Monthly Archives: November 2009

how I got here

Okay, so I should be writing other stuff but I’ve decided to write about why I write and how I came to be a Writer – yes, with a capital ‘w’.

Always wanted to, was a prolific reader, merit-award winning short-story writer in primary school – blah blah the usual backstory.

Finished school, aced English, wanted to be a writer but it’s not really a job so I needed – according to, like EVERYONE – “something to fall back on”. So, yes, I did a communications degree and thought journalism sounded half-way respectable. Turns out my three years as a pathetic undergraduate convinced me it was everything but. Disillusioned I turned to that other profession which harbours the unrealised dreams of many an idealistic author forced to make a living – teaching. As luck would have it I was released from the stranglehold of frustration and thwarted ambition which teaching can foist on the unsuspecting by falling pregnant and fleeing from the unholy hell which that world was for me. Okay – I exaggerate a tiny bit. Tiny.

My desire to write was always swirling like a glasses-clad nerd on the fringes of the second coolest group in the playground. It just never had the nerve to step up. With two kids under two I had no time to actually do anything but lots of time to fantasise. Being a real, honest-to- goodness writer featured heavily. Yes, this is the untamed and secret life of a desperate housewife such as me.

It was around this time that I stumbled across Sydney’s Child – a magazine which, despite the proliferation of ads for everything the modern parent has no use for needs had intelligent and insightful articles which were different from some of the usual parenting rubbish getting around. I wistfully imagined a day when I could see my name published there. But I had more babymaking to do.

I fell pregnant with our third child four years ago. That pregnancy ended in our daughter’s stillbirth at 21 weeks. What I thought would be a few more years of Play-Doh and finger-painting turned into months of grief, shock and a re-examination of my life. All of this was compounded when our further attempts at becoming pregnant ended in miscarriage – four to date. It became clear that life had other plans for me.

My best friend nudged me gently in the direction of the dream I had shared with her since we were girls and encouraged me to take yet another short writing course at the local adult education centre. It was just the thing I needed to propel me out of my existential funk. At the urging of my tutor I entered a short story competition. Of course I wrote about one of the most defining moments of my life at this point – the stillbirth of my daughter.

I was beyond stoked when I was shortlisted in the inaugural My Child Magazine/Parenting Express short story competition. I was even more thrilled when I became runner-up. My story, The Lightness of Dark was the first piece I ever had accepted for publication – and I am still incredibly proud of it.

At this point I should issue a warning – don’t read my story if you have had a child in the last two years or are likely to in the next nine months. I have found – after traumatising some close friends – that this particular piece is not a great mix with pregnancy hormones and the sensitivities of the early days of parenting.

It turns out that this was just the start for me. In my next post I’ll write about what happened next.

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chronic oversharers and the human narrative

Bravo Penelope Trunk, your chronic oversharing is helping social media players to consider the way they play the game. At the very least.

A few weeks ago Trunk tweeted about her miscarriage at work.  There followed the expected outrage which saw Trunk respond rather eloquently in The Guardian.

In Australia über -blogger Mia Freedman posted her take on the events . She wrote, ‘Yes, abortion and miscarriage are in many ways taboo. They are also, inherently, private. I guess it is every individual’s right to express whatever they want about their private lives and their bodies… Everyone has different lines about what they’re prepared to share. I don’t know many any people who would see Twitter as an appropriate forum to discuss miscarriage or abortion but…maybe this is really is Life 2.0?’

Mia’s own outrage comes from the personal loss she has documented in her recent book. I get it. I used to write a weekly ‘blog’ on Australian parenting website Web Child. I wrote often about the stillbirth of my daughter and the four miscarriages which saw the end of my fertility. When that gig ended I semi-apologised to my editor for my chronic oversharing. He told me it was a good quality for a writer to possess. Penelope Trunk is a writer and oversharing also seems to be part of her modus operandi.

