ended on a cliff-hanger. These are written in a comic book format, and I’m sure he’ll revisit them when he learns to read.

My Grandma gave him this absolutely gorgeous picture book for older kids, Armstrong: The Adventurous Journey of a Mouse to the Moon, by Torben Kuhlmann. We’ve read it several times, and I’m sure there will be many more.

I recently asked my friends on Facebook what else they would recommend, and they came up with quite a list!

Some were books which I remember fondly from my own childhood:

The Little House on the Prairie

Tom’s Midnight Garden

Now We are Six, and Winnie-the-Pooh

Wind in the Willows

Beatrix Potter books

More Roald Dahl, especially James and the Giant Peach and George’s Marvellous Medicine

The Narnia books

The Famous Five

Every Arthur quest book ever written (I remember my fist King Arthur book, which was half about King Arthur and half about Robin Hood, picked up at a second hand book sale at school. I thought it was the most amazing thing ever.)

Midnite by Randolph Stow (I didn’t read this as a child but it’s one of my favourite books. Laugh out loud funny (for adults, at least). I recently finished writing a chapter about it. Felix is probably about the right age to start getting into it…)

The Secret Garden

And some were new to me:

The Tashi books (lots of votes for these and they look gorgeous)

Andy Griffiths books (13 Story Treehouse and sequels – they look very popular with kids at the moment)

Moomin books, especially Moomin Papa and the Sea

Anything by David Walliams (one of my friends had personal reservations about them, but admitted that the kids loved them. I saw today that my libray has a lot of these)

The Children of Cherry Tree Farm

The Boxcar Children

The Magic Treehouse

Milly Molly Mandy (several votes for this)

Astrid Lindgren’s Lotta books

Emily Rodda’s Fairy Realm books

How to Train your Dragon (these are in my library)

My Father’s Dragon

Swallows and Amazons

Graphic novels like Hilda and the Midnight Giant

Asterix (ok this one isn’t new to me exactly but I never read much of it myself)

The Tale of Desperaux

Treasures in the Snow

And, according to Penni: As read-alones, the Billie B Brown and the Hey Jack books by Sally Rippin are perfect. They are really great everyday social stories too, good for gently rehearsing every day problems like losing something or mean friends or whatever.

And from another friend, who has a boy Felix’s age: As for reading himself, he is reading a series of books about a pig called Mercy that are fun and easy to read.

Anyway, one of my friends asked that I collate the suggestions into a blog post, so they would be easy to find later. So here they are. I’m very aware that he won’t be accessing these books at school (apart from the Scandinavian ones, I guess), so I want to make sure he gets a solid grounding at home. I also think I’ll try to get hold of Bill Bryson’s A Really Short History of Nearly Everything, as Felix wants to know it all. Let me know if you have any more suggestions!

 

 

8/52

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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.

Australia 2014-15

And sometimes, when there is ten minutes free, I need to write. We have been here for lots of weeks now. The weather is sometimes too hot, sometimes too cold, and often perfect. There have been moments of frustration. Two months is a long time to stay with your family or your in-laws. But lately we seem to have hit a groove. The best days involve aunties and children for Felix to play with. Or parks and grandmas. Or all of the above.

As I have mentioned Antonia is not one for sleeping in the evenings and is fussing right now. This is why it is nearly impossible to finish a paper I am attempting to work on – as soon as I sit down at my computer I need to get up again. I will wait a minute now before rushing to her…

Yesterday Mum had a day off work and we took the kids up to the farm barn in Hahndorf. Felix loved the baby rabbits and the kangaroos. I loved the baby goats with their miniature triangular faces and tiny bumps of horns. Antonia loved hanging out with me.

Today we met my cousin Hannah and her husband and my Aunty Anne (Hannah’s Mum) in a cafe next to a park.

Ok. Baby.

A cuddle, a little chat, a feed, back to sleep.

While I feed Antonia to sleep I read Alice Munro stories on my kindle. I can’t get enough. Sometimes they cut too close to the bone. There are a lot of mothers abandoning children and children abandoning their mothers in her stories. And a lot of very sad love stories – disappointment, missed connections, illusions. But so many beautiful moments too. And a clarity like cut glass. I love how all the moments and details and observations are skilfully, not hurriedly, laid over one another, and it is not until you read the final paragraph, even the final line, that you discover exactly the shape they were leading to. And if you go back and re-read the opening of the story (I haven’t done this much yet, being so hungry for the next one), you can appreciate how deliberately the whole story has been quietly building all along.

