- The way you are constantly pretending to be an animal- a stork, a baby chick, Uncle Hugo’s dog Cruz.
- You are finally starting to report what goes on at preschool. I love this development, even when it means hearing in great detail about who ate their soup and who didn’t (Marcinek never eats his and as a consequence he is going to be small and his teeth are going to fall out.)
- The way you gesticulate madly when you’re saying something that excites you, and your eyes go huge and googly and you giggle with pure amazement.
- The way you sleep like a log, muttering to yourself but deeply unconscious.
- How you ran up to Grandpa Joe at the airport and flung your arms around him and gave him the biggest hug in the world.
- You are starting to develop your social life and preferences at preschool- you apparently don’t like to play with boys with doodles, only with girls.
- You are still a great big dog lover and I still love watching you approach them.
- Your fascination with our workplaces, and how you say that preschool is your work. I worked hard today, Mummy, you tell me. What, eating soup? I ask . No! you say, as if I am the biggest fool on earth . Sleeping!
- You talk and think a lot about The Stralia- you know already that some part of your life is there.
- The way you ask insane and unanswerable questions and then goggle up at us through your glasses as though you have absolute faith that we know the answer.
Less nice things
- The fighting with Maja, and how you know you are just a bit bigger and you say to her through hysterical tears, I’m going to LIE on you.
- When you refuse to eat anything because you’re a baby chicken and they don’t have arms.
- Your selective muteness at the eye doctor.
- You weigh a ton and carrying you is no longer a joke.
- The way you scream when it’s time to wash your hair.
- The mess.
- Your food sensitivities.
- You won’t poo without company.
- You wet your pants pretty regularly.
- When you say you’re going to wash the dishes and you climb up to the sink and soak yourself and use gallons of water and when it’s all over one plate has been partially smeared at with a sponge.
Heading south from Stanthorpe, still feeling shaky. We stop at Guyra, in the throes of the lamb and potato festival, and are buying some sausages when a deluge begins. It rains so hard that the air becomes a wall of water. We decide there and then that camping is not a wise idea, and drive through more storms down to Ebor on the waterfall way and get a room in the motel. We compensate by going up to the national park to cook our dinner instead.
The waterfalls are racing, great volumes of water sliding off old lava. Everything is saturated, literally and figuratively; the grass is a poisonous green, tree trunks shine lurid orange, and the water disappears into a bright, impenetrable wall of vegetation. A magpie comes begging for food and the kids give it their leftover spaghetti. I have the best sleep of the trip so far.
The rain clears, finally, in the afternoon. In the evening we turn onto the Lakes WAy and start heading down to Booti-Booti, planning to camp. We drive through the blocky, estuarine sprawl of Tuncurry and Forster, which appear to be inhabited solely by bronzed schoolies and condo-owning pensioners. When we get to the campground at Booti-Booti, it turns out to be hosting a convention of teenage bogans, and we keep going.
After a night in the tent, we pull off the highway for breakfast in Buladelah. We cook in a rest area right on the river, noting the flood debris in the the trees at a level far above our heads. The sun glints off the water, and a flock of geese arrives. They clamber up the bank and start grazing as if they own the place.
We arrive in Brisbane in the evening. It’s hot and humid. When we finally get through customs, Franki is waiting and when she offers to carry someone Janek jumps onto her back without hesitation.
She takes us to a hotel near the port. It is already dark, and after we have eaten we go to the playground, where there are woodchips on the ground instead of sand, and a shadecloth instead of trees.
On the way home we see a huge possum swaggering through the enveloping branches of a fig tree.
Marcin takes Janek out early one morning for a meat pie and chocolate milk. On the way they encounter an ibis. Look! calls Janek, delighted. It’s a funny stork!
We drive a winding road to Binna Burra, and mountain resort where we have booked a night. From the picture window we can see all the way down to the Gold Coast, jumbled on the horizon. We eat lambchops for dinner and the kids sleep from 2 in the afternoon until 7 the next morning (with a brief wakeup to eat at 11). In the morning we go into the rainforest, where my nascent twitcher’s eye is befuddled by all the greenery, and my nascent twitcher’s ear is distracted by chants of Carry me, carry me, carry me. We do see a bush turkey and a potaroo, and 2 hikers who have been so mauled by leeches that they look like they have escaped from Wolf Creek.
We live on the edge of Morskie Oko Park, and rare is the day when we don’t spend at least half an hour there. We walk through it to and from pre-school- we air the kids there, even now. In summer we lived there, spending the day in the playground and only coming home to sleep
This is our first autumn in this flat, and although it’s the insalubrious month of November, I love the park at this time. After the golden blaze of October, the palette is primarily brown. There is a stillness there, a leaf- muffled silence. A milky-pale sky gleams through the bare trees. Despite the melancholy weather, it’s always full of ecstatic dogs who don’t share their owners objections to the season. It smells like dirt and water, and the ducks, exiled by the winter draining of their pond lower down, come up onto the escarpment to graze like a herd of little goats on whatever they can find.
