(grand­par­ent­ing)

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Heather Leary Re­view this­life@theaus­tralian.com.au

School hol­i­days fin­ished to­day and, af­ter lunch, the last of our grand­chil­dren left with their par­ents. We stood at the gate and waved un­til their car had dis­ap­peared in the dust of the track and then walked back in­side to an empty kitchen and a strange quiet­ness through­out the house. Just the two of us again.

Our kids have all grown up and moved on, work­ing hard to build their fu­tures and fam­i­lies. We see them a lot — week­ends to­gether, reg­u­lar babysit­ting gigs — but their lives are now be­ing made a long way from the fam­ily farm.

Four kids in five years, a tum­ble of three broth­ers and a sis­ter; fun times still re­mem­bered when we all get to­gether. Tough times as well, with droughts, low prices for grain and stock, high in­ter­est rates. But happy mem­o­ries of a life that fo­cused on fam­ily rather than ma­te­rial pos­ses­sions, re­la­tion­ships rather than rev­enue.

Time passes and kids grow up. But school hol­i­days now her­ald a new chap­ter in our lives, as grand­kids — nearly a dozen of them — beg their par­ents for a farm hol­i­day “with no grownups”, (ap­par­ently grand­par­ents don’t count).

We drive down to pick them up from happy par­ents who can barely con­ceal their joy at the prospect of a week or two with­out kids. The bis­cuit tins are full and I make sure we have all their favourites on the menu — farm soup, roast lamb with lots of gravy, pan­cakes and Veg­emite toast with way too much but­ter.

Our grand­kids grad­u­ally re­lax into the rhythm of farm life as they re­trace the steps that their par­ents took a gen­er­a­tion ago. Feed­ing the sheep, the chooks, the dogs. Bon­fires lit, snags cooked, damper on a stick. The sand­pit, the slide, the jun­gle gym. Chas­ing mice and catch­ing rab­bits.

A tooth lost, so writ­ing to the farm fairies — with let­ters writ­ten back to them in the same tiny writ­ing we used 30 years ago.

Fire­wood col­lected, marsh­mal­lows toasted and fam­ily sto­ries told over and over again — the same sto­ries that en­tranced their par­ents all those years ago.

They sleep in the loft where their par­ents slept when they were the same age, thrilled and proud. Cousins play­ing to­gether and con­nect­ing in ways that will strengthen our fam­ily ties long af­ter their grand­fa­ther and I are no longer here.

I some­times catch my hus­band’s eye over the tops of their heads and won­der where all those years have gone. How could it be that these pre­cious chil­dren are our grand­kids?

Their laugh­ter and en­ergy, their fun and en­thu­si­asm brings the heart­beat and soul back to the old farm­house and every­one knows that it’s spe­cial.

We all know our time to­gether is pre­cious.

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