One night in Melbourne I told Oscar (2 1/2) and Lily (4) the story of the pater familias who complained of the noise in his house. There are many versions of the folktale so I felt free to adapt it. To the passel of children, I added a brother and his wife and all their children, plus grandparents. All were crowded into a small house. The constant noise drove the main character crazy.
He went to see the wise woman, who asked if he had chickens. “Bring them inside the house,” she advised. And so it went, day after day. Each day she suggested he deal with the noise by bringing more of it inside. Finally, there were chickens, geese, a cow, goats, and a donkey crammed into the house.
Her final piece of advice was to send the animals back into the barnyard. Without the clucking, honking, mooing, bleating, and braying, a house full of people seemed suddenly quiet.
The story comes to me now, only in reverse. We’re in Anglesea, in the beach house Robin’s son and daughter-in-law bought as investment property. Since the Great Ocean Road is in the southern hemisphere, February is still peak rental season. So we feel incredibly lucky the kids brought us here for the weekend.
We’re staying through the next weekend, at a different beach house, this one owned by his daughter and her partner. We’ll enjoy a week with them and with the youngest of the cousins, little Sunday. But tonight we’re on our own. We’ll enjoy this time to ourselves, but the sudden quiet will also be a sobering reminder that our time with Robin’s grandchildren is flying by. In the blink of an eye, we will be back in Canada, half a world away.
We’ll connect via Skype, but we won’t be able to sit on the verandah and watch a storm roll in or “play fishes” together on the iPad or bear witness to how splendidly both of Robin’s children and their partners are parenting their little ones.
They have made us feel welcome. Still, they have sacrificed a lot of privacy to include us in their lives for this extended visit. (Robin arrived in Melbourne in November. I joined him the second week of February.)
The children in the two families are four, two and a half, and seven months. They are growing quickly, and we will witness the changes only in snippets during our rare visits.
So as I sit here on the verandah, watching another storm roll in over the sea, enjoying the luxury of uninterrupted writing time, I’m thinking about the father in the crowded house who complained of too much noise. I’m experiencing the opposite. Tonight we’re getting a taste of what’s to come when we leave Melbourne in just over two weeks. The next time we see the children, they will have passed through many more developmental stages.
We’ll be in Australia until Easter, but after March 12th we won’t see them again for at least two years.
And that will be too much quiet.