Monthly Archives: February 2010

let’s talk about sex

I was chatting to one of my lovely tweeps the other day (that would be @LizK_is) and she showed me a couple of posts she had put on her blog when her kids first started asking about sex.

Don’t we all have one of those stories? I had this one published about eighteen months ago. It’s funny how things change. Nowadays, my nine-year-old daughter still squirms whenever sex is mentioned. Especially given my overbearing insistence on asking if she has any questions. Anything at all??? Don’t you want to know something??

But no. She just gives me a look which is all, just-shut-up-now-mum. This is sad. Cos when she was little she was much more, shall we say, curious. As you will see.

Let’s Talk About Sex

I hate to misquote Alfred Tennyson, but it is indeed spring it appears my young man’s thoughts have turned to…. sex. By ‘young man’ I mean my six-year-old son, Levi and by ‘sex’ I mean…well, who knows really?

It all began last week when Levi sidled up to me and said, “Mummy, Ella said a bad word in the library today.” Ella is a sweet girl in Levi’s class – outgoing, bright and popular – I couldn’t imagine a bad word issuing from her innocent lips. So I asked Levi what the ‘bad’ word was.

I like to give my kids the chance to say ‘bad’ words in a safe environment – ‘safe’ meaning that they won’t get in trouble. I think it helps to demystify swearing for them, they get to try the words out without fear of punishment.

Levi came even closer. “She said…,” he leaned in for emphasis and whispered reverently, “sex”.

Considering the fact that I was anticipating a rather more shocking euphemism for that exact word, I almost laughed out loud. I was momentarily fazed but then I had a sort of mini-epiphany where I figured, here is a chance for Levi to avoid a future of sexual repression and years on a sex therapist’s couch.

“Sex isn’t really a bad word,” I began in my most earnest, ‘good mother’ voice. “It’s just not a word that kids need to use.” Emboldened by my liberalness Levi forged on, this time much more loudly. “She said she did it with her boyfriend – and he’s ten!”

This time I suffered a sort of psychological whiplash as the broad mind I had so prided myself on retracted instantaneously. I quickly glossed over the comment with some lame platitude about kids who make up stories, and moved abruptly on.

After I had recovered from my shock I felt I had missed a golden opportunity to talk about sex with my kids so, a little while later when we were all relaxing I said to Levi, “Remember what you told me that Ella said before?”

“That she did sex with her boyfriend?” he said eagerly.

“Yes. Do you know what she’s talking about.”

The innocence in his eyes confirmed his sheepish, “No.” He was obviously clueless as to what ‘sex’ might be.

But, in the background, I noticed a squirming seven-year-old girl – my daughter to be precise. Not wanting to let the same opportunity slip through my fingers twice in one day I turned to Indiana and said, “Do you know what she was talking about?” My darling simply blushed and said, “sort of” in a soft voice. It was at this moment that I went into schoolmarm mode. “Well, does anyone have any questions?” Ben 10 was on TV so Levi’s response was a short, sharp “no” while Indy shook her head and went back to her colouring-in.

I must admit I was a little startled by Indy’s obvious understanding of the topic and her accompanying embarrassment so later, when we were alone, I brought it up again – much to her chagrin. “So,” I soldiered in, “When we were talking about sex before I wondered if you had any questions.” She gave a little shake of her head. “Well, do they talk about it at school?” At this point I meant the teachers. “The boys always do!” she replied. Ah, so even at the age of seven.

“But what about your teachers? Do they teach you about it?”

“Well, you see a movie in Year 5… and everybody laughs.” She was obviously well-versed in playground folklore.

“Do you want to ask me anything?”

“No,” she said, but her unspoken subtext was deafening, “please Mum, just stop talking.”

Now I don’t know where this reticence has come from because Indy was conversant with the facts of life (well a version anyway) at quite an early age. It all started when she asked the usual ‘where do babies come from?’ question when she was about four. Luke and I saw fit to use a story about how the daddy has a seed which he puts inside the mummy where it grows into a baby – just like a tree.

Both kids accepted this version of events which was a relief because I had heard a story about a mum who had told her little one a similar story only to be asked, “But how does Daddy get the seed in? Does he have a magic wand?” Well, yes, he’d like to think so!

