Tuesday, June 28, 2011

a realisation and a resolution

The term is winding down here… you can feel it…

with this week being the last classes for

band, art, writers workshop, violin, drums, and piano.

Today for my Tuesday writers workshop we're having a little party to celebrate another term together. Tomorrow, my son has a last performance. It's our last art class for the term on Thursday, and we wind up with homeschool writers workshop on Friday.

And then? Well, I suppose we'll keep on, being Us!

Which means my kids will keep reading, painting, drawing, making things, playing, imagining, and looking things up on the computer. They'll keep asking, How does this work? And, I want to try this! And, Look what I wrote/drew/made/remembered/played!

I realised on the weekend just how much I love watching the kids being them, living their time freely. I love not having a sense of things needing to be Done. I love just Being. So so much.

On the weekend I thought, I wish every day was a weekend.

And then I thought, Silly Helena. They can be. And they are.

After all,

in the last two days, my son has sat for hours reading the Usborne Introduction to Art
looking up Marcel Duchamp on the internet, 
drawing his Me and Him cartoons
drawing an Escher-inspired pond, 
and playing lots of music. 
Yesterday he started reading about Pointillism, and got excited. So he began painting an awesome bird, copying from our book Animal Kingdom. So cool! 

And right now, he's drawing out Pascal's triangle (whatever that is :) ) from The Number Devil, and showing me fun number patterns. 

He is completely immersed, engaged. He is in his Element.

In the last two days, my girl has made a popsicle-stick plane, 
created matchstick mini colouring pencils,
constructed a kookaburra mask, 
written another chapter of her Scorpion story, 
read Nurse Matilda
learned to ride her brother's gear bike, 

practiced Pointillism online

begun a pointillist tiger in texta, 
and gotten deeply into creating an information book on Tigers (which has included doing illustrations, looking up tiger images on the computer, printing them out, and writing interesting facts she learned from her library book Tigers—many of which I didn't know!). 

And right now? Well, she's singing to the kitten!

Which led to my son turning to me and saying, drily,

"Sanity is rapidly draining from this house."

Well, actually, I don't think so…!

It feels more like Learning is filling the house, 

in all its honey-coloured light.

It all makes me wonder… 

why do I ever worry? Why do I think, "We need to have a Plan!"?  And, "Today, we'll Learn Something! Today, we'll do this, this, this and this!" Why do I bother, when—even as I'm making my Plans—my kids are already off and running, on their own wonderful, absorbed, delighted tangents. 

At the beginning of the year, I wrote that I wanted to change the focus of my Freedom Experiment.

I wrote that I wanted the kids to go deeper into subjects, that I wanted more of a plan, and I wanted us to focus on and finish certain projects. Afterwards, and ever since, I felt as though I was saying that this type of learning was more valid than the day-to-day, delight-driven learning my kids completely love to do, and do naturally.

Afterwards, and ever since,

I realised I didn't actually agree with my blog post.

I've realised that bit-by-happy-bit learning, learning without a Plan, learning without structure, is just as valid, especially when it is the way my kids are drawn to and makes them happiest. 

I've realised that learning simply by reading (and not writing out all the information learned) is also completely valid, and is the way my kids learn best. 

In fact, I've realised I wrote that earlier post from a base of fear. Because in January, I got a letter from the government asking to see Results. So I thought I should see more Results, more evidence of learning.  And, in that moment, I couldn't see the Results already in front of me. 

It has been a long journey since. So much discovery. So many realisations! 

A good example of what I've learned, is from our Space project (once ambitiously called, Astromonday. Now, wasn't that a silly name? Because it's actually Astro-Some-Day, or perhaps Astro-Any-Day-We-Like!)

Our space unit is going along beautifully, and…entirely at its own pace. That meaning, I suggest it some days, and sometimes the kids say, Yes! So then we do another little bit. 

We've learned (and written) about the Big Bang, the birth and death of stars, galaxies, the Milky Way, and the voyage to the moon. In their journals, the kids are up to planets. After that it's black holes and then the difference between meteorites, meteors, meteoroids, and asteroids. So fascinating!

The kids love to write the information up in their journals and illustrate them. But they already have most of the information in their heads, so aren't fussed if they get to the writing part of the project or not. It's me, I have realised, who really wants the finished product, the beautiful, illustrated journal of facts. So if it's me wanting it most, I know that there's no rush to be done. That when they do it, it's when it feels right, and fun.

