School’s in session

Yesterday, a friend asked me what I’d been up to, which is a question that paralyses me at the best of times. This time, all I could think to say was, ‘School.’

She commented on what a big thing it is for little people to take on, and it is, but not only for him. The beginning of our son’s school life has been a major thing for all of us to contend with. It’s been wonderful, very hard, a bit confronting and vulnerable and mind-expanding, all at once. I had no idea it would be such a seismic shift.

While we loved the childcare centre our son went to, it was still just that: a place he went to. School is a major institution in society, and engaging with it feels a lot more weighty and intensive. Especially when you don’t have a lot of contact with other institutions (shout-out to secularists, introverts, outlaws and freelancers in all your combinations! I’m sorry for shouting!)

We’re almost at the halfway mark of our first year now, and it feels like we’re finally settling in and adjusting as a household to the ways that school shapes our lives. We’ve chosen a ripper of a school for our little fellow, and in doing so, we’ve actually freed ourselves from a lot of the bureaucracy and other commitments that normally come with it. We don’t have uniforms or strict schedules or NAPLAN, bells or lines or homework or exams to deal with, as a start. I’m aware that a lot of great mainstream schools do have all these things, and I have no intention of denigrating them. We’ve just found an alternative that works for us, and it operates a little differently.

The school we’ve chosen asks something different of us. It asks us to make school a greater part of our lives than the place where our child spends his days. It asks us to engage as individuals, as parents to our child, as a family and as community members. It asks us to show up on a philosophical level, a personal level, and in a collaborative spirit. Bringing these kids up in this way is a partnership, and that entails a little give and take. It’s a long game, and we’ve got to be patient. All going well, we’ll end up with a happy child who loves learning, who is curious, creative and empathetic. But it’s not a race, and there are no rules.

As people who are not really joiners, this community approach was challenging at first. With a child who experiences anxiety and finds comfort in structure, this type of schooling is still challenging. It’s a beautiful mess, because that’s what freedom looks like. It’s loud and chaotic, because that’s what kids are. There are ways to find a corner of calm in the chaos, but it takes a while. The nicest part is, there’s no hurry. Nobody is tapping their feet and looking at their watch, waiting for us to fall into line or shoehorn our child into any particular slot in the system. We’ve been given time and latitude to find out how to make this school work for all of us, and to find out how we can work for this school. One of us is starting school for the first time, but we’re all getting educated, and it’s bloody great.

Roll on semester two (sunglasses emoji).

 

8406407135_2da6a35e52_b.jpg

Now you are five: Birthday letter

Matey MOO. Now you are five!

I’ve taken so many photos of you sleeping lately. Mostly because it’s the only time you’re still, and I can just look at your face. Because you are the boss of your own body (as you tell us frequently and gleefully) you’ve just had lightning bolts shaved into your hair ‘to make you run faster.’ I preferred a traditional choirboy side part, but you are not especially interested in what anyone else thinks. The lightning bolts have zapped out the last vestiges of baby-ness from your face and you’ve stretched out this year, too. Your heels almost knock against my knees if I carry you on my hip, but I can’t carry you very often, anymore. You’re just too big. I understand that you’ll be furious about this, indefinitely.

Your fury is one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen. Which is lucky, because I see it a lot. Hell hath no fury like a child denied their every pleasure. We do a bit of denying, because you’re a tiny hedonist. You have the air of a little lord, expecting the world to accommodate your every whim. We’re working on that, but in some ways it’s a good thing. I like that you ask for what you want from the world. I like that you make your position clear. I like that you believe you deserve your share of the riches that exist. I hope you keep feeling like this – not entitled, but deserving of goodness.

You are very funny at the moment, too. You and your Daddy share a love for silliness and absurdity, and you’re both ready to have fun and be delighted as soon as you clap eyes on each other. It’s lovely. When you’re not being a little lord, you’re the court jester, capering for our amusement. You literally do caper, too - singing and dancing and ranting nonsense, especially when you’re in a room with good acoustics, like the toilet.

A couple of days ago, we went to the library. You love books and take a big stack to bed with you every night. I’d like to see someone try and tell you you’re not actually reading. When we’d finished at the library, you asked to go to the adjoining park.

‘Okay, but you have to wear a hat,’ I said. The only hat we had in the car was what I believed to be an inoffensive green bucket hat.

You frowned at it. ‘No.’

‘No? You don’t want to wear the hat? Then we can’t go to the park. We’ll have to get in the car and leave.’ Hilariously, I believed I was calling your bluff. You opened the door and climbed into your seat.

‘Let’s go.’

Your stubbornness is breathtaking. Your imagination is, too. Yesterday, on the way home, you told me you were now planning to be both a police officer and the driver of a truck that transported coal when you grew up. Simultaneously. I didn’t have the energy for a climate change discussion, so I just said, ‘Wow, you’re going to be so busy.’

‘Yes,’ you said seriously. ‘It will be very squashy.’

My sweet boy. You’re right, time can be squashy when you are busy. My time with you feels like it’s gotten squashier and squashier, lately. I want it to stretch out again, long days together with nothing to do. I promise I’ll make sure we still get some of those days.

I promise that our lives will always have time for silliness.

I promise to love you in fury and in serenity, both.

Happy birthday, sweetheart. Mummy loves the shit out of you.

 

felix 5.jpg

Womankind: What we 'cooked'

Wednesday

Tonight, it was just my son and I for dinner.

He is four, and has sophisticated but inconsistent tastes. He likes gorgonzola and olives and expensive fruits but refuses basic things like green beans. He will not eat potato in any form apart from chips. This is so strange to me, because I love potato in every conceivable form and I grew him in my body.

Tonight I am ‘cooking’ tomato soup that is pre-prepared by Woolworths. I try hard to cook things from scratch and use fresh ingredients but sometimes I say ‘bugger it’ and we happily heat some frozen fish or some baked beans. The parenting police do not come to my door. Four years into this gig, and I think I have finally realised…Guys, there are NO parenting police.

