Friday, April 30, 2010

All The Single Mamas

Last night I came this close to crossing the line into to the land of loony-tunes. Keith was in Canberra and dinner with the kids was like being a serving wench to a couple of disgruntled lunatics.

Ivy had the post-pre-school emotional jitters and Teddy is currently eighty-two flavours of crazy. He shouts 'ME MINE MORE!' all day long, and even- at 3am last week - in his sleep. At dinner I heard 'ME MORE SOSS!' until my ears bled.

It took me twenty minutes of soothing talk about good times to calm Ivy down enough to sleep at bedtime. For me, it felt like dredging the bottom of a tapped-out emotional dam.

Some weeks when Keith is away are like that. By the time he is home I feel the weight of his emotional half-share lift off my shoulders with relief. Not for the first time, I thought about my single-parent friends, who carry that weight all alone.

Last week, after gastro ripped through the family like an evil fairy, I was all out of patience. I'd been dealing with irritable sick children for days, and one dinnertime, I had lost all my mummy mojo. Ivy refused to eat, and I had nothing left but grumpiness. Eventually, Keith appeared.

'Are you feeling very grumpy, Ivy?' he asked.
'Yes,' she whimpered.
'Do you know why you feel so grumpy?' he asked.
'No,'' she said, and burst into tears.

He folded her into a Dad-hug, and explained about sickness, and recovery, and trying to talk nicely to other people even when you felt very yukky inside, and he promised that tomorrow she would feel a little bit better.

I felt very grateful to have a Keith. And I thought of my single-Mum friends, without a Keith, who dredge that emotional dam all the time, and do it so well, and I felt very, very proud of them too.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

My Creative Space

Sewing for me holds the thousand joys and the thousand sorrows of the old Korean proverb.

My bathmat from last week is finished and in high rotation - it makes me very proud to have a finished project, and one with flannel on the feet is an extra bonus as the weather turns cool.

So then I started working on a 'budget system' wallet; the pattern for which I bought through the clever peoples at wienerdogtricks.

I like to think of it as a marital aid.

Folks, I measured, and pinned, and did all sorts of other bits of business that go against my essential nature. Here are my little pockets, all sewn up, labelled, and ready to roll.

My proudest moment- my thousand joys- was when I attached the zipper foot to the sewing machine and sewed on a zipper. Oh, wonder of wonders! I was so het up I could have used a cold hose-down.

But my sewing high ended, as sewing high must, when I realised I had sewn the zipper on inside out. In-fricken-side-farkin-out. I poked at it a bit and the tooth bit flew off and dropped on my foot.

Here's my wallet, looking oh-so-nearly-finished.

And here's the gaping zipper hole, laughing at me with it's evil, metallic grin.

I'm over for today. Pre-school pickup beckons, and then all the housework left neglected while I experinced the emotional roller-coaster of a quiet afternoons sewing.

Better creative spaces over here.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Winter Woolies Washout

Baby, Air Supply said it first: the nights are chilly but the days are warm. The season of hot-water-bottles is upon us, and conditions are perfect for dragging out the crates of winter wooly wear.

When you're at home with small kids life is a constant battle between entertaining them and doing the countless jobs that keep them alive, warm, and free of infestation. When you choose one, you neglect the other, and juggling that balance can be a real bastard.

Sometimes you can combine the two, and that was my big plan today. Fill the clam-shells with lovely soapy water, stomp around together, get my crazed boy-child outside to burn off some of the energy jolting his equilibrium.

Make Some Memories.

Get Stuff Done!

Like most of my big ideas it didn't come off exactly as I had hoped.

To be honest, if I lived the pleasure-seeking, hedonistic life of the pre-schooler and I was presented with a warm bath full of soft jumpers, out in the thin wintry sunshine, I would just lie back and go Zen too.

Meanwhile, I stomped around my reclining nudists, who just ordered 'More water, Mumma! It's getting cold!' I staggered with wet armloads back and forth to the laundry to rinse and hang. Teddy fell over, wept, and cried harder when I gently refused to comfort him with tomato sauce.

Ivy got cold and grumpy.

I cursed my inability to pass a CWA stand full of nanna-knits without buying at least one jumper. But the deck is strewn with drying woolies, and I'm planning an easier day tomorrow, when Ivy's off to pre-school and it's just me and T-Bone.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Friday, April 23, 2010

Raw Chicken + Pre-schoolers = Good Times!

