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Life Is Too Short To Drink Bad Wine: 54 - An Independent Daughter

Gayle Woodward faces up to the daily demands of looking after lively young children.

Life continued quietly at first. It was busy with a small girl who would not stay in one place for very long, so that I had to constantly provide games and activities to keep her occupied. She loved stories, her ‘babies’ and helping. Karyn liked to make things even as a toddler and it was imperative that I have a box of recyclables that she could use.

At eighteen months old she began changing her clothes three or four times a day, and this continued until she was two years old. One day when I had left her alone in order to visit the toilet, I came out to find her gone. The phone rang. It was a neighbouring mother telling me that Karyn was at the end of the street waving to cars with no clothes on at all!

I rushed from the house stopping to collect an item of clothing from each letterbox as I ran to the corner, scooping her up in my arms and running her back home screaming and yelling in anger. We had no gate at the sides of the house so Woody built a strong and high gate across our path to the back door and made a temporary fence across the lawn on the other side. It worked only for a short time before Karyn, who was small and bouncy and agile, worked out how to climb over the gate and be off.

My scar was covered with gauze for months to protect it from the sun. The new skin was pink rather than the purple it had been at first. I could forget about my fears during the day when I was so busy but at night they touched my sleep. Woody and I would sit and talk together at night when all the children had been put to sleep, stories for all who could not yet read their own books, and it was quiet. We would have a drink before we went to bed. I drank Bacardi and Cokes to try to block out my fear for what the future might bring.

As Karyn got older, she began to go to sleep exhausted at seven pm and then come out to us in the lounge at 10 o’clock with a cute and bright smile and say “I woke up now!” And she had. It would be hours of pleading and cajoling to get her to stay back in her bed quietly and go to sleep.

We would be in bed and be kept awake by her singing and banging. Usually it would result in her climbing into our bed (and she liked being in the middle of the two of us), where she would drop off to sleep. But we would suffer from bony little arms and knees poking into us for hours. Eventually we could move her back, but sleepless nights and broken sleep became common.

Mark began sleep walking at the same time. His full bladder usually disturbed his sleep and we would hear him noisily banging down the hall in the direction of the toilet. But he was asleep and often mistook hall cupboards for the toilet door. We began half listening in our sleep for the sound of Mark up and then one or the other of us would rush from the bed and guide Mark to the appropriate place. He never woke. Some mornings we both looked haggard.

Other nights when we did not hear Mark walking in his sleep he would go to the kitchen pantry and collect a few biscuits from a package or a tin. He would take them back to his bed and put them under his pillow uneaten. I would find them there when I made the bed in the morning.

Mark continued to enjoy sitting in piles of dirt moving it around with his machinery or using his small hammer to build things. He had great ideas and was self reliant. He did not have the sense of urgency that Karyn possessed to get things done immediately but was a conscientious and diligent young planner and worker.

February 1977 arrived and the new school next door to our house was still not ready. The children who were enrolled began to bus to Oxford Crescent School in the township which had space for them. Jeff would catch the bus at the end of our street each day and was bussed home again after three. Mark continued to attend the Brown Owl Kindergarten and was able to visit the new, almost ready school, to find out where he would start school.

But his fifth birthday arrived in March and Birchville School was not ready. His first day at school was at Oxford Crescent School and he was happy to catch the bus on his own from his second day. He made friends quickly and would travel with them, still a boy who was happy with his own company.

A few weeks later the new school, next door to our house, opened and both boys transferred to it, Jeff to the Senior Block in Standard 3. Mark was in the New Entrants class and these beginners sat on the mat on the floor for most of their lessons.

I was very surprised one day to be phoned by the Principal, Mrs Riley. She informed me that Karyn had made her way to school and was sitting cross-legged on the mat beside her big brother, who was squirming with embarrassment. When I hurriedly collected her she screamed with frustration, yelling, “I want to go to school too!” She was almost two and had a long wait before this could happen. I made approaches to a private kindy that had opened in our street, but she needed to be two and a half before she could attend.

However she was a delight and I enjoyed her busyness and the strong character and independence she was developing. She showed amazing flexibility and physical strength on her swing and slide. She would hang from her legs on the side bars of the swing and climb to the top of the slide and stand there, hands in the air, calling, “Mummy, come and look at me!”

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