Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Letter To A 29 Month Old Barista

My darling Tricky
As I type this you are struggling with your father who is trying in vain to give you dinner.
You are kicking him and shouting NO I WANT STORY! There is something very poetic in this scene, something about art before bread or somesuch and being your mother and a feckless artiste herself I, of course, understand your passion, but also it's a wee tad annoying because we are actually at a friend's house on Lake Macquarie for NYE and all the other kids are eating outside and I'm trying to blog my last post for the year, as well as your monthly newsletter which is a trillion days late.

It's bad enough that I've abandoned our friends for the computer without having you loudly drawing attention to the fact. And frankly, i thought you loved tortelini (I know the tomatoes are a stretch), or at least you did at lunch.

Also Mummy's a bit pissed, can you tell? Nothing serious, two glasses of champagne, that's all. Since having you I've become the proverbial two pot screamer and whether that's due to the sleep deprivation or some hormonal biz I couldn't tell you. Also my feet are bigger. How wierd is that?

As are your feet. And your legs. And your lovely mop of curly hair. You seem so tall when you stand beside me, at hip level, with your arm wrapped around my thigh. When we arrived at the house today you stood like that for a long time, even though you know all the kids here and all the adults, coyly gazing at the floor. It's such a far cry from your loud shouting, specific demands, intricate songs and secret language raves. Like your mother you take a while to warm up.

For posterity I shall record your latest song which i'm pretty sure is completely made up and not a bastardisation of some daycare melody:

Oinka boinka oinka boinka
da da da
Hairy Scary Hairy Scary
da da da

What does it mean? No idea, but the other day I casually started singing Oinka Boinka and the grin on your face was fabulous. It was like you'd cracked a joke a while ago and I'd brought it up again and then we sort of sang it together, chuckling. My how we laughed and I'm hoping that it's a clean joke and not for instance a reference to that day you got into the shower with me and loudly pointed out my missing appendage.

You adore trains and the whole ritual of boomgates and cars stopping and the ding ding ding. When we go out to coffee in the mornings you ask if we can go to the 'train cafe', a groovy little place in the carpark of Hamilton railway station. We sit so we can see the track and the boomgates and as soon as we see the red lights flash Some Convenient Adult must whisk you up and rush you out to stand on the bridge. It's a complete bugger and hell on the thighs as we run up the steps with you in our arms and thank god the coffee is good.

This Christmas was lovely lovely lovely and yet there was a lot that could have gone wrong wrong wrong, your grandparents having moved into their new place and nearly killing themselves in the process. Your favourite present, hands down, was the wooden garage your Uncle P gave you. His dad gave it to him when he was a little tacker and he still had it some 20 or so years later. He found it shoved in the back of the cupboard of his old bedroom during the move and decided to repaint it for you. Your Aunty R and Aunty T gave you cars to match and the result was nothing short of sublime. You moved cars and drove cars and fixed cars and had tiny wee roadrage episodes. 

It was all very typical boy stuff which is fair enough. You played and played and then... you got out your pink teaset and utilising a firetruck with extendable ladder as a moveable boomgate you suddenly were running your own 'train cafe'. 

This morning you gave me a cup of coffee which you 'spilled' and 'wiped up'. When I complained and asked for a caffe latte you gave me a plastic knife. You also offered me banana bread but failed to deliver. I'm giving you one more go and then i'm writing a letter to management.

We are having a bit of a session with rules at the moment. As in: No Screaming In The House. My parents new house is quite sturdy but it's a little small and the sound travels like nobody's business especially at 5.30 in the morning. Other rules include: We Don't Push and We Don't Pull Hair. One rule I haven't activated is We Only Do That When We are Alone And In Our Bedroom but it may well be on the horizon.

At the beach today you said to me sternly; We Don't Eat Sand.
That's right, i nodded as I towelled him dry.
And We Don't Eat Dirt.
Neither we do, I agreed.
And...We Don't Eat People.
Quite true. Although exceptions are made for footballers who crash land in the Andes.

We were at Newcastle beach and for a few moments we stood together, the three of us, by the large round kiddy pool, carved from rock. I wrote about this pool once before, long ago, here, Your father and your mother, standing together, kissing in the moonlight at the start of their relationship. I wrote about fear and about wishing for a child and and about despair and how maybe it would only ever be the two of us. 

But today, on the last day of the year, we were three.

We saw a pelican and seagulls and you held a tiny starfish in the palm of your hand and we were immeasurably happy.

It's a new year coming and so your parents are reflective and regretful and hopeful and appreciative.

But it's just another day for you and so you shout and laugh and ask for dinner when it's been cleared away and run away from putting on your mumpy and you sing and smile and love, just like any other day. You have no idea why we're here, all these shrieking pint sized kids, your little friends Claudia and Sebastian, Morgan and Jack. 

And their mothers and fathers, watching with loving smiles, all made parents in their late 30s and 40s. Grateful. Tired. Happy. And much to celebrate.

Worth another glass of champagne at least.

Your very own


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Book Review: Emily Waits For Her Family

The literary world of Tricky is a turbulent place, full of fast paced action and lurid colour. Here oceans are in commotion and rumbles occur in jungles. Yes Bobo gets his hug and Hannah gets taken to the zoo to see her gorilla but not before much adventure and emotional upheaval. 

If Lola is allowed to look after Marv’s dog Sizzles, it’s dollars to doughnuts that Sizzles will not only be lost he’ll be mixed up with another dog that looks exactly like Sizzles. 

It’s a crazy, green eggs and ham eating world.

 And it is here, amongst all the noise and chaos I find myself reading out loud a small mint coloured book. A quiet gentle book. That rhymes. 

Emily Waits For Her Family is the first in the Emily The Chickadee series. I’m a little behind the 8Ball here in Australia, I’m pretty sure we have no chickadees here (not in Sydney anyway) but there are any number of delicate pretty little birds all at various stages of extinction so I get the gist. 

In this book, a little girl spies a chickadee who builds a nest in a window box and there, nestled amongst the flowers, lays three eggs that eventually hatch into the ugliest boggly eyed chicks you’ve ever seen. That’s not really part of the story but it certainly made me laugh when I got to the picture. Time is a great beautician for the chickadee brood and quite soon they are just as attractive as their mother. And now all four can flap above the head of the little girl who spends her time lounging about in flower beds and gazing up at her feathered friends. End story.

 I have to admit I did not hold out high hopes for Emily et al on my first read through. Where were the lost dogs? The gorillas wearing hats? There were eggs yes but they weren’t green and no one was being exhorted to Eat Them. 

And also the rhyming. I am not a natural fan of the rhyming children’s book. I often find the rhyme overtakes the story and it happens a bit here too with a lot of enforced rhyming with “chickadee”.

 Gentle, charming, delightful. These are the words that spring to mind to describe Carol Zelya’s book with illustrations by Kristin Metcalf. The author’s note indicates her aim of “educating children about nature’s precious gifts all around us when we take the time to notice” an intention I would applaud but perhaps not necessarily feel the need to mention since it seems a tad preachy. Luckily this is in the back of the book, not the front. 

I did very excited by the bonus chickadee checklist for readers to log the movements of the chickadee in their own back yard (we scored a fat zero sadly).  

 Finally I have to put up my hand and admit, to my surprise, Tricky enjoyed this book – to the point of throwing aside Lola and her search for Sizzles the dog, and asking for “the birdy book.” 

He listened, he counted the eggs and the birds, and he asked me to read it again when I was finished. Which was a gentle reminder to this book reading mother that stories do not always have to be high concept or fast paced to be engaging for children.


Emily Waits For Her Family

By Carol Zelaya

Illustrated by Kristin Metcalf

Richlee Publishing

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Say so

Tricky's vocabulary has been increasing in leaps and bounds.

Many's the time we sit and chat, he and I, perhaps over a chilled sippy cup of milo milk and a zucchini muffin.

Early in the morning we might discuss a passing garbage truck ( iss got fashing lights!) or ponder the mysterious opening and shutting of a neighbour's garage door (door go up and car comes out. Now door go down!).

We might lightly debate the pros and cons of watching Charlie & Lola before we have our weetbix (YES! Mine watch NOW!) , or playfully spar over whether or not we really need to wear trousers. (NOOOOOOOOOOO!)

Of course I am not particularly essential to his conversation skills, he'll happily yarn with his teddy bears or his dinosaurs, and often in the bath he likes to have an indepth chat with his penis.

Every now and then he will come up with something unexpected. For the past week he has been shouting at me, apropros of nothing, Jinx! and then, even more intently, Personal Jinx!

In the car, if he spies a telephone box, he will call out Red Fox!

The other day I put Tricky on the phone to speak to his father who has been working for the past few days back in Country Town.

Say hello to Daddy, I said. Tricky did not say hello.

What he did say was: DADDY IS A PLONKER.

