Perfect summer days

My mother asked me a few days ago whether, knowing what I know now about how hard parenting is, I’d choose to do it again. I chose to do it in part because it was hard work, and if I travelled back in time to have a serious chat with 27 year old Mary, “but it’s really really hard” would only be a sales pitch.

Right now though, the parts I like least are more the tedious parts than the hard parts. Every single time we leave the house, I need to remind both children to find their shoes and put them on. Every single evening, one of us needs to tell them to have a bath and brush their teeth. Every single time they get interested in an object, we need to remind them to put it whether it belongs, not carry it around the house enthralled so that we have a devastating moment a day later because we can’t find the fascinating whatsit that roamed around with them until they forgot about it ten minutes later.

And I don’t necessarily believe that pleasure is enhanced by being rare; but since a certain type of it is rare, it is at least memorable. That type of pleasure is the “fun for the whole family” outing, one where everyone was happy they went, no one was tired or overly grumpy, no one lost something momentarily precious to them, no one was unbearably rude to anyone else.

It’s hard for us to have these days often for lack of time together: for five days of the week we’re apart and on the sixth day we roll between soccer/cricket, dance, and swimming lessons. If we’re lucky, the seventh day is available. And we are most often together in summer, which is not often conducive to perfect days because it involves everyone being hot and cranky and having different opinions about whether spending the day outside when it is 38°C is awesome or terrible.

But this summer there have been stretches of cooler days as well, and sometimes there is what I’m informed is known as a “breeze”, and so there have been a few days when we did something that at least one person in the family harboured substantial reservations about and it came out just beautifully.

The first was seeing the Sydney Thunder women’s cricket team play the Brisbane Heat at North Sydney in early December. Blue sky; long shadows; lots of shade; not overly crowded; gentle breeze blowing; the excitement of holding up numbers that she can read for A; the excitement of holding up the wrong numbers for V (he waved a 4 placard around whenever they scored a 6; me: “buddy, are you negging the team?”) plus seeing his team win in the end; unexpectedly meeting another member of V’s own cricket team there so that the kids were more alive than they would be with only adult company.

The second was kayaking up Currambene Creek from Huskisson on big flat tourist kayaks this last Tuesday, V and Andrew on one double both paddling it (at least notionally), me boating A around on another. It had threatened serious rain all morning but instead it was cool and overcast with just enough little spits of rain to keep things interesting. The water was clear and since it was high tide, we were able to drift among the mangroves. “I’m tired” and “I want to go home” only burst out when we were within sight of the wharf on the return.

The only problem with such days is that I tend to react by wanting to buy tickets to every remaining cricket game, or take up kayaking seriously, in response, rather than letting them be what they are, a confection of weather and moods and people who ate enough for happiness that morning. The trick to perfection is being ready for it, and also letting it go.

2018 in threes

End of year reflections.

Three moments of 2018

April: the day after my birthday, sitting alone near the top of Mount Kanimbla with a camera on a very cold morning to catch the sunrise. I’d had a badly injured ankle for a week at that time and so getting myself outside was a real independent triumph.

Dawn over the Blue Mountains escarpment, Kanimbla Valley
Dawn over the Blue Mountains escarpment.

September: the top of Thredbo resort with Andrew and V, looking towards the Basin t-bar in gale force winds. While it was still open, none of us love t-bars or have any experience riding them in high wind. So we skiied/trudged uphill for 500m straight into the wind to the top of the run we wanted, our faces being scoured with freezing rain, and then we skiied down until we were below the cloud layer and high-fived.

October: Saturday in New York, the end of the first week of a three week work trip, before flying to California. I’d planned to visit either the Holocaust Museum or the 9/11 Museum, but a nor’easter blew in. I went down to the World Trade Center to find people queuing outside for the museum in the pouring rain in flimsy white plastic raincoats, and turned right around and went back uptown. I was tired and I needed snacks and mains power, so I went into work, went up to the top of the building, and sat on a couch eating yoghurt and hummus with my fingers because I was too tired to figure out where the spoons were.

Rain in New York
Rain in Chelsea, October 2018.

Three meals of 2018

January: V’s birthday lunch in Kauaʻi, for which he of course chose McDonalds. It seemed exactly the same, but somehow also gloomier.

August: at the local Indian restaurant, discovering paratha after twenty years of Sydney naan.

December: lunch at Quay, squeezing in before a gift voucher from Christmas 2017 expired. We had the ten course meal, it was all lovely, but what instantly comes to mind when I think back to it is the incredibly buttery crumpets about half way down the menu, delivered in a wooden “toaster”.