This week's cooking lesson involved chicken schnitzel. Funny, I feel my photos are always from this same perspective - the kitchen counter. My office. My two little buddies are always perched on these stools, or falling off them, or using them as a stepping-stone to climb closer to the sugar jar.

We made breadcrumbs using the heel of yesterdays loaf, some chives, salt and olive oil, and Ivy gleefully pressed the buttons on the food processor. I'm teaching her to answer my every question in the kitchen with 'YES CHEF!'

Hammering with a steel mallet was the good part.

Trying to keep Teddy out of the raw egg and breadcrumb mix was less successful. (It's true I could have put down the camera and supervised more closely but since I was essentially using raw chicken as a craft material I think we can accept my poor mothering in this instance and move on.)

Finished product! And most importantly, all eaten, which doesn't always happen with Ivy. Ted will eat anything, as long as you answer his pleas for 'me more soss! me more soss!'

Happy long weekend, everybody. Hope it's full of fun with raw chicken.

Swimming Lessons

Ivy practices her self-directed bubble blowing technique, with admiring audience, as always.

April column for Practical Parenting Magazine

‘May you have an interesting life, ’goes the old Chinese curse. Or, alternatively, could I suggest: ‘May you have a theatrical daughter.’ Like a drunken executive at the work Christmas party, three-year-old Ivy can add the thrill of drama to the most mundane occasion.

Last week we started swimming lessons. I was a little nervous when I saw the sign ‘Nursery of Champions’ at the door, and the banner ‘No Crying! Just Trying!’ I’m your typical new-century mother: organic spinach lollipops and chemical-free chemicals all the way. Big John from swimming school was more of a suck-it-up, this-is-how-we-did-things-in-Nam, save-the-drama-for-your-mama type.

At intensive swimming school, kids go every day for a week. For the first two days, Ivy was a scream. With her goggles on awkwardly (‘I haffa do it myself!’), she squinted up at Big John as he swam her across the pool, flirtatiously discussing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang while he suppressed a smile and said ‘Stop talking, Ivy! Blow bubbles!’

Her two classmates were less dramatic in temperament. They practiced, and listened, and slowly they began to swim. Ivy, instead, used her energy to initiate conversation with Big John about her outfit or to paddle ‘her own way.’ By Day 3, she’d had enough.

‘I’m not going under that water, John!’ she shouted suddenly, and began to wail. Over the next two days, lessons degenerated. As John crossed the pool, there was no talk of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Instead, Ivy clutched his neck and begged him, like a daytime soap starlet, ‘don’t let go of me John, please hold me, hold me, hold me…’

Watching, it took all my strength not to snatch her up out of the pool and run to the car. I had to remind myself that this was the same child who could summon an Oscar-worthy portrayal of distress if I dropped her special spoon. And who often flung herself across my lap, fake-coughing and moaning ‘I’m sick, Mumma, very, very sick. I haffa need a Wiggles band-aid.’

The terrible climax came on Day 4 when it came time for the tiny swimmers to jump off the side and under the water so Big John could pluck them out. Ivy refused, point-blank. ‘Come on, Mum,’ said Big John impatiently. I unwound my small daughter from my legs and held her over the pool. Took a breath. And. Dropped. Her. In.

In bed that night, Ivy and I discussed the day’s events. ‘Mummy, you did throw me in the pool, ‘she said. ‘Yes, honey,’ I replied, ‘that’s engraved pretty deep on Mummy’s brain too.’ Ivy looked me deep in the eye. ‘I did think to punching you in the mouth today, Mum,’ she said.

In the end, Big John and his Nursery of Champions didn’t stand a chance next to my small daughter and her whim of iron. If she was going to swim, she’d swim on her own terms. A day or two after lessons ended, she began wearing her goggles at the dinner table, obsessively blowing bubbles in the bath and announcing ‘I’m a swimmer!’ to anybody who crossed her path. No leftover trauma for this child. It’s Mum that’s left with the psychological scars. I’m not scared of swimming. But I might cry if I had to enter that Nursery of Champions again.

Masterchef Vs Marriage

Keith hates Masterchef with the same passion that I love it.

It's a shame. I've tried to explain that my love affair can only impact positively on his life (i.e: his stomach) but he doesn't buy it. Last year he was more than a little alarmed when he came upon me weeping copious tears as I watched Julie's grand final win. He had to pat my shoulder as I tried to tearfully explain what had been so unexpectedly moving about Mystery Boxes and Invention Tests.

