Monthly Archives: December 2009

are we there yet? (a helicopter holiday)

It’s the time of year when the certifiably insane families hit the road for their annual holidays. We’re no different. In a week’s time we’re heading to the Sunshine Coast. It will be our first holiday since a mini-break during last year’s renovations. Although I must point out that this year we are FLYING – yippeeeeee!

But what were the lessons we learned twelve months ago? Well, Levi took the iconic phrase, ‘Are we there yet?” to another dimension, and I discovered that I have some major over-protectiveness issues. Could it be  that I really am a helicopter parent desperately hiding in a Free-Ranger’s outfit? Please say no – or at least don’t tell @An_Idle_Dad.

Our dream getaway last year included a family apartment at a Gold Coast resort and tickets to a theme park. After our journey a few years ago across the Nullabor in a campervan with two kids and no portable DVD player, we swore that ‘fly-drive’ and ‘five-star’ would be the only way we would holiday in the future.

The competition between airlines boded well for budget flights but we found that, even with the current exorbitant fuel prices, four return airfares still cost more than double what we would pay to drive our own little car. So, we bit the bullet and decided to do the Great Aussie East Coast Family Drive – a pilgrimage that many of us remember from our own childhoods.

Levi is not the most patient of children. He is also not afraid to express himself in whatever fashion he deems necessary, so I was kind of dreading the drive. About twenty minutes in he asked the inevitable, “Are we there yet?” At this stage I still believed in the honest approach. “No, sweetheart,” I explained patiently, “We have a really long way to go. Just try not to think about it and we’ll be there before you know it.”

The following hours were punctuated by a progressively more creative line of questioning:

“Are we almost there?”

“Are we super nearly there?”

“Are we a big bit nearly there or a little bit nearly there?”

“Are we super, duper nearly a big bit there? Or just a super duper little bit nearly almost there?”

“When will we be there? I’m really bored/hungry/tired/feeling whingey and annoying.”

Okay, that last one’s mine but you get the picture.

As luck (?) would have it our trip was also punctuated by a dead battery and a broken gearbox at the halfway point. It was here, in our frustration – and the fear that we had embarked on the holiday from hell – that Luke and I wised up. When we finally reclaimed our car (with a long, long way still to go) Levi almost immediately piped up, “Are we there yet?” Luke and I answered, almost in unison, “NEARLY! Look kids,the Big Banana!” For the remainder of the trip we were always ‘nearly’ there.

And delayed gratification works wonders. Our arrival at our destination was El Dorado-esque with its glittering promise of holiday pleasures and treasures. We visited the theme park; ate out lavishly; bought indulgent mementoes and generally recharged our batteries.

The kids – at six and seven – were the perfect age for holidaying. No nappies, naps or sippy cups required. Late nights were fun and were usually followed by languorous sleep-ins. We had found our little piece of heaven.

But it was on the last day that I recognised a tone I had adopted for the entire holiday. I was aghast when I realised what kind of parent I have, in fact, become. It would seem I am a holiday doomsayer and general party pooper – pointing out hidden dangers to my kids at every opportunity. The following are all direct quotes (from me). Sadly I am not exaggerating for comic effect.

“Don’t go out on the balcony! People DIE when they fall from the eighth floor!”

“Don’t lean up against the lift doors! What if they open and you FALL DOWN THE ELEVATOR SHAFT?”

“Stay with mum and dad at all times! People STEAL children at theme parks!”

“Don’t swim where I can’t see you! You CAN DROWN IN AN INCH OF WATER!”

“Don’t laugh while eating nachos! You’ll CHOKE TO DEATH!”

I was disgusted. I had spent the holiday ranting to my kids about a litany of freakishly rare and macabre occurrences. But I couldn’t help it – in this unfamiliar place my protective impulses went into overdrive.

I had to face the fact that my windswept and interesting days of lying on a beach in Greece – with nothing to worry about except whether I should go bottomless AND topless  – were long gone. Holidays were now gruesome headlines waiting to happen.

Luckily my kids are starting to turn the tables and have perfected the art of ‘pretending to ignore’ – just as I used to do to them when they were in the throes of their toddler tantrums a few short years ago. These days they simply roll their eyes and ask Dad to take them swimming. He’s a little less helicopter, a little more daredevil – exactly what they need.

