Traffic controller

Berries

The traffic controller is sprawled on the front seat of his ute, one leg hanging out the open door. He’s texting on his phone while the line of cars crawls past him towards the temporary traffic light, blinking an inactive orange. I glare balefully at him. He yawns and taps at his phone again.

The closed bridge and consequent detour onto the main road are a daily tedious frustration, kilometres of extra driving for half of the year while the slowest bridge construction process in the world takes place. The temporary traffic lights were supposed to operate during peak times; instead, they’re generally turned off. The traffic controller sits in his car on the side of the road, presumably constantly poised to leap up and activate them should the intersection become too busy.

~~~~~

The traffic controller is rubbing a coin on an instant scratchie ticket. We pause right next to him, waiting for a gap in the traffic. My son is perched in his car seat, delivering a lengthy discourse on how you would install a speaker in a car; its intended audience is seemingly someone who has never heard of the concept of speakers or cars. I have heard of both, and “mmm oh yes, I see” in response as I stare at the traffic controller. I want to shout “Is it a winner, mate?” out the window.

~~~~~

The traffic controller is rolling a cigarette. Rolling cigarettes has always seemed to me to be a slightly classier way of smoking, if one is going to smoke. I think it’s the vaguely artisanal homemade aspect. Preserve some homegrown produce, bake a loaf of bread, roll a cigarette. When we return from the kindergarten and drive past him again, the traffic controller is smoking. He has propped a piece of signage against the windscreen of his car to shade him from the afternoon sun. I wonder why he doesn’t stand and smoke beside his car to spare the interior from the smell. Presumably there are some limits to the things one can do while purportedly monitoring traffic.

~~~~~

The traffic controller is closely examining his fingernails. I glance at my own fingernails on the wheel and make a mental note to cut them, which I immediately forget. If I could remember the mental notes I make while driving I think I would be a much more organised person. I hear that the bridge is almost completed, will perhaps re-open the following week. I wonder how often I am going to forget and drive straight on automatically to the detour, the habit of many months directing me while I think about the early morning fog and meetings at work and whether I’ve packed enough food for the baby. Realisation would dawn on me when I arrive at the empty intersection. The traffic controller is gone, on to better and brighter things, and I’ve gone the wrong way.

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Things I found in my pantry

Common Crow

When I’m on maternity leave, I clean out my pantry. I do not, as a rule, clean out my pantry at any other time. You may think to yourself that this does not sound like a particularly good idea, and indeed, you would be correct.

Recently I had a baby and subsequently in accordance with my innate biological instincts, I spent a day cleaning out the pantry. I found a number of things.

1. Dead moths. In a past life, or possibly this one, I committed some terrible sin against the pantry moth species (Plodia interpunctella, as I just discovered), and as a result they have been hounding me ever since. Moving into my flour, lurking beneath tins and generally making pests of themselves. I bloody hate pantry moths. You may think to yourself, “perhaps if she cleaned her pantry more regularly than once a decade, she wouldn’t have such a problem with pantry moths”. I will thank you to keep such indubitably correct thoughts to yourself.

2. A box containing a set of rather nice mugs that I received as a gift several years ago. Surprise! This made me feel like a rather ungrateful person, but I have now washed them and have been enjoying morning coffee in them. They’re great mugs!

3. Hey, I own a fondue set! I should make fondue!
(This is obviously never going to happen and I will be surprised all over again by the fondue set the next time I clean out the pantry).

4. A rusting can of “Steak and Onion” something or other that I distinctly remember moving with, probably because I thought at the time, “why do I own a can of Steak and Onion Something Or Other?” Alarmingly, I have lived in this house for eight and a half years. The can looked both suspiciously old and quite disgusting, and into the bin it went.

5. A jar of Bovril that my husband bought for reasons known only to himself. Its expiry date was in 2010. Wikipedia describes Bovril revoltingly as a “thick, salty meat extract”. When told that I had thrown it away, my husband declared indignantly that Bovril doesn’t go off, it’s like Vegemite. I am pretty sure that thick salty meat extracts do indeed go off, but I wasn’t willing to open the lid to find out for sure.

6. A very elderly sweet potato grimly trying to grow and propagate on the bottom shelf. Give it up, little potato, that’s never going to work.

