Monday, November 26, 2007

the maelstrom and the sea of tranquillity

I was standing in the kitchen on Saturday, feeling like the still centre at the heart of a tropical cyclone, a whirlpool of love, affection, enthusiasm and joy. My mother had come over to help out while Steve was away.

Children were running, shouting, playing. Mum was alternately reading a series of board books to baby Andrew, helping Thomas with the dot-to-dot and sticker books she brought, patiently listening to Ben recite lists of Pokemon and their evolutions, creating beautiful cards with Lizzy using every scrap of fabric and craft paper in the house, and intermittently asking me "Is there anything I can do to help?"

When my mother walks in the door, all four children run screaming "Grandma Ruth's here! Gwandma Wuth's here! Ga-ma!" depending on their various stages of verbal development, and she drops all her belongings on the floor while she cuddles each one and tells them how much she loves them and has missed them since last time she saw them - yesterday.

When she stays the night, at 6.30 they all creep into bed with her and time-travel the globe in the stories she tells: "Where shall we go today? I know, Imperial China!" At the end of her stay, after numerous hugs and goodbyes, the house is littered with unfinished cups of tea, forgotten possessions, the detritus of numerous craft projects, and four bereft children. Thomas speaks for all of them: "I like she! When is Gwandma coming back? I want she!"

When Audrey, Steve's mother, comes over, I stand in the kitchen and feel a warm, peaceful stillness descend on the house. You can barely hear the "click" of the door as she steps inside: I will sometimes go into the kitchen and realise she has been unpacking the fruit, vegetables, jams and eggs she has brought from her garden and chooks, without me noticing her arrival.

She spends her time in the kitchen, scrubbing cupboard doors, unpacking the dishwasher, heating soup; or in the garden, pulling weeds out of garden beds, fussing over the neglected lemon tree, and pruning rampant rose bushes. The children trail behind her, fascinated, as she bakes trays of anzacs and gingernut biscuits, or shows them worms and snails as they dig in the dirt together.

Audrey is a midwife, and has brought a quiet calm to the birth of each of our children, and a secure feeling of being cared for during the days of recovery. She leaves as silently as she comes: sometimes I only know she's gone by the empty yard and kitchen, and Thomas asking "Where's Gwandma Audrey? Can I go and see Gwandma?"

Somewhere between the maelstrom and the sea of tranquillity there's me: enthusiastically affectionate or calmly loving, reading stories or mopping floors, excitedly playing or quietly present. It's odd how, when either of my mothers enters the house, it takes on their character. When they leave, I slip back into my own skin.

But while they're here, these two wonderful women introduce us to two different ways of being, bringing with them an exuberant love and joy in life, or a gentle affection and serenity, as their gift to me and the children.

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