The Carols

Today was set aside for an adventure. We hopped on a ferry and headed for the Opera House on what turned out to be a perfect summers day in Australia.

In my never ending quest for wrinkled skin, and because I am a bit of a glutton for punishment, I somehow neglected yet again to put on any sunscreen before leaving the house. I did however remember to wear my polarized sunglasses all day long so that now I look like a parody of a raccoon. Work will be awesome tomorrow, nobody is going to take me seriously.

The ferry dropped us off at Circular Quay and the halflings had to be physically restrained from running ahead and getting lost in the throng of people. I’m not sure really what they were expecting of the day, but we were on our way to see Carols at the House performed by a five hundred strong choir and the Sydney Philharmonia Orchestra.

So, it wasn’t exactly the next installment of Star Wars or Harry Potter. In truth, we may have oversold the event a little. There’s no shame in that though. As a parent, you have to get buy-in from your children up front or they’ll complain the entire day. Soup to nuts.

This can shave slivers off your soul.

We had a smidgen of time to kill so we did lunch at the Opera Kitchen which, aside from the departure from port of the Carnival Legend and the Pacific Eden, has an unobstructed and quite spectacular view of the Sydney Harbor Bridge. We ate lunch and we watched the comings and goings of cruise liners, ferries and private boats of all sizes. We also spent some time shooing away some pretty tame and rather cheeky seagulls, who I imagine haven’t eaten a crab or small fish their entire lives – instead spending their time snatching fried food off of unsuspecting restaurant patrons’ plates (and forks).

Eventually our concert was about to begin and we shuffled into the Concert Hall where, I can tell you honestly, there are literally no bad seats. There were brilliant views from every vantage point. Our seats were top shelf. I could easily have tossed a malteser into a French Horn on the stage. Although I’m sure to do so, would have been frowned upon.

The little guy began to ask when ‘half time’ would be from about fifteen minutes in. Not even the five second lick of Darth Vader’s theme from Star Wars (on the tuba) was enough to keep him fully qengaged. In the end I resorted to feeding him a constant stream of maltesers to keep him from jumping up on his chair and making demands of the conductor to wrap things up so we could all leave.

He scoffed these chocolate appeasements from me with a fair amount of resentment and a little shame at himself for being so easily bought.

At intermission, I had a direction talk with him and he nodded solemnly when I laid out what his day would begin to look like if he acted up in the hall again. From then on he settled down, finally accepting my reality. The second half went on without so much as a poorly timed sniff from him. I’m going to put this squarely in the win column for Dad. I have to confess that I don’t win all the time, but for now I’m in the lead.

The highlight of the day for me though, by a country mile, was the Christmas choir rendition of Amazing Grace. They left the stage and spread out around the house, the house lights we’re dimmed to a deep blue as the choir began to sing A capella. It was haunting and moving and struck a deep chord with me.

Amazing Grace was my father’s favorite hymn and I think he would have loved this particular performance.

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The dumbo

So, our long-bodied, floppy-eared, beautiful, happy dog has begun a journey that’s going to see her fly across the globe and then spend two weeks in the company of strangers before she’s reunited with us again.

She’s going to spend a chunk of that time in a box that was custom made for her and she will change into strange hands many times over before we see her again.

I haven’t broken it down into minutes and seconds yet, but it is a very long time indeed for her to be away from all she knows.

I really wish there was some way we could have explained to her what was going on before she left. You know, that there will be a couple of flights, a short stay at a doggey hotel (a quarantine facility) and then another short flight and car ride to us where we will be waiting with wide open arms, a brand new bed and a cudley, pockets full of treats and infinite hugs and belly rubs.

But of course we couldn’t do that. She trustingly got into a van with a friendly guy and they drove off. I couldn’t watch. It would have been a bit like watching dumbo, the ears, the flying, the separation from family.

I miss her already and I really can’t wait for her journey to be over. I want it more than I wanted all the Christmases I counted down the days for as a child combined into one.

I hope she sleeps. I hope she has long happy dreams and I hope she finds us in them. See you soon my sweet girl.


The holiday

So the perfect school holiday would have seen the Mom, the Dad and the children all on holiday at the same time. It would also have included great weather and a complete agenda of things to do that would have filled up every day with perfectly happy halflings.

