Sunday, October 28, 2007

I Blame The Water

So the other day Tricky and I were waiting in the garden bit outside the Country Town Airport and he was running about on the grass in his soft shoes, being generally cute and I noticed that all these people sitting on a nearby bench were watching him and smiling.

Then Tricky wandered even closer to them and started singing quietly to himself and turning himself round in circles and one or two of his audience chuckled.

But then, Tricky stopped and stared at the ground just in front of the bench. He had spotted a large ant meandering about on the concrete. Everyone seemed to be fascinated, watching him watching the ant and I thought Ha! You people thought the running and the singing and the circles were good? COP THIS!

So I said “Look darling, what’s that?”

Tricky paused for dramatic effect and pointed at the ground.

Ann” he said.

Just as we were all smiling, the People On The Bench at the extreme cuteness and me out of pure smugness, he suddenly and quite horrifyingly lifted one soft shoe and deliberately crushed the ant underfoot.

And then he said in a voice that came straight from either The Simpsons or The Omen:
“HA HA!”

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

...but he knows what he likes....

Because Tricky is the child of feckless artistes I dragged him to an exhibition opening at the Country Town Art Gallery.

This wasn’t about me being thoughtless towards other spectators, or even just me being a pretentious middle class left leaning wanker, because the exhibition in question was all about young people and there were indeed other children present.

Tricky was not at a height to truly appreciate the artwork but he was the exact height to appreciate the large expanse of polished wood floor and man didn’t he and his soft shoes go to town?

As the speeches began, he started his patented zig-zag dash through the crowd and I followed in his wake with a little smile playing upon my face. It was a smile I hoped would be interpreted as “relaxed” or “amused” or even “coping, just”, but really it was to hide the dismay I felt upon spotting one of those Other Children sitting calmly on their mother’s lap.

At least I think it was The Mother, it may actually have been one of those automated nannybot things that featured in the movie AI; the ones that looked real and sounded real but maintained complete control and aplomb at all time thus betraying their robotic interiors. In fact the more I thought about it, as Tricky dashed and squealed and drooled and had to be removed from the room, the more obvious it became that the so called "child" was also one of those robots and, obviously for the duration of the speeches (which seemed to go on and on), the batteries had been removed.

I mean, yes, the childbot seemed slightly older than Tricky but surely that wasn’t the reason for its almost eerie calm? And the other thing was, and I was certain this would have NO EFFECT WHATSOEVER, was that the child was a (ahem) girl. It would be too much of a cliché I thought, as I retrieved Tricky from the temptingly laden buffet table and removed five slices of salami from his firmly clenched fist, to think that gender can determine behaviour. Not like, say, Ritalin or an electric cattle prod. The very notion seemed wrong. And horribly unfair.

As if to add his emphatic support, Tricky let out the War Cry Of The Screaming Tomato and I hastily strapped him back into his stroller and began the frantic to and fro rocking of the Parent With Toddler In Public or else the clinically insane.
Sympathetic ex-toddler mothers behind the buffet table handed me a glass of wine.
"Have you seen that other toddler in there?" I asked them over Tricky’s wails. "Have you seen how beautifully she’s sitting on her mother’s lap?" They nodded kindly and pressed another glass into my hand.

As I gratefully slugged it back, a perfumed air wafted about me and I looked up to see The Mother. In her arms was the aforementioned Other Toddler, resplendent in her pale pink frock and boing boing ringlets. And, I was saddened to see, absolutely no indication of batteries at all. We did the ubiquitous Mothers Club smile and I congratulated The Mother on her child’s behaviour. “How old is she?” I asked jovially, hoping she might say “21 but her dad was very short.”
“She’s 18 months,” The Mother sipped at her glass.
“Oh great,” I laughed, gaily. “That means my toddler will be like that in a few months!”
The Mother winced slightly.“I’m... not sure,” she said. “Mine's always been like this, very focused, very interested... She likes to sit and concentrate on things like Art.” I was going to tell her how wonderful that sounded but a loud choking noise claimed my full attention and the moment was mercifully lost.
It seems Tricky had been concentrating too, on stuffing his fingers down his throat and making himself gag.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Letter to a 15 Month Old Australian TV Critic

Dear Tricky

My darling baby boy.

