Category Archives: parenting

Bear With Me While I Put You On Hold

As I was saying to a writer friend – who might be Kylie Ladd and who might never have felt the sting of rejection (oh settle down Kylie, I know the school newsletter once refused to publish your story, working title: Turtles: The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name. But that doesn’t really count.)

Anyhoo – I said to Kylie, “What good is a blog if not a dumping ground for rejected pieces?” Because this piece was rejected by one of my usually friendly websites. They swear the rejection is completely unrelated to my own brand of awesome. But then they probably say that to everyone. Nevermind. I’ll have another piece with them one day.

But this piece was fun – and not my usual writing bag. I find I can’t usually sustain humour beyond 140 characters. That’s not saying that I’m funny on Twitter. Or even that this piece is funny. But… don’t you hate an overwrought preamble?

However, the main reasons for posting this piece are:

1. Telcos have shitted me senseless this week. So get that up ya Telco 1 and Telco 2.

2. I really feel like getting up @AnIdleDad‘s goat cos I know he misses me. And he gets all snarky when you talk about telcos, cos even though he hates his job he has to live in corporate hell in order to fund his appetite for ukes, wine and sharp knives. He also has a rockin’ wife and magic daughters who need to be kept in a manner deserving of their awesomeness.

3. I had a cool writing buddy in on this piece. It was fun (even though he made me pull out my loving copy/paste of my Twitter stream…). We deserve to be published. If you can call a blog ‘published’ (which IMO you can’t really). But we will. Just for today. ^_^

Bear With Me While I Put You On Hold

I always thought whinging about telcos was the resort of mean-spirited types who didn’t understand that everyone is just trying to do their job. Whenever I speak to someone in a far-flung call centre I put on my smiley voice and try to infuse my pesky (one-hundred-and-twenty-seventh) request for whatever-it-is-this-time with an ‘I know what it’s like to be working for the man’ empathy.

Well, f*&% empathy , this shit just got real.

Although the digikids recently talked me into signing my life away for a jabscreen,  I have resolutely held onto my old-school landline. Maybe it’s nostalgia. Or perhaps it’s the fact that I don’t really know how to get out of my telco contract. Or who I am actually contracted to. Or why ‘bundling’ everything might make sense. Or what ‘porting’ my number means.

I’m Generation X so bear with me…

A few weeks ago I had a phone call from Telco1 who wanted to know why, since I had once been happy with them, I had changed to Telco 2. I mumbled something like, “Cheaper.”

Then Telco 1 started saying something like, “Shiny, shiny, My Precious and would you like us to bundle it all, port your number over and give you as many lovely new techno devices for your house as you would like?”

I was all: Yes please. How much?

Telco 1: Oh exactly the same as you were paying before. Just a little bit more expensive. But more shiny.

Me: I don’t have to do anything, right? You can do it all from your end and just deliver the shiny things here? And it will all be good and everyone wins?”

Telco 1: Yes. Yes, that’s exactly how it will work.

Then the voice got all fine-print and disclaimer-ey and I think they said something like: Blah, blah, change your email, blah blah, Gen Y do it all the time, blah, what’s your problem, blah, blah, ringthisonenumberandcheckthatyou’renotundercontractwithTelcos2through48thismessagewrittenandauthorisedbyblahblahblah.

Me: Sure. Can I do it tomorrow?

Telco 1: Yes. You have until (unintelligible date which may have actually been some time in the past).

All was fine until last week when our landline stopped working. And then the internet died. And a then black hole opened up in our kitchen.

Actually I didn’t realise any of this – happily jabbing away as I was at my jabscreen – until my kids said, “Mum! We can’t get onto Club Penguin!”

And that’s when I entered my Telco absurdist nightmare.

Call to Telco 1

Me: Hello. I seem to have a problem with my phone.

Telco 1: Bear with me while I put you on hold…

Me: Oh.

Telco 1: Sorry to have kept you waiting (8 minutes). Ok it seems you’re changing over to us but that’s not actioning until this Friday. We can’t do anything. You need to ring Telco 2.

Call to Telco 2

Me: Hello I seem to have a problem with my phone.

Telco 2; Bear with me while I put you on hold…

Me: Ok.

Telco 2: Um, ok sorry to have kept you waiting (12 minutes). It seems that Telco 1 have actioned the changeover. We can’t do anything from this end now. It’s in their hands. By the way you might need to cancel your contract with us now that you’re with Telco 1. You owe us 95.70 for breaking your contract.

Me: Oh. Ok. Can I cancel it then?