This last October holiday, we had none of those things. It was the two minions and I staring at each other in the car every morning after dropping the Mom off at work while the rain pelted down on the car. Each day, a single thought was bouncing around in our heads, what on earth are we going to do today?

I’m the Dad and as such, I was supposed to have the answer. But as with most things, I didn’t have any answers at all. In point of fact, I wing it ninety five percent of the time. I’m in a new country, a new city, a new town, a new house and in three months I’ve learned exactly two things: I know where the best breakfast spot is and I know where the park is. In both places, the people talk a little like Crocodile Dundee.

I mean I had a couple of things planned for the holiday which we did execute with a modicum of success and which did result in genuine appreciation from the little guys. But by far the most successful outing was a visit to the local cinema to watch Christopher Robin. It was a big hit. Pooh and the gang did not disappoint.

Also, I managed to make that particular event fill up an entire day. First, I stretched out the ticket booking process, all told, it took about an hour and a half. We watched the trailer online, chose our seats for a matinee screening and printed out our tickets.

We then chewed up another forty five minutes just getting ready to walk out the door. To be completely honest though, that’s about par for our family. Leaving the house with children is an experience not unlike what I would imagine insanity being injected into eyeballs feels like and I think that parents around the globe deserve actual medals, dished out by famous people, at formal ceremonies for every time we do it. I sometimes think a cattle prod wouldn’t go amiss, you know, hanging in the entrance hall, to use as needed. Or perhaps a sheep dog.

I drove there slowly. Let me qualify that a little by saying that I always drive within the speed limit (just in case there are any traffic officials in New South Wales reading this). But that day I drove slower than usual. Slow enough for the little guys to pipe up in the back and comment that I was in fact driving rather slowly and could I please just bloody move along now.

Ok, they didn’t actually say bloody, but their tone suggested they meant to say it.

At the cinema it was all business. There was the ubiquitous box of popcorn each – which in Australia seems to be somewhat regulated in that there is only one flavor of popcorn and that is buttered with salt. Someone, somewhere decided the appropriate amount of salt required for a batch of popcorn and that’s all you get mate. No extra. Weird. Next time we go, we might have to take our own salt with us.

We watched the movie and I have to say, it was really very good. All the children in the cinema erupted into belly laughter every couple of minutes, making it a really happy experience. I was reminded of that scene from Finding Neverland where children were scattered around the theatre full of stuffy adults wearing formal wear – their infectious laughter drew the whole audience into the play. Also, I didn’t once have that nagging thought that Pooh needed to put a pair of bottoms on, not even on his trip to the city.

The three of us shared a bag of the Australian equivalent of Cadbury’s Whispers and it’s was a full fifteen minutes before anyone spilt their popcorn or juice. So a really successful outing.

By the time the movie was over, the little guy had a palm covered in chocolate and a face to match. I had handed him one piece at a time during the show to limit his intake. I attempted a quick cleanup, using the cleaning implement first reached for by any parent with small children, I licked my thumb and tried to wipe away the chocolate that never quite made it into his mouth. He put up an indignant protest saying something about saving it for later.

To round out the time dilation, I had parked on the opposite side of the mall just to chew up another quarter of an hour walking back to the car. By the time we got home, after another slow drive metered out at Miss Daisy speeds, there was just enough time to freshen up and read a little before heading back out to fetch the mom from work.

I hope someday my boys read this and remember a rainy day in Australia when they watched Pooh with their Dad.


The one line or two

I surfaced from the fog somewhat reluctantly, I will admit, since at the time, I did not normally wake up before midday on weekends unless we were attending a function that had a very specific and immovable starting time. I rubbed my eyes and managed to grunt something along the lines of “What?”

The muffled echo of the sound in my head as I spoke was because of the consumption of copious amounts of beer the night before. A recreation from a simpler time, a time before I turned forty and a pastime that has since been relegated exclusively to every second New Year’s Eve and then only on a much, much smaller scale.

“I said do you see one stripe or two?” My beautiful wife was sitting on the edge of the bed holding out a pregnancy test for my inspection. “It’s very feint, but I think we’re pregnant.” She was glowing. At least that is how I remember it. Then again it might just have been the sun shining into the room, through the curtains specifically designed not to block out any light whatsoever from the east facing windows but which were ‘absolutely the right curtains for the room’ that was framing her in silhouette.

