Busytown by Jolisa Gracewood

Mork Calling Orkland (a guest column by Richard)

Busytot's Dad here. Many, many years ago I must have watched an episode of Mork and Mindy which, thanks to some quirk of memory, has permanently lodged itself in my head. So far as I can remember, the show always ended with Mork calling home to Ork with his latest report on the earthlings – except in this episode, Mindy took over the job for a week after a sequence of arguments about the division of labour in their household. There have been no significant arguments this week in Busytown about housework, but since Jolisa is currently sitting on the sofa with a laptop on her knees and a thesis chapter's worth of notes piled next to her, I will be filing this week's report instead.

In order to speed the arrival of the incipient chapter, I have been spending as much time as possible with Busytot and his friends for the last couple of weeks, while his mother hits the keyboard. Here in the heart of the capitalist West, we have cut ourselves loose from the frankly frightening world of Manhattan daycare (witness the million dollar donation that allegedly secured places for a pair of twins in a particularly august pre-school) and, along with some other local parents, have set up a babysitting co-operative. In return for wrangling Busytot and a couple of his playmates for the morning, we get a couple of mornings of childcare in exchange. The little fellow is usually sufficiently tuckered out upon his return to settle down for a heavy afternoon nap, thus considerably extending the horizon of writing time.

To be honest, looking after three toddlers for the morning is hardly an onerous chore (although it must be admitted, I might see things differently if I had to do it every morning). Just today, I got to see a little girl produce a note from an ocarina for the first time and then stop to vigorously applaud her own performance, I watched three small people enthusiastically "thump their chests like a gorilla" (forget about The Very Hungry Caterpillar -– Eric Carle's masterwork is the crowd-participation epic From Head to Toe), and gazed in wonderment at the amount of melon that can fit into a two-year old frame (I was hoping for dessert off that melon: no such luck). I may have refereed the occasional rocking-horse custody dispute, taken a call from a potential employer with loud wails clearly audible in the background, and changed more nappies than I normally encounter in a morning in the physics mines, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Busytot runs with a slightly older crowd, and an illuminating fringe benefit of our guerilla childcare scheme is that we get a sneak preview of what to expect in the coming months. Our lad will hit the 18 month mark this Friday (very auspicious, that our little half-New Zealander, two of whose great-grandfathers were at Gallipoli, will forever have his half birthday on Anzac Day), whereas most of his friends have already confronted the cake with two candles on it. In any group, someone must be the youngest or the last to hit particular milestones, and this time it is Busytot's turn. And the big event in the lives of many of his slightly older friends is the arrival of siblings.

Busytot has never shown any anxiety about seeing his parents with other children, but when he first saw each of us gingerly dandling a newborn (and gingerly it was – after becoming accustomed to hefting close to 15 kilos of sturdy toddler, holding a recently born baby is a shocking reminder of how much change can happen in year), he screamed himself purple with jealousy, and then sat in a parental lap snuffling and hiccupping for ages until he had fully recovered from our parental infidelity and regained his equanimity. More recently, though, he is getting to be as clucky as his parents - his own "baby" (a slightly alarming doll with eyes that blink shut as its head is tipped back) is a frequently requested bedtime companion, and he even asked if he could hold his Best and Closest Friend's newly arrived little sister.

The little sister was born safely and quickly last Monday, at home, as planned. Jolisa was there to help out and to keep an eye on the Best and Closest Friend, who was remarkably composed for a two year old. He stroked his mother's back between contractions, saying "It's OK Mummy. Don't cwy" -- which was the cue for everyone else in attendance to cry at the utter sweetness and sincerity of it. As Jolisa said on her return, seeing a baby come so beautifully into the world somewhat restored the karmic balance of the week -- it was a productive and positive and powerful and undeniably real event, after all that book-burning and misery and staged footage elsewhere in the world. Oddly enough, suddenly half the people we know are expecting (and one of them just found out it's twins!). In the words of one of film's most famous chaos theorists, "Life will find a way"... The world rolls on, lopsidedly but determinedly, and I guess we're lucky to be living in a currently safe part of it.