The day began with the usual unsatisfying vomit; a dribble of bile in the cup of my hand and some in the loo. Not even Christmas Day, with all its miracles, could offer up a reprieve.
I wandered out of our guest bedroom to see a quartet of teenage cousins slothing out of theirs. Four kids would be nice, I think.
If I was the Virgin Mary.
We all assembled around my aunt and uncle’s Christmas tree in their Southern Highlands loungeroom. The surrounding window’s shone in a beauty of a day – one worthy of new beginnings.
I took the chance, during a brief moment of hush: “We’re pregnant!”
There was teary, surprised giggling all round. Except from my uncle Laurie, who disappeared. What? All my life I’d heard, “You’d make beautiful babies with him”. And now that I am, he walks out?
This man, Laurie Curley, was a colourful character with many shades of intensity – from outbursts of extreme emotion, to the deepest of poetry, to being the life of the party, crackling with hilarious and inspiring stories. On this day, I didn’t know what sort of reaction this exit meant.
After a time, he walked back in. He sat next to me silently – possibly the only moment he’d ever been soft and quiet in his life. He opened a wee black velvet box, revealing a diamond ring, shaped like hands in prayer, and with tears, said: “I have had this for you, for that baby in there, for a long time. Congratulations my darling.”
That baby got out of there eight months later and was the precious miracle that Christmas day had indicated he would be. Oliver. Little boy of peace. He lived up to his name from the moment he lay, with a head shaped like a butternut squash, perfect in my arms.
But with such deep peace, it would transpire, came crippling shyness and uncertainty for this boy. Social situations were debilitating. I believed I had the only toddler in the world who was frightened to death of a playground.
We tried everything to make life seem a little less scary for Oliver. We thought we were doing well, until the preschool teachers suggested he go into a Child Anxiety Program. We never got there.
He started school, knowing no one. He looked up that day, took a shallow breath and was the bravest person I’ve ever known. I cried: Not because I was losing a child but because I’d gained a stronger one.
But again, the school teachers suggested our little boy go back to that Program. Rather than fixing anxiety, the recommendation generated more. We said no thanks.
A few years later, as Oliver struggled along, special uncle Laurie passed away swiftly from a violent and hideous fight with cancer. We went to see him toward the end. He still found a slice of strength to talk farts with our kids, making them giggle, as always, before collapsing into bed with his morphine. Our children were quiet as we drive home from that visit in the Southern Highlands.
There are some who have completed their work in life earlier than others, and Laurie’s was certainly a life well lived. Once more my husband and I defied popular opinion and took our children to farewell their influential uncle. Oliver lead his siblings in sprinkling the coffin with roses and I could hear Laurie as their flowers flourished around him: “See? Don’t you listen to them, my darlings – you do what you want – anything you want”. It was a saying I’d heard many times over the course of my life. A saying Laurie breathed in and out everyday, with flamboyance and verve.
Oliver’s confidence and friendships began to grow with age. But then one by one, the friends drifted away to other schools and towns. At the start of this year, his little brother whispered, “Mum, Oliver sat by himself at lunch time today”. And then every day, and throughout the year.
As Christmas 2016 approached, Oliver asked about Laurie, three years in Heaven by now. “Mum, can you tell me that story where uncle Loz didn’t go to the party, but walked around the corner and fixed up the poor kids’ house?” It was the story which marked the beginning of the charity, Qantas Cabin Crew Team, for which Laurie received an OAM.
A few days later Oliver came home saying he had made a speech at school about an inspiring leader in history. I was thinking the teachers meant the likes of Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Malala Yousafzai. Oliver had chosen Laurie.
It turned out that speech was to the Principal and a panel of the school’s senior teachers.
Later that week, that Principal chose our little boy of peace as a Primary School Leader.
“You really can do anything you want, my darling.”