Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mums Gone Wild

This post was first published in Practical Parenting Magazine, July 2012

An email invitation popped into my mail-box last week. One of the school mums was organising a girls night out and said it was best we do it soon, before some of the pent-up pressures of the motherhood caused us all to blow. Considering the wild antics that had occurred the last time the school mums got together on the town, it rang true.

Have you ever seen those programs about Youngsters Gone Wild on their gap year, or spring break, or schoolies week? These kids are out of control! Shrieking in the streets, dancing like maniacs and losing all sense of decorum and decency.  Just quietly, those kids are rank amateurs compared to school mums on a night out.

Suburban school mums. The same women who make it to drop off every morning before nine; kids dressed, hair plaited, lunches packed, sunscreen on, hats tied, homework readers completed. Day after day after day.  Sick? Depressed? Divorcing? There they are, regardless. Yes, sometimes the lunch is hasty, the hair is knotted and the reader languishes guiltily at the bottom of the school bag. But still, they turn up at the gate, hugging goodbye and waving their babies into class.

Twice a day, I gather at the school gates with these women (and sometimes men). We have babies on hips and in slings and strapped into strollers. Somebody is often pregnant. We discuss head lice and flu treatments and asthma medication. We pass hand-me-down clothes in a flowing loop through the community, toddlers wearing favourite pieces that have been loved by four bigger kids before them. We drop off food to sick mums, we comfort and jolly along sad mums, and we laugh together endlessly about the everyday dramas of life with young families.

In short, we are responsible, even the irresponsible ones amongst us. We are forced to be on top of fees and uniforms and vaccinations and sports calendars. It is never-ending, the amount of adult crap that you have to stay on top of when you become a school Mum, and every once in a while, you need a holiday from all that damn responsibility.

 At the end of last term, there was a school celebration at the local RSL. It was discussed at the drop-off gates for a few weeks. Outfits were planned and complicated babysitting arrangements were set in place.  A school dad’s band was playing covers, and the dance floor went off like a frog in a sock.  One dad strutted like Mick Jagger to ‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction’ while his wife mimed their bedroom negotiations. The school principal was dragged into a wild interpretive circle dance. She may have declined to break-dance in the middle, but she was the only one. One mum danced so hard she gave herself a disco knee injury that later required surgery. The highlight was the ten-week old baby, who was wheeled onto the dance-floor so his Mum could cut loose for a song or two. He slept peacefully on, a feather boa draped over his handles, as his future aunties and babysitters cavorted around him, inventing increasingly ridiculous dance moves, knocking back champagne and cackling like witches.

Next Monday morning, we were back at the gate. Late for swimming lessons, lamenting the latest head lice epidemic, and with a communal headache.  But, critically, with just a little of that everyday pressure to be grown-up released. A new term looms, full of cheese sandwiches and library bags and sports notes. Schedules run by mature, organised women. But at the end of that term? Mums Gone Wild. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Fifty Shades of Egregious Bologna Wands

I haven't read Fifty Shades yet. I will, one of these days. I'm reading a  lot of cookbooks at the minute. Saucy!

But I've enjoyed all the fascinating hoo-ha surrounding it. I love the notion that sales of erotica have leapt with the growing popularity of e-readers. Nobody has to look at the racy cover of your Black Lace edition of Thighs On Fire anymore. 

My sister Sam sent me this review and I lolled myself silly. It is too, too funny, although if you are offended by phrases such as 'bologna wand' you may want to turn your attention elsewhere. Me, I live for such phraseology, and applaud anybody who takes the time to create such a thrilling and yet ultimately pointless piece of work as this review. I also applaud the brilliant female podcaster who used the wonderful term 'egregious thatch' to describe unruly body hair this week. I have spent today trying and failing to insert this term into conversation. .

Maybe tomorrow?

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Tale Of Two Georgies

 3. 30pm, after school yoghurt-painting 

4pm, washing off the evidence in the laundry sink. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Thank You Tiny Violins, You May Leave

Walking into Aldi today, I felt suddenly exhilarated. One kid at school, one at day-care and one with Nanna. Just me! Fancy-free and ready to linger with intent over the toilet paper and organic sultanas.  I bought a yoghurt maker. This has been on my maybe -list for some time, so it was a thrilling purchase. More soon! Can you even stand to wait??