Actually I just wanted to write those above words because I realize as time goes on you are becoming less of the baby and more of the boy.

You are fifteen months old and you now wear big boy trousers and big boy shirts and yesterday you actually did a big boy poo in the toilet. Well, to tell the truth that last was a bit of a fluke, you had just had your bath and I set you on the carpet to frolic and caper in the ever popular nudie run. I was talking on the phone to your pretend uncle, Mysterious George, when I suddenly saw you standing very still and concentrating very hard.

“Wait George,” I said “just hold that thought about the state of the Australian television industry…darling are you doing a poo poo?”

You looked up at me with those big brown eyes and said quite decisively, “No.” But luckily I put my hand under your bum just to check and then there was much shrieking and running to the toilet to sit you upon it. But also there was suppression of the shrieking because I didn’t want to traumatize you and have your eventual toilet training become a terrible emotional burden and there was much encouragement of you and enthusiastic exclamations of “Good Boy! Yay!”

And of course, because you have a highly attuned internal Applaud Now! sign set deep within your cognitive bits, you automatically started clapping your hands, and what with me trying to balance you between my legs and not get my poo hands over your clean naked body, it was quite the effort. But finally it was done and I wiped your bottom (“Hooray! Just like a big boy!”) and set you on the carpet again while I washed my own hands.

That's when I learned a toddler’s poo is never really over, and this time I failed the catch.

Luckily I heard Dadda coming through the front door and so I was able to call to him (but not in a panicked, poo-on-the-carpet-alert kind of way, more in a ‘Come join us for larks. Now’ kind of way.) And then there were two grownups with poo hands in the ensuite bathroom with an applauding naked toddler and more enthusiastic non-traumatising joy than you could poke a child psychologist at.

We are back in the house in Country Town after more than 10 weeks away and it is a strange sensation to be back in this place, with funky youth worker HRS and dedicated film maker D, both of whom were delighted to see you again and marveled at your curls and your walking abilities and the fabulous Upside Down Baby! trick and your cunning way with words that have the ‘ah’ sound in them. (“No” for instance is pronounced “Nah.”)

It is strange to see your new grownup ways with the toys you played with as a 12 or 13 month old. When we say ‘go and play in your tent,’ you actually go! And you play! And the thing you play upon is a horrendously noisy plastic car dashboard which allows you to create the soundtrack of a horrible car accident, complete with squealing brakes and wailing ambulance siren. (Somewhere out there is a toy that gives you Mozart and Bach when you press the little plastic buttons but I bet you can’t buy them for $2.50 at a garage sale in Country Town.)

You point and acknowledge things now, especially cars and of course dogs. When I took you for a walk in your stroller, the first day back in Country Town, you looked up at that big blue non-rain cloud-free sky and pointed and said ‘tar!

And in fact it was the moon, but even so, snaps to you for seeing it in the first place and registering that it was one of those heavenly body things.

Also, while we have had great success with you pointing out your teeth, hair, and ear (especially ear or ‘eeyah!’ as you like to squeal) when we ask you to show us your nose you always reach out to grab ours. I don’t know why you’d prefer ours because yours is such a cute little brown button, but in your world, our nose is your nose.

Over the last two weeks, in fact around the time we were in Newcastle for Aunty K’s wedding, you became the clingwrap baby again and I couldn’t even stand on the other side of the room without you becoming a Screaming Tomato.

