Friday, November 30, 2007

Letter to a 16 month old Button Pusher

Darling Tricky

You are now 16 months old which means it is almost time to learn how to prepare mumma’s coffee just the way she likes it (strong latte).

Actually, more often than not, you are able to fulfil simple tasks and directions: “Give That Fragile Ornament I Stupidly Placed Within Your Reach To Me Please” “Backwards down the stairs!” and Stop Running Away From Me And Come Back This Instant.”

This last one I just put in, in the hopes that one day soon you actually will do this but at the moment you seem to interpret it as a command to stop, look over shoulder with a coy smile, and then peg off in the opposite direction as fast as your chubby little legs can take you.

The other completely useless command is of course “Shhh Lie Down And Go To Sleep”.
I actually tried this one night and to my great shock you did which is why ever since night after night I try it around 3.30 in the morning. Memo to my brain: IT DOES NOT WORK even though night after night I try to vary my tempo, my pitch , my inflection in the hopes of hitting those magical melifluous tones that led, once, to such joyous Camelot-like success.

None of this would matter that much except we are back in the Big House and so we are all sleeping in the same bedroom (with a large Ikea bookshelf between us). Still, some nights are diamond, some nights are…not. And frankly, give or take a mosquito here, an overly hot night there, an irritating virus or a loud party next door….I have not the faintest idea why. I probably never will. One day, I'm told, you will simply sleep through the night. And the next. And the next. And that will be that.

The big change this month has been your entrance into the brave new world that is Playgroup. Up to this point your social obligations have been limited to affectionate tussles with your cousins (often involving icecream) and a playdate here and there with the child of whichever artist/artsworker we are currently working and/or meeting with.
Fun times indeed but now you have matured to the point where we feel you can handle a heavier social life. Also, you, me, your dadda: that unique combination of free spirited wacky artistic types in one room was driving us all a little crazy.

And obviously we had to bear in mind the starsign combination; you’re a Cancer, I’m a Cancer/Gemini cusp, C is a Sagittarius, and not one of us is a Morning Person.

When we arrive at Playgroup you usually gravitate towards either the mini trampoline, or the baby doll stroller which you love to push round and round the hall. If by chance someone has left a baby doll in the stroller you will swiftly remove said doll and throw it unceremoniously onto the floor. Meanwhile I sign us in and pay a couple of dollars and a piece of fruit.

Depending on which Playgroup we are attending, at 10.45am I may also be cutting up said piece of fruit (usually banana) along with all the other pieces of fruit that have appeared. At 11.00am, I and another mother will then serve the chopped up pieces of fruit to a table of small children. Then, at 11.15am some other lucky mother will pick all the squashed pieces of fruit up off the floor.

Once a week you go to the Other Playgroup with your dadda. At the other Playgroup you don’t have to do chores or provide fruit but you do have to jump for Jesus. It’s ok, the people are nice and they have baby doll strollers there too.

It is funny to see you in this mosh pit of tiny humanity, negotiating your way through the big kids in the sandpit, waiting your turn for the trampoline, stealing the baby stroller when the little girls have their backs turned. It is funny and it is lovely and it makes my heart sing to see you with your lips pressed determinedly as you roll the giant cylinder away or slide into the ball pit and then start joyously flinging the balls to the far corners of the hall.

You are deeply in love with buttons of all kinds…telephone, toy cash register, television or belly. (Coincidentally, as anyone who knows him will attest, your father is also a button pusher, from way back.) No small rounded raised surface is safe from your eager prying index finger and you will happily press said surfaces over and over saying BAH-TUN, BAH-TUN as you do.
This becomes doubly enjoyable for us if you are eating a cracker as well because then you will alternate that with CRAH-KAH, CRAH-KAH… Also, you can tell us that living in our house apart from MUMMA, DADDA and TSST is NEH, KKKK, MAH, GHHH and AHHHL. We also have some pet MAH (not to be confused with either your eldest cousin or that thing on your face that sits under your ney).

