I’m washing our slick new frypans with slow circular strokes and listening to Together In Electric Dreams, because it fits with my low mood, when RM sidles up behind me and holds her iPhone out with a video already queued and playing.
I’ve been down since we returned home and have hardly slept and despite keeping up with the pace of family life and working through the days with a smile, RM has noticed that I’m not charging with the usual flare and I’m guessing that’s why she’s showing me this right now.
The video shows Archie, Lewis, Tyson, Maki and me wrestling in the lounge room of our holiday accommodation and although it only occurred a week ago, and despite RMs best intentions, it’s simply adding a smile and a sense of gratitude to my current malaise. There is more wrestling to come, that’s for sure, but the night we’re watching through the phone has already become a reflection on the surface of the memory pond and, just like recollections of the births and the first words and the transitions from cots to beds, it brings out the smile with the pang of loss.
I can see my own reflection in there as well, and RM’s, and not just the way we are today but the way we were yesterday, last year, and the years before that, when Archie waved us goodbye from the school steps, when Lewis kept his feet on the peddles and made it right around the oval, when Tyson played the piano in front of his class mates, when Maki danced like a freak in the street parade and way back to when RM and I made the decision to have a baby… there we are standing in our backyard, boxed in by the neighbour’s fences, and we’re smiling like this because we can’t believe it. A baby! We have our arms around each other. When she looks up at me from under her woollen beanie we kiss. Her cheeks are winter cold, her lips are warm. The world stops spinning to mark the moment just for us.
We were so excited by our decision but had no clear idea of what would happen; that twelve years later we’d be standing here at the kitchen sink pressed together again but with no baby at all, watching our four boys attempting to wrestle me to the ground after another family holiday.
The squealing and laughing is wonderful and their joy as they maul me is thrilling but even as I laugh and feel lucky I see three year old Maki in the video and the way he circles me and leaps on my back, old enough to team up and take instructions from his brother, old enough to enjoy the tumble and even the odd heavy fall.
There are ripples over the memory pond and the images are layered suddenly and I can see January 2014 when we were last at that particular holiday house, when Maki could hardly leap to clear the floor, when he liked to be carried everywhere, when we still carried a pram in the boot of the car, and it’s only RMs giggle and squeeze that brings me back to the moment.
This may be my own tendency towards existential angst, I don’t know, or maybe just the fact that I’m an emotional creature and prone to grieve strongly in the face of change but I’ve been noticing the baby bottles that haven’t moved from their place in the kitchen cupboard for over a year, the size three clothes that are now being stacked for storage, the well-worn cot that’s a base for the dog’s bed, the once noisy battery-operated toddler toys now waiting for a garage sale; dust over tiny fingerprints in a cupboard down the hall.
This sudden sense of loss has come from a slow accumulation but all we have left of the baby years is a space in the pantry for some nappy-pants and soon I’ll be by-passing the baby aisle all together and the nappies will dip below the surface with the baby food and the wipes and the rusks and the cries of need down the hall in the middle of the night and… I can remember that time I first laid on the couch with Archie warm on my chest; his head tucked under my chin; his hand grasping the end of my thumb. I was too scared to fall asleep but too in love to take him back to his room.
When the movie ends and the wrestling’s over, RM says, ‘That was my favourite part of the holiday’ and I know what she means but I’m keen to milk it a little by saying, ‘What about the beach and the trek through the scrub and the games of Uno…’
‘There’s nothing better… when your husband and kids are playing and everyone’s laughing and having fun.’
‘Yeah,’ I say, as I release the slick new saucepan and drop the dishcloth and look to see that it’s 7pm, time for the bedtime ritual. ‘Where’s Maki and Tyson?’
‘I’ll grab Tyson,’ she says. ‘Maki snuck off down the hall. I think he’s trying to watch Octonauts in the computer room.’
On the way down the hall I catch Tyson and turn him upside down and pass him back to RM and tell Archie and Lewis that they’d better clean their teeth and get in their pyjamas if they want a bedtime game of Uno and when I get to the computer room I find Maki, just as RM said, watching Octonauts in the dark.
‘What are you doing in here?’ I say, mock-angry, sitting down in the chair next to him.
‘Watching Octonauts,’ he says, laughing in the way he does when he’s caught out being sneaky, pointing to the screen to say, ‘That’s Gup-A, Daddy.’
‘It is,’ I say, bored by the Octonauts because I’ve watched it almost a million times, but struck by Maki’s smile under the computer’s glare.
I’m thankful. I want things to slow down. I want to live forever. I want timelessness. I can’t have it. I’m tired and a bit down and I might just have to stay this way for a little while.
After I put my head on Maki’s lap for a hug and sit back up he laughs and says, ‘Lay on me again Daddy’ and when I do he runs his fingers over my head and face, gently, and leans down to kiss me.
I’m swirling inside this unaffected intimacy with my son because he’s not a baby anymore and we can’t be together like this forever. But we are right now.
For this moment there’s just the two of us. The world keeps spinning on, regardless.