Silver Linings Part 1

Happy New Year!  It’s been a minute since I’ve posted hasn’t it?  The last three months of 2015 were chock a block, but let’s just jump right back in like nothing happened…

“We’re going to leave the playground in five minutes,”  I tell G as he makes his way down the slide.

It’s the last day of what they call Four Year Old Kinder in Melbourne.  We’ve already moved to Perth and G has had his own official last day, but as luck and kindness would have it, M had to be back in Melbs for a week for Aladdin and we got to tag along.  His work week coincided with the last days of school for all the children and the Kindergarten was kind enough to let him attend these last two days of the Australian school year.


When I dropped him off yesterday, all the children had been lined up at the door of their cottage to go to music class when G rolled up on his scooter. The teacher opened the door and said, “Look children!  I told you there was going to be a surprise today.  G is back!”

The children squealed and ran out the door to surround G like a group of puppies after a shiny new toy.  Hugs were given.  Questions were asked.  I heard one of them say, “I love you G!”


*quotable Eddie Izzard—>

And today was, by all accounts, exceptional.  Christmas is around the corner.  Not only is excitement in the air, but a holiday party, treats and presents happened as well.  The after school playground is charged with adrenaline and sugar and like a flan in a cupboard, it’s about to collapse.*  We’ve been here for over an hour since the 3 o’clock bell rang.  I turn to a friend with an eight month old baby on the verge and say to her, “You know what V?  I agree.  I’m hungry and cranky too.  Let’s get out of here.”

As I stand to gather things, I see G step onto the balance beam.  You know the one…it hovers about five and a half feet from the ground.

I see leaves from a tree branch wave in front of him.

I see the branch is held by his friend M, who stands just beneath the beam.

Then it all goes slow motion.

“Stop it, M!” I hear G say.

His foot slips.

My body hurls forward and up into the air.

He’s on the ground.

He lets out the cry that signals the inner-mama grizzly bear to lift cars and bend steel.

I’m on the ground.

He’s in my arms.

I do not don the uniform of the NY Giant who’s just fumbled the ball that cost his team the game, but G still sports his scooter riding helmet.  I usually take it off before he goes onto the playground.  In today’s excitement, I forgot.

“Owey Owey Owey!” he cries as instinct tells me he’s OK.

You want the crying, don’t you?

Silver Lining #1-his GodSister’s hand-me-down helmet has saved the day.  No head/neck/teeth/face injury.


But his arm…oh sh%*…that does not look right.  Through hugs and strokes of encouragement his tears do not subside.

“We’ll just go right to the doctor and it will be ok,” I say on a continuous loop as I rock him back and forth in my arms.

The little boy M, with the branch of leaves from hell, suddenly comes into frame.  Has he been sitting here all this time?  His pretty blue eyes are widened in fear and regret.

“I’m sorry G,” he says with utmost sincerity.

“It’s not OK!”  G hurls out through tears.  I have an urge to laugh.  G’s right, it’s not ok.  I’m proud of him for saying so, but I’m proud of M for apologizing as well.  Appropriate responses from five year olds…Silver Lining #2.

I lift G up like he’s a baby and remember he is actually five as I almost topple over face first back into the mulch.  A tall, dark haired mum slices through my fishbowl vision.

“I have all your things,” she says, “follow me.  I’ll drive you to the hospital.”

And like Barack Obama following a white stallion into a moonlit rose garden, I scoop G up and follow this mum wherever she will lead me.

She has three children of her own: a baby who needs to be fed; a toddler who needs to be picked up from day care and a five year old, C.  He’s one of G’s mates from school.  He walks with us, very concerned.

G is inconsolable, with good reason, as I carry him across the street.  I do my best to soothe him when from the outside in, my vision starts to go.  I’m going to faint.  Are you kidding me?  I fiercely resist the urge.  Along the sidewalk are a string of cafe tables and I involuntarily whisper to G, “Mama has to stop for just a second.”

I place him on one of the tables and sit in its accompanying chair.  I put my head between my legs and make sure my arm touches his leg.  I want to be sure he’s there, but I don’t want to hold him in case I pass out.


I heard a live broadcast of Radio Lab recently where they amplified a woman’s heartbeat over a microphone.  A small percentage of the audience reported nausea and fainting.  The curious dudes over at the Lab dug a little deeper into why in the world that would happen.  The result?  Inconclusive.  BUT, there is a theory it’s an old school survival mechanism.

