Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Last Four Months

I hear you’re supposed to update your blog more regularly than I do.
The last time I wrote was in, what? December. So. That’s four months ago. I was thinking: “That’s not so bad. Four months! What can happen in four months?”
But now I hear there are people who blog every day.
I have to catch up!
In this post, I will describe every day of my last four months.

I’ll begin with today.
At the moment, I am sitting at my desk and there is a midnight-blue ceramic bowl beside me. You know what, it’s not midnight blue. More a deep cobalt blue. No. Listen, I’ll take a photo of the bowl and post it here.
Great, so, setting aside the colour of the bowl.
Inside the bowl I have some grapes, a sliced-up orange, a plum, and two squares of Lindt 70% Dark Chocolate.
The plum is gone now. I ate it while I was thinking about the next sentence.
Huh. Now the grapes are gone too. A similar thing happened to them.

Outside, there is a very blue sky. The blue is nothing like the colour of the bowl beside me. Nothing at all. Also outside: it’s blustery. Right this moment, the bluster has stopped but the ferns at my window are still trembling.
There goes an aeroplane.
An e-mail just arrived!
Oh. It was just Shopfast with an Urgent Product Recall for Rogan Josh Simmer Sauce 540g. I don’t have any.

Charlie is asleep in his cot in his room next door.

This morning, Charlie woke at 6.30, and said, “Breakfast?”
“No, no,” I said, keeping my voice low and sleepy. “It’s sleeping time.”
Charlie yawned. I moved in closer, consolidating. “It’s the middle of the night!” I laughed gently and smoothed the sheet over him. “You go back to sleep now. Morning’s not for hours and hours!”
As soon as I said it, I knew I’d gone too far. He sat straight up and gave me a quick, shrewd look.
Then he turned to the window.
“Hey, Charlie! Here’s Teddy! He wants you to go to sleep!”
Charlie ignored me, looking around the waving Teddy, his gaze fixed on the window. A gleam of light hit the sill just beneath the curtain.
That was all he needed.
He stood up, gathered his yellow blanket underneath his arm, and announced, firmly: “BREAKFAST.”

My favourite breakfast television is Playschool, but oh no, we were much too early for that.
We were also too early for the animated boy named Poko. I like Poko too. He has such green eyes! And each episode something goes wrong, like the time when Poko was trying to bake a pie but the dog kept throwing its squeeze-toy into the pastry.

After breakfast, we walked up the street, Charlie in his stroller.
In the windows of the kindergarten classrooms at the local primary school:


At the store, we bought Pink Lady apples and October Sun plums.
I saw a woman who looked a lot like the actress, Toni Collette. A few moments later, I saw another woman who looked a lot like Toni Collette.
What are the chances of two Toni Collette look-alikes on the same street on the same day? Zero. So one of them must have been her.

At the video shop, I chose a Hi-5 DVD for Charlie. I handed over the DVD cover, my membership card, and the password. All that handing over. It seemed enough. But then I had to pay.
“I always forget about paying!” I said.
“That’s all right,” the young man said, “I’m here to remind you.”

Next, we went to the park and Charlie said, “Green”, heading to the green slide. Then he paused, and changed his mind. “Yellow,” he decided, and turned to the yellow slide instead.
I looked around to see if the other mothers had noticed. My baby knows his colours! But nobody seemed to be watching.
In this particular park, alongside the slides, there’s a miniature surfboard on springs.
I’ve seen kids of, what? Five? Six? I’ve seen them climb onto that miniature surfboard on springs, stand up and balance a few seconds.
Today, Charlie climbed on it. He stood there, swaying gently, arms out exactly like a surfer riding a wave - for what? A minute? More?
I looked around to see if the other mothers had noticed.
They were all facing away.
‘Charlie!” I said. “That’s great balance!” A mother finally turned in our direction. At that exact moment Charlie tipped forward and fell into my arms. The mother smiled fondly and turned away again.
He did it on purpose, you know. The tipping forward into my arms? He was ready to get off.

