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As of this moment…

The Shoemaker's Daughter. A memoir of days, both past and present, by Rhonda Mason.

…I am sitting at our dining table, with a cup of Milo. It is past 11pm, and Rick is still working in his study. The boys are all tucked away in bed, sleeping soundly. The dishwasher is on, and we will be heading upstairs to bed soon (I hope)…

…I am thanking God for our Jamie, who turns five today. I still remember the day I found out I was pregnant with him – just four months after giving birth to Pete. I vividly recall our utter shock, and how it took a month or more to process the news. I remember the pregnancy, the labour, and the moment I held him in my arms for the very first time. He was and is and will always be a true gift from God. He is a part of us, and our family would be completely incomplete without our Jamie…

…I have five weeks to go before heading into hospital for the final time and birthing this last baby of ours. I am nervous, excited, and impatient all at once. More than anything, I want to see this little one’s face, and every day, I pray that God will continue to sustain this little one’s life…

…I am exhausted to the bone. Every night, I wake at least four to five times to roll over. My hips are permanently sore, and contractions are constant. I am more out-of-breath than ever, and I find myself in tears every second or third night, so overwhelmed I am by the physicality of being pregnant for the sixth time. Without fail, my darling husband listens to me as I cry, and reassures me that he will look after me. Truly, he is my rock (and my best friend) in every way…

…I am craving a slower pace, with more time to rest and more time to just be. I want to savour these last five weeks as a family of six. I want to enjoy my days with Bear, before he starts preschool in a month. I want time to breathe, time to process, and time to write. I want to make an effort to actually document these days. I don’t want this time to become a blur…

…And so, I am taking the first step, and penning these words…

My favourite chair

The Shoemaker's Daughter. A memoir of days, both past and present, by Rhonda Mason.

My favourite chair in the house is the armchair in Bear’s old room.

We bought it from IKEA six years ago. At the time, we were living in a tiny terrace in Newtown – our first year of living at college. At first, Rick was quite hesitant about adding another armchair to our tiny room upstairs but I insisted on having somewhere where I could sit and feed Angus. So we made the dreaded trip to IKEA and bought a matching armchair to one that we already had and squeezed it next to my desk in the study (which soon became Angus’ nursery as well).

After Angus was born, I spent many hours in that chair, expressing milk and feeding my son. It felt like I hardly left it.

Since then, I’ve also fed Pete in that chair, Jamie in that chair, and of course, Bear in that chair.

The only one I haven’t fed in that chair is Cameron.

In that one chair, I have fed my boys, kissed my boys, read to my boys, and prayed with my boys.

In that one chair, I have watched them sleep and listened to them cry.

In that one chair, I have chatted with them, laughed with them, and sang with them.

In that one chair, I have watched them grow and change before my very eyes.

In that one chair, I have held them close to my heart.

In that one chair, I have breathed them in.

In that one chair, I have whispered words of comfort when they’ve been sick.

In that one chair, I have wiped their tears away.

In that one chair, I have wiped my own tears – tears that come whenever I remember the son whom I’ll never get to hold.

In that one chair, my heart sings and aches all at once.

And because of that, it is without a doubt my favourite chair.

No doubt one day we will leave the chair behind, but even then, my heart will cherish it always.

The sixteenth

The Shoemaker's Daughter. A memoir of days, both past and present, by Rhonda Mason.

It is the sixteenth.

The boys wake up and immediately ask about the books from Nan. Even Bear knows that there is a “present!” to be opened. Their enthusiasm is very endearing, but we insist that they wait till after school, when we eat Cameron’s birthday cake together.

Because it’s a Wednesday, Rick has Scripture to teach after he drops Angus and Pete off. Before they leave, I give all three of them a tight, squeezy hug. “I love you! Have a lovely day, and I’ll see you guys this afternoon…”

Jamie and Bear play happily together, as they alway do. At half past nine, they watch Play School and then Small Potatoes. They turn the television off themselves after that, conscious that mummy is not a big fan of Bananas in Pyjamas.

In the kitchen, I flick through the Family Circle’s Commonsense Cookbook which Mary gave me the Christmas before Rick and I got engaged (which was also the first Christmas after we started dating).

I need to choose a cake. I need to choose a cake…

“Which cake will you bake, mummy?” I look up to see two adorable little faces peering at me through the kitchen hatch.

