Brother to brother

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Noah has a full agenda at the moment: it is summer, he is nearly two, his eyes and mind are booked up from wake to sleep with things to consider. But baby Finn is still unhooked. He gazes and grazes and dozes and every so often, Noah’s divine features swim into his view and slide into focus. The intensity of this experience organises itself across his face; his eyes widen and climb toward Noah’s eyes, the baby muscles of his face stretch to allow the new happiness a way out, his teeth are not yet hatched, there is just a line of pink gums. His feet expand and point toward heaven, which is Noah.

Finn making eye contact

 

Finn is tangled up in a family Christmas event where there are four generations ploughing gently through the afternoon; eating, arguing, drinking, thinking. Finn, whose needs are profound and simple, seeks eye contact and joy. Luckily, he receives both at once in dizzying measures right across the afternoon and evening, each dose causing his legs to rise up, the bones to grow, his ears to fill, his head to balance and his hands to reach out and hang on to the day. A proper Christmas.

The Cousins Wreck Aunty Elsa’s Stuff

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Aunty Elsa’s room is a haven of possibilities, treasure and unexpected items that the babies are not allowed to have. The door will not shut because there are three thousand pairs of shoes stored behind it and so the boys always have a guaranteed entry to the forbidden. In this room there are many things but best of all are the snow globes, heavy and cold and breakable. Even a gentle movement will dislodge the magic winter inside each one. They must be magic, and the glass is always worth tasting to find out if such divinity is also edible. But there is more. There are cards and pencils and books and phone chargers, sometimes even a phone itself and that cool slab of glass against an infant ear means important involvement in family concerns. Once there was a bag of lollies, a bag of bliss, and Aunty Elsa did not get there in time to rescue those. Aunty Elsa is 18, she is a Bohemian Rhapsody, kind and colourful, unconventional and unafraid. The cousins drink in the rich world of their Aunt, the books and the ideas and the argument and chaos and year 12 and they eat pita bread with hummus and hear about the importance of regarding the planet and each other with care and they too become richer and enriched and richer…

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Honey, do you have it?

 

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A young couple came into the shop out of the cold today, he was cradling a tiny baby. She was carrying parcels and bags and she ran into things because she was looking so hard at the spines of the books. He carried the infant on his chest in a sling and he kept one hand on the side of the sling and the baby clutched one of his fingers, holding on tightly while it buzzed in sleep.

He searched the shelves as carefully as she did and he found book after book that looked promising and he said: honey do you have it?

Sometimes she said: yes, got that one…

Sometimes she said: oh I need that one…

Then he would rise up and take the book and place it gently on the counter and cradle the baby again and look down at the tiny hand coming out of the carrier and holding onto his own hand and he looked broadsided by the joy of so many events at once.

 

Hand sculpture by Bruce Nauman

Noah and Max in the Library

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Max and Noah, who can now pace steadily and productively across all floors, are together before dinner in the library corner and they have found two small horses with riders and lances.

One horse is on the windowsill and the other is caught between a stack of Robert Louis Stevenson and an armchair and this one has been captured. Noah and Max communicate through simple sounds of enthusiasm and query. They share the most significant messages through silence, using unblinking eye contact – a horn sounding out a wordless acknowledgment of awe. Once they have read each other’s faces, they turn to the next page, in this case, the horse itself.

Max can see that the lance and the hand of the knight go together. He puts the end of the lance in his mouth and tastes the problem. Noah holds both hands poised in front of him and feels the problem. They both stare at the radiance of the knight and the lance and the horse.

Noah does a small dance with his feet and they both stare down at Noah’s feet.

The horse falls to the floor. The knight falls behind the books. Only the lance remains. Noah moves his hand toward the lance. Max moves the lance away in alarm and they gaze at each other for a long moment. Once lance, two infants.

They both stare again into the problem of the lance, which has now, in their budding world, become two problems.

But now, suddenly, they are being called to eat, and the lance is abruptly cast aside. The babies launch into a vigorous rocking trot toward the dining table where they arrive within seconds and they breathe loudly to show the vast distance they have just traveled.

 

 

 

 

Jane and Sally teach Max to build with blocks using impressive strategies

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Sally and Jane came over to play. They tip out the basket of wooden blocks, made by a devoted great great uncle who cut and sanded each one by hand. They are silky and woody and click side by side in a pleasing way. Sally and Jane are emperors of the creative. They kneel and get to work, frowning, concentrated and direct. Max stands back, awed by the energy, drawn in, breathing hard, unable to join in with this much information confounding his eyes.
He wants to build, but so far in his toddler life, he has only participated in knocking things down, a powerful and passionate game that fills his mind and hands with cloudy and lovely detail.

But Sally and Jane have progressed beyond deconstructing to creating. Sally is making a wall and Jane, a robot. They talk to me at the same time. They tell me the local street gossip ( once when Jane  fell from her bike, this other person just went past and did not help) and all the things happening at school. There is a boy who teases Jane and she must tell him that she does not like this. The sisters exchange significant looks. Apparently, the boy does not listen very well. To be in grade three and grade one is exhausting, there are always complex difficulties. Max sits on his heels and gazes at the faces of these little girls, he watches their eyes and their words and their lives.
He wants to knock down the wooden blocks.
Jane can see his baby desire coming true but she outranks it with a better idea. She offers him a treasure, a block from her stack, for him, to build. She says: here you go Maxy. Build it up, build it up.
Sally says, without looking up: give him more than that!
Jane says: don’t you worry about me Sally!
Sally says: well I know that my bike has a sore tyre.
Jane says: here you go, Maxy
And then Max is building. Building by himself, mouth open, breathing in the strength, dribbling ideas, stacking three bricks by himself, staring at this balance, at this outrage, at his new and accumulating evening.