Family holidays – Heaven or Hell? Or a little bit of both?

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A job well done

As the end of the year draws near we all like to partake in a little  ‘wrap-up’ of the events of the past twelve months. This year has been a particularly busy one for me so I haven’t quite gotten around to it. However, last year around this time I published this blog on Web Child.  Happily – for me and the kids –  the outcome this year has been somewhat similar, so a man in a red suit is going to pop in and visit us tonight. 🙂

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all my friends – old and new. For those of you with kids, give yourself a little pat on the back this week – for surviving another year, if nothing else.

A Job Well Done

From a Human Resources (HR) perspective, parenting is nothing short of a nightmare – even with the fabulously euphemistic jargon at the HR manager’s disposal it’s a hard job to sell. Starting with a simultaneously vague yet overwhelmingly detailed job description the position is startlingly underpaid and often undervalued. The hours are long and the conditions can, at times, verge on the inhumane. I often find myself wondering at the incredible number of applicants for the position. But this week I have found a fringe benefit which would make any HR specialist rub their hands with glee.

But first, let’s take a little walk through the position of Creative Director and Supervisor of Human Life (short job title – Mum or Dad). This position often starts with the delightfully named HR initiative known as a Love Contract Policy – a contract created especially for two employees who are in a ‘consensual dating relationship’. Okay, now imagine that these two employees take on a joint task – let’s call it ‘Project Offspring’. In a dramatic oversight this particular project is undertaken without an induction period, with all training being done ‘on-the-job’.

As part of the project the team must take a significant salary cut while their hours quadruple and their conditions plummet. It is often at this point that the company dress code and grooming standards fly out the window. The Project has no defined completion date but at any stage the project managers may decide to outsource some of the requirements of the project. This is where networking comes to the fore. A comprehensive industry network which includes other similarly placed professionals as well as senior level managers is the sanity saver for many employees.

Of course the position is not without benefits – the first gummy smiles, the sight of chubby legs running in the park, toddler pigtails, big eyes and sleeping faces are just a few. But, in actual fact, the benefits are too numerous and intangible to describe adequately. What I have found, however, is that it is this intangibility which sometimes makes the job so hard. Where is the evidence that the project is working? Who is providing the pat on the back, the handshake, the ‘job well done’ speech?

Well, fellow employees, this week I was the proud recipient of a positive Performance Appraisal – at least that’s the way I’m going to view Indiana and Levi’s end of year school report.

I think I have a reasonable level of involvement with my kids’ schooling. I maintain a pleasant relationship with their teachers and love to say ‘hi’ when I do the school pickup or canteen duty. Luke and I oversee the homework and reading tasks. We go to sports carnivals and concerts when we can. But, last month, when Levi was going through a particularly cheeky stage I blurted out, after one exasperating evening, “I hope you’re not like this at school.” Seeing him freeze in the glare of my parental headlights I seized the moment. “So, have you been in any trouble? You might as well tell me because I have canteen this week and I will ask your teacher,” I said in my most sinister tone. “And you know,” I continued, “Your reports are coming out very soon and I will find out everything.”

“Well…,” came the tiny whisper, “I got in trouble last week for writing on my desk.” Sensing future anti-social behaviour I issued forth with my usual ‘blah, blah’ lecture about other people’s property. A week later, I found myself despairing during a virtual re-run of the above scene where it transpired that Levi had once more been in trouble for writing on his desk. I scolded in my typical, exaggerated fashion, “OK, that’s it. If you get a bad school report this year I’m cancelling Christmas!”

So this week we had Report Day. It turns out that Levi’s career as a graffiti artist was merely the end result of a couple of particularly enthusiastic bouts of colouring-in which exceeded the limits of the paper. It also turns out that both my kids are doing well at school, and – more importantly to me – are respectful and considerate members of their classes. My chest puffed up as I read about their scholarly and social achievements. The bedtime stories I have treated them to since they were newborns have helped create two dedicated and passionate readers. And the constant lectures about manners and respect seem to be sinking in. I am happy to take this as evidence of a job well done – and, just quietly, I am very proud of them both. Being a parent can sometimes feel like a thankless task so I say we take our plaudits where we can.

