Life’s underlying rhythms pay no heed to disruption

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Dear new grandson.

You can take the credit for a fleeting increase in the cleanliness around here.

Waiting for your imminent arrival, I took time out from exchanging nervous emails with your other grandmother and writing one of my worthy-but-dull articles, to do the dishes, scrub the kitchen floor and clean the toilet.

While she was wondering about the calorie-burning benefits of pacing, I was going in the other direction, scoffing half a packet of cashews originally destined for my next batch of muesli.

We discussed the merits of Gwyneth Paltrow's roast chickpea and cauliflower salad recipe and managed to consciously uncouple ourselves from dwelling too much on the value of Gwyneth's more ridiculous utterances.

It's unnerving waiting for someone else to give birth. I don't remember having any fears that things might go wrong when I was pregnant with your father or his three brothers, but when someone dear to me is about to do it, somehow it is an excuse for my imagination to abandon reason and click into anxious overdrive.

There was no cause for alarm and, a few hours after the birth, in the early hours, you were on your way home from hospital.

That was an odd day. If all had gone to plan I would have been quickly on my way to Invercargill to wrangle your big brother for a few days.

Instead, I wrestled warring cats and lounged about in bed, feeling useless.

There was some production — knitting. That even included exercise. Every few rows, I shook and shimmied, leaping up to search for the cable needle lost in the bedclothes.

Once up and dressed, I peered hopefully into the bucket in the bathroom to see if there was any sign of a ‘‘mother’’ forming in the yeasty lockdown concoction festering there. If I have read the cider vinegar recipe correctly, the appearance of the mother, a jelly-like skin made up of cellulose and acetic acid bacteria, indicates the vinegar is ready.

The likelihood this can take months to develop has not deterred me from regular pointless perusal in the few weeks mine's been in progress.

Disappointingly, human motherhood does not seem to have such a clear definition. After 38 years of it, I still have moments of futile festering and frothing.

Later in the day, getting my official exercise by bike, word soon spread quickly about you. I wallowed in the reflected glory.

I felt slightly foolish blurting out to the last couple I met that I was ‘‘off to tell Ken’’. They understood. I was on the way to the cemetery to visit your grandfather's grave where the headstone reads that he ‘‘knew love was all he could leave and all he could take’’.

In my haste I hadn't thought to bring flowers, so I guiltily snapped off a couple of pink pelargoniums from an abundant plant in the cemetery and plonked them on his grave.

It has been a weird week, the excitement of your arrival contrasting with the ongoing global coronavirus mayhem. Uplifting moments, such as hearing of hospitals blasting out Here Comes the Sun for recovered Covid-19 patients have moved me to tears.

I have seen plenty of you from a distance, including a cute video of your big brother meeting you for the first time, an occasion you happily slept through.

All the same, time has dragged.

That's nothing new for grandmas in this family. Four days after my mother's birth in Nelson in 1927, my great-grandmother, living over the hill in Takaka, wrote ‘‘we all feel we are missing chunks and I grudge the time going by without a peep or a nurse of the darling’’.

In another letter to my grandmother, she suggested names for Mum. They were ignored. Modern grandparents know better.

A few days after your birthday, I visited your grandfather's grave at dusk. I replaced the pelargoniums with a fragrant tussie mussie/ nosegay — including pineapple sage, sweetheart roses and rosemary (in honour of your lovely mother). In these sartorially lazy lockdown days, it seemed strangely fitting.

Such posies were used in earlier times to offset the impact of people's body odour and infrequent clothes washing. Please let no-one tell Donald Trump it was also believed they could provide protection against the plague.

I tarried a while looking out on the breeze-ruffled harbour, wondering about the future. Will we seize this chance to build a better world for you, or will we just slide back into our greedy destructive old ways?

As the sun slipped away and the fingernail moon appeared, the rumble of cars in the distance could not override the gentle timeless insistence of the lapping waves. The hopeless romantic in me wanted to believe that was nature telling us everything will be OK.

■ Elspeth McLean is a Dunedin writer.

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