Call to Telco 1

Me: Hi. I was speaking to someone earlier about my phone…

Telco 1: Bear with me while I put you on hold…

Me: But…

Telco 1: Sorry for keeping you waiting (18 minutes) but it seems you have cancelled your contract with Telco 2 and we can’t really action anything from this end until Friday. If you want your phone on, Telco 2 has to do it. You’ll have to cancel the cancellation.

Me: Oh. Ok.

Call to Telco 2

Me: Hi. Can I bear with you while you put me on hold? And when you feel sorry for keeping me waiting for 23 minutes can I talk to you about cancelling my contract? I need to cancel that cancellation.

Telco 2: So what you’re saying is you want to cancel the cancellation order? Because there’s only about 15 minutes left before the cancellation takes effect. If you want to cancel it I’ll have to put you through to the cancellation department. Bear with me…

I swear I’m hardly making any of this up.

And this next part I actually really didn’t make up at all.

Telco 2: Sorry for keeping you waiting (47 minutes), but we’ve checked everything and it looks as if Telco 1 has pulled your plug out. Now, I’m not talking behind anyone’s back or anything (and at this point the voice took on a decidedly teenager-ish tone) but they do this, like, ALL the time. There’s nothing we can do.

That’s when I started rocking back and forth, clutching my jabscreen.

Later that day my husband decided to deal with things. He may have used a swear word. He may have used a loud voice. He may have cried real tears.

We still have no home phone connection.

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Filed under parenting, telcos, twitter

may contain coarse language and adult themes

It is a truth universally acknowledged (by parents) that all of the best conversations with your kids happen in the family car. Perhaps it’s the perception that the car is neutral ground. Or maybe it’s because there’s a captive audience.

What I have discovered is that driving with kids acts as a sort of truth serum. It is here that they are comfortable sharing secrets and troubles of the heart. If I feel that one of my kids has been a bit neglected, or that they are carrying a heavier metaphorical weight than usual I will often suggest a quick spin in the car in order to excavate the problem or simply to reconnect.

The car also seems to be where my kids indulge in a little test driving of the newest swear word or adult concept – usually couched as a junior-style investigation. “Mum, what is a d*#@head?” or; “Mum, what does ‘sexy’ mean?” or (a friend of mine’s pet peeve, prompted by radio advertising) “Mum, what is premature ejaculation?”

A little while ago the kids and I were driving home from a shopping trip. I was, as usual, engrossed in my mental to-do list and not really tuning in to their conversation. That is until the volume level rose ever so slightly.

Levi: “NO! I just want them to be partners.”

Indiana’s response was quieter, so I had to strain a little to hear:  “But can’t they just be les-beens?”

Levi: “NO!”

The kids were playing with Levi’s cuddly puppy toys and there seemed to be some disagreement about how the puppies’ relationship should be defined. I thought that now was the time to steer the discussion a little.

“What’s up kids?” I asked, hoping I sounded non-committal.

“I want the puppies to be les-beens…” started Indiana.

“I just want them to be partners,” whined Levi.

“Mum, what are les-beens anyway?”

I’m sure we have had this discussion before, but I humoured them. “Well, it’s when a girl chooses a girlfriend rather than a boyfriend.” Age-appropriate and easy to digest, I thought.

“What about if they’re boys, are they still called les-beens?” Indy responded, quick as a flash. Somehow I think she may have already had the schoolyard answers to these questions and was just testing to see if my responses married up.

Now I was in slightly deeper waters – what was the correct age-appropriate term for homosexual men? ‘Homosexual’ seemed too medical-textbook and everything else felt derogatory. Flying on a wing and a prayer, I went with my instinct. “Well, two men who love each other are often called ‘gay’,” I said.

The gaping silence from the backseat needed to be filled and, with visions of the aforementioned schoolyard, I said, “But you might have heard people say ‘gay’ in a mean way.”

A little murmur of assent came from behind so I soldiered on. “But it shouldn’t be said in a mean way and I hope you would never do that.” A solemn shake of the head from Indy signalled the end of today’s investigation. When the game continued, I think it was decided that the puppies would be known as ‘partners’. Fair enough.

Later that day, I rang Mum to tell her about my latest adventure as a mother. She treated me to a sample of her own very special brand of laissez faire parenting. “I would have just told you to work it out for yourselves,” she said.

*sigh* It really is a wonder I know anything at all. 😉

But her approach seems to have worked. I hope mine does too.

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what is motherlove

This week over on HappyChild (a fab new Aussie parenting website featuring the work of many of my wonderful writing friends) Carol Duncan wrote a post titled: Motherhood and Guilt – Are They Inseparable?

