Camp cramps

There are all sort of parents in this world, and you see them at the school camp drop off.

Those who are whooping their way out of that bag drop, punching the air and screaming “Look out silence, HERE I COME!”  They wave enthusiastically at a tinted window their child could be behind (but who would know), knowing everyone is going to love this little break.  As they smile kindly at a tearful mother and feel they should place a gentle arm around her shoulder, they are trying really hard to think as quietly as they can – “YES! SLEEP IN’S, WINE FOR DINNER, NO WEE ON THE TOILET SEAT, BED AT 6PM, AND NO SOCCER PRACTICE WOOHOO!!!”

There are those who are late for the bus – and they are the ones who are never, ever late, apart from this day. Somehow in the lead up, whilst packing for an 11 year old on a commando course (because we do that all the time),

commando outfit
“I think this outfit is perfect for a commando course”

trying to think of how to combat travel sickness in absentia, trying to teach them about the importance of a shower – with soap, or teeth brushing – at all, packing 5 lots of thermals in case it’s cold in Coffs Harbour, and then implementing the crash course in karate should anyone be mean to them, school camp for these parents is the final tug of the lace bringing everything unravelling. Nerves – 1, Mum – none.  They are running to roll call, they are sitting three abreast on the bag to try squaaaaash it in on top of 100 other suitcases, sleeping bags, pillows, back packs and giant teddy’s. They reach up a hand with a kiss on it to a disappearing cheek up the bus steps, and they say “I love you darling!” to the closing doors.  

Then there is me. We have been packed for weeks, so I didn’t have any callouts for new trakkies at 10pm last night – or that’s what I’m telling you, anyway.  We have had conversations, trying to be casual and not frightening, about safety – of friendships, of personal stuff, of health, and of looking after the precious person that is you, my child. We have talked about whether, because “Undies” is not on the packing list it means they are not needed.  We have worn in the “old shoes” we had to buy. We have discussed what you can eat if the bus stops at McDonalds (as all our parental fear-mongering about the place comes back to bite us on the bum).  And we have planted spy’s in Coffs Harbour with fresh fruit, vitamin C tablets, his bedtime teddy’s, a nice fluffy doonah and perhaps, just maybe, a getaway car.

I don’t take lightly to my child being away from me. For a week (yes, four days is a week). On the other side of the country. You are very well taking my heart right out of my chest and driving it away on Forest Coachlines.  

You are very well taking my heart right out of my chest and driving it away on Forest Coachlines.

I do know he’s going to have an amazing time. I do know this year 6 camp is the “coming of age” camp.  But am I ready for him to come of age? No. He is just fine as a not-teenager. So, bring him back. I can just see his beautiful face as he goes into the indigenous preschool with all the gorgeous little kids – I know already this bit will touch his gentle, gentle heart and change him for the absolute better. But he is the BEST already, so, bring him back.  I can hear him, as he rock climbs, bushwalks and surfs, laughing confidently with friends – a place he has worked hard to get to. He is confident now, so, bring him back.

Because until you bring him back, I am half a person here.

But I know if you do, he will be the half a person. I have to let him grow up. Little by little, I have to let him go.

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Fairy Sparkle

 

There is a woman walking around in this world, and specifically on our great barbequed continent, who has earned herself an Order of Australia Medal for making people feel happy.  In this day and age of the overwhelming sadness which is a suicide epidemic, of people with their faces stuck to the unreal, animated screen of a phone every second of the day and addicted to the weird act of the selfie, doesn’t that seem a very opposite thing to do?

I thought she be worthy of a story!

The woman’s name is Fairy Sparkle. She lives in a gypsy caravan, and dresses in silvery fairy wings, a gorgeous shimmering crown, a fluffy puffy fairy gown and wanders the café cultures of Sydney with loud bells tinkling. She cares not what people think of her living her life, no lapses, as a real fairy.  Here she is. FairySparkle

Now, everyone is worthy of a dose of happiness, and of someone helping them to get it if they’re having trouble with the job. I reckon that’s the way God designed us – to be happy and to make others feel the same. But we tend to get too busy and can’t fit it in. Or too wrapped up in trying our hardest to grasp happiness for ourselves – no brain space to work it out for others.