Back in the day when pillaging, etc., was a bit more common, it could be useful to be sensitive to the sight of blood and broken bones, or to sense the impending doom of a loud heartbeat.  It’s the fight or flight response saying, “Hmmm, this isn’t going so well.  We’ll make you faint and hopefully the pillagers will just leave you for dead.  That’s your best chance of surviving.”  I like this theory since both my mother and I pass out at the sight of blood and always have.  I’ve been known to feel queasy simply discussing iron levels.  So maybe we’re not just big babies, but late bloomers.

Right now, however, as a mother who wants to protect her son, not herself, the response feels about as useless as the four wisdom teeth I still have.

I glance up to be sure G is still there when my dark haired friend realizes I’m not behind her and circles back.  She takes her baby out of the pram, and puts G in it.  Her son, C, makes sure he’s all buckled in so he won’t fall out.  While they wait for my light headedness to subside,  she arranges for her mum to pick up her toddler.  The spell passes and I take my place behind the pram in the march to her car.  So what is that?  Silver Linings #3-7?

G’s tears still flow.  He sputters out, “This is a terrible end to my really good day.”

UnknownC is the last one to settle into the car.  He’s been in the house on a toy hunt.  He hands a very hard, pointy dinosaur to his eight month old sister and an inflatable baby roller to G.  It has a ball inside he can try to get into a hole.  It’s a baby toy, but the tears cease as his focus rests on getting the ball into the hole.  It keeps him entertained the entire ride.  We arrive at the hospital, gather our things, give hugs and thanks, and C says to me proudly, “I think that toy calmed him down.”

“Oh, it did C,” I say, “that was very kind.  Thank you. ”

Silver Lining #8

To be continued…


The Nanny State

“Did I tell you,” M asks me one evening, “our Company Manager’s had $1000 worth of speeding tickets since we started the tour in Australia?”

“What?” I reply gobsmacked, “Is he a maniac?  I’ve never had a speeding ticket in my life and I’m oldish now.”

“I haven’t either,” M says, “I have a perfect driving record, I’ve never had a ticket.”

“He seems so managerial, your company manager. That’s shocking.”

After we uttered these fateful words, the following series of events occurred:


this, is not the same as…


…this. this is much less.

“Hey! Did you guys have a nice time at the Science Museum?”  I ask M and G as they lumber into the flat, “What’s wrong?” I ask.

M collapses on the couch. G sits quietly behind him.

“Are you guys ok?  Somebody say something, please.”

“Papa got a speeding ticket,” G says solemnly.

“Ok…but you weren’t in an accident were you?”

“Nooo,” M moans.

“Well, what happened?”

“We were stopped at a light in this tiny rental car and a semi truck pulled up right behind us and nearly touched our bumper.”


“So when the light changed I sped up so I could change lanes.  I needed to get in front of the car in the left lane so I could get away from the truck…and I got pulled over.”

“Oh well,” I toss it off, “you’re a defensive driver. That’s a good thing. You couldn’t have been going that fast.”

“I wasn’t, the limit, apparently, even though there were no signs, was 30 kilometers an hour.  That’s like 18 miles an hour!  I was going 60km/h which is like 35mph.”

“Well, I’m sure you explained the situation, it’s not like you were careening down…”

“No, E…they breathalised me.”

“What?” I half laugh/snort and stop myself as I see M does not find this humorous.

“It was terrible to have to do that in front of G,” he adds, “it’s hard to explain to a five year old.”

“Aw, of course.  Was that a little scary G?”

He nods.

“You know what though?” I add, “It’s good for the police to keep the roads safe and make sure no one is drinking and driving…at 1:30 in the afternoon…going 35mph…but, Ok…so how much was the ticket?”


it doesn’t look real does it? but it is.

“Four hundred dollars.”

“What???” my neck cracks from the force of my outburst.

“Four hundred and seventeen dollars,” G adds.

“Plus I get three points on my license, and it’s suspended for a month!”

“A month?  You’ve got to be kidding me??!!”

In the United States it is customary to drive 10mph over the speed limit at all times.  I don’t know why.  It just is.  You have to drive your car through someone’s house and leave the scene of the crime to get your license suspended.

“E, I just called to see if I can contest this ticket,” M tells me a few days later, “if I do and they find me guilty I’ll get a criminal record.  If I get a criminal record, I can’t have a work visa.”

“Well then.  I suppose we have to just pay it.  Maybe Australia’s running low on iron ore and needs to raise funds from expats.”

