Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The memory of things

Yesterday my youngest daughter and I made shortbread dough. Shortbread is soothing to make, for me - the rubbing of butter through the mixed flour and sugar is almost contemplative. C, my 6 year old, loves it because it's messy and tactile, and anything messy and tactile gets two thumbs up from her.

Later, as I was rolling out the chilled dough to cut the cookies, C busily sorted through our big box of cookie cutters. We have a fairly extensive and colourful plastic collection, featuring the standard cookie and geometric shapes as well as a bunch of different animals and random things like machines, vegetables, and Christmas and Halloween themed cutters.

Watching her lift each one consideringly, I was reminded strongly of when I first bought these cutters. It was a decade ago, when my eldest was a toddler and my secondborn a baby. I remember it with total clarity, which is in itself maybe a bit surprising, considering how much of that time is a fatigue-tinted blur.

I was at the local shopping centre with my girls, to meet a friend with her son. We met up several times every week, this friend and I; she lived locally too, just five minutes away on the opposite side of the suburb to me. Her son was four months younger than my toddler, and she was heavily pregnant with her second baby (another son, as it would transpire). We met on Wednesdays at the library for Preschool Story Time, then took the kids to Donut King for babycinos and cinnamon donuts for them, coffee and glazed twists for us. (This was in the days before my Coeliac diagnosis, and before my heart decided caffeine was similarly off the agenda).

We'd been friends with this woman and her husband for a long time - long before any of us had children. My partner and hers had met over computer gaming interests in their late teens, and had been friendly ever since. I got engaged to my partner at about the same time as these two started living together, when she moved to Melbourne from Perth. We got to know each other well, and we all liked each other a lot.

We ended up becoming a close foursome; we spent at least part of most weekends together, taking our combined four dogs to parks and beaches, having movie pizza nights and going out to see bands, taking up hobbies together. (She and I did a quilting course in Geelong, at the Wool Museum, I recall. We were both bad at it, but I enjoyed it, the process and the feel of it and the six Saturdays of relaxed chatter as we travelled together to and fro).

When the baby-making phase began, these friends were the first non-family people we told that our first girl was on the way. She threw me a lovely baby shower, at her newly-built, massive, house, even though she was five months pregnant herself at the time. When her son was colicky, it was me who came and walked the floor with him to give her some respite in those long, long afternoons. (I was fortunate that my own baby, by then 6 months old, had passed through the worst of her unsettled phase and was generally quite content to lie under the playgym gurgling).

I recall this particular day, that we decided to spice things up and nip into Big W before heading to our respective homes to initiate afternoon naptimes. (This is what passes for excitement when you are primarily a home-bound parent of a 2-year-old and a 6-month-old). It was just about this time of year too, November - all the Christmas decorations were up everywhere.

And the first thing we saw when we came into the shop was a huge display of cooking paraphenalia, complete with a set of 100 cookie cutters for the princely sum of $14.99.

We bought one each. I remember the conversation as if it was yesterday. (Actually, probably more clearly than some conversations I *did* have yesterday).

"It's going to be so much fun to teach them to bake!" she'd said. "Can't you just see them - all four of them - lined up at the counter?"

I'd laughed. "Gingerbread production line," I'd said.

We'd smiled at each other.

Neither of us had any idea then that in less than three years, her family would be completely transformed, when her husband took a job in Dubai and she and the boys followed him several months later. Once they were there, and not long after, her marriage  was ended by his actions, as he left her for a woman he had been seeing before she and the children arrived.

She never did come back to Melbourne, but returned with her boys to Perth instead, to where she has family and community support. We tried our best to stay in touch, but it hasn't been successful - I have heard nothing from her in the past five years, and the email address I had for her bounces now. Once with ambitions to a career in mind/body healing, she retrained as a secondary school teacher, and the last I heard from her, she was making a go of that in one of the toughest public schools in the city.

It's been a long time, but I still miss her. I miss the person I used to be, when we were younger, and sometimes I miss the lives of my past - young coupledom, early motherhood, slow-molasses days of both tedium and delight. It's so strange how a box of cookie cutters can bring all that to mind so vividly.

This is post 18 in NaBloPoMo. 18 down, 12 to go!

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