You and I were both up early on your birthday. I gave you a hug and a kiss and said, “Happy birthday Alex.”
You sang, “Dad, I’m so happy to be eleven!”
Of course, you’re embarrassed by Dad’s music. You don’t think much of Fleet Foxes or Vampire Weekend, but you like Lana Del Rey, and Ben Folds is our road trip soundtrack. Every time. We turn it up loud.
In the same way there’s days you love the Old Gum Tree Park, and other days, when not so much. You swing between being a little boy and an almost teenager who, some might say, can be a little demonic! I guess your emotional vocabulary is developing, and this isn’t always easy to spectate. But I mean this in a kindly way.
It’s what happens when a boy is eleven.
All you wanted for your birthday was a lunch at an all you can eat restaurant (term employed loosely here, I think) so off we went to Charlie’s Diner at the Brighton Metro. As I’d been at a conference Saturday morning I arrived late and you’d all eaten.
Where Max had sat appeared as a site in Pompeii when the tables and houses were frozen forever as the lava struck. There were plates and drinks and bowls, all with just a sip or bite taken, as if Vesuvius had burst through. It wouldn’t take the archaeologists long to discover whose meal this was.
I loved that you and Max immediately took me on a tour about Charlie’s to the bains-marie as you both pointed out the endless offerings.
“Dad, here’s all the pizza! There’s the Asian food.”
“Look at all the chips. They’re pretty good.”
“Right now, come to the dessert bar. Around here. You can come back as many times as you want!”
You’re a beautiful big brother. As one of the people down the park said to me last week- “Alex is caring, and tries to look after his younger brother- I don’t think Max listens too well.” But you do laugh at and love him as we all do.
I become misty when I think of you both in fifteen years. I can see you at the Ashes cricket, or at a music festival (I think you’ll come around to Vampire Weekend), and I know you’ll be there for each other. There’ll be knowing nods and gruff exchanges and glances across the pub just to check on your best friend, your brother.
I know you love him with gentle ferocity.
Your humour makes me happy. Just like an eleven-year-old should, you laugh at YouTube and those crazy physical dares and stunts that are all a bit Three Stooges, but I also love how you watched Frontline with me- and can quote the clueless current affairs show host Mike Moore, and at random times around the house you’d say, “Mmmm. Martin Di Stasio there with that disturbing report.”
I love that you roar instantly with me at Mad As Hell when Micallef features one of his fake promos, for funny ABC shows like
The Rise of Hollywood’s Power Mice
The Depraved, Godless, Sicko Hedge Sparrows of Yorkshire.
You’re nearly finished at primary school and are in the senior unit where, in an innocent, unlikely symbol of your unstoppable progression, you can use a microwave or boil a kettle to have noodles for lunch. I can see you in there quietly leading your friends with your constant sense of justice.
Just as I can still see you in our Singaporean condo on your first ever school day as you headed out under the towering cityscape and into the hugging heat. My hot tears from that day are never far away.
Tim Winton is my favourite Australian writer and one of his best lines for me is not found in Cloudstreet or The Riders or Dirt Music, but the Young Adult novel he published thirty years ago.
Lockie Leonard, Human Torpedo.
At the end Lockie is talking to Vicki who, like some adolescent girls, wants to grow up too fast, and I’m so joyful that in this gorgeous character’s reply I can hear you, dearest Alex.
“I hate being a kid,” she said.
“See? I’m weird,” he murmured. “I love it”