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.’

Noah and Max in the library

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I wrote this two years ago, when the cousins were a year old.

“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. One 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.”

Max and Noah are now three, and still playing in library corners.

Max plays

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Max came today. He’s three; so much to do.

The garden is crawling with autumn. Inside I am vacuuming it up. Outside, Max is spreading it out. There are millipedes under the woodpile. There are slaters. Max collects them up and introduces them to the sandpit. Not for long. Sugared with sand, they all die. Max lies on the bricks. He will also die. This means lying silently for a long time and saying nothing. Then he collects some birdseed. He is a crow. He is a road worker. He is ‘her’.

He spades elm leaves, flakes of gold, into the air. He is hungry.

He says, ‘No’.

He fills a tiny bucket with leaves to help me. It takes half a day. He releases a thousand caterpillars into the front garden. He is covered in sawdust. He says he may turn into a parrot, and I say, ‘Good work”, and he says, ‘Where are the potatoes?, and I say, ‘Gone’, and he says, ‘That’s so funny’.

He drives a lego car around, delivering cactus plants to the places they actually want to be. He exaggerates his shoulders to show strength. He puts a snail into a safer place.

I hang the washing, and Max helps, securing one small face washer with twenty five pegs. It takes twenty satisfying minutes. He is Bob the Builder, and he needs petrol.

He checks a spider’s web.

The day ploughs on; there is only finding and shouting and joy. There is no time for anything else.

 

 

Noah leaps off the earth

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Noah is up on the big bed. When he arrived up on this new exhilarating surface that dips and falls and floats mountains all about him, his muscles suddenly grew eyes. The first dive plunged him a possible ten miles and the cushioned landing told him that he might now fly. So he did.

Gravity stepped kindly to one side and allowed him to drop and leap, spin and swim in a flightless, effortless baby way for which had had no words except “bang”. He tackled pillows and cushions head on, fell backwards, lunged up from his back to his feet and forward in a delicate, balanced arc, exploring the physics of his own weight, correctly predicting the next fall and timing it accurately with a shout: bang.

There is a collision of head and elbow and Noah rises with one hand held out, acknowledging the grandparent injury and then already wading forward into the next operation, arms raised, his bones warm with cooperation and his fingertips feeling the edges of the air and informing his shoulders of the next plan.

But then, eventually,  it is time to get down.  He surrenders his feet to the old rules of hard floors once again, walking stoutly, rolling slightly because he is not yet two, lifting his feet at shadows, printing the ground with care and precision because he is not yet two and staring down at his new knees and his new feet that are no longer buoyant and that are not yet two.

Max, caught

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Max is caught in the greater goodness, dithering between Pa; fishing, and mummy; holding the world. He is printing his ideas across the warm biscuit sand amongst the fragments of fried bracken that are too sharp and sand dunes full of chewy green grasses and it is an edible day. On the edge of the sea is biscuit dough, and next to that the cold clear waves chew gently on the side, adding a chilling fringe around the banquet.  To us watching, drooping in the warmth, who have lately received not one but three grandchildren, he dandles and drives from one to the other, splits his heart fiveways to fit parent and grandparent, all future mishaps and his own cold, delicious feet.

Pish

2019-01-03 09.29.23.jpgMax is gazing through the eye of a squid. It is bright and soft with sea and also, now dead.  Max breathes in and treads through the smell and says: smell.  Then he says Pish. On the warm, white track through the sand dunes, he says: smell.  There is no breeze there, he holds both hands out in front of him as though touching a delicate curtain of salt, seaweed and heat.

Noah and Max stand at knee height and note details from complex hectares of information. There is nothing that does not add value to the hour and a caravan park yields an astonishing harvest. Once, a boat engine, unseen, coughed seawater from its throat. Once, a small girl rinsed a set of textas at the rain water tank, the cement turned briefly purple. There is a strange bird that bites the air sharply, causing a brief pause in life everywhere.  Once a monarch butterfly came into the tent and provoked anxiety. The air is full of taps and sunlight, hoses, glass bottles rattling empty melody in crates, tent pegs, buckets, low voices humming and humming, on the grass a lost child’s sandal with green tinsel tied to it. Max wanted the tinsel.

Each infant begins on a startled intake of breath, a raised hand pointing to eternity and an eye contact with anyone to ensure collaboration. It is possible sometimes to pull out a word. Once, a baby cried somewhere and Max said: cup. When their own baby (Finn) cried, Noah said: no.

But when sea water churns coldly through sand barriers and chokes up small legs and moves the entire surface of the earth sideways without stopping there are no words yet to fit over the blend of terror and radiance and hold it still.  They can only look at each other’s faces and read its diabolical intensity there.

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.

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 Tap

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Paths are good because they always go somewhere. And if you can’t see the end of it, you can leave that out and just enjoy the moment for the moment, but always holding like treasure, in the side of your eye, the end of the path. That never comes because it is a treasure in the side of your eye. Playing here like a child is child’s play.
Max is just learning to walk, and his feet urge him on and on over any ground he can get. He still needs a helping hand to grasp as he walks, large careful steps with the knees lifted as high as possible in case the shadows rise up for tripping. He is not interested in the beginnings of paths as there aren’t any. He has no interest in the end of paths as he is already there. Everything he can imagine so far has arrived.
Instead, like babies do, he helps himself to every inch of the available minute, the breathing light, the slanting heat, the lawn mower that is not allowed, his pumping legs that cover a mere metre over an eternity and now there are ants.
He toddles across warm bricks and cool decking, through sand and over gum leaves that break and cause him to pause, over wind washed bark, through cobwebs and dropping branches. When he comes to the pot of hydrangeas, he stops and taps the pot. The hydrangeas are drunk with heat, they lean over with their heads against the pot, asleep or unconscious, they do not stir just because a baby knocks on their house.                           He goals the trailer, the bins, the tool shed and each time is swept back to sensible. He angles for the lawn mower, a favourite magic. But he is guided on and around it, it is not safe. He frowns, rocks to and fro, looks down to examine something he thinks is in his hand, suddens upward to look aghast at cockatoo. Then he drops abruptly to his hands and knees, and moves fluently again in the old language, across bricks, faster than walking, he is breathing fast and making for the tap, remembering that it is the greatest living treasure after all and at the end of all paths.