Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Teddy's Hospital

I played hospitals with the T-Bone today. This young doctor had a curious bedside manner. No matter what the ailment of any stuffed animal visiting his facility, the treatment remained the same.

1. He rubbed his doctors hat (which in a sort of cruel joke was in fact a jesters cap) on the patients belly until the bells rang.
2. He tried to wrap bandages inside their mouths
3. He squirted 'medicine' at their faces and then
4. He performed a 'go to sleep' dance.

In fact he found his rounds so tiring he had a little lie down himself in the middle of the ward. His assistant looked on, unimpressed.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Three Years Hitched And Still So Happy.

Here is Keith, trying to remember the words to Big Red Car while he holds up the Pass The Parcel at Ivy's birthday party.  Look closely. The children are not impressed. (The one in the sheriff hat is actually yelling 'This sucks!')

Keith is hilarious. A cracker of a person in every way. We got married three years ago today and, man,  I am glad I kissed all those frogs.  

Happy anniversary Cakes!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


This column was originally published in Practical Parenting Magazine, October 2012. 

Last week I found myself looking at my baby Pudding and realising that while I had been busy elsewhere, she’d shape-shifted from a little baby into a crawling, babbling, feisty toddler. You’d think it would be hard to miss such a big change.  She’s with me every minute of the day, after all. I'm constantly feeding or cleaning or changing or entertaining or settling her.

But she’s my third child. There’s just no time for the kind of intimate monitoring that I did with my first and even my second baby. These days, there are two big kids to get to school and soccer and swimming lessons.  Washing must be hung, shopping put away and dinner cooked. I need coffee.  Screaming sibling battles must be negotiated while the lunch is packed. The phone rings. Somebody wets their pants. Oh my god. I need more coffee. Are those head lice? Or rice bubbles? The pace is brisk, and one task trips on the heels of the last.

Sweet small Pudding, eleven months old, crawls at my feet as I cook, fold laundry and help with homework. I carry her around when she gets demanding, and the rest of the time she makes her own fun with old biscuits and blocks and dust bunnies. She is adorable and she is adored, but her schedules have to fit in with the rest of the gang.

Last Thursday I found myself driving loops of the neighbourhood for forty five minutes while Pudding refused to go to sleep in the back seat. I had a complex morning of errands and shopping to get through, and all my plans required the baby to sleep in the car first. The problem was that Pudding’s plans involved chewing her socks and throwing her dummy on the floor and shouting ‘Bah!’

I had a lot of time to think as I drove in circles, mentally crossing items off my to-do list as the minutes ticked by. Frustrated, I kept glancing back at my chubby, cheeky baby in the backseat. Why wouldn't she sleep? Why? Hang on, I finally thought. Didn’t this happen yesterday?

The next day, I didn’t bother with a morning sleep. I took Pudding and three-year-old T-Bone to music class at the library instead, where we had the most wonderful time. T-Bone danced and sang while Pudding crawled around the room, banged tambourines and shouted joyfully.  I watched them both with that familiar bittersweet pang that my husband Keith and I call ‘anticipatory nostalgia’ –that sensation you feel when a childhood moment is so sweet and heart-warming that you know you will always remember it. 

Pudding did her thing and I just watched. I wasn't cooking or writing a list or disciplining a sibling. I wasn't distracting her with a wooden spoon or placating her with a handful of sultanas. I wasn't with her while my head was in four other places at once. I was just there, and so was she, and instead of thinking about my next task, I thought about Pudding. She’s really social, I realised. She’s not anxious at all about this crazy crowd. And man, doesn't she love the music? I gave silent thanks for that little sleep rebellion. It forced me to stop and look, and notice that a child was beginning to emerge from the baby I had grown used to.  I’d hate to have missed such a beautiful moment. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Busy Weekend with Dr Jones.

I should be tackling the last of the washing up but I'm out of juice this Sunday night. Instead, I'm listening to Keith play Chopin on the piano and waiting for an episode of Danish crime thriller The Killing to finish downloading from iTunes. We've got a date on the couch very soon, but right now, Keith is drinking a beer with one hand and doing trills with the other. He is a happy, happy man.

It's been a busy weekend.

For Ivy's 6th birthday she decided she wanted an Indiana Jones party. Indy is her new hero. She calls him Dr Jones and says that if she met him, she would kiss him. (You and me both,  Ivy Cakes.) My dad thought I said Ivy wanted an Alan Jones party, which still makes me cry laughing.

So twenty-five kindy kids in Indiana Jones gear. ...Throw the ball at Indys head. Face-dig for treasure in the flour bowl. Treasure hunt. Pass the parcel. Rolling death-ball. Treasure chest cake. A week in the planning, two intense hours in the execution.

We ran the hell out of the kids and the went home to have another party for my brother-in-laws 44th, where we watched the Princess Bride and added another layer to the mess in the house. Adrian stayed over and hung out until today.