Even if there were, tomato soup would be the least of their worries. Same goes for screen time.

I also had some ripper chicken wings that Mum got a recipe for on MasterChef. Chicken wings are bloody annoying to eat but these were very moreish, cooked in a marinade of pomegranate molasses, olive oil and chilli flakes. My son declined to try them. We also ate lettuce, just in case.

 

Thursday

It’s already the afternoon and I am fast running out of time to prepare the slow-cooked something or other I planned while lying in bed this morning. That is as far as I got, slow-cooked. I think what I’m actually saying is that I want a stew, but that is such a horrible word. And colour, usually.

We are now in our single month of winter here in Brisbane, and it confuses us all terribly. We don’t know how to behave. Hence the stew – I’m not even sure if I like stew. Probably, I haven’t eaten it by choice in my adult life, so I don’t know why I feel compelled to begin now. But, if Maggie Beer cooked it, I’m sure it would elevate it from prison gruel. Maggie is like that. I have beef in the fridge so I Google ‘Maggie Beer beef’ and secretly hope to come across her in a fight with a waif on a red carpet somewhere. Instead, I find this delicious recipe.

Maggie is renowned for putting verjuice and vino cotto, her own products, in every single thing she cooks. She probably has Weetbix with verjuice. The recipe calls for vino cotto but I resist the system (can’t afford it) and use a strange slurry of balsamic and red wine instead. I also added mushrooms, because I had them. Against the odds, it tastes amazing. Stew is great, people. Go eat stew.

 

Friday

We currently have a marble jar in operation, to try and induce the four-year-old to try new foods. He gets a marble when he has three bites of a new food. I don’t want to force him to eat anything, and we usually go by the ‘adults provide, children decide’ philosophy with his eating. Meaning, I cook something I’m 80% sure he will eat, and decline to provide an alternative if he doesn’t. I feel like if I get into the trap of offering other foods all the time, I will never get out of the kitchen, and I’ll lose even the faint semblance of power I have over his diet at the moment. Which is pretty good, all things considered. He eats almost an entire capsicum every day. Is that good or bad?

Like all children, sugar is his crack, and he has a particular fondness for tomato sauce. So, I make a pie with lots of sneaky vegetables in it, tell him he can have a bit of tomato sauce with it, and presto! We have a new food in his repertoire. I feel very smug. Less so when I realise he has eaten only the pastry and sauce. I used a store-bought base, rosemary, vegetable stock and the miscellaneous veg from the bottom of the fridge, with a bit of flour to thicken the sauce. I didn’t have any other pastry to top it, so I used sliced potato, which is inadvisable. If I was a better person (and had colder hands), I would have cooked Stephanie Alexander’s sour cream pastry, as seen here.

 

Saturday

I did not cook today, and while I enjoy cooking, it is lovely not to cook, sometimes. We had takeaway curries from the local Indian restaurant, which is very good for a restaurant in a block of shops with only a real estate, hairdresser and chemist, smack bang in the middle of the suburbs. My son had saagwalla, which we just call ‘green sauce’ and he has no idea it is spinach that makes it green. Someone suggested to him that it is probably the Incredible Hulk’s food of choice, accounting for his radioactive green glow. I suspect that is why my son eats it so willingly, imagining his tiny body bursting out of his dinosaur t-shirt and shorts into a muscular behemoth with each spoonful.

Sometimes, I think I would like to freeze time and keep him at exactly this age, he is perfect just as he is, with little shoulder blades like wings and his small, neat hands that are always covered in pen and hummus and dirt and glue and his mop of hair that makes him look like an undersized Beatle. He laughs so much. He is the most beautiful pain in the butt.

My husband made his best cheese and tomato toasties for lunch, although he is not as generous as I am with the cheese. Hot tip: Sufficient salt and pepper revolutionise simple toasties. Camembert is also an excellent addition. To anything.

 

Sunday

The next food I’m working on introducing is prawns. I don’t cook prawns very often, and I’m not sure why. Perhaps because the shells are fiddly and I am lazy? That could be it. Also, the poo chute. I’m going to cook them with pasta, because we are big fans of pasta in this house, and it’s been DAYS since we last ate it. I’ve got some leftover parsley from the Maggie Beer stew and I’m going to throw in some garlic to ward off vampires. And colds, I guess. I’m using packet pasta (appears to be a theme) because I have a life, and I’m going rogue without a recipe.

It’s hard to go wrong with butter, garlic, prawns, parsley and pasta. Or is it? It may be tempting fate to say so. I’m also going to make a big green salad, with some feta if it hasn’t gone mouldy. We try not to drink booze during the week because of all the adulting we need to do, which is unfortunate because I’d really like a glass of wine with this dinner.

If I did use a recipe, it would be something like this but better and more abundant looking, and my son would still delicately pick the flecks of parsley off it to isolate the strands of buttery pasta, and leave the prawns at the side of the plate, little pink curls in a pile.

andreakowch_an-invitation-e1528092148241.jpg

Ripper artwork by Andrea Cowch, on www.womankindmag.com

The other boy wizard

Of all the misguided notions I had about parenting prior to having my son, one is the most delusional: that I could shape the person he was. AHAHAHAHA.

I thought that, as a primary caregiver and default moral compass, I could mould my son to my liking. I thought he would be like a lump of clay, and I could manipulate him into a beautiful and useful vessel, filled with virtue. He would be good and wise, a tiny sage, given to knowing nodding and wry chuckling at the ways of the world, stroking his silvery grey beard in bemusement like…a wizard… I think I thought my son would be a wizard.

He is not a wizard. He is nobody other than himself. He makes me wonder if we are born perfectly self-assured, secure in our identities, and then it ebbs away over time until we are a mass of neuroses and insecurities who have children to make better versions of ourselves.

In any case, he is not very malleable. At all. Sure, we can give positive reinforcement to behaviours we like and penalise for those we don’t, but in order for this to work, he has to care what we think. He has to require our approval and be pained by our disappointment. But, he doesn’t appear to be especially moved by either. He calibrates his own moral compass according to his daily whims and his value system is more like a maze. He is guided by his personal overlord, Optimus Prime, and answers to no mortal.

