Tis the season. Time to yoke the Yule grab the antlers and ride the scarlet beast in sideways down the slippery holly-strewn luge of festive funk, knocking your Santa hat sideways and, eggnog in hand, screaming ‘Rudolf Rocks’ – standard five bonus points for making the littlies cry.
Okay – this time of year.
One thing we can count on is it stirring the pot. It’s the time of year when the heat gets turned up on the “we are all in this together and hang on just why are we all together?” mojo that families are experts at burying under the panaceas of distance, platitudes and indifference that keeps most blood ties at least loosely knotted most of the time.
For a real sense of danger just add a suburban postcode, a few collective midlife crisis (wonder what the collective noun is for that? Hmmmm….give me a moment to ponder) a batch of growing kids, a financial downturn and the obligatory river of grog. Best of the festive season to you and yours!
But as crazy as it gets – and anyone who knows Cook County knows we’re no strangers to the crazy – I am enjoying a big bask in the Seasonal Love swamp and thought I’d share it with you.
Marcus’ sister Pen is down with her two kids – Seth is two and Tuhina is four. They saw my big boys and it was on, them climbing all over them, getting piggy backs, playing hide and seek, getting thrown all over the place. Just like Marcus did with them. Just like his Uncle Jim and Uncle Bertie did with him. Glee. Bliss. More glee. And today my Miss Nine has run up the driveway to keep a pre-booked appointment with Miss Four.
“Tuhy said we had to bounce on the tramp today”.
|A seriously gorgeous Tuhina.|
|Keziah, Tuhina and that is Atticus holding Seth.|
Then there was the big gathering last Sunday gone. Marcus was home briefly between Sydney trips and his Mum invited her younger brother over. Now Rae and Michael’s parents divorced when Michael was two and they lived with their Nana for about five years until their dad remarried. Rae has always said it speaks volumes that she had six children and Michael had seven. Family matters.
So I’m walking up the driveway with my Atticus, 11, and there they all are – sitting on the veranda, running in and out of the house. At least 30 of them – tall, big shouldered men and kids of all shapes and sizes being tended by the women folk. And that was with heaps missing.
Atti looks at me and says “Do you mean I’m related to everyone here?”
Ain’t it? Even after more than 25 years around these Cook’s and nearly 20 years of being ‘one of em’ it still spins this one-of-two-daughters out. I sat with my sis-in-law Karen and watched our kids play stacks on (yep, it’s a theme) and we quietly raised our glasses and drank to us and where we had landed. Now Karen. I could write a blog, perhaps even a book on her. But all I am going to share now is that this woman who I used to play with as a little girl, can navigate the hidden trails between my silences and my shouts as surely as Vasco De Gama. For Christmas I gave her a necklace that says ‘Hope’ – quite simply, she fills the tank.
Then there are the quiet moments. The unexpected moments.
Coming home to find a note from Mum that there is a plate of corned beef in the fridge and….this makes me teary, $200 under the plate from my step-dad, Alby. This is because they caught me at a vulnerable moment the night before when they came over unexpectedly. They asked how Marcus was going on his big job. And I’d just got off the phone and it wasn’t good. Payment was being delayed. Again. And despite hubby’s assurances my wife-tank was empty after putting on usual ”hang in there honey, we’ll get through this” game-face. And although I do know it will be okay, it always is (really, please don’t call or fret, we ARE fine, honest – really! It has already turned – it always does) they could tell that in that moment, sitting at the table, I was not okay. And Alby? He’s one of those men – you know the kind. Stern, proud, would rather crack a rib then show emotion. I adore him to the other side of the black stump and back again. His quiet strength saved my mum and made her smile. So that corned beef sandwich I made my son? Best ever.
Then Rae, the Matriarch of the Cook Catastrophe, also dropped in – how do they know??
And so that night when I went up to say hi she’s there, wine in hand, waiting for me on the veranda.