But I digress, I had to agree, the smudge I was looking at on the stick did in fact look like a positive result. We resolved to go for a formal blood test, which google indicated was a relatively simple procedure that would take about an hour to yield a result.

I am not sure I can adequately describe the excitement I felt that day. A euphoric, child-like giddiness that had me beaming from ear to ear. Not even the dreariness and banality of the pathologist rooms could dampen the fluttering of the butterfly wings in my belly and the big drum-thumping of my heart in my chest. The nurse took a blood sample from my wife and we went for breakfast to chew up the hour or so while we waited for the results to come back.

I know what I had for breakfast that morning because I always have the same thing. An English breakfast or whatever is closest to that on the menu and a diet cold drink. Yes diet, like that actually makes a difference when you’re scoffing bacon. I think my foot tapped the entire time we were there and after the longest breakfast in recorded history, we headed back to the pathologist. I was excited and overwound to the point of snapping when we walked up to the reception desk to collect the results. The nurse handed us ‘the’ piece of paper without comment and I swear, I heard a drumroll in the background as we had a look at it.

Nothing in life is ever that straight forward though. What I expected to see was something descriptive and quite formal like ’pregnant’ or ‘positive’. I would even have settled for something biblical like ’you are with child’ or perhaps a ’thumbs up’ emoji even though it was a few years too early for that. But no, what I saw instead was a mess of numbers and dates and tables. A little confused, we leaned over the counter and asked the nurse to show us exactly where the actual result was because, you know, the bloody piece of paper was just about as clear as frozen Diet Coke.

Shakespeare said, “I am not bound to please thee with my answers.” I think this is a nice way of saying ’tough’ when giving someone an answer to a question they have asked you, that is the opposite of what they were expecting to hear. With that in mind, imagine my complete exasperation when the nurse told us that only a doctor could interpret the result for us. So sorry, but we would have to wait until Monday. Imagine that.

Ja, neither could I.

This particular pathology lab, which will have to remain nameless for obvious reasons, presents their results on a notepad-sized piece of pre-printed stationary. Half of the page is dedicated to company logo and credentials (read clutter) and the balance of the page is dedicated to reference tables against which to measure your result. Indeed, the focus given to the salient bit of information, the actual test result, is about the same amount as that given to nutritional information for a chicken nugget on a menu at McDonald’s in 1984, which is to say, not that much really.

The problem here is identifying your result amongst all the prattle around it. It is quite simply put, the most nondescript piece of information on the document and unless you knew what you were looking for, you simply would not see it. I believe this to be by design. Because why would we want the average person to interpret the results of a pregnancy test? That would be disastrous since it would exclude the doctors from a potential first consultation where they look at the very same piece of paper from the pathologist, then gaze up at you over their spectacles and say, “Yes, you’re pregnant”.

As it turns out, with a little stiffening of resolve and bristling of mane, we managed to convince the nurse to show us where the result was, which we were then able to compare against the reference table, conveniently printed in the page. Despite the fact that neither of us had a medical degree, we were in fact then able to determine that my wife was indeed pregnant by a little over two weeks.

Mr and Mrs, your main feature will be starting in about 38 weeks, please grab some popcorn and take your seats.

We walked out of the pathologists rooms into the hallway and had a nice, quiet moment alone in each other arms. We were going to have a baby. How does one explain that feeling to someone who is not already a parent and who is not actively trying to become a parent? I guess the short answer is you simply cannot.

It is a moment I will remember for as long as I live, or at the very least until old age and senility rob me of my faculties and bladder control, whichever comes first.


The settling in

Long before our arrival in Australia, we were planning for our adventure by wrapping up the sale of our home, sorting out what needed to go on the container and what needed to stay behind, settling open accounts and dealing with all the other minutiae of our lives in South Africa.

Part of that process included, hunting for houses to rent. We waded through literally hundreds of properties using a handful of property apps and did virtual tours and street views and comparisons aplenty. We ‘placed’ our furniture in rooms some eleven thousand kilometers away and looked at gardens and parks for our children (and dog) to play in.