It seems Tricky has also been been doing a lot of vocabulary practise with his cousins, the Naughty Nephews. Three days a week they travel together to and from school/daycare. It's a fifteen minute car ride but this is ample time to teach your baby cousin about spotting red foxes and casting jinxes and personal jinxes, not to mention plonkers. I have asked the NNs not to say this anymore, with particular emphasis aimed at Naughty Nephew 2.
("Even if you do change it to John Howard, I don't care, no more plonkers.")

This morning it was my turn to drive them and after an obligatory round of Twinkle Twinkle and a few Red Fox! spottings, Naughty Nephews 2 and 3 got down to brass tacks.

Say Ferrari, says NN3

Say Honda Odyssey, says NN2

Fahwee. Ondassee

Say Father Christmas... say Al Qaida... say Plonker... HEY! I call over my shoulder.

Ok, just say Father Christmas.

Lessons halt as we park the car and everyone gets out. Tricky is fascinated by school and loves walking in the gate with the Naughty Nephews. He is facinated by all the big kids in their matching clothes.

It makes me a little moist-eyed to see him, hand in hand with his cousins. In his big hat and shorts he almost looks like a junior version of them, except instead of school colours he has on his stripey shirt with the robot and his hat is lime green, not institution blue.

Bye boys, I call after them, come on Tricky - time to go to daycare. Say goodbye.

Say goodbye, says Naughty Nephew 3.

Say mustard gas, says Naughty Nephew 2.

But Tricky, all big eyes and stripey robot shirt, says nothing at all.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

I won't have what he's having

It was lunchtime when I went in to visit Grandis again. He was sitting upright in the chair beside his bed. As I entered the door I smiled hello to the three other elderly women patients sharing his room, pausing by one woman who had been bedridden almost as long as him.


Grandis waved me over impatiently to sit in the chair beside him and started twitching at his hospital gown.

Actually I have, I hastily replied, when you were doing your physio. How are you today?

NOT BAD, he shrugged.

The lunch trays arrived and I busied myself with releasing his salmon sandwich from its packaging and fixing the spouty lid to his Vanilla Sustagen.

As he ate, we made a little small talk about the earthworks going on outside ths window (SOME SORT OF TRENCH I’D SAY), the weather (I HEAR IT’S REAL SWEATY) and the fact that the clock on the wall facing his bed had finally been fixed. (ABOUT BLOODY TIME I SAY!)

With Grandis it's often a case of the louder the voice the higher the spirits and I was pleased to see how well he was obviously feeling. So well in fact, he was going to be moved out of the hospital bed to a high care facility as soon as possible. Further enquiry about why he was not suitable for rehabilitation had been explained as only available if he was going to return to his own home (no) or to the same low grade care facility he had occupied before (no, needs help showering and toileting). There didn’t seem to be another alternative but Grandis was quite cheerfully matter of fact about what would come next.

You look so much better, I smiled at him.

He gestured to me to sit closer and, looking furtively about the room, lowered his voice to a bellowing whisper.


Oh dear, I muttered. Is that… painful?


I nodded, hoping that might be the end of the report. It was not.


Bit of cream? I suggested helpfully.


I glanced around the room where the other three patients, all with perfect hearing, were staring fixedly at their lunch trays.


I did see, and I smiled and shook my head a little, as if in wonder, at the clever ideas of these nurses.

Well hopefully that’ll do the trick, I said.

Grandis nodded and we sat in companionable silence as he knocked back his Sustagen.

He stopped mid swig, a sudden thought having come to mind.


I did indeed.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Screaming Tomato Fights Back

It started with a plug.

Just an ordinary bath plug, black rubber and some sort of metallic bit on top plus that ring thing you pull to remove the plug from the bath.

All part of the night time ritual - lovely warm bath, hijinks with bath toys, hijinks with peeeeenussss, too much splashing, sodden bath mat, wrapped in big coloured towel, mumpy, pyjamas, story, bed. However the crucial step missing from this list is the one where Tricky pulls the plug out of the bath. By himself.

This step was passed over because, stupidly as it turns out, I decided that the whole getting out of bath routine was taking way too long, it was late, last episode of The Wire (series 3) was waiting to be viewed on dvd, there had already been a fairly unpleasant experience the night before which was put down to toddler spending three nights in three different beds, I was tired blah blah blah...

So I pulled the plug myself and said...Right that's it, out you get, we've got time before bed for one quick...

...story was the word I was about to use but Tricky, indignant beyond belief that I had usurped his plug pulling duties, obviously assumed I was about to say nuclear meltdown.

So he did.

Sweet mother of god.

It was the return of the Screaming Tomato but a louder, heavier, screamier Screaming Tomato. One with teeth. And pummelling fists. And tactics.

My god, look at it! It's thinking! It can actually think!

As fast as we formulate a strategy, the Screaming Tomato formulates one back. A better one! With laser beams and rockets!

Throughout the screaming he kept up a running tirade of immediate demands and loudly disappointed observations of our parental methods.

I want water, give me water. WATER PEEEEASE (parent hastily fetches orange sippy cup of water) No, not water, no no no water. (parent quickly takes loathsome cup away) GIVE ME WATER! (parent rushes back with cup) Mummy hold! No, Tricky hold, NO, MUMMY HOLD WATER, HOLD WATER MUMMY! (parent holds cup to Screaming Tomato's lips, Screaming Tomato snatches at cup and flings it to ground.) Where is water?! Mine want water! WATER PEEEASE! MINE WANT ORANGE CUP. MINE NOT WANT ORANGE CUP. (Repeat several times until other parent appears to find toddler and mother on floor surrounded by several sippy cups in varying hues, none of which seem to be wanted. Action now moves to bedroom.)

We tried to ignore him, he screamed louder. We tried to calm him, it seemed to enrage him. We cuddled him, he slapped our faces. We put him in his bed and he stood up and jumped on the spot, all the while howling at the top of his voice.

At one stage, bizarrely, he told us he wanted to wee on the toilet. Alright, I said, thinking this change of strategy might break the circuit.

This has been a slow process, the toilet training, we have had success with wees for instance but not with poos. And suddenly, the tears stopped and Screaming Tomato suddenly turned into Angelic Aubergine, all winning smiles and shining eyes.

Mine not crying now, mine happy. Mine do wee wees and mine also do poo poos. They go plop.

C and I cowered on the tiles by his feet, almost weeping with gratitude.

Oh they do go plop! Yes darling, you're so clever! Good boy. Are you finished? You can push the button on the toilet, now. Wow. Clever clever boy.

But minutes later when he wanted to come off the toilet, there was no poo and within a minute there were no more smiles and we were tomato agogo and back to the MINE WANT WATER refrain.

At which point, in true B-Grade horror movie style, our brains exploded through our skulls.

Sheer exhaustion saw him finally fall asleep in his bed, we got to watch our episode (everything they say about this show is true) and then, a few hours later, it all began again.

Except now it was some ungodly hour in the early early morning.

And now it was time for the big guns, the MINE WANT CUDDLES routine. This is not toddler asking for the quick comfort of a loving hug. This is a demand for Mummy to squat on the floor by his bed and drape herself on him so that he can cling to Mummy's wrist or, even better, Mummy's hair, and Mummy shall stay like that until Screaming Tomato has dropped off to sleep, or better, ALL FRIGGING NIGHT.

I did resort to some stern speaking through gritted teeth, i did try and smack his bum at one point. I managed to not lose it completely because I kept saying, in my head, i will win this, I will, as I put him to bed yet again.

But man he was good. He was, as Omar himself would acknowledge, fierce.

And I tried to call SHHHHH from my bed and say in a quiet but firm voice SLEEPYTIME and eventually he wore me down to going over to his bed and patting him, and from there he got me down to the "cuddle" (but with intention of returning to bed) and then it was a slippery slope to allowing him into our bed until he fell asleep and carrying him back to his bed, and half an hour later when he woke screaming again it was game over, and he slept in our bed until eight oclock in the morning.

I know he's not posessed, I told Screenwriting Mummy, on the phone this morning after he was removed to daycare by his uncle.

At least I think I know that. But could it be autism? Or bipolar?

And I feel terrible just writing those words, but the truth is, last night and this morning that's how I felt.

Who was that angry toddler? What was going on? He was completely out of control. And what about the wierd Smiling On The Toilet routine. In retrospect that was what freaked me out the most because he seemed so happy. But I guess it did seem over the top at the time, happiness of the wound up, gleaming teeth, glittering eyes sort.

Screenwriting Mummy also has an angry toddler, slightly older, of the female variety, and she swapped back some of her own tales of Notorious Meltdowns. And we talked about all the changes in Tricky's life at the moment and also that maybe some sort of rapid development was happening. And then we also talked about how losing control of your toddler makes you feel like you also have no control over yourself.

He may be a screaming tomato, but he's my screaming tomato.

The thing is, I only get one go at this.

And I really hope I'm not screwing it up.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I'm baaaaack

I am back from the holiday in the country.

I would love to wax lyrical about the darling little house, the tranquil open fields, the nippy little horses, the cunning electric fences and the frigging flies, but sadly I have left my homage to pastoral living just that tad too late. It is now more than 48 hours since our holiday concluded and hence all residual created calm has been officially leached from my system.