Only Apwah and Jimmy The Dog could substitute and even then only for short bursts. Once again I left you with my dad, your Poppy, during your afternoon nap while I went out shopping with your Aunties and once again you woke early, discovered me gone, and then proceded to give my poor dad an absolute caning for the next three hours until I got home. Only this time you could walk and also you could imperiously put out your hand and then drag Poppy from room to room in search of missing Mumma. Jimmy the Dog gave Poppy some respite but after a little half hearted eye poking from you, it was back to Screaming Tomato On Legs. Bless him for staying calm and not phoning to recall me immediately from Foundation Undergarment World.

And then a couple of days after the wedding I found the most enormous molar sprouting from your back gums. This seemed a bit unfair, I always assumed they started from the front and worked their way round but no, apparently teeth can appear whenever and wherever they like. And now I see that they’re coming up all over the shop and it’s like you’ve got a mouth full of popcorn.

Dadda has been taking you for a swim in the pool most mornings and for the last two days I have come too and how sweet it is to walk down the street with you holding our hands.
I look down and see your blue hat bobbing between us and your little brown soft shoes patting their way across the drought cracked brown earth and C and I look at each other and do that goofy in-love smile that once, 15 months ago, was just for he and I but now is for you too.

Around this time, two years ago, your father and I were on the Great Big Fertility Ride and this happened and it was devastating.

As your father and I held each other and cried on the carpet of that Melbourne apartment, we had no idea that you were in our future, waiting for us to hold you and love you and be, finally, after so long, your very own Mumma and Dadda.

What with one thing and another it’s been easy to forget that time but just this month I received the bill for another twelve months of embryo storage because one of your Petri dish buddies is still on ice. Dadda and I have been thinking a lot about that embryo but also about you and how wonderful you are and what a blessing you have been to our lives.

Our nose is your nose.

And our love is your love. Always.

Your very own

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Toddler At Wedding. A Fun Day For All.

So when my sisters and I get together pre-wedding we shop.
We need frocks. And champagne. And new lipsticks and shiny bobbly things to wear in our hair. And also more champagne. But it is an indication of just how far we have all come that the very first thing we bought, all four of us, was the hitherto unknown to me: Foundation Undergarments.

These sturdy beige coloured beauties flattened my sloppy tummy with brute elastic strength. I have never worn such aggressive underpants in all my life. So efficient. And so, so attractive. Between us we had four pairs of aggressive underpants, two sets of angry miniskirt things, and at least one full tummy, bum, thigh ‘you will be flat if it kills you’ ensemble.

Now the thing about having an almost 15 month old toddler at a wedding is that they look so adorable, so cute, in their cream linen suit with the vest and the buttons. But the other thing is that sometimes they do not like to be held. Not by grandmother, not by visiting ex-amah Rani, not by Dadda who is in any case taking photographs like a dervish, and certainly not by bad mean Mumma.

It seems that Being Held At A Wedding is tantamount to having toothpicks shoved under your fingernails or being forced to dance barefoot over something very hot, like say, the sun. It is definitely not for nattily linen clad toddlers with their kicking legs and their flailing arms and their club-like head that whips from side to side, much like those dinosaurs. You know the sort. The ones dressed in linen. Possibly named Screaming Tomatosaurus.

Call it the thrill of romance, call it the spirit of the lake alongside which the wedding vows were made. Call it sheer bloody mindedness, whatever, the Tricky wanted to run. And shout. And play the Upside Down Baby Game. And this is hard when solemnity is taking place on the other side of the rose petal strewn red carpet.

But then, just as you might have thought that you could simply tether him to a nearby tree and let him prance about happily, the Tricky decides that actually he does want to be held. And only by Mumma. And it shall be right after the bride and groom exchange rings, in fact at the exact point that Mumma is meant to be reading something called “The Art Of Marriage.”

And it shall be done with additional flailing so that she will need to juggle him with her piece of paper with the "The Art Of Marriage" printed upon it. And she will be slightly distracted because the dress she bought two days previously is a wrap around thing and the nippy lake winds have already blown it embarrassingly high and exposed aggressive tummy squashing underpants never meant to be seen by human eyes.