Of course, before we arrived here, we couldn’t actually commit to any of those houses and there were a few properties we would have loved to have seen in person that sort of slipped by us online. Then suddenly, we were here and the flag fell on our temporary accommodation. The clock was ticking.

What followed was a couple of frantic weeks of serious house hunting. By serious of course I mean looking at around fifteen houses, only half of which we could reasonably expect to afford the rental for. We even opportunistically darted into a mansion of a house that was for sale for an eye watering amount in any currency. At the door I handed over my contact details to the agent and proceeded to stroll around the palatial home with all the confidence of a Prince wandering around his grounds, master of all he surveys.

Now for a small confession.

For almost all of these house inspections, we took our halflings with us. I feel I must apologize to all of the agents that showed these homes by saying that my eldest has a habit of needing to make use of the water closet whenever we are out and about. I won’t reveal which house this happened in but, in one particular home my boy announced the imminent arrival of a ‘number two’ and then he proceeded to ruin the quality of the air in the top half of that particular home for at least the balance of the day. It was a horror story.

Fortunately, there were three key factors that allowed us to ‘drop and go’ without having to own up to the agent in person. First, the home was empty. Second, the agent was giving us time on our own upstairs to browse and third, there were no other prospective tenants viewing the home alongside us. So…plop, plop, flush!

In the end, we actually did manage to find a home we liked that didn’t require one of us to donate a kidney on the black market to rent it. Truth be told, it fell into our laps and through a twist of fate in the universe, we were the only people that saw the home that day that had decided to put an application in – which was accepted.

As is often the case when making big decisions, we started to second-guess our decision the moment the deposit was paid. First, the online listing was taken down after we paid the deposit so we couldn’t go back and revisit the home one last time. Then I discovered that despite walking through the home in the middle of the afternoon, I had no memory at all of anything in the house upstairs. It literally could have been pink carpet made from feather boa’s with suits of armor on the walls. It seemed that all the homes I had visited that day had begun to merge into a single, blurry, four bedroom house with doors and windows and garages and bathrooms.

Fortunately, my wife had a very clear image in her head and she convinced me that this was actually the home for us. There was some disagreement initially about how big the living area in the new house was. One of us (won’t say who) was spatially challenged in this area. That said, in the end, there was an agreement to disagree and simply bypass the space issue entirely by buying a brand new lounge suite.

See Ikea.

I hope that when the time comes to fit our old 55 inch TV in the lounge that we are both equally as eager to replace it with something in the 65 inch ballpark. Fingers are firmly crossed on this hot potato.

So, four short weeks later and we are in the house with a few sticks of furniture around us while we wait for all our worldly goods to arrive. We have it on good authority that delivery of our things will be made in the next few days and this being a pretty organized society, I’m actually inclined to believe them. I mean, so far, the only thing Australia has gotten wrong is putting four (not two) swivel wheels on their shopping trolleys.

I can tell you now without hesitation that of all the things in the container, we as a family are all very excited to see the arrival of the LEGO and the PlayStation (our babysitter) which we have sorely missed these past two months.


The sitting on the dock of the bay

So we’re settling into our new life in our new city quite nicely. We are making adjustments as we go and this is key, since using African thinking in an Australian city will stitch you up. Let me explain.

A couple of weeks ago we attempted a visit to the city. It’s about thirty kilometers away so we, against the advice of locals, hopped into the car and simply drove to Sydney. We figured; it was a weekend, the freeway would be clear, the city would be empty, we’d find somewhere to park and we’d hop on a ferry to a touristy beach. I mean really, how hard could it be?

Well, to put it quite bluntly, it’s was pretty bloody hard. Let me say right upfront that we never made it to a beach, nor did we make it onto a ferry.

We made it into the city without any problems, but from the moment we arrived, there was a problem. The city actually has quite a significant skyline with plenty of skyscrapers. These things block GPS signals very effectively and turn the car (and smartphone) satellite navigation systems into what are essentially very confused American women directing you around a city using smoke signals on a windy day.

So, not that awesome really.

