Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Pain Of Motherhood

This post was originally published in Practical Parenting Magazine, March 2013 (and as I post it, I am nursing the tender rib I injured reading the baby a bedtime story. Family life! Yes, it is a wondrous blessing. But it is also a fucking health hazard.)

Last year sometime, during the lengthy, stinky process of toilet training my son, I was quietly washing the dishes and thinking about blueberry cheesecake when a sudden screaming battle erupted in the bathroom.  It turned out that three year old T-Bone had been struck with a sudden desire to use the toilet, and found it occupied by his five-year-old sister Peanut. He was new to bathroom etiquette, and his solution to the problem was to push Peanut off her perch, mid-stream. Sibling war erupted, and in the heat of battle one, or both of them, pissed on the floor, which is when I ran in, slipped on the puddle and broke my toe.  That’s motherhood in a nutshell right there. Half drama, half comedy, and you can forget about dignity. You left that back in the birthing suite.  

I remembered this incident recently now that my toddler has taken to slapping me in the face when I read the wrong book/get the wrong cup/mortally offend her in some other inexplicable baby way. And something has occurred to me. We all know that becoming a parent is an emotional journey.   Whole forests have been sacrificed to furnish the books that explain in what ways you will be emotionally changed and even scarred by motherhood. This is true: anxiety, rage, all of that angsty stuff comes with the territory.  But mainly, motherhood brings incredible joy and wonder and transformative, powerful love. Yes! Hooray for motherhood!

And yet… there is a dark side. Along with the emotional pain, your children will inflict a lot of actual bodily harm upon you too.  There is, of course, the straight-up agony that comes with pregnancy and birth. Heartburn. Sciatica. Caesarean recovery. Blistered nipples. Torn perineums. But also, there are many mundane, routine ways for your kids to beat you up, from pulling your hair to kicking you in the genitals (a common and terrible experience for dads, I’m told.) 

For instance, T-Bone gave once me a black eye with a chicken drumstick.  I’ve also had what is sometimes called ‘toddlers wrist’ caused by a chubby two-year-old Peanut experiencing separation anxiety. She was only happy when carried, for so far and so long that I had to wear a kind of medical arm-Spanx for the duration. Pudding, now 18 months old, ended our breastfeeding relationship when she repeatedly bit me on the nipple. (The pain was bad, but the anticipation was worse.) Currently she’s obsessed with reading, so she hits me across the head with a board book (an underrated weapon with very pointy edges) whenever I stop, regardless of how much I explain that I must, at some point, chop some vegetables and hang washing or else we will be living in squalor, reading Ten Little Fingers by candlelight while cockroaches nibble our filthy toenails. But Pudding doesn’t care about my reasons. Babies don’t negotiate. They move straight to physical assault.

It says something about how absolutely bewitching children are, how much unconditional adoration the heart can have, that we endure treatment  that would have us calling the police should another adult  inflict it. In short, it’s really good that babies are so damn adorable. Otherwise, they would all be arrested. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Radio Silence

4 Ways To Make Your Bruised Rib Even Hurtier!

1. Breed three children to act as vectors of disease from three different germ factories, bringing home every rash, virus, gastro-intestinal bug and burrowing insect they can find at school, pre-school and daycare via games of eyeball-licking or other gross invasions of personal space.

2. Go to a 40th and do-se-do wildly to the song 'Thank God I'm A Country Boy'.

3. Catch a low-grade virus with a chesty cough component (see 1).

4. Sadly prepare self for winter of spluttering, vomiting, sleepless, feverish good times. (see 1).

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Cover Your Ovaries!

Georgie has entered one of those adorable, hilarious phases of toddlerhood. These times are brief,  glorious. She runs full pelt for cuddles. Calls 'bye' and 'pwees' and 'dates?' in her squeaky chipmunk voice. Blows kisses. Dances like Bez from the Happy Mondays. Stamps her foot and says 'No!' Laughs, musically, and wonderfully, all the time. Wants to be part of everything. 'I too! I too!'

I've been around the block enough times now to know that it is Only A Phase, and will quite soon be followed by a stage of whining or frustration or tantrums. At the same age,  Ivy took to banging her head on the floor in anger, and Ted insisted on being called Trixie-Jeff and shouted 'NO!' in answer to every question.

While they last, these seasons are just so sweet. I love this baby so much. It is enough to make ones ovaries quiver.

Fortunately (unfortunately?) our last venture down the pregnancy path ended with my limping towards the finish line like a marathon runner in lactic breakdown. Also, if I suggested another baby to Keith, he might...just...