So we rested on our laurels – as we so often do – until a few months later when I fell pregnant with our third child, Sienna. Excited to share our news with the kids we told them that Mummy had a baby in her belly that would be their new little brother or sister.

“But how did it get there?” four-year-old Indy wanted to know.

“Well, sweetheart,” I explained patiently, convinced I’d already done the hard yards, “Remember how we told you the story about how the daddy puts a seed in the mummy and it grows into a baby? Well that’s what Daddy did to Mummy.”

“Oh,” she said, her crestfallen face accompanied by a tone of frustration and dismay, “I wanted to watch!”

Speechless doesn’t even come close.

How do you talk to your kids about sex? Have you had any embarrassing moments during the ‘sex talk’?

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walking the walk

It’s disgusting how rarely I walk my kids to school. It’s a ten minute walk – even at kid pace – and my office is another three minute walk from the school. But our walking average would be lucky to come out at about one day every two months. As I said, it’s disgusting. Of course I can put it down to the so-called New Witching Hour. But you and I both know that that’s an excuse.

At the moment, however, we are walking to school. Not because I have come over all ‘some kind of wonderful’, but because the car’s stuffed. However, the enforced amble has made me realise – yet again – the joy of the school walk.

This afternoon, as we rounded the corner into the home straight my son said, “Mum, I’ve been thinking about this for years,” (he’s all of seven years old btw), “I’ve been wondering… how do you tell a blind person about yellow?”

I looked at his philosophising little self and had one of those moments – you know like in a movie when the camera zooms in and the background simultaneously zooms out. At least that’s how it felt. My boy, and his wondrous seven-year-old-awesomeness was in sharp focus and all else had faded to grey.

Of course this wasn’t the first time I had had a walking epiphany. And so, as is my wont, here’s a blog I prepared earlier. It is still completely relevant and, sadly, we’re still not walking to school half as much as we should.

PS – Walk Safely to School Day is on May 7th this year.

My Walking Epiphany: Is This How We Find Magic?

My kids love walking to school. They love it so much that I alternately promise and threaten them with the walking to school scenario. “If you go to bed early I promise we can walk to school in the morning.” Or how about, “If you don’t turn off that TV and brush your teeth NOW, we are not walking to school!”

I find it so bizarre because as a kid I hated walking to school – probably because I had to do it every day – rain, hail or shine. I even had a yellow raincoat which was quite fetching when teamed with the green shade I sported as I watched other kids being driven up to the school gates in the luxury of the family car.

We only live about 10 – 15 minutes from my kids’ school so you would think we could manage to walk every day. But I have my own personal litany of excuses as to why I must increase the size of my carbon footprint by jumping in the car most mornings.

However, a couple of weeks ago there was a “Walk Safely to School Day”. This national event seeks to promote road safety, health, public transport and the environment. Well of course my kids begged to walk to school. (Actually they rode their scooters so I hope that still counts.)

With the kids proudly displaying their “Walk Safely” stickers, we set off. My son proceeded to break every road rule I have ever  taught him. I think I shouted at him the entire way, probably feeling the pressure more than usual as an ominous headline loomed. Surely Levi was not going to be the Child Hit at Pedestrian Crossing on Walk Safely to School Day?

I had calmed down considerably by the afternoon when I picked them up. And I guess because there’s no bell ringing at our house, the walk home was altogether more leisurely. Indiana rode on ahead as Levi dawdled behind, with me in the centre carrying their school bags and Levi’s – now discarded – scooter.

It was in this crucial central position that I had my ‘walking epiphany’. As I watched Indiana scoot proudly in front, testing the very limits of scooters and stray stones and seven-year-old balancing abilities; and as I listened to Levi behind me plucking cattails from someone’s front garden to use as wizard’s wands against the neighbourhood pets which had now become marauding demons, it suddenly occurred to me, “How good is walking?”

I have been doing some research on how modern pressures and the pace of life are threatening childhood. The relentless rush to playdates and after school classes and carefully organised entertainment has taken away some of the slowness and quiet time which is where the magic of childhood is created.

