A Year of Journaling / Week 1
Rick lets me sleep in. We both stayed up till two o’clock last night, sacrificing sleep to watch Captain Marvel on iTunes. When I do wake up, I head straight into the shower to wash my hair. Afterwards, I apply my new skin serum and my moisturiser, and then my new BB cream. By the seaside, the light was bright and harsh, enhancing my pores and my blemishes. Here, in my own bathroom, the light is soft and diffused. My skin looks nice. Lovely, in fact. I peer closer. I spy new spots dotted under my eye and around my chin. Was it the new products, I wondered. Or was I just getting old? Probably both.
We drive to IKEA. I have two photo frames to return and two large Kuggis boxes to buy for the studio. In the car, the boys are hilarious. They sing and jam together—Lewis being the loudest of them all. When I hold up my phone camera to video them, they all stop and freeze. As soon as I put it down, they resume their craziness. The cheek! Later, Bear sings a version of ‘Happy Birthday’ (involving a loo) that we’d never heard before, and we all crack up.
In the afternoon, I cook roast chicken for the first time since Rick’s birthday. Instead of my usual frenzy, I slow myself down and approach the prep work as methodically as possible: I line up six porcelain rice bowls and measure out all my seasoning. I unwrap the chicken drumsticks and place them carefully into my two cast iron pans. I season each one individually and thoroughly. I chop up my vegetables—carrots first, then the mushrooms, then the potatoes. I toss them together with rosemary, salt, and olive oil. I pour the vegetables over my chicken and pop the pans into the oven. ‘Are they in?’ Rick asks. ‘Yup!’
As I cook, I listen to the boys watching The Dawn Wall on Netflix with Rick. This makes me smile. The boys are in absolute awe. When the swear words come up, the older boys make loud coughing noises so that the younger boys can’t hear them. I love them so much for this.
After the movie finishes and before the chicken is done, I show Gus the journaling that I published yesterday on my blog. I want to make sure that he is okay with the photos that I shared of him, and he is. I invite him to read the post, and he does.
‘What did you think?’ I ask him. ‘It’s really good—I spotted just two mistakes,’ he replies. ‘Great! What were they?’ ‘Well, first of all, we counted 122 turns not 121. Also, we got three Ovalteenies each, not seven.’ That’s my boy.
At dinnertime, Rick thanks me for about the eighth or ninth time for cooking roast chicken—one of his favourite meals, it seems. Lewis is also very complimentary: ‘This is very nice, mum! I like your roast chicken.’
We end the day in the most mundane of ways: Rick handwashing clothes in the laundry and me working on our tax returns. I interrupt him a couple of times to whinge about the ATO site being down. Each time he looks up attentively and listens to me. As he stands there in the laundry, with his hands in the washing and with his big, warm smile, I feel a big surge of love for this man, my husband. All week, he has looked after us—selflessly, graciously, and without complaint.
I walk over and embrace him.
‘I love you, darling. I think I’ll have to lodge the second return tomorrow.’
‘Shall we sleep?’
I wake up with a bad back. It frustrates me that this keeps happening.
In the daytime, we ride the Metro for the first time. We arrive in Chatswood and enjoy beef pho and spring rolls at one of our favourite Vietnamese cafes. The owner recognises us and comes over to say hello. She cannot believe how much Lewis has changed. She gives each of the boys a free lolly. ‘You haven’t changed much,’ she says to me. I decide to take this as a compliment.
Afterwards, we track down ‘paper sponge cakes’ from the Hong Kong bakery close to Westfield. My mum would always buy these for me when I was young, and I’m stoked that the boys love them too. I decide to get seven, so that Rick and I can have one too. I hand the sponge cakes out at the Concourse. Gus observes that his is smaller than everyone else’s. ‘This is so light and fluffy, I can almost pretend this is good for me,’ I say to Rick. He chuckles.
