Polly Greeks’ Blog: Making lemonade

Polly attempts to look on the bright side after a series of sour events occur at home – and across the Tasman Sea. 

At first I thought it was a joke. No sooner had we waved James off for a week away, when we discovered the other car sported a badly cracked windscreen.

The kids and I stared disbelievingly at the myriad lines running like spider legs out from a central point. We’d just packed for a beach picnic. Boogie boards and beach towels cluttered the boot. I took the key back out of the ignition. Nobody seemed to know how the cracks had appeared.

My children know about swearwords. In an ideal world, they’d have a mother with unflappable equilibrium who simply inhaled life’s trickier moments and went with the flow. Realistically, I’m at least teaching them the vocabulary required for curse-worthy occasions.

We all agreed this was one of them. The picnic was off. So too, was the trip to town for post-Christmas supplies. Local glaziers all had their answerphones on. Life had turned sour.

“Well,” I said to the tearful kids as they sat behind me in their swimsuits. “You know what they say about getting served lemons. We’ll just have to make lemonade.” Channelling Mary Poppins, I beamed brightly to make up for my expletives.

We hiked to a dear neighbour’s for our picnic instead. It took an hour, followed by another hour back once we’d dined on her lawn.

“Isn’t this fun?” I puffed as we climbed the steep hill. It actually was.

The trip to town for supplies wasn’t a necessity. We could survive for months on our sacks of wholefood if we had to. But rifling through my secret chocolate stashes for fortification, I was dismayed to discover they’d all run out. Damn December’s resolve to go sugar-free! Damn the broken windscreen for helping me stick with it.


Five-year-old Zendo’s behaviour necessitated cacao reinforcements. It had to be a testosterone surge. Lately he’d entered an argy-bargy stage of life. Energetically, he was spikey. Movements were marked by jabbing, thrusting and whacking.

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He couldn’t sit still. Truly; I timed him. Twenty-three seconds was his limit. He tried not to move but suddenly his limbs started twitching then flailing. The great momentum welling inside him couldn’t be contained.

Leaping away, he hacked at the lawn with a stick, stabbed at the air, tackled the bewildered dog and tested a bean pole’s durability.

“Don’t do that,” was a dare, not a prohibition.


“The trick is to wear him out,” James told me as I groaned down the phone in frustration.

Summer is equipped for that. While others flop about on their holidays, we toil industriously through the seasonal chores. Harvested garlic needs hanging, drains must be cleared, gardens and fruit trees require watering, seedlings transplanting, incessant courgettes must be dealt with and then there’s the new courtyard to build. I put the children to work on the firewood.

Their job was to load split wood in the wheelbarrow and wobble it round to the back of the house where I could stack it.

Eight-year-old Vita practised her American accent as she worked, murmuring beguilingly to invisible friends.

“Zendo!” She suddenly shrieked. He was lobbing cut rounds of wood into the barrow as fast as a whirling dervish and mostly missing his target.

“Zendo,” she yelled again as he heaved the wheelbarrow around a corner so fast it tipped over.

“Zendo,” I shouted as he jabbed my stomach with a make-shift sword.

He gave his sister an almighty shove.

“Why did you do that?” I remembered to ask instead of reacting.

“I want to play oshy boshy,” he told me sadly. He meant wrestling. This was his need. He was, after all, just another kind of animal cub. Obligingly, Vita pretended to be a karate instructor and put him through his paces on the lawn.

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We’ve only recently regained that outdoor space. At some point in our lawn’s evolution, the soft green blanket mown before the house had morphed into a vicious acupuncture mat, filled with prickles as sharp as broken glass that punctured barefooted victims and forced them into strange hobbling gaits as they attempted to leave the booby-trapped turf.

Reluctant to spray the area with poison, James wondered if he could crowd the spiteful plant out. For eleven weeks, he let the lawn grow unchecked. Rising like a tide, thigh-high grass swamped the house-front, erupting into nodding blonde seed heads that rippled in unison as breezes swept over our home-grown prairie. Hundreds of sparrows dined buffet-style on the movable feast.

James cut the grass just before Christmas guests arrived, reclaiming our patch of civilisation from the wilderness.

A little tentatively I walked bare foot across it. Nothing. Not a prickle. The experiment in natural selection had worked.

I took the children for another long walk on Sunday afternoon. We moved through a strange, deeply yellow light. Yellow is the happiest colour; speaking of sunshine and golden times, but this tone was eerie and heavy. Sometimes it smelt very faintly of wood-smoke. We’d seen the satellite maps showing the direction of Australia’s bush-smoke. This was the aftermath of their apocalypse.

Earlier, at 2am, I’d watched a blood-red half-moon sink below the ranges and wondered what my predecessors on the land would’ve portended from it.

Would they have known from the signs that firestorms raged on a continent some 2,000km out to the west?

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Who knew Australia had so much bush to lose? I hadn’t realised this landmass too, was part of our planet’s lungs.

People turn to their divinities in times of crises, and the Australian bush-fires are no exception. Facebook’s been full of entreaties and supplications. What’s interested me is who the prayers are to. There’ve been countless invocations to the Earth and calls to us, the people, to manifest rain.

If increasing numbers of people are addressing our planet as a living being, and they believe we can collectively focus our awareness to change reality, it gives me hope for our communal future; it’s a few drops of lemonade salvaged from a vast, charred heap of smouldering lemons.

We grew silent on our walk. The trees were a series of black silhouettes against the unnerving sky.

For a moment I imagined our forest going the way of Australia’s; getting hotter and drier, exploding into flames and then gone. The loss made it hard to breathe. I hope Australia’s catastrophe (which is all of ours, really) serves as another reminder that life on this precious planet exists in fragile balance. We need to rearrange ourselves on the metaphorical see-saw to maintain it. I hope we make bloody lemonade from the lemons while there’s still enough time to spare.

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