As parents, we are merely hosts, here to feed and shelter him on his path to glory/world domination/complete self-determination. He will be the first pre-schooler to be legally emancipated from his parents. He will change the locks to the house and negotiate control of our finances. He will give us curfews. We will have to ask him to be excused from the table at mealtimes.

And he will dismiss us with a wave of his tiny hand, smiling his little knowing smile and stroking his silvery grey beard, content in the knowledge that he rules us and always will, and we were fools to think it could be any other way.

482px-Portrait_of_a_Boy_at_the_Spanish_Court_by_Sofonisba_Anguissola,_San_Diego_Museum_of_Art.JPG

Clean up your act

A couple of weeks ago, we went to one of our local parks to participate in a Clean Up Australia Day event. The grand plan was to show our son collective action in real life, to instil in him a sense of global citizenship, to foster his respect for the environment and bond over how smug we felt about our own civic-mindedness.

When we left the house, my son was enthusiastic. He was wearing his ‘special working’ gumboots, gung-ho and full of fervour for our mission. We picked up a few pieces of rubbish on our own footpath to get into the spirit of things, and argued about whether we needed to purchase a plastic grabber to make the experience of picking up rubbish ‘more funner.’ We said no to the grabber, as it felt self-defeating to contribute to landfill while cleaning up Australia. By the time we got to the park, my son was thoroughly disenchanted. It was only five minutes away. A novelty pair of gardening gloves didn’t help.

It was very hot. This park may well have been located on the surface of the sun/an inner circle of hell. It didn’t help that we weren’t there to play or commune with nature, but to extract shreds of KFC boxes from sunburnt grass. I don’t know how they got there. A bad picnic? In my opinion, parks are for teenagers to pash in and kids to play in, and anything in between is improper usage.

We gritted our teeth, fanned out across the park with our plastic bags and picked through the broken glass and lolly wrappers and twists of blue wire (what have people been doing with all this blue wire?), hating humanity. The youngest member of our party found a big stick and destroyed an ant house, then complained that he was hot and bored and there were ants on him.

‘We spend a lot of time at the park,’ I said to him. ‘So we need to help keep it nice. It wouldn’t be very nice if there was rubbish all over the playground, would it?’

‘If there was rubbish on the swing, it would just fly off when it moved. Then I could still use it.’

‘But you’d still see yucky rubbish everywhere.’

‘No, I wouldn’t. I would lie on the slide and look up at the sky. Then I would only see sky.’

After about an hour or so, we were done.

Rather than stick around to deposit our bags of rubbish and pick up his certificate, my son elected to wait in the car.

Upon reflection, I feel that we all got something from the experience.

Heatstroke.

We agreed that the next time we cared about the environment, we would do it in winter.

800px-Frederick_McCubbin_Lost_1907.jpg

Drinking the tears of the patriarchy

International Women’s Day was yesterday, but I’m only posting about it today because I’m a woman and WE BUSY.

That, for me, is IWD encapsulated. The day that is designed to celebrate women, one measly day, and I bet most of us were too busy to even pay lip service to it. I was working from home, cleaning because I can’t work unless it’s all clean, buying food, assembling it into a semi-nutritious dinner, paying bills, running interference with real estate agents, folding washing, and trying to do these things in a limited window when my son is at kindy. The juggle is real.

On International Women’s Day, I also got a lot of email spam from companies trying to cash in on all the ladyness, and I’m sure there were enough corporate breakfasts across the country to completely eradicate those little stale pastries from existence beyond 10am.

Apart from that, nothing changed.

I’m not sure about this phenomenon of having specific days to acknowledge things. Just this month, we have Puppetry Day, Sparrow Day and Purple Day also on the schedule, I shit you not. I like the idea of appealing to our short attention spans and long list of things to acknowledge (sparrows are great), but I’m a little concerned about having only one day to recognise and redress centuries of oppression. I dunno, seems a little disproportionate.

Anyway, this day-after-IWD, I will take my small victories where I find them, and this is one of them. Taking the time to write a blog post about not having any time. This is no small thing. At least we get to speak about it, now. We can go on and on about how hard it is to keep all the plates spinning if we want a semblance of balance, how inequality persists and it is a constant and exhausting challenge to push back against it, how it is actually impossible to be a ‘good’ mother and daughter and sister and wife and self all at once.

The ability to speak up about these things is a luxury in its own way, though it shouldn’t be.

So I’ll do it whenever I can. And not just on one day of the year.

800px-Jožef_Tominc_-_Tri_dame_iz_družine_Moscon.jpg

Better the devil you know

Today, I read a book about a sneaky Tasmanian devil called Neville. I was with my son, not on my own. When I’m on my own, I prefer to read more elevating material, like listicles. This book made me think about the murky territory of honesty with children, and how best to get around it.

In the book, Neville secretly follows his mum out at night to scavenge for food. They stay out ‘til daybreak, and Neville is pretty certain he is the stealthiest creature ever. When they get back to the den, his mum says she knew he was there the whole time. This could have been a lie, but it’s still an effective marketing tactic that parents of all species have employed and will continue to for millennia: we are not bound by the limits of our actual eyes. We are OMNISCIENT, except when we ignore things we have actually seen to buy ourselves time.

Parents are very good at performing speedy cost-benefit analyses, and I’ll wager that is what Neville’s mum actually did. She weighed up the time it would take to re-settle Neville back in the den with the potential harm of letting him follow her around. She may also have considered that, if he followed her around, not only would she be able to keep a covert eye on him, but he would be tired and likely to need an extended nap the following day. Some decisions make themselves.

I am no stranger to this sort of calculation, and grapple with it often. Should I let my son massage play-doh into a velvet cushion if it means I can finish my tea and read this poignant account of a skateboarding cat’s brush with death? (Of course). Is it worth knowingly misleading my child by saying all dinosaurs hibernated for a substantial part of the year just so I can lie down on the couch for a while when we are being pterodactyls? No, never, (yes).