So that means, two terms in, our space unit isn't "done." If the kids were at school, they would have ticked this project box off long ago. But the learning wouldn't be as deep, I think. And it wouldn't be on our terms. And it wouldn't have all the lovely tangents we've been on, and it wouldn't have included all the conversations and movie watching and extra reading, and all our thoughts. It would simply be "finished."

If I ever think, Oh, we should really finish this up, I look around, and what the kids are doing instead is completely valid. It is, in fact, so completely worthy, that what isn't being done doesn't matter.

That's the thing.

Sometimes I have looked at what wasn't being done, and forgotten to see what WAS. What was happening all around me. 

And when I looked? And when I saw?

I felt so FINE. 

So, at the end of this term, I want to bear witness, to this moment. 

These realisations. This resolution.

I want to raise my glass to


To embracing the joy of  

learning naturally. 

To being truly open to how our days are.

To stepping out of the box of Shoulds 

and anything that is bound by Expectation.

To leaving the paradigm of School, far, far behind.

To forging our own journey.

To making our own path.

To breaking the future WIDE open,

and stepping into its light. 


Saturday, June 25, 2011

where I've been

Wow. I've been gone a long time, haven't I?

I never planned to be gone all this time, but there's something about having

two extra kids

come stay for a whole week

—a week filled with scootering, cooking, eating, laughing, talking, beach frolicking, friend visiting, happy being, and non-stop go go going—

that leads to a whole lot of quiet here in my little Land of Words!   :)

I have hardly taken a breath since last Saturday—since these two fine, kind, fun kids (a little brother and a big sister) arrived.

I tried to blog on two different days, but each time had to stop and

go make pear porridge, paint boxes, give cuddles, hear stories, listen to song after sweet song, take kids here there and everywhere and smile 'til my sides hurt.

And before you know it, a whole week had gone by. Packed to bursting with goodness.

These kids were just beautiful guests—the kind of considerate, exuberant, all-the-way-through great kids you miss the minute they aren't with you.

Which is what I'm doing right now, missing them,

because today we had to return them.

To their beloved, jetlagged and smiling parents (who had been traveling with their three elder kids for a month! Which is another fine story, for another blogpost).

Ah. What a beautiful moment that was, two children leaping up their front path, careening, calling out, cannoning inside, to be with their mum and dad again. I thought I might just break open with love.

And ah,

what a incredible week we had!

A week that began
with big welcome hugs and smiles! With settling in, and seeing where people would sleep and going
scootering and park playing and dog walking
and had everyone gobbling vege lasagne (So yummy! they said) and giggling into the night.

A week that—the following day—saw us

finding a bridge
that wrapped around a cliff

and scootering on it, of course!

Then…we found a gorgeous creek beside the sea to explore,

with rocks to climb on,

and a bubble to watch.

(video by my talented iphone-wielding husband)

After which,

we stood beside the sea
and claimed it

with arms and hearts wide open.

The next day
found us on an expedition with a group of fairly-new-to-us homeschoolers
to the bowling alley!

(Where we were allowed to go behind the scenes and see how it all worked! Talk about impressive. Kind of amazing to think someone invented the whole thing, all those cogs and pin-hold-y bits and so on.)

And afterwards,
well, we were invited by these friends,

to come play with them by the sea.

(It was a lovely day of connection. I loved chatting with mums I don't see often, some of whom I don't know very well, and being welcomed with such warm smiles. And it was beautiful seeing my four join seamlessly into the play of an established group.
In fact, two years ago, when I was just starting, I was told by a (now close) friend that it would take time to get to know the larger homeschooling community. That it would happen slowly but steadily. In fact my friend said that even years in, I would probably still be meeting new families. Well, it's true! You were right, dear friend!)

Then it was Tuesday.

Which brought a visit to some other new friends, this time a family just a term into homeschooling.

The day came with sunshine,

and talking, ball kicking, muffin eating,

and a fine dose of hill rolling!

a little brother and a big sister taking on the hill,
 fearlessly as always…
…making it seem irresistible,
so my girl had to join them!

of course,
we found our way
to the sea!

