Thursday, May 29, 2008

Chew On This

Unfortunately, I have to announce that Tricky and I are officially at war, but only from 6pm to about 6.45 each night and sometimes for about eight minutes at 7.30 in the morning.

Our chosen weapons are porridge (in the morning) and a variety of delicious wholesome cooked meals (at night) featuring several vegetables and some form of protein. The battles are terrible and fearsome to behold and even Naughty Nephew 3 brandishing a spoon and a winning smile cannot halt the carnage, although last night NN2 whipped out a pot of vanilla creme yoghurt and a sudden truce was called.

The problem it seems, is the highchair. This is the almost-new, racing-car orange highchair with comfy leatherette-look seat and Evil Clipping Harness which takes small bites of flesh from the hands of the unwary and slightly distracted adult.

We bought this highchair just over a year ago at the local shopping centre and brought it home in a blaze of glory, elated and victorious, giddy with the thought that soon Tricky would be seated and elevated and harnessed into place. Also that we could easily wipe down the tray.

More than any other item, the highchair is the time capsule of baby furniture. You can spray and wipe as much as you like, but you will never completely remove the spinach stains, or de-egg the harness belt.

There are existing nooks and crannies that you could never hope to find with your Chux cloth or your q-tips dipped in vinegar and bicarb. These fissures are filled with the detrius of Meals Past and only a team of teeny tiny archeologists could find such remnants; the Blended Foods Era, the Baked Bean Period, the first evidence of Spoon Feeding Self, the Long Dull Week of Pasta Bake.

Even then they won't actually clean, they'll only dust delicately with little wee brushes and erect teeny string fences around the sites.

One year.

Just a few short months, from loving to loathing, yet here we are, at dinner time and there is Tricky in classic Screaming Tomato formation with additional arched back and stiff legs. He shrieks Nooooo Noooooo Big Boy Chair and in vain do I say This Is A Big Boy Chair because he knows that it's not, it's the chair he sat in when he was a baby, when his food was pre-mushed and his bowl had a suction cup to glue it to the tray.

And anyway he has written proof, a team of teeny tiny archeologists in his employ have just published a paper acknowledging that twelve months of meals lie lodged within the upholstery.

I feel like taking that damn chair and chucking it on the kerb alongside the dead fridges and cracked garden furniture for hard rubbish day except for something that happened a few days ago. N had picked up the boys from school and Tricky from childcare and was giving them afternoon tea downstairs. It all sounded quiet and calm so I kept writing but then I realised it almost sounded too calm. I crept downstairs and saw that Tricky was sitting up IN HIS HIGHCHAIR with his milk and his biscuit.

I could have made a big deal about this. I could have stormed over and raged about the Geneva Convention and the rules of engagement and WHY CAN'T YOU SIT IN THE HIGHCHAIR FOR ME? But instead, I crept back upstairs and kept writing.
This is a war over Breakfast and Dinner, I realised. Afternoon Tea is obviously no man's land.

So now, at nights, Tricky sits in a booster seat on a dining chair. He has a parent on one side to pander to his culinary needs and NN3 on the other to pander to his entertaining needs. He has NN1 seated opposite to encourage him in "Big Boy Eating" and NN2 at the other side of the table to get him vanilla yoghurt from the fridge when required. In the mornings he sits either in a little wicker chair or on a woooden stool with his name burned into the seat. I realise it's a slippery slope from here and any day expect him to demand a pipe, slippers and a plaid dressing gown with little tassels.

In cases of extreme Screaming Tomato-mania, he sits in Mummy's lap, while two other adults hover and administer vanilla yoghurt and tuna pasta in alternating mouthfuls, as happened the other evening.

As I sat there exhausted, holding his arms, feeling him slowly relax as he enjoyed both his dinner and his just dessert, and watching Daddy and Aunty N dive in one after another with their laden spoons, I realised Tricky may have won the battle, sure, but the war wouldn't be over for a very long time.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Three Playwrights Walk Into A Park...

At lunchtime I sat down in the park with two other playwrights.

One was a woman around my age, the other was a guy in his mid twenties.

We compared sandwiches and chatted about this and that and then I said to the guy:

"You know I couldn't help thinking about what you said in class, about when you were nineteen and you just suddenly made a decision not to take any more drugs."

He nodded modestly.

It was a class that had been full of various confronting but truthful revelations. "I made the decision not to take drugs anymore when I was 19"..."My dad died before I could tell him I loved him"..."I was infertile and hated all my fertile friends"... That sort of thing.

"And," I added, "I bet if your Mum knew about that moment she would be really really proud..."

"Yeah thanks," he said.

