parenting

In which the author goes to a country wedding, steps in a puddle, and gets philosophical about the passing of time and a misshapen moon

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We were at a country wedding on the weekend. It was a perfect, clear and crisp winter’s day and the couple were married in a short ceremony under a simple canopy in the watery sunshine. Afterwards we moved inside to an old farm building with wonky, handmade bricks paving the entry-floor, wreaths of greenery and fairly lights wound around the exposed beams, and a huge, roaring fire in one corner to which we all instantly flocked, hands out. 

It wasn’t a big wedding. Most of the people there were family or life-long friends, so there was an easy, informal camaraderie to the room. No set places or awkward conversations with strangers at the table. 

At the back of an old wooden stage, a DJ played the kinds of tracks you hear at every wedding, everywhere, and the children, an assorted gaggle of cousins ranging age from five to fifteen, busted their best moves. My two, as the youngest of the group, were often the ringleaders, dragging their older cousins back to the dance floor whenever they showed signs of waning. Later, after the bridal waltz, the grown-ups joined in too, couples dissolving into laughing groups with children riding on shoulders, as we all stumbled through the half-forgotten moves to Nutbush City Limits, YMCA, and the dreaded Macarena. Actually I think they played that one twice.  

As the afternoon lengthened and the night grew dark around us, our little party carried on, a bright oasis of laughter and music, shining out from the middle of the otherwise empty fields. 

One of the uncles was the first to fold, slumping in his chair beside the table, chin on chest. People posed behind him, bunny-ear fingers hovering over his head, but he gently snored, oblivious. Next to go was Ralph. I sat him beside a table to adjust his shoelaces for half a minute, and in that time he simply lay down, put his thumb in his mouth, and closed his eyes. 

Then he opened them again and said, “Mummy, I’m too hot.” I carried him out to the entrance room, stepping carefully in my heels over the wonky, ancient brick floor, and eased the two of us down into an armchair. It was much cooler out there but I put a coat over Ralph and watched the party through the swinging glass doors, as he fell almost instantly asleep.

People came and went, pausing to smile or kiss his dark curls, but mostly it was just Ralph and me, his soft breathing, his sleeping body keeping me warm. I soaked it all in, painfully aware that this time for us, him sleeping in my arms, was not a forever thing. 

Recently my friend Sally shared online about the joys of being a parent to her two grown-up girls. She talked about  how there is a lot of airspace and celebration given to the precious moments we share with our small children, but less about the changed although still beautiful relationship that comes when they are adults. I was glad she shared these stories - I’m always glad when I hear stories about parents with older children - because I know that my own “precious moments” with my little ones are limited. “Our children are only on loan,” Sally’s mother told her, and she told me, and I wonder if my own compulsion to share these moments with you is because I am trying, through my words, to freeze them in time. As if by writing them down I am forced to be more mindful of them, to appreciate them, before they are gone forever. 

Inside the function room, the DJ began playing Walk the Dinosaur. I couldn’t see the stage from my little armchair but from what I could hear, every guest at the wedding aside from me, Ralph and the sleeping cousin was up on the stage, dancing and singing along. And not one of them could hold a tune. 

When it was time to leave, my husband gathered up coats, bags and our daughter, and I eased myself clumsily out of that chair, still holding the leaden weight of my not-so-little boy, and clutching a coat over his back to keep him warm as we ventured into the winter night air. I made slow progress back to the car, trying to pick out footsteps in the broken and bumpy unlit path, wearing heels, and carrying a heavy, sleeping child. 

Once off the path there was no light at all aside from the stars and we got lost, turning first one way and walking a hundred yards or so before realising our mistake and turning in the other direction, then finally inching our way down over a ditch and into a paddock, to where the parked car gleamed dully in the distance. I shifted Ralph’s weight in my arms, clasping a wrist in each hand to stop him from slipping… and then with a yell I didn’t realise had left my lips until I heard it, stepped into a puddle of mud half-way up to my knees. 

Ralph woke to my yell, and we stood there precariously, me holding still him up but unable to get out of the puddle, since my shoes were sunk so deep in mud that they stayed behind whenever I tried to lift my feet out. When my husband came to rescue us, I needed to hold onto his shoulders with both my hands to leverage myself (and my shoes) out of that puddle. 

Back on dry land, I poured mud and water out of my shoes as though they were goblets, and hobbled in my swampy, stocking-feet over to the car. The children woke themselves up just enough to find the whole scenario extremely amusing, except that from time to time Ralph would pause the laughter and remember his part in the episode, saying, “Mum, you could have dropped me!” in shocked and accusatory tones. 

The moon rose on our drive home. Both children slept in the back seats, and Mr B and I kept up a quiet conversation with one another, more to help him stay awake as he drove, than because either of us had anything particularly important to say. While we chatted, the moon came up big and yellow, a lumpy kind of almost-full-but-not-quite moon. A floating quince in the sky. I watched it as we sped past shadowy trees and black hills that rose and fell beside the road, my mind drifting away from my wet feet and back to the upholstered armchair where Ralph had slept so angelically in my arms, until the city lights ahead stole the moon’s glamour and signalled that we were almost home. 

I paused at our front door - a heavy, sleeping Ralph once again resting his head on my shoulder - and smiled up at the quince-moon as it quietly watched us from the eastern sky. I wondered what we looked like from up there. All the moments and events of our short lives, both momentous and minute, weighted equally and witnessed in silence. Weddings, funerals, dancing shoes, swampy shoes. Lovers uniting, marriages ending, mysteries solved, questions forming. 

If I think my time with my children is all too short, this must be laughable to the ancient moon, for whom ten years or twenty pass like a breath.

Early the next morning I stepped outside the same front porch, my own breath making mist of the air around me, and watched a hot-air balloon rise in exactly the same patch of sky where the moon had bid me goodnight a few hours earlier. The dawn was very still, and the balloon seemed to be suspended for a moment, not drifting. With its yellow and cream stripes, being almost-but-not-quite round, it looked as though the quince-moon had swathed itself in a coat and defied the very laws of space, refusing to orbit and instead choosing to pause, at least for a little while, in our company. As if maybe she cared.

And then with a loud “pschhh” and a flash of orange flames, the pilot trapped more warm air under the balloon, and it began to rise, slowly floating away from me and into the east. The spell was broken, the moon was gone, and I went inside to make breakfast. 


Golden

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Those were golden days.