7. Four different brands of caramel syrup. Whyyyy.

8. Three bottles of blue food colouring, two of which are unopened. So I guess I thought I needed blue food colouring on at least two different occasions, bought a new bottle, discovered the already opened one, then added the new bottle to the depths of the pantry.

Thankfully the pantry is a lot tidier now, and has no resident moths. (For now). And as thrilling as it is to unearth foodstuffs that expired 6 years previously, in future I’m going to consider the radical step of no longer linking my cleaning schedule to my reproductive system.

Pink berries

I was watching Edward busily gathering up pink berries scattered over our friend’s garden, as he muttered about them being “tiny ‘matoes”, and asked our host if they were safe to eat. “Oh yeah, the lilly pilly berries. I think they’re actually deadly poisonous,” he told me laconically, watching his own children play with them. “Johnno told me that his dog ate some of them and got real sick.”

I told Edward firmly that the berries were not tomatoes, tiny or otherwise, and that he mustn’t eat them, before sidling off to google “lilly pilly berries” on my phone. I was relieved to discover that they’re edible and can in fact be made into jam. Presumably Johnno’s dog became sick from other sources. They certainly look edible, crisply pink with touches of white, like tiny little apples.

Edward loves the easy access to the outdoors at our friend’s off-the-grid property, and spent much of the Easter weekend running around covered in dirt; his idea of paradise. The final mud stains on his feet have only come off after a few consecutive days of long baths. We camped in the garden, watching the full moon each night from our beds (apart from the evening of the lunar eclipse, when the clouds disappointingly wouldn’t shift). Despite the presence of three young children, I was able to spend a reasonable amount of time each day sitting in the late afternoon sun drinking wine and reading; a very satisfying way to spend a long weekend.

Night sky

There is a Tawny Frogmouth that is often perched on one of the fence posts near our front gate when I arrive home in the evening. It freezes in my headlights, and then when I get a little closer or open the car door, it opens its wings and flies off silently into the dark. They are such well camouflaged birds, particularly when perched still on a branches or in this case, a natural wood fence post. My eye often glides past it, only noticing it when it takes off and swoops over my head.

My brother had an evening bonfire for his birthday recently, and Edward and I sat outside and looked at the stars. He is fond of pointing out the moon to me, and I like telling him about the few constellations I can recognise. It reminds me of my own childhood, lying on a blanket down in our orchard with my father, binoculars pressed to my eyes and listening to him talking about the planets and stars. The night skies of my childhood were brilliantly clear, rural properties in Daintree not being particularly subject to light pollution, and my father made us go through a ritual of turning off all the lights before leaving the house so that no trace would disturb our star gazing.

The night sky at our house is not quite so spectacular, as we are surrounded by many more suburban and distant city lights, but on clear nights it is still brilliant. Standing at the foot of our stairs and looking upwards, there is a rough circle of clear sky, surrounded by the tops of eucalypts, and the Milky Way arches over our house. Before Edward gets too much older, I need to learn some new constellations so I can dazzle him with my ineffable depths of parental knowledge – at the moment I’m limited to Orion, the Southern Cross and advising him that that particularly bright star is probably Venus.

The last fire

We used to have a possum living in the chimney of our wood heater. We coexisted happily for a few years, the possum scraping and banging each evening as it levered its fat bottom out of the narrow confines of the chimney to explore the night, and grumpily vacating the chimney for the month or so during winter when we actually lit fires.

My mother flew down right before my due date, almost two years ago now, so that she could spend some time with us when Edward was born. The afternoon was chilly and we decided to light a fire. “The possum will head out when I light it,” I said breezily, although I felt a bit guilty booting the nocturnal possum out of its comfortable hidey hole into the daylight. When I set the fire and lit it, smoke billowed back into the room. It tends to do that when the chimney is blocked with possum. I coughed, banged on the side of the chimney to alert the possum, and blew on the fire. The flames caught and started licking at the kindling. The room became smokier. The possum started coughing.

Mum and I dithered. “It’ll move upwards in a minute,” I said, and we stood there waiting. The possum started coughing more loudly, and started scrabbling against the metal of the chimney. I couldn’t tell what direction it was heading in. As the smoke billowing into the house was showing no signs of abating, I decided to cancel the idea of a cosey afternoon fire. This is a bit easier said than done, particularly because I was worried about the possum and didn’t want to create even more smoke by pouring water on the fire. We were now dashing about in a flustered manner, and Mum shovelled the fire into the little bucket I used to transfer the cold ashes out of the heater. We were standing there listening to the possum’s coughs, trying to figure out if it was moving out of the chimney, when I glanced down and realised that the bucket was on fire. “Mum! Mum! The bucket is melting!” Mum grabbed the flaming melting bucket and galloped out of the house with it. I waddled out after her. We were both in fits of slightly hysterical laughter.