The stories are about people. About people loving in tangled and imperfect ways, and coming up for air.

And I have been overloading the blog with photos lately but I feel the need to. Last time we were here, a year ago, I did not touch the blog – I was ill and exhausted with morning sickness, very nervous that my pregnancy would not work out, and on top of that had about a hundred exams to mark, which took up all my free time. But I miss the photographic record. I have gone back and put a couple of retrospective posts in, and may do a couple more. It is so nice, just for ourselves, to be able to click on a year or a month and look back on it.

And this time is so special. Watching my children play together – Felix still three years old but not for long, Antonia still my baby. They make each other laugh. They kick around on the mat or my bed together. Felix is so protective. He’s learning about numbers and adding up. In the car yesterday he said to me and Mum – ‘we have four in our family. Mummy, Daddy, Felix and Antonia. We are the luckiest, to have so many people.’ And he shared with us his extensive knowledge about babies: ‘babies’, he told us authoritatively, ‘are normally very soft’.

So there will be more photos heading your way. We are perhaps staying away from our home a little too long, but I am glad that there are couple of weeks left – to eat fish and chips in the park, watch Felix ride his bike, visit the aunties and the grandmas and some of my old friends, and go to the museum or the pool or the beach. Some days are tiring and jarring as happens with children. But I am so grateful for these days to slow down and be together. To come up for air.

 

Grandma and Granddad’s house

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I’ve been really enjoying hanging out with the kids at my grandparents’ house. Mum says it’s strange to watch her grandson riding a bike along the same verandah she rode along as a child. It’s the same for me. So many childhood memories in this house and garden. And there I am, not a child any more but one of the mothers.

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How many babies have been cuddled on this lawn?

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How many barefoot races?

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How many children have helped with Christmas baking?

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A most beautiful afternoon

We took Felix to Brighton beach again this afternoon, intending just to get a coffee and then have a stroll along the sand. Felix had other ideas. Mum held him while I kicked off my shoes, and she said she heard him gasp when he saw the ocean. He wriggled and wriggled, so we put him down to play on the sand. But he was off like a shot, crawling full-pelt towards the water. Mum caught up with him and stood him up in the shallows for a couple of minutes, then carried him back. He was away again immediately, ‘like one of those turtles’, as Michael put it. I ran after him, but there was no way he was standing up this time, he wanted to sit in the water!  We didn’t even have a towel with us, but we stripped of his clothes, slathered him in sunscreen, and let him go.

He had the most fabulous time. He crawled straight into the water, and even went quite deep at times, but not too deep. The little waves splashed him. He splashed them right back and clambered around and dug his hands into the sand. Then he spotted a two year old girl and crawled over to her, and they played and played, splashing and picking up shells. I chatted to her grandma. And I do not tell a lie when I say it was one of the loveliest hours of my life.

Snapshots

1.

When I arrived, this time, the trees seemed strange, twisted, dry. The birdcalls wild and raucous. The light everywhere. It felt like the ends of the earth. But the accents of the locals startled me with familiarity – I kept turning, expecting to see long lost friends.

2.

I look at family photos on my grandparents’ wall. A tiny me sits on a log in a rainforest with all 8 of my cousins. There are family shots of my family, and my Mum’s two sisters’ families. And above them, in sepia tones, another family. I ask who they are. They are my grandma’s father’s family. He wasn’t born when the photo was taken, so there is a separate photo of him as a little boy in an oval frame. The woman in the photo is his mother but she died when he was about five, so my grandma only ever met his stepmother. Grandma points out her aunts. Aunty Jean, Aunty Marg, Aunty Ruth. Little girls. Jean and Marg never married; Ruth had three children but died in her 30s from blood poisoning which she got when she was dying clothes black for a funeral. For the first time it feels strange to look at photos of children who have grown up, grown old (or not), died.

3.