“I don’t know yet, Jamie. What do you think?”

I push the cookbook over to him and he flips through a few pages. He decides that he likes the chocolate cake, the sponge cake, the jam drops, and the chocolate eclairs. Bear grins and nods in agreement.

I briefly consider the sponge cake. I made one for Pete’s birthday and one for Jamie’s birthday earlier in the year. It tasted amazing, but I feel like I want to do something different for Cameron’s birthday. I want his cake to feel special.

Jamie and Bear return to their playing. I am already exhausted and I can feel the nausea kicking in. I am desperate for something hot to drink, but coffee and tea are out of the question. Instead, I heat up some instant miso soup on the stove, then settle down on the couch to watch Jamie and Bear. The exhaustion hits home, and I find myself drifting in and out of sleep as Jamie and Bear continue to entertain themselves with blocks, cars, and train tracks.

An hour or so passes. I surface from my nap.

“Have you baked the cake yet?” asks Jamie.

I glance at the time and realise it’s almost noon. I haven’t done morning tea for the boys. I haven’t done lunch. I haven’t even played with the boys. And I haven’t baked a cake. I feel like a total failure.

“No, not yet darling, but I’ll try and bake it now.”

I return to the kitchen and again wrestle with my decision about the cake. The cinnamon tea cake catches my eye. It looks light and fluffy like the sponge cake, but the recipe looks slightly simpler and more straightforward. I ask Jamie and Bear what they think. Bear nods vigorously while Jamie rewards me with a “Yes!”

I beckon them over to the meals table and I make them peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. I turn the oven on, grease a baking tray, and measure out all the ingredients. Thankfully, I have everything I need except for the vanilla essence.

I sift the flours together and start to panic when I think I see weevils. I send Rick a harried text message but he puts my mind at ease when he points out that it’s wholemeal flour.

I glance over at the boys just as I begin to beat the butter and the sugar together and see them chatting and chuckling. I remind them both to eat their crust. Bear shoots me the most innocent look, as if he has no idea what I’m talking about.

The butter and sugar cream quite quickly. Next, the egg goes in. From where he sits, Jamie spies the delicious batter dripping off the electric beaters. Once I’ve finished with the egg, I detach the beaters, bring them over to the table, and hand the boys one each. They look over the moon about this. I carry my batter over from the kitchen, along with the bowl of flour and the cup of milk. With the boys watching on (as they lick their yummy beaters), I fold in the flour and milk alternately – the last step of the recipe. I am secretly pleased with how easily the cake has come together, and that I am no longer the complete baking klutz that I used to be. I am also pleased that I will have a cake done before the big boys come home from school.

As soon as I’ve got the cake in the oven, I get the boys down from the table. They wash their hands, then help me to tidy up the playroom while I wipe down the table and sweep up the crumbs.

Quiet time ensues. Both boys go down happily, though I am extra stern with Bear about not getting out of his cot.

Feeling shattered myself, I lie down on couch in the lounge room for a short nap. I drift immediately into sleep, only to be awaken twenty short minutes later by the timer on the microwave.

I stumble into the kitchen, put on my oven mitts, and take the cake out of the oven. It looks and smells lovely. I put it on the cake rack, then head straight back to the couch to rest.

Around half past three, I am woken up by the sound of the Disco coming down the driveway. Rick is home with the big boys.

I am so exhausted that I can barely move my body. I lie there, immobile, for at least another half an hour.

Meanwhile, the afternoon progresses without me: Angus and Pete unpack their bags; Jamie and Bear wake up from their naps and come down the stairs (“Wake up time?” says Bear); Rick makes banana smoothie for all the boys; and the big boys do their homework at the table.

Around four o’clock, the boys find me in the lounge room and ask me about the cake. I manage to smile back, and with great effort, I actually get off the couch. I follow them into the kitchen.

“Hello darling,” says Rick. We exchange a quick kiss.

I examine the cake. It still looks good. I brush on some melted butter, sprinkle cinnamon on top, then add a cluster of chopped strawberries to the centre of the cake.

The boys can hardly contain their excitement. We all gather around the meals table. I bring down Nan’s carefully wrapped presents from my study and place them next to the cake. We sing happy birthday to Cameron, then Rick cuts the cake and serves us a slice each.

I hold my breath briefly as I take my first bite. The texture is soft, and the flavour is subtle and sweet. I feel very pleased.

