My three sons,
I can’t write to you, my darling heartsongs, without telling you something about myself. My essential self, that is. Who I was before you.
You see, I never imagined I would be a mother.
In the range of my childhood fantasies, motherhood existed as a broad and vague possibility, a definite smudge on the horizon, but one that I may never reach. After all, not everyone is an explorer.
And yet here I am, mother to four, three of them you.
Lewis – you were the first, born in 2003, the day before my own birthday. And what a gift. Undoubtedly you are the leader of the band of brothers. You enjoy your miraculous, physical six-foot superiority; you lie in wait for your youngers behind corridor corners and take them down with stealth tackles, tickling them until they are shrieking, breathless with laughter that is not far from tears.
You goad them and tease them, and they are in awe of so much about you: your height, your easy cheekiness with your parents, that you can fix anything electronic, that you make the world’s best fried chicken, that you survived leukaemia, that the sun shines when you smile.
Then there is Artie. My mouse. My freshly-minted 13-year-old. You are the hardest to know, my green-eyed boy. You are fair of face and diligent and clever. You dread being late, and you hate it if I run an amber light or forget to sign a form. You read as though your life depends upon it and adore your father, who takes you to practise your hoop shooting on freezing Italian mornings. We call you The Shadow, such is your devotion to the man who made me a mother. You have the fiercest battle face on the basketball court, and yet you love babies and are so kind and attuned to them, it is easy to see the magnificent father you will be one day.
You are spare with expressing your emotions, but I know how deeply sentimental you are, my son. Will you remember, when you are a man and your peach- skin cheeks have sprouted whiskers, how at night when I would tuck you in, I would whisper all that is beautiful about you, right into your ear? I will remember for you, if you like. You would lie as still as a rock in the darkness, not wanting to miss a word, until a silent tear would leak from your eye, and you would whisper words of love back to me.
And my baby. My Jannie. Named for my tall Dutch father, Big Jan. You are 10 years old (350 in elf years) and the world is a wonder to you. I love how you wake up whistling – brimming with enthusiasm for every moment. You have a pointy chin, almond eyes, and a shock of hair like an anime character. You never walk if you can run, jump, slide or dance. You have a lisp that you are teased about but [are] untroubled by, and are chock-full of snippets of knowledge you have gleaned. The other morning when I woke you up, do you remember the very first thing you said to me? “Mum,” you said. “Did you know Papua New Guinea ith a conthitutional monarchy?” (I didn’t.)
You, my little man, are the best audience for any story or prank. You are fiercely competitive, and yet you are the most passionate supporter of your brother Artie. If his team loses a basketball match, you weep hot tears of rage and complain bitterly about the umpiring. You two share a room [and] I hear you telling stories and giggling over all the rude Italian words you know until I shush you and you fall asleep.
It is at once my privilege and burden to look after you, my boys. It is my calling to watch you grow. To keep you alive (praise be). To shine the light of love on you. To discipline you. To make adventures with you. To show you that the strength and beauty of a woman is often in giving (and not to undervalue that). To teach you to set the table, to open the door for someone who has their hands full, to take out the rubbish.
Together, your dad and I try to show you that strength can be in humour, in resilience, in choosing happiness, and that – while it is good to be gentle and kind – sometimes it is necessary to gird your loins and wage battle.
This is, of course, life’s work in progress, but I hope we are right; that this is how lovely boys grow up to be valiant and honourable Australian men.