When we arrived in Dinan, our park was a rainbow cacophony of flowers in bloom, but in the weeks that followed we watched the flowers fade, and the chestnuts begin to drop. The path we walked to get to the playground (the path you see in the picture above above) was like being inside the colour green. The air itself felt green, and the still-warm afternoons were soft, like a hug from nature.

But then, while our backs were turned, everything changed.

The temperatures dropped, and we returned to the playground after a week doing other things to discover green had receded, in the most magnificent of fashions. The park was now shocking, and glorious, and unabashedly golden.

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I like to think there is a metaphor in this park for the gold-tinted nostalgia I know I will feel for our sojourn in France in the months and years to come.

There are some things I won’t miss, of course. Being apart from the children’s father for so long tops that list, but I also won’t miss dodging dog-poo on the footpaths, the oven that burned everything, the ever-present smell of cigarette-smoke in the hallway that filtered through to the bathroom and bedrooms, and the incredibly uncomfortable mattresses. The unreliable buses, the way our apartment never felt properly clean… and it will be a long time before I ever want to eat another galette blé noir.

But this park, these children, those are the gold-tinted memories I will carry with me in the years to come. Memories that will turn into nostalgia, long after I have forgotten the grumpy British man downstairs, who liked to complain about the thumps my children made on the floor when they got up in the morning. (It must have been annoying, but there wasn’t much I could do: they haven’t yet learned how to levitate).

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Nine hundred kilometres. That’s how far (actually it was a bit further) my children walked during our three months in France. These are the same little legs that were apparently “too tired” to walk the 15 minutes it took to take Scout to school every day last year. Or the three-block stroll to the park.

In France, they would walk, and walk, and walk. And when we stopped walking, they would run, and leap, and dance. I know how far they walked because of the little ‘steps’ app on my ‘phone, by which I kept a tally because the children were so proud of themselves, discovering stamina and resilience they didn’t know they had.

Pepper. That’s how Ralph likes to season his food now. Scout likes her mayonnaise homemade, with enough mustard to give it tang. They eat ‘real’ sushi, tuna salads, vegetable soups, seared steak and soft cheese. They crack their own walnuts and eat them out of the shell. They devour giant bowls of moules marinières (avec frites), homemade muesli, and milk-jelly made using a recipe from Henry VIII’s kitchen. In short, they developed palates in France. And better still, they gained a sense of culinary adventure. Gone are the days of plain pasta and never-ending towers of ham-and-cheese toasties, and chicken nuggets at cafes. Now, they eat what we eat.

When Scout left for Australia she was afraid of all animals. By the time she returned, she was able to play with dogs, ride horses, and care for our baby bunny. At some point in November, while tucked up in bed in our chilly apartment in Dinan, Scout also discovered she could tell stories, and began spinning fabulous and fantastical yarns about faraway adventures, when previously she’d only understood narrative recall.

Ralph began using French words instead of English ones in conversation, without realising he was doing it (and still insisting he couldn’t understand French). He also found the language he needed to describe his emotions, which sometimes threatened to overwhelm him (and then us) when he was tired. He invented phrases like “letting the wolf out” to describe that feeling when anger and frustration took over, so he could tell us what was happening on the inside, before the situation escalated on the outside.

Ralph grappled languages and feelings and currencies and public transport and dropped day-naps with the kind of resilience none of us could have imagined before we left Australia.

But perhaps the most beautiful change I saw - even more beautiful than the foliage change from summer to autumn in our playground - was in their relationship. The children have always been close, a happy side-effect of being born so close together (only 17 months apart), and of sharing a bedroom.

But I watched their friendship blossom in France, alongside their shared experiences and, despite the inevitable arguments, they became a true unit. It wasn’t just friendship: it was trust, reliance, comfort, compassion, and support. The word that comes to me is “tribe.” They became one another’s tribe, and gave one another a sense of belonging that kept them feeling secure despite all the changes and new experiences. It’s something I hope and pray will stay with them throughout their lives.

Because it is golden.

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The truth about what happens on our walks

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Chevalier Ralph clambered up onto the rocks by the path, to his look-out. “Can you see the advance guard?” the Warrior Queen Scout called up to him, “Are they close yet?”

We all peered through the forest trees and across the canal, to the hiking trail on the other side. Two retirees carrying trekking poles were striding along the path. “I see them!” yelled Chevalier Ralph. “They’re almost ahead of us!”

And then at the same time, both children looked further into the distance, and stiffened. A walking group of about 20 more retirees had rounded the corner of the path across the river, behind their two ‘advance guard’ friends.

“The pack! The pack of oldie chevaliers!” the children yelled, in mock terror. “Run!” And so we ran, a mad race to the old castle ruin, us on one side of the river and our unwitting enemies on the other.

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We were two chevaliers and one warrior queen, you see, and we alone knew of a plan by our arch enemies to attack our castle. They intended to sneak up on the castle, cunningly disguised as an innocent-looking walking-party of octogenarians, then storm our walls and take the kingdom.

Luckily, we happened upon them during our walk. Now it was up to us to get to the castle before them, and save the day.

We raced along the forest path, past the ancient abbey with scarcely a glance, and scrambled up the steep hill to our fortress, all the while listening for the sound of deceptively-benign conversations about chestnuts and knitting and grandchildren.

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Once there, we pulled up the imaginary draw-bridge, locked the non-existent gates, and armed the crumbling battlements. Hastily (there was no time to lose!), we reached into my backpack and added to our number: the castle was now under the protection of Chevalier Ralph, Chevalier Mummy and the Warrior Queen, as well as a soft toy Lightning McQueen, another soft toy Harry Potter, and a little plastic dog from Paw Patrol, called Chase.

The toy chevaliers protected the most vulnerable aspect of the walls, overlooking the valley, while the three of us checked every other side, craning our necks for enemies disguised as grandparents. We sent messages via carrier pigeon to the next town over, warning them of imminent attack.

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At this point the Warrior Queen decided she was no warrior after all, but just a plain old queen who needed protecting. After about five minutes of that she found that being helpless was boring, and so miraculously developed the powers of flight. A man yielding a leaf-blower in the village below was actually a dragon, roaring with fury and spewing dust and leaves.

Chevalier Ralph stopped bing a chevalier and became instead a superhero, by the name of SuperBoy. As we headed to the neighbouring village, we had to stop multiple times for SuperBoy to throw stones into the canal, as this was the only way to recharge his waning superpowers.