I love the way Carol thinks about parenting – and indeed life. She doesn’t spin a ‘perfect world’ tale. She digs deep and with a sense of wonder, awe and philosophical enquiry into the authentic experiences we all face. She’s my kinda gal.

Of course Carol’s abiding love for her children sings loud and clear when she writes about them. Just as her enormous heart shows itself when she delves into other issues. Such as this one.

And so – inspired to get back on the blogging horse (yes I’ve been slack. Blame Twitter ;)) I have used Carol’s Mother Guilt post for this post. Because I’m sure these are the two overarching constants of being a parent: Love and Guilt – usually all rolled into one.

And so…

What is (Mother) Love, Anyway?

It has finally dawned on me that I love my kids. I say ‘dawned on me’ but perhaps what I really mean is that I have accepted that this feeling I have for them is really and truly, unequivocally and without a doubt, love. And it has only taken about nine years for me to come to this conclusion.

I’m not sure if my confusion over my feelings for my kids is because of my misconceptions about motherhood or my delusions about love, but ever since I first became pregnant I have heard a whisper from the teeniest of voices asking me if the feelings I had ticked all the right boxes.

It’s not that I didn’t bond with my kids when they were born. Having read heart-breaking accounts of loving women who looked at their newborns and felt nothing but an emotional void, I know that this is not what happened to me.

But I have often wondered if my euphoria at the birth of both of my kids was largely a result of the powerful hormones which surged through me as they were born. How else do I explain the abrupt shift from my zombified, pethidine-induced stupor during my 21 hour labour with Levi, to a state of divine, lucid clarity the minute this smiling boy was born (yes it’s true, my son was literally born with a smile on his face)?

And when I brought my babies home I, like many new parents, spent a ridiculous amount of time gazing in awe, wonder and amazement at the perfect sleeping human beings who had somehow emerged whole from my person. But were these feelings love?

Sure, I felt protective of my babies. The sense of responsibility was enormous and I was the proud new owner a sinister new level of fear about the infinite dangers which surround a child. But was this love?

I do know that I loved being a mother. During my stay-at-home years I walked on air. I treasured having my two little ones with me all the time. I loved the gentle pace of our days and I alternately revelled in and raged against the challenges parenthood presented. I thrilled to the total experience.

Did this mean that I loved my kids? I don’t know. Perhaps I was merely in love with myself in my incarnation as ‘mother’ and, if so, maybe that exalted feeling extended to my kids because they were the beings who inspired it?

Of course I had heard all the usual descriptions of motherlove, sometimes breathlessly recounted by Hollywood celebrities in the trashy magazines I skimmed as I waited at the supermarket checkout. They came thick and fast:

“I finally realise what’s really important”

“My baby has changed my life.”

“I can’t believe the overwhelming love I feel for this little person.”

“Everything falls into perspective.”

Reading these oft-repeated and therefore increasingly banal (as heartfelt and true as they may have been) musings I found that they did not speak to me. Was that how I felt? Intrinsically motherhood had not changed me. My yearnings and neuroses and big questions about life didn’t change – except now I was a mother with yearnings and neuroses and big questions about life.

I knew that my children were my first priority and that my role was to teach, guide and walk with them through life, but then I knew all that before I had kids. Aren’t these things a given?

And so I had to look at my definition of love. I am ashamed to admit that, even at the ripe old age of 31 when I became a mum for the first time, my idea of love was still influenced by Hollywood love of the boy/girl variety. I think I was waiting for the ‘can’t sleep, can’t eat, can’t-stop-thinking-about-you’ juggernaut which had previously defined romantic love for me, to slap me in the face when I had my kids. So when it didn’t, as much as I was loving motherhood and telling my kids at length that I loved them, I still harboured  some sneaky suspicions that this wasn’t the motherlove I had heard about.

I guess what I had forgotten was the other kinds of love I had felt in my life – the abiding love I have for my mum and siblings; the I-love-the-person-I am-when-I’m-with-you love I feel for my best friend; the deeply satisfying and indulgent love I feel for literature and film; the hard-won love I feel for myself. I had forgotten that all of these feelings were, in fact, love. I also hadn’t realised that I felt all of these things for my kids.

So how did my motherlove epiphany come about? Well it is something I had glimpsed before – when I have ducked out to the shops alone and heard a baby cry, when I catch sight of my kids’ photo while I’m at work.

But, it was on my 40th birthday last year when my sister whisked my kids away as a birthday treat so that I could spend Sunday on the beach devouring the weekend’s newspapers from cover to cover that everything fell into place.

