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.

Noah and Max plant daisies and tell me that these WILL grow…

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Autumn, and here we are in the garden, there is stuff to do. Dig.

The difference between a weed and a flower is nothing.

Noah wears only one boot. The other one is gone. They lose their spade. Somebody loses an entire pair of pants. We find a tiny bulldozer, folded into a crunching mud pastry underneath the blackberry. These little boys, my grandsons, roll and stride and fly from one end of the orchard to the other. They find worms. These are treasures. They find weeds. These are treasures. They find snails. These are beyond treasure, there are no words. They lean in over the tender stalk of eyeball that moves underneath their scorching breath and outraged curiosity.

‘What’s his eyes doing?’

What’s him looking for?’

They carry their luggage with them, a pot, a spade, a tiny bulldozer, a scooter with a bead necklace tied to the handlebars, a snail, a plastic dingo, and a piece of wooden train track. They drop everything.

They squabble over the tiny bulldozer. Their small muddy hands must hold that bulldozer.

They arrive at the foot of the old yellow daisy. It is huge, it lives without aid all year round. It finds water for itself. When everything else wilts, it rears in contempt.

They consider the whirring flowers and snip off a few and stand there, looking at the scatter. Then they remember. Planting. It’s easy. They run from here to there, tying the tender stalks to the earth, ungentle and urgent. They step backwards and trample their work. They fall. They sit on their own gardens. They lose each other.

‘Where’s my Noah?’

Finn (the youngest) has taken all the best toys, sits alone and supreme. They don’t realize.

The tiny yellow daises, rumpled and torn, cut with no stalks, limpy, bruised and shorn of petals take their place in the richness. They rear (with interest). The gumboots thunder past. A small shovel is hurled, no longer needed.

They shout, ‘Finn, not yours.’ Finn (the youngest) sits unperturbed. He grips the tiny bulldozer, prepared.

The tiny yellow daises, rumpled and torn, cut with no stalks, limpy, bruised and shorn of petals take their place in the rich. They roar (with pleasure).

The visitors

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Noah and Finn visited the shop this morning. They are packed with energy, ideas, and water bottles. They picked up the pottery cat and put it down. They read the robot book, the dinosaurs book, the wildlife book, and A History of Great Australians. They moved the owls and the clay bird, and put a copy of The Complete Angler in the back room. They smudged the glass, and opened the door, moved the teddy bear, shook the gem tree, sat up at the counter. They picked up the pottery cat and put it in a different place. They are wearing good autumn jumpers. They are grandsons. They are everything.

The grandsons come for lunch

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Noah and Max are here for lunch. And now they have their own table. Away from authority. They have the table that holds shells, stones and sand, seemingly underwater.

I saw them pause and look down into it, into the bits and pieces, roundies and pretties and apparently, snakes!

I asked, but where are the snakes?

Noah said, gone! They have quick eyes, the two year olds.

There’s a tiny glass bottle, bent in a curve. As though it turned to peer at something and was caught in the furnace of its own curiosity. It melted in a curve like a fried banana, the colour of burnt sugar, yellow lights still winking through it.

Max said, lollies! But there’s no lollies.

Just cool polished agates, malachite chunks like sugarless jubes, a slab of rock layered with such precision that the praline, sandstone and bitter caramel ribbons seem preserved, a slice of glass, a piece of something to be chosen and placed in a paper bag.

The boys, pausing, holding their bowls of food, run their infant eyes over all of these ideas and thought…. what?

What data from this trading table of family and geological history downloaded itself into their galloping infant minds? We won’t know. They have found that they can roar and spit cake at each other. An unalloyed joy.

The starfish, the pieces of amber and the green light of malachite sink to a deeper level. They’ll return to it.

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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 they have captured. The boys communicate using strong sounds of enthusiasm and query. They share the most significant messages this way; sounding out wordless acknowledgments of discovery. Once they have read each other’s faces, they turn back to the horse, itself now an object of great value.

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, and they gaze at each other for a long moment. Once lance, two infants.

They both stare again at the lance, which has now, in their budding world, become complicated.

