A few days ago I was half-listening to Radio National which was replaying an interview with Jeff Fatt, one of the Wiggles. He commented that one of the things he liked about his job was that it gave him access to the world that's inhabited by young children and their parents. His words reflected my experience of the couple of weeks I spent looking after my grand-daughter at the end of December and beginning of January. For those couple of weeks I inhabited a world I knew very well when my own children were small, but that I've not really lived in since then. To describe the world of small children and parents and carers as a parallel universe is going a bit too far; but it's certainly a space where your view of the world is transformed.
I found myself going places and doing things I've not done in a long time. I went to the beach and jumped over waves and swam in the sea and built sand castles
I went to the movies and saw two animated films (you have to know just how avidly I avoid animation in any medium to know what a departure this is from my usual practice)
I visited the local park and playground and hung out at the charmingly unpretentious Ithaca swimming pool.
I visited an animal park and exclaimed over the cuteness of the wombats.
I spent quite a bit of time in the children's section of both the City and State Libraries in Brisbane. Both wonderful.
[The children's section of the City Library, by the way, has views through its modern angular windows of the Brisbane Casino - a very elegant late nineteenth century building that used to be the State Treasury. Somehow that seems very appropriate and very Brisbane]
I went to a Dinosaur Picnic arranged by the State Museum where we made dinosaur masks and tails and listened to a performance of factually accurate songs about dinosaurs by Jurassic Joe. These songs are readily transferable as earworms and simply by typing this I have 'The Sleepy Stegosaurus Stomp' echoing through my head.
And of course we visited - twice - the very child-friendly Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA), my favourite gallery. It currently has a large exhibition of works by senior Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama that extends in a most enveloping fashion through several of the Gallery's rooms. Of special delight to children - and to most of the accompanying adults - is the Obliteration Room where the aim is to cover all the white spaces of the walls, floor, ceiling and furnishings with dots (Kusama has a passion for dots). Everyone is issued with a sheet or two of dot stickers as they enter the room which they can use as they wish. It's fun to see children sitting on the parents' shoulders to reach the ceiling or crawling beneath the table to paste dots on the underside.
As you exit from the Obliteration Room (such a great title) you're inspected to make sure you're not transferring dots outside the room on your clothes or the soles of your shoes. Nevertheless, the dots have escaped to lots of other areas of the Gallery and the surrounding areas. It became quite a game to 'spot the spots' around the cultural centre precinct, and even at the bus stop.
GoMA also has an installation called 'we miss you magic land'. Ostensibly it's designed for children, though as the title implies, it's just as captivating for grown-ups temporarily inhabiting the child's world. To quote the exhibition blurb, Perth artists Pip and Pop draw on 'children’s stories, creation myths, Buddhist cosmologies, video games and folktales, (to) create large-scale fantasy worlds coloured with a bright, often fluorescent palette, using cake-decorating tools, intricate layers of sugar, glitter, modelling clay and mirrors'. (I wonder if any of the participants in the astonishing cake-decorating sections of the Royal Easter Show ever dreamed of putting their talents to such use). The magic worlds are arranged in clusters at various levels and can be viewed through small windows and by looking up at the ceiling.
You can even create your own magic world at home, which we did, several times.
Being an adult in the world of children means a change of perspective. Time stretches and contracts. Some things take much longer to accomplish than you could ever imagine possible; others you thought might be absorbing are passed over with barely a glance. You have to expect the unexpected. Things you find deeply boring can entertain a child for hours. Plans you make can be overturned in an instant. At the risk of sounding pollyanna-ish, I rediscovered that many of the most enjoyable things are free (other than the 'cost' of your time). Time at the beach - admittedly made possible by visiting a generous friend, imaginative games, playing with other children in the park or at the library, all cost nothing.
I'm back in my adult world with my adult perspectives - until the next time I visit my children and grandchildren.
Afterword...on my day off from doting I went back (yet again) to GoMA to see the exhibition Matisse: Drawing Life. There are rooms of Matisse drawings and you see the development from his already skilled early works to the late collages. Matisse drew and drew and drew - dozens of drawings each day - to refine his portrayal of the world. You see an artist continually honing his skill and vision. Definitely worth viewing.
And I popped in, as I always do, to see the wall of Ian Fairweather paintings in the Queensland Art Gallery. I love his paintings as design, but I also find them sad and nostalgic and somewhat tortured. Definitely worth revisiting.
[Ian Fairweather 'Kite-flying' 1958]