People can be so puritanical about telling children the truth. I believe honesty is a spectrum and we mustn’t confine ourselves to a fixed point on it. This fluidity with truth is a key capability for parents/politicians across all species.

My son, unfortunately, knew the thing about pterodactyls hibernating was fake news and called me on it, which made me feel both proud and annoyed in equal measure. When Neville the Tasmanian devil found out his mum had outsmarted him, he was awed by her. When I tried to be cunning, my son was scathing.

Because I’m an adult, I got back at him by letting him watch Peter Rabbit on iView in Cantonese for ten minutes before I suggested there was something amiss (it was actually much better in a foreign language). So now we are even.

Until next time, child of mine.

BEING a PTERODACTYL/Flaming_June_by_Frederic_Lord_Leighton_(1830-1896).jpg

Mothers of men

At kindy, I watch my son charge around with other little boys, roaring and scowling and aiming pretend weapons at each other. They wear dinosaur shirts and shorts and bucket hats and they are dirty and happy and wild. The girls are playing different games.

The educators try to keep a lid on the play-fighting amongst the boys, but it erupts again and again. There is no real malice in it, they’re only trying aggression on for size. Sometimes a blow will land, and there will be tears. The tears make clean little rivers over their grubby, chubby cheeks and you can see the echo of the babies they were so very recently.

On the way home from kindy, we argue about whether or not girls can be Power Rangers. He says that girls are not strong enough, or fast enough, or powerful enough. I produce examples to prove that I am all of those things. When he grudgingly concedes that I can be a Power Ranger if I really must, he adds the caveat that I can only be the pink one.

‘I don’t want to be the pink one. I want to be the green one,’ I tell him.

He shakes his head, weary, and gazes out the window, as if he’s searching for an alternative reality where he’s not forced to engage with such moronic travelling companions.  

‘Either you are a pink Power Ranger or you’re just a mummy.’

Wow, what a smorgasbord of options. How can I possibly choose.

‘Let me think about it.’

He waves his hand, dismissive.

At home, we claw back some power over the situation, editing the content of books as we read them aloud to erase any inherent gender stereotypes or sexism. We tediously insist on challenging every little hint he drops about girls and boys and the gulf he imagines between them. I even resorted to looking on eBay to find more female Duplo and Lego figurines, just so I could include them in the firefighting and the police chases and the rescue missions. When I tell him stories, I give them appallingly heavy-handed moral subtexts about girls doing whatever the hell they want.

I don’t enjoy this policing, I’m not that bloody humourless. It just feels essential.

Mothers are not responsible for the men their boys become. But, together with their other parents, I think we do have a responsibility to them when they are these little boys in dinosaur shirts, roaring in the sandpit.

We’re responsible for telling them that the world owes them nothing.

We’re responsible for reminding them again and again that boys are not better, more deserving, more powerful, or entitled to anything just by virtue of their anatomy.

There’s an imbalance that needs redressing, and I think this is the only way.

Yes, they’ll grow weary of us and our constant nagging, but whatever - that happens anyway.

American_School,_Young_Boy_with_Whip,_ca._1840.jpg

The form they take, the measurements they make

Every single woman that I know has had some sort of body issues.

Smart, talented, creative, funny women with minds full of treasure and hearts full of kindness and hands that can soothe and conjure and construct. All these women, endlessly distracted by their bodies. By the form they take, by the measurements they make.

It drives me batty, because it’s such a waste of all the other bits of us.

Now, I’m no stranger to self-loathing, but I’ve worked very hard to get to a place where it doesn’t feature much in my daily mind matter. It’s just embodiment, and I’m much more interesting than that. We all bloody well are. We freaking TRANSCEND these earthly shapes.

So, as someone who refuses to apologise for the amount of space she takes up in the world, I naturally appreciate the politics of the body positivity movement. This school of thought encourages people to re-frame their negative thoughts about their bodies and re-train their minds to love that which they used to loathe – the folds, the rolls, the scars and stretch marks, the cellulite and glowing white.

 But, I’ve got one leetle problem with it. The self-love bit. The ‘love’ bit.

I just think it might be a bit much to ask, is all.

When so many of these excellent women I know are fightin’ the good fight just to move through their days without hiding themselves in potato sacks (though I do encourage potato consumption in SACK volumes), I think it’s a bit of a stretch to ask them to be their own Valentine.

From the time we are little girls, we learn to find flaws in ourselves, seeking evidence of our own inadequacy with the skill and determination of sniffer dogs. We even get competitive about who has more flaws, who is less worthy of love or appreciation or attraction or even existence.

It takes a lot of undoing to forget those habits. We’d sooner forget out own names.

So, as usual, I have a suggestion that nobody asked for.

We don’t need to try and love ourselves. We really don’t. It would be setting ourselves up for failure. If we can’t quite get to the point of sending love letters to our own dimpled arses, we’ll just feel even more inadequate.

I think we need to like ourselves, maybe, but what I really think is that we need to see our bodies as just that, bodies. Vessels. Pods for the seeds of us.

As inconsequential as a shell for a hermit crab – just a shelter from the weather.

Who’s with me?

 

 

 

A_Tepidarium_with_Female_Nudes.jpg

Sorry not sorry

The other day, I did something that I thought was right at the time, but it turned out to be wrong. Quite wrong.

I ate Nuttvia, a sugar-free Nutella substitute.

Just joking, I publicly shamed my child. Nuttvia is actually very good (honest opinion, not sponsored, yet).

We were at a big playground that is next to the ‘beach’ that is Shorncliffe. For those that aren’t local, this is the sort of beach with water that is so murky and clogged with seaweed that you feel dirtier when you come out. But kids love it because it is shallow water and they don’t know any better.

My son had ventured into the playground, taking part in the usual Lord of the Flies re-enactment scenario. His ten-year-old cousin was there to supervise, provide moral support and to dob on his younger compatriot if the situation compelled him to.

