Almost 2

Whats that noise
What you doing, mum mum?
Go see her?
Mine!
I do it
Jensen’s turn
Catch the ball? Mum catch da ball?
Drink a milk, mum mum ?
Open da fridge. Mum ?
Open da freezer. Ice block? Some for daddy?
Drive the truck?
Cuddle mum mum
“I pity da fool!” Done in a Mr T from the a team voice. Really.
Aaa ah drink. I was thirsty.
Running? Running mum mum? Ready, sec, go!
Ryo holiday? Ryo in japan.
Ipad! Ipad? Ipad! unlock it? Unlock it!

We have hit 22 months old. We are in the land of sentences. Many many sentences. Verbs. Pronouns. And stupid long story telling. Sometimes, they are coherent stories. He tells me things he can remember. Like going to Vivid festival but finding the highlight of a garbage truck driver who let him push the buttons and work the truck.

And the visit to the fire station open day. That one comes up every Saturday morning now. He figures, right, mum went to boxing, she’s back, now is when dad took me to drive a fire truck. So….let’s go. It’s hard to explain that open day is only once a year….

“And ummm…..playgroup. Climbing. And ummm, garbage truck, and….running…..and…..lunchy lunch…..and…daddy go in his car?…and….” He tells me stories in the car, stories lying down in bed, stories when we sit down to have a meal. They are long and complicated. They are funny. He is actively making conversation.

“Learning tower? Learning tower! Learning tower?” The best / worst thing I ever did was order a learning tower from someone on Facebook. It was a bargain at a built-to-your-bench-height-$85. It is like a sophisticated step stool very sturdy, with a frame around it to prevent falls. It is very stable. It drives me mental and I also adore it.

Jman has several jobs in his learning tower. Putting the chopped veggies into a bowl. Cracking the eggs during cooking. Stirring anything. Wobetide the person that takes a bowl off him that he’s trying to stir. He tips things between bowls. He leans over and “helps” with the washing up. So it slows things down, and creates a bit more cleaning up. But he will also “cook” with me for forty minutes straight. We have a little nook in the counters where he is equidistant between the kettle and the stove, where he can’t reach the sharp knives by the chopping board or any appliance (apart from the coffee grinder. We’ve ground some excess coffee a few time lately). So he’s no chance at pulling boiling water on himself or anything like that. And he adores it.

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He asks for it the minute his eyes open. He loves buttering his own toast, or tipping his porridge Into a bowl and stirring in the milk. And I can see him learning. He is practising sizes. He tries to chop things. He has a blunt plastic picnic knife and another little silver knife, and I let him “chop” mushrooms, and anything else that is soft and ok if eaten raw. He is testing, watching, experimenting, learning. So instead of me rushing to get things done to be “with him”, I am getting things done and teaching him as well.

He counts to 12. easily. All the time. He knows 80% of the alphabet. He sings to himself all the time. Happy birthday, baa baa black sheep, head shoulders knees and toes, see saw Marjorie daw, twinkle twinkle.

He is fearless on his ride on push along tractor. So much so, I’ve had to go out and buy him a helmet. He is ridiculously competent at it, going down hills along the footpath, steering, using his feet to speed up or slow down. Saturday, daddy took him up the skate ramp on the thing, and he did two ramps and was headed into the half pipe before daddy intervened.

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He can climb six foot high rope nets. Sometimes these skills seem to arrive without warning, or fanfare. He can’t do things, then he can. Once he started going faster than I could run to hold onto his back, I decided the helmet was a must.

He is so funny, and charming, so ridiculously full of personality, so amazingly stubborn, so energetic, and so beautiful. He is such a person now. A bossy, demanding, engaged and engaging person. He is scary intelligent. When we turn into our suburb he announces “we’re home”. When we pass the local supermarket he says “go the shops, mummy?”. He knows about seven places we drive to without any prompting whatsoever.

He remembers everyone’s name and talks about them, like our Mexican friend who visited twice, a month ago, and he says “Roberto? Roberto gone home. Roberto on the plane.” I sometimes worry we should do more for a kid that Is racing ahead so quickly, but then I remind myself to just follow his lead. He shows me what he needs at most stages, I just need to take them time to listen, then think of things that will extend him, like the learning tower that arrived at the exact right moment for him.