But there is a little pocket of the world whom I believe are the most deserving – kids. Born naturally happy – unless you’re a terrible two when you’re sometimes happy sometimes completely psycho – kids should not feel that deep sadness some adults feel because experience has bitten off a bit of their happiness. But some children do unfortunately. You can find them in Children’s Hospitals.

These dark places hold children who are dying. Children who are suffering, severely, and know they might have a lifetime of it. Not happy Jan.

But, Ms Sparkle has changed that. In 1991 she worked in IT – she was a suit! She decided to leave that job (phew), change her name by deed poll to Fairy Sparkle and became a full-time volunteer at the Children’s Hospital in Randwick. Of this, she says: “I followed my passion, I just love it. This is my life’s work.” She sold everything and is homeless, travelling in her silver VW beetle, and sleeping in her little silver “fairy pod” caravan which sparkles all over inside like the night-sky.  She says: “I don’t see it as giving anything up really, because what I’ve gained is far more real to me, than what I gave up.”

“First you have to choose to be happy, and then, just turn up!” Fairy Sparkle OAM.

As well as spreading her love and happiness to sick children and their families, Fairy Sparkle has taken it up as her mission to create fairy gardens at hospitals. If you’ve ever stayed for more than a few days in a hospital you will know how important this is – somewhere you can get fresh air, somewhere you can see the sky, somewhere you can explore, sit, chat, eat, and somewhere you can forget about the terrible world you’ve been ensconced in on the dark inside for such a long time. The first garden was built in 1999 at Randwick, now there are twelve gardens dotted around NSW, from Orange to the North Shore of Sydney, touched by Ms Sparkle’s very own hands, and many more across the country who have taken up her idea for their own space.

I met her when I was in hospital with my little baby Molly for a couple of months, and we found the magic of peace during turmoil in her garden. Fairy Sparkle’s bells tinkling down the corridor would make the weakest, sickest kids sit up, ramrod straight, in bed in anticipation. Her smiling sparkling laughter and down to earth voice captivated their little faces for the entire time she was present. She knew all the right things to say – a very difficult job when it’s a sick and dying child, for what do you say about that?

Parents behaved the same. In fact, they are more happy to see Fairy Sparkle than their kids. Because, if someone makes your child happy, it makes you happy. But when you have a sick child, and someone makes them forget their situation for a short while, well, you want to kiss her bejangled, silvery glittery-shoed feet.

In 2014 she received her OAM. I wish I could have been the responsible person giving it to her – to thank her for the miniscule but permanently impressed joy it gave us all those years ago, would have made me feel so happy… oh! there she goes again. For the future, thank goodness, she says: “There’s a big wand I’ve got to wave and I’m enrolling all sorts of people to help me do it!” The magic will continue to grow.

I have a character based on Fairy Sparkle in my Miss Molly book. The world needs to know about this amazing Fairy.  She is utterly inspiring. And perhaps we could even take up a small part of her cause ourselves. Perhaps, over the weekend, we might walk out into the world and make a big effort to make someone we don’t know, happy.  Spread a little sparkle, you know.

 “I think real magic, the real magic, is when you can’t explain what is happening but the effect is undeniable.” Fairy Sparkle OAM.

Read more and donate here.

Hip hip hooray #healthyhipsweek

When I was young, I would curse my hips because they wouldn’t make my legs and feet turn out like my amazingly beautiful ballet teacher. If they would only do their job then I would look just like her – despite the fact I had brown short hair, was a plumpa-lumpa and nothing like her 6 foot tall willowy goldilocks.

When I first entered high school, my hips were the place I used to roll my uniform skirt up and over, so that instead of the hem reaching that daggy spot mid-calf, it flew somewhere above-knee. Then, as beachgoing became the mid-teen activity of choice, I became increasingly interested finding and exposing my hip bones. Ultimately, I decided that there were none in there and continued on eating.