As I sat on the sand I was shocked to discover that I felt oddly bereft. Something was missing.

At that exact moment I realised that I really, truly, unequivocally and without a doubt love my kids. It’s an abiding, for-keeps, grateful, thrilling, satisfying, hard-won love but, most of all, it’s a you-complete-me love – Hollywood notwithstanding.

What does your love for your kids feel like?

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oedipal parenting 101

Do you ever wonder about the people who will walk through life with your children? Their peers, friends, lovers? Have you considered the fact that one day there may be a ‘significant other’ that they will love more than you?

I thought such events were a long way off. About the closest I have ever come to considering it is in my whimsical contemplation of the day my son brings home his first love. What I didn’t expect was that I would feel jealous of my nine-year-old daughter’s girlfriends.

When Indy started school I was concerned. She was quiet and fragile in social situations and I had been a full-time SAHM for most of her first five years – how would she cope without me? As expected it was a major transition. She cried every day for the first term and a half.

A friend of mine had a daughter starting at the same school. This little one was also a quiet girl, similar in temperament to my daughter. Each morning as the bell rang for assembly they would reluctantly peel themselves away from us and dawdle to their classroom, hand in hand – not in friendship but in fear. As the weeks went on they became closer and even exchanged a word or two, but I think they were allies and security blankets for one another rather than ‘friends’. Nevertheless I was cautiously optimistic about this blossoming relationship and hoped it would become something more. In fact I hoped they would become BFFs – because Best Friends have a special place in my heart.

When I was a teenager I had a ‘Very Best Friend’ and our friendship has been one of the most defining relationships of my life. Sick of the usual teenage nastiness we separated ourselves from the others at our girls-only school. During lunch we talked earnestly about life with all the innocent pretension only fourteen-year-olds can pull off. We imagined a future where we moved to the city and shared a flat while pursuing our career dreams. In the afternoons we would return home (this being the pre-MSN age) and write long letters to exchange at school the next day. Throughout those years the expression ‘you never forget your first love’ made no sense to me as I fumbled with sweaty boys whose names I can’t remember.

And then I realised that my best friend was my first love. I could never forget her.

Of course I want that love for my daughter. I want her to adore someone the way I adored my BFF. I want her to have someone to dream with. I want her to have an ally, protector and loyal confidante. Someone who will ‘have her back’ in the fraught world of adolescence. I hoped that this friendship might begin in primary school so that there would be the additional strength that a shared history can provide.

But I didn’t anticipate another player in my daughter’s story. During those first school days Indy was befriended by a girl in her class. Bella was a late starter and older than my daughter. Confident, outgoing, with a popular big sister in a higher grade, she gravitated towards Indy and determined that they would be friends. However, as time went on it appeared that Indy was playing the role of follower to Bella’s more dominant personality. And, to be perfectly honest, she wasn’t the kind of girl I had imagined as my daughter’s best friend, despite the fact that my head tells me you can’t choose your kids’ friends.

I tussled with the issue for that first year – vacillating between almost banning her from playing with Bella and trying to trust her. I never thought I would be the kind of mum who vetoed her children’s friends. The fact that I was surprised me.

As did some of the other emotions I felt – and still feel.

Recently Indy brought home a cuddly toy. I asked her whose it was. “It’s Bella’s,” she said, her voice full of happiness. I got a pang of what can only be described as jealousy – immediately followed by guilt. Isn’t this what I want for my daughter? A girlfriend she can love?

That evening Bella phoned her. I watched as Indy cradled the receiver between her shoulder and ear, hugged the toy in her arms and assured Bella that it was safe. Later, as I was putting her to bed she pulled away from me distractedly. “What are you looking for sweetheart?” I asked. “Bella’s cuddly,’ she said, frantic. When she located it she tucked it into the sweet zone next to her heart – the place where I used to live. The green-eyed sting was intense. I kissed her and said goodnight, trying to maintain a semblance of my normal self. I had never heard other mums talk about feeling jealous of their child’s friends. What was wrong with me?

Some days I feel as if I’m walking through a Greek tragedy – or at the very least a Freudian psychotherapy session. It was Freud who appropriated Sophocles’ play Oedipus the King – the epic tragedy where an inescapable prophecy sees the title character kill his father and marry his mother, arousing age old taboos about parenting and children. Freud used the term The Oedipus Complex to explain the origin of certain neuroses in childhood. The complex is often defined as a male child’s unconscious desire for the exclusive love of his mother.

But where do I fit in this as the mother who feels misplaced when her daughter falls in love – as she must –  with females who are not me?