And there’s an added, end-of-year bonus – as Levi reminded us all when I congratulated him on this year’s performance – “Hey! Mum’s not cancelling Christmas!”


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you must remember this

It’s the club no-one wants to belong to. I’m a member. My big sister is a member. So is a good friend of ours. Even my husband has full membership. Perhaps you or someone you love belongs to the group. And this year, approximately two and a half thousand Australian parents will unwittingly join the club. We are all parents of a stillborn baby.

In years gone by stillbirth and its tragic partner, miscarriage, were topics no-one wanted to talk about. Parents were told to ‘just forget’ about their babies. Luckily things have changed and many people – in both the medical and caring professions and in everyday life – now know that men and women must grieve the loss of their baby in order to maintain their emotional health. For most parents this process involves remembering their baby in some way – never just ‘forgetting’ about them.

My daughter, Sienna, was stillborn four years ago today. My husband and I remember her in many ways. I have a little shelf in my wardrobe which holds all of Sienna’s things. It started out as a storage place where I could keep paperwork relating to her death – the autopsy results, grief literature from the hospital, prices and packages from the funeral home as well as her photos and hand and footprints. Sienna’s shelf has since evolved and now includes her ashes in a beautiful ceramic container, some poems, a square of her muslin wrap which I used to wipe my tears away at her funeral, a plaster cast of her tiny hands and feet and gifts from people who shared my grief.

Every day when I choose my clothes I see her things. Some days I barely pause to look at them, yet other days something will catch my eye and I will stop – reading things, touching things, remembering her. I find it comforting.

It is often said that men grieve differently to women. After Sienna’s birth my husband’s behaviour was mysterious to me. He was quiet and often went missing for hours – either to the beach or to his brother’s house. Luke and I suffered a period of disconnection where I thought he didn’t care and he didn’t know what to say to me. One night, after I broke down and said that I felt that no-one remembered Sienna, he also cried and said he felt the same. His friends and family rarely spoke to him about his loss which made him feel that it was not acknowledged.

From this moment Luke and I began remembering Sienna together – merely through simple acts such as speaking her name, wondering what she would look like if she were alive today, imagining the toddler tantrums she would be pulling, wishing that we could see her sleeping face, wanting to hear the soft pad of her little feet in the early hours of the morning – we miss her.

Luke also found a way to remember Sienna that was meaningful to him. Never one for tattoos (and a big crybaby when it comes to needles) Luke had Sienna’s handprint tattooed on his chest. This way he carries her with him always. During summer, when we spend a lot of time swimming, Luke is often asked about his tattoo. This is when he gets to tell people about his daughter. This is when she is remembered.

Remembering our babies is crucial. It validates their life and our own experience. It is our way of saying, ‘This happened to me and it is important.’ This act of remembering is recognised globally by the International Stillbirth Alliance every October. The month is dedicated throughout the world to raising awareness of infant and pregnancy loss and to honouring and remembering babies and infants who died due to miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death, SIDS and all infant deaths.

October 15th is global Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.

(See http://www.october15th.com/ for details)

One of the events that I participate in is the International Wave of Light. In time zones all over the world people are asked to light a candle at 7pm on the 15th for at least an hour to create a continuous wave of light around the world. There is always a candle burning at our house on this day.

And in the babylost community there are some angels who help us remember our children. One of these is Carly Dudley. Carly  is a Western Australian mama who lost her son Christian in very similar circumstances to my Sienna. Her experience led her to create the website To Write Their Names in The Sand. She writes the name of children who have been lost all around the world. She brings immeasurable comfort to bereaved parents – for some her photos are the only memento they have of their child or children. She wrote Sienna’s name for me here.

And in a lovely synchronicity Carly gave birth today to her daughter Ocea. Congratulations Carly and family. I’m so glad your little one is safe with you now.

