More than 50 years ago, I followed a ritual for getting our two toddler sons ready for bed. Bathtime was 5.30pm, with splashing, rubber duckies, boats, water pistols. When I wrapped both those chubby little bodies in huge bath towels, everyone was laughing, sweet smelling, and their day was ending on a perfect high.
We lived in rural Australia and their cattle buyer dad, because of the huge distances he travelled each day, usually arrived home around 8pm, long after the boys were asleep. So after their bath, I cooked dinner just for them. Then came bedtime, reading stories, learning new words, numbers, colours. Tuck in, hugs and kisses, turn out the lights — such a happy end to their day.
Much later in the night, boys aslumber, my husband and I also enjoyed dinner over candles and a bottle of wine, vinyl jazz disc spinning on the record player — yes, it was that long ago. We chatted about our grown-up version of the day — rural stuff, droughts, floods, cattle prices, failing crops, plus scintillating local gossip of who was having an affair with whom — although I don’t recall our conversation ever reaching the same volume of giggles as earlier in the evening with my sons.
Tonight, at gathering nightfall, aware of our ageing bones, my husband and I sit peacefully on the veranda. Sipping a glass of wine, we listen as our home prepares for bedtime. Floors and walls creak as they cool down from the tropical heat. Our ageing dog curls up at our feet, eyelids drooping. The phone rings. It’s one of our now middle-aged sons, checking whether we have enjoyed our day and are OK. Reassured, it’s as if they are preparing us for bedtime — the only things missing are the yellow duckies, water pistols and giggles.
Parrots hang upside down in the palm trees, fighting over cascades of ripening red berries. Wild ducks dip and dive under the waterlilies, shake their cooled feathers dry, then round up the duckling chicks and herd them into the sheltering reed beds. A lonely peewee, so at home that it flies a frequent circuit through our kitchen door and out through the lounge room, does a last minute circuit searching for its elusive mate.
The karaoke frog machine croaks itself up, ready to serenade the darkness. Possums scream and squabble over the best roost in the trees. A multitude of insects begins to whistle and trill from the garden. Inside the house, geckos emerge, chuckling in anticipation at their spider dinner. Jasmine wafts its perfume into the darkening sky. The candles perform a last, flickering pas de deux. Then, as if to signal “lights out”, the kookaburras burst forth with a triumphant last laugh. Time for bed.
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