I wasn't finished. "And also, if my toddler grows up and finds himself in the same position, I hope he makes the same decision as you. "

There was a slight pause as we digested the image of my almost two year old saying no to bongs.

The other playwright sitting next to me nodded thoughtfully.

"I thought exactly the same thing. I would be very happy if my son grew up to be a young man like you."

"That's um...that's very nice..." he mumbled, turning red. "Thanks, both of you."

The other playwright and I looked at each other.

"You know you're getting old," she remarked, "when instead of fancying the young men in your class, you wish your son would grow up to be like them."

"God, you're right." I looked hard at the young man and he was certainly physically attractive, but it was his polite manners, tidy eating habits and sensible inclinations where imminent and ultimately debilitating addictions were concerned that made me find him truly desirable.

And even then it was solely for the purposes of creating a benchmark for my son.

I grimaced at the other mother playwright. Yet another confronting but truthful revelation.

"That makes me feel really old."

"Mmmm," she said. "But I mentioned that very thing to my husband last night, and then I asked him if he thought men felt the same way about the young women they met. Apparently, no."

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Back To School

Teensy bit overstretched because I've been attending a weeklong playwrights' course.

It is the first time, I'm sure, that I have had such an extended period of grown-up time, 10 to 5 every day, no tears, no tantrums, except of course for my own when I fail to crack some crucial plotpoint or discover my character won't do what I want her to do even if I ask very nicely.

It is, as you can imagine, complete luxury. I'm writing theatrical stuff and drinking coffees and scribbling down notes in cafes before class and hanging out with my writer buddies and I even went to the pub and had a glass of wine last night and it is truly madly deeply thrilling.

The new play with the contrary character and the uncrackable plot points is, funnily enough, about infertility.

Well no, not infertility per se but it is about two couples, two infertile couples, and it comes out of some strangely familiar territory. With some strangely familiar emotional force behind it. And it's actually a comedy but also, as you would expect, a little...well...dark.

Today we wrote an exercise and had to read it back to the class and I wasn't reading anything particularly profound or revealing but I just suddenly started to weep and had to stop reading and gulp and snort and wipe my nose and eyes and then read on. It was very strange.

Except it wasn't.

Because what I had realised was that the impulse for writing this play came not from (as I first thought) the desire to make a very ugly emotional experience into something beautiful (although that is part of why I am writing it) but because I realised/remembered very very early on when our flatmates/friends had got pregnant while on holidays, almost without trying it seemed, and we weren't and had been trying for ages and how upset I was at the time.

This wasn't a new memory, what was new was that I realised (while doing these writing exercises) was that I nearly lost one of my best friends as a result.

This is someone I speak to nearly every day, someone I write with, someone with whom I have many (over 20) years of history and friendship. I was staying at her house when she had just started dating her now husband, she was acting in the same play where I met my now husband. When my mother died I bolted to her house in Melbourne for a week and then went home for the funeral. We have supported each other through career crises and boyfriend dramas and exploding car radiators all the way back to university days when she used to wear spotty leggings and I used to wear a bob and a miniskirt.

Her friendship is one of the most important relationships in my life and it was nearly destroyed because I couldn't get pregnant and she could and did. At the time, no one really knew that C and I were having problems, I couldn't even really admit it to myself.

We were all living together and the household split up several months after that and I can remember the four of us clearing out the kitchen and she was heavily pregnant and we nearly broke up then and there over a fucking lemon juicer, except it wasn't really a lemon juicer it was a hidious big green monster sitting over my head and my heart that kept shrieking over and over it's not fair, it's not fair, it's not fair.

When I think over all this and remember that monster and that black cloud that descended upon me, and how my reality became a skewed thing, a painful thing that dragged at my heels and pricked at my heart whenever I saw a baby or a mother or a pram or a bump or a...or a...or a... it amazes me that any of the relationships I had at the time have survived.

So this play, if it gets finished, will be for my friend.

Because even though she didn't know what was happening to me, and I couldn't tell her because I didn't understand myself, I always knew that she loved me and cared about me. And what I think now is that she actually did see that monster in me and she forgave me and it's because of her that we have remained close friends.

We had to write an exercise where a character makes a private speech in their last moments on this earth.

And this is part of what undid me:

...My best friend Meg, I guess that's where all the crying will come from, she cries at the drop of a hat - and that's before all the injected hormones; the guinea pig gonads and whatever the fuck else they crush up to stick into those little vials. She's like my sister, but in a good way, because I actually have two sisters and they're both cunts. Meg, if you can hear me, I forgive you for making me shoot up in a nightclub, I forgive you for fucking up your marriage - your perfect fairytale ending marriage- and I forgive you for hating everyone else with a uterus, even me. I know how hard this was for you, how much this broke you up.

