Monday, August 9, 2010

Life's A Beach: Chapter 6

Did you know that my mom was here? Well, she was. By now, a number of you have certainly heard how relieved she was that it’s actually pretty nice around here, with friendly people and beautiful things to see – even if it’s a kajillion miles, hours and dollars away from home – and that things are going well for Mark and me. The only problem now is that I’m really sad that she’s gone.

Mom’s flight came into Sydney, so I flew down to meet her there. Great idea, except that I have the immune system of – well, I can’t think of a clever comparison, so suffice it to say that my immune system is crap. If I’m slightly tired, slightly cold or slightly undernourished, bam: sick. I was fighting something off the week before my flight – including chugging echinacea, zinc, vitamin C and all things orange-based – and seemed to be holding tight until a bad sleep, a super early morning flight and a freezing cold arrival in Sydney knocked me on my ass. (It’s the winter season here, which means going from a toasty 28 degrees in Cairns to only 10 and damp in Sydney; cold is a relative thing and it doesn’t matter whether or not I should have been cold, I just was.) Mom, of course, was coming off about 25 hours of travelling, so even with her considerably more robust constitution she was fighting against the odds.

The weather was beautifully sunny and crisp our first day and we had a great day of walking around the city, eating dim-sum, touring the ever-amazing Opera House and just having lots of good talking time, but by that evening we were both chilled and snuffly. The next morning Mom’s friend Bron picked us up to drive out into the country, where we stayed with a group of Bron’s friends and their kids for three days in a beautiful, rustic eco-lodge. Delightful people, great company, lovely kids, yummy food – too bad I was sick as a dog, sleeping it off under four blankets. I finally started to get better, just in time for Mom to succumb and crawl into bed herself... I think we really left a good impression on Bron’s friends: the two Canadians who can’t handle a bit of chill in the air. (Any of you who have heard me blow my nose can imagine how nice it must have been to have me around. So much for the peace and quiet of a mountain retreat...)

On the way home I found myself getting super car sick and wondered if I truly was the single worst person to travel with – making Mom sit in the back so that I could stare queasily straight ahead – but it turns out that there was a major oil leak and I must have been inhaling the fumes. When the car broke down and we got towed to the nearest town, we thought it was going to be thousands of dollars in parts, plus trying to organize emergency transportation back to Sydney for our flight out the next morning. Our auto angels must have been looking out for us, though, as Bron had done exactly the right thing by immediately pulling over when the oil light went on so that after patching the hole with some kind of magic putty, the friendly, drinky, blokey-bloke mechanic sent us on our way. Crisis averted.

Mom and I spent the night in the completely unglamorous Formule 1 by the airport, the easier to hop onto our flight to Townsville the next morning, where we met Mark’s family and had a really lovely week-end, including a beautiful day of walking and eating on Magnetic Island and the traditional Collins brunch at Sizzlers, where the whole lot of them – otherwise quite reasonable eaters – gorge themselves on all manner of tasty, fried foods. Mom hit it off smashingly with Mark’s parents (and the sister she met) and got to have a tour of my Townsville life, including the restaurant where I worked and the various neighbourhoods I lived in. All very exciting, at least if you’re a person’s mother.

Our first week back in Cairns I had a grade one contract up in Mareeba, so Mom had some days to just wander around the neighbourhood and then came into school with me to meet the kids and get a sense of what it’s like to teach here, God help her. (Probably much more satisfying than a day in a state school was going to the golf course with Mark to see the herd of kangaroos that lives there and just kind of hangs around while people tee off, leaning on their sides and watching golf. Very weird.) Mom also came for my last shift at my beloved day care, to meet the wonderful staff and delicious children that I’ve been talking about. Did I have a big cry? Yes, yes I did. Do I feel better about things now that a few weeks have passed? No, no I do not. Am I seriously considering a career in day care? I’m hoping that having my own kids at some point will be enough, but it might turn out that hanging out with three-year-olds is my calling. Who knew? (I knew.)

