Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Three Fly Free, Return Home, Destroy Nest

Today I dropped off all three kids to various care and education joints around town. Ivy to school, Ted to pre-school and Georgie to daycare, for the first time. All three. Without me!

It went a bit like this. Drop off baby at day-care (oh my baby! wah wah wah). Drop-off big girl at Year 1 (oh, my big girl! wah wah wah.) Drop off big boy at pre-school (oh, my big boy! wah wah wah.)

I felt nervous and a bit nauseous all day. I had planned to work (so much writing to do) but I could not settle to anything useful. Exhausted from the lead-ups I think: all the shopping and bag-packing and lunch box-filling and uniform-finding and chart-making and haircutting and administration and Back To School Feasting. Plus, the school holidays have worn me down. Down to the ground.

Today, I was filled with sentimental thoughts about the kids growing up. I remembered Ted waking up early yesterday for 'pre-school practice', and kissing me so he could take it off his list for the morning. I remembered sitting for an hour reading Little Women to a quiet and captivated Ivy in her 'big-girl' haircut.  And, anxious and sad, I thought about little George staggering about the house wearing beads around her neck and underpants on her head, begging me to read her favourite book Peepo to her for the twentieth time.

But tonight, I am not feeling so sentimental.

Tonight, I feel like I got hit by a truck. A truck full of frat-boys. A truck of frat-boys pissing out the window. I am remembering,  with creeping dismay, the after-kindergarten crazies Ivy used to get last year. And the after-day-care crazies Teddy used to get. And I am surveying my bomb site of a lounge room with a heavy heart and an uncontrollable eye-twitch as I recall the hideous afternoon I have just spent with three post-institutionalised children.

I tried to zero in on the needs of each loony, one at a time. Ivy and I read Anne of Green Gables. Teddy and I went through cookbooks and marked off pages of sweet treats to cook. George hit me over the head with (hardcover) Peepo until I relented. As I focused on each one, the other two made some new unspeakable mess. It was like being trapped in an episode of Real Housewives. All the kids did was eat and fight and dance and scream and cry.

Correction. It was like the Real Housewives WITHOUT THE MAIDS. Because they are finally asleep, the clothes are ready for tomorrow, and the bags and lunches are packed, but the house is a hideous (and glittery) tornado of destruction.

Wednesdays are going to be interesting for a while.

Wah wah wah.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Grateful: Filling The Tanks

Our water tanks ran bone-dry this week. I've been accessing my inner pioneer woman as I boil great pots of water for washing up and spend long minutes scanning the skies while smelling like a good French cheese. Last night, the deluge arrived; a hammering, soaking rain that filled - at least partly - the tanks, and sent me gratefully back into the arms of my beloved bathtub.

The metaphor is not lost on me. My own tanks have been feeling parched lately too. I have been making too many withdrawals - catching up with old friends, drinking wine, filling each busy day with too many tasks. This year, my resources have been limited. I rail against the necessity of slowing down, of making life smaller, of cutting things out - but I have to change my ways.

Yoga and early nights are my new companions, as we roll into the new school year.  Last year, I found myself coming to the end of each term absolutely buggered. I limped in, each time,  like a marathon runner in a humiliating lactic acid meltdown. I juggled about four significant spine-breakdowns in 2012, and didn't enjoy too many days without the pain monkey on my back. Ooh, I don't want to do that again.

This year, with Ted three days at pre-school and Georgie starting day-care one day a week (eek!), I am looking forward to creating a smoother routine. A calmer mama. How calm?

This calm, dammit!

But by bit, I am going to try and refill these tanks of mine. Seeing old friends is restorative, especially when you realise you are rolling into middle age in matching specs. If only all lighting was so kind. (I'm talking to you, morning sunshine!)

Laughing with girlfriends feeds the soul. Cooking nurtures me. And creative collaborations - more later -  are exciting. (Flexing my mental muscles rather than the physical ones is a great idea.)

I am grateful to be here today, on my feet, roasting a chicken with lemon and butter, dancing with the kids after dinner (even though I danced so wildly tonight to Jani Joplins 'Take A Little Piece of My Heart' that I accidentally punched Teddy in the face.) I am grateful for the soaking rain that has allowed water to gush out when I turn a tap on. Miraculous engineering!

More grateful with Maxabella:  thisaway

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sausages and Sunscreen.

 Here we be, rolling into the last week of the school holidays. Me,  I'm limping to the finish line a little. This last week I want to really try and find my inner domestic goddess and rise above my currently toxic relationship with the soul-crushing nature of housework.  I want to ignore the damn pain in my body.  And mostly, I want to focus on the charming, sweet and wondrous moments that pepper my days with all these tiny buddies, rather than the challenging ones.   

