And so we’re heading full swing into the second half of the year (did someone say August?) with a cartwheeling, glitter-throwing shake-down. Don’t get me wrong, I love the beginning of year with its freshness and its plans and its lets-outdo-the-fabulousnesses-of-all-years-past. But the second half? Well, the second half has Halloween and pumpkin carving and the making of cute itty bitty trick-or-treat costumes. It has road trips and camping adventures because, well, winter’s over, and we’re tired and itching for the end of the year and its great big breaks to swallow us up and remind us of what’s important in life – the people we love and the moments we share. And then there’s Christmas. Oh, Christmas. The lights and the tradition and the magic and wonder that beams from little eyes as we inspect reindeer evidence and cookie crumbs from Santa. It’s the time of year we gather close and gather in, and look back upon where we’ve been and how far we’ve come.
You want to know a fancy name for mother? Matriarch. Throw the word Holiday before that and you’ve got yourself quite a title. You’re practically Jesus himself. To know that I am the guardian of my child’s memory making years is such a privilege and the older my girl gets and the bigger my family expands, the greater and more burning my desire to create tradition and meaning for the people within it. I get such a thrill out of not only celebrating the small things, but giving big things in life the spotlight they deserve. Holiday Matriarch, you bet. Sure, it’s extra effort to stay up late untangling a million fairy lights and changing those tiny freaking bulbs that have somehow blown in the twelve months they’ve been packed away. Or baking Christmas cookies with little hands that spill and break and tip and mess. But you know what? This is it. We get one shot. And I don’t know a hell of a lot but I do know that life is meant to be celebrated. The extra effort we go to to throw more sparkle into our traditions and holidays – and everyday days for that matter – the more rewards we will reap.
Yes, I’m sentimental. I might describe my daughter’s birth as if heaven done swallowed me up toward the glory of God or a morning down on the beach as a heart-stopping experience. I’ll own my sugar, and I’ll eat it smiling. But let me tell you, it’s because I want the most out of this life. And because I want it, I find it. Joel worries that I don’t live my happening-right-now days because I’m caught up thinking about Halloween three months before it happens. I disagree with him every time because although holiday traditions are high on my life-priority list, I’m not so naive to think that all of my happiness is pinned on these events. The thing is, I get a kick out of watching the look in my daughter’s eye when I expose her to as much magic as possible, and when I do, it reminds me of the power I hold — of the torch I carry for tradition and family and all the things that make our little family unique. I think about the memories she’ll have, the things she’ll pass on if she has a family of her own, the annual rituals that give her an unshakable feeling of ‘This is us. This is what we do. This is family.’ After the staying up til midnight and the dark looks Joel shoots me when I know he is not interested in the slightest to be pinning streamers to annoyingly high ceilings, I relish that moment when he gradually admits, this has been really fun….really special. I know then that he realizes the effort is worth it because he gets to witness the magic of its completion. That magic is always in the eyes of a little girl for whom it’s all for.
The moments we make for ourselves and our families – and we do make them – in the end, fill up a life. And every time I go the extra mile and create moments and traditions which are special, all I can think is, My kid. I’m filling her memory bank with all this. Look at all this. My family. Our life.
And it feels really, really good.
This is it. One shot. Why not throw some glitter on it, don some fairy lights around it, dress up in your cutest outfit for it? This is our one wild and precious life, after all.
Halloween is something Australians don’t generally get involved in but I spoke to my friend Jen on the weekend, who lives down the road from me, and told her this Halloween we are dressing the kids up and going trick or treating even if no one has candy for us. I told her we are ransacking everyone’s Halloween spirit and I’ll be damned if we don’t sit on the front stairs and carve out pumpkins. And I’m certainly decorating the house orange. I am going to shout to the world, Get excited, people. It’s time to be FESTIVE. And Christmas? Don’t even get me started on Christmas.
There are so many small, everyday things that deserve a spotlight, but times of the year which are pinned in tradition and good people and a whole lot of fanfare? Well, I might as well light some fire works and start swinging from the chandelier. Second half of the year? We’re a-coming….