Since our return I have managed to lose a book, a set of keys, a vital phone number, and my wallet. These were all found, eventually, but geez the stress.

I could be wrong but I think I can pinpoint the exact moment I lost the very last vestiges of calm.

It was this morning at 3.10 am when Tricky started kicking hard at the wooden bookshelf between his bed and ours and shrieking at the top of his voice: MUMMY! GIVE ME A CUDDLE!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

seeing stars

Yes it is a holiday but it is only about an hour from grumpy grandad's hospital and so i decide to visit him, because i am feeling a lot better.

His hospitalisation and subsequent amputation was probably the last bowl of emotional spaghetti on my great big mental tray. i talk to my stepmum about this and I find myself saying that seeing him in bed so helpless and so sick and thinking early on that he was trick or treating on death's doorstep has probably brought up old scary stuff about mum dying, and the looking after, and the waiting for, and the watching her die, day by day by day.

And also, also...the future fear, the ms stuff, the fear of one day being bedridden and helpless and dependent and maybe that's why suddenly i was all gungho about seeing grumpy grandad daily, being not just independent but indispensible.

And these are heavy meals i'm trying to balance on my tray, stodgy, sloppy, carb-laden unpalatable bowls.

Which may explain why, on this holiday, i'm eating a lot of salad.

And meanwhile, i note these things about my grandfather:

Dad has shaved his head with clippers (at grandis's request) and now he looks like more of a pirate than ever. My sister K takes a photo and sends it to me via her mobile phone; shaven headed grandis with K's 8 week old baby on the pillow beside him.

i knew this was happening (the shaving of the head) but even so, i receive the photo in sydney while i am in mid-conversation and it is so startling I exclaim oh fuck mid sentence and then have to explain myself.

I am with my grandfather when the young spunky physio comes in to give him some exercises. Suddenly i am privvy to his stumpleg waving about, out, in, out, in. It is not quite as startling as the photo of his shaved head but it looks like an escaping lamb roast, uncooked.

I note that he is quite jolly with cute sassy physio whereas he is quite rude to the male nurse whom he refers to as a WASTE OF SPACE, I say shhhh Grandis and so he lowers the volume to a gentle roar . He instructs me to write down the exercises that cute sassy physio gives him to do. I do so, in large letters, and then he gets me to borrow some surgical tape from one of the other nurses (one of the ones that he likes) so i can tape the exercises up next to his bed.

The blonde doctor with beautiful skin and flawless pores comes into the room. She tells me that Grandis is her star pupil. He pretends he can't hear what she is saying so that she has to say it again, louder and closer to his ear. His eyes are twinkling. I begin to tell her about how well he did with his exercises but he bellows over the top of me. It's almost like the Grandis of old, before the falls and the nursing lodge.


I glance across at Dr Flawless Pores and she actually giggles and says...mmm very wise.

Good lord, i think. My grandfather is flirting with his doctor.

Today i come in to visit him again and he tells me all about his day, the staff who have been visiting, the doctors, the specialists. I tell him about the wonderful holiday and the horses and paddocks and we talk about my parents and how they are moving soon into their new house.


We talk about his options, the future, he wants to just focus on getting from POINT A TO B THAT'S MY FIRST PRIORITY and I nod, yes that sounds a good plan. We talk about false legs and wheelchairs. we talk about him needing help to shower and toilet .

And we talk about christmas, how that may work, where he might be. I can't help thinking how sharp he is, his mind whirring and clicking, he's bored but he's still here. Mentally he's better than i've seen him for months, even before the operation, and the falls.

As I leave the hospital i talk to the discharge nurse and she tells me that he's been rejected for rehab. Not an appropriate candidate. Bed and chair only. Next stop will be the nursing home.

I stare at her and my face must crumple a little. i tell her that he is focusing on getting up, getting from point a to point b. She nods and repeats to me, not unkindly, (she's one of the nice ones after all) he's only suitable for bed and chair.

And i nod and thank her and leave.

One thing about being in the country. You do see a lot of stars. Tricky likes to be held up at night so he can point them out.

Tonight, back at the holiday house, i will be watching stars alongside my toddler.

Both the rising and the falling.

Monday, December 01, 2008

gone country

C, Tricky and I are having a wee little holiday in the country. We have a cottage for a week and it is surrounded by paddocks and horses and trees and other such oddities.
Also vineyards and although this was not a pre-requisite for holidaying it certainly adds a little flavour to the resting and relaxing.

I am feeling very in need of the resting and relaxing and despite my brave post about putting down the tray blah blah don't put the seventh bowl on top or you risk losing the lot blah blah the truth is, my tray had crashed about two weeks ago and how I get that spaghetti sauce out is anyone's guess.

Luckily I won a holiday in August. This is a bit like winning a chicken in that I won it in a raffle and also in that my chicken is coming home to roost ie. holiday now being had.

We have packed up our toddler and all our stuff and our computers although we have solemnly sworn not to do work on them (what?) and I have included my special foot massage rub and quite a lot of vitamins and so forth as I am still yes still hacking and spluttering away.

But we have left our worries behind. Mostly. And although i sometimes hear them tippy tap on the window at night I think they're a wee tad scared of horses. And chickens.

and that's good.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Letter to a 28 Month Old Mover and Shaker

My darling Tricky

As I write this I am hacking and spluttering away like some plague ridden feudal serf.
Most unpleasant.
The source of this latest bout of nastiness I am afraid to say is…you. Last Monday after we got back from visiting One Legged Grandis in Newcastle you had a blazing fever and then the coughing started. Soon after that my coughing started too. We have been a vicious circular Petri dish for at least the last six months and I estimate we get about three weeks break between bouts. Every one of which is of course different and special and it’s Own Thing.

Not unlike you, my darling boy.

As well as our Virus Du Jour you have also picked up from somewhere an alternative to your previous yes and no answers. This alternative is ‘maybe’ and it is usually in response to an adult like me asking a sensible question like “Would you like breakfast?” or “Have you done a poo?”

Maybe. Not particularly helpful but quite amusing, this month anyway.

I think one of your big achievements over the past two months has been sleeping in your big boy bed through the night. This is a shared achievement of course, many people are involved, many books consulted, many sacrifices made, and it is ultimately an ongoing project.

So when I say ‘through the night’ I mean give or take the mandatory curtain calls at the start of proceedings. Last night it took several returns by both the motherperson and the fatherperson and finally a fakely stern Uncle K to put you back and keep you there – it seems he told you that we had “popped out” for a few minutes and so there was no use getting up anymore.

Horrifying, yet effective.

Over the last few weeks since your introduction to Big Boy Bed-dom we have experienced the soliloquies, monologues, ballads, confessions and loud agonised calls for water/back stroking/doona adjustment. Over the weeks, as your vocabulary has grown, so too have your demands become more sophisticated.


Very hard to resist but resist I must if we are to get any sleep at all.

It seems however that once you are asleep there is no more waking in the night and making your way to our bed.

I combined a number of sensible strategies to achieve this small miracle, but the one that stands out is bribery.

Some weeks ago I identified that you have a great love for ‘little people’. Not the dwarven variety per se, but the toy or ornamental variety. I have some of these “little people,” Chinese thimble like figures made out of clay.

When you asked to hold the little people I gave you a couple, thinking they would be a good distraction while I changed your nappy (still known as a ‘mumpy’ most days).

When you gaily flung them to the floor and smashed them I twigged that a plastic version of little people was a damn good idea, but where to find them?

And when, one morning, bleary eyed, sick with lack of sleep after yet another officially Worst Night Ever I piled you and your cousins into the car, got shat on by a bird as I was arguing with the Naughty Nephews about who got to sit in the passenger seat, took them to school and you to daycare, stopped for a coffee on the way home and then wandered, still bleary eyed, still shat upon, into a local toyshop and saw gasp! A Box of Little People! I knew then that the Sleep Goddess had willed it to be so.

If you can sleep in bed ALL NIGHT I told you that evening, I will give you ONE of these Special Little People in the morning.
Your eyes grew wide.
Mine people, you intoned, MINE SPECIAL PEOPLE.
Only if you stay in your bed ALL NIGHT, I insisted. Will you stay in bed?

And lo the first of several all night miracles occurred. Will it last? Maybe…
I now have a ziplock bag of additional Little People I bought for five bucks at a market in Newcastle. They are not as shiny, nor special as the original Little People, some of them are actually animals, not people, but they seem to do the job.

Your tendency to covetousness would not be complete if I didn’t mention the other Special Little Person in your life. Well alright yes, there is new cousin baby L who is 8 weeks old now and whose feet you love to stroke but I don't mean her.