That said, we found a parking garage, just a few blocks away from the Sydney Opera House which we thought was quite convenient – but it turns out that convenience comes at a price. The rates on display for the day were as steep as one would expect pay if one was parking at Buckingham Palace for the day and were parking in the Queen’s bay to boot. So after an illegal reverse maneuver back onto the street, we managed to escape the clutches of parking debt and quickly made our way back over the Sydney Harbour Bridge to the North Shore where we assumed we would be able to find street parking.

A good hour later we figured out that most of the bays in the city are one hour parking bays (which you pay quite dearly for). Then, in order of increasingly scarce availability, there are two, four and eight hour bays available that don’t cost quite as much as the Queen’s parking bay, but do cost an arm, a leg and a tiny sliver of your soul.

We eventually found a four hour bay very near to a ferry dock and swiped our credit card through it which, for a South African, is a pretty big leap of faith. At this point we had accepted that a trip to Bondi Beach via the ferry was out of scope but decided we’d settle for a walk around the Opera House and perhaps a bite to eat at a restaurant on the other side of the bay.

The Kirribilli dock was a stones throw away from our car and we trotted confidently down onto the dock and took a seat on the bench. Opal cards in hand, we settled down for a ten minute wait for the next ferry that would scoop us up and ‘ferry’ us across the bay to the Opera house which we could see clearly across the bay.

So close.

It wasn’t to be though. We spent the next hour and a half watching ferries diesel past us in all directions. Google searches and app downloads followed to try figure out when the next ferry was going to arrive and each time the timetable teased us with another ten minutes, another seven minutes, another two minutes. The ferries all just passed us by.

Finally, the little guys made it quite clear that they were no longer prepared to wait for a ferry and demanded food, which we as parents were then obliged to provide as soon as possible, or face the wrath of two hangry children. If you’ve been here, you know. A hangry child is as close to Mr. Hyde as one is likely to get in real life.

So we walked around until we found a street cafe and plopped down to eat. Then, tails firmly between our legs, we headed home.

We learnt some valuable lessons that day. We are essentially tourists in our bee city and as such we will, in future, always have a backpack with snacks and water on hand. We will always wear comfortable shoes. We will never take the car to the city again. We will always plan our trip in advance and we will always make sure we’re sitting at the right dock to actually be picked up by a ferry. Always.

To top it off, like drowning men, we managed to pull several other tourists into the drink with us. We convinced them that a ferry was on its way momentarily and they believed us. By the time we left, a large group of tourists had clumped together on the dock in the belief that transport was moments away, all waiting for a boat that would never come. Sorry.

Apparently, Kirribilli is where the Australian Prime Minister lives and perhaps the ferries were skipping that dock because the Prime Minister has his own boat (the Australian version of Air Force One). Perhaps we were just green tourists sitting at the wrong dock. We’ll never know.

But in hindsight, the three guys fishing off the dock when we arrived should really have given us all clues we needed to know that the probability of a ferry showing up any time soon was very slim indeed.


The new world

And just like that we’re in a new city, in a new country and on a new continent. Almost everything we own is in a big steel box sitting on a dock in Cape Town waiting for its papers to travel. We’re living in an apartment, which is nice, but obviously much smaller than what we’re used to and there’s no dog constantly threatening to stand up on her hind legs (to almost human height) and gobble up all the food left carelessly within reach of humans. We miss her. We miss our family. We miss our home.

But everything here is new and that’s the upside. We’re like explorers setting foot on a new world, everywhere we go, it’s the first time we’ve been there. That’s a pretty unusual thing. I’m not saying our trip to the convenience shop at the local filling station last night at ten was particularly exciting or noteworthy, but it was the first time we’d bought anything in Australia and by extension, is a memory. Of course, the little guys, were a little nonplussed to find out that we were not going to buy Australian sweets for them – the primary reason for that was of course the fact that we don’t actually understand Australian sweets yet, not because we’re mean parents.

Obviously there are bigger differences that we’ve noticed, like the fact that this place is really wall to wall full of Australians. Getting used to their accent is definitely going to be a challenge. However, that’s not to say that we don’t understand the accent, because we do. It is in fact pretty similar to a South African accent in that it is also quite flat. When one is in America, for example, one is often mistaken for an Australian. But one must stop speaking in the third person singular and continue with the story.