I thought about a few things on the walk home from the park.
One thing I thought about was the fact that I often spill water. I mean, when I’m carrying a lot of stuff, including maybe a small child and a glass of water, from one room to the next – well, I often forget that you can’t hold the glass of water sideways.
Also, I thought about something I once read: that you feel your most creative when you’re almost asleep.
Last night, Charlie woke at 1 am, 2 am and 3 am. Then, at 4 am, I woke to the sound of footsteps. A group of people in heavy workboots were running through the house downstairs.
“WHO’S IN MY HOUSE?! WHO’S IN MY HOUSE?!” I shouted. Then I screamed, a big, beautiful scream, to scare them away.
What were they doing in my house! In the middle of the night! And why were they running?! Why not walk?! Why the heavy boots?! Was there construction work in the living room?! Then why hadn’t somebody –
Then I realised I was dreaming.
Nobody was running through the house downstairs.
But the beautiful scream had woken Charlie, of course, and he was so confused I had to read him three picture books and sing him back to sleep.
(So, technically, Charlie, if you’re reading this, 6.30 was the middle of the night.)
And walking home from the park today, I felt at my most creative.

Charlie, too, I guess.
He fell asleep in his stroller.

The transfer from the stroller to the cot was successful!
I closed his bedroom door, went downstairs, got the blue bowl, sliced up an orange, added some grapes, a plum, and two squares of Lindt 70% Chocolate and came upstairs to work.
Here I am now.
I’m about to begin work. I’m halfway through the next Ashbury-Brookfield book.
But how can I write? The blue bowl is empty! Just orange peels.
And my camera batteries are dead! So I cannot photograph the blue.

But, setting aside the colour of the bowl, it looks like I’ve completed today.
I’m right up to the now!
Yesterday is next.


It might be better to summarise the last four months.

In the last four months, Charlie and I have been to New York, to the hospital, to the Gold Coast, to the park, to the park, to the park.

I’ll post some brief notes below. I’ll skip the park. But I might include a copy of a letter that Charlie wrote to me, shortly after the hospital but before the trip to the Gold Coast.

1. Flight to New York

“Look,” I said, “Here’s the people on the plane, and she says, ow, my back hurts and he’s getting something down from an overhead locker, and here’s a monster, raaar! I think it’s a possum. And here’s a telephone, ring ring! Quick! Switch it off! And look, it’s a baby! And all the people are going oh, no, a baby, and what’s she putting on the baby’s face? Don’t worry. And here’s a boat! And it goes splash splash and all the boats sail away from the plane hooray and here’s a lady saying look, I’ve made a slide! Like in the park! And hooray! We all go down the slide. And she says, come on everyone let’s go down the slide, and they go hooray! And then they run! And – ”

On the flight to New York, Charlie had absolutely no interest in any of the books or toys or boxes of sultanas that I’d brought along to keep him entertained.
The only thing that made him happy was the Emergency Information Card, over and over, at high speed.

2. Pull Back 'n Go Santa

The first week in New York, a Canadian friend and I went to the Catskills. We left late at night and my friend drove the rental car straight into a snow storm.
But you can’t blame her for that.
It was the weather.

We stayed in another friend’s beautiful house in the woods. Charlie learned to walk there.

In the grocery store, I decided to buy a small toy for him, to celebrate. But all I could see were snub nose revolvers.
Eventually, I found a Pull Back ‘n Go Santa Head. It’s just what it says it is. It's a small plastic Santa head and if you pull it back, it goes.
Charlie likes it; I love it.

Driving back to the city, we saw what we’d missed in the dark snow-storm drive on the way up. We were quiet and thoughtful. The road looped and curved along a cliff edge.
“I didn’t know the cliff was there,” I said.
“Me neither,” agreed my friend.
We were quiet again.
Eventually, I said, half-laughing: “I can’t remember all these curves in the road. I can only remember driving in a long, straight line.”
My friend said, “I was thinking the same thing.”

3. Writer

Back in the city, I was promoting the Spell Book of Listen Taylor. I met teachers, librarians, booksellers, publishers and writers, and you know, I think I liked them all.
Especially, I liked hangin’ with some fantastic friends, including Arthur Levine, Jill Grinberg and Rachel Cohn. Such wonderful people.
And Rachel, the author of Cupcakes, gave Charlie and me cupcakes.
Anyway, one night I was walking to dinner with a group of children’s book writers and publishers. They were talking about the theatre strike in New York. This one writer I was walking alongside, declared, with passion: “I fully support that strike.”
“What are the issues?” I asked him, and he said that he didn’t have a clue.