Surprise! The situation compelled him to dob on his cousin many, many times. My son presented a robust defence (‘Well, they were butt-butt heads,’) but eventually I felt like I had to do something. I put it off for as long as possible, but the elder cousin was quite insistent that justice should prevail. He was high on the glory of being the dobber and not the dobbee. Who wouldn’t be?

‘He was being rude to those kids over there,’ the dobber told me, helpfully pointing at a group of children who were scowling at my child and miming machine gun fire (so oblique, wow, puzzling).

I took the little fellow by the hand and marched him over.

‘If you were rude to these kids, you need to say sorry,’ I told him.

‘I’m sorry,’ he mumbled, from behind my leg.

‘That’s okay,’ said the kids, and they disappeared.

My son’s tiny face crumpled and my heart broke and fell out of my chest and onto the ground right there next to the swing-set. He put his arms up for a cuddle and I picked him up.

Almost immediately, I felt terrible. He was not sorry, and he had no idea what had just happened. I know it’s not okay for kids to be rude as a general rule, but that whole exercise was pointless. Four-year-olds don’t have a concept of propriety. How can they have a concept of its breach? They are constantly rude to each other. They call it ‘being best friends.’

I won’t be doing that again. Instead, I will stick to my tried-and true formula of making a hasty exit from a playground if the situation deteriorates to threats of violence communicated through mime. Directed at either of us, or from either of us.

When my son is older, we can talk about being rude and being kind and all of that. But for now, I’m going to stop wrangling him into performing niceties that achieve nothing, because that is being a butt-butt head. And I, friends, have a butt and a head and they are distinct and shall remain so.

 

Albert_Edelfelt_-_Boys_Playing_on_the_Shore_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

Lady of the (early) night

A couple of weeks ago, I went out - into the valley with grown-ups on a Saturday night. There are many interesting parts to that sentence, but something even more interesting happened on the way home.

It had been 38 degrees that day, and it wasn’t much cooler that night. I’d had fun with a bunch of excellent ladies, but I was ready to go by the time the clock ticked over to eleven pm, when everybody else was just getting started. I’d drunk numerous gin and tonics (mainly to savour the ice) and danced and sweated with strangers and pretended I was waiting for someone so I could stand under a fan in the thoroughfare of a club. The 149 bobby pins holding together my wilting hairdo had started to feel like tiny javelins needling my scalp. I’d done a lot of people-watching, like a tourist in a foreign country. I saw lots of young women out together and hoped they were looking after each other.

I felt fat and old and vaguely scandalised by the YOUTHS, but in a comfortable way, relieved that I could go home when I wanted to, that peer pressure can only work if you care what your peers think of you, that I knew my body was just the skin for the me and not an exhibit, and I still had tea in the pot that I could microwave when I got home (don’t judge me, it began when I had a baby and kept odd hours and was desperate for tea in all of them, we all make mistakes, leave me alone).

A nice lady called Tania picked me up from where I stood on a street corner amongst the hordes of wobbly, heat-struck revellers, and took me home. Her car smelt nice and it was air-conditioned and she drove while I rearranged my hair into its customary mum-bun (please see earlier post about not judging me for that either), and rolled my Spanx down to let my internal organs disentangle themselves and talked about my child, ad nauseum.

Tania was driving her own car, and we did not know each other. It was not an Uber, but a Shebah. Shebah is Uber but with female drivers, for female passengers. It makes so much sense that it seems crazy that it hasn’t been around forever. Tania was thoroughly pleasant, and told me about young female passengers she had driven who had Shebah accounts paid for by their parents. That way, they knew their daughters would always be able to get home safely. I told her that the equivalent when I was at school was the rich kids who had their own cars with fuel cards with accounts that their parents paid. We agreed that Shebah was better in every way.

When I got home and drank my radiated tea, I resolved that I had to tell every female I knew about Shebah, so that is what I’m doing. Share as you see fit.

Julius_LeBlanc_Stewart_-_Les_Dames_Goldsmith_au_bois_de_Boulogne_en_1897_sur_une_voiturette.jpg

On love and air alone

We’ve started 2018 in a state of flux.

For this little family, a lot of things are up in the air, with jobs, home and childcare arrangements all in various stages of transition. I wish I was the sort of person who found these sort of conditions exciting, but I’m just not. It’s stressful. As someone who is so spectacularly uncoordinated that they can barely stay upright in stable conditions, finding a foothold when the ground feels like it’s shifting beneath your feet is pretty tricky.

Sometimes I see pithy quotes on Instagram that convince me for a few moments that uncertainty is liberating, but as soon as I’ve scrolled past, I find myself breathing into a paper bag again. I see the excitement in possibility, I really do, I promise (please don’t send me inspirational pictures of mountains okay please thanks). But, any excitement about the interesting things that could be on the horizon is tempered by a stronger desire to just know that I’ll be able to feed and clothe and shelter my family in perpetuity. Ugh! How dull, though! How suffocating and mundane the bottom tiers on the hierarchy of needs are. If only we could survive on love and air alone. Or lentils and broccoli, at least. Alas, my son prefers prosciutto, gorgonzola, fruits out of season and velvet pillowcases. We’ve created a monster.

Anyway, the {only} good thing about this sort of upheaval is that it makes us think about what we really want. When order is restored, what will that look like, ideally? Who will work what hours? How will we navigate the school situation next year? How can we come to an arrangement that balances all the competing needs in our household, for attention and time and job satisfaction and fulfilling emotional connections and creative pursuits and financial security and PJ Masks and gorgonzola?

How can we make sure everyone gets at least a decent chunk of what they truly want?

Is that even possible? And are PJ Masks children masquerading as superhero animals, or the other way around?

Lorenzo_Lotto_-_Messer_Marsilio_and_his_Wife_-_WGA13683.jpg

The season for the reason

The other day, my son asked me what the story of Christmas was and I had to tell him I wasn’t sure. Because, which one? The Jesus one or the Santa one, or some conflation of the two that makes even less sense to a four-year-old?