Soon after this, the adventure grew so complex that it is impossible to explain. Suffice to say we won the day, both sides of the war agreed to make friends, and we celebrated with chocolate eclairs and raspberry tarts on the way home.

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Listening & noticing

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We first noticed it on a Saturday night at the beginning of September: the unnatural quiet.

We were returning from the playground, where the children had spent a rousing hour-and-a-half making friends via a game of Ralph’s invention. It involved tossing his soft car-toy into the midst of a group of children who were spinning at top speed on a merry-go-round. If they managed to catch it, they’d toss it back, causing gales of laughter as Ralph ran hither and thither to pick it up like an eager puppy. Over time, the game evolved into chasings, with everyone chasing the one person who held the car, which they’d then pass to someone else if the mob of children got too near. A bit like under-six football, only with a lot less rules.

The children’s French language skills are coming along swimmingly, too. Mid-way through the game Ralph took a break in order to run up and tell me, “A girl said ‘bonjour’ to me, so I said ‘bonjour’ back.”

So, practically fluent.

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We left the playground and sat down at a table outside a restaurant in the heart of town. I ordered us a tuna salad to share, and a glass of wine for me, and leaned back to enjoy the evening. That’s when I noticed it: the quiet. The town, which we had left two hours earlier bustling with the now-familiar throngs of thousands of tourists, buskers, market stalls and families, was now all-but empty. Two old men at a table nearby, smoking over pastis. The woman from the Presse across the square, leaning in the doorframe of her shop and watching the dusk. An old English sheepdog, asleep on the flagstones.

That was pretty much it, other than us, and it felt uncanny, to say the least. I said as much to the woman who brought us our salad. “Oui,” she said, her face widening into a broad smile, “c’est tres tranquil!” (“Yes, it’s very quiet!”). In the space of one afternoon, the school holidays had ended, and the crowds had melted away like mist in the sun. Now, I thought to myself, I am about to discover what life is really like in the village.

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And one great lesson I am learning from life in this village, now that tourist-season has closed, is that there is a time and a season for everything, if only we learn to listen for it.

At first this felt restrictive because, in Australia, we are used to doing all the things, all the time. We eat when we can (hungry or not), and often on the go. We work all the time. Early morning. Late nights. Weekends. My husband brings his computer, iPad and telephone with him on holidays. We do our shopping at odd hours, slotting it around our long days. Pick up this on the way home from the office, grab that on the way home from school, shop for those at 9pm on a Sunday night, and order the rest online at 1am on a Tuesday after finishing a deadline.

I get my coffee take-away and eat at my desk, and our mealtimes are likewise scattered. For breakfast, Mr B grabs a banana for the car and snacks at work when he gets hungry. Often I forget to eat lunch and then pick at unhealthy anythings scavenged from the pantry all afternoon. I feed the kids their dinner and put them into bed, and then by the time Mr B gets home from work I’m often too tired to cook again. We are keeping Uber Eats in business.

By comparison, this is our life in the village:

* The church bells ring at seven in the morning. They don’t start earlier and the inference is, what person in their right mind would get up before seven in the morning anyway?

* On church-service days (including weddings and funerals), the bells start ringing 12 minutes before the hour, and continue all the way up until the hour, to give everyone in the village time to get to church

* The markets run from eight until one on Thursday, and that’s where everyone in town stocks up on fresh fruit, vegetables, meats, fish, cheeses and spices for the week. It’s seasonal, and you just have to roll with what’s growing (no California oranges or New Zealand kiwis here)

* The cafés and restaurants open at noon until about two for lunch, and seven until nine for dinner. Outside those hours most are closed and even if they do open, you can only get drinks

* I’ve yet to see a take-away coffee cup

* The shops don’t open before ten each day, and they are closed on Sundays and Mondays. “Sundays are family days,” my friend told me, with an expressive gallic shrug that seemed to add, “naturally”

As you can imagine, we came unstuck at first. I used up the last of our milk on a Saturday night and shock! horror! Had to wait until after ten on Tuesday morning to buy more for my tea. More than once, I failed to buy enough fruit and vegetables at the markets and had to go without for the rest of the week. (Going without is better than facing the prospect of picking through the genuinely-rotting ‘fresh’ produce in the local supermarket to find something edible. I’m not kidding: if the supermarket was a cartoon, there’d be little wiggly smell-lines wafting above it).

When we first arrived, my kids’ little tummies were used to having lunch at eleven or thereabouts, and we roamed fruitlessly from café to café, searching for something that was open before noon. We had the same problem when I wanted to take them out for dinner, but nobody would serve food until after their bed-times.

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But as time has gone by we have slowly adjusted to these new rhythms and, somehow, they are beginning to make profound sense.

I take menu inspiration from what’s fresh at the market, rather than arriving at the supermarket with a ready-made list and very little idea of where my food is coming from. When it’s time for coffee, I take five minutes to sit at a cafe and people-watch while I sip, noticing and appreciating the taste… and the moment of peace.

Mealtimes are for proper meals, and we enjoy them thoroughly. But when mealtimes are over, we stop eating. I don’t snack any more, and I’m noticing the difference to my waistline. Sundays, when all the shops are closed, are for big cook-ups for the week ahead… or for long walks and picnics if the weather is just too good to resist.

It feels as though we are training our bodies to notice the rising and setting of the sun, the rhythms of the harvest, the turning of the globe and the changing of the seasons.

I am storing these life-lessons away, tucking them into my suitcase alongside the souvenir biscuit tins, vintage ceramic jelly mould and new winter coat that I also picked up here in France, in the hopes that they can be woven into my daily life when we return to Australia.

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One day in Paris (with small children)

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Brace yourself: your day will probably have to start with the Paris Metro. Hold on tight to their hands, try not to inhale too deeply, and, if it’s peak hour, leave enough time to allow a few over-crowded trains to go by before you venture on in (here is a fun guide to surviving the metro in Paris).

Be a tourist

Take the Metro to somewhere close to a tourist attraction. I know, I know, you’re cooler than that. You want to explore off-the-beaten track alleyways and hole-in-the-wall one-dish-only Michelin star restaurants only Parisians know about. But you only have one day, and you are travelling with small children. There’ll be places they’ve seen in movies or read about in books that they are just desperate to visit. My friend, you are going to the Eiffel Tower!

The goal is that you emerge from the dark, smelly Metro-cesspit and watch your kids’ eyes grow wide and hear them breathe “Wow!” as the true beauty of Paris rises all around them. That “Wow” is worth a thousand super-cool secret bars, trust me.