When we came back into the house, the possum had stopped coughing. “I hope it’s alright,” we said guiltily to each other. “Yes, I’m sure it’s alright.” My labour began later that evening, apparently induced by fits of laughter. The possum wasn’t alright, as we later discovered, and the husband spent a while during one of our very sleep-deprived early days with Edward removing its dead body from the chimney while Mum and I solemnly contemplated our new status as possum murderers. We had to break rather a lot of the insulating tiles in the heater to remove the possum’s body and with our usual speedy attention to matters of house maintenance we haven’t yet replaced them. The recent cooler weather brought the heater to mind, and I remembered the poor dead possum and shrieking with laughter with Mum in the garden as we smothered the flaming bucket. We should really get around to replacing those tiles. It would be nice to have a fire again.

Movement

My ankle twinged doing one-legged squats in a kettlebell class yesterday, and today during a fake yoga class (aka Body Balance) it expressed its unhappiness at me standing on one leg. Now it’s frustratingly achey, and I am dolefully contemplating my plans to go for several runs over the long weekend. They were rather optimistic plans, admittedly – my past history of following through with plans to go running hasn’t been great.

I have been making yet another one of my very slow attempts at being able to run 5ks, by sporadically following the Couch to 5k program (a mixture of walking and jogging that incrementally increases the amount of jogging each week until magically you are running for 5ks, filled with joy, moving gazelle-like along the road. Well. Running for 5ks, at any rate. You may also be gritting your teeth with the tedium of it all and wondering when it becomes fun.) Running has been my weekend activity, and I’ve been going to various gym classes during the week of different levels of ludicrousness. “Abs, Butt & Thighs”, for instance. (Which is less interesting than it sounds and is basically half an hour of squats and lunges until you want to fall over).

I don’t think I will ever be one of those people who get a big buzz from running. But that moment when everything falls into a rhythm, my breath steady, when I can stop thinking about what I’m doing and just watch the road ahead of me – I want to keep being able to do that. Hear that, foot? Pull yourself together.

Night rituals

Once a night, I am often awake giving Edward a bottle of milk and then lying next to him on a swag on the floor of his bedroom waiting for him to go back to sleep. Once he seems to be satisfactorily unconscious, I push myself up in order to sneak out of the room, at which point my shoulder invariably cracks loudly, and I wince, anticipating toddler stirrings. I expect it does this quite often, an inconsequential sound that escapes my notice, but it seems very noisy in the early hours of the morning.

If I happen to mention broken sleep, people occasionally enquire with varying degrees of solicitude why my child still wakes up at night when he is a great hulking 21-month-old. I suppose the reason I haven’t yet resorted to sleep training is that part of me quite likes cuddling with him until he goes back to sleep, when he presses his face against mine so I can breathe against his warm baby skin and enjoy his nice Edward smell. I lie there in the dark and think (when I am awake enough to think rather than my brain producing a “hrrrrrrr” sort of noise, which is my general mental state upon waking) how fleeting this time will be, how long it seems since the other stages of babyhood. Particularly that delightful period when I spent much of the night sleeping in Edward’s bedroom. At the time, I found that very wearying – now, I find it hard to remember exactly when that was, or how long it lasted. Waking briefly once a night is such a vast improvement from the various varieties of sleep disruption that he has exhibited throughout his life that I find it hard to consider it a particular hardship. Although having said that, unless he figures out how to sleep through in the next few months, I think I may resort to some sort of sleep training (a term I rather dislike, it makes me think of training sheep dogs, for some reason. Sleep -> sheep -> sheep dog training, I guess. I am not responsible for the random connections of my brain). It would be nice to be finished with regular night waking after two years.