Don't answer that.

At the till, I was preparing myself for the athletic pursuit of removing my purchases from counter to trolley with the kind of ridiculous speed expected, when the checkout guy held up my bottle of Shiraz.

'Do you want this?' he called out loudly from the other end of the counter. 'Yes', I squeaked.

'You can't take it through this till, ' he near-shouted at me. 'You need the one one at the end!'

'OK, ' I said. 'Just leave it then.'

'But do you want it?" he asked impatiently.

'Yes,' I said. 'But I can't use this checkout?'

'Yes!' he sad. He really did seem shitty.

'OK, I'll leave it then.' I said.

'So you don't want it? ' he clarified.

It was getting very confusing. 'I want it.' I tried to be direct. 'But I don't want to unpack all my shopping and change aisles.'

'I'm not asking you to change aisles!' he said. 'I'm asking if you want the wine!'

Oh. It was terrible. 'What do you want from me?' I wanted to shout. ' I'm thinking that red wine might make a nice replacement for Nurofen Plus at 5pm today!My back is feeling much better today but I really don't know how I'll go after all the shopping  and the housework and the school pick-ups and everything!  My friend Sarah suggested medicating with peach schnapps but I feel that route will likely end in a rosy nose and incontinence and a home visit from a DOCS caseworker. So yes! I want the wine! Are you happy? ARE YOU HAPPY NOW PASSIVE- AGGRESSIVE SUPERMARKET CHECKOUT GUY?'

Putting my trolley back, my $2 rolled away, and when I got home, I realised that the entire inside of my wedding ring was gone. Oh. That breaks my heart a little bit.

But, you know. Some things are important and some are not.

My back is much better. Ribs back where they should be. And I'm just home from a fabulous school-parent planning session for our end-of-year extravaganza. Comedy, flash -mobs, shiny lanterns, long tables. Laughter is just the best thing we humans have going for us.

Life, she is good.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Panic And Relief: A Boring Cycle.

One day, I hope, in the not-too-distant future, I will start living in a more steady, predictable way and getting to enjoy the fun and creative bits of parenthood. I get to those when I am stronger of body, and it is those moments that make life sweet and memorable and inspiring.  It feels like a while since I've been in that place.

Lately, I feel trapped in a cycle of panic, as my back goes out and I mentally obsess about how I will manage without bending or picking anything up ever again,  and  then it recovers and I am overcome with relief at being able to go about everyday life.

Everyday life with three kids under six involves a lot of strapping in and out of car seats, picking up clutter, and hauling laundry baskets. It's a super-bendy kind of job and it takes a level of energy and strength I am lacking right now.

This week it seems my bulging disc is waving hello again, and pinching the nerve that annoys it. Also, there is some sort of weird swelling on my spine. Osteo tomorrow. Fingers crossed etc.

I'm so tired of being in this loop. Spare minutes spent lying flat in bed, calculating kids TV and nap times so I can take a bath, losing my temper in the afternoon when the detritus of the day scatters the floor and all I can see are painful, frustrating pick-up sessions. The housework overwhelming me, the pace of life too much. One task tripping over the heels of the last, and too often, the sensation of failing in so many aspects of my job.

Tired of having a bad back.

Tired of whinging.


Thursday, July 12, 2012


Oh, I'm rooted.

We're away in the morning and I'm avoiding the bag-packing. Three kids-worth of items means pyjamas and nappies and bibs and special sleeping friends and dummies and sunscreen and car-games and toothbrushes... it's a logistical task beyond my current capabilities.  Keith is over on the couch, tapping away at his laptop and trying to finish up some work before he takes the day off tomorrow so we can drive up the coast for his mum's 70th. The wonderful Mama has designed a musical birthday celebration.

We've been practising (on request)  'C'est Si Bon (here's Eartha's version) , and a couple of family dance performances. I can't speak French, or see the piano music without my glasses, and through every practice version at least one child is doing something naughty to get the parental eyeballs back on them. Still, we shall try to make up for lack of skill with enthusiasm and a certain nobby flair, which is how I prefer to live my life. C'est si bon!