Sometimes I feel that I will always be the ‘winner’. I am, after all, ‘The Mother’. As such I occupy a cultural position which is often exalted across space and time.

Paradoxically, I will always be ‘the mother’, which means I can never be my daughter’s best friend – not really, not in the way a peer will be.

I just hope that the girl who gets chosen for that honour realises how lucky she is.

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birthday gifts

Dear Sienna,

If things had gone as planned – as promised in the ideal world I used to live in – you would be turning four today. Anzac Day wouldn’t be just Anzac Day; it would be your birthday. And I would probably be wondering if the shops were open because I forgot to buy sprinkles to make the fairy bread for your party.

Things would be different.

But it isn’t your birthday today. Today there is no four-year-old girl at our house. Your big brother is still the baby of the family – though at eight he really isn’t a baby any more. When I see him with our puppy – the way he cuddles and calls him ‘Bubba’ – I know he would have been a great big brother. He’s not supposed to be the youngest.

And Indy? Well I know she wishes she could say the words: ‘My little sister’ without watching them fall to the ground – all meaning lost because you’re not here.

Today – on your would-be birthday – I wonder what you would look like. I remember ‘four’ with the other two. Such a gorgeous age. Would you be blonde like them? When you were born you had your brother’s legs and chin. Your eyes were the same beautiful shape as your sister’s. As tiny as you were there was no doubt you were so much like both of them. I wonder: what funny things would you say if you were four? Who would your little friends be? What would you like to eat? Would you have a favourite toy? TV show? Bedtime story?

But all of this wondering comes to nothing. Because you are not here.

Things are different.

In the void after I lost you I returned to writing. I wrote about you. That was the beginning. A collusion of inexplicable good fortune saw me land a most amazing job. Through it all I fell headlong back into a long lost love affair with the world of words. I became more *me* than I’d ever been. Because of you. The gift of you.

But you know I’d give it all back in a heartbeat if I could have you. Never gonna happen. Because everything is different now.

I don’t believe in heaven any more. Not because of you. Just because. Words like ‘god’ and ‘soul’ and ‘angel’ don’t sing to me. But there’s still one thing that does.

When I planned your funeral I struggled to find a song to play. The funeral people had some suggestions – and yeah Eric Clapton’s Tears in Heaven breaks everyone’s heart but wasn’t right for you. But, the day before you were to be born I got in my car and there, on the radio, was the song.

I knew immediately. Ok, it turns out this is one of the most requested funeral songs ever, so I am rather predictable after all. Nevermind. It still works for me. And this is why. As always, it’s about the words.

When I’m feeling weak/And my pain walks down a one way street

Yep. Not only do I love me a metaphor, but I’ve been down that one way street.

There’s also this:

Down the waterfall/Wherever it may take me/I know that life won’t break me

Yep again. When you’ve been through the worst you kind of adopt a bit of a ‘bring it’ attitude. It’s a strength that you have given me. Another gift.

And here’s the thing – the reason good ol’ Robbie Williams reached me in this way is because I *should* be loving a four-year-old little girl, but turns out I’m not. Call you an angel, call you whatever – but things are different and loving you as a memory, well, that’s what I’m doing instead.

So today,  this life of infinitesimal wonder, confusing and conflicted awe, marrow-sucking, torturous, life-affirming, mind-blowing, O Captain! My captain! Carpe diem–ness – today it sucks in the most exquisitely bittersweet way.

But, at the bottom of it all… I miss you.

Happy birthday.

Mummy

xx

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Filed under loss, parenting, writing

the best pr in town

The narrative of parenting is littered with clichés. From the ‘being a parent is demanding but oh so fulfilling’ proclamations to the constant worship at the altar of ‘unconditional love’ and the declarations that life was somehow incomplete until the progeny came along, parenting is a public relations dream come true. But I find myself occasionally cringing at how readily we spout banalities when we become parents. It’s a soapbox I have been on before but I return to it again because of a little piece of parenting propaganda from the Hollywood machine.

The film I’m talking about is Baby Mama – now don’t get me wrong, Tina Fey is my total celebrity girlcrush and I get all tingly and excited when 30 Rock comes on the tele. But I found myself weeping with both sadness and frustration at the end of the film and questioning how such representations of parenthood both influence and cloud our perceptions.

Baby Mama tells the story of Kate, a single woman in her late 30’s who has dedicated herself to her career and now finds that she has left it too late to have a baby. (How many hackneyed ideas can you spot in that sentence?) Kate decides to go to a surrogacy agency to have the baby of her dreams. The surrogate mother turns out to be a fraud who deceives Kate into believing she is pregnant in order to make a quick buck. Unbelievably both women fall pregnant to their prospective boyfriends and have perfect babies – ‘happily ever after’ seems inevitable.