Instead, I am talking about that eternal friend to all mankind, the one you refer to as MINE PEEEEEENISSSSS.
Indeed you are such great friends that mumpy changetime has become a great feat of strength and control often needing two parents, because you don’t want your little friend to be locked away under your nappy. You want him to have the freedom to watch tv, play with your Lego and, as you told me this morning, have breakfast. You want to run and skip and jump, unhindered, calling loudly as you go: peeeeenisss, peeeeenisss, peeeeenisss...

As you escaped from me yet again this morning and went racing across the floor and into your cowboy tent I said to your father, I will check this but I am pretty sure that neither I not my sisters ever used to run around at this age shouting vagiiiiina, vagiiiiina, vagiiiiina at the top of our voices.
Your father smiled quietly to himself. My boy.

And you are a boy. A loud, joyous, shouting little boy who loves building towers at 6.30 in the morning with his blocks. Who adores ‘dumping’ on the trampoline with his cousins and little friend S. Who eats his porridge each morning accompanied by yet another rendition of Goldilocks by one or t’other of his clueless parents. You remember things, we drive down a street and you tell us your friend Dood lives nearby, we pass your friend S’s flat and you point it out and then excitedly reminise about the cake you had there on his birthday. You like to go into tunnels and luckily on the way to Newcastle there are several.

But you are still my baby and you still insist on certain baby habits I haven’t the heart to break. Like your milk in the mornings. We heat it in the microwave and sit on the couch and you insist on curling on my lap (or your father’s if he is doing the first shift) and you get me to hold the sippy cup to your mouth like a bottle and we sit there watching early morning birds and clouds and trees through the big windows and I watch your beautiful eyes and stroke your soft curls and feel you gulping down your milk, “nice and warm Mummy” and it is just lovely lovely lovely.
No maybes about it.

I love you.

Your very own



Friday, November 21, 2008

Just one more thing about my feet...

My darling friend Lucy(amusingly i had a little typo then and wrote 'fiend', also apt) in London has sent me a late birthday/early xmas present.

It is a voucher for a massage, manicure and (lovely feet ahoy!)pedicure.

Which, i think to myself as I drool over the beribboned certificate and brochure, is exactly what I need in present circumstance.

Then I get a grip on myself, because who am I kidding , isn't this exactly what everyone needs in any circumstance? Unless perhaps you hate this sort of thing and shy away from the thought of getting your tense muscles kneaded smooth and your horrid dry feet pummelled and polished and your nasty misshapen fingernails filed and painted.

In which case, I suggest chocolates.

But the thing is, another friend lent me a copy of Elizabeth Gilbert's much lauded Eat Pray Love and I have spent a few enjoyable hours lolling on my bed and massaging my feet and reading while the emails pile up and up and up... and in this book, 'Liz' goes through much to recover from what sounds like The Most Horrible Divorce In The World (with bonus new relationship breakup) and travels to Italy, India and Bali basically fulfil her book title.

And the universe works for her in mysterious ways, perhaps due to her insanely rigorous chanting and meditating, perhaps because this is after all a book, that she has written, and so in this story she actually is her universe, as it were.

But let's say it's because she has opened her channels etc and allowed the right things to happen/manifest and money, jobs, people, gelato and other necessities for healing fall into her lap when needed.

And so yesterday when out of the blue Lucy's voucher with the word PEDICURE standing out like a beacon appeared in my letterbox, I was shocked and delighted but also quite pleased that I was managing to manifest the things I need for myself and the universe was coming to the party.

Either that, i decided, or Lucy read my blog.

Just in case it was the first, I tucked the voucher into my bag and ducked down to the corner newsagent for a lotto ticket.

I'm thinking, ok pedicure, tomorrow three million bucks.

And though I haven't written about wanting three million bucks or needing three million bucks, i reckon it's just like that everyone, any circumstance voucher.

And/or chocolates.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

two feet under

It was Grumpy Grandad's birthday yesterday.

Only my youngest sister, K, was there to visit him. I feel bad about this but a couple of days earlier he had told me that he was sick of people reminding him about his birthday. Funny, I remembered him asking my father a few days previously if he thought he would make it to his next birthday. It was important then, when he was scared that he was not going to survive the amputation.

K told me that he mostly dozed through her visit except when he woke to grouchily accuse her husband, a sensitive and gentle man, of 'wanting something' because he had the audacity to say earnestly "Pat you're looking so much better, it's really good."

This is a young man who came in alone to the hospital on the night of Grandad's operation, after he finished work, to sit quietly by his grandfather-in-law and hold his hand.

Good God, I said to K. Did Grandad really say that?
Yep, said K. And in a really loud voice too so everyone in the ward heard and T went bright red and felt humiliated.

So... Grumpy Grandad in fine form, really.

A director I worked with once told me that the human brain is like a waiter carrying six bowls of spaghetti on a tray.

He can only balance six at a time and if he tries to load on a seventh the whole thing tips and crashes. Pasta disaster, as it were.

And so this week, juggling my six bowls plus the salt and pepper and a wedge of parmesan and one of those microplane grater things and a bottle of very rough red on my emotional tray, I decided to quit. Grandad was in a short term better place, my surfie-traditional-chinese-medicine-masters-student sister had flown back north, my dad resumed his holiday down south and that left me and my youngest sister K holding the babies.

And I felt exhausted and sick and on the edge of tears constantly and so it seemed a good time to head back to Sydney and the warmth and noise and exuberant energy of the Big House and the (not so) Naughty Nephews. But also I decided that I can't actually work during this time, that I had to let go of the Monday new play deadline and the eleven script assessments and the meetings for next year's productions and just sleep and rest and mother my son.

And to see my friends and their children.

And eat better.

And look after your feet, T the surfie TCM sister told me sternly. We die from the feet up.

She is not speaking literally, I don't think, although for diabetic one-legged Grumpy Grandad, it is almost true. These latest events began with an evil little ulcer on one toe, unseen, unfelt, untreated.

But the real beginnings, the diabetes, the lifestyle choices, the crappy diet that lays the foundations and points the way for our life journeys... he was a slum kid from Elephant and Castle in London, he was a soldier in the army in WW2, he moved to Australia in the fifties with his wife and kid. My sister-in-law N tells me that the first generation of children born to settlers and convicts alike in this country were significantly taller and larger and healthier than the equivalent aged children back in the mother country. And that was despite being malnourished.
Sadly for Grandad he was already too old at thirty-something to benefit from the miraculous air and sun and water of his new country.

Yesterday when I caught up with Operasinging Mummy and Screenwriting Mummy I saw how they had lovely neat feet with polished toenails. Whereas mine, with their split nails and hairy toes just looked uncared for and unhealthy.

You should massage your feet every night before you sleep, said T. And even pedicures are good, she added, because it draws your attention to your feet and makes you mindful.

And so I mindfully defuzz my toes and massage in the L'Occitane cream and think very seriously about booking a pedicure as a little Christmas present to myself.

And I laugh to myself as I hear Tricky playing hide and seek downstairs with his cousins and shouting wuntoofee coming weddy o nott!

Tricky and I go back to Newcastle today, refreshed and rested and with much nicer feet. Hopefully C will be able to meet us there after a big week in Country Town. I will be encouraging him to massage his feet too. And to briefly just...stop.

Sometimes it is very good to put down the tray, and maybe just dance around the tables a little and juggle the cutlery.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

good bad good

My dad arrives in the middle of the night and then the next morning he heads off to the hospital with my sister T.

I stay at home doing various toddler related duties. The last time I took Tricky to hospital, the last time I saw Grandad conscious and sporting both legs, I had to bribe him with half a bag of jelly snakes to sit nicely and be quiet. Toddler, not grandfather.

When they get back they tell me that there's no need to override the full active care decision at this point because, actually, he's um...better.

What are you talking about, I say? How can he be better?

But later, when Tricky is having a nap, I go into the hospital and the young intern pulls me aside. He is doing really well, she tells me. We had a horrible night but now he is having two other painkillers as well as the morphine and so the pain is much better managed, he's less yellow and we think that we have got all the infection.

She is an extremely beautiful woman with quite delicate features and as she smiles at me, delighted, I think that she could easily have been a very successful actor. Film even.

You know how they have that flawless skin?

She seems to be waiting for me to respond and so I say..."oh, isn't that great?" And I think she sees my confusion or my cynicism or maybe my close scrutiny of her perfect tiny pores and so she adds...but he is still a sick man. A very sick man. And I still don't think he will necessarily leave the hospital. But for now he is doing well.

And my face twists to register this good bad good news.

I like him, she tells me. He's feisty. And he gives us a hard time. but then...he's been through a lot, allowed to.

And so when I finally go in to see grandad and he reaches for my hands and asks if they are going to chop any more of him off I can say without a lie that they think they have all the infection so there will be no need to chop other bits off and that he has made the doctor smile because she thinks he is doing very well.

And that makes him happy, for now.

I am typing this on one of the pay internet computer thingies at the hospital. For some reason the wireless at dad's place is up the shit and I can't get online without extreme effort on my part. Everything seems to be so hard. Driving from Sydney to Newcastle I got round the corner to discover that some arsehole had smashed in part of the front of my car while it was parked on the road and the wheel was rubbing against metal. My car that was once my grandad's car, I add. And I'm tired and it's so hard doing this with Tricky.

