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  • Writer's pictureKate Halfpenny

Life’s golden rule: Whatever you do, don’t look back

Watching Ariarne Titmus gingerly carry the Melbourne Cup out before Tuesday’s race made me want to yell at the telly. Arnie was doing it all wrong.

So sure of herself in the water and big moments, Titmus seemed uncertain. The Olympic champion kept looking down at her hands – slightly shaky in Mickey Mouse white handling gloves – and that was the problem.

The golden rule of carrying anything that could slip or spill is to never look down at where you are or, God forbid, where you’ve been. Always, always look to where you want to go.

Keep laser focus on the table, the horizon, the next step up the ladder, and you’ll never lose a single drop of what’s precious to you. No tea slopping into saucers, no beer spilling on your popped collar good shirt. No mucking up the interview you want to nail.

This is a life hack I’ve employed forever. Certainly, my kids have had it barked at them as many times as my instruction to thrust their left arm in the air if they’re choking. And yet, I found myself ignoring it two weeks ago, and subsequently found myself in all sorts.

My daughter texted. Our old Williamstown house, sold in 2014 when our family scattered because of divorce, was being auctioned. Would I go with her? She wanted to revisit the rooms where she grew up. Tricky. Except to see my dermatologist once a year I avoid Willy at all costs, even to visit beloved friends. Too many memories and what ifs.

But, my girl. We arranged to rendezvous in the car park of the hot chicken shop. We did a couple of laps of the familiar ’hood first, cruising past the house of the gorgeous Fithall triplets, the street where Sadie and Nina rode matching trikes with toy cats in the back, the servo where the kids loaded up on slurpies after school.

Then it was time to rip off the band-aid. I held Sadie’s hand. The real estate agent at the door asked if we’d been through the house before. Sades smiled: “You could say that.”

On the 1994 day we bought the 1880 house – a block back from the water, eight or so houses from the Botanic Gardens – I was 27, with one baby in an Emmaljunga and another on the way. We paid $172,500.

It had been neglected for decades, had no natural light in two of the four rooms. Even the agent warned us off. But it had 12-foot ceilings, three original fireplaces and huge sash windows.

We stripped it back to bare bones, laid Tassie oak and pale green Italian glass mosaic tiles. We renovated twice over two decades, loving that house back to life.

It was the scene of the usual family stuff – babies brought home, endless laundry, whispered fights once the kids were in bed, VCE result pride. And then the stuff which was just ours. A little boy building the Millennium Falcon from Lego and singing Carolina in My Mind.

The Christmas that Santa left a Jayco camper in the backyard. The hash brownie party where the cops came. The day I was changing the top bunk sheets and fell onto a kicked-off Jimmy Choo needle heel. The grief when Jamiroquai, the dove who took up residence after escaping from a wedding, was found dead. Being back was beautiful agony. The tears started when Sadie pointed out the laundry door architrave, the children’s heights from babyhood still visible below a layer of paint. Potential buyers streamed past, oblivious. I wanted them out of my house.

It sold for over $2 million more than we paid, to a polished couple who threw their arms around each other. I felt jealous, proud of what we did, sentimental.

I ugly-cried all the way home to Ocean Grove, weirdly glad to have had a glimpse of a past life, drained by looking back instead of forward.

Eyes front, people. Try it with a cuppa, Ariarne. Then with everything. You’ll see what I mean.

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