We threw some glitter on the weekend and called a last-minute camping trip to the place we always go when we want to do something special. We packed in about thirty minutes – Joel on camping gear duty because, unlike anything else, he has the camping gear carefully organized into boxes and bags ready for easy and efficient loading. I chucked loose ends and bits of clothes in a bag in my usual let’s-just-wing-it style, which mostly turns out to be funny when we use odd bits to make something practical, like a beach shade out of sticks and shirts and a half-broken umbrella. This time though? Forgetting to pack any jumpers or pants – on a camping trip in the middle of winter – wasn’t really very funny. I mean, it is now, but on Sunday night when the sun went down and my bottom half was freaking freezing? Not so much.
We decided to ditch the clock and fly by the course of our own time – we like to live on the edge like that – so we floated from breakfast to beach to lunch to meeting friends to games to naps as we pleased. It was lovely, really. Very freeing. After the sun went down we decided it must be late because by God we were exhausted, so we bundled Ella into fifty million layers, put her to bed, huddled up under the covers (Joel – Nope. No way. Get those feet away from me, Me – Please, just for 10 seconds? Joel, I HAVE NO PANTS! and so on and so forth) and finally fell asleep.
And then we woke up.
It was dark, but then again, it was winter. It was still dark and still dark and not one sweet little bird was chirping and I suddenly remembered how much my hips ache when I sleep on blow-up mattresses. I peered through the darkness over at Joel and out of the black I heard his voice. “Are you awake?” he asked and I said, “Yeah, so awake. What time is it?” We broke our living-all-free rule and peered at Joel’s watch which flashed the time of 2:30 am. “Whaaaaat?” I whispered. “Oh my god, my HIPS. And I have NO PANTS ON. And now we’re awake for the day because we most probably went to bed at 5pm and holy sweet God I’m so freaking cold.” We cursed and laughed and shhh’d each other for fear of waking Ella and I jabbed my feet between Joel’s and we cursed and laughed some more. Then we both suddenly were busting for the toilet – which was out in the freezing dark night – and tried to motivate each other to pull the doona off with an “ok now“, “no! I can’t do it” which went on for about 20 minutes and more stiffled shhhhh’s until we finally pulled the covers off and ran out of the tent, collecting some frost bite on the way. We made it back, freezing as all hell and finally, finally after what felt like twenty hours, fell back asleep, my hips propped up by every spare pillow, and both our heads tucked under the covers of the blanket. Fifteen minutes into our sleep, we were woken by a little voice, “Mum-mum? Dad-di?” and that, we realized, was that. Sleep time over.
Joel pulled her into bed with us and we lay smooshed together while I closed my eyes and took in just how much I love this morning ritual of ours — Ella snuggling her face into mine, periodically stretching up to kiss me, Joel with his hands wrapped around the two of us. Birds began their morning songs and light began to peer into our tent and I braced myself for what was about to come. The curtain call. The part of camping I love more than anything else. That moment Joel lifts the front flaps of the tent and props them on rods. The moment the light of sunrise spills in upon us, climbing over the horizon of the beach and pouring over us all tucked up in bed like a warm shower. It’s so breathtaking I want to pick up my camera and take a hundred photos, just to be sure I capture what it feels like to be inside it, but instead I lie there and think, my God, now this is beautiful. Every ounce of effort it takes to come away camping for the night, it’s all worth it, every little drop, when I’m in front of that curtain call.
It was an awesome overnight adventure. I couldn’t help but keep thinking My kid. I’m filling her memory bank with all this. Look at all this. My family. Our life.
And it felt really, really good.
Heading back, we decided to make a spontaneous decision to take the long way home. To head south instead of north. To weave our car through fields of sugar cane and tiny little towns priding themselves on the banana festival they were holding that week. We cut through sides of mountains, passing road-side shacks selling avocados and horse poo. I turned around to see if Ella was awake because I wanted to grab her out of the car and show her the magic we were passing through. She was asleep, and I didn’t have the heart to wake her, so I turned back around and as I did, Joel reached his hand over and held mine. I turned to smile at him and when he smiled back, I got that rare sense of being exactly where I was. Right in the centre of this big and small moment, thinking, Look at all this. My family. Our life.
And it felt really, really good.