This year I met a lovely woman – a supporter of the babylost community –  on Twitter. A friend of Carly’s, Sarah Pietrzak is also doing beautiful work for bereaved parents with her team, including photographer Richard and designer Danielle,  on her website Rory’s Garden. This is a place where Sarah honours the memory of her baby brother, Rory, by honouring other little ones who have been lost. One day she simply sent me this beautiful image. Once more I am touched and humbled by the support in this community. Thank you.

For us, forgetting Sienna is not an option. She has coloured our life since her birth and death. She is remembered every day of the year.

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never again (but so glad we did)

Ok so I may have unsettled a few people with the last renovating post – especially my lovely tweep @lgcollard who really doesn’t need the stress right now 🙂 – so I thought I’d post this one up, one of my old Web Child ones. It’s kind of a silver lining tale… I guess. And there is a silver lining – cross my heart…

The House That Luke Built

Renovating the family home is sort of like giving birth – people can tell you it hurts but you never really know how much until you do it yourself. It’s been six months and two days ago since I last wrote about our renovations – but who’s counting? Well, me, actually – especially considering the fact that it has also been six months and two days since we last had running water in our house.

Regular readers might recall that myself, my husband Luke and our two kids decamped to the in-laws’ for a brief respite at the start of the renovation. However, as the project stretched on beyond the realms of any of our collective imaginations, this arrangement became impractical because my husband had a huge fight with his dad for a variety of reasons. It became necessary for the four of us to move back into our shell of a home and confront the renovating beast head-on.

This experience has led me to understand two things. Firstly, this is, indeed, the lucky country. And secondly (and most importantly), plumbers are, quite simply, gods.

Living without a bathroom, kitchen and laundry for six months has led to a whole bunch of creative arrangements regarding what most Australians have come to consider the basic necessities of life. My husband’s affiliation with a variety of sporting clubs has been invaluable. He has never trained so hard in all his life, knowing that at the end of his session the kids and I would be waiting – toiletry bags in hand – ready for our shower. The lack of water has also meant, unfortunately, that the laundromat has become my favoured after-work haunt. And I cannot even begin to tell you about the benefits to a renovating family of the humble plastic bucket. But to the kids it was all a bit of a culture-shock. Indy said to me once, as I plucked a stack of buckets from the shelf of the local supermarket, “Mum, are we poor, like in the olden days?”

The one saving grace for us was the fact that we had a working outside tap where I could go several times with my little plastic friend. How very Little House on the Prairie I would muse in the beginning when it all seemed a bit romantic. Now, as we approach the finish line I must say that the sight of said bucket fills me with a sort of primal rage.

But all of this perceived hardship has made me stop and think about the blessings we have living in this country. Even with water such a scarce resource, most of us need only turn on a tap to have the precious life-giving liquid at our very fingertips. Living without this luxury has given me a new sense of empathy with the homeless, the displaced and those living in the developing world. Sadly I feel disingenuous even saying this because my waterless existence has been temporary and at the end of it is the shiny vista of our beautiful new renovation.

But, as difficult as it has been, I think it has given our kids a sense of their own privilege and a certain gratitude for their comfortable lifestyle. I don’t know whether this will last after the painters have packed up and gone home – but I can almost guarantee that I will be there to remind them at convenient moments.

As to the renovating procedure in toto, let me just say that everything the battle-worn renovators before me have said is completely true – tradesmen who don’t turn up, messes of apocalyptic proportions, delays and more delays, legal loopholes, blood, sweat and tears. Of course when I was told this prior to our own project all I heard was “Blah, blah, blah, Egyptian crystal chandelier, blah, blah, blah, open living area, blah, blah, blah, walk-in wardrobe with extra shoe storage.” I wish I had paid attention.

But hindsight, as the saying goes, is a wonderful thing. And people did try to warn me. After I wrote my original Renovation Rescue post I was contacted by a writer who had been through her own nightmarish version of the Jamie Durie dream. So bad in fact that she wrote a book about it. Amanda Falconer even rushed me an early copy of The Renovator’s Survival Guide which is being released next month. While it was just a tad late to save us from the hell of our own making, it has some great advice for anyone else who is feeling seduced by a granite benchtop or six-person spa bath.