This isn’t a new thing or a 16 month thing by any means but can I just say here how glad I am to have you in my life?

How, despite the shrieking in the middle of the night, despite the wailing when you first wake, despite the…oh who am I kidding you’re actually a great toddler.

When my friends tell me about their toddler who can’t travel in the car for more than fifteen minutes at a time (you: eight hours from Country Town to Big House with brief stops for seesaw and sanity), or their toddler who won’t eat more than a grape at breakfast (you: three weetbix, plus you whinge at us to feed you porridge from our own bowls) or their toddler requiring invasive surgery and endless doctor’s appointments, I am reminded of how grateful I am for my car-loving, generally-healthy, slightly-sleepy, always-hungry boy/screaming tomato.

And when, after spending a couple of hours away from me, stealing strollers and jumping for Jesus, you walk into our house and see me and your eyes light up and you run at me laughing and calling Mumma, as if I was the best thing since sliced bread, or at least sliced fruit, well… then… you manage to push all my buttons and I just know I’m yours for life.

Your very own

Friday, November 23, 2007

It's Time

See that's what happens when you start blah blahing on about your fabulous new time management regime, the blogging goes to shit because let's just face it YOU'RE SLACK.

Suddenly deadlines have reappeared, deadlines that were not just DONE AND DUSTED they were also cremated and their ashes readily sprinkled upon the ocean. This is irritating fiddly non-creative deadline stuff that irks one with its presence, like grit in one's teeth or sand in one's swimsuit gusset. Anyway, enough with the crap similies, it's stuff that has demanded my attention.
In the meantime these things have happened or are about to happen and some shall be written about in the next few days:
* Tricky has turned 16 months.

* We have now entered that special magical place they call "PLAYGROUP". It is special. It is magical. It has sandpits and also tiny trampolines. Tricky has not yet learned to jump on a trampoline but he has learned that if he stands rigidly with his feet splayed and a wry expression on his face someone will obligingly bounce the trampoline with their hands. This shall be deemed "fun" and worth screaming for when it stops.

*I have written another play but shorter and funnier than the one mentioned above. I wrote this because I find I am often at my most creative when I am meant to be doing something else.
*I was part of a very interesting workshop last week for playwrights. It was about depictions of mental health and suicide in the media. We heard from carers, service providers and people with various mental illnesses. During the day these people made themselves available to us as a "living library". We writers could talk one on one to a "book", hear their experiences and ask any questions we wanted before going away and writing scenes based on what we had heard. It was pretty full on and I'm still processing some of the things we heard.

*Tomorrow, Saturday the 24th, I am signing books! That's right! Me! From 11am I shall be wielding a pen, or possibly a sharpened toothbrush which I will periodically dip into a small bowl of soy. This shall be at the Dymocks at the new fancy shmancy big shopping plaza thing in Maroubra on Anzac Parade.
If you are, say, shopping, and you feel the urge to purchase a copy of my Hilarious yet Poignant Tale of Finding and Losing Motherhood "Legs Up & Laughing", then hightail it over quick smart. We can also swap tips on Opening Weekend bargains to be had.

* Also tomorrow, Saturday the 24th, is an election. A federal election in fact, for those readers not federally located as it were. It's quite possible that after this weekend we will have a spanking new federal government.

I don't like to harp on these things too much because I'm superstitious like that.

So I simply leave you with this...

Saturday, November 10, 2007

No instruction manual on that one…

Except after someone said that to me the other day, I realised that actually there is loads of stuff in various books about Looking After Yourself and Don’t Forget Your Partner even if there isn’t one specifically that says Warning Being A Parent Can Be The Straw That Crushes Your World’s Back.

It is a sign of my level of unhingeability that I gaily decided to take part in the Write A Post Every Day Of November blogfest that is NaBloPoMo . Quite quickly I realised that daily writing was physically beyond me and my cheese brain but every second day was not only achievable it was worth noting just to the right…in my profile.