Where everyone got so wet! Yes! In mid-winter!

The girls borrowed swimsuits, and had a fine time. But the boys? Well, they decided to go in fully dressed. It worked great until they had to get out and the wind found them.

Brrrrr. SO cold!!

(Thank goodness for towels, cuddles, a borrowed drier, and all that warm new friendship).

The next day was Wednesday…

and it was quiet, relatively speaking :)

We had music practice and
music lessons and
movie watching and
scootering and
dog walking to the park (in a suddenly freezing wind),
and the beginning of a box painting project that kept us busy in our 'downtime' for days.

What, no sea?

that would be much too decadent, wouldn't it?!

(Because for once, it was a FREEZING day. A wild-and-wintery, colder-than-cold, windy day that we deemed perfect for scootering and dogwalking and playground swinging. If you stood still for more than a minute, I swear, you could feel icicles forming in your brain. Yeh-huh, really!)


What day are we up to now?

Ah, yes. Thursday.

A day where we painted boxes and talked and sang and ate all morning
as the blustery wind
settled right down.

And then it was time for our regular homeschool group

in a park, outdoors in the once-again sunshine (hello there, Sun!)

where the kids scootered (of course)

two scooter fiends, my boy and his friend (the big sister),
both of them taking it just a little further and harder and faster, always


frolicked beside the sea,


(Well, of course they did! What did you expect?) :)

And then we all went to Art class, where our beautiful art teacher just welcomed my extra two in, rolled with the arrival of not just my extra kids, but two other homeschoolers as well, who came along on the spur of the moment. And what a room of happy kids it was!

(How I love our art teacher. We've known her for 5 years now. She has 'Welcome' inside her like a smile. Her ideas inspire my children, her support is constant, her kindness is Always. Three weeks ago, she came to the award ceremony for my son's story at the Art Gallery. When she read my son's words, she cried. Yes. That's how wonderful she is.)

Friday was our last full day, and that made us sad and happy both. (Sad to stop our fun, but so so so excited to see two parents again. Excited to bursting, really!)

Friday saw my son go up to Sydney with his dad (and a busload of kids) for a band competition,

while we four stayed behind,

to finish boxes

box by a very proud 7-yr-old  boy
(it has a black hole inside, don't you know?)
and paint more paintings

and go…
not to the sea,

but instead

to an indoor pool. :)

Where the kids frolicked, dived, swam and spa-ed for two and a half hours. Until they were three blissed-out prunes.

Two chatting, laughing girls…
…and an unbreakable duo by now—my girl and this dear boy
And then we made brownies, and watched a movie while having a pizza picnic on the floor, and the kids talked and talked and laughed and leapt and sang and were

Which brings us to Today.

Today we brought them home.

And said goodbye.

And now…?

It is so quiet here. My boy has taken his book to the couch, my girl is at her desk, my husband has gone upstairs for a nap.

I am listening to music on the headphones. I am recalibrating.

We are returning to our Simple.

Which is so much fuller and deeper for the week we had.

A week where I just rolled with the
wild, happy Noise, all the Busy, all the Doing.

A week where I cooked so much food
and listened to so many stories and
had so many conversations
and followed scooters
and soothed people who had fallen off scooters or simply missed their mum 
and brushed hair
and played games
and ate apple crumble
and painted and helped people paint

(and told a boy not to paint his big sister's hair)

and sat with and said good night, every night, to each sleepy child

one by one by one by one.

A week where I accepted all this and more
with open arms.

A week where I felt 
so incredibly lucky 
and honoured to be given the care of such glorious children.

A week where four kids were lit inside with happiness.

And so was I. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

more Now. more Here.

So I was making porridge this morning.

Pear porridge + cold winter morning. Mmmmm. Cats meandering through the rooms. Children reading upstairs in their warm beds. Sunlight sliding in through the kitchen window.

As I cooked, I thought, I'll get a book to read, while I stir and stir. Something to do while doing, in the way people do.

I read about two paragraphs, and suddenly thought, Actually, no.

Actually, no thank you. (I'm always polite!).

Because reading, while Fine and Good (always), takes away—right now—from


The simple stirring. The movement of the spoon, circling. Then, doing figure eights, around, and around. Your hand light, the spoon light, your breathing even.