But I guess the last word has to go to my husband. He of the perma-stained hands from the lacquer used in our timber features. He of the grout covered dress shorts I bought him for Christmas. He who spent all day hanging our French doors until I came home and told him they were upside down. He who learned to tile, lay bricks, wire a house and install a kitchen. He who trumped the architect with his own original ceiling design. He who tiled our bathroom until midnight on New Year’s Eve while I sulked (feeling neglected) in front of the fireworks on TV. Luke is not the most romantic or demonstrative guy on the block, but he built me a house and that’s all I need.

PS – I have just one question to other experienced renovators: When does the dust stop?

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just don’t do it

In honour of fellow blogger and tweep Kerri Sackville’s relocation to the home of her dreams – as she tells in her usual Kerri way (i.e  bloody funny) on her blog – I am thrust into a certain nostalgic revisitation of the nightmare that was our own renovating project. I have included here the two blogs I had published on Web Child at the time. The unpublishable details were much more dramatic – and there’s just a taste in italics here. Let this be a warning to anyone with owner/builder dreams. Just buy a frigging house that’s already done.

Renovation Rescue

Day One of our renovations and I have come over all Dorothy Parker as I ask: What fresh Hell is this?

I am simply not a renovator and never thought I would be. All I really require is a roof over my head and a good book. When Luke and I were first married that was about all we had and I thought I was the queen of the world. We had bought a little two bedroom house and couldn’t believe, after years of share houses and living with parents, how much space we had. ‘Look at all these rooms!’ we said as we rattled around our early 1900’s cottage. “We have a dining room and a kitchen. And look at this huge spare bedroom for the baby.” We sat on beanbags and watched our 34cm TV and thought this is how it would always be.

Two kids later and we have so much junk it would make your head spin. The kids are exploding out of their shared room. My foyer-cum-office cannot contain my burgeoning writing career and Luke is sick of watching TV from our bedroom.

As luck would have it our next door neighbours live in a house built on an identical plan to ours. As good fortune would also have it our neighbour is an architect and an impossibly nice guy – who better to design our extension?

The designing was the fun part. Our architect came up with some fancy computer generated images of what our house would look like after the extension. We would be the proud owners of an extra bedroom, a shiny new bathroom, kitchen and laundry and, the holy grail of all Aussie families, an open living area. The plans shaped up beautifully. We were home and hosed. It would be so much fun.

And yes, I am officially an idiot.

I think I had visions of how I would be whisked away for a five star vacation until Jamie Durie escorted me back to my sparkling new abode. The only problem is there’s no-one doing any such whisking.

Luke decided that the demolition phase had to begin immediately. DURING THE SCHOOL HOLIDAYS. I had promised my boss I would do some extra work so I left the kids with Luke and the mate who had come to help him remove the back of our house (and part of my sanity).

I came home to an apocalyptic nightmare. As I stood at the back of the house and looked out at the rubble I was suddenly terrified. This was not going to happen in the ad breaks. I tried not to cry and turned back inside. But here was where the real damage had been done. I think Indiana and Levi just figured, “When Mum sees the mess Dad made she’s sure not going to worry about us.”  They broke all the rules. There was food in the bedroom, doonas all over the floor, colouring-in paraphernalia from one end of the house to the other and some rather suspicious looking organic balls scattered randomly around the place – the work, no doubt, of Rex, our pet rabbit. But, when I discovered my fire-engine red, cashmere pashmina strewn across a bunch of tools I saw, well, fire-engine red actually. I rounded up the kids in a shouting kind of way, said a clipped goodbye to my poor husband (who had been working all day with an ingrown toenail of gangrenous proportions) and put the kids in the car.

Where did I think I was going? To my oasis of course. My renovation rescuers. My in-laws.

My mother and father in-law are two of the most patient and accommodating people I have ever met. They have housed, at different times, all of their six adult offspring and various accompanying partners, kids, pets and European backpackers.

Their home is the very definition of a family home. Everyone has a key and we all come and go pretty much as we please. If one of the extended family is out and about for the day and is in need of any of the following: a swim; a salad sandwich; relationship, financial or real estate advice; time-out from the spouse/kids; the latest movie on Foxtel; a strong coffee; a stiff drink or a good cry – we just pop over to ‘The House’, as it is known.