Depending on which part of the city you’re staying in (i.e. the most convenient Metro lines to you), you could aim for any of these Metro stations:

  • To see Notre Dame first: get off at Saint-Michel Notre Dame (RER lines B or C), or Cité (pinkish-purple line)

  • To see the Louvre Museum first: get off at Louvre Rivoli or Palais Royal Musée du Louvre (yellow line), or Chatelet Les Halles (RER line A)

  • To see the Eiffel Tower first: get off at Champ de Mars/Tour Eiffel (RER line C)

  • To see the Arc de Triomphe first: get off at Charles de Gaulle Etoile (yellow, blue or aqua lines, or RER line A)

  • To see the Opéra Garnier first: get off at Opera (olive, pink or purple lines), Chausée d’Antin La Fayette (pink or lime lines), or Auber (RER line A)

  • To see the Tuileries garden and Place de la Concorde first: get off at Tuileries (yellow line)

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Buy a croissant

Get yourself out of that Metro station, and look around. Wherever it is you emerge, it’s a fair bet it will be beautiful! Let the kids stretch their legs, and take a ramble over and around wherever it is you’ve decided to start. (For my kids, this means racing around the forecourt at The Louvre).

Now find a nearby cafe and prepare to overpay outrageously for a coffee and a croissant. It’s worth it. The kids are hungry, and you’re in Paris. Order them a pain au chocolat and they will be over the moon. (Remember to use the loos here because you’re going to hit the road again soon).

Hop on a bus

Look around for a hop-on-hop-off bus and buy yourself a day ticket. These buses are a fantastic way to look around a city if you don’t have much time. They hit all the top tourist destinations and the name pretty much says it all: you can hop on or off all day, using these buses to make your way around the city.

If you’ve emerged at any of the places I listed above, a hop-on-hop-off bus will be nearby, so just grab the next one: this is how you’re going to get around for the rest of the day. Sit upstairs if the weather is fine.

Especially if your children are quite young, the hop-on-hop-off bus will work with their moods. Do their little legs need a rest? Hop on the bus and drive around, seeing the sights while giving them a break (bring snacks if you need to). Are they growing restless? Jump off at the next stop and let them explore - another bus will be along whenever you need it to continue on your journey.

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Let the kids set the itinerary

Now let the kids set the itinerary. As you drive past the bouquinistes (those green market-stalls along the Seine), tell them about the antique postcards and books and trinkets they can find there and, if they like the sound of that, get off at the next stop. If Notre Dame fascinates them, hop off there, then take a walk to Shakespeare and Company afterwards. Or if they are art-lovers, hop off at the Musee d’Orsay and visit all those lovely impressionists. (Notre Dame tip: you can book online to climb to the top and skip the lines. Musee d’Orsay tip: book your tickets online to skip the queues).

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Climb that tower

Let’s face it, assuming you do let the kids take charge, at some point or another today you are most likely going to the Eiffel Tower. (If you definitely know they’ll want to do this, try to make the Eiffel Tower your first stop, because the lines only get longer as the day goes on).

Hop off the bus, and prep the kids. Tell them that yes, they can climb it, but it is a long way up, and there’s no changing their minds half way. Would they prefer to take the lift? (If you like, you can buy a ticket that allows you to walk up to the first level, then take the lift to the second. You can choose to take the lift back down as well).

Half an hour later, ask incredulously, “Are you sure??” when your 4yo and 6yo declare that they want to climb both levels. Now moan and pant behind them as they set a cracking pace ahead of you, and you follow as best you can, carrying all the bags and coats they shed along the way. Have a tarte au pomme or a hot chocolate at the top. You’ve earned it.

(Let them buy that crappy Eiffel Tower snow-globe keyring. You are making memories.)

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Take a break

When you need a break from exploring, hop off the bus near one of Paris’ many beautiful parks. Take a breather here, and let the kids race around if they need to, or lie in the grass and make shapes out of clouds if that’s more your speed. If the weather is hot, float a paper boat in a pond, or let them dance through sprinklers to cool off.

Optional extra: after receiving a thorough soaking from the sprinklers, allow them to treat you and half-a-million other tourists to a dance performance on the Trocadéro to dry off. (Oh yes, they did). Or bring a change of clothes.

Ride a carousel. Buy crepes from an outdoor vendor and eat them for lunch under a tree or beside the river.

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Ice cream

Hop back on the bus, and visit as few or as many more sites as you want to. When you’ve had enough, hop back off at Notre Dame, and take a short walk along the Seine and over the bridge to the picturesque Ile St-Louis, to enjoy a cone of the best ice cream in Paris, from Berthillon. It’s seriously worth it. Sit in the gutter if you have to. You’re not shy.

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Have dinner with the artists

How is your energy? Are all of you flagging? If you have the stamina (or if you have a spare morning the next day), take the Metro once again, up to Montmartre.

The closest stations are Abbesses (green line), Anvers (blue line) or Lamarck Caulaincourt (green line). If you’re not sure which way to go from the station, just head up hill. Depending on which direction you come from, you’ll either pass winding lanes with artists selling wares that spill out onto the sidewalk; or there’ll be buskers, hawkers, tricksters performing that old cup-and-coin trick, and way more pedestrians than cars. Each walk is equally fun.

At the base of Sacre Coeur is a carousel that (joy of joys!) has two levels. This will make your children very happy indeed. When they’re ready to leave it, take the funiculaire up to Sacre Coeur (go in or not depending on their interest - it’s the actual funiculaire that they will love, and the cost is a standard Metro ticket price).

Now walk around the corner to Place du Tertre for dinner. Choose one of the restaurants facing onto this lovely public square (once a favourite haunt of all your favourite artists) and order something delicious. I love moules-frites with a crisp rosé, but you do your thing.

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There will be loads of amateur artists wandering around, offering to draw or paint or cut portraits of you and your little ones, and selling landscapes of all the places you have visited and admired today. I know, it’s cheesy, and the likeness is not exactly the best. But what a great memento of your day in Paris with your family, having your children immortalised forever in the style of a mid-century-mod portrait. You could take a wander around and pick up a souvenir for not too much if you like, or settle in for that dinner and let the artists come to you.

As dusk settles and the café lights come on, snuggle those tired kids onto your lap and ask them, “What was your favourite part of today?” They’ll tell you it was the ice cream, and the sprinklers. Stuff you could just as easily have done at home.