No, the Australian accent is not a problem, it is the fact that everybody around us speaks with the accent that is the key thing, I think, that drives home the fact that we’re in another country. Yes, that and the fact that there’s no Oros here and that they put the cheese on top of the toppings on the pizza.

My sons weathered the trip over here very well, better than I did to be honest. In total, we flew for about fourteen hours and they slept right through most of that. I however did not. I spent those hours sitting up watching a very small little screen while my eldest boy stretched his gangly legs across me. The boys weren’t that enamored with the aeroplane food though, which is why we smuggled peanut butter and syrup sandwiches onto the flight (that we’re lovingly prepared by ’Da’). I myself snacked on a half sandwich to supplement the beef dinner in the foil container (that was eaten with plastic utensils).

Driving to our accommodation from the airport was a breeze (after we figured out how to get the car started) because we had a personal Sherpa in the form of a good friend ’from the old country’, who has made a home her, married a local lass and is raising two halflings of his own. He also helped us port the lions share of our luggage in his car. Included in the trip was a drive by of two key tourist attractions which we duly took shaky snaps of from the car, from behind tinted windows, on a cell phone. So, you know, really quality pictures.

I must confess that we got off to rather a shaky start in the hotel. The lift, by way of example, doesn’t work without the room key and the sequence of events to actually get the box moving is more complicated than one would imagine. Ditto for the front door and the lights to the room. The beds though, they worked as advertised and we slept well into the next day like we’d been out partying all night long.

Now, of course, it’s almost three in the morning here and the boys and I are all wide awake, drinking milk, asking questions like ’is it morning yet?’ and eating what can only be described as small, delicious, bacon-flavored rusks (courtesy of our Sherpa). My wife has to work in the morning and is doing her level best to stay asleep. I don’t envy her.

So, here we are, settling in, we have not as yet seen any poisonous local snakes or dog-sized spiders, thankfully, our fingers are firmly crossed that this trend will continue. Outside, Australia awaits.


The house

In a few more days, the place we’ve called home for just short of eight years, will be an empty shell. We’re moving home, country and continent and the bricks we’ve surrounded ourselves with will soon surround nothing but memories.

Tonight is the last night I’m going to spend in this house and I thought it fitting that I paid a brief tribute to it by wandering around it in my mind and jotting down the things that stand out.

Some of the memories I have will have a physical record that will linger on long after we’ve left. Things like the growth chart on the bedroom door recording heights and dates in permanent marker. It’s been painted over now to make it look fresh and shiny, but it’s still there, under the surface and will probably be there until the door is replaced. I like the idea that someday, paint might chip off the door and then a little bit out our history here will resurface.

Then there’s the boy-cave in the bottom of the garden, reserved for members only, where bricks have been carefully stacked into seats and a table and all the favourite sticks are propped up in the corner. It’s a little overgrown but it’s there, built by determined, muddy little hands at play.

I took a picture of the rows of stickers on the wall next to the toilet where potty training was done. These are badges of accomplishment and a reminder of all the times we cheered the little guys on for making it to the toilet on time. They will be removed by the new owners, I’m sure, but they’ve been there for a long time and now that I’ve snapped a picture of them for this post, they’re likely to live on a lot longer.

I want to add a shoutout to the chalkboard paint wall in the kitchen, where I was tasked to draw (and redraw) Yoda, Darth Vader, Chewbacca and the like in chalk despite not really having much of a knack for chalk as a medium. It’s blank now, but it used to have the school schedule scrawled on it and was where activities for the term were plotted out next to reminders to buy peanut butter. I’m going to miss that.

The kitchen island was the center of the house, complete with two stools that had boys planted in them every morning, afternoon and evening for mealtimes. This too is where the feeding chairs used to be and by extension from where food was spread evenly and generously all over the kitchen. I’m pretty sure there’s solidified (petrified) baby food and peanut-butter under the rim of the counter. It’s also where homemade pizza’s were crafted from raw ingredients and dished out in slices to hungry mobs.

There’s the spot behind the couches in the living room where literally endless hours of LEGO was imagined and planned and built and played with. Sound effects were usually added for Star Wars LEGO and for me, will always echo there.