Through my own writing and the intricate social manoeuvers of the internet I have often found myself visiting a community who call themselves ‘babylost mamas’ – women (and their partners) who have lost babies. You might be amazed by what goes on there. People post photos of dead newborns, they detail the horror of their loss, they howl, they rage, they wonder why no-one wants to hear their voice. They are sometimes attacked in the vilest way possible. But as a community they support one another. Many of them have never met in real life but they share the most unimaginable intimacies of loss and grief in a very public forum. The common denominator is the necessity of sharing their loss – no matter how ‘unpalatable’.

But this voice is not only heard in that particular online community. In Japan, Mizuko Jizo is a deity which is considered to be the guardian of stillborn, miscarried and, yes, aborted babies. It sounds macabre but many who participate in the Mizuko Kuyo ceremony gain a therapeutic comfort from the process. There is reverence in the practice but not a silence.

While Trunk may not have been especially reverent in her original tweet she did give a voice to what is sometimes a silent issue. A voice to open the dialogue. A voice to help us work out the ‘rules’ – if there are any – of both our treatment of reproductive losses, in whatever form they come, as well as the ‘rules’ of online sharing.

Her tweet raises the issue of what we share and how and where we share it. It makes me wonder if we need guardians for the tendency to overshare. But as a self-confessed oversharer I would say my only rule is not to hurt others. I guess this is where most of us draw the line. Although the line is – and probably always has been – a tricky one to negotiate.

The need to draw that line is usually brought into play when a certain sense of outrage accompanies an oversharing (or other outrageous) incident. Julian Morrow’s Andrew Olle Media Lecture recently suggested a framework for dealing with outrage (albeit he concedes he could have done with this framework last year when The Chaser was suspended). Morrow says that when it comes to outrage over a particular skit/film/commercial/book/tweet there are three categories, ‘The first is people who are hurt by it; the second is people who are offended or outraged by it; and then the last category is those who don’t like it.’ Using The Chaser’s Make A Wish skit as an example he spoke about his sorrow for those in the first group. He also cautioned against using the second or third groups as censors.

When it comes to Penelope Trunk’s tweet Mia Freedman falls into the first category – her outrage and hurt is justified. But what emerged from the responses to her blog post was that within her readership – an engaged and generally supportive bunch – there were some from each group of outrage, as well as many who weren’t outraged at all. In fact there was support for Trunk. Women expressed feeling similar relief when they themselves miscarried unwanted pregnancies; some respected Trunk’s right to express herself; many expressed the idea that silence and taboos are hurtful and therefore this tweet was a chance to address the silence. The appropriateness of the Twitter forum was also discussed – and, surprisingly, a few didn’t see a problem with it. Again, Freedman’s blog (via Trunk’s tweet) opened up the debate to those truly engaged in the issue. Silencing authentic voices in the new media was the loser.

The recent Media140 conference in Sydney – which I didn’t attend but, thanks to a bunch of the nicest narcissistic oversharers, I feel like I did – also looked at what we share and how and where we share it. Laurel Papworth’s discussion on the Human Narrative grabbed my attention  While Papworth’s speech concentrated on old versus new media I liked the fact that she highlighted the collaborative storytelling nature of blogging and other social media including Twitter.

And this brings me full circle. Twitter is emerging as a valuable communication tool – if only we can get over the prejudices about its ‘legitimate’ uses. Just as bloggers were once snickered at behind elitist hands now it’s the Twits who are scrambling to legitimise themselves. I say don’t worry too much kids, oversharers make the human narrative go round. And if you agree that narrative is one of the ways we make sense of the world then all voices need to be at least considered. Imagine an old-school world without the likes of Augusten Burroughs, the oversharer who gave us Running With Scissors. Just for starters.

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the birthday girl

My darling girl turns nine this weekend. Which means that I will be spending my weekend entertaining a bunch of tween girls and attempting (possibly in vain) to keep my house as a Bratz/Hannah Montana/Britney free zone. I’m kinda grateful that Indy’s current fave is iCarly, which is probably fitting for someone from the ‘iGeneration’.

