My year in Warsaw is galloping to an end. I know there are two more months, but I’ve started having those awful packing dreams and thinking about what we need to do to leave the apartment as we found it. I’m also feeling a tad anxious about settling back in at Potato Point.
Enough of pointless anticipation! December begins with J’s return: cancelled and delayed flights don’t dim the delight of his encounter with Australian sunshine: he used his month at home to install solar panels and walk 14 km a day.
The month sees a few achievements. For the first time in my life I’ve read a good proportion of the Guardian’s list of top books for 2016, especially, to my shame, in the crime category. I reduce my email inbox from 200 to 2 and work out a strategy to keep it reduced. This takes me a whole day of filing, binning, and tardily answering. There are some advantages to being housebound with a head cold and paranoia about pneumonia. And I finally buy snow boots, so I’m ready for the mountains and -10° in Warsaw next week.
My memory has been activated by Jaś and Maja’s love of story. As long as I begin with “once upon a time …” – and heaven help me if I don’t! – I can indulge an ageing woman’s nostalgia with an eager audience. When the crows head home at dusk, I go back to my childhood when the evening cawing sounded like my mother calling me home across the paddocks: “Maaargret. Maaagret.” On a ferociously windy day, I relive a night of wild wind in the Flinders Ranges that shredded J’s tent. I recount the story of Polyphemus (without his blinding) and remember my childish disappointment when my Greek uncle failed to retell me Greek myths when we had to shelter from a downpour.
Maja and Jaś
Trips to preschool can be edgy: only one lot of blue mittens is heartbreaking, and so is a flat-on-your-face tumble. Stories or a ride on shoulders are mostly distraction enough. One morning while I pussy-foot on the snow covered grass, the other three slide on the icy path. We stop on the way home to watch kids on sleds speeding down the hill.
As their 4th birthday approaches, parents ask what they want for a present. The answer? A talking badger. Even Dziadek is going to have trouble with that one. We celebrate their birthday with a small party, but Maja displays a strong resistance when we try to sing “Happy birthday”: she retreats under the table armed with her cranky look.
The month involves a lot of making: little boxes for the Christmas tree; a volcano with crepe paper lava; an island with a lighthouse, a cave for Polyphemus, scattered rocks and a beach strewn with amber chips; a townscape made of boxes, with a toothpaste-box tram, a park with a fallen tree, and a pond full of fish and one crab; a multicoloured crepe paper kite tail. Jaś is the ideas man: “I’ve got a good idea. Why don’t we …?” By the time we’ve caught up with that idea, he’s off adventuring with another one. Maja is queen of precision and intentness, and wants things to be exactly as she envisages them: she rules and cuts and presses as she makes cardboard boxes with Dziadek, and draws and paints for ages.
One evening, Maja and Jaś get really excited playing “n for neck”, a cascade of discoveries. Soon after they leave for the evening there’s a knock on the door: Maja with more, still chanting new ones as she goes back downstairs.
Communication is always interesting. I ask Jaś to get me the sticky tape from the table and he says intransigently: “I’m not your slave.” Maja vomits two nights in a row and when I say “Don’t vomit tonight” she says defiantly “I will.” After a school excursion to a play I ask them where they went: their evasive answer “Anywhere.”
We have another sleepover here. Dziadek dozes off mid-story before they do. Jaś falls out of bed with an almighty thump in the middle of the night and doesn’t even wake up. Maja appears next morning in the guise of a dog, and crawls around wordlessly on the floor for ten minutes before she’s ready to enter the day as a girl. Jaś surfaces later, immediately wide awake. When I stay with them on New Years Eve, I sidetrack an “I want mummy” tantrum with the kindle, and then a very mangled version of Jason and the Golden Fleece that somehow involves a volcano, a raft, plenty of fresh grass, and more golden sheep for friends.
Books are really important. We read them though meals and dressing and tantrums. On school days, I feel like the Pied Piper: book in hand I begin reading in the bedroom and they follow me as I read them into the kitchen and through their cornflakes. “Ants in your pants” is a favourite, and so is “Inspector Mouse”, “The ugly duckling”, “My alien and me” and “The fearsome, frightening, ferocious box”. Comics are a winner with Jaś, and so is the Ahn Do “Weirdos” series, a gift from Great Auntie D. He’ll sit for ages, scrutinising every picture: one night he snuggles up in the doonahs and reads by torchlight.
Maja has started writing and sounding words out. She’s hungry for print. Scary things are of prime interest, as are chocolate biscuits. After a search for scary oreos on hedgehog pineapple (aka the iPad) she draws a family of scary oreos and their dogs and labels it “skeri oreo”.
We watch a few videos on Netflix. Jaś is very tender-hearted, and he reads the clues that tell him a scary bit is coming and runs away or buries his head in a comforting chest. Maja watches on, unphased. We go to the cinema to see “Snow Queen 3” and he and mummy sit right up the back so they can escape to the foyer if it gets too unbearable.
The Cellar Fella makes occasional appearances, most recently having a party under the bed where I’m not allowed to go because he might think I’m cake and eat me. Little Cockatoo has expanded its cast to include Mr Emu Librarian: the game that used to require input for me has become a launching pad for games for the two of them, while I loll on the bed.
The month sees the beginning of a family tradition. I’m cooking brussel sprouts while I’m home alone with Maja. For the first time in history, she says “I’m hungry”. I say, joking, “Would you like brussel sprouts?” She says yes. I’m astonished: she doesn’t eat green things. But they’re too hot. So we put them out on the staircase to cool. Now, if any thing’s too hot, she picks it up and settles it two stairs up. I hope no curious dog or concrete-dripping workman comes downstairs.
Out and about
Not so much out and about for me this month. Two weeks cooped up with colds, mine and then the twins. Fortunately J returns on December 1, and he takes over solo preschooling. I don’t even get to see the preschool Christmas concert. Most of the outside action is in the last week: the Nożyk synagogue, Fotoplastikon, and a reconnoitre of the Sue Ryder Museum – not open on the day I visit. I am out in a bit of light snow a few times, and I see the Moscow ballet, but that’s it.
My resident python reappears and my son names him Bruce. He’s very long and fat. The biocycle collapses and I don’t have to do anything, rejoicing that I’m on the other side of the world. I have a long talk to a friend and discover musical pleasures at home. A jazz cabaret at the Nerrigundah Community Hall lets loose a flood of memories: my hands, thick with cowshit rendering the walls; community dinners and cabarets; a rare encounter with a totally unpleasant drunk; ladies’ nights playing pool; and then later tales of my son’s all night jamming sessions with his mates. Not only that, but a house concert in Congo, just up the coast, features Joseph Tawadros, a Coptic Egyptian Australian oud virtuoso who recently performed in Łódź. Another friend reminds me of the brightness of Australian birds with a photo of a king parrot on her deck, and of the exhibition delights close to home with an image from the annual show of the local fibre and textile artists group. (Thanks to Sandy for the paired photos.)