As I grew into 20-something, my hips became important in the right way they should be regarded – my physical health. The discovery of a back problem which would be my companion forever, meant more attention needed to be paid to my hips – keeping them straight, strong and stretched, meant I was giving my back the best opportunity to remain healthy for as long as possible.  

I became a married woman. And started yoga. The two were not related. Or maybe they were: My husband’s work took us to living in some weird and wonderful places, and we experienced some really challenging times.  In each place I did yoga for excercise. Time and again I would hear “our hips are the place we hold our fear, our emotional junk drawer, where we put emotions we don’t know how to handle”.hip replacement

Next: Babies. Pregnancy, hips widening, birth, lots of sitting and breastfeeding, and muscles relaxed to the point of being floppy – man, I was a good yogi. A happy hippy time.

Then my mum had an accident and shattered her hip. She had to suffer through a night of the most horrific pain I’ve ever witnessed, before being given some new jewellery – a metal hip ball and joint. A long recovery, and 10 years later the thought of using her hip normally still generates fear.

And another life hip event: A baby with a hip infection. Nasty old pneumococcal disease settled in our six month-old baby’s hip joint, eating it away. She is classified disabled, although right now you would never know to look at her skipping, cartwheeling and being the most beautiful ballerina she can be, much to my delight. She is a true miracle.  The time will come when her hip will get cranky and we will deal with that then. Operations will be soon. But for now, every day, I appreciate her special hip, as we call it, because it reminds me the body is a gift, to be looked after and appreciated for it’s capacity – with a ballet leap and a cartwheel while I can.

So cheers to Healthy Hips Week. Keep them healthy, keep them “junk free” and appreciate them for more than just a pair of hip bones in hiding.  

 

 

Missing Mother

Breaking News:  Reports of a possible missing person. 

A stay-at-home mother from Sydney’s Insular Peninsula appears to have disappeared. The missing mother is known as a woman who quietly and boringly got on with her life as a housewife and children’s Uber driver.  She was not known as social, being as she was mostly stuck in the kitchen and kitchen’s do not talk.  Nor was she known as adventurous – going to Coles was a big day out – and those close to her say that she likely may, or may not have, left of her own accord.

The missing mother was released from her cage – err, household, last Thursday.   She was sighted at Sydney Airport with a woman said to be an old friend from school.  The old friend was allegedly feeding the poor unsuspecting missing mother champagne at 8.30am.  It is not known if this friend is an accomplice, as she is also usually a mother at home, or if she is a suspect.

The missing mother and her friend were then seen at Auckland Airport, with yet another friend, who is a known policewoman, leaving the airport with a bottle of Tequila.  Kiwi’s, cops and tequila – it is not looking good.

It is believed the missing mother was planning to attend a wedding.  The word “Chenery” was overheard by witnesses on numerous occasions – detectives suspect this might be secret code for ‘Brewery’, which was the possible wedding venue, or it could be the bride’s name.  Despite the alleged wedding being full of cops and lawyers, detectives are not holding out much hope that law enforcement would prevail. They know their own kind too well.

Local fisherman, next to the wedding location, believe they spotted the missing mother, although personality descriptions do not match accurately.

mohawk-sideways-copy
Facial composite of the missing mother

  The missing mother’s family in Sydney said it would be very unlikely to be the same woman if she was seen dancing all night long and up on the stage pretending to be Salt n’ Peppa to the popular 80s song “Push It”.  The family also refute claims that the mother would put a fluorescent pink mohawk on sideways for something called a “photobooth”, accidentally or not. 

Nor would she ever be seen singing into love hearts on sticks, somewhat like a microphone, which the bride had painstakingly decorated her wedding venue with. Her husband said it was always, always, a wooden spoon or kitchen implement she sang into.  