So here we are, staying at The House. Each day I go over to my own estranged dwelling and measure the depth of the packing sand being trodden into my polished antique wooden floors. I collect the mail, shiver in the windblown cavern of our former life and get the hell outta there.

When I pick the kids up from school we rush back to The House where the fridge is full and the heating is on high. Levi usually runs to Pop’s chair and Indy lounges on the daybed while they unwind from their busy day. I kick off my shoes and take a deep breath, counting my renovator’s blessings one by one.

When I’m here I don’t really mind how long the renovation is going to take. I think I’ll just wait for Jamie Durie to knock on the door.

What I Couldn’t Say At the Time

Before this first blog even went live my husband and his dad had a rather large ‘disagreement’. My husband – being one of those especially wilful males decided that in fact we could do without the comforts of home – any home. So we packed up the kids, collected a very long piece of metal (I don’t know what it was for), washed our faces and had breakfast at Maccas. Rinse and repeat for the next 6 months. I kid you not – we lived without a bathroom and laundry for at least that amount of time. We also had no stove – not that I had much of an appetite, WHAT WITH HAVING NOWHERE TO GO TO THE TOILET.

Breathe, breathe, breathe.

Anyway – we survived, in a fashion. This was how the last chapter played out.


Let’s Get Ready to Rumble

Who could forget Jane Saville’s heartbreaking disqualification during the final moments of the 20km walk at the Sydney Olympics? What is it about the human race that makes us able to endure extremes of discomfort – pain even – only to fall at the final hurdle? This week, my husband and I stumbled in the home straight. The problem is, when you are a parent your kids are often up there in the grandstand, watching the action.

In the last few weeks Luke and I have had a momentous breakthrough in our home renovations. We now have a kitchen, bathroom, laundry and running water – things we have lived without for six months. During these six months we have not had a single argument. People who have watched our renovating dream turn into a renovating nightmare have asked how it is that we are not divorced. My standard response has been, “Life’s hard enough right now, why fight with each other?” But, almost the moment we had our creature comforts back we launched into not one, but two, fights. The first one was minor – something to do with paint. The second one was rather more significant.

Luke had been working long, long hours – both at his own job and on our house. One afternoon I left him pinning up the sheets which would make the last of our internal walls while I went to choose blinds for the windows. I returned home – happy with my bargain shopping – and found him gazing upwards with a rather dazed look in his eyes. I thought it was merely a case of too many fumes from some type of building glue but, as I followed his eye line, I found to my horror that he was gazing in exhausted admiration at a new ‘decorating feature’ – one which we had not discussed – permanently fixed at the highest point of our beautiful cathedral ceiling. Now, as I am not keen on the practice of public shaming I cannot, unfortunately, tell you what it is (but for those playing at home the title of this blog is a cryptic clue). I can only emphasise the fact that I was. Not. Impressed. Tired and emotional myself I was unable to hide my feelings. “What the…?” was the best I could offer. This was followed by a very loud ‘discussion’ – okay, I admit it, we had a fight. Plain and simple. And a big, shouty one at that.

Luke and I don’t fight a lot – that’s not to say that we are always walking around in a state of love-struck bliss, we are an ordinary couple. But I am not fond of shouting arguments and often try to find another way to express myself – even if it means having a ‘cooling-off’ period. When I was a child, before my own parents were divorced, there were many, many loud arguments in our home. I have often thought that there is no lonelier place than the bed of a small child who is listening to their parents argue – again – after lights out. This might have something to do with my desire to find alternative methods of resolving our marital differences.

But, on the day of the surprise ‘decorating feature’ I forgot all my tidy resolutions and, with the kids playing in the backyard – well within earshot – my husband and I shouted at each other and I cried copious amounts of tears. When I went outside to calm down, the kids gathered around me like baby birds at feeding time. “Why are you crying Mummy? Why were you and Daddy shouting?” they asked, both of them curious rather than traumatised. I was still hurting and would have happily said, “Because your father has no taste”, but – gladly – I acted a bit like a grown-up and said, “Mum and Dad just had an argument. You know, like you guys do? You shout and cry and so do we.” The explanation was all they needed and they returned to their game.