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

In Which Normal Programming Is Briefly Suspended

The washing is piling up (shock! horror!) and the to-sort-out-later piles are threatening to take over the street this week because all my spare moments have been devoted to painting the kitchen. Projects like this make me inordinately happy. Sometimes it just overtakes me like a wave, this need to let the drudgery slide (god knows, the washing will be there tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow), and to spend a little time making something less fleeting and just as lovely as a good sandwich. Something that exists after the moment of making, the opposite to so much of my everyday work.

I have been painting and sanding away, gripped to an audio-book version of the thriller Gone Girl. Oh it's good. So so good. Keith has been tinkering away on his algorithms in the quiet  across the room while I (headphones on) reach into tricky corners and shout suddenly 'No! No you didn't!'We are both happy. Painting and tinkering away, surrounded by low-level squalor, beset by only mild illness, warm and safe.

Oh well. My painting project has to pause now. It's Wednesday and I've run out of spare minutes. The washing-up is calling, Keith is spiralling sicker, and I have  lunches to pack, bags to sort, clutter to redistribute, mischievous children to send back to bed...

Goodnight blog universe.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

20/52 - A Portrait Project

An attempt to capture the spirit of my smallest baby Georgette, by documenting her in a photo every  week  for a year. See more at Jodie's 52 Project.  

Always with the stripping. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

We Cannot See Around Corners.

I am keeping a close eye on young Teapot today. He has a runny nose and a cough, and I'm listening out for the moment when his cough takes on the unmistakable tight ring of an asthma hack. He is snuggled under a heated blanket on the lounge watching Sesame Street with his big sister. I am thinking about setting up a big craft table this morning, but first, I must get through these tears.

I can't stop thinking about the two children tragically orphaned this week when their parents Kathleen and Rob Rickertson drowned. I have a kids cookbook, made by this family,  that I downloaded and printed out for my little chef Ted on his 4th birthday. It features Orlando and Otilija throughout, as they make and describing their favourite recipes. I loved these kids. Mine love to cook too. I imagined Ivy and Ted and George, years ahead, with their own specialities, taking over the kitchen.

These two kids were so cherished and so nourished by their parents, and their loss is unimaginable. There is a online trust set up for them here where we can donate, and they have, I am sure, a wonderful and loving extended family to care for them. But the particular, intense gaze of their parents, and the dreams of their family unit: these are gone.

Life takes turns, unexpectedly. We cannot see around corners. We are not all fated to live long and prosper. We are not.

Now is what we have. Useless tears for Orlando and Otilija, who have lost the watchful eyes of their parents on them as they grow, what  money we can spare for their future, and hugs, especially tight, for our own children today.

Friday, May 17, 2013

A Funny Thing Happened In The Pre-School Carpark

Last week at the pre-school pick up, I was chatting to my friend Emma in the carpark when a woman came up, strapped her baby in the car next to us and then suddenly shouted 'My wallet! Somebody stole my wallet!'

She ran past us, stopping to shriek 'Watch the baby! My wallet's gone!' as she headed at full speed back through the gates.

Emma and I looked at each other. 'That's so weird,' I said. 'No', said Emma, 'what's weird is that she's just put her baby in my car.'

Yep, their two cars were identical, down to the ubiquitous crumbly mess in the back seat.  This poor harried, underslept mother had strapped her kid into the wrong car and then had a massive hysterical freak out. In a few minutes she sheepishly returned, retrieved her baby, got into the right car and left.

I have not cackled and hooted and wept so hard in weeks. It was such a beautifully absurd moment and I recognised myself in that mother so very much, from the nutty mistake to the dramatic overreaction to the final, sheepish walk of shame. She is Everywoman.

I wish you all just such a full-bodied, deeply enjoyable belly laugh this weekend.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Alas, Poor Wednesdays, I Knew You Well

20th century actress Constance Collier uncannily captures my actual hairstyle and expression today.

For a brief, glorious period, I have been setting aside Wednesdays as my writing day, with Ivy at school, Ted at pre-school and Georgie at family day-care.  It requires an intense morning wrangling all five of us out of the house for the day: washed, dressed, breakfasted and loaded with lunch and homework folders and assorted paraphernalia depending on age and continence ability. (If Keith forgets his Pull-Ups it can make for an awkward video Skype.)