It's been much busier than we like it, but we've had the most lovely weekend. My sister and her kids surprised us by driving five hours to get to Ivy's party, and my sister-in-law came on her own with both kids. And then my sister-in-law Deb came over for Adrians party loaded with food. I am ridiculously blessed in sisters and sis-in-laws. And the kids are besotted with their cousins, and got to play with all of them on one weekend! Cousins, cousins everywhere. Saturday afternoon, they roamed the house, and all Sunday morning, they played at the beach together.

This afternoon, all the socialising behind us, we hung out, just the five of us. We tackled a little of the worst mess, but mostly we just had a good time. I gave Ivy a lesson on her birthday-present guitar. We pulled out the clarinet. I watched a little Nigella in bed with the kids. We played Uno Stacko. We had a lounge-room dance party to Tim Buckley's 'Get On Top Of Me Woman'. Then we turned to Jeff and I tried to work out 'Lilac Wine' and failed, but we rocked out the family band with 'Hallelujah'.

Tomorrow, the housework!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Binary Universe of My Little Teapot

Most mornings, Teddy crawls into bed beside me and pats my hair while Keith and I mumble 'five more minutes' as many times as we can get away with.  'Good mama, ' Ted croons, patting, patting, breathing hotly and getting his fluffy hair up my nose.  But when he is displeased with me, lately, he has taken to shouting 'Bad mama!' complete with accusatory pointing finger.

Rapid-fire, he hammered a series of questions at me yesterday. 'Why can't my hair talk? How do my legs know how to walk? Are there buttons inside my tummy like a computer? No? Then how does my body know how to eat?'

When he is sent to his room in disgrace, he stomps around, wailing and recounting his woes out loud. 'It's not fair I never did and it was an accident and I didn't and then Ivy did and she always has a million of them and I don't have any and oh my god, why hast thou forsaken meeeeeeeee?' Aftyer a while he gets it all out of his system and pops back into the big room. 'I'm happy now!' he announces.

Yesterday I had to instigate a specific reward system to stop him repeating the phrase 'put poo on Daddy's head.' It had become like a tic, a compulsion. He could not stop saying it, morning and night.  For a week or two  it was fine, sort of weird, but funny. We invented a hand gesture for it. We wrote a little song about it. But in the end, I hit the wall. 'Put poo on Daddy's head' was going to send me to an early grave. It was time for that particular over-firing synapse to go to re-education camp. The 'put poo on Daddys head' rewards chart.

Oh, that it should come to this.

It's a day of extremes, the day spent with a four-year-old. One minute, you are helping them make a dog out of a milk carton. They call the dog Mummy, carry it everywhere and teach it how to use the swing.

Good mama.

Then you are taking their dessert off them because they refuse to stop wildly swinging a toy metal fry-pan around the baby's head despite your escalating screeches of panic.

Bad mama.

And then you have gotten a dirty novelty song stuck in your head and inadvertently taught it to them because it keeps slipping out of you in bursts. 'Ar - sol, ar-sol, a soldier I will be, two piss - two piss, two-pistols on my knee....'

Bad mama.

But you have, thus far, stopped yourself from accidentally teaching them the last section, which sings about 'fighting for the queens country', with an unfortunately, yet hilarious, pause between the fifth and sixth syllables.

Good mama?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

In Which I Pull Up My Emotional Socks, Slightly

Thanks for your words of support and advice on my rant o'horrors.

Today I tried to shake off my malaise and embrace the life I have chosen. The life I love. Yes, one of the shocking things one must come to terms with on having children is that your right to be gloriously lazy is curtailed FOREVER, and replaced with a proximity to poo that you never dreamed possible. Yes, housework disappears like smoke, like it never happened at all. Yes, stepping on Lego hurts like fuck.

But I breathed in as I stood on the deck this morning and thought hard about the coffee in my hand, the  healthy children squabbling inside, the friends down the road always ready to make me laugh, and the life in my lungs, which I take for granted way too often.

Today after school the kids and I started learning clarinet via YouTube. After dinner the whole family danced to Loudon Wainwright. And in the bath tonight, I ate chocolate while I read Julia Child's memoir about life in 1950's Paris.

Life, it's full on. It's  sublime. It's ball breaking. And if you're lucky, it all just keeps on rolling in.

Monday, October 8, 2012

On Raising Flying Schizophrenic Cats, Especially During School Holidays

School went back today, and instead of feeling rejuvenated, I am like a broken old donkey, saddling up for another round of ploughing the potato field. Having three kids is not like herding cats, I've decided.  It's like herding schizophrenic flying cats. Using Apple Maps.