Mornings

I slept in this morning, having scheduled my alarm for 5.40pm rather than am. Edward cried out and woke me up just after 6, and I walked down to his room, telling him to lie down and I would make him a bottle of milk. He understands this concept now and plugs his thumb into his mouth, waiting fairly patiently for me to return (as long as I don’t dawdle over the task too long for his liking). I gave him his milk and left him lying in his room while I hurriedly got dressed. He made whinging sounds of protest. I normally lie next to him while he has his morning milk, chatting to him about who he’s going to spend the day with and what we can see out the window. He in turn informs me of such things as the fan being on, and the fact that he can hear a cat outside. “Omn! Aaaa!”, being on and cat, respectively, those single sounds becoming more complex communication when accompanied by an energetically pointing or waving hand.

Edward trotted closely behind me on my way out to the kitchen, and then said “Mup! Mup!” in urgent tones, clinging to my pants. He wants to perch on my hip, watching me cut his sandwich and spoon some yoghurt into a container. Parenthood has made me very adept at preparing food with one hand. He likes to suck his thumb and grip painfully onto the back of my hair with his other hand. “Don’t pull my hair,” I say many times a day, and tap his hand. He lets go, but will absentmindedly grab onto it minutes later, particularly when he is still sleepy in the mornings and I’m rushing to get us out of the house. Sometimes I think his ideal comforting toy would be a revolting stuffed animal covered with hanks of my hair.

We drove to my brother’s house, listening to The Good Lovelies sing Backyard. Edward enjoys most of the music I play in the car, applauding with a grinning smile at the end of each track and saying “More? More?” until the next one starts. I drop him off, switch the music to a podcast, and start my trip into work. People, mostly those whom I don’t known well, often respond to my description of my four day working week with a frown. “Oooh, four days, that’s a lot,” they say. I enjoy the time away from parental responsibilities. It’s lovely being able to sink into my thoughts, and read books on the bus, without having to go and investigate suspiciously silent moments or deal with toddler meltdowns. But coming home at the end of the day never fails to be wonderful, even if I’m greeted with tears or ignored in favour of a particularly absorbing activity. At some point Edward’s voice squeaks “Mup! Mup!” at me and when I pick him up he leans his head against me, and twines his fingers securely through my hair. This habit is somehow less annoying at the end of the day; a sweet trait of babyhood rather than an irritation, something that I will probably miss in years to come.

Lack of space

I feel like I only have room in my head for so many thoughts at the moment, and no room at all for writing those thoughts down. My plans for writing diary entries about Teddy so I would remember these early months don’t get fulfilled very often, as if I have time and mental space to sit down and write, I usually spend it doing something else.

I got Smitten Kitchen’s cookbook in the mail this week, and have been dreaming of cooking everything in it – so far I’ve made bacon & maple syrup biscuits, aka scones, which were quite delicious (surprisingly as I didn’t think I’d be a fan of the bacon & maple syrup combination. Bacon, however, conquers all). Later this week, lemon bars. And probably a trip to visit my brother for the purpose of getting rid of some excess baked goods.

I’ve been making no-knead bread for a couple of weeks and have been fiddling with the cooking method a bit to try and get the perfect crust in our oven. I think I need a set of kitchen scales to weigh ingredients, as I get too much variation with my carelessly merry method of filling up cups with flour. Next I’m going to try multigrain loaves and no-knead pizza dough.

I haven’t read anything at all for a few weeks which feels rather odd. And now that I’ve had such a long gap (for me) I don’t know what to start with. I did recently get a book out of the library on getting babies to sleep through MAGIC – no, it was actually getting them to sleep through incredibly rigid routines, so I put it down after reading a few pages. I have now somehow lost it, so hopefully it will turn up soon so I can return it to the library to baffle and irritate some other sleepless parent. I have started reading a webcomic, Questionable Content, from the beginning, which is oh, about 8 years worth of 5-a-week comic strips. I’m a bit addicted. It’s going to take me a while.

Morning

Beetle

With a little trepidation, I started drinking coffee again for the first time in almost a year (I chose not to drink it at all during pregnancy, as I’m better at cold turkey than moderation). The additional caffeine doesn’t seem to have affected Edward’s sleeping in any way, so I take great pleasure in a mug of coffee in the mornings, generally when Edward is having his first nap.

This morning, he had fallen asleep in the carrier (which is still the only way he takes naps during the day), his head resting rather hotly against my chest, and I sat drinking my coffee, listening to some music and watching a Little Pied Cormorant preening in a tree outside after flying up from the dam. The weather has cooled off again after the sweltering 35 degree day we had yesterday, and I felt terribly happy looking out at the new day, with the birds calling outside and my son snorting in his sleep as he snuggled against me.