The triple drop-off completed, I head to the coffee shop and the library for caffeine and a few wonderful, quiet, focused hours, before the end of the school day calls and it's time to do the pick-up in reverse order. Then we crack through Wednesday afternoon:  music lessons, soccer training,  homework, housework, dinner prep and the general management of overwrought, post-institutionalised children (mainly through the judicious application of porridge, ABC2 and Mum's lap.)

Wednesdays are busy, but those hours I spend alone in the middle; out of the house and tinkering with words,  fill a important need for me. They drop me back into myself. They allow me space to think a thought through to its conclusion. They fuel me for the following week of trying to respond to the needs of others, and grabbing moments to myself in between tasks.   

Alas. It's been a while.  

Today, Ivy barked her way through a doctors visit where they diagnosed her with laryngitis. As the doctor listened to her chest, and her breathing rattled theatrically and satisfyingly, she grinned with pride. She's next to me now, making lists of things to research on YouTube and asking me every five minutes 'Are you finished on the computer yet? Are you finished yet?' 

It's not as peaceful as my coffee shop. 

Last week, the vomiting seemed finally to have finished. The last lot of defiled linens were drying in the sun, and I was desperately looking forward to a Wednesday on my own. But nay. The water heater broke down, and I had to spend the morning with a plumber who followed me around the house explaining how Hitler had invented an engine that displaced space so that objects could move faster than time, thus flying to the moon and also building the pyramids. He had seen UFO's from his house in Engadine, so he was definitely not mistaken.

It was not  as peaceful as my coffee shop. 

The preceding two Wednesdays had been spent cuddling miserable children and washing gastric juices out of my hair. That was not peaceful. Before that, my school holiday Wednesday may have been fun, and may have been packed with togetherness and good times and the general Making of Memories, but it was definitely, absolutely, without question, not as peaceful as my coffee shop. 

Next week. 


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Happy Mother's Day

I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed at the minute. Chasing my tail after a lengthy bout of kid-sickness, trying to get on top of the house (not literally), and running out of time to write. But in honour of Mothers's Day, I thought I would share these stories from the archives about my own mum Chris . I wrote this back in 2009, when I had only two kids and many less grey hairs, but my Mum remains an incredible help and inspiration to me.  Also, she still cracks me up.

1. The Sausage

While camping one year, Mum ended up at a long table full of people discussing race relations in Australia. One charming man at the other end was holding forth, basically advocating genocide of the Aboriginal population. Mum, shy in groups, got more and more worked up but couldn't get it together to argue back. Eventually, in a sudden burst, she fired a charred sausage at him. A nicely blackened bit got him in the eye and the conversation ended as Dad led Mum away from the table.

2. The Standing Ovation. 

One of Mum's oldest friends is a bush poet. After working for years on a script on the Eureka Stockade, she got the chance to stage a reading for a group of investors at a city theatre. The audience was full of hard-nosed business types, me, and Mum, who was bursting with pride and excitement. At the shows conclusion, everybody clapped politely, but Mum was out of step with the vibe of the crowd. She leapt to her feet, cheering wildly, and then tried to sit down again when she realised that nobody else was getting up. Unfortunately, the chair beneath her folded up in the meantime, so she landed on the floor. Can you picture it? Gymnastic leap in the air, with clapping, to full floor finish. Priceless.

3. The Big Night Out.

So, with no small thanks to Mum's show of support, Eureka! got made, and Mum and I went along to the Melbourne opening night, where we had a blast. Mingled with d-list soapie stars and Big Brother contestants, boogied-on-down with the bearded mayor of Bendigo at the after-party, and stopped off on the way home at a karaoke bar to perform 'Hopelessly Devoted To You'.

What a woman! Lucky, lucky me. Love you Mum. 

Happy Mothers Day, you bunch of beautiful breeders. 


Monday, May 13, 2013

18/52: A Portrait Project

An attempt to capture the spirit of my smallest baby Georgette, by documenting her in a photo every  week  for a year. See more at Jodie's 52 Project.  

My rookie mistake: letting young Georgie hold a packet of textas on the way home from the shops, so that this 80's homage greeted me when  I opened the door. She is obsessed with drawing, this toddler. She calls it 'twos' and will follow us around with paper begging 'Two? Two?' When we agree to draw some '2's' and spirals for her, she laughs with delight. Her favourite perch is on the dining table, digging through the stationery basket and the paper box for new surfaces to decorate. Every piece of paper in the house is covered with Georgies little scribbles, and she has a naturally perfect pencil grip in her left hand. A lefty! Another piece of her puzzle, revealed. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Nutty And Delicious

Ted, four-and-a-half , insists that everything he wears be 'beautiful'. Today he is happy because he looks 'like a fruit salad.' 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Dress-Up Dolls.