Last month our local paper the Illawarra Mercury  asked me to write a piece for them on 'my favourite childhood holiday spot.' It's so fascinating to explore childhood memories with an entirely new perspective. Now I am a parent I realise what brats we were.  Oops! Sorry! I laughed my head off writing this piece, even if nobody else will. 

Dedicated to my beloved Dad,  Frank. Sorry I dropped all those tent poles. 

For a decade of my childhood, my family spent every January at the caravan park at Narrabeen Lakes, even though we lived only half an hour inland in the Sydney suburbs. When I was a young adult I found this hilarious and bizarre, but now I have three small children, the logic of the plan seems entirely clear. A swift escape home from a tent stuffed full of fighting, farting children: sheer brilliance.

I remember constant packing and unpacking, the smell of sausages and sunscreen, and the misery of setting up camp, with my father shouting as his three children sulkily held tent poles upside down or dropped them at inopportune moments. ‘Hold it! Just hold it! What is the bloody matter with you kids?’

I remember the orange tent with three rooms. It was very complicated to erect. We dropped a lot of poles and pegs and my dad would need the afternoon to recover, sleeping on a banana lounge outside the annex with a Jeffrey Archer novel over his face.

Two rooms in the tent were for sleeping, and they were jammed full of canvas stretchers and damp pillows and overflowing suitcases. The outer room held the esky and the zippered pantry (full of Coco Pops and long-life milk), bikes and boogie boards and fishing poles, and the dustpan and broom with which my mother tried hopelessly to stem the tide of sand.

One night, it rained so mercilessly that by morning, water covered the floor. It had soaked the Hypercolour t-shirts and the Okanui shorts and the Coco Pops and the Jeffrey Archer novels. Everything was wet and my dad was too miserable to shout. There was nothing for it but to pack up every last sodden, squeaky item, load them into the Tarago and head for home, just half an hour away. There we found a hot shower, a washing machine and a room where each separate member of the family could be blessedly, delightfully alone. And when the sun came back out, we went camping again. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

In Which My Liver Is Angry and Keith Sings In His Sleep

I got in trouble yesterday while trying to do the washing up and keep up with all the begging to 'watch this! watch this!' from the two big ones. I thought I had made sufficient admiring noises for Ivy's sort of Bavarian knee-slapping dance, but no. I got yelled at because I didn't talk in the voice of Willie Scott from Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom.

Ah, motherhood. It asks, and asks, and asks.

I have a queasy hangover. Last night the K-Dog and I got drunk on the deck with our beloved neighbours. I dream of growing up to be Nigella Lawson, but sometimes I'm reminded that I have some distance to go. I'm not sure that her gatherings are marked by gin, Baileys, hysterical shouting and ancient Vietnamese cigarettes unearthed from the back of the party cupboard. Also, I made a rhubarb crumble and invented a crumble mix that featured Weet-Bix, which was a big mistake. Don't try it.

Good times, though. The neighbours staggered home in the dark wearing Keith's Christmas glasses that light up at the sides. These comedy glasses have come in incredible handy so far. (Thanks Liz!). Keith woke me up in the middle of the night singing a gibberish language version of Jeff Buckley's 'Lilac Wine' in his sleep. He does something wacky in his sleep about once a year and it brings me joy for weeks. I could cry with laughter just thinking about the earnestness of his delivery.

Teddy's first question this morning was 'Can we find a goblin, cut off all its hair, and put Superglue in its hat?' I am thinking it may be a long day.

My plan:  finish inhaling the coffee at my elbow, and turn my focus, shaky as it is, to the children. I will help Teddy draw his goblin vision, talk to Ivy about Indiana Jones and read George her Funny Faces book. Clean the kitchen with no sudden movements. Imbibe some carrot juice. Set up in the afternoon for a family showing of The Sapphires.

Wish me luck! I'm going in.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Kindy Kids

This post was originally published in Practical Parenting Magazine, December 2012. Reading over it, I am struck by how lucky we have been. This little community school we are blessed with has given Ivy a beautiful start to what I hope will be a lifelong love of learning.    

‘I done a fart!’ announced three-year old T-Bone at the dinner table last night. It’s the kind of sophisticated remark we trade over the sausages around here. ‘That’s not right, T-Bone,’ said 5-year-old Peanut, with the older-sister trademark of kindly condescension. ‘It’s actually called a Pass Wind.’

