Nanny, are you growing a beard?

Two grandsons stayed last night. It was hot. They moved from sandpit to orchard to the place with two snails, one of them dead, and they played with a small rubber owl that represents them and is always in danger. They fly it from one end of the orchard to the other using swoops and dives and other very powerful ideas. There is a larger owl, too. This one, a plastic model purchased as a bird scarer, only takes part in some of the story. It saves the baby owl. Then it was abandoned under the bonsai tree table. Once it brought some food. Then it was abandoned at the shed door. Once they couldn’t find the parent owl at all, and everything stopped. Completely.  

They played bikes. This means Noah riding about for a bit, and Finn following on foot because he is too small to find the pedals. It also means stopping still and talking to each other earnestly about many things. Once Finn acted out a message with moving robot arms and a slight klinking of the head from side to side, which Noah understood and answered in a similar way.

Once they met on the lawn and Noah asked, ‘Did you get any snails?’ and Finn answered, ‘Sometimes.’ They always park the bike across the gate to the orchard, which is the gate to soccer parkland.

They asked me to ring Max and find the lost part to the forklift and they asked me about gallstones. Noah showed me his moth bites and asked if he would die, and then he asked me why I was growing a beard.

Hmmm.

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.

Outside

Max.png

Max is outside, there is much to do. He pushes his baby wheelbarrow, leaning forward into hard work, inside it a pair of secateurs that he isn’t allowed to have, a bone, some gum leaves, an iris blade, a bottle top and a feather; a heavy load of world treasure all of which needs to be banked. He pulls at fragrant plants releasing startled beads of mint, lavender, lemon balm into his senses and Masie, the good kelpie, follows behind, a dignified butler, hoping for the ball which is also in the wheelbarrow, taking stalks and leaves in her mouth from him, as delicate as a surgeon. Max gets caught on hot bricks, cries for rescue, he becomes tangled in ants and cannot move, he knows they sting and he watches them swarm, all 2 of them, across his feet and cries for rescue again. He likes the bees which talk to him at head height, he likes the cat who watches him humourless and hidden. He likes water, grass seeds and old bones. It is early summer and the garden must be a thousand miles deep, yields a mixture of prickles, snails, pea straw, charcoal, an old chain, a tub full of strawberries that must be dug over vigorously and quite ruined, Pa’s boots large enough to fall into. Max tracks around and around and around pursuing the work of ten men, attended by one sheepdog, herding her young.

Max Plants Nothing

2018-07-25 10.31.26.jpg

I have made a garden with a fountain and a solar pump and tubs with seeds – useful things like chives and oregano and sage. But I left one pot empty for the players.

Max discovers this pot of smooth, soothing soil, seemingly empty, and aching to be disturbed. When he stares down at the square, he dribbles softly, a habit from infancy when a new discovery would override the signal to swallow, which, compared to a pot of good dirt is hardly important.

He begins his work immediately.

It is winter, but it is not cold. Indeed, the winter garden is inattentive, already putting out tiny leaves, believing spring is near although it is not. The earth is soft and obedient.

Max works silently, tasting the earth with his hands, sifting and moving it to where it should be. He moves a pinch to the left and stares down into the planet. Overhead the galahs slide from one quarrel to another, but he is not interested, the sound of the dirt moving and shifting, the texture of particles is too deafening.

He listens to the depth, handles the value, his baby hands clutch and pinch and hover over an overwhelming landscape caught within a pot and shrieking possibilities. He does not want to leave the pot.

There is a bark chip nearby that is annoying. He picks it up and throws it hard into the pot. He looks across at his young mother who is watching him, thinking he might find some information about the bark. His mother is watching him closely and he receives this information, that he has both of her eyes on him, and so he takes flight, replenished, and continues on, tending his tiny potted acre. He makes a decision and flings the bark chip away.

 

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

Jane_(2)

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Max Stacks

 

31230593_2194598613914073_1562157804024758272_n.png

There is always work to do in the realms of gold.

And Max is always in arrears with the work; the number of shelves that need to be unshelved is relentless and the books clamouring to be loaded cause him untold frustration and joy.
Each day, many times a day, Max works patiently, carrying paperbacks, one at a time across acres of living room to another place, clearly a better place. He surveys each fresh cargo seriously, standing in silence, giving a benediction. Then he returns, the toddler ship, to the shelf, which will soon be another empty harbor.

Sometimes, from somewhere, he will receive new orders and be forced to stop at sea. It is time to stack.
This is an apprenticeship that he has embraced and practiced since he could crawl and when his infant services of carry, balance and freight were precarious at best. Now he is master tradesman, stern with assistance, moving the wrong book aside without courtesy or comment, uninterested in advice.
His baby brain is noticing that dimensions make a difference. He can pack paperbacks with precision. It is appropriate to sandwich classics between Hairy Maclary and Schiller’s Poems and Plays. Once I saw him stack The Father Brown Stories beneath Simone de Beauvoir and on top of her, a small plastic truck.

