“No mud, no Lotus”

Everything comes together in November. The sun comes out and the house stays warm through the night. Cases in Victoria descend to zero and remain there for days and then weeks. Trump loses. There are no euphemisms for this and no hyperbole too great. It feels like the embarrassed silence after months of heated shouting, like waking up from a terrible night’s sleep, grateful it’s morning. We become giddy with these glimmers of okayness. I feel like crying when we meet up with friends at the beach after hundreds of days of isolation and when we first go to a cafe for lunch, we make friends with every wide-eyed person there. We book a holiday out of town – a rebooking of a twice cancelled trip from July. Everything went pear-shaped around July.

In the beginning, I felt a strange camaraderie with the world. We made jokes about running out of toilet paper and people across continents would laugh. The mention of isolation boredom and work pyjamas had wide reaching ripples of knowing nods. Suddenly everyone in the world had something in common. Then jokes gave way to fear and anger and things got worse, of course, before they got any better. Or they briefly appeared to be better before they got much worse. 

Relief that 2020 is coming to an end is understandable, the need to draw a line under it – through it even – as we collectively agree it was nothing like we’d planned, but I feel a pang every time someone says what a terrible year it has been, even though I know it has been devastating for so many. In our family alone we lost a dear parent and attended the funeral by zoom, we had illness, we had disappointment and we mourned the absence of friends and family as we tried to show our new baby the joys of the world we brought her into. But 2020 is special to me. When I mention this to a friend in the park, gesturing grandly towards my baby, she says “No mud, no Lotus, right?” and I google the phrase later at home.

This was the year that started with Lotus’ birth, my mum here for ten days prior and ten days after and my brother making a hasty appearance just in time to meet her minutes after she emerged. It’s the year my dad delayed his flight to Nepal so he could meet his new grandchild and the year so many other beautiful babies – Lotus’ friends – were born into villageless isolation. 

It’s the year Lotus learnt to crawl. First her own invention, a kind of dry-land butterfly stroke – flopping and dragging her body around the house we moved into in August, then figuring out the more energy efficient version on hands and knees, squeals of delight as she became mobile. It’s the year she learnt to clap her hands, eliciting praise and excitement from her parents, looking at us in turn as she does it, knowing we’ll be delighted. The year she learnt to sleep the entire night, settle herself back again on waking or stand in her cot to call out she’s ready to get up. 2020 will always be the year Lotus started pointing at things she liked, things she wanted, things she recognised and things we asked her to. Every day she shows us the patterns of light on the walls from windows covered with trees or lace curtains. Her full cheeks rise into the biggest smile when she finds even the faintest impression of shadow and bright. There are rainbows in our living room in the afternoon and she will find them before anyone else can. In the mornings, she pulls books off her shelf and hands them to me one by one to read to her as she turns the pages, points at the illustrations and sometimes says “baby!” if there’s a baby on the page. It’s the year she made friends with babies. This year is the year Lotus first called me “Mumum” and her dad “Papa”, the year she started singing along as I play guitar and nodding her head to her favourite songs.

2020 was terrible, but I won’t cross it off. It’s the year we realised how lucky we are, never again taking simple things like going out for breakfast or having visitors for granted. We hunkered down through winter, solving sleep issues with only as many tears as it took to scramble from our bed to hers. We never had to figure out the logistics of how to get baby, pram, nappy bag to this thing or that thing. There were no things to try and get to. 

Soon, and I’m sure of this, we will be able to see our families again. My mum will come from New Zealand the moment she’s allowed, my dad will have to find his way back from Nepal and our newish little family will have planes to catch to see Lotus’ uncles, aunts, cousins and grandmas. We have lost people and there will be time again to grieve and process this. Somewhere in the midst of this chaotic year I turned 40, quietly and with a carefully planned glass of champagne. Everything falls slowly into place in November and this blurry and intense, forgettable year is the most memorable of my life.

Advice to My Younger Self

It’s going to be okay. There are many times when it won’t feel like it, but these times will pass. Have faith in your ability to do the right thing and get out of situations when they don’t feel right.

Luck has a lot to do with it all, of course, so never deny how fortunate you are because of the time and place and family you were born into. You are growing up in a paradise. Look around and be grateful.

Stick to your principles. Being a vegetarian in the 90s is hard work and you will endure a lot of salads with the bacon picked out, but in twenty years’ time you can feel proud that your existence has not harmed thousands of other living beings and your highly-developed taste for vegetables will serve you well in The Great Kale Hype of 2016.

Don’t worry about the fruit thing, they’re starting to say it’s not really that good for you anyway.

Be proud and passionate about the bands you like. Music really doesn’t get much better from about 1997 on.

Stay close to your family, they’re a good bunch. Nurture friendships – I still have no idea how these come and go.

Don’t pluck your eyebrows too thin – they will never grow back the same. Fashions change, but authenticity is timeless. Don’t be ashamed of the long genetic history that makes you look and think and be the way you are. It’s amazing, really. You’re part of that.

Read everything. Read poetry and fiction and hard stuff. Care about politics. Your brother was right to argue with you in 1991 when you were ten and said talking about Ruth Richardson’s ‘Mother of all budgets’ was boring you and it didn’t affect you anyway. It all affects you. Be one of the people who realises that. Be informed.

Your childhood is full of announcements about how special you are. You are, but so is every living thing here. Stay humble and remember the world doesn’t owe you a thing.

You don’t owe the world anything either, but try to do as much as you can. You will need time out from it every now and then and that’s okay, because – if I know you – you will always be striving to create, contribute and be part of something greater.

Have adventures, fall in love, listen, and remember to let other people love and care for you too. They’ll like that.

Shift

I’ve become a carrier of borrowed backpacks
stacked with stolen paperbacks
people ask me the same thing twice
offer advice as I shift further into shady corners
push my belongings under the bed.

Or they decide not to tell me in case I react
the way they say I am sure to react
another shove and it’s out of sight
nothing dappled about this kind of light

an empty bottle, door left ajar
fear of change in a palpable pile
of coins on the dusty dresser’s edge.

 

I wrote this poem a week ago and realise I’ve been grappling with these feelings since. Moving to a new country has been harder than I’ve let myself admit and despite my constant optimism and persistent positive action to carve out a space for myself here, I’ve had a week of feeling a bit insignificant in this big city that beguiled me here with such promise.

However, there is much to love about my new home and I can feel glad I was lured into making the change by my high expectations, even if the reality has proved tougher.

Today I feel grateful for love, plans, a growing sense of purpose and a growing ability to trust – in myself, the future and others.