Wednesday, January 6, 2016


Before Kiki came to live with us, she lived in Tinyland, with her tiny mum and dad. In Tinyland, bonbons are good for you, and vegetables give you a sore tum. In Tinyland, being naughty is good.

In Tinyland, Kiki had three sisters, Strongy, Aren't I? and Teeny. They all had separate bedrooms, but sometimes they would swap, and occasionally they would all sleep together in one of the rooms.

'Did two of you ever gang up on the other one?' I ask.

'No,' she says.

In Tinyland they lived in the one house forever and ever and never moved. Kiki misses her tiny mum and dad, and talks about them every day. Their names are Matt and Coraline. She can still visit them, but I can't. I'm too big. If I came I would squash them and all of Tinyland. They have a sign that says No Big People. I would go to prison if I came. Kiki can go, because when she wants to visit, they just magic her tiny. She has this right, as she was borned in Tinyland.

'I wish I could visit Tinyland too,' I say.

She shrugs. 'Yeah. But you can't.'

The other day we were having a secret girls snack in her little tent and she told me how she came to live in my body. She was in Tinyland, with her tiny mum and dad, and one day the clouds all went away and a whole lot of holes opened up in the sky. She had to climb up a tree to the holes, and choose one of them to go inside.

'How did you choose?' I asked.

'I sniffed,' she said. 'I went up to all the holes and I sniffed and this one didn't smell good and this one didn't smell good... and then this one smelled like you! It smelled good. So I climbed up into the hole in the sky. And then I was in you.'

Saturday, January 2, 2016

This Year

Kiki was eating breakfast last December when she said for the second time,

'When we go Australia this year for Christmas I don't want to come back to Paris, I want us to stay there.'

This was December 2014. We were in the throes of trying to find a new place to live, as we had to move out of our apartment on the rue des Petites Ecuries on December 12. We had already accepted a 1-bedroom place on the rue de Marseille - a place many friends had rented over the 11 years since I'd first arrived in Paris from a nice wealthy lady who didn't mind if you were a foreigner and didn't have a steady job. That was rare and we seized upon it as we had neither the funds nor papers to go through the normal channels. The apartment only had one bedroom but it had a double séjour which we could split into a bedroom and a living area, as so many friends had done when they were students. The makeshift bedroom would face the street, which could be loud at nights and through the summer as it intersected with the Canal St Martin, and the kitchen and bathroom were crap, but our favourite boulangerie 'Du Pain et des Idées' was only four doors down, so that made it all perfect.

'Why do you want to stay in Australia?' I asked. 

Kiki had only spent two Christmases there and ten months of her first year - what did she know about living there? 

'Because the sun. And we can live next door to Grandad.'

The idea felt far-fetched but after Kiki was in bed we found ourselves on the couch in that familiar discussion configuration that often led to change. 

'Maybe we should,' I said, but I didn't believe it. I was testing the feelings of the words in my own body. They didn't sit at all.

'Maybe,' said Mr Rabbit. They sounded hollow. 

Our stuff arrived on a container ship in Australia in June, six months after we'd hurriedly crammed them into the huffy Indian drivers' van, which was overstuffed because we'd thought we only needed 2 metres cubed. After waving goodbye in the mirror in our entranceway in the tiny hours of December 12, we had arrived back in Australia with no clue of where we would live or what we would do. It had been almost twelve years since I had officially lived there, 8 for Mr Rabbit, Kiki's almost entire four years. We printed a photo of the three of us waving in that mirror in Paris in our coats and woolly hats and stuck it on the noticeboard of the local supermarket in Point Lonsdale, my dad's home town, with the words written on it in fat texta:


Someone responded and after couch surfing the summer we moved into a small holiday house near the golf course and went about setting up a studio for Mr Rabbit in a bungalow plastered with surf posters and a desk for me in the living room amongst the board games. Kiki got a little room with bunks and a shell picture with the name CHLOE on its door. 

We could keep the place until December 10, when the family would return for the summer. We would use the time to look around the peninsula for our own home to rent or maybe even buy, or consider returning to Melbourne, or set up in Sydney... find a home. A 'base' as I'd always gone on and on about. 

Kiki was over the moon. She played with her cousins, spent time with her Grandad. We put her in the little kindergarten we'd ogled from our computers in Paris, the one with the willows and gums looking over the little sea inlet. I wrote, Mr Rabbit did music. My Paris copywriting clients remained faithful despite the distance and it felt like perhaps we could continue living as we were over there, just with the beach and a freer kid. 

A wedding invitation arrived one day from some dear friends in Berlin. The wedding would take place in October in Alassio, on the northern coast of Italy. We put it on the fridge with a magnet of Kiki on a swing. It was a wedding we both wanted to deeply attend, though we both knew it was unlikely. 

Then in March a writer friend called to invite us to Spain for seven weeks in July and August. It felt way too soon to be returning to Europe and there were many discussions in the couch configuration featuring questions such as 'But isn't this year about settling down a bit? Do we really want to go back there now? Could we be putting our money to more pragmatic uses, namely, a house deposit?'

We experimented with different ideas: 
- Going just to Spain then returning, which seemed foolish as it was an opportunity for me to visit my clients in Paris, and our friends 
- Going to Paris for a few weeks, then Spain. 
- Paris then Spain then back to Paris until the following February, so moving out of this house in Australia (and going to the wedding in October). 
- Going to Spain, Paris, the wedding, then home (which would give us about six weeks to find a new home before we got kicked out). 
- Not going to any of it at all, and being safe. 

But in the end, how could you say no to seven weeks in Spain with your best friends? And what was life? And what would our next move be anyway? So far we hadn't been particularly inspired by any houses we saw, and weren't sure about living on the peninsula. Perhaps this could be time to reflect on what our next move would be, to spend time with creative friends, revisit our old life in Paris, see where it all pointed us. 