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Pilgrims

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The day started at 2:42am, with a blood-curdling scream issuing from the children’s room. I barrelled in, stubbing my toe on the dressing table then tripping over the low bed they share, to discover Ralph sitting bolt upright, in the aftermath of a particularly bad dream. He was trembling, so I held him and kissed him until he calmed down.

When at last he lay back down on the pillow, he fell instantly back to sleep. Scout rolled over, kissed the back of his head, and wrapped her arms around her little brother to keep him secure. “Ralph, you are lucky to have such a loving sister,” I said. Scout whispered into his curls, which were still damp with perspiration from the nightmare, “I am lucky to have him.” And then she, too, sank back into sleep.

By the time I made it back to my own bed, I was so full of adrenalin it took forever before I found my own way back into slumber, and it felt like only minutes before the charms of my alarm woke me again at 5:30am. I groped through the dark a second time, this time on tip-toe, to put the kettle on in the kitchen, prepare breakfast for the children, and pack a lunch for the day ahead.

An hour later, the three of us were creeping through the still-dark village, whispering so-as not to wake the locals. It was like a magical other-world in that pre-dawn dark: cobblestones shining under the orange lantern-light, a fresh breeze, and not even a whisper of a breeze. It felt, truly, as though we had stepped back in time. I was thinking this to myself as we tip-toed toward the bus-stop, and then Scout said to us, “This morning, the town belongs to us.” So I guess she felt some of the magic, too.

We made it to the bus-stop five minutes early. And stood there shivering in the dark. I put my arms around the children and Ralph said, “You are our mother-hen.”

Time for the bus, but no Line 10 to be seen. We waited a little longer in the dark, watched other buses come and go, shivered a little more, cuddled a little more. I pulled the timetable out of my bag and checked again: yep, I had the days right, and the times. We wandered over to the bus-shelter at the other side, to read the same timetables that were pinned to the wall…

… only, it turned out they weren’t the same timetables. I looked up at the wall again. Turns out, the bus-times changed when the calendar changed, and our bus had rolled away five minutes before we had arrived (probably right about the time Scout had said, “the town belongs to us”).

“There’s another bus in two hours,” I told the children. “We could take that? It won’t get us all the way but we could at least go to the beach.” They took it well, the excitement of the early morning and the walk in the dark still pumping in their veins, and didn’t even want to go home in the meantime. “Let’s just wander around,” Scout pleaded, but even I have my adventure limits, so we turned for home to pass the time until daylight.

(We had a win on the way back: our boulanger was open. By way of compensation, I bought them each a pain au chocolat, still warm from the oven, and picked up a baguette to add to our picnic later on.)

Using the Internet back home I discovered we could cobble together trains and buses and make it to our original destination only an hour later than planned, so out we trundled again an hour after that, ready at long last to begin our pilgrimage.

Walk. Train. Wait. Bus. Walk. And then another walk, a long walk, in the sun. The children were disappointed: they had hoped to risk the tides and wade through silt and sand to reach the island, but it turned out that a perfectly crafted boardwalk unfolded ahead of us, and our pilgrimage felt a lot easier, and more sanitised, than we had envisioned.

But the heat had become searing, and a long walk, when you are only four years old and had an early morning with multiple mishaps and the sun is bearing down on you, can quickly become arduous. We tramped on, at what felt like a snail’s pace (aka Ralph’s pace), feeling as though we were making more authentic, pilgrim-esque, effort with every step.

And then, carrying softly across the sand amid the chatter of thousands of other wayfarers, the noon-day church bells began to ring. So we marched onwards with renewed vigour, following the call.

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Inside, I had been hoping to find ghosts. I’m good at finding ghosts. I can find the magic in even the most touristy of places, if once there was true magic. (Like Notre Dame, for example, where I once filed in with a million other tourists but still managed to still my soul and feel the prayers, hundreds of years of prayers, fluttering toward the cathedral ceiling like a million butterflies.)

But as we strode over the drawbridge and under the portcullis and filed into the medieval village, packed shoulder-to-shoulder with what felt like every other tourist in France, the ghosts were silent. Scout and I shared a big bowl of moules frites (Ralph had pizza), and then we rejoined the throng on the climb up the hill to the abbey. Poor Ralph tripped over on the pavement and almost got trampled by a German tourist and his dog. We dusted him off, dried his tears, and carried on. A few minutes later, he bashed his head on a flying buttress. We crammed against a wall and tended to him again, kissing the forehead where a lump was rapidly rising, but my little champion rallied and we resumed our climb. Several flights of stairs - me holding tight to Ralph’s hand to stop him stumbling - and we made it to the top mercifully without incident.

There, at last, the crowd thinned. We all three took a breath, opened our arms to the breeze, and discovered that we were, in fact, on top of the world.

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I had been hoping for the ghosts of the past but what I found instead were spirits. Soaring, swooping, invisible and yet profoundly present. Open-armed, open-hearted, open-minded.

On our way inside the abbey, Ralph fell in the gravel and skinned his elbow and both knees. But he got up, and carried on. Heading home, now in searing heat, we discovered the lines for the horse-drawn carriage I had promised them, and also the more mundane but infinitely more practical buses, were so long, we’d never make it back to our bus and the last train on time.

I looked at that boardwalk, stretching out in front of us, and then I looked at my beautiful children, already drooping and exhausted. I didn’t know what to do. “I don’t know what to do,” I said. The words escaped me before I could stop them.

“We can walk Mum,” my little champions assured me. “Don’t worry!” I grasped both of their hands and began to power-walk, the two of them trotting along either side of me. Stress prickled me on the inside. The signpost said the walk should take 45 minutes: at Ralph pace, that meant at least an hour and a half. We had half an hour.

I’m not going to lie, that was a rough half hour. When Ralph fell yet again, I almost thought we were done-for. But those valiant children carried on. We made it to the bus with less than a minute to spare (I’m not kidding: the bus-driver was closing the doors as we stumbled up, sweating and panting and pleading), and both children wilted like flowers into their seats.

In all, they walked 14 kilometres in aching heat, and 14 kilometres in the heat is a long, long walk for two little children, not to mention the numerous bumps, bruises and grazes picked up by Ralph along the way. My heart swelled for them. Pride, joy, mother-guilt and love all mingled together at the way they had carried on forward, not complaining, in all that difficulty.