4. Dream

I felt fond of the writer. That much passion for a cause without knowing what it was about. He must be a loyal friend.
At dinner, I asked the writer some questions about his books. But then I remembered a dream I had had just the night before.
In the dream, I was at a party with a friend who plays the drums. The party was on a ship. I was chatting to my friend, asking him about drumming. He gave me a wistful smile and shook his head. “At a party,” he said, “we don’t talk about our work.” Then he pointed to a corkboard where my name had been shifted to the right, as a penalty for talking about work.
Remembering the dream, I said to the writer: “I’m sorry to ask you about work.”
But he didn’t seem to mind.

5. Flight Attendant

The only rule for flying with a baby is: make sure the baby is sucking on something when the flight goes up and comes down. Because of his ears.
That’s what everybody told me.
On the flight home from New York, we were preparing for descent, and I was glad to see that Charlie was sucking his thumb.
Then a flight attendant stopped alongside us. She reached over, pulled Charlie’s thumb out of his mouth, put it into her own mouth, spat it out, said, “Ew! Boy germs!” then hurried on down the aisle.
That is a true story.
The consternation on Charlie’s face. To be honest, he and I were both in shock.

6. Looping

After New York, a week at home, then Charlie was in the hospital for five days. I was allowed to sleep on a fold-out couch beside him.

The day we got home from the hospital, I said, ‘Let’s get some fresh air straight away.’ I said, ‘We’ll leave the bags in the hallway by the door and get some fresh air straight away.’
MST CHARLIE, the hospital wrist band looped around his wrist, his bare feet stretching in the stroller, flexing his toes in the breeze. The baggage tags still looped the stroller frame.
We walked up the quiet afternoon hill past the jacaranda trees. When we left for New York they were vibrant in their purple, now the purple was gathering into itself, and into the summer green.
‘We’ll loop around the block past the corner store,’ I said, ‘you want to say hello to the people in the store?’
“Bye bye,” he replied, calmly and precisely, from his stroller.
He was remembering that the corner store was the first place he ever said ‘bye bye’.

7. Letter from Charlie

The following is a transcript of a typed document that I found one morning, neatly folded, in the corner of Charlie’s cot. I checked the room carefully but there was no evidence of intrusion: the window was still locked, the curtains drawn, etc. Charlie himself seemed in good spirits. He was standing up, asking for breakfast, all in accordance with his usual morning behaviour. There was, however, the faintest pause in his bouncing when I said, “Hey, what’s that?”and reached for the folded document in his cot – and then, too, a slight nod, as of approval, when I opened it and read it. However, almost immediately he resumed his bouncing, now holding out both hands to me, his song taking on the mildly scolding tone that indicates I’m taking much too long.

In the circumstances, I can only conclude that Charlie himself is the author of what follows:

My Dear Mum,

The moon is bright tonight.

That is fortunate. I have slipped from this room, already, once, to borrow this clackety typewriter (from a friend who runs a pawn shop) – and must slip away again, before dawn, to return it. The streets are quiet but my walking is not what it will be. I tip over sideways, on occasion, and, in all honesty, would prefer to maintain my balance by holding both hands aloft. Tricky, when carrying a typewriter.

Hence, the moonlight is a blessing.

I write, now, from my cot, to raise a serious issue.

First, let me say, that New York was an excellent vacation choice. I commend you for it, Mum. Central Park was surely the most comprehensive park we have ever attended. And the squirrels! (So funny.) The spaghetti sauce at Niko’s (on Broadway and 76th) was divine. The cupcakes! Then, too, I think you know how much I enjoyed the New York travel cots. Unlike my own cot here, which has wooden slats, their netted material was perfect for bouncing against. Here, as you probably know, I sometimes wake myself in the middle of the night with a thunk: my head banging against the wooden slats. Not so in New York.

Yes. New York was great.

But, then, directly after New York, there was the trip to Hospital.

Mum. Seriously. What were you thinking?

All right. Anyone can make a mistake. Maybe the brochures were misleading. Five star reviews on It happens all the time: holiday choices go horribly wrong. But once you know you’ve been duped, Mum, you just go home.

Oh, I tried to tell you. I pointed, repeatedly, at the exit door. But no, you kept on believing. I assume you were hoping that things would get better. Your sunny optimism is a virtue, I’m sure, but let’s be honest here: as a holiday choice, Hospital is catastrophic.

