It usually starts with happy calls of what sounds like “daddy daddy daddy daddy daddy!”.
She’ll be standing in her cot, with her leopard print blankie jammed in her mouth, or tossed on the floor. Sometimes she bounces on her mattress. Her curly hair is wild and tall.
When I lift her up and take her out into the lounge room she always points and says “ooooh”, like she’s never seen anything in the room before.
I make her some “nana”, a word she uses for all food, not just banana. She eats her Weet-Bix, while pointing at her belly and trying to stand up in her high chair. Later, she demands most of my toast. She cries when J-man leaves for work, but can be quickly distracted by her stuffed dog, or a pen, or the tupperware cupboard.
When I try to dress her, she struggles and cries and tries to crawl away, unless I give her something to look at like a book, or a toy, or a nappy. She has an incredible appetite, and an incredible digestive system, so this happens several times a day.
She has only just started walking, and it’s strange to hear her little footsteps as she follows me around the house. She watches as I make the bed, put washing on, do the dishes and straighten the house. Usually she spills a glass of water next to our bed, or pulls a million tissues out of the box, or opens her dad’s underwear drawer and puts a pair of undies on her head.
It doesn’t take long for her to get tired and, when she rubs her eyes, I read her a story – but not the one with the pop-up butterflies because it’s too scary – and put her in her cot.
She wakes up about an hour-and-a-half later, often with a loud cry. If it’s a sunny day, we go up the road and sit under the trees. I drink coffee and she plays and points to dogs, buses, and trucks. She eyes children suspiciously, as though she can’t believe we’ve been hiding all these other short people from her. If someone beeps their horn, she will say “beet beet”. If she hears a bird, she will say “teet teet”.
Later, we have lunch and, if I’ve made her something she likes (which changes everyday), she squeals and throws her hands in the air. She eats while grinning and showing me what she’s chewed up. She loves to feed herself, scooping yoghurt from her colourful bowl and spilling it down her front.
Soon it’s time for her afternoon nap, and I read her a story and put her in her cot. She is not always willing to let sleep overcome her in the afternoon, so sometimes she spends half an hour singing quietly to herself.
On hot afternoons we visit my friend down the road, who has a baby only four days younger than her. Her baby friend calls her “Deils Deils” and she calls her baby friend “Bea Bea”. They will splash in the inflatable pool, grunt at each other over miniature prams, drink the pool water, take turns of going up and down the stairs, pull each others’ hair, eat frozen fruit, try to eat rocks, and collapse on a big beanbag in exhaustion.
At the end of the day, she usually plays with J-man for a while and eats slices of cheddar cheese, which she calls “ghee”. She eats dinner, while we sit and talk to her. She has a bath in the big laundry tub and reaches out for her toothbrush every night, because she likes to hold it. She screams when you wash her hair, and hates the little water visor shaped like a duck’s bill even though it’s ridiculously cute. When we get her out of the tub, we wrap her in a towel. It’s one of the only times she will happily agree to cuddle.
She snuggles with her blankie during her bedtime story, and when we say good night and leave the room she waves by clenching and unclenching her fist, smiles and says “bu-bye!”
One evening in May, J-man went to bed sick, asking me to check on him throughout the night. Just before I went to sleep on a camp mattress set up in the lounge room, I looked in on him, and under the light coming from the street, he looked grey and his mouth was limp and open. Until I heard him snort, I thought he was dead.
It had been a terrible few days – we’d had to cancel a trip to Cairns for a friend’s wedding after J-man got severe tonsillitis. It was grey and drizzly. The baby was fussy. Our neighbours were bulldozing their house. Sick, miserable and trapped, there was nothing any of us could do to escape the sound of metal crushing bricks, and smashing glass and boring into sandstone.
This was the beginning of seven months of renovations. The sound of drills would wake us in the morning, dropsaws would interrupt the baby’s morning naps, cups of tea in the backyard were accompanied by the young builders’ stories about what was in their vomit on Saturday night, as their cigarette smoke would drift down our hallway. Our backyard became a construction zone, they flattened our garden, put sandbags in, and cheerfully sprinkled rusty nails everywhere. When they tore down the neighbour’s fence, part of ours went with it. For months our security system consisted of a plank of wood holding our back gate closed.
But every time the builders asked for something – could they use our backyard to come and go, could we move our car, could they nail things into our outside wall, could they work early or late, could they park across our back lane – we said yes. We said yes because we thought it was the kind, neighbourly thing to do to let their massive renovations go to plan. Who wants to move into a beautiful dream house knowing your neighbours are the worst?
Two weeks ago, the builders left and the family moved in. I had been kind of expecting a knock on the door, or a friendly note of thanks, or a donut left on the front step for living through a hellish seven months without a single (public) complaint. But they have been actively avoiding us. Yesterday, we saw them for the first time and tried to strike up conversation, while they backed into their front gate as though we were door-knocking evangelists.
And that is why I hate people.
At 12.01am on January 1, 2014, as people outside cheered and turned up music and let off crackers, I was changing a very dirty nappy. One of those up-to-the-ears-all-up-the-back poops, that you cannot believe came from something so beautiful and teensy and precious. It turned out it was an apt way to start a year that was a bit of a shit, if I’m honest.