If I’m honest, I’m a bit hazy on the details of both of those charming tales. I know there was a barn with a manger, which Jesus’s mum probably got through Airbnb or something. Might have been a Groupon offer (semi-furnished holiday accommodation in peak season, view of shining star from the balcony, your choice of 3 Uber drivers for airport transfers). Beyond that, I don’t know.

We ended up talking about the spirit of Christmas instead, which was just as confusing.

‘But what is Christmas for?’ my small, innocent child asked, smearing hummus across his naked body like it was some sort of luxurious skincare product.

‘Christmas is about…giving,’ I told him. ‘It is the reason for the season! The spirit of Christmas.’ I made sweeping gestures with my hands to illustrate my (absent) point.

He looked unconvinced, because he knows me, and this is my oft-employed stalling tactic when I don’t know the answer to something. The more grandly and assuredly I pontificate, the more I am floundering inside. This has gotten me over the line in most, if not all job interviews.

‘You’ll see, it is just as lovely to give presents as it is to receive them!’ I said enthusiastically.

He frowned, and placed a strawberry delicately in his armpit. ‘Mummy, I really just like getting presents though. Like Lego.’

‘Yes. You have mentioned the Lego. But won’t it be nice to give people presents, too?’

He shook his head and muttered something.

This is Christmas with a four year old. They are selfish because they must be. They are alone, already, in this harsh new world. Their parents talk a lot of nonsense, and they don’t even remember the stories that they’re supposed to tell their children that explain why a stranger in a red suit will be breaking into their home while they sleep. Any parent worth their salt would have already bought Bitcoin to go in a virtual Christmas stocking, anyway. It is a wonder these small creatures tolerate us at all.

Merry Christmas, everybody xx

 

 

 

 

Thomas_Eakins_-_Baby_at_Play.jpg

Among the gum trees

‘He had a ribald sense of humour.’

Of all the comments, the commentary, the excuses for bad behaviour and the misuses of power and privilege that were revealed when the allegations against Don Burke bubbled to the surface, that line has stayed with me.

It was said by Michael Freedman, who was the managing director of Burke's production company, CTC Productions, between 1991 and 1998. The allegations, Freedman went on to say, ‘did not represent the Don Burke I knew.’

We watched Burke’s Backyard in my house, and I know the theme song by heart. I used to think Don Burke had a nice face, and kind eyes. In my childhood memory, he is surrounded by greenery, vines creeping around the thick white trunks of the trees behind him, his amicable voice offering assured instructions for the stewardship of plants. Hands in the dirt, salt of the earth.

Now I wonder how many women on those sets, in those gardens, looked at that face and listened to that voice and imagined those vines curling around that man’s neck like tentacles, slowly sucking the breath from him. Just so they wouldn’t have to pass him in the hallway again, or find themselves in a lift with him, or an empty office, or the staff carpark late at night.

So they wouldn’t have to be there when he unleashed that ‘ribald sense of humour’ of his.

About as funny as cancer, and just as toxic.

We may not have a cure, but at least we’re starting to acknowledge the extent of the disease.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Henri_Rousseau_-_Foret_vierge_au_soleil_couchant.jpg

Lease on life

The breadwinners in my household, my husband and I, have both had career trajectories that have looped around and meandered, rather than climbed steadily up. I write, he draws. They are the things we can do. Both of our professional lives have been built on these skills, or exploited them, depending on how you look at it.

Accordingly, as ‘creatives’ we are not swimming in cash. We are not hard up, either. We are somewhere in that no-man’s land that is the domain of many Australians today, comfortable but not flush. We do not use hundred dollar bills to make ornamental origami swans, but nor do we drive five kilometres out of our way to get fuel for 4 cents a litre cheaper than our local servo. That might speak more to our laziness and lack of interest in petrol prices than our financial state, though.

People in Australia can be very coy about money. We speak of it in hushed tones, ever genteel and discreet. Nevertheless, there’s a tricky financial ~situation~ that more and more of us find ourselves in, that actually warrants shouting about, because it has complex and widespread implications: We can’t buy homes for ourselves and our families. We’re long-term renters, and sacrificing any café breakfasts of smashed avo won’t make a difference - buying property is out of reach by a far greater margin than that.

There are other countries where renting is less significant, where ten or twenty-year leases are the norm and less emphasis is placed on home ownership. This urge we have in Australia - to claim a piece of land and plant a flag in it, like dogs weeing on trees to mark their territory, has been overcome. I’d welcome something similar here, and I’d happily rent for as many years as they’d have me if I could be guaranteed a longer tenure.

There are many upsides to renting. We have lived in some lovely homes, we’re not responsible for council rates or maintenance on them, and we can leave quite unceremoniously if a house no longer suits us. There are also downsides that are commonly known, like not being able to put in picture hooks or have pets in some places, having to beg for basic repairs to be made and paying many thousands of dollars out to someone else with no material gain for us whatsoever. But, there’s another downside to renting that’s been brought home, so to speak, especially clearly to us in the last couple of weeks: renting means you don’t get to control your own physical destiny.

For the past eleven years, we’ve moved every two years or so. Some of those times were our decision, like moving to a different country or city or suburb, for whatever reason. But this time, we are going to have to move because the people who own our house want to live in it. That is their right. They are very lovely people. Part of me is happy for them that they get to start a new chapter as a family in this little tropical oasis, the treehouse in the hills. But, another part of me is sad and frustrated and tired of moving, dreading the upheaval for my child and longing for a place to put down roots, for a home of our own to hold us in a comfortable and comforting embrace when we come back to it at night, a home that holds the continuing history of our little family, a home that is our shared language and our collective nest and the backbone of our family body.

The shitty thing about renting is not that you don’t own a home. For much of the time, that matters very little. The shitty thing about renting is having to leave the home you love before you’re ready.

cabin-960985_960_720.jpg

A cave of one's own

Oddly, summer is upon us, but I feel more like it’s winter that’s coming. Any day now.