In the evening, I see Jenny, my masseuse. For an hour, I lie on her table while she kneads all the knots and pains out of my muscles. I savour the peace and quiet. I even fall asleep a few times. When the hour is up, my back is noticeably better. ‘Thank you so much, Jenny,’ I gush as I leave.
It is icy cold in the carpark. I’m glad I’m wearing three layers, two of them cashmere. I step into my car as quickly as I can.
With cold fingers, I send Rick a quick text.
I lie in bed for a long time, listening to the sounds outside: The wind howls. Our neighbour’s baby cries. Bell birds sing in harmony with each other.
I get up and potter about, repacking my things for our second week at the holiday house. I can hear Pete and Jamie outside my room—or at the bottom of the stairs—playing with their Lego planes. ‘I'm flying back to the base,’ one of them says. ‘Let's pretend this guy is the enemy!’ exclaims the other.
We manage to leave home at least an hour earlier than last week. We stop off for supplies at the supermarket and then for petrol. As we head towards the motorway, I lean over and give Rick a kiss. ‘Stop it!’ squeals Pete. I smile back at the boys. ‘It's very good for you guys that mum and dad love each other,’ I say. Jamie chimes in: ‘It was important for us to be born but you don’t have to do that anymore.’ Rick and I both burst out laughing.
Back at the holiday house, we unpack quickly and settle in. Rick and Bear head out to the shops to buy groceries for the week. The other boys decide to watch Boss Baby, so I take the chance to escape onto the balcony.
Outside, the sky is pink, the horizon is blue, and the moon is full and bright. Waves crash loudly onto the rocks. A lone seagull flies above the trees. I see a couple walking along the pebble beach. And far in the distance, there are cows grazing along the top of the headland.
It’s good to be back.
In the evening, I introduce the boys to the world of Murder in the Dark—a game I used to play with my family friends when I was little. They all catch on quickly—even Lewis understands that the King of Spades is the murderer and the Jack of Hearts is the detective. We play a few rounds before dinner without Rick and a few rounds before bedtime with all seven of us. The results are rather hilarious. The big boys want to play again tomorrow night, but Bear is not as keen.
‘It’s too scary,’ he tells me quietly. ‘Can we play Murder Wink instead?’
I dream that I am looking for work as a graphic designer, but everyone tells me that I am too old. My own mother is there in the background, but I can’t tell if she is supporting me or nagging me. I follow a lead to a long, rocky driveway. I start up the driveway and soon notice all the big snakes curled up amongst the rocks. One begins to approach me. I start to walk—no, run—away. As I wake up, I can feel the snake’s breath on my neck...
Over breakfast, I tell the others about my dream. Lewis comes up and shares with me that he also dreamt about a snake.
‘Really, baby?’ ‘Yes! And it had a big smile, and its head was very big. So I punched it.’
Later, Lewis and I walk down to the pebble beach together, holding hands. He’s been mostly attached to Rick these holidays so far, so I am savouring this closeness. I love his little chubby hand in mine. ‘I love you, mum,’ he says in his childish, matter-of-fact voice. ‘I love you too, Lewis.’ More than you could ever know, I think to myself.
Down by the water, Rick and the others have already made their way out onto the big rocks. Lewis and I try to follow, but eventually I deem the journey a little too difficult for his short legs. ‘I think we have to go back, Lewis.’ ‘Why, mummy?’ ‘It's a bit too slippery for us. We’ll go back over there to the flatter rocks, okay?’ ‘Okay!’
On safer ground, I point him towards a pool of water and settle down to watch him. Immediately, he begins picking up rocks and throwing them into the water. He chatters away to himself as he does his heavy lifting. It amazes me how much he has changed since our last winter holiday here. At one point, he slips and lets out a sharp cry. In an instant, three of his older brothers are by his side, making sure that he is okay.