This afternoon my grandad told me with annoyed surprise that he has been informed he will no longer be allowed to use his walker. I nod and raise my eyebrows as if the thought had never occurred to me.

And...he told me, it took four blokes and a woman to wash me today. they expect me to do it, I don't know.

Hmmm, I nod.

They couldn't take my blood, he tells me, so I told them what to do and now it's good.

That's good, I say.

He grimaces and I wipe his face free of some orange liquid and then clean out his nose, by request.

Is that good? I ask.

That's good, he grunts. Now what I really want is for somone to cut my hair. With the clippers, so that I don't have to bother combing it.

There are no black and whites in this dying malarky are there? I remember with mum it changed hour by hour, good news, bad news, good news, fucked news.

He's not in pain so that's good and the tube is out of his nose and now he will be able to eat slowly and that's good too. But then, he's got bedsores and that's bad, and the boss from his retirement lodge is coming to see him this afternoon and tell him what happens next. And that's going to be bad because it will be the nursing home. But then that's only if he makes it out of hospital and no one can tell us how long he has to stay before then. They don't think his body has what it takes to properly heal after the operation and so that's bad isn't it? Isn't it?

What is good? What is bad? What is hope? What is best?

He is talking and complaining and shouting and being "feisty".

His nose is clean.

His hair needs cutting.

He made the intern smile and there is no more chopping and so, for now, he's happy and that's enough.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Last legs

Poor old man. These are the words that flash into my mind when I walk into the ward this afternoon. 

Poor old one legged grandad, draped in his crisp white sheets, mouth open, tongue cracked and dry. Up his left nostril is a tube that will provide all nutrition from now on, above his bed is a new green sign announcing NBM.


Within the tube I see greenish liquid floating in and out his body like the tide.


Morphine is his friend. Morphine could be a much better friend but we discover this evening that “his family” and indeed himself have said they would like “full active care” meaning that he will have to endure a considerable amount of pain as various obstacles and setbacks present themselves.


My sisters and I flutter like angry sparrows. Who was the “family” who said they wanted full active care? It wasn’t me. It wasn’t me. It must have been dad and grandad, that first night when the doctor said his leg should be amputated.


But we realize that the only person who would know what that actually means, minimum pain killers, intrusive procedures in response to the litany of organ failings, would be youngest sister K, the nurse.


Grandad’s eyes flutter open and shut. The whites are still yellowish but the centres are clear pale blue.


Last night I dreamt that I was trapped in a room and my big toes were bitten off and I tried to run through a shopping centre with blood splashing underfoot.


He said he wanted to be alive for his birthday which is in a few days. I don’t think he will be. Or maybe he will but he will wish he wasn’t.


My dad is six hours away. He is driving back to Newcastle as I type.


I ask them to correct the name on the whiteboard above his bed. They have James written there, they call him James and indeed James is his official name.

But the name he prefers is Pat. And finally I ask them to correct the name and they do.

“Pat” It is like a suggested action for comfort.


There are three other patients in the room and I realize this afternoon that they are all amputees. Except for one man who sits, fully dressed, on the bed with his knees drawn up to his chin. I think he is saying goodbye to his legs. Nobody else in the room seems to get visitors but one lady is surrounded with loads of flowers.


They are talking about ventilators. Pat’s chest is wheezy. But if he has a ventilator that will be curtains. Curtains with a ventilator.


I stand and stroke my grandad’s hair just like I stroke my toddler’s hair when I am trying to get him to sleep, just like my mother used to stroke my hair when I was a little girl, just like I stroked her hair when she was dying.


Yesterday when my sister T left the hospital after seeing him, her last look at two legged granddad, a man walking on the footpath in front of her collapsed and died. He was talking on the mobile phone and he dropped like a stone and my sister grabbed at him and shouted DUDE DUDE WAKE UP. I think this was the surfer in her talking and then the Chinese medicine masters student with a recent first aid certificate took over and she thumped away at his chest while another woman did mouth to mouth until one of the passing ambos came and took over.  It was full on, she said as I gaped at her story. But in some ways it helped me to take my mind off things.


He has said that he doesn’t believe in any sort of life after death, does not believe he will be reunited with my dead grandma, does not even think his essence will be dispersed Harry Bliss style and he will float up and up, spreading thinner and wider, until he is absorbed by the trees around him. This is a shame because just outside his window is a veritable forest of beautiful tall roughbarked eucalypts and anyone of these would make a pleasant receptacle for one’s soul.


This evening it is made clear to me that my granddad will die.


The doctor tells me that she doesn’t think he will leave the hospital. She tells me that she told him the same thing when he was deciding whether to have the operation or not. He could succumb to the infection and just be kept comfortable on painkillers or have the operation to remove the source of infection. At the time I thought, well what would I choose, of course I would choose a shot at life, one legged though it may be. But now I learn that he will die anyway. He was always going to die anyway, there are too many things wrong with him. And so why did he have to have his leg cut off my sisters and I ask each other tearfully. He is in such terrible pain, why can’t he just be comfortable?


Because he made a choice, our youngest sister, K says. And we have to respect that. As a family we can override his choice but we have to understand that it’s what we will be doing.

But he didn’t realize…

But he thought it would do him some good…

But he’s in so much pain….

But it is his choice.


Then just as we think maybe he will drift off in a hazy sea of friendly morphine K tells us that if he does, they will administer Narcan to revive him and that will negate every trace of opiate in his system and so he will be hit with the full force of his post op pain and it will be like being hit by a bus. Worst case scenario, she adds hastily as T starts to sob and say we have to ring the hospital and tell them he has to be comfortable, we want him to be comfortable…this is just inhumane.


But his choice…


And so now we wait for our father, now three hours away, and we see how Pat is tomorrow. And as a family try and make a decision for a poor old man, a poor old grumpy man, rude and cantankerous, stubborn and abrasive. But loved.

Sunday, November 09, 2008


Grumpy grandad has turned yellow.

I have mixed feelings about yellow. It can be sunny and jolly and once I had a study painted yellow because I felt it was very condusive to creative writing but in clothes, for instance, it's a big no no (me being a winter and all) and in my grandad's skin it's all wrong.

But then it is all wrong, all this, getting to this point.

It was diabetes in the beginning but now it's Body Packed it In Disease which includes dodgy bladder, numb legs, dicky heart, several falls and (perhaps) a half tumbler of whiskey a night to get to sleep.

As well as being yellow (not exactly sure but I think medical term is "his liver=fucked") it seems that he will also need to have his leg amputated up to the knee. That would be that creeping infection in the bone.

They do that to you every time, those creeping infections. Start off as an ulcer, hidden in a pair of bedroom slippers, casually whistling, don't mind me I'm just going to loiter around and...fester.

Give them two toes and they take a limb.

Two weeks ago my grandad was already feeling that life deserved the big finger after day after day of botched and buggered up catheter business. The old feller was getting more action than it had ever seen in his tours of duty, except of course having a catheter inserted and reinserted and readjusted and repeat is very fucking painful.

At the hospital I looked at my grandad, helpless and yellow in his hospital bed minus his clothes, and teeth and glasses. And two toes. He is scared. If he survives the operation he will be in great pain and the lodge where he has a little roomette of his own will move him into the high care facility, the nursing home.

"You only come out of there in a chute," he told us once.

He is a big heavy man my grandad. He won't be able to walk and he won't be able to put himself into a wheelchair so there will be hoisting required and cunning bits of machinery...but the staff will be busy, said my youngest sister K, a nurse herself, and so they will end up leaving him in bed.

I stroke his hair, picking little pieces of flaky scalp off as I do and letting them flutter over the side of the hospital bed.

I rub his arm and note how his tattoo, the one he got after D-Day and the Liberation of Paris, is stained with blood.

My stepmother has been given a book on death and dying and I looked at it before I went into visit Grandis. It is a very good book (and when I get back to Newcastle I will note the name) with some very good things to think about. I took some photographs with me to the hospital, of the family, of my long dead grandmother, of my younger smartly dressed grandfather.

Yesterday we came back to Sydney to pick up Byron Bay sister T who has flown in to see him too. Later today she and I and Tricky will drive back to Newcastle while C drives for 6 hours to Country Town where he is working on an exhibition. Life continues.

As does death.

He won't be able to recognise these photographs, I thought. His eyes have been bad for a while and he's not wearing glasses, he won't be able to see a thing, but I was wrong.

That's Alma Louise, he pointed out. My wife. And there's old Pickles! Our dog! Now she was a, that's it. And there's the girls when they were little. And there's us in Penang when we went to visit them...there we are sitting outside the Snake Temple...

Funny old photographs, faces long changed or gone, full of stories and memories of the past.

The colours had changed, I noticed, but they do that, old photographs. Too much time or maybe a reaction to the plastic sheets in the old photo album. And I saw how those long ago people, the woman in the hat and the smartly dressed man wearing glasses posing happily by a stone temple wall seem bathed in a sickly yellow light.