This was for you, Cameron, my boy….

The boys love the cake, as does Rick.

“I think you’re getting better and better at this, Ronnie.”

“Thanks, darling…”

One by one, the boys finish their cake and wash their hands and mouths. We hand them their books from Nan. I manage to get a few quick photos before they tear the kraft wrapping off.

This year, Nan has bought Stuart Little for Angus, The 13-Story Treehouse for Pete, The Magic Colours for Jamie, and An Australian ABC of Animals for Bear. Angus climbs onto Rick’s lap, and Rick begins to read his new book with him. Jamie sits on the stairs with his, while Bear brings his into the playroom. From afar, I can see him carefully turning over every page. Pete is next in line to read with daddy, with Jamie looking on.

Much later on in the evening, Rick and I sit side by side on the couch in our lounge room.

Together, we open up Cameron’s photo album.

As soon as I see the first photo, my tears begin to fall.

I see us in hospital, taking turns to hold our son.

I see his beautiful face and the broken skin on his forehead.

I see his chubby cheeks and the dimple on his chin.

I see his dark red lips.

I see his arms, his legs, his feet, and his hands.

I see his perfectly formed nails.

I see how big he was and how ready he was to join our family.

I see my eyes, dripping with tears and sorrow.

I see my hands, clutching him tightly.

I see myself, willing him to wake up.

I see his hand in mine.

I see Rick, looking at our son with nothing but love.

I see the love, and I see the loss.

I see the three of us, alone in a hospital room – our last time together as a family of three.

With each photo, I sob and wail.

For the rest of the night, I cannot stop crying.

Happy eighth birthday, Cameron.

I will love you forever.

Mum xo

The day after my birthday

The Shoemaker's Daughter. A memoir of days, both past and present, by Rhonda Mason.

It is the day after my thirty-fifth birthday.

Rick lets me sleep in, while he prepares porridge for the boys.

By the time I come downstairs, Angus and Pete are opening up Monopoly, and Rick is helping Jamie with some Lego. Bear is happily playing on his own in the family room.

We spend the morning playing Monopoly as a family.

Angus is the banker; Jamie goes first, then Pete, then me, then Rick. Bear sits between me and Pete and refuses to give up his spot. I try to distract Bear by bringing Duplo in for him to play with. This works for a little while, but he still insists that I sit on the seat once removed from Pete.

We play quite speedily, and most of the property except for three are quickly bought up. Jamie ends up with the most property, and poor Pete only has three. Rick buys Mayfair (much to my chagrin), but thankfully, Pete ends up buying Park Lane just before we decide to take a break.

Morning tea ensues, and I decide to put on the Sound of Music. Rick and Angus retreat to the lounge room to read books, while the other boys and I hang out in the family room – playing with Lego whilst watching the movie.

We all rest during quiet time.

In the afternoon, I start planning and cooking dinner. Angus, Pete, and Jamie go outside to play, while Bear finishes his afternoon tea at the table with Rick.

First, I prepare the chicken and carrot soup in our big stockpot. I get it onto the stove as soon as I can to allow maximum time for simmering.

Next, I cut off the meat from the leftover chicken drumsticks, dice it up, marinate it, and then steam the meat for ten to fifteen minutes with red dates. I feel particularly pleased about the dish, as mum has made it for me every time I’ve come home from the hospital after giving birth.

Before I prepare the minced pork, I give my mum a quick call. I run through the marinade I’ve prepared (soy sauce, sugar, salt, and sesame oil), and she reminds me to add cornflour. I do as she suggests and finish mixing up the pork in the metal dish with a fork.

“Thanks mum, and love you”, I say, before hanging up.

While I wait for the pork to be steamed, I cook some bok choy by sweating it in a saucepan with shredded ginger.

Close to six o’clock, I lay the table with four dishes, cups of jasmine tea, and small bowls filled with soup and rice.

As I do so, a warmth spreads from my heart to my belly, and I finally realise what cooking with love is all about.

The boys are super impressed with the food, and everybody eats well. I find that I cannot stop smiling.

The soup is particularly well-received.

“My sou! My sou!” sings Bear.

And Angus, my darling boy, makes this declaration: “This is the yummiest soup you’ve ever made! It keeps getting yummier and yummier!”

Evening

The Shoemaker's Daughter. A memoir of days, both past and present, by Rhonda Mason.