Now that the sun sets at 4 pm, it gets dark when I’m bringing the kids home from preschool on Fridays. They disappear on their bikes amongst the trees in the dusk, and usually as we climb the hill towards Pałac Szustry, the lamps come on. The kids feel the same way as the dogs about the park- for them it’s a source of endless wonders. They stuff their pockets with chestnuts, chase pigeons, spend all their duck bread on a hideous rat the size of a chihuahua which lives in the reeds near the claypit and which they call ‘mousie’.
Living next to the park, I feel more like an aristocrat than a poor man, even though we live in 60 square metres next to the busiest road in Warsaw.
It’s August. All my family has gone home, and my work has more or less dried up. Most of the people I want to spend time with are not in Warsaw. Whole vistas of time open up around me in this month, and since I know I will have regular work again in September, it doesn’t bother me at all. This differently- textured time is to be used in different ways to time during the semester- this time is for reading novels, feeling sad, swimming, cooking, throwing things away, running, writing, feeling guilty, running errands, reading glib and useless advice on how to discipline 2 year olds, and even- for the first time in a long time- getting bored. Lots of this time is spent sitting in the sandpit with my Kindle, counting children in my peripheral vision to make sure there are still two of them. I gape into the chestnut trees in the park, pass absent-minded judgment on other parents, realise what I am doing and unjudge them, wonder if I can get away with giving my kids another ice-cream.
I have been waiting to have time like this for a while. During term time, I work like a dog, and generally feel like I am just barely in control of my days. I collapse (literally ) into bed in the evening, in a sort of cocktail of exhaustion, over-excitement and panic that I have to get up again in a few hours. When I wake up I sit bolt upright with an urgent list of things to do reeling through my head, careen through the day, and fall down dead again at the end of it. I know now why people take holidays based on lying around on the beach. I am also coming round to the idea that having a season with minimal obligations is therapeutic, and I thoroughly recommend it.
We came back from Berlin on the Monday after New Year, and stopped off in Pruszków to give back the car, boast about our adventures and let Babcia and Dziadek fondle their youngest grandchildren. In the morning it was -10, with bright sun, and that powdery crunch to the snow. We decided to go to Warsaw with Grandma, Marcin’s brother and his wife and the cousins, and chase squirrels for 5 minutes before everybody got cold and wanted to go home.
On the way we fell into a pothole, tore off the mirror on a roadside pole and got a flat tyre. Our expedition ended at the petrol station, where it transpired that the jack didn’t work. We took a stroll around the car park and then all climbed into the van and ate pretzels while we waited to be rescued. The children whined. Boy cousin insisted in taking off his nappy and peeing in the potty, even though it meant removing and replacing 16 layers of clothes. It got colder and we turned on the engine so the heating would work.
After about an hour, we were saved. But I didn’t really mind any of it at all. After 4 years I have an unburdensome intimacy with Marcin’s family which makes them almost like my own. I like our Sunday meetings, the lack of demands made on me, the fact that there is no necessity to perform. Being stranded at a petrol station with them in the middle of winter was almost fun.
A. is my oldest friend, or at least the oldest that I still have contact with. We have known each other since we were 11 years old and starting high school, that big new world full of strangers and unprecedented social negotiations. Our friendship then was one of those horrifying teenage hybrids- passionate letter writing in the night one day, the cold shoulder the next, that potent, disturbing mix of envy and admiration. Many years later I would find out that her father had a violent temper- our mutual confidences clearly didn’t stretch that far.
When I moved away, we lost contact. One day, many many years later, I was living in Sydney and studying. I was riding my bike to the beach, slowly and without expectation, when who should I see but her. It turned out she lived just down the road from me, with a chicken run in the backyard and a long-distance lover in Canberra.
And some more years later, after meeting the long-distance lover, many dinners and films and discussions about life together, they moved to Berlin, just as we were about to leave on our roundabout way to Poland. Another 2 years passed before we actually arrived in Poland and began a tradition of yearly visits. Not long afterwards, it turned out that she was expecting her second child, due on the same day as my kids.
We have just been to visit. We have now known each other for over 25 years. The teenage competition has slowly faded- since she is clearly richer and more ethical , with excellent teeth and a 2 year old who can already be trusted to cross the road without a lassoo, there is really no pleasure to be gained (for me) from making comparisons. So instead I just contented myself with enjoying her graciousness and warmth and eating excellent meals and trying to stop my big mean children from killing her small gentle one.