Thursday, November 06, 2008


A few years ago I tried to write a one-woman show for a well known Australian tv and film actress. I had done some work with her on another project and she was someone I knew to have integrity and compassion. I liked her work and I liked her personality.
She was one of the people I thought of yesterday, at 3pm, as I hurried to pick up the Naughty Nephews and the Toddler Tyrant, with the radio up loud, listening to the announcement of the new President of the United States of America.

I was late because I had been watching the webcasts as well as making zuchini muffins and I was of course sleep deprived - the night before being officially the worst Night Of Living Hell ever (Toddler screaming starts at 3am, Parents' screaming starts at 4.30 am. All fall into exhausted sleep at 5am).

We had talked a little about the sort of play it could be, this actress and I, and she told me that when she looked at new scripts she looked for stories of hope.

There is too much darkness in this world, she told me. Too much anger, too much hate.
I can't be part of something that simply adds to the despair. For my children if not for me.
There has to be light.

Yesterday, I felt like the whole world was reading the same script and hoping for the same light.

For our children if not for us.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

don't stop now

God it's hard... doing this... trying to write...with half a brain...
I was talking to Screenwriting Mummy as we lolled over cups of tea and our various offspring/spawn of Satan/toddlers were raising tiny person hell nearby.
She nodded slightly, too knackered to actually expend energy on words.
We were trying to talk about the work we had been doing on a television series - both of us having written an episode- and this was a chance to catch up but also to debrief some of the process. Instead we slumped about, talked in half sentences, ate junkfood and yawned a lot.
Tricky, now seemingly entrenched in his big boy bed, is playing his parents for the mollycoddling amateurs they are. When, in some desperation, I turned to Christopher Green's excellent study in the area; "Toddler Taming", I discovered that C and I are textbook suckers for toddler related sleep deprivation mainly due to our willingness to fetch water, replace doona and spend hours stroking his back on demand. As well, we have let him sleep in our bed although in the wee hours I will generally struggle to carry him back.
Another playwrighting friend told me recently that her daughter still sleeps in the parental bed - at the age of five and a half. It was an improvement as far as my friend was concerned. Previously her daughter would cry loudly in the middle of the night until carried into her parents' bed, now she gets up and climbs into their bed herself.
And quite soon, I thought, she'll also be able to get herself up and pop over to the bakery for morning croissants.
The edit section on this blog is littered with the corpses of dead posts I half wrote before the mushbrain hit.
In the same way my Leunig wall calendar is crossed with never-made deadlines and opportunities lost because I've been too tired or fuzzy headed to knock up a proposal.
Which made this news so entirely miraculous:
Congratulations on your successful application to the New Work - Developing Writers grant category of the Literature Board of the Australia Council for the Arts. Please find attached your letter of notification and the contract for your grant...
This is a grant for me to write a second book, next year, which I am calling as a 'working title' (except I really like it): The Unreliable Observer's Guide To Pond Life.
And am I happy?
I tell you, I'd be jumping up and down like a mad thing, in celebration, except that I'm too frigging tired.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Last weekend we returned to the Parental Home to have our last few days of fun with my sister AJ and the Nephews/Niece. My sister and her family live in a small, picturesque corner of New Zealand; a country seemingly made of nothing but small picturesque corners and the occasional large flightless bird. They were due to return this week and while I had detected a certain weariness amongst my parents, I could also see that they would be sorely missed.

AJ, being the mother of an 8 yr old boy, a 6 yr old girl and a 4 yr old gorilla, seems perpetually tired but in a sort of gentle, gracious Earth Mother-ish sort of way. Whereas I, mother of a screaming tomato aged 2 and three months, am also perpetually tired, but in a thrashing, writhing Earth Worm-ish sort of way.

On Saturday night AJ, our surfy naturopath sister T, our stepmum D and my husband C went off to one of the local pubs to watch a rather grumpy Australian singer play her 90's hits. Meanwhile, my dad and I fed the all kids, bathed them and put them to bed.

With Tricky's new jack-in-the-box style of sleeping and the NZ cousins' own sleep related pecadillos, it meant some clever tactics for the grownups.

For me it meant attempting to be more calm, more zen about the whole sleep battle thing. One of my friends has a pre-schooler and she described the crucial period when she would lie next to her toddler, patting her back, until she fell asleep. It took about twenty minutes and this particular stage lasted for six months.

"Six Months!" I had exclaimed in horror.

"It's ok," she reassured me. "Once I accepted that there was nothing else I could do I just lay there and came up with script ideas. I wrote two animation scripts in my head during that six months."

So as I lay next to Tricky on the Big Bed and stroked his back (more doking Mummy) I tried to ponder script ideas and exciting new plays. Instead, all I could think about was the frightening news my producer had shared with me last week when she told me they were making a 'behind the scenes' thing to go with the television series and the writers would be filmed talking about their episodes and also their 'process'.

What could I say about my episode, I wondered. What could I say about my process? And most important of all, what should I wear?

Give or take a few false sleeping alarms (Tricky can be practically snoring but has his eyes wide open and ears alert for any sound of escaping parent. Mummy! More Doking!) I was out of the bedroom by 8.30.
My dad, I noted, had set up a chair between the bedrooms of the NZ nephews/niece and was sitting there, keeping guard and growling if anyone dared to sit up. Which was not dissimilar to the technique he used on my sisters and I when we were kids.

The NZ kids aren't naughty per se, but like most kids they are...well... intense in small spaces.

Also quite adventurous and selectively deaf.
These two things combined can be fairly gutwrenching for a gentle soul like AJ. My sister took her kids on an outing to the Sydney Aquarium. After a good hour or so of examining the sharks and octopi and multitude of brightly coloured reef fish, their little group emerged blinking in the sunlight and stood for a few minutes by the edge of the wharf. When AJ stopped blinking she found that her youngest, the gorilla, was missing.

After calling his name in more and more desparate tones she decided he must have fallen over the edge of the wharf and into the harbour. As she flung her bag onto the ground and prepared to leap into the water she heard an answering call - naughty gorilla child had wandered back into the aquarium and couldn't understand what all the fuss was about.

At which point AJ felt her knees buckle as she fell to the ground and howled.

This was probably the lowlight of her holiday, there were a few sleepless nights and shouty mornings, one rather badly hungover day which she couldn't really blame on the kids, but give or take some conflicts over eat your dinner! brush your teeth! and stay in bed! I think they all had a great time.

This was perhaps measured best by the intense reaction that occurred on Tuesday when, AJ enjoying her penultimate day in Australia with a relaxing hair treatment and a final jolly catch up with our younger sisters (and newest Tiny Niece) before her return to NZ on Wednesday, discovered rather late in the morning that she had in fact got her dates arse about. She had drifted onto T's computer to check her bank balance and called out in a perplexed tone: why does your computer say today is the 28th? Answer of course being: because it is.
It seemed that in fact, Tuesday, ie the 28th, was the day she was meant to vacate the country.
Not Wednesday.
Cue a lot of frantic and hysterical packing of two and a half weeks of collected holiday shite into three too-small suitcases. Also some handwringing over failure to properly farewell Aphwa, visit Grandad etc. Also, just sort of random non-copeyness. My dad described her as looking like a rabbit in the headlights as she stood in the middle of the bedroom staring, helpless, at first one suitcase and then another while T and K packed like demons around her.

I was in Sydney at this point but discovered the situation when I rang to find out how Grumpy Grandad was faring - another post - and then, while dad drove AJ and the kids two and a half hours to Sydney Airport I got online to try and check them in (only for domestic flights) and failing that, try to find the right number to call someone and explain the problem (you want to speak to a human, are you joking?).

The plan was for C to drop me at the airport so I could be there to help wrangle the kids (and my sister) to the check in counter and help keep them together until they could be shepherded onto their flight. This worked reasonably well, although there was one horrid moment when I tried to find my 8 year old nephew who had suddenly gone AWOL and I stood in the middle of the airport searching for a glimpse of curly black hair and thin running legs and thought:

Maybe one really is enough.

But then he was found (I told you I was going to the toilet! I did!) and all was forgiven and Crispy Cremes were selected and packed into handluggage (you can only eat these when you are sitting in your seats on the plane, with your seatbelts on!) and then my sister was in floods of tears again and mumbling about her wonderful family and how she must be insane...

And then they were gone.

Later that night as I sat by my toddler, doking his back, and trying to think of script ideas, I thought about how close my sisters and I have become as we have gotten older, how much we like each other as adult women.
And I remembered how, when I first caught sight of her oldest son, dripping wet from the pool, face split with a huge grin as he ran up to say hello, I nearly laughed out loud because his face was AJ's face but her face as a child - a face I hadn't seen for more than thirty years. It was like being in a time machine and being taken back to Penang and Werribee and Carlingford and all the little corners of our childhood.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A new stage worth toasting... nightly.