And the watching. As the oats lose their flake and flatness and become…something altogether different. As the pear moves in and merges, as the milk mixes, as the single pieces become a warm smooth One.

And you have the sounds around you. The whirr of the fridge. The lap lap of the cat's tongue finding water. The thump of someone's feet as they launch themselves upstairs, from bed to floor. The shift and creak of the dog in his bed. And the small sound of stirring, the simple hiss as the porridge moves with the spoon.

It's all in this moment. The world. You living in it. You: alive (alive!) and breathing. You, holding a spoon. You. Making something. You, aware, alert, attuned.

You. Here. Now.

There is nothing more



(and the porridge? Shared with my girl? While having breakfast with both kids? While reading out to them from a cool art book
It was delicious :) )

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


is a day with almost nothing in it.

Just as we wanted.

Yesterday I figured out that in the last 11 days, we have been busy, like Super-Incredi-Busy, for ten of them.

Ten out of 11 days. That's not reasonable!

It wasn't so unexpected. My husband had been planning last week's music festival for 6 months. My son's birthday comes every year, same day, every time! And lessons are booked in, and homeschool group, and art and writers workshop, all on the calendar. It's a busy, full life we have here.

So our busy wasn't a surprise, but the overflow and Too Full! came a little hard ('specially for one tired girl). Kind of like when you've been on a huge hike and your legs are insanely wobbly. You ache all over. You need to sit, and catch your breath, and you realise…

maybe that last mountain was too much.

You think you can scale them all, when you start. From a distance, none of the mountains ever seem that big. And they are, each one of them, so lovely. But together? Kind of Really Big.


Anyway, now, we are


At peace. At rest.

On the weekend I sent out emails to dear and new friends, who we were supposed to meet up with today and on Thursday, saying, We are going to take some time off! I hope you will let us come another day. We will come happy and with bounce, after we have rested.

Today, the kids drifted downstairs.

My son (who loves his schedule, and having Work To Do) said,
I'll get to my maths, but can I just read this first?

I said, leaning over him on the couch, kissing his nose, "Get to it, don't get to it. Do what you like."

So he is reading all day!

My daughter said,

Can you help me make my felt bird? And,

How do you do blanket stitch again? And,

Here, mum. I made this for you.


(And she has slept deeply and well the last two nights. Still figuring out the going to sleep part, but baby steps are being taken, and she wakes up Happy.)

As for me? I've been reading an amazing book. Banishing the kitten from the kitchen. And sitting at the desk here. Getting ready for my Tuesday writers workshop. I began by feeling a little panicked—what wise thing would I present today? I often write a handout, talk about some aspect of writing, something about story… Until I realised. Today, is a day of REST.
So instead, I came up with a selection of fun writing exercises. Which they will pick and choose from. I won't give a handout, and perhaps I won't be remotely wise. Today, the kids' words will be All.

It's raining outside.

Cat and kitten are out, inspecting the chickens. Dog is asleep on his bed by the couch. Kids are reading.

Nana will come soon, to hang out with my dreamy kids.

All is quiet, but for the turning of pages. My son breathing. My daughter sniffing, once, twice. The rattle-tap-tap of my fingers on these keys.

This is what rest looks like.

Almost, almost, like nothing. But so much deeper than that.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

What creates resilience? What does giving bring?

To all the lovely people who responded to my last post, and even emailed me with incredible support and advice—thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, the tips of my toes, the length and breadth of me. I am so grateful.

One of the things you've all said is:

Loving your child and helping them feel supported and safe is what helps banish the fear.

This is what creates resilience.

This is something I agree with and feel so deeply I want to shout it from the rooftops! Every time someone uses the word 'resilience' to justify leaving kids to their fears, I want to shout. Every time someone uses it as a reason for kids to go to school, I want to shout. Every time people used that word at our old school as a reason for my girl to stay, I wanted to shout.

My throat is sore from holding the Shout in.

I've sat with women who have talked of their child having complaints and fears about school, and saying their kids needed stop complaining, that they needed to tough it out—specifically to teach them resilience. But I've done a lot of reading, and the psychologists and experts talking about resilience aren't talking about kids going it alone, toughing it out, sucking it up. They say, instead, that supportive, nurturing relationships with teachers and other adults are what help children feel safe. That it's safety kids need to feel, to become resilient. Not feeling alone and abandoned.

