The Thing About Grief Is...

Okay okay, it's a legitimate post title, but it's also the title of one of my favourite songs ever. You can hear 'The Thing About Grief' in the background of this very special video.

This week my grief has snuck up on me. Millie and Pip have been drawing together with a box of crayons my great grandmother gave me when I was about 10. She'd won them at bingo and I always kept them safe and special. The box tipped over today and as Millie and I scooped them back into the box a divider fell out. I'd written on it 'Bottom Right Left'. I loved that giant box of crayons so much when I was kid, I didn't get to see my Nana B very often, and I loved the little gifts she gave me. Seeing the girls playing with the crayons and seeing my careful childhood writing on the box (to keep them pristine! I Looked After My Things!) made me miss her oh so much. She would have loved meeting her namesake, Millie Alice to her Mildred Alice, and I see her cheeky grin in my Millie Alice.

I am estranged from my paternal grandmother (Norma) and her mother, Nana B, did everything to be the best grandmother she could be. She died a few months after her 100th birthday, after spending six months in a home. She stayed at home until she was 99 1/2 until her dementia was such that she needed more care. When she was in her early 90's, Mr S and I drove down to see her house in the Victorian hills and help with her garden. My tiny great grandmother (standing only about 5' tall) cracked the whip and exhausted both of us with her energy.

Nana B was a real firecracker. She never married, which in her time was somewhat controversial. Amazingly (divinely?) she had a daughter, and the Blanchard lineage was born. She worked hard, and after her partner, Ted died before I was born, she kept herself busy. There was always a charity to crochet for, a raffle to sell tickets for, a bingo night to attend. She was always partial to a flutter on the pokies. More importantly, she was always there to chat to her family, and remembered every birthday, Christmas and special event.

I miss her so. Her memory brings forth the memories of my Dad too. Ah, grief. You can still sock it to me.

A Girl and her Daddy

On my last day off, when I baked Bretzels, I pottered around the house between baking times and spied on Mr S and Millie.

I watched them through the door between our lounge and dining rooms, and his face was lit up with such tenderness and pure joy at being in Millie's presence as they explored the lounge room.

I see the same expression on my father's face in the photos of us together when I was a baby.

It's only now that I have a daughter of my own that I realise the nature of relationships between girls and their Daddies. It's so very different than a mother's relationship with her baby girl.

Someone told me that Mums are for comfort and Dads are for playing. Millie LOVES to play with Mr S but when somethings wrong for her she starts with 'Mum. Mum. MUM. MUUUUM.' and comes crawling over to me. Then, when she's fed or snugged, back to Mr S she wanders. The irony of this is that during the night I am completely unable to settle her unless it's by a feed. Mr S excels at the rock rock pat pat sleepy dance.

It all started here... about two hours old.
When I look back through my pictures of Millie's first months I can see not only Mr S's love for his little girl, but their bond together has been there from the very beginning. She drinks him in and catalogues his love for her and forms her own love for him.

24 hours old here and oh so curious.

Two days old and she's besotted.

Throughout the coming months I catalogue all of our experiences together. Mr S is a fabulous father, rocking Millie to sleep in the wee hours, helping me get the hang of this breastfeeding malarkey, doing all of our housework and working full time to provide for us, and of course, showing Millie the ropes of our everyday life.

Mr S showing Millie the ropes in our studio.

On my one full work day per week it's 'Daddy Daughter Day'. He sends me photos of their adventures together that melt my heart. He's got a really crappy camera on his phone, so bear with me.

Hanging out in the Botanical Gardens

Smiles for Daddy!

On the beach. She kept grinning after this shot.

Looking stylish.
He loves to carry her in our ErgoBaby backpack and gets a lovely tiny smile when he sees that she's gone to sleep all snuggled in on his chest.

Walking in the hills behind our house.

Shopping with Dad.

Having Millie has made me enjoy such simple pleasures again and when you stop to see the world through her eyes - it's such a joyful, fascinating place. And as a parent it's fun too - when else can you justifiably sing and dance up the supermarket aisles?

We've started taking Millie swimming and he gently swishes her through the water, his hands firmly around her chubby middle. She loves it. He loves it more too.

Swimming! Yeah!

Whenever I see the two of them playing together it reminds me of the kid's song 'We're Going On a Bear Hunt'. They explore everything together and I'm reminded precisely of why I wanted to have children with this man.

'We're going on a bear hunt / I'm not scared'

No matter how sleepless our nights or crying filled our days when he talks about Millie his voice is always filled with love and pride. He is unwavering in his love for being a father and husband. Millie and I are lucky ladies.

As this photo was taken she said 'Dad'.

A Family Affair

When Mr S and I moved to Tasmania it didn't really phase us that we weren't close to our families. Not that we don't adore them, but we needed to live our own lives where we chose. My parents were still in Goulburn, and Mr S' in Young. My brother, sister and I haven't lived in the same house together since 1995ish, and they have made their lives in Canada, London, Mt Hotham, Airlie Beach, Margaret River, Sydney... pretty much everywhere.

But now there's a Millie involved? I miss them all. A lot. My phone bill is testament to this and Skype gets a heavy workout. I wish they were close. I want to drop in and say hi, have birthdays and Christmases and public holidays together. But short of Mr S and I uprooting our lives to live somewhere we don't love as much as Tasmania it's not going to happen.

My Dad was one of five brothers, all of whom I spent time with growing up. Now that my Dad has passed on, I love speaking to my Uncles because they remind me of Dad.