I chose this film because I thought it would be filled with irreverent humour and irony – and indeed Sigourney Weaver’s turn as the über-fertile middle-aged director of the surrogacy agency was my favourite part of the film. But what I objected to was the ending where everyone had a baby (naturally I might add, so there’s a slap in the face to anyone who may have conceived a child by other means) and the distinct subtext was that these two unfulfilled women would now be happy because they had entered the exalted club of parenthood.

I admit I was emotional when I watched this film (it was around this time last year, on the day my angel should have turned three) but when I shared my thoughts with my best friend she could see my point. While we both love our kids and now can’t imagine life without them, we wonder why we never felt that we could have chosen a child-free path. The unspoken understanding is that it is a choice you might regret – that the happy ending will somehow elude you if you walk the road less travelled. Our consensus was that, biological imperative aside, parenting has an awesome public relations team on the job. As my friend said, “Having kids can be wonderful but so can other things. And sometimes being a parent can be just damn hard.” But this is not something you hear often. If someone does dare to complain about parenting or their children it is almost expected that they will balance the expression with a platitude such as, “But I wouldn’t swap them for quids.”

After watching Baby Mama I was once again left worrying for women who do not have children – either by choice or by circumstance. How do they cope in the face of the overwhelming juggernaut of parenting PR? Anyone who has watched a friend or relative struggle with IVF or other fertility issues undoubtedly knows the answer to that question. And so this week I have been asking: where are the narratives about women and men who are not, and never will be, parents? Where is the happy ending which doesn’t have kids in it?

What motivated you to have children? Do you ever wonder what life would be like without kids?

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on memes and pox

I have no idea what a ‘meme’ is. Please don’t try and explain it to me cos much smarter women and men have tried. I dunno, something like ‘Helen Razer’s a homosexual’ comes to mind for some bizarre reason. Anyhoo. I take it to mean ‘crap people are talking about on teh interwebs’ but what would I know?

However, when I saw that the inimitable Kerri Sackville was writing about chicken pox, I wanted to get me a bit of that pox meme action. So here’s one I prepared earlier (as is my wont on this recycling paradise of a blog). Chicken pox and me have quite the history.

(Is nowhere near as funny as the Sackville one. Not that it’s a competition or anything. ;-))

The Itchy and Scratchy Show

There is officially a pox upon our house. Our six year old son, Levi, has contracted the varicella-zoster virus – or chickenpox to the uninitiated. And, as it happens, Levi and chickenpox go way back.

When I was pregnant with Indy a friend of ours contracted chickenpox. Neither my mum nor I could remember me ever having the virus as a child. Concerned for my little unborn one I rushed off to the doctor where it was discovered that I – like a contestant on Survivor – had immunity. Disaster averted. So when I was pregnant with Levi and my niece came down with the ‘pox, I happily went to visit her – feeling safe that my little passenger and I were protected.

A few months later our boy arrived. When Luke came over for a cuddle he noticed two distinct lines of scarring on our newborn’s cheeks. They looked exactly like preserved blisters. We pointed the scars out to the midwife and in double-quick time the room was full of rather important looking medical people. Levi was promptly whisked down to the neonatal unit and photographed for posterity. The head of the unit brought him back and informed us that, indeed, he had contracted chickenpox in-utero and would have to be examined for brain damage and vision impairment.

On Day Two I took my little guy for a brain scan while Day Three saw a visit from the ophthalmologist. “So what will we have to do?” I asked as he shone lights into Levi’s eyes. “Oh, we won’t be able to do anything,” he said, in rather clipped voice, “We’re just looking to see if he’s blind.” Not quite what you want to hear with a bunch of postnatal hormones running riot in your body.

But our son, while scarred, was born under a lucky star. On Day Four he was cleared of any chickenpox-related damage. As we went home counting our blessings we were warned to keep an eye on him in the future as he could run a remote risk of developing shingles – the reactivation of the varicella virus – rare but not impossible in kids.

So, last week, when one of the kindergarten mums told us that her son had chickenpox I dragged out Levi’s special story for a showing. Unfortunately, the next day the school rang to say that Levi was in sick bay, having become quite distressed at recess because of a ‘tingling head’. It seems his pre-natal exposure had not offered him any protection from his old nemesis.