That one garden sprinkler, just off the patio, that popped up during a play session on the grass and then created a jolly good mud bath has been digitally recorded. I’d like to think that when it jumps up out of the ground in the future (once the drought is over), it might just remember a sunny afternoon when it surprised a one year old boy in a red t-shirt and a nappy and got to witness pure joy.

The two steps into the dining room represent obstacles that my boys, and our dog, had to navigate successfully before they could move freely about the house. They were at times naughty steps where time-outs were had and the very place where shoelaces were tied every morning before school. Also responsible for bruises and tears when warnings of ‘go backwards down the stairs’ were not heeded.

The walls and ceilings in the room where light shows were held, complete with stars and planets and rockets and the odd shadow puppet made with clumsy hands by the dad. All burned into our memories.

I almost want to leave post-it notes around the house to tell the new owners that the bunk-beds go here and the changing table goes there and this step is where the shoes are clumped together until they reach a critical mass. Oh, and over here, on the carpet in the afternoons, the sun streams in and makes the little guy look like sprite while he plays with his cars.

The walls and ceilings and floors have absorbed thousands of hours of laughter, tears and tantrums, shrieks of joy, endless conversations about everything and anything that popped into little heads at bedtime and uncountable bedtime stories.

We’ll take these memories with us when we go and I hope somehow, the house remembers us.


The down undah

A few short months ago, an opportunity to relocate our family to Australia presented itself. My wife and I immediately grabbed at it with both hands and in around three and a half weeks from today, we’ll be boarding an intercontinental flight and saying goodbye to almost everything we know.

It’s quite a daunting prospect. There are a myriad of things to wrap up and to check off and to be honest, I’m not sure we fully understood just how much preparation and planning this would all take when we started. That said, it became clear early on that the entire buildup to the actual flight would be broken down into milestones. Each of these would have a series of preparation steps and an agonizing waiting period before one could move on to the next step.

That became our reality.

There were interviews and emails and very early morning calls. There were periods of gathering documents and certificates, the filling in of all manner of online (and paper) forms and many more visits to our local home affairs office than any human being should have to be subjected to in one lifetime. I spent so much time sitting in a chair in home affairs, waiting for my ticket to be called, that I began to feel like somehow I was doing something wrong and that it was not the grinding bureaucracy that was at fault but rather my selfish need to be validated by a series of documents and stamps and digital records. I’m actually quite proud of the fact that I only lost my temper once. It could easily have gone the other way where I could have made my way into a local news report as a story about a public disturbance where some reported them coins the phrase ‘queue rage’.

When the news finally came through that everything had been approved, that visas had been issued and that short of a comet striking the earth or our airline going out of business, we were definitely going to go, we were elated to the point of floating. We were actually in bed, half asleep when an email alert dinged quietly in the room indicating that an all important communication from Australia had arrived. It really was a champagne moment, without the actual champagne as there was work the next morning and it was two in the morning. All we could do at that point was congratulate each other and roll over and try go back to sleep. Quite anti-climactic really.

Through all of that though, by far the biggest hurdle we have faced this far was telling our children what we were doing. We agonized over when to do it for weeks. In the beginning, we didn’t want to tell them our plans for fear that they would amount to nothing and then all of the worry and uncertainty that would come with sharing the plans with them would have been wasted. We resolved, early on, to wait until the visas were approved and almost made it to that point.

But then, one evening, we found ourselves sitting them down on the couches in our living room, explaining to them, as tears welled up in their wide eyes, that we were going to leave our country and go on a great adventure. With children, phrasing is everything.

Immediately there were questions and tears and worry. All driven by fear of the unknown, fear of change. We did our best to answer all of the questions as honestly as we could. Thing like ‘what about our grandparents’ and ‘what about all of our friends’ were particularly difficult to answer because the relationships they have now are all going to change dramatically.

We committed to them that we would Skype and FaceTime and WhatsApp and message everyone here as often as they wanted and we said we’d travel home for visits as often as we could.

But then we switched gears and began to focus on all the positives. Our dog, for instance, was going with us. We would get to choose our new home as a family. We would get to buy a new car as a family and we would get to choose new schools as a family. All decisions that traditionally we’ve made as parents without their input. Now they were officially empowered to be a part of those things.

Then we began to google cool things to do in our new city (and country) and we realized that we could literally be tourists every weekend, for years and not see the same thing twice.

