This is the last post on my 12monthsinwarsaw blog. I’ll be returning to my Potato Point blog, snippetsandsnaps, when I finally manage to reassemble myself in Australia. Please join me in my other life in a week or so.
How do I characterise myself in this last month? Unsettled. Evasive. Defiant. Head-in-the sand. I’m obviously avoiding the pain of leaving, burying myself in Peter Corris detective novels to take my mind off departure. Time in Zakopane activates my timidity. I am in fact terrorised by ice, even with caution and crampons. If I want to take my eyes off the ground, I have to stop and stabilise myself, and I don’t dare take the twins out on my own.
The month is riddled with departures. My granddaughter disappears through customs wearing shorts and ugg boots. A few days later Hugo leaves, wearing board shorts: “You’ll freeze in them mate.” The airport almost becomes a third home.
There are a few final flurries of snow, but the budding is relentless as the grass greens and Pani Wiosna begins her annual beautification program. There is a Polish saying: “Sometimes February has compassion for us and it feels like spring, but sometimes it is so harsh, that you can hardly stand it.” February has compassion this year, at least the weather does.
I find a small teaspoon stuffed down my bra, the one I’m wearing. We renew our geriatric transport passes for a year. We pack up the apartment and our Warsaw lives.
Jaś and Maja
Suddenly we are reading chapter books: Charlotte’s web, Moominpapa in winter, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. They still enjoy picture books, but they’re avid for longer books too. They begin asking about the meaning of words: “What’s a pane of glass, Nanny Meg?”
Their godparents bring gifts, colour-coded for gender, but soon the girl-doll is brandishing a gun and the contents of the two little suitcases, pink and blue, are completely jumbled.
Maja begins to sit with leg over knee and I realise that this is quite an adult position. Jaś spends a lot of time buttonholing you with wide eyes and a “Did you know … ” question: about perpetually-erupting volcanos, about what happens to food after you put it in your mouth, about whatever information has just entered his voracious mind. Maja becomes a puzzle-addict: mazes, join the dots, pick the differences, match object to shadow. Neither of them show much enthusiasm for skiing lessons.
As the days lengthen we stay outside longer. Hot dogs become the snack of choice, and we discover the difference between a Polish hot dog and an Australian one. J becomes adept at tunnelling a hole through a bun and inserting the butter, tomato sauce (but only for Jaś) and parówki. A taste for vegetables has also developed: cauliflower for Jaś and broccoli for Maja. They eat it like automatons as long as you’re reading to them or sitting in front of “Puffin Rock”.
They both enjoy being pushed very high on the swing in the playground, Maja more than Jaś. As Dziadek pushes them (I’m apparently not strong enough) they play a game: “Beg your pardon Basil Cardin, there’s a … in your garden.” Insert dinosaur, swing, goanna, volcano, whatever tickles your fancy.
The day after J has crushed all their cardboard landscapes, they want to play with the lighthouse and I fumble around to respond without an outright lie. They remember it in verbal detail, especially the amber chips on the beach.
And suddenly it’s countdown: only two more days. They decide to make those days challenging. On Monday morning, Maja refuses to walk with me to preschool. J’s gone ahead with Jaś and she won’t budge, screaming for Tata. Even offering her a ride on my shoulders, that ultimate privilege, doesn’t work. Marcin must be watching, because he comes downstairs and walks with us instead of going to work. Our only failure, and I have the sneaking, and humiliating suspicion that J would’ve handled it better. On Tuesday afternoon, as we are leaving preschool for the last time, Jaś says “Want a pooh”, and has his trousers down before I can respond. So there we are, crouching just inside the fence producing an interminable pooh while I, well–supplied with toilet paper and plastic bags, collect the results and pray that no one is noticing.
I stay for bathtime on the second last night after a final game of Little Cockatoo: Mr Kookaburra Shopkeeper is sick, and Little Cockatoo collects “juicy snakes with medicine” for him. Bathtime is a pleasure of splashing. When I finally leave they come to the door with me, and leap into my arms and hug me and kiss me, naked and squirmy, and they do this all the way down the stairs. I’m overwhelmed. This is most unusual and I’ll treasure it as a precious farewell.
On our last afternoon we play outside till well after dark. They ride energetically around on their bikes, and when the singing clock begins its 5pm martial music they march in time around the base statue of the statue of the jester and the artist, grinning. They play red light / green light, with very clear ideas about how it should be done and relish the dwindling of darkness and cold. At bathtime Maja relished “We”re going on a bear hunt”, eyes alight as she subvocalises the words. Peaceful bathing erupts into disturbance when Jaś decides to put chestnuts in his mouth and spit them out: a few minutes later the pair of them are locked in mortal combat out of nowhere.
Our last glimpse of them is looking out the window as we turn the corner to our apartment.
Out and about
The month begins with a holiday in Zakopane – snow and fairy floss and alps and lost wallet and damaged wrist and a twinly hatred of walking: “Yucky. Yucky. Yucky.” I read a bedtime story to my most beloved senior granddaughter. Beyond that, not much venturing out, what with packing up and a last Warsaw Cold.
Weekly Skype won’t be a patch on a year as next door neighbours.