An urgent trip to our GP eliminated a diagnosis of shingles but confirmed that our friend, Chickenpox, had come for another visit – and this time it was to be a visit of biblical proportions. Behind Levi’s ears, under his arms, on his back, torso and in his groin were a mass of bubbly blisters. He even had them on the palms of his hands and the soles of his feet, as well as some of the more dangerous ones veering close to his eyes. Over the next few days Levi had two febrile convulsions brought on by a fever of 40+, a ride in an ambulance and a night in hospital. Our poor, sick boy.

Hungry for information, I went to the guru – Google – as is the modern way. It was here that I made a rather disturbing discovery – The Chickenpox Party. In 2005, Shannon Henry wrote an article for The Washington Post titled A Pox on My Child: Cool! The article detailed the idea, held by some, that kids should contract certain illnesses in childhood in order to provide them with immunity in adulthood. It is believed that such illnesses are much more severe if we contract them when we are older.

The chickenpox party starts when one child contracts the pox. Out go the invitations to the gathering. Interested parents bring their offspring to this rather grotesque party and encourage them to eat from the same spoon as the sick child, cuddle up together and even play with the contagious blisters. Sort of like one big, poxy love-in. I’m not one to denigrate the choices of other parents but my little boy is so sick right now that the last thing he wants is a bunch of other kids over to visit, intent on playing Pop the Pox.

In Australia there is a vaccine available for chickenpox. It was not routinely offered until 2004 – two years after Levi was born. I wish it had been. My son is but a shadow of his former, energetic self and his angelic face is almost unrecognisable under the spots. This morning he sobbed when he looked in the mirror and wailed “Why me?” to the gods. I tried to console him by explaining how we sometimes catch things from other people. This just threw him into further distress as he recalled ‘high-fiving’ his best mate before he got sick. “I don’t want him to get it,” he said.

“Well, you will just have to go cross at the boy who gave it to you,” I said, hoping to cheer him up by apportioning blame.

“No,” he cried, with sad eyes, “he’s my friend.”

I wanted to hug him for his generous spirit – but he won’t let me touch him.

Damn you Chickenpox!

Have your kids had any of the so-called ‘childhood illnesses’? How did you cope?

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you love me how much?

Ok, so this blog is a haven for recycled pieces of mine. But that’s because I don’t think a lot of people read them in the first place. This one (slightly revised here to include the word ‘wanker’) appeared on Web Child about a year or so ago, but the mysteries of unconditional love still continue to puzzle and confound me.

You Love Me How Much?

I have long been a naysayer, disbeliever and hardened cynic when it comes to the theory of unconditional love. I have protested belligerently when the topic comes up in conversation – as it is wont to do quite often when parenting is discussed. I have been known to lament the fact that parents are inclined to – and I quote (myself) – ‘worship at the altar of unconditional love’.

I promise I am not being purposefully antagonistic when I take up this particular cause. Instead I like to believe that it is with a sense of philosophical purpose and the pursuit of that most wobbly of abstract nouns – ‘the truth’ –  that I push so fiercely against this idea (although perhaps I’m just being a wanker).

But has this week seen the conversion of the most skeptical of skeptics?

I have often wondered if I have been too strict in my definition of unconditional love. I have taken it to mean that you love (or indeed are loved by) another until the end of your days regardless of anything they do, are, think and say. It sounds impossible and unrealistic.

As a parent unconditional love would mean loving your child if they turn out to be a serial killer, violent paedophile or mass murderer. Could you still love Adolf Hitler if he was your son? What about Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy? What about the Australian woman who killed her lover and boiled his head  – would you still love her if she was your daughter? Recently, the media has reported that Martin Bryant – Australia’s worst mass murderer – is visited in prison by one person – his mother. Such stories seemingly play into the mythology of unconditional maternal love. I am left to wonder if Martin’s mum’s prison visits are really about love or, rather, a sense of duty, pity, guilt or even regret. Of course I hope to never know or understand.

The other side of unconditional love in the parental relationship is the love which is directed at you from your offspring. I have heard many a mum or dad wax lyrical about the sense of being loved unconditionally by their child – particularly when they are babies and toddlers.

Granted, toddlers do have a tendency to run ecstatically towards you when you have been separated from them for a period of time. But then again they also have the tendency to kick their legs, stamp their feet and even head-butt you in the nose if you refuse them any of their fickle desires. Unconditional? I think not.

And then, as kids get older, the battle-weary (i.e. other parents) have tales about nine-year-old daughters screaming, ‘I hate you’ or teenage boys causing the kind of heartache and anguish you would not inflict on a person if your intention was to love unconditionally. With all of these things in mind perhaps you can see why I have been unable to wholeheartedly embrace this particular parenting religion.