Suddenly they are being called to eat, and the lance is cast aside. They launch into a vigorous rocking trot toward the dining table and they breathe loudly to show the vast distance they have just traveled.

 

 

 

 

The Lamps of Joy

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Miguel arrived this afternoon tangled in the weather and a certain amount of anxiety which was extinguished when he learned that his book, The Pea Pickers had arrived. He showed me where, in his library copy of the same book, the bookmark was seated.

Outside, the weather would not be extinguished, Miguel looked through it and said: it’s coming in.

Then he told me about his grandson. He leaned forwards and backwards to tell me about this grandson. He could not stop telling me about his grandson, a curious and fabulous young man who read books and listened to music and lived interstate and was hilarious and divine. And when Miguel visited Sydney they will all eat Korean food and then Italian and then Lebanese and then Indian and then Greek and then Spanish and then African, such is the richness of the hours with the grandson.

When Miguel swung round to tell me of his grandson, his glasses were lamps of joy. When he leaned back to make room in front of the counter for the words that described only his grandson, his glasses were lamps of hilarity. And when he left, out into the rain and the rest of the day, he swung round to say goodbye and his glasses were lamps of everything.

 

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.

 

 

 

Noah leans back.

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It is nearly the last day of our holiday and we are having lunch, by the sea, in summer, in the heat, under cool glass and next to the blue. Morgan and I have chosen mussels, I remember these from a year ago and they made me happy so I have ordered them again, mussels in shells, a thousand of them, too many, whirling in tomato and garlic and other things with chilli, red wine maybe. I am wondering if the chilli will be real and it is because when we lift the lid, the steam comes out angrily and the chillies lie there, amongst the mussels, obscene and arrogant and not knowing their proper place, perfect.
We are elbow deep in mussels and shells and ciabatta bread and there is too much food and too much sky through the windows and the babies are hooting and eating things and Noah is at the end of the table, between his parents, supreme amongst food and family and spoons and forks and garlic bread.
He and his baby cousin Max are hurling things to the floor and gazing open mouthed at the response from family, they are filing away the satisfying response from family.
I cannot eat any more food, but there is still too much food waiting to be eaten. I can only stare at everyone else. Family, ordinary and ordinary but still defying understanding.
Morgan, is gone, lost in the mussel pot, the good cold beer and hunger, and his son, Noah, is leaning back superbly into the armchair of summer, and his parents gaze over at the floor and the scattered food and the toys and they look down at all of this with joy.

Noah and Max and Christmas

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Noah and Max are under the Christmas tree.

Max emptied the lower branches days ago and Noah gazes through the empty spokes with interest. He accepts an angel to chew. Both babies can now sit on a firm base with no toppling, they have crushed the nativity under their bottoms, they have pulled down the silver tinsel and it is their first Christmas. There is so much to do.

Wrapped gifts are, as yet, dull. Those smooth surfaces offer no angles or handholds, they contain nothing that can be seen and therefore nothing that they want.
An emerald green bauble that hangs from a branch, however, holds movement. And also light and shine that keeps changing. It has a promising surface that can be tasted. There is often an accompanying spoken warning which is predictable and comfortable.

The wooden Santa that contains another Santa inside it and yet another inside that is delightful. One piece can astonishingly go inside of another piece and come out again.
There is a bottle of good milk lying nearby which nobody wants.
It is possible to pull the loop away from every hanging element so that they can no longer hang at all. Max can jolt a decoration downwards with superb strength, it knocks him backwards and he must rebalance each time. Noah sits close by, supporting the work, a team.
It is hot, there are lists of things to do, there is still a week until Christmas, there is complaining and rushing and not enough carparks.
But Noah and Max are travelling Christmas from a stronger position. Willing to be grazed by new ideas, able to breath in colour, calling for contact and exchange, uninterested in efficiency.

Max is discarding each broken and lovely decoration to one side, he is sighting up the tree, reaching for higher profits, still out of reach. Noah is examining each shape consistently and carefully, tasting the edges, processing the contours, understanding the value.