The sound of the waves is deafening. I look out at the others, but can’t hear what they are saying. Rick has his arms around Bear, holding him upside down over the side of a rock—presumably so that Bear can get a closer look at the the contents of the rock pool. Pete darts here and there, his expression obscured by the hood he has pulled over his face. When he does look over at me, all I can see is his big, cheeky grin. Gus and Jamie appear to be timing each other to see how fast they can get from one particular rock to another. They look like they are having fun, until Jamie suddenly disappears from view. He emerges a few seconds later, completely drenched. Later, he tells Rick that he slipped and fell face down into the water and, when he tried to get up, a wave knocked him down again. ‘It was scary,’ he admits.
In the afternoon, I play a game of Scrabble with Gus, Pete, and Jamie. Bear gives me a hand, pointing out that I can make the word ‘out’ instead of just ‘it’. Jamie ends up winning, followed closely be Gus. In the evening, all seven of us play hide-and-seek and, later still, I play one round of Murder in the Dark with just the older boys while Rick reads to the younger two.
When the boys are all in bed, I decide to prank the big boys. I sneak out onto the deck and pad quietly over to their room. I rap three times on their patio door, then tiptoe back inside the house. Before long, the three boys find us in our bedroom, chatting and giggling.
‘Was that you guys?’ they ask, flicking on the light switch.
‘It wasn’t me,’ says Rick, lying on the bed. ‘I was here the whole time.’
‘I know it was you, mum!’ squeals Jamie. ‘I could hear your footsteps on the deck! And you were laughing so loudly when you came back inside.’
I confess to being the culprit and, before long, we are all in stitches. I herd them back into bed.
In the morning, Rick announces that low tide will be about two o’clock. At one o’clock, we eat Maggi noodles for lunch, then walk down to ‘the other side’ of the headland.
We spend many hours by the water under the bright sun. The boys cluster around Rick, whose main preoccupation is to build a tall pile of big rocks. I venture off to another part of the beach. I find a beautiful shell the colour of rust. It is similar to the paint colour that I’ve been mixing back at home and, immediately, I have an idea. I start to look for other shells and objects that share the same colour palette. One by one, I place them carefully on a nearby boulder to keep them safe from being washed away.
After what seems like a long time, I look up to see what the boys are doing. Jamie has set up a base of sorts up in the rocks, while Pete hangs around Rick. The other three are busy digging around in the sand together.
I glance over at Rick. He is still shifting rocks, and he looks happy. Very happy. As happy as I feel. All of a sudden, it strikes me that this is the first time in over ten years that we’ve been by the water’s edge and neither of us have had to worry about the youngest wandering off into the water.
And with that, a realisation.
They are all big boys now.
Bear is not well today. He sleeps on the couch for most of the morning. The older boys and I play Monopoly, but it doesn’t go too well. Rick tells me later that I was too competitive. I am indignant, but I know that he is right.
For lunch, Rick toasts buns with ham, fried eggs, and salami. It is a delicious combination. Instead of the usual ‘quiet time’, we let the boys watch Australian Ninja Warrior while Rick and I retreat to the other couch to knit (me) and read (Rick).
As the sun begins to set, we walk down to the pebble beach to enjoy our last evening by the water. ‘Don't get your feet wet,’ we tell the boys.
The tide is out. Rick spends most of the time moving heavy rocks to odd places; apparently, he’s interested to see if they’ll be moved by next year. ‘Or tomorrow morning,’ he quips. Bear practises jumping between rocks, while Jamie ‘trains’ himself by running across the rocks carrying heavier and heavier stones. The older boys hone their water-skimming skills, and Lewis amuses himself with endless sand play.
After snapping a slew of photos, I head towards the water in my gumboots to continue hunting for treasure. It is cold, and the waves are loud as usual. It is intoxicating to be by the sea. Everything looks beautiful in the golden twilight. I plunge my hand into the icy water and find a handful of exquisite pieces. Every time I slip one into my pocket, my heart dances a little. I look up at the rest of the family and see how happy they are as well.
Thank you, God.
At bedtime, the boys are sad that it is our last night at the holiday house. We tell them we are too.
‘We’ll be back again...’
You can read the other posts in this series here.