All of a sudden he knows several books off by heart. He has started naming his books. “Cake” is “bear goes to town”, a French and English book about bear’s week. And because bear goes to the bakery / boulangerie on a Monday, this is a favourite book.

“Grug cooking / grug cars” are a series of books about an Aussie character called Grug. He is quite particular about which one is being read.

Then there’s the stunt man thing. I’m not sure if he’s training to be an Italian soccer player, or a stunt man, but jman loves a good fake fall down. First, he started falling down for laughs. Then, he got Dada to fall down. Dada had to fall down in a particular way, then jman jumps on top of him and they wrestle. It is a very important feature of each night. Must get a video of that one before it passes.

So 22 months. Fun, entertaining, full on and a real person.

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You really should appreciate every day in Morocco

In the last few days, we’ve caught up with a Mexican friend who I met over a decade ago. I was on the trip of a lifetime (hopefully the first of many), a year on the road, Europe and Africa, and solo.

It was meant to be a trip with my boyfriend at the time. Then I dumped him. Then it was meant to be a trip with a good friend. And she, too, kept delaying the departure date and negotiating for shorter and shorter times on the road. And it morphed into a solo trip.

I never felt brave enough initially to plan a solo trip. But life intervened, and I got exactly what I needed.

When my old travel friend recently started getting closer and closer on his facebook photos, I messaged him. “Are you coming to Australai? Can we catch up?” And sure enough he was. A couple of catch ups ensued. He met my hub-in-boots, he met my j man. We made suggestions for his Australian leg of travel, many wines were drunk, and inevitably the old photo albums were rolled out.

It was many years ago we knew each other. In Romania, a large group of travellers and a few insane Brasov locals morphed into a crazy travel cluster. We put off other plans, for the sheer pleasure of hanging out. We drank beers in the Brasov Beer festival, and played three day long games of truth & dare, we played poker in Speedy’s house with so many people cheating the entire deck of cards was under the rug. We went on hikes and camping, we went horse riding, we visited Dracula’s castle in Bran, we shopped at local markets and cooked up feasts in the crazy grandmas house where many of us stayed.

Yet as Roberto flipped through my photos of that time, he asked me about Morocco. It was a great regret, he said. Like me, he caught the short ferry from Algeςiras in Spain over to Tangiers. And he found Tangiers such a full on assault that he got right back on the ferry to Spain. He never saw the place.

I remember getting on that ferry. There were only a few people on board. The water was not very rough. I put on my long skirt and flowing shirt. I put on my fake wedding ring. And halfway across, on the loud speakers, the call to prayer started. And the other passengers faced Mecca, and prayed. I felt, as we crossed that water, suddenly thrown, immersed in the unfamiliar, away from my comfort zone, a little lost. I was the only woman on board. I was travelling solo to a Muslim country. What was I thinking?

Tangiers took that discomfort to a whole other level. I seemed to hit the dock and be in someone’s Uncle’s carpet shop within about an hour. A man in a gelahbra collected a few travellers, and took us in his car on a tour of the city. Did I agree to this? I must have been insane. We saw spice markets, the kasbah full of children playing, crazy traffic where hatchbacks and Mercedes taxis butted up against donkeys hoofed with cut out car tyres.

Tangiers was too much.

After several hours of this tour, just like my Mexican friend, I felt the need to escape. EVERYONE was in my face. EVERYONE seemed to want speak to me, or touch me. Everything seemed worthy of my attention. So I bought a ticket on a night train to Marrakech, narrowly avoided buying a carpet, and killed a few hours in a tea house. I think I had no facial expressions. I was full of input, I was flooded, I was overrun.

I found the couchette in the night train terrifying. Random guards seemed to open and close the door all night, I was in the top bunk of three with no idea how to get my backpack into the storage area above the door. I felt like I was in a morgue, and they’d pull my bed out simply to attach a toe tag. Somehow, someone helped me to store my pack. Somehow, I slept.

In the morning, watching the sun rise over the plains as the train rattled along was beautiful. Then I realised it was 6am. I really needed to pee. And ALL THE TOILETS WERE LOCKED. At the time, this was apparently a common security measure to stop stow aways hiding in the loos avoiding ticket inspectors. But the train guard had slept in, and I needed to pee. Really really needed to pee.

Somehow I made it to the unlocking the bathroom phase of the morning, and I can still remember looking at the relief on my face in the mirror, after I’d been. Oh the relief.  Somehow we made it to Marrakech. Where it was about 8am and I had no plan WHATSOEVER.