The kids are all well. Georgie, my sweet barnacle, is sleeping, all night long, in her own bed. I don't know how it happened but it did. She is crawling, laughing, eating, babbling and just delightful in every way. 'Aroo!' she calls as she crawls down the hallway, covered in fluff and biscuit crumbs and looking for somebody to play with.'Aroo! Aroo!' If Keith and I were not one hundred and fifty six years old, creaky of bone and exhausted, we would just keep on having babies until the end of time.

My biggest girl, my darling Ivy is in a fabulous phase of life, all creativity and questions. All day she carts Georgette around, and draws and writes and builds things and makes up dance moves. She asked me 'Mum, what will my wedding ring look like?' I said 'I don't know Ives, but you can have mine one day.' 'When?' she asked with excitement, and I realised that I had trapped myself in a terrible position. 'When...I'm...dead.' I said 'Oh yeah!' she replied. 'I guess I'll just pull it off you.'

Hilarious small Ted is still deep in a nutty three-year-old land of his own. He's been getting in trouble lately for wild shouting. 'Don't be belligerent, Teddy...' I'll warn him. 'I! Am! Not! Biggerent!' he will shout in reply. He's been banned from calling the baby Georgie Poo-Poo which he finds really difficult ('Stop that, Georgie Po-' he  will say, and look around guiltily to see if anybody heard him.) His other favourite line  has been in reply to my 'That's interesting Teddy...' mumbled robotically too many times a day. 'That is NOT INTERESTING, Mama!' he had taken to shouting until I pulled rank and banned the phrase. Now he says, 'Some things are interesting, Mama. But that is not.' I'm happy to accept that.

Ted's not always biggerent, of course. He's also cuddly and so cute, reading his magazines and cookbooks, begging for blueberry porridge and singing with Ivy. But a few days ago, he drew all over himself with my mascara and tonight, he hid behind his bedroom door and sprayed his hair with gold glitter hairspray when he was supposed to be putting his pyjamas on. He's a nutbag. Three-year-old's just take so much managing. At the end of every day I can just see all the bits where I could have, should have managed better. I might even think through those things if I wasn't passed out with dribble on my chin.

In general, we are busy,  busy,  busy. But happy too. The small moments, the funny little things that happen between the washing and the tidying and the driving around,  those are what make life sweet, and there are lots of those moments.  Yesterday morning, Keith and I sent Ivy next door to wake up Ted. 'OK', she said, 'I'll just whisper Teddy, we've made you a cake and you can eat it all...' We protested and Ivy looked surprised. 'But that's how I wake him up every day!' she said. 

Tomorrow, we ride. 

Happy weekending. x

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Pixar, You Made My Little Girl Cry.

spoiler alert - if you're planning to see Brave, don't read this

Dear Pixar,

Yesterday my sister Sam and I took our five-year-old daughters to see Brave, your new hit animated movie. It was a big deal to us. Ivy's only been to the cinema once before, and her cousin Belle has never been. They wore their hair in fancy ponytails, they clutched their choc tops, and they settled into the darkness, fidgety with anticipation. 

Sam and I exchanged a look of delight as your film began. Ivy and Belle's eyes were wide with wonder, and it was so sweet. An hour later, the glance we shared was anguished. Belle was in Sams lap, and Ivy was curled as close as she could to my side, soaking the sleeve of my cardigan with tears. Belle was crying too. They were completely, utterly terrified.

What the hell, Pixar?

Why, in a movie for kids  would you write a protracted, terrifying, bloody fight scene, clearly made to be as scary as possible? In what demented writing-room did your hacks urge each other 'OK, if these bears are going to fight, let's make this the most spine-chilling, gory fight these kids have ever seen! Let's scare the LIVING SHIT out of these kids!'

This is my main problem with Brave, Pixar. I have others. For one, the fact that this is the first time you have featured a female heroine in your long history. Slow hand-clap to you, Pixar. You finally got there. After thirteen films.