People asked me when I pulled my girl out of school: But how will she learn resilience?

Well, quite simply: From helping her to know she is not alone.

That she won't be abandoned. That I am there for her. That she is heard. That she matters. That she is so important to me I am prepared to do all sorts of bold, riding in on a white steed, sword-waving, cape flying things to keep her steady and keep her safe.

How does this translate to our Sleep Issues, and Facing the Worry Monsters?

Well, this is what I was struggling with yesterday. I have given so much, reassured and loved so often and consistently. How much more do I give? How much more do I do…?

She has been sleeping in our bed now for 6 months, every night. She asks every night, When are you coming to bed? If I say now, she is thrilled. If I say soon, she stays awake until we're there. If I say, It might be a while (because I have a movie date with my husband, or simply want to sit with myself and Be), she cries and paces the floor upstairs. Keeping her brother awake until he comes down in tears and says, Please make her stop.

If I go to bed and go to sleep with her, she does, eventually go to sleep. But these days, it's not quickly, or easily. Right now, it takes time, and patience, and talking, and giving. A lot of giving.

The giving that is needed now has a bunch of parts.

We will get into a bedtime routine that is steady, and filled with cuddles and lying down with her, and relaxation exercises. I plan to find a kid version of the herbal remedy I take for sleep, lots of lovely things like Valerian, Magnesium, other sleep-easy herbs that float through your system with no side effects. I've been given a podcast link by a friend to help with relaxation. (And other great night-listening suggestions from blog friends too). We'll start some meditation, and we'll talk and cuddle, the way we have been, but more.

More. More giving, which in turn brings so much good, so many smiles. So much love and security.

But I have to let go of some things. Some of my own worries and wants, so that I can give without reservation, fear, or resentment.

Like that feeling of, "My girl should be sleeping by herself now; she's almost 9."

And, "If I give more, she may always need more. Am I feeding the fear, not banishing it?"

And, "If I go to bed, to sleep, every night with my child, what about my time? My time to write. My time to hang out with my husband. Our time to talk, watch movies, decompress from the day. What about us, and something outside being parents? What about me?"

Yesterday, around 4pm, I felt all Gived out.

I went to bed. I slept, with some breaks, for 13 hours. THIRTEEN HOURS. I think I was a little weary. And a lot full.

This morning, with the clarity that comes from rest, all the jumbled thoughts began to

sort themselves into order. I began to see the Good and the Way Through.

Like how last night, I woke long enough to bring my girl to bed, and hold her cold hands between mine.

She said, "I'm finding it hard to breathe." She said she felt afraid.

So, I talked about fight or flight response. I talked about what she was feeling, that she was like a bunny sensing danger. I talked about adrenalin. And muscles tightening. She said, I didn't know that! She held on to every word.

She became the bunny (at which point she giggled), and we relaxed her little bunny body, from her feet, ankles, legs, knees, upper legs, hips, on up. Slowly, softly, she loosened what was being held tight. With lots of deep breathing, she relaxed, until she was curled up in her bunny burrow, with her brothers and sisters and her mum bunny nose-to-nose, all close by.

She liked that story very much. She still took a long time to sleep, but I held her close and she knew, with every bit of her bunny self, that she was safe and she was loved.

This morning she came downstairs with a sweet, big smile. She had slept for 10 hours. She was rested and she was happy. The beginning of the beginning. The start of something New.

It was a good, fine moment!

This morning I thought: I could do this again, and every night, until the fear loosens. Until this passes.

I could go to bed early, then wake early, in order to write and have time for myself.

I could find time in the day, on the weekend, to be with my husband. We could have movie afternoons, while Nana or friends hang with our kids.

I am sure there will be nights in the future we can curl up on the couch. It will come.

This morning (and yesterday too, a little, through the fog)

I started to see how Giving, giving wholly and purely, comes from


If you let go of the shoulds and wants (especially the ones that block the giving that is needed),

and accept what is needed in the moment,

accept what Is, in the moment,

truly, absolutely, give in and accept and embrace what IS,

then the giving is easy.

The giving flows.

It doesn't feel hard at all. It actually feels a lot like freedom, and a lot like flying.

And a whole lot like joy.