Anyway – my little one is growing up and because I won’t have time to blog this weekend…here’s one I prepared earlier.

One Perfect Day

There’s a birthday at our house this week. My daughter, Indiana, turns nine on Sunday. We’ll do all the usual things – presents, party and cake – and Indy will revel in the forward movement of time as she adds another number to her years. Meanwhile, I will do the  opposite and turn back the clock to remember the day which is marked by this anniversary.

One of my sisters reminded me, on Indy’s first birthday, that this was a special day for me too. And she was right. This was the anniversary of the most momentous day of my life – equalled only by my wedding day and later, my son’s birth. Her insightful comment prompted me to make this a mother’s celebration too. So each year, on November 22nd, I do a little time travelling.

November 2000

In all honesty, my pregnancy with Indiana was perfect in every way –  no morning sickness, no complications, no fear or doubt. I glowed, blossomed, bloomed and generally bathed myself in the joy of impending motherhood. My due date was December 18th – one week before Christmas – and Luke and I were certain that we would give birth to some sort of messiah in this, the first year of the new millennium. As it turned out, we didn’t even have time to feather our manger.

During my pregnancy I was teaching at a secondary school. One day, as I walked to the photocopy room, I tripped and fell up a flight of stairs. I was unhurt but a little rattled by the fall and I couldn’t shake the sensation that something about my body had fundamentally altered. A few days later – close to midnight on November 20th – my waters broke, confirming my suspicions and arousing an excited anticipation. This was it. I was in labour!

While pregnant I was often asked if I was concerned about labour and birth, but I contemplated this secret mother’s business with a philosophical spirit. My mantra – repeated to anyone who asked – was, “If I’m in labour for a whole day it’s just one day out of my life.” My first lesson in parenting was about the Laws of Attraction – Indiana was born in the early hours of November 22nd after a twenty-four hour labour. Just one very painful and perfect day out of my life.

My second lesson in parenting was of the ‘just when you think you know everything’ variety. I had taken pleasure during my pregnancy in confidently telling people that, while Luke and I hadn’t found out what sex the baby was, I just ‘knew’ I was having a boy. “It’s a mother’s instinct,” I loved to say while smiling serenely. Moments after Indy’s birth I looked down to discover my newborn daughter. The surprise could not have been any sweeter. I always thought I had a preference for a boy child but, as I laid eyes on this amazing girl I realised, with a profound sense of truth, how much I also longed for a daughter.

So there she was. One month premature but weighing in at six pounds, thirteen ounces in the old money and with no ill effects from her early debut. But the downside of giving birth before my due date was that I was ill prepared for the occasion. Indy and I had no going home outfits. There were no baby clothes washed and folded at home. I hadn’t quite gotten around to packing my hospital bag and my hair had an inch of unflattering regrowth as my hairdresser’s appointment went begging a week later.

My best laid plans – plans where I received visitors in glamorous new nightwear (with discreet front flap for breastfeeding); plans where baby was dressed from head to toe in soft white and wrapped in delightful receiving blankets; plans where my hair was newly coloured and cut in a fabulously hip but easy to style fashion; plans where my eyelashes were tinted and my stomach had returned swiftly to its former flatness – were all swept aside. I sat in a hospital gown with my hair in pigtails and my little messiah swaddled in a hospital blanket beside me and begged Luke to bring me a few essentials – a jumpsuit or two for the baby and some underwear and make-up for me.

The bag that my dearest husband returned with contained six baby singlets, one 0000 nightie, a pair of pyjamas for me, moisturiser, lip gloss, a black g-string and a tube of body glitter. As I laughed incredulously at the contents Luke said, “I thought you would want to look nice.”

That night, as Indy’s head sparkled in the muted hospital lights with the glitter which had tumbled from my shoulders, I could not have felt any more beautiful.

Happy Birthday Indy.

Do you remember your child’s birth on their birthday? What is your unique birth story?

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a backward glance

I was truly humbled by the response to my first blog post last week. This week I was going to talk about the second of my life’s passions – the twin to the passion I have for my family – which is my writing.  But that one will have to wait a little.