News to me.  But we have been learning a lot of things at dinner this year, because Peanut has started kindergarten.  There’s general information, like ‘Did you know Jesus Price had to wear a crown of bindies?’* but the gossip is fascinating too. ‘Jenny and Sarah got sent to the Planning Room at lunchtime,’ she’ll offer over the mashed potato. Keith and I try to act as if we’re not that interested. Actually, we are hanging on every word.‘They were in the toilet and Sarah tried to look and see what Jenny was doing in the toilet and then they accidentally banged heads and then they were so mad they pulled each other’s hair until they cried.’ E Channel, eat your heart out. It does not get more rock and roll than that.

I am relieved and thrilled with how school has turned out for my eldest child.  There were a lot of nerves before this kindy year began.  Not from Peanut. She was totally excited. I was the basket case. What if they don’t understand her? I worried. What is she doesn’t fit in? And the terrible fear of every parent: what if she is – gasp – BULLIED? I read books on home-schooling and consoled myself that in the event of a problem I would take her straight out of school and teach her myself.  I ignored the fact that I cannot multiply two-digit numbers and I hid my home-schooling ideas from Peanut who was wearing her little blue uniform for six months before kindy began.

I look back now, as my daughter has thrived and blossomed in the world of school, and I am grateful that I resisted that desire to keep her at home; an urge born from my own anxiety about letting my biggest baby flee the nest.  When Peanut trots through the school gate, she is part of a culture and a society that her family at home don’t know or understand.  Back around the table each night, she gets to share that new world with us, and she has grown and matured so beautifully with this experience.  

Yes, little Peanut, so far, is on top of this primary school life. Her mother, however, is taking a little longer to get it right. Twice now, Peanut has told a story that involves her sitting alone in the covered area at lunchtime while she bounces a ball or watches the others play. ‘Why were you sitting on your own there, darling?’ I ask, heart in my mouth. ‘Because you forgot my hat, Mum,’ she says. Oh, the shame.

Still, I’ve got a few years to sort myself out.  T-Bone starts pre-school next year, so by the time one-year old Pudding makes to kindy, I will be an old hand. I sometimes imagine those future times, when three kids are off living their independent lives, and bringing their experiences home to share around the table.  Dinner table conversation at our house may never be sophisticated. But as the first of my three little chicks starts to tread her own path, I can see that over the years, it will just get more and more interesting.  

* True confession: this quote belongs to my niece, who started school this year too. I stole it. I could not resist. Thanks Belle!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Fire Danger Tomorrow.

There is a catastrophic fire danger warning in place for our area tomorrow. We will be packing some spare knickers and heading out early to Mums place by the beach for the day. 43 degree temperatures predicted!  Terrible fire conditions. Australian summer.

I am looking around our little house and noticing all the hand-made corners that I haven't really written about here. I can't find a recent picture of Keith's bookshelves. You can just see them behind this photo, but they deserve their own post. They are beautiful,  and cover almost a whole wall now.

This is my kitchen pantry/menu board/shopping list/notes-to-self area I painted in November. So far, it is handle-less. I'll try and rectify that this year. Sometime.

Please don't start a fire in the Illawarra, squirrely fire-bug arsonists. We really, really like our little shack.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Unexpected Public Funkiness

I've been out of action for a couple of days with a mechanical failure. Spine re-aligned now, fingers crossed. Back into domestic action tomorrow. (And once again enormously grateful to Mum and Keith, generous and kind beyond measure.) Maybe I love these dancing videos so much because I am feeling so creaky? Also, people who insert unexpected joyful art into public life make my heart sing. These two girls have the greatest dance moves. Love them! Love love love.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Quality Time With A Tiny Scientist

Laid up in bed today, I listened to Teddy grill Nanna in the kitchen. 'Nanna, where did the first people come from?' My mum dithered a bit. It's tricky, dealing with grandchildren raised as godless atheists, when you are a good Catholic grandmother. 'Who made the first people, Nanna?' Ted pressed. He still didn't get an answer, so he made himself clearer, as I enjoyed the show from my bedroom. 'Person is one person, Nanna. People is more than one person, Nanna.'

Teddy is very literal. Very specific. He does not tolerate his foolish mother lightly. Lately, increasingly, he is getting very frustrated with me.

A couple of weeks ago I was trying to avoid fixing a noisy, headache-producing toy of his. I tried to fob him off several times with a 'no battery' excuse, but he kept following me around until I was forced to cup the stakes.

'I think it's more than just the battery Ted. I'm pretty sure it's broken.' I averted my eyes from his penetrating gaze. 'I feel like even if we put batteries in it, it still won't play, ' I added weakly.

'Your feelings are not correct!' Teddy said indignantly. ('Not correct' is his favourite phrase.)   'Your feelings are not wight, Mummy!'

I was enjoying this exchange. 'Well, what do your feelings tell you about it, Teddy?'

'Nothing!' he shouted. 'I have no feelings! I just say that if you put the batteries in it, it will play!'