Usually, I do a year in review by looking back at my diary entries for the year. But reading my diary was far too upsetting and boring, so I thought I would take my sister Julia’s Year in Review questionnaire thingy.
My sister Julia’s Year in Review questionnaire thingy
1.What did you do in 2014 that you’d never done before?
I became a ‘working mother’. I also ate a cronut.
2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I kept most of them. We moved out of our horrible hot granny flat in Balmain, I got a haircut, I got out and made some new friends, I am in the process of fixing my pelvis that got f-ed up when a baby passed through it, I read more.
A few of my goals for 2015 are: re-learn how to sew, make a complicated birthday cake for someone, go to the theatre, and make sure I mark special occasions.
3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Yes, my sister Mary had the darling Alexandra.
4. Did anyone close to you die?
No. So, that was nice.
5. What countries did you visit?
Country NSW. That place is the bomb. Wide open spaces, excellent cakes, the best op-shops, old school friends, animals, brilliant melting moments and surprisingly fresh sushi.
6. What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014?
Patience. Sleep. Fashion.
7. What dates from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
April 26. We moved house that day and it was the greatest. July 21. That’s when I went back to work and the girl child went to daycare. August 26. The day we ignored our 10th anniversary. September 21, the day my baby became a toddler.
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Going back to work. Making a bad-ass batch of cinnamon scrolls.
9. What was your biggest failure?
Scratching the side of my mum’s car in the Orange City Centre carpark. I will never forget that awful, heart-sinking feeling when I heard the sound of metal and concrete making contact.
10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
I kicked post-natal depression in its teeth. I’m still trying to fix a case of pubis symphysis, which has me hobbling like a pirate. I am wearing a sort of velcroed, elastic, grey girdle belt as I write! Oh,mama!
11. What was the best thing you bought?
A car. She’s royal blue and we named her Barbara Bush.
12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
J-man, for being a boss legend. My sisters and mum and dad, for supporting me during the early months of motherhood. The girl child, for being ever so sweet.
13. Whose behaviour made you appalled?
The woman who lost it at a checkout chick in KMart when she found out their selfie sticks were sold out two days before Christmas. And after a year like 2014, so, so many others.
14. Where did most of your money go?
To childcare. And the motor vehicle industry.
15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Seeing Nine Inch Nails and Queens of the Stone Age. The baby was about six months old, and still not sleeping very well, and I had been feeling pretty flat. I remember coming home after the show and telling J-man that I felt alive again.
16. What song will always remind you of 2014?
Nominal, by #1 Dads.
17. Compared to this time last year, are you: (a) happier or sadder? (b) thinner or fatter? (c) richer or poorer?
a) HAPPIER. SO MUCH HAPPIER.
18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Relaxing and being creative. I pretty much never did those things.
19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Fighting and looking at my phone. I waste so much time on my stupid, fucking phone. Maybe a new year’s resolution should be setting fire to my phone.
20. How did you spend Christmas?
Eating. Swimming. Watching an enormous thunderstorm.
21. Did you fall in love in 2014?
No. But I didn’t fall out of love.
22. What was your favourite TV program?
There were so many good ones this year. Orange is the New Black, Veep, True Detective, and Chelsea Peretti’s comedy special on Netflix, One of the Greats.
23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
No. My hate levels remain very critical, but stable
24. What was the best book you read?
This House of Grief, by Helen Garner.
25. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Young Fathers. Palms.
26. What did you want and get?
A baby who occasionally sleeps through the night. A box of Haigh’s truffles. A new house. A lot of time in the country. Some wonderful new friends.
27. What did you want and not get?
28. What was your favourite film of this year?
Ah, man. This is a mean question to ask the mother of a young child. I really liked Gone Girl and was particularly chuffed to have seen Ben Affleck’s man jewels.
29. What one thing made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Having an interesting job.
30. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2014?
Youngish mumish, watermelon print enthusiast.
31. What kept you sane?
Afternoon walks in Rozelle, especially after discovering Bellingen Gelato and their mint-choc-chip. It is spiked with real peppermint essence and is filled with a generous amount of dark chocolate shavings. PUT IT IN MY MOUTH IMMEDIATELY.
32. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Ira Glass. Justice Lucy McCallum. Justice Geoffrey Bellew.
33. What political issue stirred you the most?
Ah, man. This year made me mad in my bones. Gender equality. Racial equality. All of the equalities. Climate change. Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers. Changes to the welfare system.
34. Who did you miss?
My mum. 300 kilometres may as well be 30,000 kilometres sometimes.
35. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2014.
I’m still learning how to live in the moment. Not in the idiot-girl-in-your-university-dorm-inspirational-quote kind of way, but I need to just to look around every day, and be content with what I have.
36. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year
I got a man to stick it out
And make a home from a rented house
And we’ll collect the moments one by one
I guess that’s how the future’s done
How many acres how much light
Tucked in the woods and out of sight
Talk to the neighbours and tip my cap
On a little road barely on the map