It was one of my tweeps who inspired me to post this blog today. @nonoodle wrote in response to my original blog ‘…and then they grow up and you so miss all of that. Mine our now teenagers & I so wish they were still toddlers.. :-)’

Nicky’s comment reminded me of this post which is another of my old Web Child ones. It takes a peek backwards and looks at the bittersweetness of watching our kids grow up.

Fast Forward… Rewind

Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s so sad that they have to grow up”? Often directed at newborns by grandparent-types, it’s one of the curious expressions that baffled me when I started having kids. I wanted to say, “Don’t be ridiculous. Why is it sad that they have to grow up? It’s what humans do!” So, do I dare admit that this week I said to my husband, about our kids,  “Isn’t it sad to see them grow up?”

My journey into the wistful world of the metaphorical pause button was prompted by one of the proverbial wonders of modern technology – the home-video camera. Before I had kids I denigrated the home-video auteur. “Who ever watches those videos,” I arrogantly proclaimed. “Dated dust gatherers and tacky video show entries the lot of them.” But these days I am forced to eat humble pie and admit that the home-videos of our kids are my favourite pieces of cinema. And an integral part of our family narrative.

There’s the one where a two-year-old Indy sits in her highchair, absently munching her cereal while watching TV. She’s dressed in a bright red, fleecy, all-in-one suit and is looking totally adorable with bed hair and morning eyes. My disembodied voice from behind the camera says, “What are you watching?” This blonde cherub, who is at once both a stranger, yet also heartbreakingly familiar, looks directly down the camera lens, crinkles her face into a smile and lisps, “Tubbies!” That one word transports me back to those early days, when my life with two babies under two was filled with Teletubbies, walks to the library, rice cereal, nappies and daytime sleeps. Days where my heart was consumed by two tiny people.

Then there’s the video of Levi’s precocious first swim at the age of two. This one was taken at a holiday resort where, although he had never had a swimming lesson, Levi dived in to the water and mimicked the ‘big arms’ of the boys he had seen earlier in the day. His natural style was remarkable and we captured it all for posterity. The part we replay over and over is when Levi comes up from his mammoth effort, spluttering and burping. In his long forgotten two-year-old voice he says, “Me couldn’t talk under de water.” Then he tilts his head to one side and says, with emphasis, “Me panic and me BURP!” ‘Me panic and me BURP!’ has become a catchphrase at our house – a reminder of days now gone but indelibly woven into the fabric of our lives.

Indiana and Levi are now in the early stages of their schooling while I’m a home-alone mum. Each day they return to me just a little bit changed, just a little bit bigger, just a little bit more grown-up.  I don’t recognise them as those babies – my babies – any more. And, I have finally conceded, that’s why it’s sad to see them grow up. Because it means I must say goodbye to some part of them in order to make way for their emerging selves. And, with the help of our trusty video camera, the process is even more bittersweet.

But I am a great proponent of the theory that parenting is the best of all possible worlds. Applied to watching our kids grow up my theory insists that this sadness is intrinsically linked to a sense of joy. It lets me know that, while my beautiful daughter will never again whisper sweetly, “Me watching Tubbies, Mummy,” I can look forward to the day when we sit and talk about the mysteries of life into the early hours of the morning. And, while Levi will never again be that chubby-cheeked toddler with the mischievous grin, one day he will fall in love for the first time. And perhaps he’ll share that with me.

So, yes, I now agree: it is sad that kids have to grow up and that we have to say goodbye to them in stages. But – and here’s the paradox – it’s also incredibly joyous to watch kids blossom. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to fall in love with the continuous emergence of the people I know as my children.

Do you find it bittersweet to look at family photos/videos? How do you feel about your kids growing up?

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the best of all possible worlds?

I love this post because I think it captures the essence of my parenting (and life) philosophy. Could this frustrating, heartbreaking, devastating, mundane, puzzling, unknowable and maddening world actually be as awe-inspiring as it is not despite those things, but because of them?