As I say, not profound.

But I guess, for me anyway, it was revealing.

One more day to go...

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Best Ever Dinner Out

Last night we had the Best Ever Dinner Out and so obviously this must be documented since oddly enough the last time we had dinner out was the Worst Ever Dinner Out where within thirty seconds of food arriving we had to abort table and convert operations to become Fastest Takeaway Meal Ever.

Every parent of a toddler must play this game, this crazy Russian Roulette type pick a meal which starts like this:

ooh look at the time, what do you reckon about lobbing down to (inexpensive but delicious restaurant where children are tolerated) and having dinner out as a family, we can take a bib and a bowl and I'm sure there's something that s/he will eat...

And your spouse stares at you with wide eyes and indrawn breath, shocked at the outrageous thought of dining out with toddler, and completely turned on by the thought that someone else will cook and serve you food of your choice and then clean up after you've gone.

Then, flushed with excitement, one of you will say...hey, why don't we go to that other more delicious place, the one that doesn't have high-chairs but does have wide seating which should surely be safe enough for our beloved offspring and WHAT THE HELL LET'S GET A BOTTLE OF WINE!

And so down you go, the three of you, to the other restaurant, the one that's actually not child-friendly at all but has much better food and, tellingly, is the place you used to go to all the time Before Baby, so the look, smell and dim sexy lighting conspire to remind you of that time... when you had all the sleep and sex in the world and STOP THIS MADNESS AT ONCE YOU ARE DELUDING YOURSELF THOSE DAYS ARE GONE.

The toddler falls from the wide comfy seats and screams, takes exception to having the candle removed from his fingers and screams, hates all the food you've ordered and screams.

The only consolation is that the place is so damn noisy (was it always like that?) that no one is perturbed by the noise and anyway it's still only 7pm and nobody's having dinner anyway except pensioners and sadly disappointed parents like yourselves.

Aha, but fast forward to Last Night when the sting of previous efforts had faded to be renamed 'mere inconvenience' instead of 'abject humiliation'.

We went back to previously described restaurant and once again we bought wine (yes!) and once again we enquired about a high chair (no!) but this time, Tricky stayed sitting beautifully on the wide seats and ignored the candle and ate rice with curry sauce and roti and drank from his sippy cup and we ate our dinner and drank one glass of wine each and it was PURE BLISS.

He was so gorgeous, so utterly divine, we then took him out to see the stars (current obsession: tinkle tinkles) and then took him to the icecream parlour and he was in bed by 7.30 pm and we were watching 6 Feet Under (series 2) by 7.45 and that my friends is the story of Our Best Ever Dinner Out.

Moral of the story is...GO EARLY AND YOU CAN MAKE IT HAPPEN.

It may never happen like this again, I know.
But for one night, it was superb.

ooh! and as if that wasn't enough... we got leftovers!

(*closes eyes and squeezes self with joy at the thought*)

PS This post brought to you by italics.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Quirk PS

re the post below, the following brave souls offered to part with their quirk. I acknowledge them here since attempting to add them to the behemoth of a post below seemed to upset poor little miss blogger and caused her to shout at me I hate you I hate you and by the way your html sux

jlo from ficklish
nic from Phred, Fwed? & Schweffel?
Em from Thirty Something
Louise from Aussie In The Orient

want to join them? C'mon c'mon you know you want to (except cal and Mima and Grit and all the other people who would rather stick a pencil in their eye)...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Mining The Quirk

Schmutzie, from the brilliant, if disturbingly monikered (and written), Milkmoney Or Not Here I Come has requested a meme from me me to be optimistically entitled:

Six Quirky Things About Me.

I sat down to write this last night and then stopped. Me? Quirk? What?

After a long long time of staring at the blank screen I decided to go to bed.

What’s something quirky about me? I asked my husband as I brushed my teeth.

Are you joking? he asked. He started saying something about how you never appreciate your own quirkiness because it’s only truly quirky to other people but I didn’t pay attention because I was too fascinated by the sight of myself in the mirror, brushing my teeth with the new electric toothbrush.

The new electric toothbrush is new in that, until the beginning of the year, we were a strictly hand brushing only family but then one day while waiting in line to buy a printer cartridge at Harvey Norman’s I saw a pile of Oral B electric toothbrushes, heavily discounted, and on impulse I grabbed one.

I find the new electric toothbrush a little intimidating, truthfully. I only use it once a week, preferring mostly to keep brushing with the humble non-electric. It actually took me a few goes before I stopped employing the regular old non-electric brushing movements with the new electric toothbrush and also stopped mashing it against my gums. For some reason, something deep inside me felt that my teeth could only be truly clean if I managed to remove the top layer of enamel.