And then I thought about the air at the top of that abbey, and the way the wind had unravelled across the sandy flats to the sea with heart-stopping freedom, and how those same weary children had opened themselves to the wind with such enthusiasm that it was infectious, their evident joy and laughter spreading to the other tourists around them in smiles and giggles and sighs.

And then I thought about spirits, soaring.

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Mindfulness walking

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Recently on our morning walks to school, Scout and I have started practising what we call 'mindfulness walking'. Essentially, it is paying attention to our senses while we walk, rather than allowing the path to roll away underneath our feet, unnoticed.

It starts when I ask a simple question: "What can you see?" 

We get all the obvious things out of the way first: trees, cars, houses... but then slowly we start to really notice what is around us. A man carrying what looks like a very heavy stack of metal poles, on his shoulder. The way the wind makes the leaves on a gum tree in the middle of a roundabout sway like a dance. A cloud that looks like an elephant wearing roller-skates. 

I ask, "What can you hear?" We walk a little further, hand in hand. 

A drill from a nearby building site, passers-by talking to one another. A flock of birds that swoops past, screeching. We continue walking. "I can sort of hear the wind pushing past my ears," Scout says. I say, "I can just hear our footsteps." We start to notice other things: the hum of an air conditioner on a building, a helicopter in the distance, the clanking of unseen dishes inside someone's house, the soft whoosh of bicycle tyres as they pass us by. 

I ask, "What can you smell?"

We smell car exhaust and the tinder tang of fired metal on the building site. Fresh coffee. A garbage bin. We stop and crush leaves between our fingers. "Lemon!" cries Scout. And then of another, "Um, kind of herby?"

Mostly we are at school by now but if there is time, I ask, "What can you feel?" The way the ground under our feet changes from smooth footpath to uneven cobblestones to sand to spongy grass. The warm sun on our faces. The cool breeze making goosebumps rise on our arms. The fabric of our clothes: is it soft? Or scratchy? A pebble in my shoe. School bag straps chafing shoulders. 

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Of course this is more than a pleasantly curious way to pass the time. What Scout and I are practising on these walks is mindfulness in its most basic and simple of forms. We are simply paying attention, without passing judgement. And there is something rather special to be said about paying attention, being present in the moment, and indulging in some good, old-fashioned curiosity.

There are loads of benefits to practising mindfulness and I'm sure you've heard them before. Things like reduced stress, improved memory, better focus, and less emotional reactivity. But what these walks are also doing is giving our brains some exercise in the area that houses the 'salience network,' a network of brain circuitry that helps us decide what to pay attention to, and what to ignore. This process is called 'latent inhibition' and it just so happens to have a big impact on creativity, an area in which I work and teach. 

Latent inhibition is our subconscious deciding what, from the cacophony of sensory stimuli that we are exposed to in any given second, to take in, and what to ignore. Imagine if our brains gave equal weight to everything we saw, heard, smelled, touched and tasted, at the same time, all the time. The world would be almost unbearably loud and bright, something I imagine akin to standing in the middle of the traffic in the middle of New York Times Square during rush-hour (and possibly just as deadly). I've heard that some research studies have linked a reduction in latent inhibition to psychosis, and that doesn't surprise me one bit. 

On the other hand, a conscious, deliberate, mindful reducing of our latent inhibitions, during something like a mindfulness walk, can be powerfully beneficial. A research study of individuals with high IQ scores found that those who were also classified as "eminent creative achievers" were seven times more likely to have low, rather than high, latent inhibition scores. As the researchers put it, people who were less likely to classify sounds or objects as irrelevant were at an advantage when it came to producing creative, original content.

So by the simple act of paying attention during a walk, Scout and I are exercising our brains, and giving them permission to notice and give relevance to our surroundings. This in turn leads to more creative thinking in all areas of life, from artistic expression to problem-solving and innovation. 

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(Side note: speaking of paying attention, here is something I have noticed in the picture above. Because of the time of day, the shadows were right in front of this gardener and you can hardly see them. Look at her feet. Does something seem wrong? No shadows! It kind of looks like I have photoshopped her in from some other picture, and failed to add in grounding shadows. I didn't, this shot is unedited, but it is driving me crazy. For people who ask me about painting tips, this is why shadows - even soft ones - can make a big difference to a scene.)

After my mindfulness walk with Scout this morning, I decided I would write about it, so I kept my iPhone out to take some pictures of things I noticed, too, during my solitary walk to pick up the mail and get my morning coffee. At one point, I leant across a fence to photograph some beautiful, peeling paint on a brick wall (something I had walked past more than 100 times before and never properly noticed) and, as I leaned, I accidentally crushed some rosemary. The honeyed, herbaceous fragrance instantly lifted my spirits, so I picked a sprig and carried it with me the rest of the way.  

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What to do on a mindfulness walk 

The next time you take a solitary walk - or a walk with the children if they are willing - take at least some of that time to try a deliberate mindfulness practise. Here are some ideas to get you started: 

1. Bring a piece of paper and pen with you, and start recording things. List 10 things you can see, 10 things you can hear, 10 things you can smell, and 10 things you can feel. There probably won't be 10 things you want to taste, but don't let me hold you back if that's your thing! I have made a pretty worksheet for this exercise that you can download here if you'd like it. 

2. Take a camera and go for a walk to see what you can see. I have been recommending this as a tool for overcoming creative block for years. There is something about the combination of exercise, a change of scenery, and exercising creativity in a different kind of way that can often be just the break your brain needs to unblock whatever was stopping you in your project. Walking with a camera can also be a beautiful way to practise mindfulness, because you are more likely to notice things. Really pay attention, and make the effort to capture what you see. Think about light and shadows and details. Crouch down to get a different perspective. Zoom in closer for some detail. Look for unexpected shapes in building angles and white space. 

3. Make a mini-movie by recording one-second videos every minute or so on your walk. Then when you get home, edit them together. You will be amazed, once you start recording, the sounds and sights you hadn't noticed until that moment. Possibly when you watch your edited movie back, you will also realise there were other things going on at the time (a woman pushing a pram on the other side of the road while you were filming a letter-box; a bus starting up from around the corner while you were filming a bird singing) and that will help you be even more mindful the next time you go walking. 

4. Just before you go for your walk, use your phone (or any other device) to make an audio recording of your walk. You don't need to do anything with this recording - you can even delete it as soon as you're done - but the very fact that you are recording will heighten your awareness of the sounds around you, and help you to pay attention. The bang of the front door as you pull it shut (even the click of the lock), a magpie warbling, the squeal of car tyres somewhere in the distance, bees on a bush, a baby crying, snippets of conversations. 