There have been suspected sightings of the missing mother back in Sydney.  But the woman singing Whitney Houston while she baked, and dancing to Salt n’ Pepper while she vacuumed, did not resemble at all the drab woman who once stood in that apron in that spot, so those claims have been dismissed.  Other reports say this same all-singing-dancing  woman did not have a nightly glass of patience – err, wine – as the missing mother used too.  Justifications along the lines of a detox of gin,  tequila and other unremembered beverages, have also been dismissed.

The search continues.

 

Practising Kindness. Kind of.

My late rising New Year’s resolution is kindness. Be kind, show kindness, kind, kind, kind.

It’s everywhere – the new catch phrase to counteract narcissism generated in our age of the selfie.  Me me me it’s all about me, verses Be kind to one another. I should have been an anthropologist or psychologist instead of a mother.  (Same thing, I hear you say? Need one as a mother, I hear you say?)

This woman is fabulous – take the 10 minutes to watch Orlay Wahba speak on kindness, it will change your life.  http://blog.ted.com/the-magic-of-kindness-orly-wahba-at-ted2013/  She nails why kindness is essential and exactly how it makes the world a better place.

So I’m going to be kind. I’ve already started.

I was really kind yesterday when my toddler screamed his way out of swim school, all the way to the car, screamed when I asked him to get in the car, then screamed about me locking him out of the car (never leave a child unattended inside a car), then continued his little screaming argument all the way home.

He is still alive. See? Kindness.

Part of kindness is that it brings you to noticing others. For example, like last night.  My husband must have been practising kindness because when he was putting the rubbish bins out, he noticed the next-door neighbour nicking our greens bin from the verge.  “Hey, isn’t that ours?” came kindly out of Happy Husband’s mouth, to which Naughty Neighbour replied, “oh just taking it to put our palm fronds in”.  Happy Husband practiced further kindness by not saying anything more – perhaps because his mouth hung open in disbelief but hey, the bin was theirs.  

Currently, I am practising kindness with great fervour. Along with noticing, being kind also generates gratitude.  As I write this I am looking out my window at the pool company (here is a description of them), draining thousands of litres of water-slash-money down the plughole, and jackhammering big chunks out of the concrete walls of our brand new pool.  But hey – I am super grateful that we had the pool for the kids for Christmas, because we can’t afford to eat anymore let alone buy something as frivolous as Christmas presents.  And I am tremendously grateful to the actual people who work for the pool company, because now when I turn on the news Donald Trump really truly looks like a super nice guy to me. Really, he does incredibly honourable work, don’t you think?    

So, after a successful week of practising great kindness, I’m going to celebrate. Here is a selfie of me with my big glass of kindness to myself. But we all know it’s not all about me…

woman-with-big-glass-of-wine

   

 

   

A Wise Man and a Bright Star

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.”

wiseman-bright-star

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Ode to the Moon

My husband walks in, a deadly sombre look covering his face.“The astronomer, he’s….well, he’s pretty serious. Eccentric, maybe. The telescopes are worth over a million dollars each!”

He shakes his head. “The kids…. I don’t know….”

Now he looks sad, disappointed.

My heart folds for him.  He’d booked this trip for us as a big surprise. He’d been working away for the last two years, and striving to keep a closeness within our family had been all-consuming for that whole time.  Now he’s back we want to relax, be normal, not fret about making every moment count.   This trip is meant to be the fun stuff that normal families do – a holiday together.  But I can see that right now all his expectations are being slowly and silently squashed.

I couldn’t let that happen. “They’ll be fine,” I assure him, feeling less than certain, and bundle him out the door of our little wooden Blue Mountains cottage.

As he goes about unpacking a years’ worth of stuff for our three day trip, I call the troops into the bedroom. “Now you guys, Dr Hassan is a very serious man,” I tell my four rowdy children who are busting with excitement that we’re on holiday.

“Mum, it’s ha-sin.  As in, haha I sinned, as in sin, you know? D’ya geddit?” laughs my already smarter than me seven year old, jumping on the bed.  His sister joins him.