Anyhoo, there I was, staring at myself brushing while C droned on about Quirk Ad Nauseum and all I could think was how ugly one looks when one brushes with the new electric toothbrush.

I saw the way it made my gaping mouth bulge and all the drooling and frothing and carry on and how it should really only be in the domain of the Truly Committed Couple because... erk... you could really go off someone if you saw that night after night. Anyway, it’s possible C threw out a few Quirks that I could have included in this damn meme but if he did I missed it over the roar of the toothbrush and the echo of my own profound thoughts.

But then, this morning I thought of a Quirk so I checked it with C on his way to drop Tricky at childcare and the boys at school and it was this:

1. I Never Finish Everything On My Plate.

Yes, he said, that’s true. Or your cup or your glass or your bowl. It’s like you have to leave at least a spoonful.

This is completely unlike C who likes to make fun of the fact that his parents were brought up in England during the war and are hence frugal non wasteful eat-the-mushy-bits-on-the banana people, yet both he and his brother clean their plates obsessively to the point that you can slip them straight back into the cupboard.

I, on the other hand, feel passionate about properly sorting the recycling but find it impossible to eat all the food on my plate.

C grabbed Tricky and wrenched the Naughty Nephews away from the downstairs tv and hustled them all into the car and I waved goodbye but inside I was thinking that this first Quirky Thing was pretty dull actually.

Well, said C, later in the afternoon when I brought it up again. What does she mean by Quirk, this person who so called “tagged” you. What does she consider to be Quirky?

OK, I said. Right off the bat she admits that she Cuts Her Own Hair.

We were walking by the beach and C was carrying Tricky on his shoulders. Tricky has this thing about wanting to see the stars lately, all the time, even during the day, and he gets very frustrated when he’s told there aren’t any stars, yet.

It’s sort of cute but when he’s frustrated he’ll try and hit you or if he’s on your shoulders he grabs your ears and yanks them and this is a bit painful. C was holding Tricky’s legs, bouncing him, and trying to distract him from the realization that although he could see the whole sky there were NO FRIGGING STARS, YET but I could see at the same time that he was a little taken aback by the cut your own hair thing.

Well yes, he said finally, that is pretty Quirky.

So I’m thinking the plate thing’s dull, not Quirky, I said. Can you think of anything else, please?

Hmmm, said C. There’s that Toot Nose thing.

Oh, I said slowly. Riiiight.

2. The Toot Nose Thing is something that only my very closest friends actually know about, so what the hell, have at it, y’all.

It goes thus: Sometimes, if I think I might have a little something in my nose and I wipe at it with a tissue and I’m still not sure if I’ve got it or not, I will turn to my husband/close friend in the know and say…Toot?

This is code for Is My Nose Clean? The answer to that if Yes, is: Toot, as in toot toot, clean as a whistle. If the nose is sadly, a little crowded say, than the husband/close friend says in a solemn voice: No Toot.

I have had two husbands and I’m proud to say that both were trained in the Toot Nose but I have to admit that this second one didn’t seem to get that the whole idea was that I was embarrassed by the snotty nose and the question and answer was meant to be a subtle sort of code and for many many years when asked Toot? he thought the Toot answer should be delivered as one yanks the horn on a Mac Truck and he would bellow HONK!

Are you sure that’s Quirky? I asked. Or just a bit disgusting?
It’s both, he said, comfortingly.

But you’ve given me a good idea, I said. I’m going to ring one of the Toot Nose friends and see if they can tell me any Quirks.

As we got into the car I rang George who is a long time pal and extremely good Toot Nose friend.

What are my Quirks George, I demanded.

He thought about it a bit and then he told me he didn’t want to offend me.

Ha ha ha I laughed gaily, no tell me I’ll be alright.

Well, he said. 3. You Annunciate Everything.

I was confused so he went on. You annunciate everything, everything you say is Very Clear and very…hmmm… precise. And I think I slur my words so when I’m talking with you I always remind myself to speak more clearly because you always go: Whaaaat?

What does George say, asked C.

He says I annunciate everything, I told him, and in my ear I heard George saying: and see you annunciated that.

But is that Quirky? I asked George, it sounds pedantic.
Or, I had a thought, is that why you think I have an English accent? I wonder if it’s because I’m actually a bit deaf?

George seemed to be laughing at me now so I stopped. But I do think I’m a bit deaf actually, I find it hard to make conversation in theatre foyers and I’m almost certain that’s why I’m such a crap networker and it’s like pushing shit uphill to get my plays on sometimes.