It's tough, because Channel 10 deals out Masterchef in huge doses, and while I don't watch it all, I want to. I really really want to.

It appeals so much to my twin loves of cooking and the absurd. In prime time, millions of viewers are gripped to find out whether a contestant's Beef Wellington has reached perfect medium-rare consistency. Half an hour is devoted to a salmon weighing competition. Who can be first to fillet a Tasmanian salmon into six steaks of 180 grams each? The camera pans lovingly. The crowd goes wild!

That is television, my friends.

Contestants fall apart under the pressure. They weep as their pasta disintegrates. They dedicate their desserts to dead relatives. Meanwhile, television's greatest sex symbol, the dandy Matt Preston, stares intently into the eyes of trembling cooks as he rolls their gnocchi around his expressive mouth.

Last night, wearing a tight white suit with Cuban heels and raspberry cravat, he threw a pork chop over his shoulder to the imaginary dogs of his Tudor court.

That is television, my- did I say that already?

At least I have Ivy. She gets it. I let her stay up last week to watch some with me, and curled against me under a blanket, she said breathlessly ‘Imagine if that was you and me up there Mum. That would be amazing.’

Thursday, April 22, 2010

My Creative Space

I'm joining in with Kirsty's Creative Space project this week.

This picture's terrible, but I'm making a bathmat from one of Amanda Soule's patterns in Handmade Home, using a vintage towel and a stripey flannel sheet. You sew towel strips on the top, with flannal in the middle and a big strip of towel for the back.

Quick-drying, and soft on tiny toes.

Fiddly, but fun. Lots of satisfying long, straight lines.

Youcan see more creatiev spaces over here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Thoughts on Little Boy Children.

When I was pregnant with Ivy, Keith and I went on one of our meandering camping trips in Mum and Dad's campervan. We were stopped at some country market when I - drawn like a rotund magnet to all things baby-related - got chatting to a woman with a little boy.

Thinking back, he would have been Teddy's age. As we talked, she constantly - and without stopping her flow of conversation- chased and retrieved him as he ran in various directions, at full speed. Chase, bend, hoist onto hip, place on ground, chase, bend, repeat.

He was cute.

She was happy.

I was horrified.

How am I going to do that, I thought? With my rickety back? How? How?

I didn't think of that woman again through Ivy's toddler-hood. Ivy would sit and play, sit and read, stop at the side of the road. Her lunatic qualities were expressed in ways other than the physical.

Then I had me a little boy.

Today Ivy, Ted and I had a coffee together to celebrate the kids good behaviour at Pixifoto- oh my lord, more on that later. (Advice required.) Ivy painted her face with baby-cino, talked of various subjects of interest (masks, skulls) and made Spot talk in a squeaky voice to the senior couple two tables over.

Ted ran his fat little legs off. He ran at the door. He ran at the other tables. He ran; giggling, looking behind himself with thrilled expectancy that Mum would chase and yes! she chased! So he ran faster! Finally I strapped him into a high chair. Once he had caused an obscene amount of mess with milk and muffin, he managed to detach the seat and send it crashing to the floor.

And me, I was fine. A little haggard, yes. Crumby and milk-stained: sure. The pity object of a horrified first-time pregnant woman: possibly.

Actually, I was better than fine.

I was happy. I felt lucky to be blessed with a healthy and spirited boy-child, one who shouts 'Mine! Mine!' in his sleep, and insists, always, on 'more'. 'More what?' I ask him. 'Yes!' he agrees.'More what! More what! More what!'

He runs full-tilt at life, this fluffy-nutted child, and I'm deeply satisfied, somehow, knowing that he can take life at such a gallop because he's learned that Mum and Dad will be there to chase and catch him, every time.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


A tragically early death occured yesterday within the family. It's been a painful and heartbreaking time for Sam, Chris and their family, as they suffered with Trent through his battle against melanoma.

Some are bound to die young
By dying young a person stays young in people's memory.
If he burns brightly before he dies, his brightness shines for all time.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

If you notice any change to shape or colour of moles, see a doctor immediately. Australia has the worlds highest incidence rate for melanoma. You can read more here.

Rest in peace, Trent.