We did all the touristy stuff, including SkyRail, beaches, village markets and animal parks. I even suddenly got into necklaces – amazing! First cooking, now jewellery! (I haven’t managed to actually wear any yet because I still don’t really like them, but owning them is a first step, I think.) And of course we cooed over all the adorable baby things, imagining our new little grandbaby/niece/nephew wearing one-piece kangaroo pyjamas while cuddling a stuffed kookaburra. Everything’s better when there’s a new baby involved, isn’t it? (For those of you who didn’t know yet, Michael and Lindsay are having a baby! Obviously there are no words to describe the love bursting at the seams of my long-distance heart.)

Some things were the way I had described - like the ever-lovely Botanical Gardens, pictured here - and others were completely off the mark, usually because of the weather. The beautiful, lush, green drive up the coast to Port Douglas was pretty dry and yellow; the rushing cascades and waterfalls were mostly just trickles. The beach was crazy, too: usually, the reef blocks the waves and the water is like glass, slightly undulating in the breeze but otherwise completely calm. Here, it was so windy and choppy that the life guard actually took his board out to surf in the waves! Unprecedented!

Unfortunately, the crappy weather sometimes ruined our plans. Mark and I have been planning to do the waterfall circuit since we got here last year; we even bought a tent that we haven’t used once. So we booked some rooms in a lodge and planned this whole tour of Paronella Park and the waterfall circuit to do with Mom, but only got as far as the first stop, Babinda Boulders, where it was so rainy, cold and completely grey that we couldn’t imagine slogging through a whole miserable week-end of it and decided to just go back home and watch the rest of “Glee.” The waterfall circuit: foiled again!

(Mark & I took Mom to our beloved Stoney Creek, which was still peaceful, beautiful and perfect, but which doesn't seem that great in photos. But don't Mark & Honey look cute?!)

One thing that was even better this time was the animal place where we fed kangaroos and saw a cassowary up-close (rather than hiding in its corner like last time.) My desperate favourite is the koala, of course, and just staring at it is usually enough, but this time we watched the photo session, where people stand there and the guy places the koala in their arms for a picture. I don’t know what it is about them, but I find them overwhelming and was completely in tears – like, making people uncomfortable kind of tears – just from being so near to them and thinking about how close to extinction they are. They don’t like being in people’s arms so I feel morally torn between not wanting to make them unhappy and really wanting to hold a koala before I die. You know? I think next time I’ll have to just go for it – unless the crazy crying really freaks koalas out; then I’ll just stick to patting the snake.

On Mom’s last day here we walked up to the neighbourhood field where a bunch of wallabies live. Stupidly, we brought the rest of our kangaroo food from the animal place. Why would we think this was a good idea? I suspected the wallabies themselves would never let us get close enough to reach the food, since they’re quick to hop away, and that was fine. But when I scattered the pellets in their general direction, one of the [very large] horses that grazes with them made a beeline towards me, apparently hungry for some roo snacks. That’s fine, nice horsey, say hello, eat the pellets, off you go. Except that he got really weird: even after he’d eaten everything I had for him to eat, he wouldn’t let me leave. When I’d try to walk away, he’d walk around me and kind of block me in. Strange behaviour, borderline scary – I’m not a horse person and don’t know how to be authoritative around them – but I figured I’d just wait until he was satisfied that there was really nothing more for him in our encounter and when he left it alone, I’d leave. Except that another horse then came towards us and blocked me in on the other side and I seriously wondered if I was being ambushed and if my mother’s last day in Cairns would have her witnessing me getting kicked in the head by some horse in a field. In the end, I threw the plastic container as far away from me as I could, the horses went after it and Mom and I high-tailed it out of there. Moral of the story: don’t go wandering up to large animals you don’t know with roo pellets in your pocket.