Oh ho ho ho, how I guffaw at myself sometimes. Silly sausage that I am.

Things have been (ahem) difficult of late. It is a mix of travel, living in what is effectively an artists’ commune where everyone is eating, drinking and thinking Project 24/7 when we are in Country Town . Back in our City Abode, we (C and I, I mean, the rest of the family have managed to organise themselves) still have not managed to completely unpack and put things away, in fact up till a few days ago, our kitchen cupboards still contained groceries that were moved with us nearly two years ago. Some of those weevils dated back to the beginning of the Great Big Fertility Ride.

So there’s the clutter and the travel and the Stress From Work and then a few Screaming Tomato Nights and then C being too busy to look after Tricky and so no time for me to write and then NO QUALITY GROWNUP TIME and then my head exploded.

Well actually it didn’t but I did feel pretty shithouse. About me and my relationship and my writing which seemed to be suddenly not happening at all.

Anyone who writes, not necessarily for a living, but regularly, honestly, as a way of expressing and creating and illuminating, of documenting or celebrating, of reaching out through this strange dark house that is our lives, and finding someone else who reads or hears and understands, will know that when you don’t write, your life feels pretty crappy.

You don’t even realize that’s what it is at first, the non writing, because you’re too tired or busy or sad, but then it becomes a vicious circle and the less you write the less you want to write and the more crappy and cranky and evil you become.

And so it is with me.

But then, a miracle happened, the miracle of Conversation With Your Loved One. Prior to this our conversation was limited to short terse directions and snapped out questions. What happened was that we went back to Country Town but instead of flying there we drove and it took us eight hours including stops at various playgrounds along the way. And so there was talking. And weeping, which for me is par for the course, I am a Known Weeper (I made myself cry yesterday singing The little Drummer Boy to myself and getting to that bit where he sings “I played my drum for him pa rum pa rum pum, I played my best for him pa rum pa rum pum etc”. ).

And in the end some changes were decided on.

We realised we must work on properly setting up our part of the Big House, removing weevils and other clutter and organizing the space so we don’t feel like we are living in a temporary storage unit. We worked out a new fairer system of care for Tricky which allowed for me to have daily writing time. And also we emphasized how important it was to have regular fun family times as well as regular fun couple times and indeed regular QUALITY GROWNUP TIME. Then we stopped and had a cuddle because it was a red letter moment and we both felt so much better and there was no champagne to hand. But this was better.

And so, although I haven’t been doing the every second day writing the blog thing, I have been doing a lot of writing. In fact, over the last week I have actually written a new play. It took me a whole day of futzing about and googling with all my new found free time but the next day it just started coming and now I seem to have a first draft. Actually, a bit more than a first draft.

I printed it out and C read it and I read along over his shoulder and when he had finished we just laughed and clutched at each other and were amazed. I’m not saying it’s brilliant but it was written. There was time allocated for writing and writing was done.

And I feel so much better.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

A toddler is staying with us at house in Country Town or Le Maison dan la Ville sur la Pays (did you know I was bimangle?) and he is not my toddler, he is the Other Toddler and not only that he is several months older and with many more teeth but oddly, both my toddler and the Other Toddler want exactly the same toy car at exactly the same time.

Or, exactly the same biscuit, or, exactly the same annoying beeping siren shrieking hell machine.

Tricky has already freaked out the Other Toddler who is a sweet and gentle soul, by forcing him to submit to a torturous round of Facial Feature Identification.

Using his inflexible pointer finger, Tricky has managed to ascertain that Other Toddler has a nay, a mahw full of tee, a nye, another nye, a neeyah and some lovely curly heyah and…ooh look another neeyah, let me just poke my pointer finger into it just to make sure. And what about down here? Is that a button? My pointer finger will make sure. Oh wow, water is welling up in your nye. Is that a tear? My pointer finger will make sure…. And now you’re running away from me. But I can run too, look, and then I can hug you and then when I’ve stopped you in your tracks I’ll just make sure you haven’t dropped an ear, eye or nose along the way.