“Ok ok, I geddit, thank you for clarifying – are you two kangaroo’s? No, sit down.  So, Dr Ha-sin, he is a very serious man. He’s a very, very clever man.  In fact, he is so clever, that that doesn’t leave much room for being funny and joking around.  His brain is full of clever, but no room left for joking. So we have to be serious too.  Do you understand?”  They all look at me, smiles and giggling gone, nodding their heads, eyes sombre.

The eldest, standing tall and serious, hands clasped behind his back like a mini soldier, is nodding. Whilst invisibly grabbing a pillow which he thwacks over his brother’s head, and it’s on.

Maybe my husband’s right.

“Guys!  Dr Hassan is waiting to meet you.  Can you be serious?  Because if you can’t you miss out on the moon.  And icecream for desert.”

Suddenly they sit still. Like the perfect children.

I herd them outside, corralling them in between my arms.

His old jeans and flannel shirt are cinched in with a tan belt, half way between his nipples and belly button.  He is twitching a bit. Later he will tell us he is 53 years old.  His skin looks smoothed by an expensive face cream.

Our children dutifully shake his hand and stand quietly. After a suitable amount of time they melt away.  I breathe a sigh of relief.

“Oh no,” says Hassan, eyes wide, hand over his mouth. “Did…I don’t know…Did Julian tell you….what ages are the children? The telescopes, they’re very expensive….sensitive, very sensitive….  children, they just want to touch it…”

“OLIVER DONT THROW THE BALL NEAR THE CAR IT’S BRAND NEW!!!” yells my husband as he catches the rugby ball millimetres before it smashes full pelt into Hassan’s front windscreen.

I scoop them swiftly back inside mumbling apology.  

They sit silently inside on the lounge, looking at the ground, Molly looking worriedly at the freezer and icecream inside. 

I return back outside to my husband to make a new plan.

“…My mother, she just had a stroke,” Hassan is telling my husband. “Such a proud woman. Dementia…. I think it is the worst way to go. She used to be impeccably made up every day, now…”

“Oh I’m sorry,” I say. “You didn’t have to come…”

He waves it off. “I’m very unorganised because of it,” he stutters, looking nervously around at the ground and buildings. “Just driven three hours…”

“Would you like a cup of tea?” automatically comes out of my mouth.

“Do we have any?” asks my logical husband.  Of course we don’t.  We’ve just come out of the car for three hours ourselves and I’d brought all the food the kids would need and forgotten the tea and coffee for us.

“Yes, yes I would. I will get my coffee,” he says suddenly clearly and assuredly.

I race inside ahead of him, picking up bras, hiding the wine bottles and closing the doors of rooms where the beds have been dismantled already by children.  I stand in front of my meek children and glare at them, my finger to my lips as I hear Hassan enter.

He helps himself, seeming to know the kitchen better than we do. “I’m not allowed in here unless I’m invited which you did of course,” he says.

“What’s that?” says Molly, sticking her nose almost in his cafetier as 4 year-old curiosity gets the better of her.

“It’s Arab coffee, you can’t have it,” he says, whipping it away. “It’s not good for children.”

She goes back to her spot next to her brothers on the lounge.

“Children,” says Dr Hassan standing next to the bench.  “Tonight we are going to look into some big telescopes to see the moon, and we might even see Saturn…”

“Saturn, wow!” says Oliver, who has just been learning about it in year three at school.

“But, children, the telescopes cost more than a house – more than a million dollars,” he says, his eyes twitching about everywhere but on the children.

“Make a toilet roll holder with your hands,” says, demonstrating.   They all copy obediently. 

I watch as they take him very seriously, while he describes to them how to place one eye into the toilet roll without using your hands. He describes how the toilet roll will show them something that is many light years away. “If I stood on the giant star Eta Carina and clapped, you wouldn’t see it for another 50 years.”  It is the beginning of my own understanding, which will grow as the weekend passes, of many things that school could never make sink in.

I wonder if he has his own children, now I see this new side to him. No wedding ring.