And because the last few blog posts have been all about my boy, here is what my girl, who had hardly slept the night before,

got up to yesterday:

created a kitten collection

made egg carton cats

made playdough

and planned and helped make a playdough stop-motion animation with her brother.

So I think,

in fact I know,

that if this much joy and love and creativity can come, even after a hard night,

we're going to be all right.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

from the sublime to…

the just plain


My daughter isn't sleeping.

Just. Not. Sleeping.

She was up until midnight last night, weeping in my arms, so, so tired and yet completely unable to go to sleep.

This has been happening for weeks. Months, really. Nights getting later and later. My girl pacing the floor upstairs after we've said good night. Us going up. Her coming down. So many tears.

If we go to bed with her, she is all right.

If we don't, if we say good night, and go downstairs (like I've heard many parents do!),

the Worry Monsters come.

And they are BIG. They involve spider bites, mostly. Images of huge, furry spiders lurking in the corners of her sheets, waiting to pounce. Or there is a fear of appendicitis, fear of what headaches might mean, fear of hurricanes, fear of death.

And the Worry Monsters have started coming in the day too. Because when a girl routinely can't sleep, and gets insanely overtired, then they come when it's light. They come in all sorts of forms, sneak up behind her—often just as she's having the most fun—and trip her over.

Then she comes and tells me the Worry. She whispers it in my ear.

She looks at me so intently.

She says, "Will I be okay?"

I say, "Yes, sweetheart. You will be okay."

And then she says (and says always), "But how do you know?"

And I explain, and explain again,

and again

and again.

Because these Worry Monsters are tenacious. They stick. They are like burrs, frustrating, overwhelming, prickly, stickly things. Burrs that simply will not leave.

And as I'm reassuring her, and looking up 'anxiety' online, and planning ways to help (lavender baths, meditation tapes, warm milk, appointment with a naturopath, possibly a psychologist?), I am being

pricked and sticked
by Worry Monsters too.

This is why.

We began homeschooling my girl because she was incredibly anxious and unhappy at school. It has gone so well. Homeschooling has provided her with days of intense happiness, time to do the things she loves, and a growing realisation of who she is as a person, and the pride and confidence that comes with that.

But she is growing incredibly anxious again, and after nights like last night,
I think, Oh. Did I make a terrible mistake?

By removing her from school, did I stop her from finding her own feet, facing her anxieties head-on, becoming that word: "Resilient"? Did I create a warm space for the Worry Monsters to breed? Should I have been the mama the school wanted me to be—the one who could (or feels forced to) leave a crying child at the school gates, trust that strangers would take care of her, trust that she would be "fine" and walk away?

The thing is, I know logically that none of these things are true.
I didn't make a mistake.
And I could not be, and never will be, that mama.

But I worry. I hold myself responsible. It's as though I take all the tough, the hurt, the hard that my children face and say, "Ah. My fault." Or I think, "Homeschool. It's because I strayed away from the Path More Taken."

I fret and blame the one thing that has consistently brought my child joy. I fret and think, If I were tougher, and had more rules, and Consequences, and didn't cuddle, and listen, and talk things through… if I was more Seperate… would she rise to the challenges herself and become stronger?

In other words, if I was the opposite to who I am, perhaps my child would thrive.

It's ridiculous.

See how these Worry Monsters work? They take what is real, and true, and good, and bend it until you can't recognise it any more. They launch imaginary spiders at you and make you believe you are in danger, that you've made a mistake, that what is real and true and good is not actually there at all.

They aren't nice. They shouldn't be allowed to come over to play. They don't play fair and they don't play kind, and I'd like very much for them to leave.

I tried to be firm last night. I got cross, and I sent her to sleep in a different room than ours. I said there would be Consequences. I left her to the dark and to her tears because I thought, The other way doesn't work!

But the firm way didn't work either. I felt just terrible. And I wasn't true to myself at all.

She ended up downstairs again, despite all the Consequences that had been threatened. She was simply, and absolutely, unable to sleep. Simply and absolutely, in that moment, ruled by the Monsters. My poor, poor girl.

She ended up in my lap, wrapped up in my husband's big plaid jacket, weeping in my arms. She ended up drinking warm milk and honey in my arms. She ended up pouring out her fears and her feelings. She ended up coming to bed with us, back in our bed, my hand on her back. She ended up sleeping.