I won’t go into details – you were there, you saw it all. But I might remind you that I could not sleep for the incessant beeping of the machines around my bed. Fun during the day, I suppose – I do like beeping noises. But why did they not switch them off at night? Then, too, I suppose all the tubes and gadgets that they attached to me might have been entertaining. But I was not allowed to play with any of it. So what was the point? And that’s even if I had felt like playing which, to be honest, I did not. I felt extremely under the weather for most of the stay – another reason why we should have just packed up and gone home.

And I don’t even want to talk about my thumb. Let’s just say that I had believed that the incident with the flight attendant – insulting the taste of my thumb – was the worst thing that ever could happen to me vis-à-vis it. But to swaddle my hand in bandaging so I could not access my thumb? To put it bluntly, it became very clear to me, around this time, that the only thing I can rely on in this great, big, strange, old world is my yellow blanket.

I do not mean to offend you. I’m sure you were doing your best; I’m sure you genuinely believed that Hospital would be fun.

But that’s exactly why I’m writing this letter: because now I hear we’re going to the Gold Coast.

Look, I know nothing of this Gold Coast. I’ve never been there. Maybe it’s great? Maybe it’s another New York?

But how do we know it’s not a Hospital?

I just don’t think I can take that chance, Mum.

Look, I’m not suggesting that you should be as risk-averse as I am. You want to try the Gold Coast? Go for your life! Go crazy!

But I’d like to stay at home.

Now, please – I know you’re about to dismiss this suggestion – laugh at it, even. “You’re a baby! You can’t stay home alone!” That’s what you’re going to say. I can just hear you.

All I’m asking is that you think about it – that you give it some serious thought.
And when you do, consider this:

I am almost 18 months old. (You keep calling me a ‘baby’ but seriously, am I? A lot of folk would label me ‘toddler’ - or even ‘little boy’?) I know where you keep the food. (It’s in the fridge, right? And the cupboards? If you could move things down to the lower shelves, access would be easier.) I know where the laundry detergent is. (Please remove the childproof locks from the cupboards, though, at your earliest convenience.) So I can do my own laundry. And if you put my favourite Hi-5 DVD on repeat, I won’t need to mess with the tv remote controls.

Starting to seem almost possible? I thought so.

And there's this: in an emergency I can always call on my best friend down the street. She may be a few weeks younger than me but you will recall that she can recite the alphabet, count to twenty, and tell you what the weather’s like (if it’s ‘sunny’).

This letter has gone on long enough. I think I have made my point, and I must get the typewriter back.

I leave the decision – as all decisions – in your hands. I am hopeful.

I thank you in advance,
And remain,



PS And just so you know, when I said, ‘bye bye’ in the stroller the day after we got home the hospital? I wasn’t ‘recalling that I learned to say good bye in the corner store’. No. I meant: enough with the sentimentality about ‘looping’. I meant, get a pair of scissors, cut the nametags off, and take me to the park already.

8. The Day After the Gold Coast

The Gold Coast was for the Somerset Celebration of Literature. It was one of the best festivals I’ve ever been to. The hotel had a parrot in a cage just outside reception. Charlie came along, and so did my wonderful parents – they took care of him while I was at speaking and signing events. And a lovely student volunteer made sure I got to the events on time.

The day after we got home from the Gold Coast, Charlie woke in the morning and said: “Bird.”
“Bird?” I said, uneasily, looking around his room.
There was a picture book with a duck on the front cover on the floor.
“Ah!” I said. “Yes! Charlie, this is a kind of bird! It’s a duck! You know ducks! What noise does a duck make?”
Charlie set the book aside and repeated, firmly: “Bird.”
“Bird!” I agreed, and he seemed pleased.
We went downstairs, and he called, “Bird! Bird!” all the way. He looked around the living room expectantly – a small frown flickered across his face. I put him down, and he began to run. He ran down the hallway and into the kitchen; he ran back into the living room; he spun around; looked at me; ran to the front door. All the time he ran he was calling, “Bird! Bird!” and each “Bird!” was more frantic than the last, until he was actually sobbing, “Bird!” and then he was only sobbing.
Suddenly, I realised what it was.
Each morning at the Gold Coast, we had begun the day by visiting the parrot at reception.
He was thinking of the parrot. If he could just find the parrot, he thought, he'd find the Gold Coast again – that bird would unravel that whole strange, idyllic world of lizards, beaches, pancakes; of heavy doors propped open that lead you into rooms where grandparents play and play; of dolphins, boats, pelicans, and water that surprises you by leaping from the ground beneath your feet.