Yesterday we took the kids to the Ekka – the great Royal Queensland Show. The build-up to it was as big as our other annual traditions like Christmas eve and October’s pumpkin carving party and the arrival of the Easter bunny. The day before, we lay out clean outfits and scour through showbag lists and plan everything we’ll do and in what order, and the kids get hysterical with excitement because they take their cues from us. “Do you think it’s too early to start making snacks for tomorrow?” Joel asks at 3pm. “Do you think the crackers will get soggy if I put vegemite on them now?”. And so we begin the great pre-Ekka snack conversation, which goes a lot like the great pre-Ekka showbag conversation and the great pre-Ekka ride conversation, because my husband has finally, after 5 years of living life with me, caught on. That it’s in the littlest of life’s things that we find the biggest of life’s things. And when it comes to happy things, details are everything.
Including hand sanitizer.
Because, with all due respect, the Ekka is also a dirty, gross place. “Hand-sanitizer!” I shout at the kids when they so much as look at a pig, and I trail behind them spraying eucalyptus mist and burning herbs and medicinal sticks to ward off bad, sickly vibes. Okay, I made that last bit up but my point is: I love the Ekka but the Ekka is gross. Kind of like motherhood, really. All grime, no glamour. But we go back again and again because there’s a buzz to it that’s worth it.
See exhibit A:
Ella was big enough this year to tell us that she could go on the rides herself, and even when she didn’t meet the height requirements to drive the dodgem cars, she suddenly took the wheel when the siren blew go and that was that, thank you very much. With my foot on the accelerator, she beamed and giggled and flew around corners and shouted HI DADDY every time we passed him, and I looked at her giddy face next to me and thought how much she’d changed in a year. When it was over, she raced to her dad so proud of her own big-ness and I watched as he waited there for her, camera poised, ready to film the whole thing. And one day, we’re going to look back on that video of our little three and half year old girl shrieking did you see me! did you see me! And her dad replying I saw, I saw! and we’ll get all sappy with the memory of how lucky we were, and are, to have her.
Family is such a changing dynamic. We have to accommodate each other all the time, over and over and over — our moods and needs and temperaments and comfort zones as different as our ages. It’s such a dance, and we get it wrong so often that we tend to look more like these dances instead of the Nobody Puts Baby In A Corner one.
But somehow, despite the glitches, we find a meeting place in the middle where we are grounded by this force of what family means – a place to belong, just the four of us – while riding our own waves, too.
We found our rhythm at the fair this year, and we’ll do it all again next year – the overpriced ice creams and the don’t-think-about-what’s-in-them dagwood dogs and the buttered corn cobs and the bossy goats who eat all our animal food in two seconds flat. We will deal with tantrums and tears and overtired kids and we will wind our way through the swarming sea of humanity that fills every inch of the showground and we will hand sanitize until the sun sets and the misty pink hues form a back drop to the silhouetted ferris wheel that make any photographer’s heart hum.
Today, the floor is scattered with showbag contents and we’ve stayed in our jammies till the sun was high in the sky and I remember just how fun this is for a child – the aftermath. The counting up your treasures. Like your eggs after the easter bunny. Like your presents after Santa. I cannot tell you how good it feels to write their childhood, for these few short years while they are solely ours.
This family of mine – this place to belong – it takes work. It requires back-breaking effort to keep it pulsing and breathing and moving in all the right ways.
But I choose life with them a million times over and then a million times again. Just the four of us. With the world at our feet.