Looking at things

There are caterpillars on the grape vine. They are amazing. They are so liddle.

‘Why are they so liddle?’

‘Where’s his mum? Where’s his eyes? Where’s her arms?’

The caterpillars are a nuisance. But today they are astounding. They have a looping liquid walk, so hip that small children must imitate it.

They are the colour of pests.

But this one is crimson, emerald, gold, charcoal, the colour of bees, the colour of lego, of lollies, of excavators, of liddle amazing things. My grandsons hold out grubby hands to help him from leaf to leaf. They offer him extra leaves because she has no mum. They look for her nest, they plan to make him a better house – with a door. Her will love it.

They watch him eat, leaning so close that surely the caterpillar must sense something, but it swings its enormous eyes around and down again, serene over its leafy cabbage meal, warm under the hot breath of my grandsons who won’t come away in case a bit of life happens, and they miss it.

Later they tell Pa, ‘There’s a caterpillar on your stuff.’

‘Is there.’

‘He is. He’s eating everything, her is.’

They are gleeful. Then they go back to sweeping, back to the sandpit, back to the marble run, the biscuits, and sunlight coming through the bathroom window and lighting up the soggy face washer and somebody’s hat left in the sink and the tap still dripping all over everything.

How to be stung

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Words have shapes. The word naked has a spike in the middle. This causes my three year old grandsons to freeze and lighthouse my face. They have heard the word and have become uncertain. I say naked. Naked? I plant the k firmly in the ground because it is important, and they rock about, filling their mouths with two year old laughter, powerful with innocence.
Cereal. Difficult because the r wants more attention that it needs. Ce-re-ral. Difficult because it is uttered so early in the morning, hungry, and hoping for exciting ce-re-ral, the stuff I buy because my mother never allowed me to have it.
I can’t write Australia without an error amongst the vowels.
I can’t type possibly because the y won’t appear.
I can’t say minimalist without losing a shoe and having to go back.
Bum. This is a satisfying word, like a stone thrown into a deep pond. Ripples. Causes hilarity for three year olds.

Mine. Powerful and causes consternation. Different powers according to where it is uttered. And who hears it.
The word freezing is nice to say. The grandsons linger amongst the long sounds and stretch the word, reining in sympathy and attention. Squirted is hilarious but tricky, the t softening into a d, and parents lurking in the car park, saying ‘Are you being rude?’
Bursted. Many things are bursted. A powerful and rich word that describes the world of the three year old more than what it is actually applied to. ‘What happened to the snail? It bursted.’
Sour is puzzling because it is a bit abstract. But is easily learned because of the accompanying flair of lips away from teeth. Three year olds are quick to utilize these performances. Anything can be sour, including vegetables, the sun or a library book.
Biscuit is buttery, baked, soft with kindness, and breaks up in the teeth amongst the actual sentence. Biscuit can stop a runner making for the back of the orchard with a toy truck they have taken from someone else.
Broken has authority. My three year old grandsons use it to blame, condemn, weep, console, manipulate and explain.
Spicy is abstract and unusual, but useful if you have accidentally tasted a chilli. It is immensely satisfying to linger twice amongst the tender skin of the ssss sounds, remembering the burn.

Yellow is simply too difficult. There is too much information thrown by the experience of yellow to waste time forcing the tongue. So, lello fills in, like a relief worker paid a lot but not really part of the plan. Lollies is always managed with skill, precision and desperation.
Buttons is exciting and authoritative and causes things to happen, such as the reprimand, ‘Did you press that?’
Max tried out Mr Archimedes, remembering the story, the bath, the wombat, the spilt hot water, the mop. He managed Mr Medes. It will do. He climbs over the words and continues with the story, ‘The water went all on the floor.’
I said monumental to someone in a thin fussy tone. Noah said, ‘Yeah,’ in hot agreement, the three year old taking part in family affairs, already reading politics with alarming accuracy.
Chippies is flinty and nice, salty and comforting, and rectangular, ‘We went to the shop and got some chippies with mummy.’ Devastation that at the time of the memory, there are no chippies anywhere.
Sting. This is rich and alarming. The s is loud and sharp, a warning. It is freighted with memories of stings. Toys are put down. Little boys gather to talk. ‘Did Noah get stinged? Where did the bee go? Once I got stinged on my thumb.’ The speaker holds up his foot as he says ‘thumb’. They stare at each other, concerned.

They keep on playing, talking, arguing, shouting –  squeezing and pushing at bits of language, every word a biscuit, a rich drench, a sting.

Do dogs eat water?

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When the cousins talk about Finn, they always say he is too something. The cousins are three, Finn is one. He doesn’t have much authority yet.

‘He’s too small.’

‘He can’t talk.’

‘Finn can’t come because he’s at home in she’s cot because he’s not big.’

‘He’s not strong.’

‘Finn’s lost him’s shoes.’

‘Do him want to come with us?’

‘He’s too loud.’

‘He’s in she’s highchair.’

At the table, Finn eats steadily, bangs a spoon and watches the roof. Noah and Max look on, thinking about it.

They ask me, ‘Is that bread dead?’ Do dogs eat water? Where’s Pa?’

They eat broadly, expansively, and watch each other swallow. They have not finished but they are finished.

‘Can we play trucks now? Not Finn.’ Finn, hearing his name, makes eye contact, unhurried and joyful enough to make them pause.

And say, ‘Look at Finny, he’s looking at us… him can have the train.’

Noah sighs, ‘Yeah.’

‘Yeah.’