But again, that bit’s not Quirky, just a bit sort of…well, sad and not really anything to laugh at George, thanks very much.

The other thing I would say, said George, is that you um…well you’re very…

4. Drawn To Things That Are Child-like.

You know, added George, you wear rounded shoes and your clothing style is quite…

Mutton dressed as lamb? I prompted him, a little testily.

No no, he said. It’s not a fashion thing it’s more that you’re very comfortable in …

He seemed to be struggling here so I decided to help him out. Last week, I told him, a mutual friend I hadn’t seen in a while asked me if I was out of clean clothes and was forced to wear one of Tricky’s tee shirts.

Also, today I am wearing an old top and pair of pants cast off from my youngest sister. Also yesterday I bought a plastic bead necklace from a toyshop and I wore it all day until Tricky saw it and then we had a fight over who got to wear it.

Also I nearly bought a Jibbitz bracelet, but didn’t because it would take me too long to pick out what little plastic people things I wanted to decorate it with and that cop show episode I had waiting for me at home on the laptop wasn’t gonna write itself.

George was right. I thought about all the toys I still have, from my childhood, and the children’s books that I still read, regularly, especially if I’m down or depressed (most recently: fast read of Noel Streatfield’s Ballet Shoes) even now, IN THE YEAR THAT I TURN FORTY.

Soon after that I ended the conversation. I felt a little down actually, I wasn’t feeling so much ‘quirky’ as ‘infantile’ and ‘purile’, although it was nothing a quick burl of Charlotte Sometimes couldn’t fix.

And also, I shouted to C triumphantly as we arrived home, I’ve just remembered, I LOVE SHOWBAGS AND GEORGE LOVES SHOWBAGS TOO– enough to actually fight with me, in a crowded train, over the contents of a Bananas In Pyjamas showbag after a hard day of ‘suit work’ at the Sydney Royal Easter Show (see book for full sorry take on this).
So who's "child-like" now, hey George? Hey?

I still have two more Quirks to go, I thought to myself mournfully, later in the evening, what am I going to write?

I’m messy? I regularly use the adjective “jolly”? Every year I write a Mother’s Day card to my dead mother? All true, but pfff so what? Even the card thing, while mildly interesting, could only be seen as Quirky if I actually addressed and posted it.

I do collect things like Batman cards and those pictures that move when you wriggle them but only if they’ve got characters from The Simpsons on them. That could be Quirky I guess but really, when it comes down to it, I know it’s only a Quirkal Subset, derived from Quirk Number Four which was the whole Child Thing.

5. Your Wedding Dress Was Bright Pink, C reminded me.

In some circles, he said, that would be seen as Quirky.
Yeah sure, I muttered, what “circles” are they?
Those ones where the bride wears a wedding dress that’s white, he said.

Even as I shook my head my fingers were itching to type it all down so I’d be just that much closer to the Sixth Quirk.

A little voice inside tried to suggest the pink dress business was just another deeply buried subset of Quirk Number Four but I was already annoyed with the scrubbing the enamel off the teeth so I kicked the little voice in its metaphorical face and it sank without trace.

It was late at night when I sent out the group email to all my Toot Friends and others who just gently let you know you if you get “a bat in the cave”.

Help, I said, What are my Quirks? Quickly.

PS Do not say Toot Nose, I have it already.

For the next ten minutes I pressed Send/Receive repeatedly as I made further probing phone calls in case any of them weren’t sitting in front of their computers and were actually having lives; sleeping perhaps, or picking up strange men, or watching theatre.

But there were no answers, and no texts and nothing but stilted voicemail messages.

So I thought, what the hell, I would treat my last Quirk as a sort of …resolution if you will, a test of emotional strength and fortitude.

Some may see it even as a sort of dare, which would annoy me because frankly that just takes me right back to Quirk Number Four, the Child Thing again, and I’ve already got the shits with George about that and I’m taking him OFF the Toot Nose list, although he won’t know that until one day in the future when I need a tissue and instead of happily Tooting at him, I’ll make a big song and dance about needing to Go To The Bathroom.

And then finally, hopefully he’ll learn a little something about people’s feelings and that round shoes are comfortable shoes not childish shoes and he won’t feel the need to ask me what I'm thinking and why I have suddenly started to:

6. Cut My Own Hair.

And now the rule is I have to nominate six bloggers, and link to them. But people, dear sweet people, I'm spent. Those six quirky fucking things have sucked the life out of me. So I'm going to ask for THE FIRST SIX PEOPLE TO COMMENT to accept this as their commission. If you do, I'll come back and write your names in here. And if your number 7 or something and desparate to do it, just say it in the comments and I'll put you on.