The prevailing stack is lively. Colin Thiele is a mere slice underneath Cooking with Copha, Manning Clark’s History of Australia has been re dealt, only three of the volumes are necessary and these are decked on top of Hilary Clinton, A History of Persian Architecture and three Viragos. Max stares at Footrot Flats and allows himself to dribble on the cover. He recognises the kitty. He presses the souls of his feet into Asterix. The Britannica Greats are too heavy, Freud, also too heavy, ponderous and creaking along with Dickens, Butler, Proust, Trollope, all the males in heavy sensible shoes that cannot be lifted with one hand. The Russians are no better, the whole set is the same, they talk too much and do not cooperate. Twilight, Breaking Dawn are light and pleasing but they are not placed well, they cannot hold their own weight, they are limp in the sun, they allow Greek Mythology and the Bullfinch to lean and fall. The north corner of the wall is weak, Wolf Hall, although working brilliantly is flung calmly aside as if it was the one that caused the limp.
A History of the World in 100 Objects and Blinky Bill are auditioned.
The Lord of the Rings leans against the window, smoking a pipe, calm, watching.
There is a copy of The Stories of Edith Wharton, once again poked into an odd place between armchairs, its dust cover gently removed, (once I found next to it, a disrespectful and small piece of toast). The dust cover is always found, unharmed, slid between 500 Cabinets and Rocks and Minerals for Young Readers. This book does not get a go at the wall.
Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat has taken the top of the stack.
On the Banks of Plum Creek is sliced on top of Gobbo.
Teddy Goes on a Picnic is the flag, placed carefully on top of a Somerset Maugham.
But then it is lunchtime and there is a calling and a cajoling from the kitchen and the stack is abruptly forgotten and abandoned, its inhabitants left rocking in the warmth of the choosing and the building and the heights and the taking part of library life, in life.

31239368_2194541830586418_3565295860428308480_n31317775_2194533260587275_1529799653560680448_n

 

 

Max eats grapes

20180205_172251.jpeg

All along the side trellis, along the bricks, under the Chinese elm, toward the orchard there are grapes, dark, hot and suspended in a purple and silly way right in front of Max as he forages through the garden most days.

Now he returns to that exact place, balances in the soft dirt and picks and eats purple until he is found and removed.
He uses a superior grip, thumb and forefinger, not the whole bunch at once but one small grape a time, leaving the rest intact. He is witness to the tough and springy operation of the grape vine, the peeling barks, the spoky birds, the grapy colours that deepen every day under summer’s gentle simmer; now they are ruby red and falling into purple, the bricks underneath are inked with the overburden.

He balances on knees, well back, and leans in and in, mouth open, the other hand spread out, holding the air, resolving the balance, delicate as a watchmaker, suspended in time, missing nothing. Sometimes he examines the purple bead first, breathes at it noisily before consuming, sitting back on heels, the other hand still stroking the air, no part of him absent from the feast.
The garden sighs, exhales, unknowing of its cargo, the hot and furious cat, the drooping orchard, a dripping hose, somewhere a hammer, somewhere a family and everywhere the summer.

The Tap

20180120_182506-1.jpg

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.

 

 

Digging

20171120_073904 (1)

The most important exertion at the moment is packing, digging and throwing.

Max is in the garden, he has found a rectangular brick planter full of lovely earth. At the moment it is only growing some rogue basil. He grasps the earth and hurls it out. He does it again. It is physical and substantial work, and difficult, it requires coordination and regulation. He does it again and yet again.

He regards the thrown earth on the path, he is breathing hard, he dribbles but does not notice the line of saliva that falls, it represents his intense link with living, with movement, with sensation, with the smell of earth, water, basil, sunlight, gumleaf, and the ticking of the summer sprinkler. The dog lies nearby with the hopeful tennis ball, sometimes the earth scatters over her ears, she shakes her head kindly, keeping watch over the young.

Max pulls on the basil leaves, the air is poked through with basil, he grimaces against the basil, it is lovely.

He regards his warm, starfish hand, it is covered with hot soil, he frowns, dribbles, turns his hand over and back again.

Maisie the kelpie is barking through the fence, Max regards the walkers on the dirt roadway also through the palings, his mouth is open in amazement, he slants his baby head to one side, seeking the sliding voices through the hot fence.

It is a warm, gum tree evening, the birds are frantic with this evening, Max stands, covered in this evening, in warm earth, he is regarding the sky, the trees, the galahs, the basil, the breathing of the garden. He cannot close his mouth and does not swallow, this would take up valuable time.

Then there is a voice he knows; his mother, calling for bedtime, he drops to the pathway, preparing to crawl, there are basil leaves clinging to his thighs, he arrows for the door, still looking backwards at the outraged galahs, crawling toward the mothership and clinging with ecstasy to his warm, baby life.

 

 

 

Max throws the ball for Maisie

20171101_185146

Max can roll a tennis ball, a monumental effort that will roll the ball about ten cm away. Maisie, the honourable kelpie is not dismayed. She will retrieve the ball from its small distance with enthusiasm, it is proper work, it will do for now. Max is just 11 months old and Maisie knows that puppies take time.

The tennis ball is no longer clean but Max is not dismayed, he has no interest in orderliness – irrelevant to the growing life. He will lean over and urge the ball away with all of his 11 months of mobility and strength. When it rolls the correct and tiny distance he and Maisie are pleased. She gently noses it back again. They are tremendous to each other. He will do it again and again. Each repeat is a repeat of life, brilliant, wealthy and exact.