This is one of the Newcastle Herald Short Story Competition 2020 finalists. For a full list of the finalists revealed so far, head here.
That was me. That was me running on the hill with my sister in tow. Life was one big adventure. Our legs were strong and active, our laughter was continuous, and our minds were spitting out one idea after another as we created adventure after adventure. Imaginations knew no bound and anything was possible. We were soldiers, we were making forts, we were spying on mum and dad, we were making little dams for the ants to swim in and we were dragging Fluffy cat along for the ride.
When mum called us for lunch, our minds switched instantly to food and more fun. Little treats on the picnic blanket became a feast for our dolls; and suddenly we were chefs and scientists mixing creations of sandwich mixed with milk and mud - with twigs for stirrers. Our artworks were amazing. A plethora of shapes and colours - instant responses to a thought or instinct to make something based on a fleeting whim. Artworks did not need any relationship to reality. Artworks were a creative response to whatever we were feeling at the time.
We had home-made hankies made from old bed sheets cut into squares. We had lunches wrapped in grease-proof paper. We had no fancy foods. At school we were in classes of forty students in neat, silent rows. We rushed home at the end of the day to play in the yard, collect the eggs and investigate whatever the day had bought to our backyard playground.
That was me. That was me standing at the kitchen sink watching the children play. My to-do list was never ending. Dishes to wash, clothes to clean, floors to mop, homework to supervise, meals to cook. How pleasant it was to stop for a while and gaze through the window into the fields and watch the pleasure of the children who had no care in the world. This property had been purchased by my parents and held such fond memories for me as I too had explored this beautiful landscape in my childhood. It was a privilege that I could now share with my own young family.
Yet now it was more about tasks - lawns to mow, land to be irrigated, gardens to be watered and weeded, bills to be paid, animals to be fed, part-time work - and my family to be nurtured. In my world of facts and figures, I could no longer remember how my imagination worked. The things that gave me pleasure were lost in the busyness of my day-to-day schedule. If I were ever to steal myself away and try to create an artwork, my mind would be blank. Where had my imagination gone?
However my heart ached with love for these children of mine. Every fibre of my being centred around doing my best for them. Did they get sufficient outside play time? Was I reading enough to them? Were they watching too much television? Were their extracurricular activities setting them up well for the future? Were they reaching their potential? Did they have a supportive peer group? Was I raising them with the skills they would need for the future? I was a mother, and the rest sort of fell away around that - that was how I chose it to be.
If I were ever to steal myself away and try to create an artwork, my mind would be blank.
This is me. This is me reclining in my easy chair in the lounge-room of my childhood home watching my daughter at the kitchen sink and my grand-babies running riot in the yard. How quickly the years have passed since I too was exploring those hills. I watch my daughter struggle to fit everything into her day. She is raising children and working full-time, with a communication system that operates twenty-four hours a day. A busy mother juggling the balancing act of young womanhood.
I can relax now with an over-view that never existed in the past. I can again remember what gives me pleasure. I love to dance and to swim in the ocean and to play tennis. I can set up the paints and, although it is hard to re-channel the imagination, I can create art that pleases my eyes. I have a wisdom and insight that comes with age.
I realise that time is now the luxury item. Quality time is what my grandchildren need in this fast-paced world and what they want from me. Time is what my daughter needs as she strives to strike a balance in this world of gender equality that I helped fight for. I sit in my chair and gaze past the window, wanting to put the brakes on. I can't hold back progress, yet I can see that the vision I had for women has not come to fruition. Women just stepped into an equal load, leaving less time for children.
Time, in the broader sense, is what I am also so short of. I have little time left to share with valued friends. I have business ideas and no time to effect them. I have things I'd like to learn and community work I'd like to do; but time is running short. Life has hurled at me my fair share of heartache. The loss of my first grandchild at only two days old is a trauma from which I will never fully recover. To see that beautiful baby boy take his final breaths, not because he was sick, but because he could not survive the rigours of birth was a tragedy beyond what we are meant to endure. To watch my daughter and her husband suffer that heartbreaking loss and to not be able to fix things for them was another shocking blow.
I get up from my chair and move to the window. I wrap my arms around my beautiful girl and together we gaze out at the children. Life is tough, but a wonderful gift. I am trying to treasure its most valuable commodity - time.