To the moon and back

I first met Master Nine’s Grandma when he was seven months old.
She had warm brown eyes, hair regularly cropped short by her husband and a face etched with a thousand smiles.
Along with her three-quarter jeans, khaki singlet and sandals, she wore gigantic jewellery, compensation for her tiny frame.
And it was over that that she and her grandson first bonded.
While Master’s Grandpa and I chatted, Grandma and baby just sat ogling each other, he with her giant pendant crammed into his mouth, she leaning in as close as her necklace would allow.
Grandma needed no training.
She’d had three babies.
In fact, she’d had three boys.
She had her grandson’s attention.
And his love from the moment they met.
Of course, letting him suck her giant necklaces was only the beginning.
She took him to playgrounds.
And swimming pools.
Lunch at a train station, so she could watch his little face when the bells clanged.
She sent him letters from Melbourne.
And postcards from all over the world.
Covered them with Lightning McQueen stickers.
She posted chocolate packages that put the Easter Bunny to shame.
Cut out funny pictures of dogs, or cats, or babies to laugh at with him later.
And once, a picture of a plane resting safely on the Hudson River, the passengers huddled on its wings.
She bought him cool shoes.
And gingerbread men they secretly called ‘Supermans’.
She proudly told everyone he was THE best kid in the world.
And even ran down the street yelling ‘nighny-nighny-pop-pop’ after our retreating car, oblivious to what her neighbours might think.
She taught him to read numbers on letterboxes.
And sat with him outside late at night to show him just how much she loved him – all the way to the moon and back.
When Grandma died, Master Nine was still her only grandchild.
The travesty of her not having more was tempered only by the fact that she’d at least had him.
Grandma had decided not to tell us that her cancer would likely claim her within two years.
She started chemo.
I hoped she’d beat it.
At the least stave it off for a long time.
Recently diagnosed myself with pregnancy problems, I couldn’t fly over to see her.
But I’d be over there with my baby as soon as I was able, I told her (and myself).
Five months later – two weeks before my baby was born – my mother decided she’d take Master Nine to Melbourne herself.
Call it Nanna-intuition.
Because days before their scheduled departure, Grandma was rushed to hospital.
She took a turn for the worse the night before they were due to arrive.
And so it was with a heavy heart that my mother took Master Nine on that plane.
One grandmother taking her grandson on a journey to farewell another.
I sat, hormonal and horrible, for hours on the couch at home, anticipating and dreading every phone call.
My little Master arrived in time to say goodbye to the lady who’d loved him almost as much as me.
He read aloud to her the book he’d made – ‘Grandma’s Gang’.
But she never woke up to see it.
An hour after he left, Grandma died.
They had her funeral five days later, on her birthday.
Needless to say, I couldn’t go to that either.
In fact, the last time I ever saw Grandma was at my wedding.
I wasn’t marrying her son but that didn’t matter to her.
Her grandson was happy (anyone at my wedding will attest to this!) and that’s all she needed to know.
Master Nine is fairly nonchalant now talking about his Grandma.
To him, her death was a curiosity, something he understood yet didn’t seem to really comprehend.
It was Grandma who actually once said to me that parenting was one of the most unappreciated jobs we’d ever do.
But perhaps she was wrong.
Perhaps it’s grand-parenting.
Most of us eventually have some sort of epiphany about our parents and the sacrifices they made for us.
But by the time we realise how special our grandparents were – usually while watching our own children interact with theirs – it’s often too late.
I have all Grandma’s letters.
It might not be until he’s Master Forty that my son will read them and realise how big a role she played in the first near-decade of his life.
And he might never know or appreciate how much she adored-dotedon-laughedwith-and-loved him.
But his mummy always will.

Baby. Cot. Back.

2.38am
Her little blue eyes had turned black.
In the dark, I could see them wide open and staring at me.
Her legs had finally stopped jerking, her tiny fists rested loosely up next to her ears, and her breathing had slowed.
Even the hiccup hangover from crying had stopped.
I stared back at her, sending imploring messages to her eyelids.
‘Close, close, close,’ I thought.
Behind me, Learner Dad was face down on a mattress he’d desperately dragged into the nursery.
I heard snoring.
It seemed my message had gone to the wrong eyelids.
She watched me as I stood up, my creaking knees excruciatingly loud in the silence.
I backed out of the room, breaking the rules by maintaining eye contact.
She moved her hand slightly.
But she had nothing left.
I slipped out the door and back in to bed.

1.14am
“It’s not working, what’s your plan B?” Learner Dad asked, turning his head but keeping his hands firmly pressed on his wriggling daughter.
“I don’t have one, this is it,” I spat back.
“She’s not going to sleep. What if she’s up all night?”
“I’m not pulling the pin now!” I said. “What a waste this all will have been.”
“Why is she still bloody awake? I don’t get it.”
“She’s waiting to be picked up, that’s why!” I was as exasperated as him.
Fairy Floss watched with amusement as her father and I exchanged heated words above her.
“You go to bed,” I hissed, knowing every angry word we uttered was undoing all our good work.
He left the room.
I couldn’t believe it.
Now I’d have to see this through all by myse…
Oh wait, he was back.
With a mattress.
He sighed loudly as he tried to clear space for it, bumping furniture, knocking things over, before it landed with a huge ‘thwack’ on the floor.
We both looked at Floss.
She threw back her head and began to cry.

12.22am
“It says on Google it could take an hour and a half,” I sang to Learner Dad, to the tune of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’.
“That could take us to 1am,” was his ‘how I wonder what you are’.
“Sorry, I shouldn’t have decided-to-do-this so late at night,” I sang back. “I’m just over it, she’s a li-ttle shi-it.”
We both smiled.
It’d be ok, she couldn’t stay awake much longer.