Craft With Kids: From Abject Failure To Messy Success

Ivy is currently enamoured with a book about mask-making, which she wants to read constantly. She gets upset if you just discuss the masks on each page though. 'Read it! Read it!' she orders, so currently her bedtime stories go a little like: 'Tools. White board. Black board. PVA glue. masking tape. Pipe cleaners of varying colours. Begin by clipping the paper plate, being sure to mind your fingers, '...etc, etc. She is gripped.

Unfortunately, young Ted- the most adorable barbarian you could hope to be cuddled by - is not at his best when faced with containers of glitter and cotton wool. The urge to destroy is too strong for him to fight. Ivy (whose current catchphrase is 'I just like to do my own thing, OK?') is possessed of an extremely independent spirit (i.e: stubborn as an old dog) and so any helpful suggestions are met with different versions of 'talk to the hand.'

Complicated craft just doesn't fly. Our mask-making efforts looked like this:

and my nerves felt similar.

So today, we brought out the yogurt paint - mixed with a few drops of food colouring, it makes for at least twenty minutes of rocking good fun. The paper got discarded almost immediately in favour of painting Teddy, and before long, he was radioactive.



Soon he was even perched happily on Ivy's lap while she sat back for a snack, and surveyed her work, to made sure she hadn't missed any important bits.

Teddy's day-carer Wayne told me last week that Ted was the messiest child he'd ever come across in his career. It made me proud. He's got a get-into-spirit, Teddy. Not a touch of timidity. Will he be a swinging hedonist? A captain of industry? A yogurt-artist-in-residence?

Just got to get him through his toddler-hood first...

Friday, April 16, 2010

You Can't Stop The Gastro.

Ivy had a great time camping, even though she fell in the river (but got plucked out straight away, I'm assured), got stung by a bee (we already knew she wasn't allergic, I'm assured) and stepped in her own poo (provoking an tearful existential crisis, Ivy-style: 'But why, Daddy? Why did I tread in my poo? Why?')
So the second inaugural Daddy/Daughter camping trip was a big, fun success.

Keith had to leave for three days in Canberra the morning after they got home, so I decided to go to Mum and Dad's for the night, just for some company. Poor Nanna and Pop. Not only did Pop have the joy of granddaughter logic: 'How old are you, Pop?' 'Well, I'll be seventy next year.' 'Oh, so you will be dead soon,'
...but we also brought the pox into their home.

Ivy went down first, then twelve hours later, I was visited by - let me put this politely- the Good Fairy Chuckenshit. Although, throwing up violently into Mum's toilet, I was thankful that I wasn't staring down the pit of our composting dunny.

Oh, misery.

By about midnight, the performance aspect was finished and I was left with the cotton-woolish, weepy aftermath. But if you check your Parenting Manuals, I believe you'll find (Chaper 2, subset A) Mum Must Carry On, Even When Horribly, Miserably Sick. It's reiterated later(chapters 4, 7, 12, 22 and Afterword) as Suck It Up, You Chose Parenthood, Remember? Remember?

Ted woke up, over and over, calling for his bear and his dummy, so I staggered to his bedside like a haggard jack-in-the-box until he decided that he was getting out - no arguments. I had to take him into the double bed with Ivy and I, where I spent one of my most miserable nights of all time (and yes, I've lived with a colicky newborn.)

Friends, if you own a tiny violin, now is the time to produce it, and to play a mournful tune as I tell you how I tossed and turned all night, next to small, spreadeagled, peaceful children. My back was killing me, because of the sick three-year-old I'd had to carry everywhere the whole day. By 5am - violin crescendo, now: I felt like I could hold down enough food to make a pill cushion for the painkillers I needed to get through the morning.

Meanwhile, in Canberra, Keith had been incubating the same horrible bug, but he had to sit in his hotel room, stomach roiling, and write a grant application to deadline. The next day, with no food in him, he still managed to play soccer. (Nothing will stop him from playing soccer.) He only lasted ten minutes, and he pulled his hamstring...

but he scored a goal.

He limped home, I drove a terrible two hours from Nanna's, and we got out the Get Better Box, which contains a Thomas t-shirt with healing powers, a favourite book, and a pack of jelly to be made up in the special Jelly Bears bowls.

In any case, we've made it through the other side. A family bout of gastro reminds me of the old saying about hitting yourself in the head with a hammer: it's almost worth it, because it feels so good when it's over.

ps- and the camera is home! Life is looking up.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Home, Safe, and With A Little Gift For The Family

Sorry, friends, for the delay.