“Yes…there’s something else,”  his voice is firm and official, “When I called to pay the ticket, they told me I can also pay for the outstanding $233 ticket as well.”

“Ok…this is getting a little…”

“Apparently they mailed it to me and we didn’t receive it.  I was 10km/h (6mph) over the speed limit in the tunnel.  They have cameras in the tunnel to clock everyone’s speed.”

“So you just paid $650 for two speeding tickets amassed in the last month.”

“Yes.  That’s correct.”

What makes this news extra special, Dear Reader, is we don’t have a car here in Australia.  We’ve rented one three times since we’ve been in Melbourne.  Once was for a day trip, the other two times were for overnighters.



we’re catching up to you lady!

Two weeks later:

“Hiiiiiiiiiii!” I trill to M over the phone, “So how much did you say that speeding ticket was we never received in the mail?”

“$233, why?”

“Well, I have another one here for $303.”

“That’s impossible,”  M says as matter of factly as if he’d just said, ‘My hair is brown.’

“It says here you were 15km (9mph) over the speed limit, but under 25km (15mph) on some off ramp and they photographed you.  Oh and you have three more points against your license.”

“Ok…you know what…,” M stammers, “that’s it…we’ll just…we’re just…we’re just going to get a Segway.”

So I would like to formally apologize to the Company Manager.  It was wrong of us to judge your character based on the amount of Australian speeding tickets you have.  Please forgive us, and now that we’re nearing $1000 too, maybe we can just call it even?


In Memory of Dr. Sacks

11338666083_0d337ed72a_bAt 3, when our son became so thrilled with the periodic chart (thank you Toca Boca), I wasn’t sure it would last.  Now, at 5, his obsession with the elements remains.

As expat New Yorkers, all the way down in Melbourne, Australia, we live and breathe RadioLab podcasts.  I learned in one special episode, about a month ago, Dr. Oliver Sacks loved the periodic chart so much he had one in every room, even his bathroom.  He had a bedspread, a T-shirt and a prized possession…a wooden box, from Russia, with a real example of each of the elements inside its own wooden cube.

I told G right away.

As a child who carries a laminated TocaBoca element chart (above) to school in his backpack every day, who hangs the periodic table up in whatever city we’re in, who wears an elements t-shirt to bed and who desperately wants a periodic coffee mug to match…he insisted we needed to go to Russia right away.  We need our own wooden periodic table box.


“Why don’t we look up some photos of Dr. Sacks’ table first?” I offered.  We searched online to find photos of Dr. Sacks with all his periodic accoutrement.  His kind face with his white beard was all very compelling to a 5 year old.  I explained how curious Dr. Sacks was, how kind, how he used his beautiful mind to help human beings understand themselves better.  I explained his gift for story telling, his ability to weave the scientific terminology of Neuroscience into mythological tales.  I also explained how Dr. Sacks was going to die soon.

He was very curious about this,  “Is he scared?  Where will he go?  Maybe he’ll get better before he passes away.”

We suggested he should make a video for Dr. Sacks.  He could explain how, he too, enjoys the periodic table and maybe that will give him some joy in his final days.  Of course we had no idea how we would send Dr. Sacks a video, but the process of making it seemed life affirming, death affirming, periodic chart affirming.

We dawdled.  M shot some video.  Life interrupted.

On 28 August, G said, “We should send Oliver Sacks that video.  I think he already passed away.  I think he’s going to pass away in August.  Or maybe he’ll get better.”

Before M went to work on the 30th (Sunday morning here…but Saturday evening in the Northern Hemisphere) he said, “I put that Oliver Sacks video together.  It’s really sweet.  I don’t know where you’re going to send it, but…it’s there.”

Later that day I pointed out Dr. Sacks’ autobiography in the window of a book shop.

“Oliver Sacks?” G grinned,  “You should buy that right now!”

I didn’t, but as he was very much on my mind, I tucked G into bed that night and opened the video.

What should I do with this?


I opened my browser and there smiling out from the New York Times was Oliver Sacks who had passed away 30 minutes before I sat down.  G was still awake so I told him.

“I told you he was going to pass away in August,” he said, “can I see his picture?”

He studied it very closely and smiled, because how could you do anything but when you look at this photo?

“G,” I asked, “even though Dr. Sacks never saw your video, do you think you’ll think of him when you study your periodic table?”

He beamed and nodded.

And so Dr. Sacks, wherever you may be, we’ll put this video out into the universe along with you.

Thank you.  We could ask for no finer role model.



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