As I ambled home with my children that day with no pressure except how many biscuits I should put with their after-school milk I felt I had found the secret to restoring a measure of this magic – the free walk. A walk with no time limit, no rush, no hustle. A walk where adventures can be dreamed and conversations with imaginary friends can take place. A walk where the kids can test how to hop up and down gutters; where big sisters can teach little brothers the technicalities of skipping; and where a wandering cat is an object of delight.

My epiphany was so great that I vowed to walk a lot more with my children.

Needless to say it hasn’t really happened. But I promise if they go to bed early …

Do you think modern life is too fast? Where do your kids find childhood magic?

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and the winners are…

Holy f*&% I am not equipped for this hi-tech venture. However I did manage – after discovering a bloody spammer in the works – to draw the winners. As above board as I could possibly manage without men in suits looking over my shoulders.

So here’s the *thing*:

PLEASE NOTE: The top three numbers in the random integer draw are the winners. 🙂 You know I love you @mrgrumpystephen but jesus you make things difficult sometimes. 🙂

Kylie Ladd Giveaway

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skin deep

Tonight I read a post on the lovely Thea Smith’s blog (Do I Really Wanna Blog?) titled Unpretty. It brought to mind a piece I had published previously on Web Child. It seemed fitting to post it again, as an extension of my comment on Thea’s thought-provoking and honest blog. It also seems to be a logical continuation of my last post – The Naughtiest Girl Goes to a Party.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Skin Deep

Mirror, mirror on the wall… this seems to be my current ironic refrain as I survey my almost 40-year-old reflection each morning. My usual daily routine is a perfunctory application of make-up and the reluctant acceptance of whatever style my willful head of hair might deem appropriate. But, just as I obtain a certain level of satisfaction and think that I look okay my eight-year-old daughter comes and stands beside me. As our mirror images gaze back at us, her blemish-free skin, graceful posture and fuss-free ponytail put my paltry efforts to shame – and bring to light some issues which concern me.

Indiana is beautiful. Of course, as a mum it’s what we say about our kids. But, objectively speaking, Indy seems to have an arrangement of physical features which is generally accepted as being aesthetically pleasing in our society. I say this in as detached a way as possible because for most of my life I have struggled to make peace with the concept of physical beauty and its place in our world. In turn I worry about the impact it may have on my daughter’s life.

Rue it though we may we cannot ignore or deny the fact that beauty is a form of currency, and I think one of the challenges we face as parents is to teach our children – and especially our daughters – how to negotiate the sometimes treacherous way it functions. Of course, worshipping at the altar of physical beauty is as old as Helen of Troy so our current obsession with the Jolie-Pitts of the world is nothing new. But it’s the often proffered side-dish of vacuousness and narcissism which I fear. How do I teach my daughter to wear her beauty with a patina of humility and goodness?

I was an average looking child – a little on the small side but occasionally attractive. However, my best friend in high school possessed a precocious beauty which literally turned heads. Walking beside her long, stunning self often made me feel invisible. I admit with embarrassment that I became obsessed with appearances – a preoccupation that still occasionally pops in to say hello. I loved my friend for much more than her beauty, although the fact that she later became famous for her looks (amongst other talents) went some way towards justifying what I knew to be true – she was indeed a genetic freak.

My own daughter – despite her debut as an unattractive newborn – has blossomed into a particular version of westernised beauty with her tawny blonde hair, big blue eyes fringed by long dark lashes and naturally olive skin. Our initial response upon realising that the flat head, blotchy skin, gappy teeth and crazy hair of her babyhood were temporary was to constantly tell her that she was beautiful. Now I wonder why it mattered so much to us. But as a new mum I believed that praising her this way would safeguard her against future self-image problems such as those I had experienced. The flipside of this praise was that I was verbally rewarding her for what she is – as if it was as significant as what she does. I wised up and pulled back a little on the ‘beautiful girl’ comments replacing them with, “what a caring girl you are,” or, “you made a great effort at gymnastics today”.

