It took its time coming this year, but summer is finally, officially here.
There have been beach walks and paddles in the river, there have been windows flung open to let in the breeze, and there have been gin and tonics in the garden. What a relief. When we reached mid-December and still had our cosy jackets hanging in the hallway we began to think it might never happen.
There was the usual rush to the end of the school term – excursions, teacher gifts, final assemblies and the like. But it only took a week or two of summer holidays before things started to feel like they were calming down: DorkySon’s voice has returned to a reasonable volume, rather than the shouty level he always comes home from school with; his backpack has been emptied of detritus, ready to be repurposed as a travel bag when we head to a family wedding later this month; and all the old uniforms have been swapped for new, pushed to the back of the wardrobe and replaced for now by board shorts and rashies.
Christmas has always felt more relaxed on this side of the world. Unlike in the UK, where all those twinkling lights and stodgy puddings were required to push through the dark of December, here it feels like a time of light and abundance. On Christmas Eve we walked to the small grocery store near our house and stocked up for the celebrations ahead – not on family-sized selection boxes or grab bags of Twiglets, but on peaches, plums and cherries, Tasmanian pink eye potatoes covered in soil, and generous bunches of baby carrots, their leafy green stalks still attached.
Being a family of three makes things easier too. I encountered a few friends hauling great big trolleys full of food around the supermarket during the lead-up to Christmas, and we laughed openly at the contrast between their enormous hauls and my tiny basket.
The last Christmas of the decade was, for us, an intentionally simpler one than we’ve ever had before. We are in such a position of privilege where we already own the things we need, and the accumulation of ‘stuff’ for the sake of it feels more and more unnecessary.
Instead we gave experiences, like a day at the local wildlife centre, and vouchers for clothes that need to be replaced. The books and edibles that stuffed our stockings were wrapped with Who Gives A Crap tissue paper that I’d been saving for months. Other than a bike and bodyboard – he had outgrown his old ones – the only thing that DorkySon asked for was charity donations, to be split between Sea Shepherd and the Get Alex Back on Track campaign.
We’re now well into January – not just the start of a new year, but a new decade too. Every day we feel grateful to be in Tasmania, where so far – touch wood – we haven’t struggled with the enormous fires that have taken over the big island. It is so shocking – to see lives and homes lost, to watch politicians floundering, and to look ahead at the forecast and realise that rain is weeks or perhaps even months away.
This feels like the summer that climate change became truly inescapable in Australia –physically, for those affected communities, but also emotionally and intellectually in the collective conscious of the nation. I despair that we don’t have a government primed to capitalise on that, to feel the surge of public support for decisive action and to start the transition that is necessary if we want to slow down the devastation.
It is no fun to talk about these things every day, and yet we do. I see so many people say that politics should be put aside at Christmas; that it’s a topic to be avoided with family in case it causes offence. But life and politics are not two separate things, they are one and the same. We muddle our way along with DorkySon, trying to satisfy his insatiable thirst for knowledge and understanding without putting such a burden of information on him that he becomes overwhelmed with anxiety. It feels like a fragile balance, and one that we are constantly adjusting.
We will keep talking. But we will also keep reading Harry Potter each morning of the holidays, keep tending the spinach in our garden, keep posting silly, positive and trivial things on social media to stay connected to our family and friends around the world. It is okay to be engaged with what is happening, and it is also okay to get on with the business of living and loving. The two are not mutually exclusive.
Last weekend we went to our first marine debris clean-up of the year. The summer holidays meant that it was a smaller turnout than usual, but it felt good to be doing something positive in the community. It was an opportunity for DorkySon to hand over his donation to Sea Shepherd, but it was also a chance to hand over something more personal…
When we left the UK, the carers at DorkySon’s nursery clubbed together to buy him a Build-a-Bear called Bernie – a cousin to the nursery bear Albert. In DorkySon’s most recent clearout, Bernie Bear ended up in the giveaway pile. The time was right, although I could tell the decision was tinged a hint of regret. Luckily enough, the Sea Shepherd Tasmania team was looking for a stuffed animal to model the baby bibs and onesies on their stall – and Bernie turned out to be the perfect size – so instead of just being passed along to the op shop he has been repurposed as a Sea Shepherd model. Next time DorkySon helps out on the Sea Shepherd stall, he’ll be able to check in with Bernie and see how he’s faring.
That big clearout has become an annual holiday tradition for DorkySon – perhaps an antidote to the excesses of Christmas. It is lovely to see his generosity, passing along books, toys and clothes that he has outgrown. This year, though, he has become a little too zealous: I keep hearing him giving DorkyDad a hard time about the need for him doing something similar in his office, and more than once I’ve caught him prowling through the kitchen cupboards looking for things to discard.
He has also decided that it is time to put away his beloved Binky – the blue hippo lovey who has been a trusty pal ever since he was born. Binky isn’t being rehomed, he has just been retired from night-time comforting duties and placed in a cupboard with all the other snuggly toys. Good old Binky is worthy of a blog post in his own right at some point (I did write one all the way back in 2011, thinking that he was about to leave our lives then, but he somehow lasted a further eight years!), but I’ll have to wait until the prospect of writing it doesn’t bring me to the edge of tears.
It is all good. We are so proud of DorkySon and the excellent job he is doing of growing up, but every so often there are still moments that catch me by surprise with their intensity – the unexpected firsts and unanticipated lasts that prompt a rush of feelings about the passing of time.
The new decade is making that awareness all the more prominent. So many people have been sharing their photos and memories from the last 10 years, and the changes that have taken place in that time. For us, it has seen two major house moves, work changes a-plenty, and DorkySon growing from a not-even-crawling baby to a fully walking, talking boy who makes us laugh every day and often consider the world in new ways.
There is much to look forward to in 2020. Four more weeks of summer break, for a start. This is the first year where I’ve felt comfortable taking on some major work projects during the school holidays, because DorkyDad’s new flexible working arrangements mean I’m not the only one with responsibility for entertaining DorkySon.
There have still been times when it has been tricky, and I’ve felt like I’ve been doing a mediocre job with family AND a mediocre job with work – yesterday I was writing with a pencil and notepad balanced on my knees at the side of Collegiate Pool during DorkySon’s swimming lesson – but it’s much easier than it used to be, and it will be so nice not having to start from scratch in February, knowing there will be a slow but steady stream of income during the first months of the year.
My guiding word for 2020 is INTENTION, with supporting words of AUTHENTIC, DELIGHT and KINDNESS. I am hoping they steer me well in my work life, family life, and wellbeing.
From our family to yours, have a wonderful start to the year. We hope that 2020 brings you much love, laughter and happiness.
If you’ve been watching news of the bushfires and want to show your support, some good options for donations include:
The Australian Red Cross – who are supporting affected communities around the country.
Seed Mob – Australia’s first Indigenous youth-led climate movement.
Vets for Compassion – a volunteer run organisation helping wildlife affected by the fires.