In Ms Babylove’s excellent second book “The Mighty Toddler” she points out that actually toddlers are not known for their deep love for fellow toddlers. I am paraphrasing of course but it seems that the toddler spares his deep love for those familiar adults that surround him and give him exactly what he wants. His second deepest love is for children who are old enough to give him almost exactly what he wants (for instance the Naughty Nephews when they let him touch oh so gently their pet mice). Other Toddlers come quite a way down on the list for love, after biscuits, toy cars and annoying beeping siren shrieking hell machines.

Tricky’s deepest love of course is for Jimmy the Dog who has that hilarious flapping tail thing which is the funniest thing in the world ever but more importantly lets him poke his pointer finger into his nye and neeyah whenever he feels the urge.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Run run run as fast as you can

Sometimes I am aware that Tricky is trying to tell me something very very important. He knits his brows and looks deep into my eyes and sighs heavily and says uttttah uttah petakah bedagah.

And because I am trying to encourage his speech and communication I smile brightly and nod as if I know exactly what he is saying. Miraculously, every now and then I actually do understand what he’s saying.

“Water! You want a drink of water?”
“Biscuit! You want me to get you a biscuit?”
“Poo poo? Go to your father.”

It’s as if he has an entire language all his own, of which I know a few basic nouns, and frankly it’s like living in France again.

At that time I only knew enough of the language to apologise for not knowing more. I did try, honestly. I went to French classes and practiced as much as I could but I found a weird thing happened. The more French I started to learn, the less English I was capable of writing down on paper. And given that the reason C and I were in Paris in the first place was because I had received a 6 month writers' residency to write a play…c’est la vie.

At least that’s the main reason. The other reason was because I kept getting myself into trouble.
Very early on in the residency I bought some gingerbread at a market near Versaille and began one of my usual friendly but retarded French conversations with a very patient stall holder.

Hello! I enthused in that most romantic of languages. I am Australian! I am a writer!
Patient Stall Holder smiled gently and welcomed me to his country. I gleefully held up one of his home baked cakes.
I would like one spice cake, please! You cook your house?
Patient Stall Holder nodded and smiled. He explained that the gingerbread contains farine…
Ooh yes! Flour! I know flour!
Also it contains miel…
Honey! Good! Very good! Thankyou!
and some epice…
Spice! Yes! It is the bread of spice! He was delicious!

Then, perhaps tiring of my enthusiastic but repetitive shouting aloud of his ingredients, the Patient Stall Holder diverted from his list of nouns and tried to explain something very important to me about this bread of spice that was cooked in his house. Something essential to my enjoyment and understanding of the gourmet treat I held in my two hands.

My smile froze and I stared at his lips, concentrating hard, as he repeated what he said, again and again. Finally, disappointed, I shook my head. No, I couldn’t understand, he was using things like grammar and also, I suspected, words that were not nouns.

I'm sorry. I am Australian. I speak only a green pea the French.

He tried again, slower this time and I recognised a couple of words. I realised he was saying that the gingerbread was made “without” something. Something... that is often contained in your regular supermarket bought, non-house made bread of spice. It was natural, so it was without…

A light went off in my head.

Sans preservatif! I shouted triumphantly.

There followed one of those rare moments of communication between two people who cannot speak the other’s language, yet have managed to connect through compassion, through humanity, and through a shared love of the bread of spice. Sadly that was also the moment that I realised I had loudly told the Patient Stall Holder and all his nearby customers that his gingerbread was made “without condoms.”

Luckily, with Tricky, we are still up to button, star, car and cracker. We're yet to discuss contraception or indeed its place in any of our baked goods.