 Right now, this life is asking more of me than I have to give. Or rather, I am giving what I can, and wishing I was closer to the kind of mum I would like to be, the kind of life I would like to create. In my daydreams I am cooking, sewing, writing, creating, playing with the kids, and wearing nice outfits. In reality, this year,  I am failing to wax my legs, feeling exhausted and muttering 'oh for fucksake' a dozen times a day under my breath.
I've come to realise that I can do something fun and  creative with the kids, or clean the house, or have a rest, on any given day; but I cannot do all three. The bare bones of life take all my moments - banging out fifteen covers a day from the short-order kitchen; keeping the laundry-pile under control, sweeping the floor under the high-chair, stocking the cupboards with nappies and lentils and wallpaper. Any task or project I take on outside of the basics - spring-cleaning, baking, car-cleaning - requires some kind of withdrawal from the limited funds of the domestic  time-bank that will need to be paid back later with a sinkful of washing up or a bedroom that has over days become so utterly carpeted in toys and clothes that is is very difficult to find exactly where the smell is coming from.

My back, by the end of a shift of carting the baby and driving the school-run, is angry and ready for rest. But once the kids are in bed, the hours are precious, and slip away so fast. I am straight in the bath when I can clock off and after that - I can blog, or read, or sew, or ctach up on the phone, or watch a show with Keith, or go to bed, or even - god forbid - put in the final couple of housewifely hours that are required to have a house that is actually all clean at one time, rather than in patches. But it's not much time. It's not enough time to do anything well. So there's a lot of feeling half-assed in every area. My mojo has flown the dojo.

I have done a little sewing lately, because after two weeks of feeling like a service industry, a black cloud was beginning to drip over my head and the dark mama was playing the woman's blues inside me.   I knew I had to find myself some moment of domestic joy, some creative release, something with a longer life than a good leek tart or a fresh set of sheets. When you are losing sight of the joys in home life, and yet you are absolutely shackled to it for some years to come, you are in trouble. I really do not want to travel down some bitter path to Resentment Land, where, I'm pretty sure,  at 6 pm you slam down a plate of grey eggs and snarl at your family 'Eat up, assholes. I'll be in the other room. ' I want to stay living in the place where we eat a good meal, and we laugh , and talk about our day, and raise a glass to celebrate that we are together in our little patch of sunshine.

But school holidays have kicked me in the face. It's my first crack at it this year, and I am on the whole, failing at it, I think. I shall regroup and come at the summer ones with a better plan. But you know, I feel a little better just releasing this rant and letting it fly free. Thank god for the cathartic powers of the Hinternet.

Any ideas on managing three schizophrenic cats under six gratefully received.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

For Theodore Fox, on the Occasion Of His Fourth Birthday

My darling Teddy Bones. 

You are four! 

It's been a big year for you, and not always easy with a little baby in the house and a big sister starting school. Mummy's busy, and Daddy's working... Sometimes it's tough for the boy in the middle to squirrel enough attention.

But you are having a lot of fun being four, Teddy. You wake me up crawling into my bed and whispering 'Mama Time!' and then tucking your fluffy hair under my nose until I'm driven out of bed to make your breakfast. (Jam toast on the weekends.) At lunchtime Daddy School, you can read 'Teddy is four! Teddy is big! Teddy has a big bum!' on the Etch-a-Sketch. Then you and Dad go and roll down the hill. At dinner, you are happiest when it's a sausage day, and you love to go off to bed in your room with Ivy and listen to stories as you go to sleep. Often you make loud, strange remarks in your sleep.

You are so affectionate  Ted. Sometimes violently so.   Like last week,  when you tried to re-enact the gamewhere I put a nappy on my head and nod it off onto George. 'Look at this nappy here, Bubba,' you said, as your sister gazed up at you trustingly, before you miscalculated the distance and head-butted her on the nose.

Stuff like that happens to you a lot Teapot. You live more in your head than in your body, we think.

 For your birthday, you insisted I make you a castle cake, and you were so happy to find it when you ran out in the morning.

At four, you adore your big sister Ivy. What she loves, you love. So your favourite colour is pink, and you love fairies and princesses and flowers.  

You love to cook and  read magazines, and to watch Hi 5 and Peppa Pig. You love listening to 5 Little Ducks and ABBA on the little CD player in your room. You love to live pants-free.  

You are a thinker, Ted. Among your recent questions - do houses have skin? How do you say 'slippery' in Spanish'? Can we plant the seeds from my sandwich and grow a bread tree?  Last week, you grilled me for specific details on eye-piercing. You couldn't believe the horrors of the 'piercing gun' and made me promise not to pierce 'any of your things'. Also, you insist that 'Gimme Gimme Gimme a Man (After Midnight)' is a Wiggles song, even though I've tried to explain that it's an unlikely choice for them. 

But mostly, you are obsessed with the phrase 'put poo on Daddy's head', which is your default answer to so many questions. 

One day soon, I am sure you will stop presenting your bum for poo inspections and having crazy attacks of wild boy energy when you haven't gotten out of the house enough. The frazzled and exhausted part of me looks forward to a calmer future. But you are such an adorable and eccentric little creature that I can't help feeling that I will miss your madness when you start to grow bigger. 

 I love you Ted! 

Thanks for another wonderful year,