Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Excuse Me, I Think There Has Been A Terrible Mistake

This post was first published in Practical Parenting Magazine, May 2013

As a single person I was hopeless at looking after my own finances. Paperwork was always lost, and bills were always paid late. Periodically I would enthusiastically begin new ‘systems’ to manage the admin of my life. This bit was very enjoyable: notebooks, highlighters, Post-Its, steely resolve. This time! This time!  Within days the system would collapse.

And here I am now, the custodian of three small children. Suddenly I have to keep track of the most enormous amount of administration. There are school reading diaries and fundraising documents and fees. There are permission slips and vaccination schedules and sports registrations. It is like a tsunami of paperwork and it all makes me want to shout ‘Excuse me! I think there has been a terrible mistake! You have mistaken me for another kind of mother!’

I do occasionally (okay, frequently) forget the school lunch and/or the school hat and/or the lunch-order, but I have never forgotten to pick the actual child up from school yet. I think that’s pretty good. But where are the prizes for that, I wonder?  Who raised the bar so bloody high that it became expected for school mums to all be super-organised PA’s for our demanding child- bosses? Was it always this way? Did my lengthy, indulgent, enjoyable pre-parenthood years just give me a false picture about what being a proper adult really entailed?

In lots of ways, motherhood has asked me to step up and be better. More patient. More compassionate. Less uptight about defecating in front of an audience. Able to juggle hot-button questions like ‘Is God real, Mum? Like Santa?’ even before I have had my pint of morning coffee. And as I enter the kids-at-school years, motherhood is asking me to get my act together and stop behaving like a secretary on my final warning.  Motherhood is requesting, in fact, that I become a grown-up.

There is a theory that I like that says that bad habits can’t be ‘undone’; just over-ridden and replaced by good ones. The brain sets in place the neural pathway of any habitual behaviour, and each time you do the naughty thing, you reinforce and strengthen it. The only way to build new habits is to practice and practice until you create an alternative, equally strong neural pathway. I have spent my adult life reacting to paperwork by putting my fingers in my ears and saying ‘lalalalala!’ and my brain has become very used to that strategy.  But now it’s time to stop.  And once I get started, there are other bad behaviours to address. 

I will replace my takeaway-latte addiction with organic green tea. I will replace fruit-and-nut chocolate with kale smoothies. I will stop averting my eyes from the kitchen floor and wash the kitchen floor. I will catch up on my yoga exercises instead of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. First things first: the administration.  Step One: stop putting school paperwork on the floor of the car to gently compost with the takeaway coffee cups and lonely sultanas.  Step Two: Create a new system. This will need equipment!  Step 3: Buy highlighters, notebooks and post-it notes. Step 4: Definitely stick to system this time. Definitely.


  1. There is no need to go overboard Rach. If I hear of you drinking kale smoothies I will be very disappointed.

    1. You're safe Sal.Unless they start caffeinating kale and serving it as a delicious beverage...in which case get outa my way.

  2. Or, you can do as I did, and let the realisation of your incompetence at all-things-administrative rain upon your children over time. (Schools deal with this more than you might imagine, and will often plug any real gaps with a phone call).

    Then, as they approach the ripe old age of seven or so, like perfectly formed incarnations of the laws of supply and demand, the children will develop their own skills to bridge the need, nagging you about Mufti day money, bringing you the note (and a pen!) for a signature, reminding you to pick them up *late* today.

    At which point you can safely delegate such things to them, smug in the knowledge that you've helped them build the much-in-demand skills required by the real world. It doesn't stop the Energy company threatening to switch you off before you manage the heroic effort required to get your credit card, laptop and bill to move into each others' orbit, but at least you know it isn't interfering with your children's education!


Thanks for talking to me. I don't got cooties. Oh, except for when I got cooties.