I would love to know if you find these ideas helpful, or if there is anything similar that you do in your own life, that others could benefit from knowing. What do you think? 

Teaching children a second language

Do you / did you teach your children a second language? Did you learn another language when you were little? How did you do it? I'd love your tips and advice! 

When my father was growing up, French was the only language spoken inside the home. Then he'd go to school in Australia and speak only English all day with his friends and teachers. The result was that he grew up fully bilingual (albeit with apparently the most appalling Australian accent to his French you could ever imagine). 

Sadly, my father didn't do the same thing at home when I was growing up. By the time I was 11 and about to travel by myself to New Caledonia to visit relatives, the sum total of my French was to be able to say "Oui," "Non," count to ten, and to say the word for toilet (taught to me as "cabinet," which I learned when I got over there was hopelessly out-of-date. When I asked for the "cabinet," everybody just shrugged). 

Now, I'm trying to do for my children what I wish my parents had done from me, and introduce a second language into their lives before it starts to feel like "learning." It's important to me that they learn their family's language. Even though we live in Australia, most of my dad's side of the family are still in French-speaking countries, and that's a big part of my children's heritage. 

The trouble is, of course, my aforementioned dearth of French-language skills. I've improved since my "cabinet" days, and can count past 10, but it's not ideal. French people understand me when I speak, but they also laugh. Attempting the whole "speak French to them at home all the time" thing with my kids would probably be doing them a great disservice. 

We are planning an extended trip to France next year (I'll share more about that soon), so I've decided to get more strategic about this whole 'language acquisition' agenda I have for my family. A lovely French girl called Cecce visits us once a week to help teach the children. Throughout the week, we also listen to French songs, choose French language on our favourite DVDs if it's available, watch French kids' shows on YouTube (my guys are addicted to a cartoon called PJ Mask), and we have a big French vocabulary book (that is unfortunately spurned by my kids). 

Where possible, I incorporate French words into our day-to-day lives. I encourage them to say hello, goodbye and thank-you in French instead of English (we sound like such tossers when out and about doing this, but I persist, blushing like crazy, because I am determined that we'll be ready for France next year). We count stairs / birthdays / dried apricots in French, and we identify the names of things and colours of things in French as we walk down the street. 

I've tried to find some more narrative-style books in French, without much luck. A while back somebody recommended a little French magazine called Pomme d'Api for small children, but getting hold of it in Australia was fabulously expensive. Like, remortgage-your-house-level expensive. 

And then last month, out of the blue, the publishers of Pomme d'Api, Bayard Milan, contacted me to let me know that a number of their children's book and magazine titles are now available in Australia, in the English language. They offered to send my children some of the magazines to try, to which I breathlessly replied, "Will the French-language titles be available in Australia too?" The answer is yes, so AT LAST we have some stories, games and activities to help my children learn French (and we get to keep our house). 

For example, the little French stories in Histories pour les petits are great to read to the children, because the language is simple enough for me to understand and therefore explain if I need to, but mostly they can follow along by looking at the pictures, and listening for words they already know. My children love activities in magazines, like mazes, spot-the-difference, and find-hidden-objects, so they enjoyed the magazine Toupie, pitched at children three-to-six years old. In English, we particularly loved one of the magazines called Story Box, which was filled with fictional stories as well as fun science explanations such as "why we breathe" and animal information. 

We will keep on reading but in the meantime, I'd love to know your tips. What are some fun ways to teach language to children (if you're not super-fluent in that language yourself)? 

This post was not sponsored, however, these magazines were sent as a gift to my children. If you like the look of them, they are now available in Australia in English, Spanish, German and French. To order, visit www.bayard-presse.com.au, and use the code E20 for a discount. 

6 snail-mail games to play with children (and why)

mail-art-darcy This picture is of the first 'mail-art' I ever made. It was for a little boy who was super into civil war stuff.

(Actually it wasn't mail-art in the strictest sense, because it didn't end up travelling through the postal service. The boy's mother was staying with us, so I wrapped up a parcel for her son, painted his address on and glued some vintage stamps to the right-hand corner so it would look realistic, but then gave the parcel to the mother, who snuck it into the family letterbox when she flew home.) 

But the point of that little piece of subterfuge was this: children love getting letters. It's so rare these days,  that sometimes people contact me to tell me that they are in their 20s and my letter was the first they had ever received. Often, parents write to tell me that the letter I had sent them made their children so excited, and curious, and inspired them to send letters of their own. After all, you and I already know the joy of going to the letter-box and discovering something personal, and friendly, with your name on the front. For children, the novelty factor triples that joy and excitement. 

If for this pleasure alone, teaching your children about the postal system and having someone write to them is a wonderful thing to share with them. But there are numerous other benefits. Teaching children about the post office reinforces all kinds of other important skills: 

* Counting (weighing parcels and buying stamps)  * Reading (the fabulous letters that come)  * Writing (storytelling in their own letters)  * Handwriting (developing their visual, cognitive and fine-motor skills) * Art (enclosing drawings or making mail-art) * Geography (looking at maps to see where their letters will travel) * Learning about other cultures (from international pen-pals)

A few years ago, Mr B and I gave a bunch of envelopes to Emily and her cousin, asking them to address them for us. The girls were about 11 years old at the time, and we had 50 envelopes to address, so we offered them some pocket money for the task. They gleefully did the job and then ran off to the shops to spend the pocket money, only for Mr B and me to discover that the envelopes were no use to us, we had to throw them out and redo them all.

The girls had written the addresses in tiny handwriting in one long line at the top of each envelope, and then stuck the stamp right in the middle. It wasn't their fault; we realised they had never been taught the proper way to address a letter or affix a stamp. Instead, they'd simply done the logical thing when it came to writing anything: they'd started at the top.

I don't know if many schools are teaching children about mail any more, so maybe it's up to us to take that on. This is not just a fun craft activity from a lost era: even in 2017, mail is still very relevant. Just ask Amazon or Ebay! 

And finally, I would say that sometimes, ‘slow-living’ is about teaching your children a different kind of play. Getting back to basics, helping to create an imaginary world without the need for apps, buttons, sound-effects, motors, or the digital experience.

As blogger Jennifer Cooper says on the PBS Parents website

"But for me, there’s an even more important skill kids learn [from snail-mail], patience. Raising kids in the digital age means they don’t have to wait for much anymore. Almost everything is just a click away. And that’s great for some things, but for others it’s a problem. 