The following post was one of my first ever paid writing gigs. It appeared on the Web Child site eighteen months ago.

I still embrace the bittersweetness of parenting.

Not Perfect, Best

German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz was a glass half-full kinda guy. His idea that our world was indeed the ‘Best of All Possible Worlds’ came to be known as Leibnizian Optimism. Of course the poor bloke was lampooned mercilessly by some of his contemporaries who found his positive outlook ridiculous.

Some days, as a mum, I find I’m just about out of my own supply of optimism and that’s where my friend Gottfried comes in. His idea – in the teeniest of nutshells – is that without the bad things in the world we can’t have the good. It’s a sweet and sour kind of arrangement.

Before I was a Mum I often envisioned my own future parenting world. I was definitely going to be the best of all possible mums. Kids seemed to gravitate towards me. “You’re so patient,” other frazzled mums would tell me as I puffed up with rosy visions of the glorious maternal days ahead of me.

When I had my daughter, Indiana, seven years ago, it all went according to plan. She was an amazing baby. Quiet, sweet, never a problem. My husband, Luke, and I are fond of saying, “We didn’t even know we were parents.”

So, sixteen months later when we had Levi, I guess we got a karmic comeuppance of sorts. He was a whole different type of kid – now we really knew we were in the game.

Levi has challenged many of the preconceived notions (delusions?) I held about parenting. Don’t get me wrong, he’s gorgeous and clever and holds me captive most days with his charm. But he doesn’t let me get away with a thing.

Let me give you a perfect example. What do we all say when our kids have hurt themselves– a knee scrape, a splinter under a fingernail, a bumped head? I know I used to say automatically, “There, there, you’re okay.” Not anymore. Whenever I try to use that one on Levi he looks at me, eyes blazing and says indignantly, “I am NOT okay.” I have to stop and reconsider. Yes, I suppose he’s right.

So I find I am slowly losing my delusions about myself as a Mum and indeed about this whole world of parenting. I am not always (if ever) the best of all possible mums. I get tired and cranky and frustrated and irrational. Sometimes I shout – and the irony is that before I had kids I never shouted at anyone.

There’s no doubt that my kids are everything and more to me. My daughter is incredibly sweet and loving and smart but she is also quiet and has a tendency to be shy which, as all parents of shy kids know, can be a challenge. I worry constantly about her. Is she going to be tough enough to stand up tall in this big, imperfect world?

And is Levi’s persistence – on days when my tolerance levels are dangerously challenged – a sign of his potential as a high flying litigator or human rights activist, or just an annoying personality trait?

So I turn to Leibniz with his ‘Good Plus Not-So-Good Equals Best’ equation.

Okay, so Indiana is shy and she cried quiet tears every morning for the first term and a half when she started Kinder, but doesn’t that make it all the sweeter when we go to her end-of-year concert and she quietly mouths the words to Pink’s “So What!” as her little fingers move to make chords along the neck of her guitar?

And isn’t it why, after her decidedly disastrous introduction to toddler dance classes, my heart leaps for joy now when she runs off to ballet without a backward glance?

And, okay, so Levi refuses nearly every healthy food on the face of the earth, but isn’t that why I come over all Italian Mama when he devours a boiled egg with toast?

And sure, no son of mine was ever going to wear a Spiderman outfit. But maybe that’s why my journey to understanding the whole ‘boys and superheroes’ mystery has been so profound.

And isn’t it why, after Milo -stained -school- shirts -two- minutes -before- the- school- bell and copious tears over lost library books and forgotten hats and raised voices and homework struggles and endless glasses of water after bedtime and no- story- tonight- because- no-one -wanted – to- put- on – their- pyjamas- and -tidy- up- their- room… Isn’t that why, when they finally do fall asleep, their exquisite faces put the angels to shame?

Being a parent may not be the most perfect of worlds but- and perhaps old Gottfried was right – isn’t that why it’s the best?

Do your kids challenge your notions of parenting? What’s the best thing about your parenting world?



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