 

 

 

 

 

Noah Reads

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Noah reads like a proper reading person, that is, he reads like himself.

He is a year old. When he examines the book, the front and back, the bottom and top, each page on a useful hinge, the last page an attractive gate, nobody knows (except for him) what he is thinking, believing or eating.

Noah reads at an alarming rate, this will continue until formal instruction begins and then he will slow down to a courteous pace; he is  already a thoughtful baby. He will travel thoughtfully through reading requirements. But alone, he will soar with closed eyes, apologetic of recommended titles, he will read the same book over and over, re read old books, re read easy books, insist on reading difficult books, put aside appropriate books and be kind but not enthusiastic about reader stars for progress, charting instead, his own country which will feature a starscape that only he can track.

Noah watches his own parents read. His house is growing a garden outside and a library inside. The library is without plan, format or sensible guidelines. The books are filed according to where they land. There are old books, new books, worn out books and well read books all in together, a mother country with no end page but requiring a heavy reference: it must be a book someone may want to read some day. Volumes that do not wear this badge are shelved anyway.
Noah travels this realm of gold somewhat carelessly, after all, it has always been there. Its gilt influence on his life may go unnoticed, or maybe not. Everybody reads differently.
Some people read for recovery, relaxation, distraction.
Some people read for accomplishment, achievement and knowledge.
Some people read to accumulate data, settle argument, prove frontiers.

This, then, for Noah, a beautiful infant in a great age, the digital age: that he might forgo analysis for listening. That he will pursue the tentative and the original. That he will take terrible risks and abandon the surface of things.
That he might reach air’s other side… ( Rainer Maria Rilke )

Noah reading

 

 

The Staff Meeting

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In all businesses there must be staff meetings.

I do not have staff meetings because the only staff member is myself. But eventually I can agree that any discussion of brilliant books could be a staff meeting of sorts.
This staff meeting was attended by four of us. We discussed Jared Diamond, anthropology, possibly Terry Pratchett, possibly Asterix, definitely Australian history, and probably fiction as it is important.
The babies shouldered in, sticky, warm, breathing too loudly, ignoring the social rules of public meetings: they did not dress to impress and they did not prepare a list of books they have Just Read. Noah threw a board book into the midst of the speakers without introducing it appropriately. Max brought a rattle which was not relevant.

They are scornful of the meeting guidelines.

Max stands too close to other members and eats loudly, forgetting previous eating out loud advice. He also prefers to stand with one sticky starfish hand holding on to a neighbour’s shoulder, an infringement at best.
Sometimes they allow a baby shout of fervour, a hoot or a loud laugh at something which nobody else can see. They make each other laugh. So obviously next time they will not be permitted to be near each other.
Once when offered a volume, Noah hurled it to the floor. Both babies looked down at it confounded by the solid pitch of its landing. They breathe hard, exhaling a world of information concerning the physics of the crash. Then they abruptly turned and left, walking on  fat and rolling feet with no ankles yet or crawling rapidly, aiming for distance, stopping to think, continuing without explanation.

Then they are suddenly back again, my grandsons, sure of their welcome, turning toward the ribbons of talk, rotating amongst the enthusiasm and eyeing unblinking the volumes that are held aloft. They gaze at faces, hold out hands toward the books, stir richly through enthusiasm, walk across books, warming themselves on a bedrock of unlimited and imperishable treasure.

 

 

 

Pa and the Babies

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Noah and Max keep getting bigger. But Pa is still bigger.
When they stand at his feet, they must lean backwards to find him.
He is steadier than a mountain and as safe as a house.
They might fall down, break a cup, run away, cry hard: Pa has already done all of that.
Pa might build a shed, fix a fence, mend a fight, pick the fruit: they are ready to watch all of it, breathing hard and absorbing the information.
Two small boys can cause a great deal of chaos and a great deal of noise. Pa doesn’t notice it.
Noah and Max might throw things, smash things, strike out, bite down and refuse to sleep. Pa doesn’t notice it.
Pa might take apart the mower, make a cake, drain a tank, wrap a birthday gift or clean the carpet and they always watch with their mouths open and their little hands holding on, receiving the information.
They will never be too heavy to hold on Pa’s knee and he will always be covered in sand, dust and grease from the engine of the day.
Max and Noah might refuse to eat, refuse to dress, refuse to look. They might choose to dance. They might prefer to build a house or push one down.
Pa understands all of it.

There is nothing stronger in this world than gentleness.

 

 

 

Max in the library

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Max was born into too many books. For all his small life there have been a thousand of them on every side, front, and back; each wall is made of a thousand oblongs.
He climbs over, clambers over, steps over, sits on a thousand seats, he regards dust covers through his knees, he is not impressed by author except the highest one on a stack that can be toppled. A book is valuable if he can reach it and he will examine one cover after another and then, finished, will cast each volume decisively aside. Sometimes he will examine pages, turning neatly a hundred at a time, before hurling that book aside too. Then he will climb another pile, perhaps aiming for The Lord of the Rings balanced on the highest heap but actually making for a fly, caught on the windowsill and drowning loudly in the summer sunlight.
But the piles are precarious, not stacked skilfully and there is a slithering of books, limbs and fury. There is Robert Louis Stevenson now under his knees and Memoirs of Hadrian annoying his elbow and Lonesome Doves will no longer hold his toes from slipping. And down he goes, his own private landslide, brief and astonishing, that deposits him neatly on his back and next to him, scattered, a toy motorbike and the urgent need to climb again.