The sheen of sweat on my forehead and the clingy relationship I’ve developed with the air-conditioner remote control are persistent reminders that my mind and my body really must reconcile, though. Summer it is and summer it will be, for at least another six months, in Brisbane.

Nonetheless, I’m slowing down and curling up, and all I want is quiet and stillness. Hibernation, and a cave to crawl into, out of the elements, to vegetate and not have to engage with anyone. I want to conserve my energy and then emerge renewed and refreshed. Like a butterfly from a caterpillar, or more likely, like a caterpillar who looks just a bit less haggard than usual.

It’s not going to happen.

Parenting as an introvert is interesting.

Introverts often refuel alone, and parents of small children are rarely alone. So, we adapt. We sit in our cars and are late for our appointments because we just can’t wrench ourselves from the insulated solitude. We find moments of stillness while in the company of others, retreating into the space of our own heads. We take solace in the rhythm of a repetitive task, or the physicality of exercise, or the snatches of empty time that present themselves, fleetingly, in a day. Those tiny, golden gifts.

We work out that we can happily be both parents and introverts, if we’re prepared to bide our time, and take our silence when and wherever we find it. We work out that we can be present, involved in the game, reading the story, building complicated structures with cardboard and metres of sticky-tape and blind faith - loving those moments while also longing for others.

The best part of parenting as an introvert is the co-existence of these two states. We can find gratitude and joy in the messy noisy tangle of it, and also appreciate the sharp relief the moments of quiet are thrown in to, when we’re

finally,

blessedly,

alone.

And bloody well scrolling through our phones, looking at pictures of our children.

 

 

 

Virginia Woolf (Virginia Wolves?)

Virginia Woolf (Virginia Wolves?)

One mother or another

I set out to write a very different book, when I started the manuscript that became Deeper than the Sea.

Then, I had a baby.

The life-splitting shock and heart-shattering exhaustion of those days with a new baby who doesn’t sleep is not something I think I want to repeat, ever. But, I love the shit out of my son, and four years on, being his mother has changed me in ways I couldn’t have fathomed. It’s probably unsurprising that it has also changed what I would and could write.

There were parts of DTTS that were especially difficult to write, and they were the ones in the shifting, murky landscape of maternal love. It’s always been a sensitive topic. Is there anything more sacred and revered in popular culture than the love a mother has for her child?

In DTTS, I write about two very different sorts of mothers. One biological mother who doesn’t have the will or desire to take on the traditional mothering role, and one non-biological mother who has it foisted upon her, and rises to the challenge.

I didn’t want to pass judgement on these women – they made their choices. I do have doubts about how I walked that line, but what I wanted to do was explore what makes a mother, and how we could stand to be a bit more generous in our definition of the role.

My own history has a bearing on how I feel about these things, and it’s coloured my view of certain behaviours. My father left the country and left our family when I was an infant. He didn’t pay child support, and I didn’t see him for a very long time. That is between us. We have a good relationship now, and it’s one that I value.

But, he left, as many men leave, because many men can. Freed from the biological imperative to grow a child in their body, birth and then potentially nourish a child from their body, men can leave. I don’t think that’s okay. I do think they have a responsibility to their progeny. But I also wonder why it is that a mother’s responsibility is deemed greater.

What if women, once their child is born, find themselves unsuited to the role of mother? What if they believe they have another calling that, if not higher, is essential to them, like making art? What if they just don’t like being mothers? What if there are others in their community who do, and will take their place in the job?

When I wrote DTTS, I was struggling to recalibrate who I was with the task of mothering added into my already scattergun identity matrix. It didn’t come easily to me. I’m too anxious, too distracted and too intense to be a mother who wears the mantle loosely. I wanted to be a Very Good Mother. But that meant different things on different days.

I don’t always enjoy being a mother. There are many things I hold dear that are incompatible with mothering, like silence and showering alone and doing anything alone, ever. Sometimes I feel bad about that. But, what I always come back to is the simple and perfect fact of my love for my son. In whichever ways I mess things up, that will endure and I have faith that he’ll feel it and know he is loved, always.

In my book, things are a little more complicated than this. But also, they are not. Love is love. And, a mother is something amorphous and beautiful and broader than the fact of biology or the unremitting zest for the task. A mother can be both. A mother should be able to be neither.

Herkulaneischer_Meister_002b.jpg

Now you are four

Dear Felix,

Now you are four!

My little matey - what joy you bring.

This morning, you told me I was a ‘twinkle-toed livewire.’ It’s a line from one of your books, and you’ve been really taken with it.

‘What do you think it means?’ I asked.

‘Like this,’ you said, doing a funny, frenetic dance up on your toes.

‘Oh, like this.’ I copied you and you frowned.

‘No. Not like that.’

You get angry when we get things wrong, and it is hilarious, but if we laugh, your outrage intensifies. You are full of delight when we get them right, and it’s intoxicating. Making you laugh is one of our primary objectives. It’s a good way to live.

This morning, we visited the school you’re going to go to. It has a veggie patch, and a billy-kart, and a big, elaborate and haphazard-looking castle that kids have made over the years out of scraps of wood and plastic and other junk.

You walked right over to the castle like it was made for you. Lately, you’ve started to do that more - just stroll on into new things. You check to make sure one of us is nearby, though. Like a boomerang, you venture out, then return. I hope you always will.

Some more of your interests and fervent likes and dislikes have solidified over this last year, which is fascinating and funny.

You like: Books, being told stories, imaginative games; the sound of your own voice. Pickles, blue cheese and olives. Dumplings, sushi and chocolate. Dinosaurs/dragons. Cuddles. Strawberries. Lego. Carbohydrates in general. People who will muck around and joke and play with you. Odd socks. Nail polish. Christmas music. Pretending to be a baby puppy or a baby dragon, always named Harry.

You dislike: People who don’t muck around and joke and play with you. Cake (little weirdo). Clothes that are not your ‘favourites’ (your favourites are usually the ugly but practical things I bought for childcare). Being bored. Not having your questions answered or taken seriously. The vacuum cleaner. Getting your face or hair wet, involuntarily. The constraints of linear time. Not winning. Cucumber.