Ivy is home - details later - but amongst the memories she carted home a sweet little gastro bug that has laid us all under in the least charming of ways.

Too much information to follow soon.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

On Being Shamed At The Organic Food Co-Op

Yesterday, in amongst the edamame pods and the cruelty-free soy toothpaste and the eggs that had been gently coaxed, with chants of gratitude, from the cloacas of emotionally centred chickens, Ivy made this announcement:

"WhenI turn four I am going to have a television party and the cake will be a television and everybody can dress like a television and at my party we will just watch television. So much television.'

But where are they? Are they warm?

I can't stop cleaning out drawers and pacing. I'm going to have a bath now and read about life on an olive farm in Provence, and try not to think about lions, and tigers, and bears.

Oh my.

Stress Level: Rising.

Keith and Ivy have just left for their second annual Daddy/Daughter camping trip with our friend Tristan and his three-year-old Talia.

They are going canoeing.

On a river.

I am sure they will have a wonderful time, but they are out of mobile range until Monday night. It's only two days on the standard calendar but at least four years in terms of mother-stress.

Universe, an order:

Bring. My. People. Back.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Through The Eyes of Daddy

I’m catching snatches of a bedtime story Keith is telling Ivy on the couch. It’s about Ivy on an adventure with Mary Poppins (whom Keith always calls Ms.Poppins).

So in this chapter, Keith has Mummy going for an interview at a local paper. An high-minded editor is interviewing me while Ivy and Ms Poppins make faces at me from the window.

This is what I just caught:

‘Finally Mummy burst out laughing and had to tell the serious man: ‘Look, I’m sorry, but sometimes I really do act like a fool, not quite on purpose, but I can't quite help myself, and sometimes people think that makes my writing quite funny.’ And then the editor said ‘Well, we’ll give you a week’s trial.’ And then Mummy ran out to the car and she laughed at Ivy’s silly faces so much that she wet her pants a little bit.’

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Road Trip

Back from a road trip that took us deep into country NSW for a wedding, and deep into the hell of sharing a hotel room with two excitable toddlers. I feel like I've been away for a month. I'm out of touch with blogland, buried in dirty washing and my body is groaning from all the driving.

In short:

Staying with two small children in a hotel room is not relaxing. A 'family suite' with 'built-in-spa' means an L-shaped room and a grimy, triangular bath. It may have been the height of luxury in 1984, but somehow, Keith and I didn't feel the urge to squeeze in together with some coconut bubbles and a bottle of Lindemans and toast the town of Dubbo. Also, the 'family suite' can suck balls. Toddlers do not recognise the authority of the invisible wall, so 'L-shape' just meant bedtime was a total nightmare. (Although Ivy never had so much bed-jumping fun in her little life.)

Ted, who is approaching two with increasing force of personality, was like a hurricane on legs. He runs, constantly. He is unstoppable. Used to a composting toilet, he found the water version in our hotel bathroom fascinating, and spent most of his time splashing his hands in it furiously. When dragged from the toilet, he was delighted by the toddler-sized fridge, and over and over, opened it, took out the butter, presented it to me and announced 'Bah!'

He's teething, and has diarreah.

Did I mention we all lived in one room?

Before we left for the wedding, he threw his head back and spilt my lip open. It still stings.The wedding on a cotton farm in central NSW was beautiful, but Teddy farted loudly during the ceremony. Long, groaning farts with a sqeak at the end. He used them to punctuate the vows, and to emphasise the final prayer. 'Amen, said the priest, and 'amen', murmered the congregation, and 'brraaaaaaaaaaarp!' announced Ted. The three rows nearest were shaking with laughter and the bride and groom both heard his commentary.

Apologies all around. Luckily for Ted, he is adorable with the equal impact that he is destructive.

Anyhoo, we are home, I am looking forward to getting some tough-love displine back in action, staying out of the car, boycotting McCafe (what else is a caffeine addict on holiday to do?) , catching up with my correspondence, putting the house in order and preparing to winter with a barbarian toddler.

...and yet,

and yet....

Despite the headache, and the backache, and the incredible amount of mess we generated (basically we drove home in a recyling bin), Keith and I spent hours of the drive wondering how we could take 12 months off and drive the family around Australia.