Felix dips his spoon with great concentration into his bowl and brings it to his mouth. Grandma tells me when my Aunty Anne was his age she was impossible to feed, and one day she gave up and left her with her bowl and her spoon. ‘Feed yourself then!’, she said. ‘And she jolly well did.’

4.

I look at the family photos on my Nanna’s wall. There is a photo taken when my Dad was a child. He is skinny and alert, standing close to his mother. His twin sister Irene, who died two years ago, and his older sister Marjory stand close to their grandmothers.

5.

My Dad can’t take his hands off Felix. He scoops him up at every opportunity, showing him tow-hooks, bolts, the contents of the pantry, his mobile of jangly beaten spoons, pointing out the train when it goes past. Tonight I say: ‘It’s pretty amazing watching Felix learn to crawl’. ‘He’s pretty amazing full stop’, he says.

6.

It is hot. We fill up a tub with water and let Felix splash around in the living room. Nanna tells us of the year in England, more than fifty years ago, when her three small children had measles, and had to stay inside with the blinds drawn down because they thought the light would damage their eyes. She brought snow inside for them to play with, and they were so happy.

Christmas take two

The next day we did it all again with the other side of the family at my Grandma’s house.

Little Miss Mala stole the day, walking laps of the gardens with various adults in tow.

Everyone was happy to have another generation around.

The desserts were pretty good too.

Felix got thoroughly spoiled – at one point the three of us were sat together on the sofa, pretty much buried under an avalanche of presents.

Here Felix is looking about as exhausted as I was by that point,

but it was a wonderful, wonderful day.

Innocence and experience

I’m re-reading Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights trilogy. I first read it nearly seven years ago.

He is a fantastic writer. He really, really knows what he’s doing. He deftly introduces scenes, and propels and twists the plot, and pretty much holds you in the palm of his hand. The characters are compelling, the dialogue is effortless, the landscapes you pass through make you gasp with awe. One of the things he does best is describe animals, and this is where a great deal of the charm of these books lie. The characters live in a world where your soul exists outside your body, in the form of a ‘daemon’: a sort of familiar in the shape of an animal. This really is quite lovely because you are never alone – your daemon is your constant companion and you love each other fiercely. The type of creature your daemon is reveals a lot about your personality. Children’s daemon’s differ from adults’ daemons in that they are not fixed: they can change effortlessly from a mouse to a hawk to a panther and back again.

The books muse constantly on the difference between innocence and experience, childhood and adulthood. The central mystery of the books is the idea of ‘dust’ – a special substance invisible to the eye but which is discovered to be attracted to adults but not to children. It turns out that ‘dust’ has a lot to do with consciousness. The Church, in the books, is very suspicious of ‘dust’, and even sets out to try to eradicate it. They equate ‘dust’ with sin.

Anyway it’s got me thinking about the difference between children and adults, and it’s making my brain hurt. Because there’s not a line that you cross when you turn thirteen when suddenly you think differently and you’re not a child any more. But the difference between thinking as a child and thinking as an adult is more than an accumulation of experiences. Aren’t even teenagers’ brains still developing, so that although in many ways they are like inexperienced adults there are actually some types of thinking they can’t do yet? (I’m not sure about this but I do remember hearing it somewhere.)

There are so very many things to think about here. But it is interesting to try to remember what it felt like to be a child. I remember very clearly what it felt like to be seven, and what it felt like to be ten. There was a very very big difference between the two. Ten was a whole lot more complicated. Twelve and thirteen were more complicated again, but they had more in common with ten than ten did with seven.

The day I turned seven, my great grandmother died. This made me sad, in a sort of undefined way. For my birthday, I got a musical kaleidoscope. It played a tune, and turned all on its own. I loved the jeweled patterns it made with light. I thought it was the most beautiful thing in the world.

For my tenth birthday, I got my ears pierced. I was ambivalent about it. In the weeks before, I would finger my soft smooth earlobes and think – they will never be the same again. I liked my earrings once I got them, although my ears were inflamed for weeks. I also had a really great birthday party, but I was terribly stressed about it. I could invite ten friends. We went iceskating. And we came back to my place. Mum had organized hair ribbons, with special fabric puff-paints so that everyone could paint their own ribbon. I was so embarrassed and nervous that my friends would think it too childish. They didn’t. They loved it.