I’m sure that I should offer a disclaimer here: so let it be known that I have adored my kids since their conception and can’t imagine life without them.

And I guess I *have* known that they love me back, but I don’t think I have ever felt that they loved me unconditionally (according to my definition). I admit that when they were much younger I definitely felt unconditionally needed – after all, for ten months I was almost exclusively their source of nourishment. And I have also felt unconditionally wanted – the separation anxiety both kids felt when they started childcare was evidence of that. But unconditional love? I don’t think so. At least not until now.

It went like this: Last weekend I had arranged a session with a photographer so that we could get family photos taken. I don’t like to have my photo taken but we have barely a handful of photos of the four of us together so I had to bite the bullet. The day before the photo shoot I bought a new item of make-up. That night, as Indy and I cuddled up to watch a movie she looked at me and said, “Mummy, why do you have so much make-up?”

“Well sweetheart,” I replied – a lifetime of insecurity and issues about my appearance coupled with my simultaneous rage against society’s cult of beauty and my desire not to pass any of that to her, jostled for attention – “Sometimes I just want to look nice.”

With an expression of unguarded honesty Indy looked at me and said, “Mummy, you always look beautiful – even without make-up.” At this stage the cockles of my heart were warmed but my inner cynic was still scoffing. However, the defining moment was yet to come.

Indy continued, “But,” she said as she snuggled in closer , “Maybe you should wear some make-up for the photos – other people mightn’t see you the way I see you.”

With that one sentence I became a believer.

Do you believe in unconditional love?

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no country for old women

Ok, it’s my birthday on Monday. I am *so* going to rock 41. Can’t wait.

But no-one really cares about 41. Not like they cared about 40.

So here’s one I prepared earlier – like, when I was 39.

But it still works. W.B Yeats gets me every time.

No Country For Old Women

In six and a half months I will turn 40. There, I’ve said it. Am I concerned about this big number? Not in the slightest. Should I be? The answer to that is a little more complicated.

I was the girl who always got asked for ID at nightclubs so I have never really felt my age. My nightclubbing days ended when I had my first child, and I expect that if I put on my party duds now and headed out on the town I would probably be waved (or laughed) through the door without a second glance by every bouncer worth his badge. But I still don’t feel old.

I think I still look the same. Or at least I did until recently. A few weeks ago I was going through some old photos and found one of me at a friend’s wedding about fifteen years ago. It’s one of the few photos that I really like so I proudly displayed it on my desk. “Who’s that, Mum?” asked Indiana pointing to the Ghost of Mummy Past as I scraped my ego from the floor.

Okay, so maybe I do look a little different but I definitely still feel the same. I am as ridiculously healthy as I have always been. I can do everything I used to do except for cartwheels – and that’s just because I don’t have time to practice. But trust the medical profession to rain on my Botox-free parade. It seems all my aging is happening on the inside – I’m a sort of modern, female Dorian Gray.

The first indication of a covert attack by the forces of time – my ruthless nemesis – came after a recent run of miscarriages. I considered myself the random victim of an unexplainable mystery. That is until a kind young doctor thought he was being helpful by giving me the old, “It’s probably your age,” routine. Excuse me? One throwaway line and I had traversed the generation gap.

The second wave came a few weeks ago when I noticed that a certain area in my breast had an ever so faint, niggling pain. Because I have had a lot of pregnancies (eight at last count) my breasts have undergone quite a few changes and I had lost sight of what was ‘normal’. I rang our local BreastScreen provider but – here’s the irony – because I am under 40 I am too young for a free mammogram.

Not prepared to wait until next year, my doctor referred me for a mammogram and ultrasound. It turns out I have a cyst in my breast which is supposedly nothing to worry about. Except for the fact that my Google search revealed that breast cysts usually affect “middle-aged women from 35 upwards.” Excuse me again! Middle- aged! Perhaps I do have something to worry about.

Irish poet William Butler Yeats was the first to declare that this is ‘no country for old men’ in his poem Sailing to Byzantium. And I have to say I was starting to agree with him. The poem declares that:

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick,

Yes, I had started feeling a little paltry what with all this talk about age and getting old.

But I persevered with my friend Yeats. And I believe he has a solution. The next part reads:

unless

And it’s the ‘unless’ that is important.

unless

Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing

For every tatter in its mortal dress

There’s my answer.

I invite you all to my Getting Older Party. I’ll be the one in the corner clapping and singing loudly in my tattered mortal party dress.

Do you feel your age? How do you deal with getting older?

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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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