Writing letters with pencil and paper slows kids down. It makes what they read and write even more special. It also helps them write more thoughtfully about things that are important to them."

Here are some post-related games you can play with your children:

1. Cut out pieces of cardboard roughly the shape of postcards and invite your children to write (or scribble) messages on them: to other family members, to friends, to pets, even to toys. Once they have ‘posted’ the postcards, take them out and deliver them to family, friends... and toys.

2. Make stamps by using simple, white, sticker-labels sold at news agencies or office supply stores. Cut the ‘stamps’ to size if you need to, and invite your children to draw pictures on them or colour them in. Perhaps you could find some envelopes – or cut out postcards as above – to put the stamps to use.

3. Introduce them to the fun of stamp collecting. Keep any interesting stamps you receive in the mail, and keep an eye out for new series at your post office. Have them take a close look at the pictures, and talk about the people, events or scenes they depict. They might even enjoy their own album to house their collection.

4. Sorting the mail. Collect any junk mail you’ve received, and invite your children to sort the ‘mail.’ Perhaps by colour, by theme, or size? I think my children would especially enjoy this game if I made them postie hats to wear!

5. Set up stations all over your home or garden, to represent houses. You could use shoe-boxes, or even lunch boxes. Your child is the postie, so give them letters to deliver to each house. Perhaps you could number the houses, so your child has to find the matching envelopes in order to deliver the right letter. If they don’t know numbers yet, maybe match simple drawings instead, like flowers or cars.

6. At the real post office, get the children involved. Invite them to guess how much the parcel weighs and choose which stamp to buy. Let them stick on stamps and airmail labels themselves. Ask for your letter back when you’re done at the counter, so the children can post it themselves outside.

I'm sure there are plenty of other fun activities that teach kids about the postal system. I'd love to know them if you have any ideas, suggestions or advice! 

Stop just a minute

Tea This is all happening too fast.

It's not just the growing, it's the developing, the knowing, the maturing. "Stop growing up, start growing down," I tell them, and they roar with laughter. "Again?" requests Ralph, "Will you tell me to grow down?" ("Grow down," I obligingly order him. "NO!" he yells in evident delight).

Ralph started toilet-training on the weekend. I have always said this wasn't the kind of parenting blog that would share the details of my children's challenges, and I'm not about to change that now, so I'll spare you the details of that particular story (although you can ask me in private if you want to: there is much hilarity for people who can appreciate or relate to that sort of thing). But I didn't need Ralph to keep reminding me "I'm a big boy now!" to reinforce the significance of this time. Nappies = babies. Undies = big kids. Once my last baby is out of nappies, that tender, sweet, all-encompassing stage in my life is gone forever.

Oh, it's such a boring cliché, I am bored even as I write it and you are probably yawning, if you're still here at all. Alert the media: Mother Mourns Passing of Time.

Ballet

Each little milestone, announced with such pride.

Scout: "Mummy, watch me. I can skip!"

Ralph: "Mummy look at me standing on one leg!"

Scout: "Is this how I write my name Mummy? I am very good at this."

Ralph: "Don't help. I can brush my own teeth."

And Scout (beaming with pride): "Maman, comment ça va?" ("Je vais bien, merci," I reply.) Scout (nodding her head approvingly, like a wise old lady): "Ah, bon."

Daisies

Here is another cliché that is true: every age is the most wonderful and the best.

Whether they are cloud-gazing or deciphering words, practising new skills or teaching one another, seeing the world through their eyes is a great privilege, a front row seat to the theatre of life as it unfolds, all over again. Just like it was for me when I was their age, I imagine, but I was too busy doing the growing to pay attention to the sheer wonder of it all.

Last night I lay them on the carpet side by side after their bath, to get them dressed. They turned to face each other, giggling and playing, each one using the other one's hand as a pillow, feigning sleep, cuddling, kissing.

Suddenly it all hit me.

I stopped trying (and failing) to get them dressed, and started paying attention, proper attention, to the moment. "Look at them!" I wanted to open a window and shout to the whole world. Why couldn't everyone else see what I was seeing, the absolute miracle of these two human beings?

(A mother's ego that everyone must naturally find her children as fascinating as she does.) (Nobody does.) (Plebs).

Time stopped and it didn't matter any more how big they were getting or how small they still were, the new skills they had mastered or their adorable mistakes, it was just them. These two amazing individuals, and their love for each other. Such a love that I have never seen between two people for each other. Ever.

Mangoes

Later, we three snuggled together and read stories. I read to them from Amazing Babes, a book that celebrates women of courage, of conviction, of creativity, and of compassion. We had conversations about women's rights and war crimes, about equal opportunities, about the law. It wasn't easy to explain these things in ways that a four-year-old and a two-year-old could understand, but I loved them for trying. Those little furrowed brows: concentrating, questioning.

Leaf prints

Small fingers tracing over the dark skin of Mum Shirl. All the questions! About prisons and prisoners, about Indigenous people in prison, about the whole history of colonialisation. Those big grey eyes looking up at me, round as little stars. "What did the people from England do to them that was naughty?" I took a deep breath. "Well, they took away their homes, and they hurt them. They tried to be the bosses of them, and they were cruel to them."

Those eyes again. "Why?" Oh sure, let's just solve the entire problem of racism during a cosy bedtime-story chat. "Because they were different," I said at last. "They looked different, and believed different things, and spoke a different language, and lived a different way. Because they were different, the people from England though they were better than them."

Scout stroked the dark-skinned face of Mum Shirl again. "Shohana has dark skin like this," she said, thoughtfully, "and Bella," naming her best friend. I pressed the advantage. "Do you think any of our friends are better than others, because of the way they look or what they believe?" She shook her head solemnly. I could tell she still didn't understand: racism wasn't just wrong, it was genuinely incomprehensible.

"Vaishali looks like that," Ralph piped up all of a sudden. "Yeah and Rajetha!" Scout returned. "It is a little bit like Yulia," Ralph continued (he pronounced it "Loolia," be still my heart). They started naming everyone they knew and loved with skin that was any colour other than their own: friends and teachers from India, Iran, Pakistan, Singapore, Indonesia, China, Peru.

Cloud gazing

Last night I talked politics and race and feminism and creative expression with my two kind and compassionate children. Yes, they are growing up, and it is an honour to witness the growing.

Permit me a proud-Mama moment, cliché or not.