I guess we’ve been lucky so far because Indy has always had a shy and self-effacing nature but in recent months we have noticed her increasing awareness of her appearance. She is not at all obsessive but the other day she said to me, “Mummy, I’ve got skin like a model.” Considering the fact that I have never had cause to use the word ‘model’ when chatting with the kids, I was a little shocked. This had obviously come from elsewhere. I asked her, “Why is that important?” to which she replied, “Models get to have their photo taken and be in magazines.”

“Well that doesn’t mean much,” I countered, “you don’t have to be smart or nice to have your photo taken.” She pondered it for a minute and didn’t seem particularly perturbed by what I had said. It was then that I became aware of the fine line between giving her an over-inflated sense of the importance of beauty and of damaging her developing sense of self. I also know that I can’t completely prevent her from discovering that she has a measure of this particular form of currency (although we may find that it, too, passes – just as her newborn cone-head did) but I will continue to remind her that courtesy, respect and education are three things (at the very least) which rank above beauty in my books.

My high school friend was often defined by her physical appearance, but I also remember her as incredibly smart, quirky, hardworking, loyal and kind. Without these qualities she would not have been so beautiful. I wish the same for my daughter.

Am I being too harsh on my daughter? How do you teach your kids about appearances over substance?

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the naughtiest girl goes to a party

This blog was first published on Web Child, but I was chatting to a friend about this topic again today and encountered the exact same nervous laughter I wrote about here. What do you think?

I’ve been told off by another mum. It happened a few months ago but I have only just picked up my jaw from where it dropped with an incredulous clatter.

The event was a kid’s birthday party. I grabbed a cupcake and sought out a seat next to an intelligent, articulate, nurturing and occasionally irreverent friend – who is also the fantastic mother of three amazing kids. We became engrossed in a frank and honest discussion when one of the other mums – overhearing our chat – stood up, leaned over the table and admonished us by saying, “Ladies, there are some things we just don’t talk about.”

I don’t know if the term ‘gobsmacked’ means ‘being smacked in the gob’ but that is exactly how I felt. My friend and I looked at each other, literally stunned speechless.

So what were we talking about in our little Bad Mothers’ Club of two? Well, we were talking about how ugly our kids had been when they were born.

Fact: My daughter, Indy, was not a good looking newborn – and I have the photos to prove it. My husband and I both agree. When we would take our baby bundle with her funny little features and her crazy hair to the local supermarket in those early days, the usual comment we got from strangers was, “He’s a cute little fella.” The inherent dishonesty in these compliments was blindingly obvious as we grinned at our daughter dressed from head to toe in pink florals.

Whenever I recount the story of my daughter’s aesthetically-challenged appearance I have come to expect other parents to either recoil in horror or to laugh nervously as if I had suddenly revealed a desire to pole dance at Kindergym. Perhaps they are confused and think that I am saying that I don’t love my daughter. But Luke and I are besotted with Indiana, and have been from the very moment she was born. We thought that we had created the world’s most perfect child. Her looks were less than insignificant.

But back to the birthday party. I don’t know how I got into the ‘ugly baby’ discussion with my friend but, rather than the usual polite smiles and deft change of topic, she laughed loudly and regaled me with a story about her very own ugly baby.

We had found in one another a kindred spirit, which I believe is one of the saving graces of parenthood – someone who ‘gets’ you. We both declared long and loud about how the funny looking creatures we had given birth to hadn’t emerged from the womb picture-perfect and camera-ready.

But perhaps we were a bit too long, a bit too loud, because we ended up feeling like two naughty girls telling rude jokes at the back of the classroom.

I have recovered from the ‘telling off’ but I do find that I am a little more wary of sharing my motherhood secrets. I have also found myself second guessing what may or may not be the ‘taboos’ of parenting. But I have concluded that, for me, there are no taboos. Authenticity is my goal and if that means the occasional dressing down at a birthday party then I shall gladly grow myself a thicker layer of skin.

And, just for the record, my daughter has blossomed into a gorgeous seven-year-old. Not that it matters because my heart could not adore her any more if she was the Miss Universe of seven-year-olds.

Have you ever been told off by another parent? Do you think there are any parenting taboos? Do you seek out kindred spirits on your parenting journey?