The only fly in the perfect meringue of my sister’s wedding was the empty seat for Grumpy Grandad. He almost made it, my sister AJ and I had spent a pleasant afternoon doing his (ahem) personal grooming, trimming his hair (both head and nasal), fingernails, and making sure his suit fit over all the additional accessories that the doctors have seen fit to attach to him. My dad shone up his shoes, we tee-ed up a wheelchair, we were all systems go but on the morning of the wedding that sneaky low blood pressure did its thing.

Still, despite the missing GG, despite the flailing linen clad Screaming Tomato, despite bride’s oldest sister continuous flashing of scary foundation undergarments, it was a beautiful day.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Drop The Peg Or The Mouse Gets It

For the past week C has been away in Country Town while back in Sydney I have been a Single Stay At Home Mum Of An Insane Toddler, and lordy aint that been a barrel of laughs.

From the first moments of our day (known to most as the crack of dawn) to the stroke of 7.00pm when come hell or highwater he is firmly sedated and restrained (via sippy cup and zip up sleeping bag thing as inherited from his cousin Naughty Nephew the 3rd) it’s just go go go. Also ‘stop’, ‘get away from those stairs’, and ‘what’s in your mouth? Spit it out.’

Actually some of those above sentences are quite complex and practically Shakespeare compared to the standard of our chat during a recent attempt to hang out clothes:

‘Where are the pegs darling? Give me the pegs, no then put the peg in the bag. Put the peg in the bag. No, then give me the pegs. Give me the pegs. Drop the pegs. No, drop the pegs. Give me the bag. Drop the pegs. Pegs. Give me the. No, drop the. Ug.’
See now I’ve typed that out, it’s actually sort of like Beckett if Beckett was known for doing laundry which I’m not sure he is.

Let’s say ‘it’s been a challenge’ and then lets laugh hysterically. But not for too long because it’s currently nap time and that means precious Insane Toddler free time and god knows I’m not going to waste it on mirth.

Meanwhile my own cleanliness has taken a back seat. Showering for instance. Who was the greedy hedonist with way too much time on their hands who insisted that one should shower everyday? Madness. Now reading Maisy makes Gingerbread ad nauseum, that, that should be mandatory daily routine. Wait did I say daily? I meant hourly. Half. Because, she’s funny that Maisy. And clever. And so sociable with her friends, that chicken and that crocodile whose teeth are painted differently on every page. You fascinate us Maisy. And also, I suspect, hypnotise. Or maybe it’s the lead paint on the pages; you may be created in England but I’m sure you’re printed in China. Very soon I shall be reading out the lesser known sequel to Maisy Makes Gingerbread - Maisy makes Arsenic Tea. And then I’ll have a shower.

Next Saturday my baby sister K gets married. (Alright, she’s 28) Tricky and I have come to Newcastle early because we will be an enormous and essential help with preparations. But also, because we will be staying with the Grandparents whose middle names are Willing and Slaves.

And, in a stroke of incredible and bizarre Good Luck, also staying in the house is Rani, who was, many many years ago, our amah in Penang. She looked after K when she was a baby, as well as the rest of us, and now she’s coming to the wedding. It’s incredibly exciting because I haven’t seen her for 27 years. But also because we’ve been here for just on 24 hours and I’ve already had two showers, washed my hair, shaved under my arms and changed my undies.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Dog Twitchers

Bird lovers have The Field Guide to the Birds Of Australia (Pizzey & Knight 1997), algae and scum enthusiasts have The Observer’s Book Of Pond Life (Clegg 1956) and small folk whose faces light up when they catch even a distant glimpse of our four legged friends have Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy (Dodd 1983).

Tricky loves dogs. All dogs, all shapes, all varieties. He loves them deeply, from afar mostly, calling out “da!” and smiling delightedly at their hilarious doggy antics.
Because I want to be an integral part of all the things he finds delightful and also because I want to impress upon him that I am Very Clever Mumma, I scour the landscape for dogs that he, being so short, may have missed and then I point them out along with a short informative description:

“Look! It’s Bottomley Potts! Covered in spots!”