I love getting to know you. I love being able to soothe you. A couple of nights ago, you woke up with croup and a fever, and you were pretty distressed by it, understandably. To try and calm you down, I told you a story. These stories on the fly are challenging but fun. If you start to fiddle or get up and jump around, I know the narrative is not cutting it. You command high standards. I love that about you, too, that you demand to be respected in all your tiny personhood, always.

I love that when I sit down on the floor, you will always back into my lap, or climb on me or just barrel into me or your dad, in your sometimes brutal brand of affection. Your daddy is the best at playing with you, both the complicated role-play games and the intricate Lego scenes. I’m the best at comforting you. You switch between calling us Mummy and Daddy or Mum and Dad. I’m trying to be fine with the latter. You’ve allowed us to start calling you Fizzy again.

You have learnt how to tell absolute whopper fibs, but you’re a bit shit at it. You’re also working on your negotiation and influencing skills, and you’re better at them, like a small but effective CEO, micro-managing your team of two parents.

Matey-moo. I’m honoured to be on your team.

I’m honoured to be your comfort and your solace and your home base.

You have my heart.

Love you forever,

Mummy.

 

Cassatt_Mary_The_Young_Mother_(Mother_Berthe_holding_her_baby)_c._1900.jpg

There is no line left

First, our son slept in a cot. It served us well for obvious reasons - he couldn’t get out.

Then, in a bed, with a long wooden boat anchored to the side as a rail.

He wouldn't sleep and kept calling out for us, so we’d go to him, try and settle him there, with his menagerie of stuffed animals and other favoured toys, and a curated selection of books, and his beautiful sheets that had a higher thread count than ours, and his special water bottle within easy reach. But, it just wouldn’t do - he’d wail and flail and persist in his wakefulness and discontent until we gave up, and brought him back to our bed.

In the ‘big bed’, he would luxuriate as only a three-year-old princeling can, spreading out across the sheet, secure in the knowledge that he would not be returned to his quarters, because we were weak and hungry for sleep, even fractured sleep. He was mighty, and grew stronger on our suffering.

Adorable fascist, his father called him, as he contorted his body into the sliver of mattress available to him.

The little egg beater between us whirred on.

Soon, we stopped trying to re-settle him in his own bed. When he summoned us, one of us would go to him, pick him up, and bring him back to our bed. Not long after, he decided against even starting the night off in his own bed. Sometimes, he’d offer half-hearted excuses for why it was an intolerable proposition, but mostly he didn’t bother. With propeller arms and scissoring legs, he’d rest his head upon my head and work his little toes into his father’s spine as he slumbered. He awoke in the mornings refreshed.

So then, we did what anybody who is insane with fatigue would do - we moved his bed into our bedroom. We now have an island of mattress, a room that consists almost entirely of bed.

He watched us arrange the beds, entertained. We’d made him a jumping castle. What fun.

Sometimes, he sleeps in that bed next to ours.

But, more often than not, he still comes into the big bed and wedges himself between us, tranquil and smug. He is satisfied and we are sunk; defeated. With his plump little fingers, he has reeled us in and there is no line left. We are his loyal subjects.

Pinned to our strips of mattress at either side of our starfished child, we watch him sleep, peaceful and perfect.

‘At least he’s asleep,’ one of us says.

There is nobody else I would be at the mercy of in this way.

Only him.

A_young_boy_lies_in_bed_with_an_army_of_toy_soldiers_on_the_Wellcome_V0038815.jpg

The rain begins with a single drop

When my mother and father were first dating, in Yeppoon in the early seventies, my mother insisted that he park his motorbike around the corner so that the locals wouldn’t cotton onto the fact that this handsome, moustachioed fellow seemed to be paying quite regular visits to the young unmarried teacher with the swoosh of blonde hair curling out from her brow like a cresting wave. Female teachers were supposed to be good and pure, as delicate and unblemished as new snow. My mother had a reputation to maintain, if she wanted to keep her job. My father thought the whole charade was hilarious.

Quite possibly, the more devoted curtain twitchers of the neighbourhood made the connection anyway. But, as long as appearances of propriety were maintained, all was well in the parched suburbs of the Capricorn coast.

I thought about my courting parents, just last night. I came up my back outside staircase wearing nothing but a bra and knickers, because I’d decided I might as well add the dress I was wearing to the load of washing I was putting on. If my neighbours glanced over from their back verandahs, they would have copped an eyeful. They may have. There are no curtains to twitch, anymore. My neighbours and I don’t know each other’s names, though I wish we did. But, I don’t care what they think of my stretched and comfortable body, or me as the inhabitant of it.

This week, King Salman issued a royal decree stating that Saudi women will be permitted to drive, as of next year. One of the main instigators of this campaign was a woman called Manal al-Sharif. When the news reached her, she welcomed it but indicated it was far from an absolute victory for Saudi women.

‘The rain begins with a single drop,’ she posted on Twitter.

Also this week, I heard a report on the radio that suggested that children born today may never drive their own cars. Instead, they’d be chauffeured by a self-governing vehicle, while they sat in the back and replicated themselves with the aid of an app, allowing them to be in multiple places at once so they would never have to suffer the agony of social calendar conflicts (I made that last bit up).

Saudi women may have just a decade or so to enjoy the quiet solace of driving alone, the privilege of being able to go where it is that you want to go, on your own steam.

But, maybe the monsoon season has begun.

Maybe all it will take is this first little nudge over a line that probably once seemed as insurmountable as a fortress wall. Maybe, in forty years, Saudi women will be flying their personal aircraft over the cities that they once could only be chaperoned through.

Maybe they will tell their daughters how they weren’t allowed to drive, and their daughters will find it hard to grasp. Maybe, their daughters will live in a time when the behaviour of women is subject to no more or less scrutiny than that of men. Maybe their daughters will decree that women can not only drive, but rule.

Let it pour.

Virgin_Surrounded_by_Chaos_by_PH_Mullaard.jpg