Today I picked up Tricky's little friend, Midget Vampire Boy, from daycare along with Tricky and they had a nice play together at home with Naughty Nephew the 3rd on our new trampoline. Tricky calls it 'dumping' and I find it hard to contradict him because it makes me laugh when he asks if he can dump on the tam-peen.

I say 'new' because we bought it last Christmas, or at least Santa did, but after having four boys dump up and down and wrestle and fling themselves from mesh wall to mesh wall, the trampoline is looking a little on the sad and saggy side.

Not unlike me.

When Midget Vampire's mother turned up, the very beautiful and talented Opera Singing Mummy, she looked at me with concern and said I looked drab and weary and a small vertical frown had developed across my forehead. OSM can say these sorts of things because we have been friends since first year drama at Newcastle University, when she was a buxom virgin in wholesome gingham and I was still learning to draw my eyeliner on straight.

Anyway my point is that the two of us sat down and watched the toddlers at play and OSM saw how Tricky soon tired of innocent dumping and instead took to wicked flinging all the wooden train tracks off the table and onto the floor, all the while with an evil little smile playing across his lips.

And then I explained about the hellish no-sleep nights we'd been having and she nodded. Midget Vampire Boy has just turned 3 and indeed has been responsible for many a hellish night himself. So she knew and was sympathetic.

She leaned across and patted my arm.

"Tricky's just going through a stage but I'm concerned..." she said and her voice was warm and caring, "that you won't have anywhere near enough alcohol in this house."

Interestingly I had thought the very same thing - not that there wasn't enough alcohol because I knew there certainly was - but that as the mother of a toddler it would be so easy to become a complete lush.

And then tonight, I put Tricky into his bed, and led him back twice and stroked his back and sat on the floor beside him and tried to be calm and not think about a glass of wine and by 8.30 he was asleep.

By coincidence (and not because of OSM's observation) I am having my First Ever Facial tomorrow. I am taking my other friend from uni, Screen Writing Mummy, for her birthday treat. She rang me tonight and we discussed plans and lunch and clothing to be worn.

And my big tip, said Screen Writing Mummy, re the facial, is this: Don't Fall Asleep.

And I swear I'll try not to, because obviously one wants to experience one's full money's worth and also one doesn't want to do that embarrasing snorty snore thing where you just catch yourself dropping off, but lordy if I'm horizontal and even just vaguely comfortable without a toddler screaming in my ear for water, I don't really hold out much hope.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Night Terror

We are just back from visiting the family in Newcastle and potentially the most appalling nights' sleep ever.

Not just us, the motherperson and the fatherperson, but also grandparents, two aunties and three little New Zealand cousins. And not just the one night, but three, although to give Tricky his due he made sure that the nights got progressively worse.

Last week, after a couple of harrowing nights where Tricky had managed to throw himself out of the cot several times in an hour, C rolled up his sleeves and transformed the cot into a Big Boy Bed.

Cue much delighted shrieking from Small Brown Toddler and insisting that it was bedtime at 3 in the afternoon.

Mine Big Boy Bed! Mine have seeping! Mine seeping now! Doodnight!
On that first night he curled up in his big boy bed with a grin. C and I put an arm around each other's waist and simpered at each other. So adorable. So sweet.

Too easy.

He must have been chortling into his gingham doona cover.

One night and one night only of uninterrupted sleep. The next and the next and the next saw Tricky imitating a jack-in-the-box and us re-enacting a scene from Groundhog Day, probably one that hit the cutting room floor.

We had been advised that the best thing to do was to take him by the hand and firmly lead him back to bed without speaking or making eye-contact.

This worked well the first time. I led him back to bed and he obediently climbed back in. I did the same thing about 4 minutes later. Then C did it a couple of times. We were both aware that we were trying to instill good sleeping habits in our child, essential healthgiving skills that would ensure the wellbeing of all, and also we were gagging to watch the next episode of The Wire (series 2) in bed (with headphones).

C and I were quite calm and grownup about the leading back, taking it in turns, tipping each other off as we spotted him approaching our computers, muttering out of the side of our mouths like a couple of bad ventriloquists.

Ooh, here he comes, I can see him in the window.
Is he looking at us?
Who's he heading for?
Ok, both ignore him and then when he gets close enough I'll grab his hand and take him back.

But Tricky seemed to think that the silent treatment wasn't really working and on about the fourth or fifth curtain call he decided we needed a good prompt.

Come on, Mummy, he said, as he grabbed my hand and led me back to the bedroom.
Time for bed. Tricky's big boy bed. Seepy time. Det into bed. Shhhhh!

There was no Wire that night. Instead, C and I, finally, beaten, turned off the lights and got into bed only to hear the ominous patter of little feet, followed quickly by the rabid scrabbling of little paws.

And yes I got out of bed and led him back to his Big Boy Bed. And again and again. But at some point in the night, half asleep, I got confused and put him into our bed and so The Toddler won, at least until about four in the morning when I awoke to find his feet jammed into my stomach and I picked him up and carried him back to where he belonged.

Which leads us to our little holiday in Newcastle to meet lovely little cousins/nephews/niece and to see Aunty AJ again and Aunty K and newest Tiny Niece and, bonus: Aunty T down from Byron Bay. Aphwa and Poppy's house was full and so Tricky had to sleep in his travel cot in the same room with us and so the nightmare began again. Except this time, although he could climb out of the travel cot he couldn't get back in and it was hot and the walls were thin...


Last night, the worst of all, Tricky woke (in travel cot) suddenly, at 11pm, and started screaming about...oh look who knows. There was something about Mummy and Big Bed and quite a lot of Water and I think there was something about the Global Financial Crisis...but really, when you are wrenched from your sleep by a howling monster of a toddler who arches and kicks in your arms and then tries to hit you across the face and then when given a sippy cup of water throws it on the floor because you haven't held it to his lips as he expressly told you listen when I am screaming, how many times do I have to tell you my hands do not touch the loathsome sippy cup and then finally when you do hold it to his lips he bites down and uses his teeth to rip the lid off ensuring he and you will be doused in water and now he really will scream because I am wet dammit, change my trousers this instant!

I am sort of laughing about it now but in that moment, knowing that everyone, adults and kids alike had also been rudely woken and were lying there, wondering what the hell was happening, and water dripped through my pyjamas and my child howled and bucked and kicked and slapped, I felt like some evil fairy had slipped through the window and replaced my darling little bubba boy with some horrendous mythical monster.

I shouted at C through gritted, I Have Had Enough, teeth and he leapt up and grabbed Tricky and dragged him out into the loungeroom where I would find them ten minutes later curled together on the sofa, Tricky's eyes large and dark as he silently drank cup after cup of water.

But before then, I got up and turned on the light to get a towel and dry myself and the bed off, and I saw my angry face in the mirror and my ugly clenched-jaw scowl, and who, I wondered, was the real monster now?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Having Your Cake And Eating It (also the icing and sprinkles)

This attractively garish and slightly fuzzy array of anti-oxident rich cupcakes was the product of a few hours of quality time between Tricky and myself.

Yes they came from a packet.
They were (gasp) sans buttermilk. That's despite my previous cupcake making experience.
Nigella would be turning in her rose petal infused milk bath.

No I don't know if Nigella has a rose infused milk bath. I do know that she's not lactose-intolerant so she may indeed enjoy le douche de la vache-juice .
(Please feel free to correct. I have decided to continue to apprendre le francais via blog comments only.)
Like Nigella to milkbaths, so too Tricky to this nutritious blue icing.
Especially on the big spoon.

No I didn't eat any cupcakes. The very sight of them disgusted me.

Yes they were eaten by a selection of children.

Yes those children are all related to me in one way or another.

While Tricky is enjoying the remainder of his health-giving green sprinkles (strange that he won't eat his broccoli with such enthusiasm), I shall just add that the title of this post was originally going to be:
Contracting Yet Another Flu Virus And Hacking Tiny Droplets Of Phlegm over Your Toddler Ensuring He Bears Your Infection, Spikes A Fever, And Has A Meltdown Just As You Walk In The Door At Daycare.
But, it didn't really have much of a ring.
Plus... no photos.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Scenes from my life...

Last week exploded like an egg in a microwave.

It started when I got The Phonecall from my producer-bosses asking me for the new draft of my episode within a matter of hours.

This was followed by another meeting with notes for rewriting over the next 48 hours.

Day then followed night in the strange floating world that is Rewriting Scenes Very Fucking Fast. It was uncomfortable and I consumed way too much coffee and chocolate but in a strange perverted way, I enjoyed it.

'You were in The Zone' one of my fellow writers observed, and yay verrily I was there, I did the tour and I bought the postcards.

I didn't even get the Second Phonecall, it went straight to messagebank but the gist was: my baby sister K (aged 29) had gone into labour 4 weeks early.

The baby was breech, she went to have accupuncture on Monday afternoon to try and turn the baby and within a couple of hours she had a foot in her birthcanal and a nightmare car ride to the hospital ending with an emergency c-section and...a divinely beautiful little tiny girl.