The Mulberry Tree

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The mulberry tree arrived as an infant. We planted it in the centre of the orchard. It placed its toes in some source of life that we couldn’t see. It grew.

It towered over the cousins from the time they were born. They ate its soft red ideas all through their first two summers and presented themselves, stained and fat at the back steps for cleaning up.

Now they have found it. They climbed it. It has branches placed at cooperative intervals which allows small muscles and hands to leave the ground behind and discover a whole new interval. They become monkeys. They scream a newly minted monkey sound. They hang over a branch, speechless.

They are full of mud and welts. They refuse to come down. They say there is a tiger. There is a good branch close by. They grasp it. They are birds, they are not birds, they are new. They stare at each other. They stretch their mouths open and make no sound. There is no sound sufficient.

The Camera

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Max and Noah took a picture, but the camera wouldn’t work. They took seventeen photos because it is impossible to lift a thumb off the camera icon once it is down.

Usually there is another thumb over the camera lens. All they capture is thumb. Still they admire it, ‘Look at this.’

They can’t get their own heads in the frame both at once. When they manage it, they take seventeen photos of thumb. Then they examine each one as if choosing a prize family portrait. And they found one!

Getting petrol

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Max and Noah are getting on with things. They have their own version of work. It is very intense. Today, the trees need petrol to keep going.

There is a pipe buried at the base of the tree. They place a piece of bark over its lovely mouth and stare at it.

‘Petrol.’

‘Petrol in there.’

They squat, and stare at the piece of bark and the pipe, more thoughtfully.

Suddenly they rise up and go for the hose, drag it, grunting, panting. It is too long; it’s heavy and it knots its stomach and argues with their small feet. But they yank and wrestle it into place, refusing to give up.

Then they place the nozzle into the pipe and it fits. It is not a tree. It is a train.

‘Watch out.’

‘No’

‘Watch.’

‘Ok.’

And the water cooperates, a beautiful cold flood that darkens the ground and makes them briefly examine their feet. They check the bower, check the nozzle, check the fuel, crouch and stare, absorbed in the small heaving fountain. Noah taps the tree on its spindly shin. He says, ‘Done.’

Max agrees, ‘Turn off.’ But they can’t. The work is too important. They can’t leave it, the tap is too far away.  They remain with the train, stroking its hot roaring flank, loyal and possessive…

 

 

The Digger

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There is a family gathering at the end of summer. The oldest of this bowlful, the great grandparents, look benignly down across everyone. The youngest on the playground, the two year olds,  look up in astonishment at everyone.
Noah and Max aim their cousinly flights through two things only. Matchbox cars and slices of bun. There is a tiny digger of monumental value. This is because it is a digger, a tiny yellow plastic digger that they both want. The digger. They can both say digger. This word, for Max and Noah, lives in the cave of their mouths, already there, a solid, tasteful item. Digger. And there is the added delicious conflict that there is only one toy and two of them. This conflict provides enough material to enrich the entire afternoon.
They zone from table to garden and back again. They have stolen a thousand pieces of doughnut and bun. Great Grandma encourages the thefts, she looks on with approval. They are able to carry an entire theft in one fist. Mashed in with the cakes are the digger, the bulldozer and the cement mixer. The cement mixer is full of doughnut.
They have found a patch of garden that contains loose dirt; wealth equal to gold, diamonds or cordial.
Here they sit serving their own version of refreshment by the fistfuls until suddenly they both stare at the digger. There is a lurch and a chase, but they are only two years old and the purpose of the conflict becomes lost in the joy of muscle, movement and a snail.
(Reminders of toilet, safety and manners flick at their ankles and are ignored, lost).
There is another chase that ends suddenly because nobody has the digger now, it is lost. They stand perplexed. Suddenly they forget the toy and there is yet another race, wobbly, wild and scribbling, but the nappies weigh heavily, ballast is out of balance and there is a fall. There is exhaustion and despair and then finally, tears. It is time to go home.

The Evening Meal

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It is time for dinner and the babies must take the high chairs and be contained. There is good food, spaghetti, and bread and cheese and jugs of cold water and noise and the evening heat dusting though the front windows and over the swing and ding of the evening meal.
Nobody listens much to anybody else. Everybody eats, everyone has had a hard day, worse than anybody else’s, that’s for sure.
Noah and Max, lords of cheese, glance about, sighting opportunity, examining small pieces of carrot, spilling anything possible, shout on urgent notes that end before they can think of the exact meaning, kick and become abruptly silent and then swing again at the escaping idea.

Sometimes they unexpectedly notice each other as though from a vast distance even though it is about five cm. Then they join hands, share evidence of their existence which consists tonight of mirth and carrot mostly and also spilled and other edible things. Then they can shriek with triumph, kingly because they still rule the experience, their thistly hair seems to stand on end in amazement.
Later, tidying up, I find a small plastic tractor and a lego block amongst the mess on the floor and I put them in the sink with the rest of the dishes.

Doggen

Max and Noah are on the edge of the sea and playing in that slice of joy that lies directly where the sea meets the sand. Here they can trot about with competent feet, carry sand in grainy wet loads and roar bravely at the sea. They can enter the water and become caught in the muscular pull of cold weight around their hearts and quickly stop still.  Max sniffs the surface and is shocked with salt. They both make  squinting eyes. The bay is a lagoon nursing heat and light and small children, beyond them, a dog swims patiently in and out, enclosing his owners in soft ripples, there is no noise, Noah says: doggen. 

And they keep playing on, smudged and warm and covered in beach and the dog swims silently by. 

 

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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