A few other totally unplanned events followed. I stood vaguing out on the train platform, only to encounter another Aussie from Western Australia called Tim, also travelling solo. Tim was organised. Tim had a plan. Me, I’d been on the road just a few weeks. I had no clue. I’m not sure I even had a guide book.

So Tim got me to a fantastic hotel overlooking the medina. I got a room. I found an ATM. And about five hours later I had somehow agreed to go on a trip the next morning with another random man with a minivan. Over the High Atlas Mountains, across to Zagora, camel rides into the Sahara Desert, a night in a bedouin tent. Just your usual day out.

The Sahara was beautiful. The moutains were beautiful. The bedouin were beautiful. I met a man in blue who had never seen a city or been in a car. I saw a million stars. I raced camels. I saw a camel spit ten feet and hit a man square in the back of his head. I ate with my hands from a clay pot, with juice running down my chin. This is me, in the early morning in the desert. I am on the bottom camel. It was 1998.

On a camel early morning in the Sahara. I am on the bottom camel. This photo is on my office wall.
On a camel early morning in the Sahara. I am on the bottom camel. This photo is on my office wall.

I returned to to the frontal assault that is Marrakech, from the peace of the desert to the hustle and bustle of the city, where two hundred identical orange juice sellers ask you to remember their stall number and return, because after all, their juice is the best. I returned to the beauty of the night markets, to the dancing songs of the snake charmer, to the children running and the hookah pipes chuffing.

It was amazing. But I did not enjoy it at the time. The desert, yes. The cities, no. Marrakech, Tangiers, Fez, they each have their own way of assaulting you, assaulting your senses. And I could not take it all in. I wrote and I photographed, and I wrote and I photographed.

But it was not until I left Morocco, that I liked Morocco. It was not until I looked through the photos, and read my diary entries, and thought about my days there, that I realised what a place it was. At the time, I felt under siege. At the time, I felt in danger for hours at a time (though it really isn’t that bad, as a solo woman you are on high alert). I felt hypervigilant. I felt mentally assaulted, sensory assault.

But whenever someone mentions Morocco, I say, oh you must go. You should really appreciate every day in Morocco. Morocco is amazing.

This is a place where sometimes I had to grit my teeth to walk down a street, looking for a bathhouse, in the guidebook I finally bought. This is a place where I sometimes cried into my pillow each night, or woke in terror at the incredibly loud 3am call to prayer. This is a place where I had to politely explain to the hotel owner in Fez why I had no desire whatsoever to exchange my English language novels for hashish.

And after talking to my Mexican friend this week, I realised something.

Morocco is just like parenting.

You cross an unfamiliar strait. And everything around you changes from comfortable to confronting. You are immersed in the foreign. It is a full on sensual assault. You are on high alert at first. There are beautiful things, but sometimes you can’t even see them at the time. Later on, when the sensory overload has passed, you can remember, and process, and appreciate, and you think, why didn’t I appreciate that more? But so much of it, at the time, is just about getting through. Is just about the next place, the next challenge. You introduce solids, they are sitting up. You deal with the early phase of crawling and all the bumps and falls, then they are pulling up and walking. You deal with walking, then they are able to unscrew the lids on poisonous substances and paint your carpet with nail polish.

And many many parts of it, you cannot appreciate at all until time passes. Until you have time to sit back and reflect.

I think that is why people constantly say to you Oh they are so beautiful at this age. Appreciate every moment. They grow up so fast. You won’t believe it and you’ll be giving a speech at their 21st, or dealing with an obnoxious teenager. Really stop and appreciate it.

These comments, to new parents, seem to put so much more pressure on us. Because not only do we have to get through it, we have to now appreciate every moment or feel extra Mummy (daddy) guilt for our lack of appreciation.

And it’s like Morocco, you know. I’m early on in this gig, but many phases of parenting, you appreciate and remember after you leave. When the sensory overload has passed. When the hypervigilance has calmed down into something more akin to the every day. When we flick through photographs and look at old facebook posts or blog posts and have time to reflect.

Yes, you have moments, many moments, that are like the stars in the Sahara Desert. Funny moments like camel spit. Insightful moments like a man who has never been to a city. These all happen too.

But most of it makes  sense after the fact. When the storm of the new has passed.  Parenting is just like Morocco.