I must have thought, at some point, that the hours between 6-8pm would be easy. That when Teach got home, he would be thrilled to see his family, and would have boundless energy to play; that with my parenting workload halved, I would immediately become twice as fun. Of course, this is not true. Though Teach is, of course, thrilled to see us every night, he is also tired from a day of being shouted at by children and shouting maths back at them. By 6pm I have completely run out of all of my excellent play ideas, I’m tired of telling her she can’t have eighty-six crackers, and if she mashes play dough into my carpet one more time I may just replace her with a play dough baby that is much quieter and just as squishy to hug. So 6-8pm is often spent not at our best: dinner, then sitting on the couch watching Seinfeld reruns, sometimes sliding from couch to floor to interact with the Rocket, who is probably breaking crayons or putting her Sylvanian Families rabbits to sleep in various mysterious places we won’t find for years.
But sometimes, we are excellent parents. Sometimes we have good ideas. After the Rocket became fearful of the dark – “Too dark!” she would wail, even on the journey from car to front door – Teach made the dark into a game, and that game is possum hunting. Melbourne is rife with possums, as long as you have three trees in your street. In my childhood home, there was a possum box in the tree outside my bedroom window, where occasionally I would hear their alarming mating sounds and have terrible nightmares. When I moved out with Teach, our place had possums running along the fence almost daily, and they would eat the fruit we left out for them. In our most recent home, they don’t really come to our house, but in the leafy park near the station, they are often rustling branches around the place. So, armed with a torch, a bike light, jackets and excitement, we started going on possum hunts.
It’s worked amazingly. The Rocket isn’t the least scared of the dark any more. Now she just says, “Quiet, poshum hiding,” if we’re out in the dark. As she runs down the street in her giant parka, she yells, “Poshum! Where are you poshum? Hiding poshum! Come out poshum!” Sometimes she will stop and say, “Shhh, find poshum,” and point up a tree, which will be so still that it’s almost like the wind has stopped just to laugh at her. We go as quietly as we can, listening for shaking branches up ahead. Don’t do this when it’s windy; you can’t find anything then. One of us will hear something, the scratch of leaves, or the fall of a seed on the ground. We’ll pause, shine the torch around, even the Rocket quiet in anticipation. There, maybe, a flash of white belly, or the reflection of their eyes in the light. Sometimes too far away for the Rocket to discern. Sometimes perfectly silhouetted against the stark white limbs of gum trees. Some days, like today, the shaking branch is so close we thought it was a cat, but instead it was a small, beautiful, unafraid ringtail possum, looking out at us, happily eating a leaf, close enough to touch. Instead I took a picture of it on my iPhone, illuminated by Teach’s torch. The Rocket was frozen, clinging to her father’s side like a marsupial baby, staring at it with a smile as wide as could be. We left, not wanting to panic the little creature too much more (and, well, we were also flashing our torches into somebody’s front yard), and went to the petrol station around the corner for snacks and a new Matchbox car for the Rocket. On the way back, we stopped, and it was still there, still eating, still watching us. Teach, after all that, couldn’t resist brushing his hand against its fur. “One of the softest things I’ve ever felt,” he reported in a wistful voice, “Like a baby’s breath.” We went on, wondering if there was any point in going on another possum hunt in the future when they could surely never live up to this. Just around the corner from our house, we stopped by our lucky possum tree, and sitting where the trunk branched into two, was a brushtail possum – the kind you don’t pat if you enjoy having fingers – which watched us from about ten feet up. The Rocket put her arms out and said, “Poshum hug. I come to you poshum! Hug!” Even after we explained that it wasn’t a great idea, she just said agreeably, “Okay. Poshum come here. Poshum hug,” because she does not listen.
Back at home we looked over the pictures and she smiled again. “Poshum ate flower,” she said knowledgeably. “No poshum hug,” she concluded.
No, you shouldn’t hug them. But they can stop you from being scared of the dark.