Scientist. Appearing before my very eyes. His questions are wonderful: 'Those little round poos I do, Mama. Are they meatballs?'

He's also developed a forfeit system to stop me saying 'Okay' all the time; which, when you have three small children is tough. Somebody is always asking a question that I have not the braincase available to fully process. But now, every time I say 'OK' I have to wave my arms in the air and sing 'sexy lady...' I thought that was fine until Ted got annoyed and pointed out that I should have learned by now to stop saying 'OK' , instead of saying it as much as ever and then adding 'sexy lady' on the end. He was actually putting me on some sort of behaviour-modification plan. And I was failing it.

In fact, it is very difficult to live up to some of Teddy's standards.'I am wight,' he likes to say. 'And  will be wight for the whole of life!'   While we were away, he sat me on his bunk, and tried to teach me exactly how to sing the verse from his favourite song 'Boom, Boom. Ain't It Great To Be Crazy.' Every time I tried (and I really tried hard - it was not a fun game),  he found some new reason to shout 'No, Mummy, no!' Eventually he banned me from singing and told me I was not allowed to make a noise at all, and had to listen as he played it. Loudly. As many times as it took. I zipped my lip and nodded seriously. The song began and Teddy watched me like a hawk to make sure I wouldn't let a note slip forth.

A line or two in, he got slightly off message  'Mum, ' he whispered. I raised my eyebrows. 'Can I have a drink?' he said. I pointed to my lips and shook my head. 'Can I have a drink Mum?' he stage-whispered. I boggled my eyes at him and wildly shook my hands. 'BUT CAN I HAVE A DRINK MUM!'' he wailed into my face until I cracked and wailed back 'Ted! I can't talk! How can I answer you when I can't talk!' He realised what he had done and turned on me fiercely.   'Mum! That is not correct! That is NOT CORRECT!'

'Oh my god, OK, OK...' I shouted back as I clambered out of his bunk and left the room but not before I saw his face and knew I had to add 'Sexy lady.'

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Curioser and Curioser: 2013.

This morning Keith and I crouched next to the motor of the fridge for some time, trying to clarify the note of its hum. We think it hums at F flat, but it's hard to be sure.*

I listened to a musicologist on This American Life yesterday describe the harmonics that surround us in modern life, with appliances in every room humming at us constantly. He mapped the music of his office appliances and found that the chord they sang was in a minor key, traditionally a sad key. Was this why working in an office made him sad, he wondered? Was this why everybody working in his office was sad?

In the sixteenth century a monk mapped the notes of the scale to find which chords and harmonics had the power to stimulate different states in the listener. Which were the satanic and evil chords? Which the lustful notes? Which the safe, god-fearing ones?

I tried and failed to Google what this old-timey god-botherer thought F flat signified, because I spend great chunks of my day in the kitchen with F flat humming along in the background. I am hoping that F flat connotes curiosity this year.

It is the season to dream about the year ahead, and there are so many ways I would like to improve. But the last 12 months have seen me throw many of my fancy plans and notions out the window, as the random unpredictability of life with three small children and a unruly spine has brought me to the basics, time and again.

When I am feeling well, I can do the things I love to do: paint furniture, decorate rooms, make things, sew. Sing and joke and dance. Work and play. Explore interpretive taxidermy.  But when my busy life is washed over with pain (a humming, nasty atonal harmonic), I struggle to keep my good humour. The niceties of domestic life, the tweaks and touches that make it beautiful - a favourite meal, fresh flowers, a baking session; these are sacrificed. Life seems to spiral smaller and smaller until I feel like I am a nothing more than a bleached-out, creaky hausfrau with a bad attitude.

The always-inspiring Pip wrote something this week that struck a chord with me.  Rather than rail against my limitations, I am going to try this year to ignore them, to shift my focus away from the ongoing mechanical niggles coming from this creaky carapace that I haul around.  I will keep searching for wisdom, and I have many creative dreams for this year.  But mainly, I am looking to keep my brain engaged and interested in the world, so that even if my body is fighting me, I can keep my mind above the fray. I aim to tune myself in to the fascinating, the freaky, and the fabulous.

Curiosity, I am taking you into the New Year. What interesting corners of the world can I read about, and listen to and watch and ponder on?  I am curious about what this year will bring. I look forward to exploring it.

 *Reader Lindy pointed out that F flat is actually E. I asked Keith about the fridge key and he said that it was humming F Sharp! Egads, wrrrrrrrong again. But I looked up F sharp and found that it was the favourite tonality of composer Oiver Meissiean, who 'used it repeatedly throughout his work to express his most exciting or transcendent moods,' An excellent beginning to the year!