That night, it was Mom’s turn to be scared of the local fauna. I was stupid enough to point out to her the giant cricket that was sitting on the curtain rod above the door – again, why would I do that? She hates cockroaches and big flying things, so why didn’t I just leave it? Obviously, once she’d seen it there was no way she was going to fall asleep until it was out of the house or dead. (There’s a rat living in the tree beside our balcony and my full-body terror at the thought of it coming into the house is severe enough to keep me awake in night panics; I pass no judgment on Mom and her giant-cricket phobia.) I tried shooing it out with a broom but that just made it flap around me in a panic – now, I’m not fussed about crickets but nobody wants one of these things flying into their face. As the chance of my quietly directing it out of the house became increasingly remote, I started trying to just whack it to death – which wasn’t so nice for our neighbours, or for Mark, trying to sleep just under where I was smashing the floor with a broom at eight-second intervals. The more I missed, the more panicky the cricket, the more frantic my mother and the more hysterically giggly I became. Shoving furniture around, trying to corner it... It was a total farce but eventually worked, with the poor thing ending up crunched under Mom’s sturdy sneaker (wielded by me, obviously.) Moral of the story: if you see a sausage-sized cricket sitting quietly and peacefully in your house just before bed time, don’t tell your mother.

(On the other hand, another cricket – a little one this time – was trapped in the house yesterday and there was no way we could sleep until we found it (tucked into my guitar case!) and tossed it outside. How can something so small make such an outrageously big noise?)

The next morning, a tearful farewell at the airport. That part never gets any better and I don’t wish living far from your family on anyone who loves their family. Thanks for a lovely visit, Mom, and here’s hoping that the next one isn’t such a bloody long plane ride away.

Otherwise, Mark and I have officially celebrated our two-year anniversary. Huzzah! We went for dinner and a magic show, anticipating corny fun but finding instead the single most entertaining magic show in our collective history. Sam Powers: our new household hero.

We also finally went up to do some camping at the famously beautiful Cape Tribulation – using the tent that we bought in December, you remember – only to discover that private camp sites are ridiculously expensive and fill up quickly, public ones require pre-booking (or on-the-spot booking, except when their computer systems are down, like when we called), lovely little lodges are booked months in advance, there’s nothing to do in the general area other than go to the beach, which is itself just a big, long beach and not really worth driving all the way up there for.... Right. So we turned around and drove home. Cape Trib: check!

Major household news is that Mark, looking to be more independent at work and not have to rely on a carpool (and end up missing classes or even exams when the carpool can’t be bothered leaving on time), has bought a motorcycle, which I named "The Concubine" for obvious reasons. It’s blue.

In the meantime, my bloody Yaris lease has finally been taken over. Phew.

Our inconsiderate neighbours suddenly disappeared one day and a very nice father and daughter have moved in instead. She goes to the neighbourhood school and I see her there sometimes when I’m teaching, so I have to be careful about what I say and do around the house... Other than that, it’s a relief to have quiet, clean, normal people sharing the neighbourhood. No more blasting music or other confrontational behaviour will be needed, I dare say.

The neighbour we would like to have stay, on the other hand, is moving. Johnny drives a bread truck down to Townsville a few times a week and always brings us left-over loaves of delicious multi-grain bread. The job is almost over anyway, so it probably wouldn’t have lasted, but it’s going to be hard to go back to actually buying loaves of bread like every other loser in the grocery store after such an extended period of having it delivered for free to our door every week. Life is hard, you know? Really.

I have a contract for three days a week doing “intervention,” which is basically remedial work with kids whose reading levels are so low that I could just sit and cry at the thought of what their futures will hold. We’re talking about non-ESL ten-year-olds who don’t know the alphabet. I don’t know how much I can really help in the six weeks until my visa restrictions kick in and I have to stop working at state schools, but I guess anything is better than nothing. Other than that, I’m doing relief work and trying to figure out what to do in September when I have to find a new employer. Mark is busy and stressed with a full-time course load on top of his full-time job, but this is the worst month and then it will be a little more relaxed. And, of course, there’s an MBA at the end of the tunnel, and he’s in the process of looking at follow-up job possibilities. Perth was thrown on the table this evening – look out! Who knows what will happen next.

Stay tuned to find out!


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