And if you're just lurking? And there are only like one or two comments FOR THE LOVE OF GOD TAKE PITY ON ME.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Horses For Courses

Tricky will be two years old in July. This is causing me some stress.

It’s not the actual birthday itself or seeing my baby grow up etc etc it’s the pressure of deciding which family members get to share in the actual day.

There are three potential locations for the blessed event. We live with the three Naughty Nephews and their parents in Sydney, my parents plus one sister plus one step brother live in Newcastle, and C’s parents plus one brother (who couldn’t give a flying fuck if we were there or Timbuctoo) live on the opposite side of the country in Perth. (After some consideration, I am ruling out New Zealand where my sister AJ and her family live and also Bulgaria where C's older brother and his family live.)

The Perth location wouldn’t play much of a part in the festivities except that this year we are actually going to Perth around that time to spend some quality family time with Gramma and Papa.

At first the criteria for determining the dates when we would be fleeing our fair city were simple:
-around the time of Tricky turning two (when we would have to pay for his seat)


-during Youth Day Celebrations, which, despite the reasonable sounding name, actually lasts for a whole week and rather than just being just one Youth (which would probably be manageable) will actually involve many hundreds of thousands of bright eyed Catholic Youths all descending onto Sydney, in particular the region surrounding our house, and making merry with the Lord. The roads will be closed, the buses will be full and (oddly, I think) the racecourse taken over to help contain all that joy joy joy deep in our hearts.

I and my sisters were bright eyed Catholic Youths at various times of our lives but in an ad hoc, depending on location, sort of way. In Penang we were quite devout and managed to all get holy confessed and communed, whereas in Hoppers Crossing we were basically a tearaway bunch of godless heathens.

Yet, thinking back, that was also the time that my sister AJ and I attended a Catholic Ladies College. One term only. Thankfully. We had just moved back from Malaysia and the language I had been learning there was Indonesian. This was not part of the CLC curriculum. I could choose either French or Italian. This would have been ok except the other students had been learning their language all year and as it was now final term there was no way I could keep up.

Solution? Pop me into the English As A Second Language class.

Here I, and the other young ladies recently emigrated from countries where they did not speak English, practiced our conversation skills, matched flashcards with pictures, and now and then filled out stencils.

It was excruciating.

Yet, interestingly I found this class far more appealing than the actual English class where the syllabus for the entire term appeared to be a close read (without irony) of that entirely appropriate for 13 year old girls literary masterpiece: Tom Brown’s Schooldays.

Each lesson saw us painfully reading aloud together a few paragraphs (dictionary definitions where necessary). Every few weeks we had to hand in a list of written answers to questions on each chapter. One day, apropos of nothing, the English teacher asked us to write a poem on the moon. I nearly wet my pants in excitement. She must have left her novel at home that day. It never happened again.

Of course it is grossly unfair to base my prejudice towards the oncoming Catholic Youths on one term in a girls school and one extremely dull book but that’s the beauty of prejudice. It is unfair.

C asked me what dates he should book for our flight and I started dithering about nephews and parties and eucharists and Two Is A Milestone Year and rugby and fagging for Flashman.

C seemed oddly unphased by it all. He said that Tricky could have two, three, twenty three birthday parties if that made it easier to organise. Of course it did make it easier but then C didn’t make the cake last year.

In the final clash of the Titans, Mammon won over Jesus. We thought as long as the ticket was booked before the child turned two there would be no charge. Au contraire, flight had to be done and dusted before his birthdate. So now we’re getting back from Perth a few days before celebrations start – both for Tricky and the Pope. At least that’s one location struck from the list and maybe we’ll just go back to last year’s plan and have one birthday in Sydney and one in Newcastle, which would give us a good plan of escape.

Or maybe we’ll just bite the wafer and stick around to enjoy the ambience.

There’s a lot of love in that racecourse.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mothers (day)

14 years since I lost one....

...2 years since I became one.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Everything I Know About Life I Learned From My Toddler's Scraps

C was feeding Tricky his dinner tonight, a delightful pasta and leftover soup combination with grated cheese.

Tricky likes his dinner both as fingerfood and on (several) spoons, variety of serving being the spice of life. (Similarly water must be available in waterbottle, sippy cup and Big Boy Cup.)

Everything was going very nicely until a piece of pasta slithered off one of the many spoons and ended up on the floor.

Tricky instantly twisted about trying to spot the lost morsel. Pasta! He called mournfully as if attempting to attract a mongrel dog. Pasta! Eventually C got fed up with all the pasta grief. It’s gone, I heard him say finally, can you just let it go? The Pasta is Gone.