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the book launch – part four (in which i finally finish my story)

Continued from the book launch – part three

The beautiful baby was Chloe. Before she was born her mum, Louise, lost two babies to stillbirth. A daughter at 21 weeks and then a son at 36 weeks. She contributed some of the most heartbreaking and inspiring pieces in Zoe’s book. Her ability to extract the oh-so-hard-to-find gifts from her experiences is truly beautiful.

But I didn’t know this on the night. Zoe wrote to me yesterday after reading my blog. She told me about her own pregnancy and about preparing for the launch. She wrote: “As time went on, it looked more and more likely that I would be celebrating the birth of the book shortly before the arrival of this baby. Both filled me with anticipation, excitement and terror.” She had also written about the launch the week before on The Punch.

Hopefully this was an easy birth for Zoe. For Luke and I –  involved, yet once removed like doting relatives – it was incredibly important.

I left off my last blog with Luke and I ensconced on a comfy lounge chair. Zoe’s husband called everyone’s attention and gave a short introduction. His presence was another reminder that, when it comes to babies – including babyloss – it is always, always about two people.

Next it was Zoe’s turn to speak. I didn’t do the good journo thing and have a recording device at the ready, but the one thing I do remember Zoe saying is this: “I wish I never had to write this book. I wish that every pregnancy had a happy ending. But the reality is that everyone – either directly or indirectly – will be affected by pregnancy loss.” With each passing day I know this to be true.

Emma McLeod from the Stillbirth Foundation and Dr Devora Lieberman from Sydney IVF also spoke with grace and gratitude to Zoe for writing this book about a subject which is, in many circles, still hard to talk about.

When the speeches were over the guests started to mingle. I chatted briefly to the woman next to me. She had come to support one of her friends who was also a contributor. Her friend had lost a child to stillbirth but was now the proud mum of a six-month-old baby. Again, the joy kept coming. The happy endings.

But Luke and I left soon after the speeches – not because of the happy endings all around us, but because we had a chapter to write in our own.

Our latest loss had left us reeling. We hadn’t had time to reconnect, to just *be*, without the demands of the real world. After congratulating Zoe one last time (and getting her to sign my book :-)) we headed out into the rain-washed streets of the city. Our own hearts, lifted by the humbling and life-affirming experience of being in a room where the extremes of human existence – loss, pain, joy and hope – were intertwined, were, like the streets, cleansed and renewed.

In my heels I walked – clutching my man. We stopped near an art gallery to ask two men sitting on the stoop for directions. We headed to Darling Harbour, where our really very nice hotel awaited (come back Scottish pipers – all is forgiven). But first we enjoyed a dinner for two. Date night for a babylost mum and dad.

We bypassed all the too-cool-for-school haunts and settled into a crowded steak joint. We needed to eat our fill; to sate all those things which had been left wanting in the wake of our loss. Our appetites, our need to be together, our need to talk to one another uninterrupted.

Darling Harbour is like the precocious teenage sister of the world’s oldest and most beautiful cities and landmarks: stunning but still not quite sure of its own beauty. That night I reveled in its freshness and the sense of promise it projected. Promise, hope, the future: my themes for the night.

Dinner over, we took the short walk back to our hotel. First stop was an all-night convenience store where we bought a huge bag of pick-n-mix lollies. Like two kids we went upstairs, ordered a movie, giggled together and reclaimed our love.  Simple. So simple.

The next morning I woke up, showered and put on a new dress. A daytime frock I had bought for the occasion. Luke suddenly turned to me and said. “You looked beautiful last night. And you look beautiful in that dress too.” I  literally swooned.

Saturday’s papers, Eggs Benedict, coffee, juice. He said to me, “If we had to live in the city, could we?” I answered, “Only when I write a best-seller.” We both grinned. I knew then that we would be all right.

Another baby would be beyond miraculous for us but, after last Friday night, I know that we will have our happy ending. Come what may.

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the book launch – part three

I did a little ‘live blogging experiment’ – well that’s what I call an inability to cut down this post into a manageable size. 🙂 It started here with the book launch – part two.