11.46pm
“Right, change of tactic, don’t pick her up,” I instructed Learner Dad as I entered the nursery.
At eight months old, Fairy Floss was sending me grey.
She’d spent her whole little life either feeding to sleep, or being rocked.
She was our last baby.
We wanted to enjoy her, to do what came instinctively, what felt right.
I loved watching her little eyes roll back in her head as she suckled to sleep.
And Learner Dad took pride in the fact that all he had to do was pick her up and she’d nod off.
But evenings had become a nightmare of hourly wakes.
Which meant hourly cuddles, or feeds, or both.
It wasn’t improving.
“Just let her cry it out,” my mum had said.
“Mum, we’re told not to do it that way these days,” I’d answered.
“Didn’t do you kids any harm.”
Another reason we’d rushed to her every time she cried was because her big brother, Lil Fatty, was slumbering next door.
And he was a light sleeper.
We had actually hatched a plan prior to this – to let her cry it out, but with one of us sitting beside her, so she’d not be alone or scared.
We’d made a couple of half-hearted attempts but tiredness – and TV shows – had been our excuse to jump ship.
We’d never seen it through.
After the usual three or four wakes on this particular night, I’d finally gone to bed at 11pm.
I was drifting beautifully down into deep sleep when her little cry drifted down after me, circling me round the neck and hoisting me back up.
I’d had enough.
And so, at a quarter to midnight, I told Learner Dad to start patting her padded bum while I pulled out my phone for advice – and assurance.

9.13pm
“You’re such a little ratbag, yes you are,” I said, tickling Fairy Floss’ ribs. “Why won’t you stay in bed?”
Her four tiny teeth grinned back at me, before she turned to munch down on my boob.
“Up again?” Learner Dad groaned, coming in to the lounge room.
“Yep. Why are you surprised?”
She’d dramatically turned her head at the sound of her father’s voice, dragging her teeth along my nipple as she did.
“Here, you take her, she likes being rocked by daddy,” I said, passing her over.
Within seconds, our dear little baby was lightly snoring.
“Something feels different about her,” Learner Dad said, gazing down at his little girl. “I’ve got a really good feeling about tonight.”

Plane awful

“Sorry but can you please get that little girl to stop screaming?”
Master Nine and I looked at each other in horror.
The voice floated over the back fence and landed on me like a lead weight.
“It’s not a girl, it’s a two-year-old boy,” I called back stiffly.
She (and therefore I) was referring to Lil Fatty, who was on the trampoline with his big brother.
Santa’s gift had been both a source of pleasure and pain, granting Learner Dad and I free time to get things done but also causing fights between the boys.
On this day, in this week of this month, Lil Fatty was probably about halfway through an excruciating screaming phase.
They were piercing, relentless and awful.
They were almost always emitted in the vicinity of Master Nine.
And, if I were my neighbour, I’d be going nuts too.
“I’m doing my best,” I said sadly.
I heard her back door bang shut.
Master Nine just stared at me.
Lil Fatty kept bouncing and babbling, unfazed.
I carried Fairy Floss back inside, put her on the floor, and went and cried on my bed.
I’d felt the sadness in my neighbour’s voice too.
She’d hated doing that.
So why did she?
It reminded me of the time friends flew in from interstate and complained about a crying baby on the plane.
“I don’t know why its mother didn’t do anything,” one said.
I’d had Master Nine by then.
I knew that mother would have eaten an air hostess if it would have made her baby stop crying.
I know this because recently Learner Dad made a huge sacrifice himself.
He actually abandoned a flight because of a screaming Lil Fatty.
Petrified from the moment he’d stepped on to the tarmac, our two-year-old had stood on his seat (35E), pointing frantically at the door through which he’d embarked, and screamed.
I couldn’t bend him in half to put on his seatbelt.
A traumatized Master Nine was crying and Fairy Floss was arching her back in fury.
Amidst it all, Learner Dad’s eyes found mine and he stunned me with: “I’m going to take him off.”
Within seconds, I knew he was doing the right thing.
Passengers who’d been shifting obviously and deliberately, passengers who’d been shaking their heads at us, watched amazed as my brave husband and terrified toddler walked back down the stairs (which had to be driven back in) and across the tarmac.
The lady in front of us, who’d made a show of blocking her ears during the chaos, suddenly doused me with sympathy.
They all did.
“Oh, you should have kept trying, he would have calmed down.”
“Poor little darling, he would have been fine.”
“I can’t believe they let him leave. They could have taken him to the cockpit or something.”
I felt shaky.
And vomity.
At the time, it was a very big deal.
But I’ve buried it at the bottom of this post lest people think our tot a true terror(ist?).
A naughty brat who had a tantrum so big it delayed the plane an hour.
He’s not.
He wasn’t.
He was just scared.
Inconsolably so.
For now, apart from the occasional still-loud squeals of joy, Lil Fatty’s screams have abated.
Embarrassed that day on the trampoline, Master Nine has laid off on the teasing.
And, a late talker, Lil Fatty is finally replacing sounds with words.
I’ve been told I’ll laugh at the plane story one day.
By his 18th birthday, I’m sure I might smile.
But I’ll always think of some of those people on that plane – and my neighbour – with a tinge of sadness.
For parenting is like handling little explosives.
You can wire them so they’re as safe as can be.
But when expert detonators – siblings – and unknown detonators – in this case, aeroplanes – come in to play, they just explode.
And you can jump on your little bomb, take as much of the physical and psychological trauma as possible.
But you can’t stop it happening.
Ever.
People who haven’t had kids would do well to know that.
And people who have would do well to remember.