Later that evening Indy turned to me and said tearfully, “I don’t want you and Daddy to fight.”

“Neither do I sweetheart,” I replied, “But we do and we will. It’s just the way life is. People fight. It doesn’t mean we don’t love you. Or each other.”

With my wounds still raw I don’t know if I was completely convinced of the last part but it seemed like the right thing to say at the time. Turns out I was right. We do love each other. And – just between us – I have even become a little fond of the ‘decorating feature’ – sort of like that wonky big toe or crooked smile you adore on a loved one. It’s part of our story.

BTW – if any of my family or friends are reading this, just remember: Don’t mention the ‘decorating feature’. 😉

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the crying game

There’s no real protocol for crying in front of strangers. I know because I’ve done a lot of it during my reproductive years.

I come from a long line of criers. My late grandfather was a dignified man, a man from a small country region where stoicism blows in on the winds. But Grandpappy would cry beautiful tears at every family gathering. I think it’s in the blood.

My own crying has accelerated since I started creating my own branch of the family tree. When I was pregnant with my firstborn I cried regularly. At the time I was teaching in a local high school and one day I was called to the Headmaster’s office to discuss a difficult student. As my boss told me of this boy’s early life in poverty stricken Chile I wept openly. Another female teacher came to my rescue and remonstrated with the boss, “She’s pregnant!” she insisted. No further explanation was needed.

My mother-in-law warned me about crying through my pregnancy. Apparently there’s an old wives’ tale that says if you cry while pregnant you will have a baby with ‘gravy eyes’. God only knows what that means but my daughter has gorgeous eyes.

My son also carries the gene. He cries easily and loudly. I rejoice in telling people he is a SNAK – a Sensitive New Age Kid, in touch with his emotions.

In recent years I have cried in front of a vast array of strangers. Four years ago when I was 19 weeks pregnant with my third child, we discovered that she had a severe neural tube defect. Over the next two weeks I cried in front of doctors, nurses, social workers, nuns, priests and ambulance officers. I even walked into our local funeral home with my two small children and wept in front of a tiny, dark-haired attendant who I had never met. I’m sure she was shocked to see me walk in off the street, as if this was the corner store.

Sienna’s simultaneous birth and death at 21 weeks saw a fresh new ocean of tears – some laced with grief, some preceded by a bout of hysterical laughing, and mostly of a cleansing and spiritual nature.

Since her stillbirth I have had a run of miscarriages, four to date. I think the last one was where I lost the final vestiges of my childbearing innocence. I felt hard-bitten as I went for my appointments hoping for the best but expecting the worst.

I promised myself I wouldn’t cry that last time, but when my husband and I went for an early scan and saw a perfectly formed eight-week embryo without that comforting flicker of a heartbeat I felt the tears surge, hot and unbidden. As they splashed down my cheeks I tried to wave it all away, ‘I’m ok, I’m ok.’

As an optimist firmly entrenched in this, my ‘Best of All Possible Worlds’, I always am ok. But tears have become a quintessential part of my journey through motherhood. And I have found that it doesn’t matter who’s there with me as they flow: a radiologist with a beer belly; a young Asian intern; a middle-aged gynaecologist in a polka dot bowtie; a receptionist in training; my mother; my sisters; my best friend. These and many others have borne witness to my grief and elation, my tears and laughter, my love and loss. In a strange way I think their presence validates my experience.

I thank them for sharing with me.

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Filed under loss, parenting

what not to write

I haven’t quite finished writing how i got here part 2 yet – but, when I eventually do, it will show you the bizarre path which led me to my position as the editor of a parenting magazine in a regional area. But let’s just say that the road to this desk has been paved with rejections, as well as lots of writing about what it means to be a parent.

As a Web Child blogger for almost 18 months I had to pull something out of my hat on deadline every week – and it ALWAYS had to be about parenting. Never was I allowed to post about random stuff – the great refuge that is available to other bloggers. And many weeks it was as torturous as trying to strap a tantrum-chucking toddler into a car seat. In my time I wrote posts of varying degrees of mundanity. Very occasionally I would write something that I thought wasn’t half bad – some of these latter ones will make their way to this blog.