This works reasonably well when the dog in question is actually a dalmation, or (in the case of “Look! It’s Schnitzel von Krumm with his very low tum!”) a dash.. datch... sausage dog.

However, often these dogs are unfamiliar to me. This is because they are of a breed not covered by L. Dodd in her excellent series, or worse still, a mixture of several, and then Very Clever Mumma comes a cropper by insisting that a passing large dog is “very much like” Hercules Morse (as big as a horse) or that a glimpse of something fluffy on legs must be Muffin McLay (like a bundle of hay) or similar, and anything not large, not fluffy and vaguely streamlined can only be Bitzer Maloney(all skinny and bony)

This last caused some consternation when we were at the markets recently and the owners overheard our dog-spotting. The dog in question was actually quite healthy looking and not skinny and bony at all, but certainly it was…you know…slim.

I could have gone the other way and called it Hercules Morse because it was also a larger breed but the “big as a horse” bit could have suggested that we saw the dog as hugely fat, obese even, and the owners as uncaring, brutish, junk food scoffing troglydytes who wouldn’t know the first thing about proper care for their poor, canine, Elvis-heading-for-a-heart-attack beast.

Of course they knew nothing of Ms Dodd’s magnus opus (even though it should be mandatory reading for all dog owners) but luckily I didn’t want to buy their pickles anyway, and, as I consoled Tricky, there were plenty more Bitzers, Bottomleys, Hercules and Schnitzels out in the world.
Or similar.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Another Night Of The Screaming Tomato. But much more Screamy. And Tomatoey.

It was one of those impeccable timing things, almost spooky in its perfect synchronicity.

We left the relaxing idyll of the Beach Shack and (via Newcastle) returned to the big House in Sydney. C flew back to Country Town to continue work leaving us, his loving spouse and child, in the Big House with the Naughty Nephews and their parents (and mice).

And at 9.30pm Tricky metamorphosed into his evil alias: The Screaming Tomato.

It was horrifying. At first I fretted about the rest of the family, and the next door neighbours, trying, and no doubt miserably failing, to get to sleep, but after several hours of on-again off-again Hellspawn shriekfest it was every man and mouse for himself.

I tried everything I could to get him to sleep. I patted (hopeless), I rocked (useless), I even tried tucking him alongside me into bed (actually agitated further) which the books say very sternly not to do unless you’re prepared to deal with co-sleeping until at least puberty(or similar).

And finally, I succumbed. I broke my own rule and sometime, well before midnight, I picked him up and breastfed him even though I knew he would be awake again by 2am.

For months I had been holding out, night after night, waiting for the magic hour of 5am, often feeding earlier, even as early as 3.30, but knowing that having fallen into the deep sleep that always follows a nightly nurse he would stay that way for two hours. I don’t know why this is so, I only know that it is. This is what happens, this is the law. It’s a given, it’s concrete, it’s absolute, it’s like gravity or herpes. It’s permanent, it’s unchangeable, it’s unbreakable, it may as well be written in letters of fire on the palm of Buddha: AFTER BREASTFEEDING AT NIGHT YOU GET TWO HOURS OF SHOOSH.

It broke my heart last night to discover that the two hour shoosh rule was complete crap. It was bogus, it was fake, it was no rule at all.

Instead, as soon as I put him back into his cot, he let rip with a Level 11 bloodcurdling shriek. My mouth dropped open. He had been toying with me all this time. I went back to the above mentioned list of completely Useless Settling Techniques. They were equally useless the second time around, and the third as well, but at least they filled in time before I could attach him to my breasts again which seemed to be the only thing that worked and kept him quiet.

The only good thing was that finally, when i eventually did fall into a coma, I did so without torturing myself over that radio interview last Friday and thinking of all the clever, sensible things I should have said.