She’s utterly exhausted from having all the grandkids all the time but she really wouldn’t have it any other way. But amidst the madness she sat with me and we slipped into that quiet banter her and I have and we talked about her firstborn, the man I wed and as the words washed over me the wife-tank began to fill. Then Pen came out and said ‘that sucks about Muke’. Yeah, it does. But what doesn’t suck is being flanked on either side by people who love him most. That, my lovely ones, seriously rocks.
Ah. My heart just reminded me of my eldest son’s graduation. Grade Six. I know. I find the notion quite absurd but the sentiment? Let’s just say standing there watching your baby tell you that his favourite memory of school was riding the dodgems with his little sister and that he wants to get a job he loves (so he can make more money than Bill Gates) is magnificent.
But Marcus was away. And I knew that it would be a bit (read terribly) sad without him. Fate was having fun gutting my usual army of familial support. Mum was away, Rae was out, Aunty Miranda left for Perth. But Marcus’ youngest brother Nat was home.
The first time I met Nat I sat on the lounge room floor with him and helped him fire up his whirly-gig helicopter thingy. He was perhaps six years old? That’s about right. Or not quite six. Anyways, he was little. But he’s not now. At all. And Zeke adores him. And he said he’d come to his graduation with me. Poor bloke didn’t know what he was letting himself in for. Actually I think he did – which makes it all the sweeter of him that he came along.
Walking up with him and the kids – and nearly dying of laughter at Nat’s absolute agony at being pulled into a ‘family’ photo – worth every cent of the $15 for the expression on his face – I was quietly proud. Standing next to my husband’s brother, my children’s uncle. Not the usual kind of family. But my family. The best kind.
So this all got me thinking. About those who make it better. Here’s some treasures from my black velvet bag that I’ve taken out and held up to the light.
Best advice was from my friend Benita who told me ‘no’ is a complete sentence. And sent me texts to make sure I was following her advice.
My darling friend Stella who holds my heart so gently – and when I forget and put myself unwittingly in the middle of all kinds of wars (some real, most imagined) she quietly takes my hand across a cafe table, squeezes it and reminds me who she is.
And my Mallee Root (yes, it’s a nickname, you work it out) who I met for lunch after the longest time apart and we laughed and laughed until our sides hurt. Mainly at how completely unsophisticated and utterly un-grownup we were despite the years. And we decided it was exactly the way we liked it.
My Duska who despite a schedule from hell came to mine armed with “Galaxy Quest” for pizza and a daggy nite in while my hubby was away. She left and I felt as if I’d had a complete system reboot – God the power of laughter and a friend who knows your soul trails.
And Andy – our travelling singer who calls me “possum” and every time he does I just stand there grinning like a teenager. Very cool.
And Marty. Mr Armstrong who never doubted for a moment that I could play the harmonica. Or the guitar. And that it was an excellent idea that I did. His advice? “Play it like you mean it”. So I did. And they turned out to be words to live by. We did our first acoustic set together this year. And I remember standing there singing amidst the ridiculous fun and thinking “who would’ve ever thought?” Dreamed, yes. But thought? No. Dreams are good. As I said afterwards – again! And again! Sometimes things are just too special for words. Which is why there is music. Play it like you mean it. And I do.
|Dean kicking back between sets at the Balaclava Hotel|
Then there is Dean – him who I call Rock God – the bloke I play with in Fallen Angels – this man just calmly accepts that yeah, cool, I’ll nail that vocal and hell yeah I’ll play the tambo too. He’s even letting me roll up his mike cords – yep, seriously. Faith. Gotta have it. Glad I got it. More please.
Marcus, coming home after a week – well weeks – of hard grind and slog building his dream piece by piece against all kinds of odds. Carving out a life for us. After hugging the kids he puts his arms around me. And holds me.
Oh and that collective noun? A toss up between ‘a spray tan of mid-life crises’ or ‘a porsche/audi (insert car of suitable stauts) mid-life crises’.