In the end though, the deal clincher was a promise to visit Disneyland next year when the Star Wars attraction opens. We showed them the artists impressions and reasoned with them that it was much easier to fly to California from Sydney than from Cape Town. That did it, they were all aboard from that very moment onwards.

In hindsight, we really should have opened with Star Wars.


The love story

If you ask a hundred people what love is, you will probably get a hundred different answers. The reason for that is; love is subjective, it is quite different for each of us and we have different shades of love for all of the people in our lives.

There is that first love that most of us are fortunate enough to know, the love we have for our parents. They are our touchstones, our guides, our protectors. In truth, they are our gods until we are old enough to perceive something bigger. The love we have for our parents shapes and defines us. It is the bedrock and from it all other love flows.

As we grow into little humans, there’s the love we have for our siblings. This love is always present but we hardly ever acknowledge it formally and when we quarrel, as sibling do, it is easy to lose sight of it, but it is always there. There are times, especially when we are younger, that we will utter nonsensical things like “I’m not going to be your brother/sister anymore.” But these times are transient (or should be) and in the end, our siblings are the people we will probably love the longest throughout our lives given that we usually outlive our parents and pass on before our children.

There is that very first love. You know the one. That shy flower, hidden behind a back and presented with a flourish in a schoolyard. That toothy, toothless smiling kind of love we have when we first start to see flashes in others of the qualities we will inevitably be drawn to when we’re older. It is honest, it is simple, it is innocent. It is also the yardstick that the romantics among us will hold all of their future relationships up to.

Adolescent love seems to consume us entirely, lasting for a few, confusing and tumultuous years. It clouds our minds and we take it so seriously as we believe it to be utterly unique, as if no one has ever known this type of love before or ever will again. It is tears. It is laughter. It is hormones. It is practice for the main event. This is also a time where most of us will experience that most cruel form of love, unrequited love, that is all at once everything and nothing. That feeling of being full and empty at the same time. It is longing, it is lonely and it burns in our chests like a lava in an abyss. This is a chapter in some of our lives that we wish was over the very moment it begins.

The love we have for our pets is a simple love. It is quiet, it is kind. It is comforting and altogether one of the most rewarding expressions of love we can have. Throw a ball and you’ll see what I mean.

The love we have for our friends is loyalty, it is familiarity, it is camaraderie. It has no constraints and no complications. It is probably the easiest kind of love which is why we can have more than one friend. If it is done right, it lasts a lifetime.

The love for a soulmate is a mix of everything we know about love to date. All of it rolled into one. When you find it, you know. It is as simple as that. You remember every shade of love you’ve experienced and you feel it for another human being. This person is the one that fills the gaps in our hearts and minds. The one person that we’ll tell all of our secrets to – and everyone else’s. The one person that you want to share everything with and until you do, it’s not entirely real. It is also the one love that changes most over time, that we have to keep up with lest we fall behind.

Then there is the love we have for our children. How does one put this love into words? It transcends everything else. It is the one love we cannot know or understand fully until we actually have children. It is that deep sense of purpose realised, this is why we are all here, a ‘now it all makes complete sense’ kind of love. It actually begins before your children are even a single cell dividing into two. In most cases you plan for children and from the moment you do, they are real to you, you love them. You begin to imagine what they will be like and watch the clock tick away from the moment you find out you are to be a parent through the long months until they arrive. You buy clothes for them, toys for them, books for and about them. You nest for them. You plan and pray and worry about them at every step of their journey in the womb. You have sleepless nights just reading a brief paragraph in a baby book about some random illness that could befall them and find yourself angry at the universe that such a thing even exists. The love you feel for your child growing in their safe womb is so clear and palpable you could sculpt it out of stone with your bare hands.

Then suddenly the day arrives. Today your child will be born and the flood of emotion you feel is second to none. Your heart beats so loudly you feel that doctors and nurses around you may be distracted by the sound.

For those of you without children, imagine now if you will, compressing into a ball, every single emotion you’ve had from the moment you were born. Place that ball of energy squarely in your chest and you’ll have some idea of the feeling of expectation, joy, relief, love and white knuckled terror you have on the day your child is born.

P.S. It never goes away.