How many times, I thought, have I had to say this very thing and using that very same tone to myself over the years?

The job I failed to get.
The play that never found a producer.
The boy I never kissed.
The boy I did kiss but deeply regretted it.
The tests on our reproductive organs we chose not to have earlier.
The transfer that didn't.

These are the limp fusilli* of our life and once dropped, they must not be fussed over, they must be Let Go.

(And either be eaten by the dog or perhaps turn up on the bottom of your toddler’s sandal next morning.)

*Or perhaps spaghetti. I think that boy I shouldn’t have kissed was definitely a rigatoni.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Letter To The Son Of The Boy With The Outy Belly Button

Dear Dylan

Can you believe that after all that pfaffing around with Google maps this morning and all that stressing about whether it was better to go along Anzac Parade or Malabar Rd I was actually a whole twenty minutes early? Twenty minutes early, that's some kind of record for me. Usually I'm at least five minutes late for these kinds of things and actually, one time, at a very good friend's wedding C and I were so late we only just managed to make the "I do" moment. And I was meant to be making a speech at the reception. But then that was a few years back now, so maybe I've learned something.

I thought your aunties were looking very beautiful today. And your grandma too in that embroidered blouse.

And your parents...

I remember your dad when he was just a little boy. Our families were all in the Royal Australian Air Force, so that meant we all got posted to different places every few years. But for some reason, your dad's family was often posted to the same places as my family, and so we would see each other fairly regularly over the years. Me and my two younger sisters were older than your aunties and your dad was the baby of the lot, at least until my youngest sister K was born.

The Place We Were All In that sticks most clearly in my memory was Penang, Malaysia.

In my mind I can see your grandmother making the kids sandwiches and giving us the choice of vegemite, peanut butter or a miraculous gourmet cocktail of the two, which from memory was both salty and sweet.

Malaysia gave up many more culinary delights, and there were plenty of shared family dinners, and it was the late seventies and early eighties so there were also things like 'steamboat' which was a sort of communal soup pot where you cook your own chunks of meat. And 'fondue,' and my dad's infamous disco parties with the aluminium foil stuck on the walls to reflect the coloured lights, and then your grandmother's famous cakes (sponge and fruit), but in my mind it's the vegemite-and-peanut-butter-sandwiches that we ate with your dad and his big sisters that seems to sum us up.

We weren't related at all but we called your grandparents 'aunty' and 'uncle' and your dad and his sisters did the same with my parents. So that made us like cousins. We were as different as vegemite and peanut butter, but we made a hell of a good sandwich.

I was the eldest with all the authority that entailed. I remember once pointing out your dad's belly button to the rest of the girls and instructing them rather grandly that the reason his belly button was an 'outy' was because it was the stump of his umbilical cord and it hadn't fallen off yet. I think he was three at the time. Sadly for my authority your grandmother overheard and interjected, her raucus laughter no doubt stunting my potential medical career at the age of ten.

It was probably hard being the only boy, and the youngest of this gang of girls, but your dad managed pretty well. It probably helped that he was a cutie, with his blonde hair and blue eyes and long eyelashes. Now that we're all grownups he's the only one that still calls me Professor which was what his dad used to call me. I don't really know why, it's not like I was particularly brainy or had a wild mop of white hair or anything like that. Although now that I think back to that time, I did have a chemistry lab set up in the back part of that house. So maybe that was it. It certainly couldn't have been my know-all attitude.

Anyway what I'm saying is that I look at your dad and though he's quite the grownup now, I still see that little blonde boy with the blue eyes and long eyelashes.

And why I think it hurt just that much more seeing him carrying you in your tiny white coffin today.

His face was tense and slightly crumpled like he was holding back all the pain and sorrow of the last two weeks and though your coffin must have been light, I could see the weight of all that pain, on him and on your mother walking beside him.

There was a lovely knitted rug and some blue tulle and a little blue bear where your coffin sat, before all the sad bewildered people who had gathered today. There was a framed photograph of you in a blue knitted hat, your eyes shut tight. For two days your brave mother carried you within her, knowing that you had died, and then labouring to bring you into the world so that she and your dad and your heartbroken family could hold you for the first and last time and say their goodbyes. Your gift to her: a beautiful, perfect birth.

And I never knew you, tiny little boy. I never even saw your mother pregnant and because we all lead busy lives I didn't hear from your grandmother about how the pregnancy was progressing, nothing until that shocking message last week to say that you had died. And then, my sisters and I, calling each other, confused, trying to work out how old you were, how many months was she, was she due, what happened?

What happened?

Your parents agreed to an autopsy if it would help another baby, another mother and father.

But they may never know.

You were 36 weeks. You were breech. Your heartbeat stopped.