My Dad's youngest brother Matt and his partner Cheryl were in Tasmania this week and popped in to see us and Millie. They were only here for a few hours and I wished they could have stayed a lot longer.

Here's a few snaps that make me long for my family more and more...

With her Great-Uncle Matt.

Too cool for Pre-School.

Great-Uncle Matt, Millie & Great-Aunty Cheryl.

The look on Matt's face? Divine.

On the subject of home...

What I see from the driveway... 

In the middle of a discussion about moving (not us!) the other day, Mr S said to me the 'Could you imagine never seeing Cradle Mountain again?' 
Initially I said 'Well, yes...'
'Like, never being able to go there and see Cradle Mountain again?' and I realised that the very thought made me sad.

I always thought I wasn't that fussed about where I lived, so long as Mr S & I were together (Millie now too). He probed this thought further with questions like 'Would you want to live in <dodgy suburb>?' and 'You say you need to smell eucalyptus trees - you could live in America?' No.

Which brought me to my navel gazing bus ride home musing... what do I need to have that sense of home? 

Really, I'm not sure. When I say 'home' to myself I'm immediately taken to the north west coast of Tasmania, where the seas are rough, mountains green, hills rolling and dirt deep red. That feels like home to me. The briskest of sea breezes. A room with a view of the water.

I always thought home was where my family was, as in Mr S, Millie & our various furchildren. It's a lovely ideal - not needing anything but each other. And if everything turned sour in our lives and we needed to live in one room, we could. But that isn't home. You know, home; the yearning you feel in your solar plexus when you think of going there, or leaving there. 

I understand that home can come in many forms, and you can have more than one. For instance,  Mr S grew up on a rural block that backed onto a national park, and now as an adult, he gets a certain kind of tetchy over the course of a few weeks and I know he needs to go bush and hug a tree reconnect with the rainforest. But I also know he likes to return to his other home. To me, his family.

I get a pull towards my home town every few years. I need to fly back, walk around the town, go for a drive to the sheep station we lived on and smell the landscape that is so unmistakably rural NSW. Crunchy leaves underfoot, a disgusting heat haze, the smell of eucalyptus leaves and an outlook across pastures. But it's not home anymore. I don't want to live there right now. So after three days I like to get on a plane and fly to Tasmania, where I get off the plane and it smells like home. It smells like rainforest even though it's an airport. It smells cool, damp and green and feels oh so good to breathe in.

Mr S & I have been in Tasmania since 2005, and when we moved here it was such a great opportunity for a fresh start. No friends, no family, barely any belongings. We laid on the lounge room floor of our three story townhouse in south Hobart drinking cheap Pinot Noir and looking at the chandeliers hanging from the roof. Because we didn't have a TV or any furniture. We were beginning again. 

Then I got a letter from my mum with two clippings about my relatives. Turns out I'm a Hellyer - Hellyer College, Hellyer gorge etc. Henry Hellyer was my (number of greats unknown) grandfather's brother, I think. And my other relative got a ticket of leave to Hobart & built his house in Adelaide Street. The reason that sounded familiar to us is that it was around the corner from our joint. So, err, perhaps a few ties? Is this why I feel settled in Tasmania -  it's in my blood?

Mr S & I were lucky enough to be able to purchase our first home when the interest rate was so low, it was cheaper than paying inner city rent. We have a large house overlooking a river. It's a large house that is entirely liveable but has accents of Mission Brown on the outside, rotting window frames and  would love a champagne renovation.  Alas, we can't justify that kind of renovation right now, so we give it some cask wine love every now and then. Its a nice house, but still not where I want to spend the rest of my life. When I lamented this to Mr S, he chuckled and said 'Yeah. Terrible. How could you not nail your dream home first go?' Good point, Mr S. Thanks for the perspective.

So since then I've been daydreaming about what an ideal material home would be. I say material, because at the end of the day I recognise that this is a privileged problem to have, and really, perhaps I'm thinking far too much about this.

I spend hours perusing the real estate websites and daydreaming. The things I'd like in an Ideal Material House...
  1. A parents retreat
  2. Dishwasher (or a child old enough to fulfil this duty)
  3. A bathroom with a double vanity
  4. Skylights
  5. A kitchen with tall benches, ample cupboard space, massive benches, double deep sinks, gas cooker and electric oven
  6. Land that overlooks the Huon Valley 
  7. A sunroom and deck that overlook the land that overlooks the Valley 
  8. Solar hot water
  9. Cozy carpets 
  10. Ducted wood fire heating

But I don't think a physical house is what I'm looking for. I'm looking for my version of 'home'. The yearning, solar plexus pulling home. I've narrowed it down to Tasmania... but where to from there?

Is home a physical place or an emotional state? What do you think? 

Us Kendalls. Always an opinion on something.

Us Kendalls. Always an opinion on something.
Schrieben. Construct. Compose. Create.

My highly talented brother Benjamin D Kendall has been sharing his journalism-style essays over here for a while now. Whilst his writing is sometimes sporadic, it’s always good great, and I look forward to his new posts whenever they pop up on my screen.

I can write you a song that precisely dances around my feelings and leaves you often with an understanding of what I meant without actually saying it. But I can rarely tell you exactly how I feel without thinking that I’ve somehow muddled it all up somehow.

My big brother however - he’s just got a way with the written word. I love reading his posts and discovering another facet of his personality that fits so flawlessly with the public side that we see but remains so hidden, only to be revealed in his writing.