The other evening after the boys were in bed, I snuck into our room, lay on our bed and watched the last light fade from our bedroom window. Rick joined me soon after, and together we lay there quietly till the dark completely enveloped us…

* * *

There is a sculpture in our lounge room.

It is unassuming, and it is beautiful.

It sits on the top shelf, next to our wedding photo and a technical drawing of a Queenslander that Rick did when he was in high school.

We have had the sculpture for eight years now.

It was given to us by our minister’s wife, a couple of months after Cameron died.

She’d been taking an art class at the time, and after we lost Cameron, she decided to make this sculpture as her major work.

The sculpture itself is of a mother nursing her child.

The mother holds her child close in an intimate embrace.

Her forehead rests on her child’s face.

The child grasps his mother’s bosom.

From afar, they look like they are one.

When Margie presented me with the sculpture, I was incredulous. Speechless. Moved beyond words.

We both had tears in our eyes as I held her gift in my arms.

I modelled this after a famous artist’s sculpture, she said.

Does it have a name, I asked.

Evening, was her answer.

My dream shed

The Shoemaker's Daughter. A memoir of days, both past and present, by Rhonda Mason.The Shoemaker's Daughter. A memoir of days, both past and present, by Rhonda Mason.

I don’t know what my dream house looks like, but if I were to have a dream shed, this would be it (complete with peacock and all)…

(For every day of this month, as part of my January creative project, I will be sharing a story in this space, whether in words or in pictures.)

Twilight kisses

The Shoemaker's Daughter. A memoir of days, both past and present, by Rhonda Mason.The Shoemaker's Daughter. A memoir of days, both past and present, by Rhonda Mason.

It is Monday evening.

Rick has gone out for a meeting, and all the boys are in bed. The only sound is that of the television. (It is X Factor night, after all.) It feels like I am the only person in the house.

I tiptoe upstairs to give the boys a bedtime kiss. I missed saying goodnight earlier because I’d fallen asleep on the couch.

Outside Bear and Angus’ room, I can hear Bear chattering to himself. I love his little voice so much.

I push open the door and step inside. I pad quietly over to Bear’s bed, and crouch down next to him.

He looks at me, and we grin at each other in the dark. I can make out the outline of his gorgeous eyes and his big, wide smile. I’m overcome with the urge to smother his face with kisses.

“Hey Bear…” I whisper as I crouch down next to him.

His little arms reach out and pull me close for a hug.

“I miss you, mama…” he whispers back.

With those four tiny words, he melts my heart completely.

“Oh Bear, I miss you too. Love you so much, little guy…”

We chat about what he had for dinner.

He lists every item with great clarity: “Sausage, sausage, sausage, carrot, carrot, carrot, and carrot. Yummy carrot!”

He then tells me what Angus had (“sausage, pasta, carrot, and toast”) and what Pete had (“sausage, sausage, sausage, carrot, and toast”). He’s not too sure about what Jamie ate.

We talk about “banana little school” (ie. daycare), and I tell him how proud I am of him. We both agree wholeheartedly that we miss each other when we’re not together.

I help him tuck in his sheet, and we whisper our goodnights. I give him the squeeziest embrace I can manage, and I bury my face in his soft, curly hair.

“Love you, Bear. Time to sleep, okay?”

“Okay mama. Love you…”

I tiptoe over to Angus’ bed. He is fast asleep, with his arm slung over his shoulder. I kiss his knee through his doona.

I leave their room, and walk down the corridor to Pete and Jamie’s bedroom.

They are both asleep as well. On the top bunk, Pete has his back towards me, so I kiss the top of his head. “Goodnight, my darling Pete. Love you…”

As I crouch down to Jamie’s bunk, I can hardly make him out. He is almost comletely buried under his blanket. All I can spy is a small tuft of dark hair amidst the white sheets. I lean forward and manage to kiss what I think is a shoulder.

“Goodnight, Mr James. Love you very much…”

As I head back down the corridor, Bear is still chatting softly to himself. He sounds like a little angel in the dark.

I pause for a moment outside his door and can’t help but smile.

“Time to sleep, Bear Bear…”

And with that, I return downstairs, leaving the boys to their cocoon of quiet and darkness.

(I will be returning to this space in seven days’ time to continue my endeavour of sharing a story here every day, whether in words or in pictures.)