From the book Reservoir Dad.
We’re leaving the Anglesea Holiday Park early tomorrow after a week-long holiday. We’ve been staying in a small cabin with four bunk beds in one room and a double bed in the other. It’s a little cramped but the kids have had a lot of fun, so we’ll probably come back here again – maybe even every year – upgrading cabins as the boys get older.
To avoid a full-scale panic clean in the morning, Tania has walked the boys down to the west end of the park for their last taste of the movie and games room, while I hang back at the cabin to make like Sadie the Cleaning Man-Lady.
Because I’m trying to conserve the charge left in my phone battery, I’m working without music. And because house cleaning is a dull, soul-flattening task made pointless by the billions of floating dust particles waiting to settle upon the surfaces you’ve just cleaned – and also because our holiday is just about over – my unoccupied mind fills itself with poignant thoughts.
On the night we arrived at the holiday park I tucked the boys in and hugged each of them goodnight and, as usual, had a little chat about this or that. It was after I’d finished chatting with Lewis and said, ‘I love you so much,’ that he responded with a quip that took me aback.
‘You too, buddy,’ he said, making a gun shape with his fingers and winking.
‘What do you mean, “You too”?’ I said.
‘What you just said to me,’ he replied, looking a tad embarrassed.
‘You’re too old to say “I love you too” now?’ I asked.
He nodded and we hugged again, and he was smiling and sweet – and still six years old, yes – but a little more self-conscious than I’d seen before, a little less childlike. My awe at his growth came with a sigh. I felt like a prospector lifting the pan to the surface of the stream. The thrill of the golden moment came with an awareness of how quickly the water was rushing by.
Before Tania and I fell into what would be another short, interrupted night of sleep, I said, ‘We’ll have to remember to keep telling our boys that we love them throughout their lives, even when it embarrasses them,’ and after filling her in on what had happened, added, ‘Lewis reminds me of myself. There was a point in my life – early – when I got weird about hugging my dad and was embarrassed to tell him I loved him. Who knows why? And once I shied away from doing it we never did it again.’
Two days later there was a period of time, late in the evening as Tania and I wandered behind the boys, hand in hand, along one of the park’s bitumen roads when there was not a hint of the past or the future or the interference of any regrets or pressing concerns. The sound of the ocean rising over a channel of trees and beach scrub combined with the cool air and the setting sun to affect me like a love potion, dulling my thoughts and focussing me in on the prize.
There was laughter and the screaming of directions and near-spills as Archie was pushing Lewis and Tyson in a park-owned billycart. Maki was toddling along, releasing a constant babble of noises and syllables that were just on the verge of becoming words and sentences. He would stop intermittently to make sure Mummy and Daddy were watching before throwing his hands in the air to practise jumping, his feet not yet capable of leaving the ground.
Tania and I were trailing along languidly, sharing the experience without talking, our hands holding us together and keeping us warm against the evening chill. My family. Nothing else. Timeless. A blanket over the whole world. In command of the deepest part of my consciousness. The happiest I’ve ever been.
It was only after Tania made a casual comment about heading back to the cabin to prepare for the kids’ bedtime that my mind resurfaced. By the time we’d dropped off the billycart I realised that the kids had not argued even once.
I thought about the few days of holiday we had left and realised, a little wistfully, that by our next holiday Maki will be two years old, leaping towards the sky, feet clearing the ground. I thought of the day I proposed to Tania twelve years ago – how wonderful it was then to walk along hand in hand, without kids, but no matter how fondly I look back on it, this is just so much better.
And now we’re clearing away our clutter and mess at the end of another holiday, and I’ve got to get the job done.
Knowing that reminiscing like this can floor me, I check the phone again. The battery display is still shining red but there’s enough in it, I reckon, to get a good twenty minutes of tunes going. There are dishes to be done, Sadie, as well as floors to be swept and bags to be packed, and I’ll be dammed if I’m doing that loathsome, eye-gouge-inducing shit without some music.
It’s while I’m listening to ‘Time After Time’ by Cyndi Lauper that I allow myself to move on to another golden moment.
Last night four-year-old Tyson was totally and utterly knackered, and I was lying in bed with him to make sure he nodded off as quickly as possible. I resisted the urge to wrestle as we were whispering some silly phrases to each other until he rolled away and settled almost instantly into deeper breathing. I assumed he was mostly asleep and so I whispered, ‘Luv ya, mate.’
From my vantage point behind him I saw his cheek rising with a smile.
‘Why?’ he said.
I was immediately overwhelmed by a sense of wonder and longing. In this dark room, on the bottom bunk, with the likelihood of another sleep-interrupted night ahead, came the prospector’s pan rising above the surface of the stream, the glint of gold already visible.
It was the expectation I heard in his voice, I think, and his smile that made me aware of the opportunity to affirm something that would last a long time for the both of us – maybe forever. ‘Just because I love you, mate,’ I answered. ‘And because you make us all laugh. And because you’re such a great dancer . . . especially to “Gangnam Style”. And because you jump so high. And because you use snappy crocodile fingers when you draw. And, do you know, when you’re away at kinder I miss you so much and can’t wait to see you again.’
And that was enough. As I watched him wriggle his head back and forth to reach further into the comfort of the pillow I was fully aware of how little time I had left. All the rooms Tania and I have filled will one day be empty. The beds of our children – those I often groan with exhaustion to climb into – will be gone.
This cabin is small and cluttered, even before adding six breathing, chomping, excreting, moulting humans to it, but I’ve managed to clean the floor of toys and clothes. Still, the dust is floating all around me, and who am I kidding? Tania and the boys will be back soon; the remaining twelve hours of holiday will be enough to set the scene for another panic-clean in the morning.
When I look under the couch and find a half-eaten cracker with some tuna still on it I think, There’s a solid nugget of food, and a thought-chain links nugget and gold and Lewis and Tyson and time together until I have a permanent length of musing that tells me this: parents don’t go in to each day panning the daily stream of monotony for golden moments, but when they come – rising from the murk and mayhem, shining through the dust and doubt – they are the most valuable and cherished nuggets in our limited passage of time, illuminating all the days beforehand and enriching all the days after.
*This is an excerpt from the book Reservoir Dad.
To purchase the kindle version go here.
To purchase the hard copy go here.
‘If David Sedaris had got married and had kids, he would have been Reservoir Dad. Fall-on-the-floor funny, sharp, witty and just a little bit sexy.’ Kerri Sackville, Best Australian Blog 2013 judge A sharply funny, fresh and irreverent chronicler of real life in today’s parenting trenches, Reservoir Dad is a stay-at-home dad whose award-winning blog has already won hearts and minds all over Australia and beyond for telling it like it is and making us laugh out loud – and sometimes cry, but in a good way.