This is the next part:

Life being what it is for working parents the day started off pretty damn ordinary. Luke had work to arrange. So did I. As well as grandparents to organise for school pick up and sleepover duty, bags and lunches to pack and assorted annoying things to attend to.

Not to mention the  bloody Scottish pipers who had booked all the rooms in the city. I nabbed a last minute deal but I was sure we were going to be sleeping in a rat-infested place in some hellhole on the wrong side of town.

IKEA was our first stop. Now, I’m an IKEA freak. Hubby hates shopping. And that would be a red flag you can see waving right there.

But we managed.

Next stop, The City. We got lost.

We always get lost.

Tempers were being held politely in a stranglehold as we cursed the gods of ‘no right turn’.

But we got there. I checked in while Luke waited impatiently in the car – terrified of giving up his parking spot and risking an eighth drive around the block.

Then, a sliver of light. Our room number was 16. Sienna’s birthday number – December 16. It doesn’t sound like much, but it kinda was. I exhaled just a little.

Hankering after some unfettered prettying-up time I handed Luke the remote and got busy while he zoned out to Sky News. After an hour’s nap he put on a gorgeous shirt and tie (making no comment about how I looked, *sigh*) and we hailed a cab.

We’re not city folk, but this time we both fell in love with Sydney. How could we not? Our taxi dropped us under the Harbour Bridge as a light mist of rain tumbled down, the same kind of whimsical rain which fell on our wedding day. The Rocks spoke to us in the voices of the first white settlers – convicts and others who no doubt experienced tragedy and suffering which I cannot begin to imagine.

We found our destination – The Harbourview Hotel – and made our way up the stairs. Zoe greeted us – recognising me from my pictures (surprise surprise). As she stepped out from behind the table where she was signing books, I saw her in all of her beautiful, pregnant glory.

I knew Zoe had been pregnant when she started writing this book. After suffering her own heartbreaking losses she was having her happy ending. But then, I thought, she started writing this book a long time ago – much more than nine months. I bit my tongue. Never ask a woman when she’s due unless you can see the baby’s head crowning: a warning  I had vowed never to forget after embarrassing experiences on both ends of that particular faux pas.

Luke and I were among the first to arrive so we wandered onto the balcony. There, we watched bridge climbers parade past us, outfitted in identical shell suits and shackled to one another, much like those early residents whose echoes I could hear. The mood was almost mystical.

A glass of red wine was exactly what I needed. We found another seat – a cosy lounge inside – and settled in. Sighing, I tucked in close to Luke and watched as the other guests arrived.

And so they came: people I didn’t know, and yet there was an incredibly pervasive vibe, the sense of membership I often speak about when it comes to the babylost community. As I looked around at the couples, the friends, the mothers and daughters I found myself wanting to ask, “So who are you? What’s your story? Was it your part of the book which made me sob my heart out? How are you? Do you have *your* happy ending?”

But, still feeling a little shy, we held back.

And then I saw the first bump. A glorious pregnant belly in a tight striped top.

Despite the fact that I hoped to be showing off my own belly I was unequivocally thrilled for this expectant mum. Unequivocally. Maybe it’s because I am blessed with two living children, but I have never felt jealous over other pregnancies. After all, that is not my child she is carrying. That is not the child I covet. My hunger is for my own child. Her pregnancy is her own joy and how could I ever begrudge anyone joy?

Plus, her presence at this launch hinted at a history of suffering which, although I was not privy to, I could only imagine. I grinned inanely at the bump.

And then another. Another beautiful swelling. Another little life on the way. Hope in a rounded belly.

Luke and I, quietly content in one another’s company, sat enjoying the  ‘orr derbs’ – our own private joke. We relaxed, finally. We were reconnecting.

Just like Sienna’s funeral, this was about us – unencumbered by family or friends – entwined in one of the most intimate and painful shared experiences I imagine a couple can go through: the loss of a child.

Then, the white angel entered the room. Held almost aloft, one of the sweetest of life’s prizes, a baby. Maybe three, four months old – resplendent in a white satin dress, with mum, dad and (maybe) her grandparents in total thrall to her cherub self. I almost cried with happiness.

To Be Continued…

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