You had some great stuff in this film.  The animation was gorgeous and I loved your heroine. I really did. Merida is feisty and funny and warm and smart. That scene early in the film where she escapes from the castle, urges her horse into a wild gallop through the countryside, leaps off, climbs a cliff and drinks from a waterfall at the top, hooting and shouting in abandoned, delighted glee, was transporting and thrilling.

But dammit, Pixar, why did you have to make her a  princess? Is there really no other forum in which to explore the life of a female character? Why must her femaleness  be at the heart of her struggle? Why must she rail against a system that places her gender as the central fact of her life? Just make her a girl and get on with the story, for craps sake. Her being a girl is not the whole story,  Pixar. Just quietly, there's a few of us around the place, and we have more to offer the vast and wonderful tapestry of fictional possibility than castles, tiaras and sparky unicorns. 

And then, the violence.

The central relationship of the film is between Merida and her mother, the Queen, and it is wonderfully acted. Their struggle to understand each other caught in my throat more than once. I imagine many mothers and daughters watching this film saw themselves, and so the climactic scene of the film, where the child tries to protect the mother from being horribly killed, and is nearly killed herself,  is made doubly terrifying by the psychological context.

Now the easy argument against this is that Ivy and Belle were just too young to handle this film, and I accept the truth in that. But then, how old is OK? Is a nine-year-old better equipped to sit in a dark room with a massive screen showing the giant, bloodied fangs of a scary beast snapping at the throat of a creature they have spent an hour engaging with as a mother figure? Is a twelve-year-old ready for that? Why do they have to be?

We wanted to take our little girls on a special treat to a fun film with a female lead. It should have been a great outing. Instead, they cried and we comforted.

Thanks heaps, Pixar. (Sarcasm font.)

Yours etc,


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Love and Lunchboxes

This post was first published as a column in Practical Parenting Magazine, June 2012

The other week, I was walking my three-year-old son T-Bone into day-care when I realised I had forgotten his lunch-box. His little face was stricken. ‘My lunch, Mama!’ he wailed. ‘No my lunch! ’ I told T-bone I’d bring it later, but he was inconsolable. At first, I thought his reaction was because he really, really loves to eat. This boy is what the Italians would call ‘a good fork.’ But even so, it seemed excessive. I comforted him, fetched his lunch, and all was well.

But it got me thinking. Pre-school, day-care, school – these are long days for small children to be without mum and dad. They are stimulated and cared for, and they are often treated with great affection by their teachers.  They have fun. But they are also following different rules than normal, lumped in with lots of other kids, who are sometimes mean, and away from the frequent kisses and cuddles that are scattered throughout a day at home with the family.

In the middle of this day away from home comes lunchtime. It’s a pause, a time to stop and sit and open a box of food packed by Mum or Dad. Everything in this box says ‘I know you.’  You love ham but not bread with bits.  You like very small, whole apples. As a treat you really love the princess yoghurt, and sometimes you like a box of the fruit-and-nut mix that you helped Mummy make up on the weekend.

For T-bone, at three, this lunchbox is more than just food. It’s a tangible reminder of home, where he belongs, and where he’ll be going in just a few hours. It’s a hug and a kiss from Mummy in the middle of a long day without her.

I debated the politics of lunchboxes with my husband Keith. We decided that if he packed the school lunches, the children would have the same menu every day for thirteen years: a vegemite sandwich, an apple and a muesli bar. His aim would be to refine and simplify the packing routine over the years until it was streamlined to absolute efficiency. There would never be any drama, but there would never be any excitement. 

On the other hand, if Mum took on the role, lunches would change according to her whims of diet and interest. They would be delicious and intricate and every once in a while, Mum would have a massive meltdown over the pressure of packing lunchboxes every day for thirteen years. Dad would try and be sympathetic. He appreciates the good food too. But also, he thinks she should just pack a vegemite sandwich, an apple and a muesli bar.

I like to put a note in T-Bone’s lunch every once in a while to tell him I love him. He can't read it yet, but it's a reminder:: You’re in the world, my little one.  It’s tough and wonderful and you’re in it on your own. But home is waiting and Mummy is there. In the meantime, eat this.