“Are those glasses multifocal?” he says suddenly, squinting in close to Molly. “Oh no, uh oh, umm, yes, that’s not going to work…” he stutters again, looking at Molly’s feet.

“We’ll put different shoes on her,” says Phil, mouthing at me “the flashing lights on her shoes”.

“Umm, we don’t have any others,” I say, feeling like the dud mother. “She can go in her socks.”

“No, I’m not doing socks again, no, no socks,” says Dr Hassan, shaking his head as if I said she was going to take her cask wine up with her to look at his giant star.  “No.  Don’t worry, we’ll work it out.  It’s just the light, your eyes won’t work with that flashing blue light, we can only have red light. Yes, red light. Oh,” he says flinching violently as they flash again, as if he’s been struck by a sword. “Oh dear, silly me, I’m going to have a fit… I have epilepsy…”

Again, I quickly sheppard my daughter away.

After while I hear Phil saying goodbye and the door close. “He said we might be able to see Saturn!” he says excitedly as he comes back in. “We have to be ready just after sunset.” His eyes are glowing with expectation. “I can’t wait for the boys to see it with us.  It’s very small up there so we’ll probably need to go up a couple at a time.” 

We busy ourselves with getting the kids down for a nap so they will be fine to stay up late. I squeeze in a glass of wine, looking out at the bushscape, trying to relax into our holiday as the warm sun seeps into my bones.

Half an hour later I’m racing us through dinner, and just as I plop the fourth child into the bath water there is a knock at the door.

“Come now, Saturn is visible.”

Molly and I wait, for twenty minutes. My leg is doing that nervous bouncing thing as I wonder how my boys are behaving. Is seven year old Benjamin being cheeky? I wonder if they can see Saturn, if it is everything Phil hoped it would be for us. If Dr Hassan is surviving.

Then, the door bursts open.

“We saw Saturn, we saw the rings, we saw the MOON! You should see the telescopes mum! I saw the lunar lander from the Apollo 11! It’s so awesome!” the three of them yell excitedly over one another, my husband suddenly 7 and 9 years old like his sons in his enthusiasm.

“Go, quick, I don’t want you to miss a thing!” he says, bundling Molly and I out the door.

We pick our way up the little path between the cottage and the observatory under the red light.  We enter quiet as thieves through the observatory door and up the narrow, steep wooden staircase onto the rooftop.  In the shadows I can see four enormous telescopes.  They don’t even look like telescopes.

Dr Hassan covers Molly’s shoes with electrical tape to try and stop the flashing.  And despite his flinching every time she flashes, he is a different person up here. Confident. Explaining things clearly to us, with passion – such passion!

Molly goes first.

“Wow! It’s so pretty! Wow!” she says, over and over again. Oh my heart, my little girl is seeing real magic.

Dr Hassan mumbles something, looking at her. I glance at him questioningly, intent that my daughter do nothing wrong so she can continue her experience.

“It means bless her, in Omani,” he says, smiling at her as I am.

Then it’s my turn.  “No, you’re toilet rolling,” Dr Hassan says to me. “Can I help you?” I nod, and he ever-so gently adjusts my head into position.  My eye focuses down the black tube, through the long tunnel of light years, and onto a small oval of the most brilliant light I’ve ever seen. No man could make such light.  It has red and pink glinting around the outer edges, and I see the rings – I can see the rings of Saturn!  This is unbelievable.  I want to look at it forever, I try and come away a few times to give my little girl another go, but am drawn back to look at this magic again and again. “Wow!” I can hear repeatedly coming out of my mouth. There seems to be no other word for it.

“Ok, let’s see the moon now,” says Dr Hassan assuredly, finally managing to unglue me from the enchantment.

He flinches and grasps his back, as he moves the telescope eye piece into focus. “Oh, I have MS – a result of an accident when I was a Naval medical officer – big metal hatchet came down on my back,” he says, working away at the complex machinery in front of him. “Urgh, I need to up my pain relief.”  He fiddles around at his waist in the dark.

“Can you lift…” he asks.