So we arranged to spend three weeks in Paris before travelling to Cadaquès to meet our friend and his wife and child, to then return to Australia in late August. No wedding. That would give us three and half months to find a home before we had to move out in December. We rented a lovely apartment off the Canal St Martin with pink flowers in the windows and after receiving a kind and unexpected invitation from the directrice of Kiki's old school, sent her back there for the final ten days of term. Her little camarades and their parents received us with an overwhelming amount of warmth. 'My little boy talks constantly of Kiki and the photos of her at the beach! Oooh we've missed you! Are you moving back here now then, for good?'

'For evil,' we'd reply. The joke fell flat as always in French, and besides by now it had well and truly worn itself out. 

'Shall I enrol Kiki in school for next year then?' asked the kindly directrice in the doorway one morning. 

'Yes,' I found myself saying. 

Work had been very very good since we'd been back, and I'd been offered the chance of a contract for a high fashion client in September-October. The only catch: I'd have to be sur place for the six weeks, to attend a regular weekly meeting with the client. 

'That shouldn't be a problem,' I heard my voice telling my client.

What were we doing? We had walked straight back into our old life. All the friends, the community we'd built over so many years had simply re-opened to us. It felt good. I wore heels again, drank cocktails with my best friends, ate dinners with Mr Rabbit, had long lunches with friends so close they were family, savoured all the things we loved. Kiki's babysitters, three beautiful brothers who had looked after her since the age of 1, swept back in and took her in their high, high arms. We were home. What were we doing?

The sun got hotter and we went to Spain. A week in Cadaquès swimming and eating and one day taking a boat out to a lagoon and seeing a live octopus cling and shoot itself around the rocks. Six weeks in Saint Marti des Empuriès, writing and eating and riding bikes and swimming and discussing and laughing and eating fresh apples off trees. We had to decide whether we'd return to Paris for the six weeks, or go back to Australia as planned. 

The couch configuration.

The train shot us back to Paris too quickly. And there we were, back in the 10th, a friend-of-a-friend's place on the rue d'Hauteville, a bedroom for us, a walk-in-robe for Kiki. A new pair of shoes for her first day of school, a maitre this year instead of a maitresse, her closest little friends of the quartier this time in her class. A post in my old shared office in the rue Thorel became available the day Kiki began school and I sat back in it with my magazine-editor friend and a designer and a writer and brought in my takeaway coffees and went to work, collecting an exhausted Kiki at 4:30, pain-au-chocs and Oranginas in cafés, work meetings, restless sleep. Life resumed utterly as before - even better because now we could identify its dynamism and excitement, the taste of cheeses and wine, the luxury of date nights on bikes to beautiful places down boulevards and across rivers. But again, we were stressed, my knuckles curled back up, the headaches returned, the dark circles reappeared under Kiki's eyes. Dragging her from sleep in the mornings, dressing her floppy body in bed, force-feeding her breakfast down before dragging her 'I don't want to go to schooool' face down the rue d'Hauteville, along Petites-Ecuries and down Martel, the frown of the guardienne telling her to descend from her scooter. The maitre's welcoming face. The guilt as I marched out of school straight to the office. 

Six weeks. The fashion job didn't eventuate, but a few other good contracts did. The decision to return was validated. And we were more confused than ever. 

Our ticket back to Australia was booked for October 15. A trip down south to see friends in a town called Sauve, then to Alassio to the wedding, then back to Paris. A few days before our trip down south was to happen we hit the wall. 

'If we're going to go back to Australia, I just want to go now,' I said. I felt a new kind of exhaustion. Emotional fatigue. Tired of moving. Tired of travel. Tired of the suitcase. Tired of Kiki in a closet. There were no flights until the 15th. So we boarded the train and went to Sauve for two exquisite cobblestone nights and then on to Alassio, heaven on earth. A town and an event so full of beauty and calm, we were reinvigorated.

It made me wonder. 

Should we just stay here? Mr Rabbit could go back and pack up the holiday house - it would be easy, a few suitcases worth. We hadn't even unpacked the shipment from Paris, it was all in a storage unit. Send it straight back! Expensive way to figure stuff out. But still...

'I don't want to leave,' I said, wobbly in the heels. 'This is all we know. We have a home here. We should just stay. I can't move any more.'

In Australia we would have 6 weeks to find ourselves a new living situation before we were kicked out of our house. It was too much. At least in the apartment in Paris we could stay. Everything was set up. We had school, friends, community, work. In Australia we hadn't built anything yet. We had nowhere to go. I just couldn't see the picture.

'No,' said Mr Rabbit. 'We can have a better life there, I just know it. Trust me. It's going to be good.'

The blackest of black surrounded me in those dying hours in Paris, and for the first ten days of our return to Australia. All felt wrong. We didn't fit anywhere.

We looked for houses, at rentals, at sales, in towns and villages, cities. How would we get a rental when our income was sporadic and coming from overseas? Let alone a mortgage? 

It was all too foreboding. And way too quiet. My mind was beating too fast. 

And then, suddenly, it happened. The picture. 

We had given up on Point Lonsdale as a place to live as it was too expensive but one day we were driving home from a day looking at houses we didn't like when we passed a For Sale sign we hadn't seen before, on the main street. The house was hidden behind a row of trees.  

'What's that joint?'

It had just come on the market. We could afford it!

We bidded hard, and won. We had no finance and a lot of doubt, but Mr Rabbit knuckled down and got it for us.

On December 10, we moved in.

We bought our very first Christmas tree.

We put an angel on top.

Kiki's room had her own name on it.

And now all I can think is thank God we flew by the seat of our pants.