Three photos of 2018

Photographer under Hanalei Pier
Photographer under Hanalei Pier, Kauaʻi
Reflected Australian flag
Australian flag reflected in Darling Harbour
Wave breaks over Icebergs
Wave breaks over Icebergs pool, Bondi

Three pleasures of 2018

February: three days of alone time in Birchgrove. I needed to have a radioiodine thyroid scan and moved out of home for several days as a precaution against exposing the children to radiation. While the doctors thought this was a little excessive for the dose, it meant that I hunkered down in a granny flat with a harbour view, caught ferries, took myself out to solo dinners, and watched harbour waves break in the dark on the shores of Birchgrove Park.

View from Birchgrove
View from Birchgrove

December: summer foods, defined as stone fruits and dark and stormies. We’ve been drinking dark and stormies and catching up on the final two seasons of Rake.

Throughout the year: my daughter’s immense wavy head of hair after years of her pulling it out and being mostly bald. My current line about this is that we finally understand why she was pulling it out: it was a last ditch defence against the complete takeover. She lost; now she is a being more hair than child.

After party
A, November 2018

Three news stories from 2018

All the news about cryptocurrency, particularly scams and regulatory crackdown. This is my popcorn news, having read David Gerard’s Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain: Bitcoin, Blockchain, Ethereum & Smart Contracts around the time of the Bitcoin peak.

Global hunger has been rising for three years. There’s been a narrative for a while now among the philanthropy wonks I follow that, somewhat silently and without fanfare, disease, poverty, and hunger were gradually reducing and we weren’t giving ourselves enough credit for creating a better world. But not so in the last few years. Which is the interregnum, the few decades of progress or the last couple of years of worsening?

Which brings me to the IPCC 1.5°C report (“we have 12 years”), the November student strikes in Australia, and other climate change news.

Three sensations from 2018

April: crutching my way out of Balmain Hospital with a pain-free foot. The injury only hurt when I put weight on it, so the absence of pain was a common and lovely sensation. Lying down! On crutches! Complete absence of pain! When the doctor asked if I needed pain relief I gave her an uncomprehending look.

August: freezing rain scouring my face at Thredbo as I went up the chairlift in a gale just shy of closing the lift. “Welcome to outdoor sports!” chortled the instructor. I liked it in an odd way, but V found it so frightening he insisted on being taken right back down the mountain. (At the end of the lesson I had to wring my gloves dry of water; it’s a credit to GoreTex my hands were still warm.)

November: pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks in San Francisco, in honour of Glen Weldon’s take on pumpkin spice (offset 06:45). It’s mostly cinnamon.

Three sadnesses of 2018

Cancer in the family, again.

Much smaller but you can have more details: I had a couple of nasty and slow healing injuries this year. First I twisted my right ankle in April playing with A at a drop off beside one of V’s soccer fields and hurt it badly enough that it didn’t take weight for days and I couldn’t walk long distances without pain for about half the year. Second, I tore my left supraspinatus skiing and have only regained most of the flexibility in the shoulder in the last few weeks and am yet to get much of the strength back. This put paid to one of the previous set of plans, learning to sail, and made sleeping, housework, and cycling difficult all year.

The California Ideology, to which I am not native but from which I profit, coming up worse and worse over time. See this interview with Fred Turner.

Three plans for 2019

Throwing my children birthday parties this year. This was a millstone last year, and we left it until the following birthdays were nearer than the ones being celebrated and then abandoned all hope. This year two parties are planning, and from now on, since their birthdays are only 12 days apart, they get a party every second year alternating.

We’re taking the first two weeks of the year off work. Our only holiday plan — really, one should be enough — is to spend a week of that on the south coast, which I haven’t visited since diving with seals at Montague Island in 2007. Unlikely to dive this time but perhaps boating on Jervis Bay.

Because of the injuries, we didn’t get to learning to sail — at one point I could neither have stood comfortably on my right foot nor pulled with any strength in my left arm — so that returns to the plans again.

Three hopes for 2019

To quote my entry a year ago: “Some good news about climate change, whether statistics or serious political will.”

Some new horizon of family life, as my youngest child turns five and we’re increasingly free to explore things for older children and adults. So far we’ve done ropes courses and water parks, I’m sure there’s more to come.

Involvement in some kind of activism. I gave what I had and to spare to tech feminism already, perhaps labour activism or something like 350.org is next.