When we were little, we often had trouble going to bed. Mum tried her best with a pretty solid bedtime routine. Dinner, quiet games only, and then bathtime. After a bath, Mum would brush our hair and read to us. Then it was time to go to bed.
This worked for a long time. But then we needed something more.
So Mum came up with Sleep Dust.
She had a little container on the mantle piece that was filled with what she called Sleep Dust. She would say that this was magic, and that Mr Sandman had given it to her to make us go to sleep and have wonderful dreams.
We would all line up before bed to get this Sleep Dust sprinkled over our eyes. Mum would oblige, and scatter the Sleep Dust over our eyes before putting us to bed. I remember falling asleep quickly so that I could see these wonderful, magic dreams.
As an adult, I think the container was an old pin tin and that it was empty. Mum would pretend to sprinkle something, but nothing was really there.
But also, as an adult, a little piece of me still wishes for that Sleep Dust and those magic dreams.
Each year around the start of December, Mum would spend the day with us tidying out our playroom and bedrooms. We would have 3 big containers (most of the time these were Mum’s big washing baskets) – and each one would be labelled with a piece of paper: Keep, Donate, Throw-Away.
She would sit next to the baskets, and we would pick up one item at a time and make The Decision.
Is it broken? = Throw-Away
When did I last play with it? = Donate
Would another child like this more than me? = Donate
Mum wouldn’t make The Decision for us. She would simply ask us these questions – guiding us to the right decision. The Donate basket was always the biggest basket in the end.
We did this every year. It was only after we had donated our toys, that Santa would come and bring us new ones (if we had been good, of course).
When there were 3 of us left at home, Mum made a roster and stuck it to the fridge. There were three different jobs:
– dry up and put away
– clear and stack
This roster lasted us many years. We hoped for Clear and Stack – the easiest job. We hated Dry Up and Put Away – it took the longest.
But as Mum always said, the best conversations happen while you’re doing another chore.
So each night, two of us were forced to spend time together in the kitchen. And although it is only now we admit it, we had our best conversations. I remember helping my little brother with his love life and my little sister with a bullying teacher. I remember them making me laugh when I was stressed out about exams.
Mum would pretend to be watching TV, but really she would be listening and smiling on the inside.
It was exactly what we all needed.
For a long while there, Mum would drive my little brother to and from his job (he had lost his licence after a string of bad decisions). Considering where they were living at the time, this was a considerable effort – a round-trip of well over an hour, and about 80km in distance.
But each afternoon, Mum would bring him a surprise. They called this a ‘surprise’ every day – yet the result never differed: A can of coke, and a Mars Bar.
To my Mum these drives together meant that she could hear about his day, and his work and about his plans. She could ask questions and because he was stuck in the car for 40km, he had no choice but to answer and to talk. Mum always said that the best conversations happen when there is common task being shared – like doing the dishes, or in this case, while driving together in a car.
I think this time they shared together brought them much closer – and while others thought Mum was rewarding his bad behaviour by offering him a solution to a problem he caused, I think Mum saw this as an opporuntity to help heal my brother. To care for him in a safe, arms-length way – from across the car as they drove twice a day together, for many, many months. If it hadn’t been for this action from my Mum – my brother would have lost his job and who knows what would have come next. Mum knew this was the best way to keep him on the right path but did it in a way that meant he wasn’t aware of the control she was still exerting over his life, nor was he aware how much he was talking to Mum as they drove.
I have no doubt that this drive, and the ‘surprise’ they shared each day, saved my brother.
Years later, and even now, when my brother asks us to bring him a surprise – we know what we need to buy.
‘Mum – what does enigma mean?’
‘Look it up. The dictionaries are in the bookcase. Remember to…’
‘I know, I know. Read the word above and the word below. Learn three words instead of one.’
Mum had a love of words. She would read the dictionary. And this passed to us kids. She had a double volume dictionary – A to K and L to Z. Huge books with thousands of words. I remember wanting to learn every word. And to say every word out loud every day. I often read the dictionary too.
We often would hold the dictionary and let it fall open to a page, and with our eyes closed, we would point to a word on the page. This word would describe ourselves or each other – depending on who we chose. More often that not, the result was apt.
Or we would use the dictionary to prove a word existed when playing Scrabble. More often than not, proof was not found.
But mainly, the dictionary was used to learn new words – always three instead of one.
“But I’m not hungry…”
“You’ve hardly eaten any of that dinner”.
“But I don’t like peas”.
“You did yesterday. Remember, there is no dessert unless you finish”.
“But I’m not hungry FOR dinner.”
“But you’re hungry for dessert?”
“I will be later, when we have dessert.”
“All right – how old are you?”
“Right – eat 7 more mouthfuls and then you can leave the table, and have dessert.”
And put on an apron.
The kids will be home soon. It is time to get an afternoon snack ready, and to get dinner started soon after that.
Set the table with glasses and plates, and something homemade – biscuits, slice or cake. Something cold to drink in summer, or hot milo in winter.
The kids will sit at the table, but Mum stands in the doorway – with the tea towel over her shoulder. Sometimes with a broom, sometimes with a wooden spoon in hand.
She will ask the kids questions – what did you learn today, do you have homework, have you emptied your lunchbox and put it on the sink, don’t forget to change and get started on your homework. Often the kids volunteer a story from their day – and she will smile as she listens.
Before long, the snack is finished. Time to clear the table and get dinner started. She will wipe her hands on her tea towel and begin.