I don't have answers. I just see there is another journey to take.

And I am not going to leave my child to it. Leave her weeping at the gate. I am going to take a




And face the Worry Monsters with her. Hand in small, dear hand.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

bright clear happy days

So what does a boy do,

when he turns 11, for the first and only time?

Well, if you're a homeschooling kid with a dad who can (just) take time off during the week…

you go on an adventure!

You get surprised on the morning before your birthday with an invitation Away.
You pack, skipping up the stairs and down, then head off!

Up to the Blue Mountains, where the air gets crisper and crisper

until your breath fogs as you get out of the car.

You rise up and up but skip all the amazing views (sorry!) 'til you reach the top,
then head down and down again, literally coasting the country roads
(to see how far we can go in neutral, all of us laughing 'til we cry)
down into a valley of magic and mystery, a valley holding inside its folds, 430 million-year-old caves.

The first night,
the night before his birthday, a boy and his family settle into a tiny cabin near the caves.

A cabin heated only by this

… the heat not reaching the bedrooms, not even close,
so we end up dragging mattresses onto the living room floor and sleeping like happy curled-up bugs.

A boy sleeps deeply, then wakes,
and just like that? He's 11.

What's next? Well, if you're a boy who has just turned a whole new age, you open your Loot, straightaway! And get hugs, from an adoring sister.

Then more hugs!

Then? Well, you go outside of course (OUTSIDE! In this cold! Egads!)

and find a view, and trees to photograph (with frozen fingers), and a dad to fetch wood with,

photos by a boy

and get lost in your brand new, just slightly too-big-for-you coat. 

photo by a dad
(Is he even in there?)

The birthday morning cruises by, slowly, happily, and then? It's time to go deeper into the valley, down and down again, until the happy family is 

At Jenolan Caves, where you can actually drive through an arch this big

and stay in a house this cool (but for a lot more money than our teeny freezer of a cabin in the trees. Maybe next time…)

Here, in the oldest conservation space in Australia, the birthday boy chooses to go far and finely underground, to tour the River Cave… 
(which was my all-time, hands-down favourite cave to visit when I was a kid…! Bliss)

The tour begins

with a view of a river this blue

then has us meandering into the folds of the mountain. Like the land opens its mouth, just a little, and swallows us whole. 

Inside we see…with our faces gaping, and with a lot of pointing…

extraordinary things.

And we find the blue inside

the flow of the deep 

the mountain's mysterious heart.

It is breathtaking.

And we climb ladders both up and down and 
down again

(and a mum gets kind of scared but faces her fear of tall and high things, quite well I have to say!).

looking down…spooooky
looking up… relief!

And everything seems suspended 
as we walk through something impossible to imagine,

 holding our breath,

while the land, simply,

And when we leave? And the lights are all turned out?

Well, the dark and the flow and the heart
keep on.

The boy and his family come out into the open air,
and find there is a river to walk beside,

 and a platypus to see!

(the first I have ever seen in the wild)

(There really is a platypus in this picture. 
It's the brown-ish blob in the centre. Adorable.)

And we are so happy.

Now, the family had planned to hike more but
it is SO cold.
And we thought we'd explore the Grand Archway some more but
it is SO SO cold.

So we end up 
inside that majestic Caves House, in the hotel lounge, with hot chocolates, by the toasty fire!

Where we gobble up a splendid dinner,

then drift on back up the mountain to our tiny cabin, 
where I somehow make an apple crumble in the microwave, 
and sing a Birthday song, and then…

we curl up like bugs again, 
sleepily, dreamily calling out good night
and one last 'happy birthday,'
to a truly contented boy…

while the fire in the stove crackles and jumps 
and the light quivers against the cabin walls. 

The last morning brings

frost and the tiniest bit of snow!! 

The kids
dash out
and stomp on the white grass like giants

while inside, by the warmth of the fire, the grown-ups pack to go

And when they get home,
a mum asks a boy, who is now 11 and will be eleven for a while now,
what he thought of his Birthday Adventure.

"It was awesome," he says with a smile. "I loved it, muchly."

Well, there you have it!

We all had a beautiful time.

Together, bright, clear, and happy. What a gift that was.