Cue Tricky and I dashing to Newcastle as soon as I had submitted my script, seeing Tiny Niece, blubbering over baby sister K and her husband for good measure and all the other things one does when a new baby comes into the world.

Our sister AJ is coming from New Zealand on Monday to stay for two and a half weeks. She is bringing lots of sensible sleep advice and her three kids meaning Tricky will be well and truly clubbed with the Cousin Stick...he will have met four in a fortnight.

In between the arranging and the phonecalls, the photos and the release drafts, the show and the baby, I find myself musing over how unpredictable life can be, my life for instance, and how that's not such a bad thing at all, although can be difficult if one wants to schedule a legwax say or an apppointment with the dentist - which may explain why I've never done the first and the second was two years ago .

As I held Tiny Niece and marvelled at her tiny ears and imagined nibbling off her tiny fingers (oh come on, don't say the thought has never crossed your mind) my sister K said to me...'do you feel like doing IVF again?'

'Of course I do,' I said, 'of course I do.'

And of course I don't, the last thing I feel like doing at the moment, in this crazy all-at-once dreamworld is pinch an inch and date the dildocam (and if I can't schedule my dentist how will I schedule Dr Lovely Accent) but I do, yes, feel like holding another tiny dancing baby that I call mine, and of course that sad soft yearning will never really go away.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Tricky is a water baby, born in July, Cancer, like the motherperson, much to her concern. (Oh dear, that means two over sensitive, moody as all get out, easily enraged, fiercely loyal, grudge bearing, easily spooked, crab people in the family. )
Thank God that C the fatherperson is a jolly Sag.
Tricky has not yet learned to fear water but that may come. His mother has nearly drowned twice thank you very much, Penang and Phuket, and every year when she joins her extended family at the beach be it Fremantle or Bronte, Newcastle or Byron Bay, she stays just that bit closer to the shore.
The water laps pleasantly at her knees and the fatherperson tries to entice her further in and when enticing doesn’t work, attempts violent abduction, but she is very good at the stern voice and the prune mouth and so he laughs and lets her go and stands on his head and waves his feet at her.
And now the fatherperson has a smiling toddler to ferry through the waves and carry on his back.
It is not quite swimming time here, the water is icy but already there has been fish and chips on the beach with the Naughty Nephews and sandcastle making at the beach and digging of personal puddles with new plastic spade and fork.
On the weekend there was a trip to Newcastle and that led to an excursion to the wetlands which was almost educational and may well have been if Tricky could read, say, or pronounce ‘catchment area’ or ‘biodiversity’. But instead it was all about walking with Aphwa and Poppy, the east coast grandparents, (as opposed to Gramma and Papa on the west) and a certain amount of dip netting aka “bishing”.

Despite many an effort with the dip net, the bishing was unsuccessful, in that no bish was actually caught although shoals of the things could be spotted weaving and darting through the swampy waters.

I didn’t bother taking pictures of the menfolk and their earnest, bloody-minded attempts to catch a fish for Tricky, I simply laughed.

The point with the dip net was really just to dip and empty into a basin to see if there was anything in the net such as weed, water beetles, leeches or damselfly nymphs.

The basin started embarrassingly with a bit of bark but as the day wore on a succession of sucking, wriggling, biting insect larvae were caught, examined, prodded and returned.

Back at Poppy and Aphwa’s house, the swimming pool (fenced yes, poster demonstrating CPR, yes) is also a great attraction, what with Poppy’s regular skimming (which is really just an oversized dipnet) and Jimmy the dog leaping in and dogpaddling from side to side.
And Tricky found a small broom and did some serious dipping and skimming with that. And it was good. Which is why, early on the morning before we left, with the fatherperson half asleep, and an extremely alert and cheerful toddler quite determined to dip the other side of the pool, there was a sudden splash and a roar and a very very loud and long cry for Mummy.
I did not see him fall and for that I’m quite grateful but I held his frightened trembling body and kissed his salty wet face and also the pale cold face of his father.
And that night, snuggled up together, C woke suddenly with a start and a gasp and the image seared into his head of his baby blithely stepping over the edge and sinking and rising to the surface and starting to sink again as C reached him and pulled him out.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Letter To A 26 Month Old DareDevil

My darling Tricky

26 months…wonderful yet terrifying.

“He (or she) is a real little person now!” others exclaim, as if, up till now, you have been another species. Possibly a meercat.

Perhaps this is because others now understand more of what you are saying. While we have delighted in your imperious commands and stern retorts for some time, not to mention your enormous repertoire of nursery songs, other folk have heard only a succession of goo goos and gah gahs with a few tinkle tinkles thrown in here and there. But now, when you sing ‘appy bir’day dear gamma,’ gamma does actually hear and understand.

You sing, you dance and jump on the spot (“I’m dumping! I’m dumping!”) And how you enjoy taking up new words, rolling them about your mouth and chewing on them eagerly as if each word was a warm tasty chunk: Avocado! Tomato! Medicine!
It's like we have gone back in time with the books because you are back in love with Commotion In The Ocean, not for the crappy poetry but for the hidden starfish that adorn each page.
"Where is the TarFish?" you demand of us. "It is somewhere here," and you swirl your chubby hand in an imperious circle over the page, helpfully allowing us to find the tarfish for the billiontieth time.

Just as we get excited about your language so too you kindly let us know when we have managed to correctly identify an item.

"Tricky is that your avocado you threw on the floor?"
"Yes mummy, it IS mine avocado!"

"Tricky is this your toothbrush in the bath toys?"
"Yes, it IS mine toosbwush!"

Of course along with all the rights of morphing from meercat into Real Little Person come the responsibilities. Frequent spontaneous expressions of joy for instance. (Tick) Also kissing of parents without being directed. I’m giving you a tick for this one too even though I note that your most recent version of giving a “diss” is you pushing your open mouth against my face, and rolling your own face from one side to another.
It’s like I’m a lump of shortcrust pastry and a small damp rolling pin is preparing me for a citron tart. I can handle it because you have the softest skin in the world whereas if your father decided to adopt this style of kissing I could be in danger of being grated to death.

And your other responsibility of course is to take frequent risks. Tick tick tick.

My heart went a little cold when the father of an 19 year old party animal (“I think she’s doing her degree in hard liquor”) told me last month that he could tell who among his toddlers was going to be Roger Responsible and who was going to be Petunia Puke In The Plastic Bag.

Even at such a tender age, he insisted, the seeds of Caution and the seeds of Bloody Minded Risk Taking were firmly dug in and already taking root.

I filled him in on your plastic motorbike exploits and he nodded grimly and went on to talk about his daughter’s early quest for thrills which seemed to involve rolling herself headlong down the stairs.

It made me go quiet and think about you and the way you seem to be utterly fearless and I wondered whether it will mean in years to come you’ll happily indulge in various self-destructive activities just because you can/it’s there/you’re bored.

There’s no fanfare around your stunts, no ‘look at me’ as you rocket down a concrete drive on your motorbike with your legs outstretched, or leap off the edge of the couch, or run full pelt up the hallway and throw yourself down so you go skidding on your knees like a rockstar.

I see you press your lips firmly together and take on an expression of great concentration (which I usually associate with you filling your mumpy) just before you launch yourself into the unknown. And when the thump comes, as it inevitably does, there are surprisingly few tears.

You’re not a wuss. Not with that sort of stuff. You laugh and bounce with your three big cousins on the trampoline and I dance around the edge of the net saying “gentle jumping boys,” “please don’t keep trying to make Tricky fall over,” “yes I can see he’s laughing but…I think it might end in tears”, “come out now Tricky that’s enough..” and you tell me loudly MORE DUMPING. MINE WANT MORE DUMPING.

See here’s the thing, I was/am the complete opposite to you. Fearful, cautious, responsible, wilts under stern gaze of authority. And these things were evident when I was two. I had a little sister I adored and was constantly reminded that I was mummy’s helper. And with all my meek, cautious ways, I still had accidents. I dropped bricks on my toes and had prangs on my bike. It happens.

I don’t want to be the mother who says No all the time, the one that says be careful darling and that’s enough and slow down. Because I think maybe I had a mother like that and while I can’t remember her telling me those things, in my mind that voice is still there.

Except, that distant voice has been superceded by my own booming foghorn: Don’t show your work, Don’t put yourself out there you’ll only be humiliated, It’s better not to do anything than to fail, You’ve been rejected and that’s your fault for trying in the first place…

And so while I don’t want you to be hurt or injured, I also don’t ever want you to be afraid of trying things, of taking risks, of embarking in a struggle, of putting yourself on the line.

Somehow your father (who was almost the complete opposite to me, with the scars to prove it) and I have to teach you how to weigh up the risks involved, how to value the potential wins and assess the potential losses.

And how to get up and try again no matter what the outcome.

And bugger me that seems a hard lesson because I don’t even know that I’ve learned it yet.

Wonderful, yet terrifying.
Your very own