This column was first published in Practical Parenting Magazine, March 2013

Pregnant with my first child, I was enthralled with the idea of dressing my very own baby person. In a slightly cracked ritual, I liked to lay out different outfits in the empty bassinette every night, and would spend long, delightful minutes before bed, mixing and matching hats and socks and shoes and jumpsuits. My third trimester awakened some kind of latent dress-ups gene. Tiny stripy leggings! Doll-sized hoodies! Adorable t-shirts and smocks and socks and knitted jumpers!  They all delighted me. I drew the line at pink, however. Peanut’s closet was a pink-free zone, and I was determined to avoid the princess-fairy-glitter syndrome.

How deluded I was. Fast-forward four years, and preschooler Peanut would only wear pink, and what’s more, referred to herself as ‘Pinky Winky’. She liked her outfits ruffled, sparkly, and glittering, and preferably all of these at once. This princess phase came upon her suddenly, after a period of dressing as a character she called the Black Ghost, who wore nothing but a feathered face mask. At two, her favourite outfit was a t-shirt that read ‘Bring Back Warney’, satin Wiggles boxer shorts and a pair of sunglasses, made for her birthday, that featured two cardboard Wiggles permanently and maniacally leaping from the arm-pieces. It was quite an arresting look, and one I am almost positive I never rehearsed during my pregnancy fantasies.

My middle child T-Bone went to his pre-school orientation recently. He had taken that week to wearing all of his clothes backwards, and to sporting a different type of shoe on each foot. At one stage all the children gathered in a circle around the teacher and took it in turns to dance alone in the centre as she blew bubbles. As T-Bones turn came up, he suffered an extreme wardrobe malfunction, and his jeans slid south. Very far south. But did it stop him? Not for a moment.  He cavorted enthusiastically about, popping bubbles joyfully, with almost his entire bottom exposed to the rest of his class. The kids didn’t really notice, but the other mums and I were in tears of laughter. And I was, under the tears, fiercely proud of my eccentric and cheerful son.

This clothing thing has been one of many lessons for me in letting go, in giving up the fantasy of motherhood in my head, and looking with clear eyes on the reality of motherhood in front of me. This reality in which the children are unmatched, and often dirty, and wearing the outfits that they chose themselves. These are not my fantasy kids, they are the real people who share my house and own my heart - entirely separate humans from me, with their own ideas and desires and taste in sparkles. The fun of dress-ups that I imagined in my long-ago first pregnancy only lasts a short time, I have come to realise. But then it is replaced with the richer joy of watching the children pick out their own clothes. This act of choosing, of individual style, is all part of the larger theatre I have the privilege of watching, as these kids go about the process of becoming exactly who they are meant to be. Bedazzled, unexpected, inappropriately nude, and utterly delightful. 

17/52: A Portrait Project

An attempt to capture the spirit of my smallest baby Georgette, by documenting her in a photo every  week  for a year. See more at Jodie's 52 Project.  

Sisters,  recovering from a nasty virus, still occasionally throwing up, and generally feeling like wet socks from about 4pm on. Still, you have each other. 

Ps - Your dad is sick now. Hold me.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Recovery Position.

We're clawing our way back to health here. Ivy made it to school this morning, after spending the last couple of days in pale, cotton-woolish invalidism, swooning on the lounge and being 'too tired' to eat the greener bits of her dinner. It was nice in fact  to have just the one sick child to concentrate on. Ivy curled up quietly reading Nancy Drew and watching TV, happily enjoying the gentle thrill of being home on a school day, playing piano with Daddy at lunchtime and having the toys all to herself.

We had a little painting session without a baby trying to eat the brushes and drink the water. It was lovely.

I've been listening to Caitin Moran read her book 'How To Be A Woman'. She is just wonderful. I'm washing up and folding laundry and making beds with one ear-phone in, in my usual housework routine, and I'm veering wildly between tears of laughter, fist-pumps of solidarity and wretched sadness at the feeling that I will never write this well. Ah, that's how it goes.  

Term 2! Thin autumn sunshine, hot water bottles, Game of Thrones, painting projects, writing plans, an exceptionally good season of Survivor (and two big kids just learning the fun of Survivor strategy analysis), soccer season and vegetable lasagnes.  May the fun begin.