Nowadays, as part of my job, I also read lots of other stuff about parenting. Some of it is fantabulous (and my blogroll contains a few writers who tickle my fancy) and some of it is, well, not.

Last week I may have written one of those pieces myself. I wrote an article which I tweeted about ad nauseum titled In Defence of Helicopter Parents. I submitted it to another publication, to an editor who shall only be known as Big Ed. Big Ed sent it back to me with the gentlest of emails which, despite his best intentions was still a rejection. I was left to ponder two possibilities – either helicopter parenting is actually indefensible or… I can’t write. As a long time debater and wannabe lawyer I believe nearly all positions are defensible. Which left only one option.

Smarting from the sting of rejection I determined that I would blow Big Ed’s socks off. I wanted to write a great piece but found that all I could muster was a string of hackneyed and unoriginal sentiments. I had lost my writing mojo. I  decided that, if I couldn’t write something good I would at least prove that I knew what not-so-good writing was. I called out to my tweeps for the biggest parenting cliches and set to work. The result is below.

Turns out that writing this piece was incredibly liberating – it allowed me to specifically pinpoint what I don’t want to write. I took my red pen immediately to the ‘serious’ article I was working on and it benefited enormously. I’m going to pin it to my wall as a reminder of what not to write.

And, if you feel bad because you have ever thought/written about any of these things just remember that cliches only become cliches because they are usually so incredibly true. It’s just that, as writers it is beholden on us to find ways around them.

Also feel comforted by the fact that most of the cliches here I have used in the past – and probably will use again. But please call me out if you catch me cliche-ing around my blog.

(btw: grammar, punctuation and spelling are incredibly important to me. Exclamation points should be used with caution. None of this applies to Twitter)

Motherhood – The Greatest Gift of All

As a mum, I have found that parenting is the hardest job in the world, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything! Another thing I have learned is that education is one of the most impotent things for a child, which is why I was so excited when my daughter started school last year.

I was worried that she might be upset but on her first day it was mummy who needed tissues as I watched my little one skip happily off to her teacher without looking back. It made me think back to the day she was born and how happy I was. While my body had changed I was amazed by what it could do – I now wear my stretch marks proudly as the scars of what I went through to create my child.

I wanted to be a part of my daughter’s school life so I volunteered to do reading with her class. I was amazed at how advanced she was compared with her class mates. This let me know that all the work I had done with the Baby Einstein and flash cards was definitely worth it. It’s hard being a stay at home mum but watching my child advance to the next stage on the readers before anyone else made it all worthwhile.

My husband agrees that we have made the right choice for me to stay-at-home. ‘We are her first teacher’s’ he said one night as we laid in bed, worrying about our daughter. I agreed and looked into his eyes and saw my daughters eye’s looking back at me. I imagined the day he would walk her down the isle and knew that there would be tear’s that day too. As we spooned that night I thanked my lucky stars that I had found such a good man, a hands on-dad and my best-friend as well.

I agree wholeheartedly with my husband about being our daughters first teacher’s but lately I have started wondering if really, its kid’s who teach their parent’s. One day after school my daughter came home and asked, “Mummy, why is the sky blue?” I looked at her in dis-belief. “Youve been here before,” I thought, to myself. And each day their came a different question, “Do cats laugh?”, “Can puppies smile?” “Where do babies come from?” I was amazed at the way this little one’s brain was developing at such a speed and the uniqueness of her myriad of questions. Children help keep you young and listening to her questions made me realise that.

Of course we believe that education is not just about school so our daughter takes ballet and art classes along with her swimming lessons. One day – after watching Dora the Explorer on TV – she said “Hola Mummy.” I nearly dropped the baking tray full of biscuits I was holding – and knew then and there we had to enroll her in Spanish classes. I believe in giving kids every chance to reach their full potential.

And yes, life is busy for us, and ok so my husband has had to work back a lot lately and there have been a lot of hang-up calls (which, funnily enough, only I seem to get) but, at the end of the day when I look at my childs’ sleeping face I know that nothing else matters and my life will never be the same because it’s all worth it!!

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Filed under parenting, twitter, writing