Here's what I learned about you today. You had tiny beautifully curled fingers. You travelled in your mother's belly to South America. Your father like to play 'kick boxing' with you through the wall of her abdomen. Your mother said you were perfect. Your father called you my little man. Your birth was miraculously easy.

I think you would have been so proud of them today, their dignity, their grace. The two of them, strong and stable, like an island in that huge ocean of tears. When I hugged your dad, I couldn't help saying it's not fair and he smiled sadly at me and hugged me back and said thanks for coming Professor, it means a lot that you're here.

Afterwards at the cup of tea and cakefest, I couldn't help thinking about this beautiful family you were born into but had to leave. They believe in God, your family, and this gives them an incredible strength and peace. They are such good people. They care about others and they help out wherever it's needed and they put themselves at the end of the queue and it seems inconceivable to me that they should suffer in this way.

I get very angry, I said to them as we sipped our tea and munched on your grandmother's special fruit cake, with you know who and I pointed to the ceiling. Because so many.. I mouthed the next word to your aunties fucked things seem to have happened to you. They nodded. It was true. But your grandmother hugged me and said she always remembered her fridge magnet that said: God only gives me what he knows I can handle, I just wish he didn't trust me so much. Wry smiles all round.

But they know they'll see you again.

It was time to go and your grandmother pressed something heavy into my bag. It was an enormous slab of fruit cake. I made extra, she whispered at me.

I kissed your dad and your mum and your grandfather and aunties and uncles and your grandmother goodbye. It's so sad, said one of your aunties, that we only see you at events like this.

Well we should get together, I said, we should make the time, when we come to Newcastle next.

Your grandmother was pleased at the thought.

And I know just what we'll have, she said. I'll make a steamboat.

As I waved goodbye, I thought of my own family, and my 36 week baby, now a nearly two year old, waiting for me at home with his daddy.

And about love and about grief and about childhood and vegemite-and-peanut-butter-sandwiches.

And about the miraculous gourmet cocktail that is parenthood. Both salty and sweet.

Goodbye baby Dylan.


Thursday, May 01, 2008

Old Mummy, Old Daddy

My parents were 21 when they had me. C's were a bit older but still in their twenties. This as opposed to C and I of course who were 44 and 38 when Tricky was born.


Along with all the other happy thoughts I like to torture myself with is the concept that C and I will be old before Tricky finishes high school. Well, no, not old exactly (what is 'old' after all) we will still be young at heart, free spirited, fun loving hipsters, we'll just be more wrinkled I suppose. And possibly smell funny.

This is partly why I'm feeling a little reassured that Tricky’s New Best Ever Favouritist Book In The World is called “Old Bear.”

This book is written and illustrated by Jane Hissey. Kudos to you Jane, I see you have a range of books featuring Old Bear and his younger, sprightlier companions. I am intrigued by your surname and wonder if your friends laugh at you unkindly whenever you get cross and accuse you of having a “Hissey Fit”. I myself would find that intensely irritating.

But enough of asides to the writer, this is the story:

Old Bear is shabby and hideous, for all we know he also smells and hoards things, he certainly likes to get around naked. The limitations and enforced brevity of picture books being what they are, we simply learn that Old Bear is too old to be allowed to remain with the other toys and so he gets flung into the attic by…who? (The Humans we suppose, never mentioned by name but their destructive influences, and toothbrushes, are everywhere.)

Luckily the toys - the younger, sprightlier toys, reveling in their boundless energy and ruffled good looks- one day remember Old Bear and decide to Bring Him Down.

Cue a number of stupid (but touching) efforts by the teenage like Little Bear (who, rather suspiciously, sports mad red eyes and exhibits erratic behaviour) to try and reach the trap door in the ceiling. After various misadventures with towers of blocks, bouncing on bed and a pot plant (ahem), Little Bear is flown to the attic by Rabbit in a small red aeroplane.

In the attic, Old Bear is discovered, still naked and reading a book. He and Little Bear don their handkerchief parachutes and jump down, to be welcomed by a cheering crowd of Duck, Rabbit, Sailor and alpha bear Bramwell Brown.

Tricky likes to hear this story at 6.30 every morning and at 7.00 every evening. As he listens he clutches to himself C’s childhood teddy, still in original woolen blue overalls as knitted by long gone grandmother, recently discovered languishing at the back of the bookshelf. (Teddy, not grandmother)

Daddy Old Bear Tricky likes to say. Daddy Old Bear. Then he hugs the bear tenderly and picks at the buttons.

I feel heartened by this, both the story and the hugging. I’m hoping it bodes well for C and I and our hipster/hip replacement years.