“Of course, please, don’t hurt yourself,” I implore.  He seems so vulnerable.

I place Molly gently on the chair, trying not to make her shoes flash. She puts her eye perfectly up to the eye piece, and says again, “Wow! Mum, is this the moon?”

“Yes darling.  What does it look like?”

“Mum, it’s so pretty, it’s got big holes in it, but it’s still so pretty.  It doesn’t twinkle like the Satty.  Wow.”

I’m itching to look too.

“Wow, mum,” she says, completely awestruck.

Finally, she gives me a turn.

And I find I got it wrong.  There is a light more brilliant than Saturn, and that is our moon. It’s solidly luminous, the brightest, most radiant clear white you can imagine, more incandescent than the best quality diamond. I will never think of moonlight in the same way again. Now, it is super natural, a most amazing gift. I understand it is healing to this man who appears in so much pain; I know why his stutter and nervousness leaves when he is close with it like this.452196-moon-flickr

After what feels like hours of looking at stars and nebula and globular clusters and learning so much about this amazing universe we reside minutely in, my Molly gets tired as she’s been up many hours past her normal bedtime.  So I have to hand this experience of magic back over to my husband and older boys.

They are up there so long that I fall asleep myself waiting for them. It is a deep, peaceful sleep, unlike which I’ve had in a long time, my worries insignificant under the magnificence I’ve just experienced.

The next morning we all sit around our holiday croissant breakfast chattering over the top of each other excitedly about what we saw.  And it continues for the rest of the day as we traipse all over the Blue Mountains.

But by the end of the day we have four miserably tired children on our hands.

“Hello, can I come and work on the television so we can do the live vision?” Dr Hassan has landed on our doorstep before we’re even out of the car.

Oh doom, I think, as I survey my grissling, fighting children. I’ll keep them trapped in the car til he’s gone.

“I’ll wait til you get the children out,” he says.

With gritted teeth we all go inside.

I placate the kids with milk and any other treats and promises I could dream up while my husband offers Dr Hassan a drink. “How is your mum today?” I ask.

He looks at me, still. Not saying anything.  He shakes his head, tears welling in his eyes, then turns away.

I feel terrible I have asked and upset him.

But I will soon feel worse.

“What is he doing here anyway?” says Molly, looking at him grumpily, while Oliver lets off one of the loudest farts I’ve ever heard and Benjamin loses it because it was on his leg.

“She’s a wild one that one,” he says, looking at Molly.

He settles into the lounge to chat.  I think he’s lonely. Phil asks him about who owns the telescopes. And he starts to talk. He explains that Nasa, the Sultan of Oman, and Julian, a cosmetic dentist who owns the cottage, own them.  He tells us he travels all over the world, but he hates going back to Oman.  He doesn’t agree with the treatment of women, and he feels very uncomfortable with all the attention he gets in Oman. “I don’t like being called Prince,” he mouths to us adults. Hi dying mother is a queen. She married an Englishman from Devon, and they lived in Australia. I make my own connection about his ideas on the treatment of women.

An hour passes and he has stopped stuttering, even though its daylight and we are nowhere near his confidence giving work.  I start to relax myself, seeing that our kids seemed to have settled down after the earlier squawking.

He says he doesn’t like working with the Arabs who can afford telescopes. “It becomes all about P E N I S size, you know, mine is 16 inches, well mine is 27…” All the adults laugh together.

“I have to commend you on your children,” he says, suddenly serious again. “I never give as much of my time and experience usually. And your reaction,” he looks at my husband, “when you saw the Apollo 11… that has to be one of the highlights of my career,” he smiles at us, warmly, like an old friend. “But your children are just lovely.”  He looks at each of them fondly. “I will remember them.”

I smile with love at my husband.  Our first foray back into normal family life has been a resounding success. 

Suddenly our 7 year old jumps bolt upright on the lounge, pointing at Dr Hassan:  “PENIS!!  He’s a PRINCE and he said PENIS!!!” he screams at the top of his voice.