Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Wat Up

A few years back I went on a silent retreat at a Buddhist Wat with my friend Annie.

It was my first time at such a place but Annie had done it at least once and her familiarity with the silences, the cold morning walks along moonlit bush paths, and the two story drop toilets, was a comforting presence.

It wasn’t entirely silent of course, Annie had arranged for me to share a cabin with her - usually one would be placed with strangers or in a separate cabin or caravan to ensure non-engagement. As it was, a stray fart or burp or snore led to a stream of giggles hastily muffled lest any nearby meditating monk should be disturbed.

Early each morning, and it seemed very early indeed but was probably around the same time I get up now, we gathered in the wat.

Here, on the stone floor, we folded our legs beneath us and began to focus on our breathing, in an effort to still the mind and eventually attain enlightenment or a bladder of iron whichever came first.

It was here that the first awkward attempts at what would become the infamous OvaGirl Breathing Technique (as used in HSGs, blood tests, horribly painful egg retrievals and um…childbirth) appeared. Breathing through my nose and out my mouth, half asleep, concentrating, drifting away, coming to with a jolt only to discover a thin line of drool hanging from my chin - I think it was the glamour that initially attracted me to the retreat.

I never went back to the wat in the mountains but I did learn some things that have stayed with me.

The joy of sweeping for instance, and raking, and other such jobs where one moves dirt or leaves about with a long stick device, all the while realizing that the dirt or leaves will simply be moved somewhere else and that each day more dirt or leaves will appear.
The joy is simply in the moving.

I also learned about loving kindness and the necessity of spraying this towards others as well as towards oneself. Much like some projectile vomiting demon child.

And finally I learned about mindfulness; that we need to be mindful in all our tasks and to be present and in the moment, so that, for instance, when one is eating, one must be present in the moment of eating, and aware of the taste of food and the slopping onto the white shirt etcetera…

And all these are good lessons, but frankly, just at this stage of my life, unattainable.

The joy of sweeping for instance has been replaced by the joy of sponging a full sippy cup of milk out of my mattress and quilt, where it has been spilt, nay flung, by a screaming tomato at 6.39 in the morning. Being a deliberate act, this immediately plays havoc with my loving kindness and instead inspires my frothing rage which must of course be suppressed and instead can be directed at my husband three hours later when he forgets to take the pooey nappies downstairs and throw them in the bin.

And the mindfulness.
Please. I seem to have entered the world of the Eternal Multi-tasker.
I cannot remember the last time I did one action in isolation.
If I am eating, I must also be reading my emails.
If I am talking on the phone during a meeting with several other writers in our guild about various state issues, I must also be picking up toys. At the same time I will be hiding to avoid my toddler, who is being minded by his aunty downstairs, actually realizing I am still in the same house.
If I am doing the washing, I am also attempting some lame-arse exercises for my sagging butt.

And I’m not even going to bother telling you what I was doing when I started composing this email. Because it’s probably where you do yours.

I think back to that weekend where all I had to do was rake and sweep and meditate and be in the moment. It was freezing cold and I was scared of snakes and the toilets didn’t flush. There was no coffee and I missed C.

But sometimes I dream about the silence.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Must Wear Socks

Here is a picture of hell.

And here is a picture of the place I took Tricky to last Friday when it was cold and wet and we couldn't go to the park.

This establishment has soft climbing equipment, things to slide on and slip off, a free coffee included in the price of entry for accompanying adults and one million screaming writhing toddlers and under fives in a very small enclosed place.

In addition there were two hundred and fifty thousand adults all desperate for their free coffee and a small cushioned place to sit, and five hundred thousand prams/strollers/push chairs all requiring parking and each one the size of a small bus.

Approximately 79% of the above sported a snotty nose and/or a hacking cough. Including the prams.

There was also a ball pit. Tricky liked this as he could finger the balls and fling them about the room along with the other million children. I however saw the balls as colourful, larger than life replicas of all the new bacteria and viral diseases about to be introduced to his system.

The highlight of our visit was either pouring the contents of my free coffee down my jacket and all over the crotch of my trousers, the plastic lid having been incorrectly attached to the cardboard cup by the coffee lackey, or actually managing to escape this hellhole and getting a free balloon on a stick.

Next wet Friday I plan to top this experience by sticking a pencil through each eye.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The One Where I Rave About My Son's Birthday And Also Swear Way Too Much

The birthday thing was not entirely unexpected (oddly enough last year he turned one at this exact same time) yet still The Day seemed to creep up and take me by surprise, shouting loudly in my ears, stamping on my school shoes, and then running away, laughing meanly.

And so, plans were made for a party for Tricky and toddler pals. This in turn meant horrible night sweats for Mumma and waking in panic over THE BIRTHDAY CAKE.


Last year, my sister in law N made the birthday cake and it was a triumph. The N does not stand for "Nigella" but frankly it may just as well. She used a Nigella Lawson recipe (as she does for all the birthday cakes for all her children) featuring the magical ingredient buttermilk which made it more robustly able to bear the weight of what appeared to be a tonne of bright red icing and several gazillion Smarties. This was then scoffed by everyone and in the case of the adult friends present, washed down with beakers of champagne.

It was, we all agreed, a simply marvelous party.


But that was a year ago and now my sister in law is gainfully employed and totally run off her feet and so if there was going to be home made Nigella Birthday Cake for Tricky the finger bun was pointing well and truly at me.


But see I don't make cakes.

Well I have made some extremely heavy fruit cakes, suitable for diabetics and people with MS who are not supposed to eat saturated fats, but certainly not things containing an entire stick of unsalted butter that must be creamed with half a sack of castor sugar.

I did toy briefly with the idea of buying a cake but the cloying chemical scent of a bought caramel mudcake which C purchased for my own birthday celebration (one of the three such events) was still lingering in my senses.

No, I told myself sternly. There is a well thumbed copy of The Domestic Goddess just waiting for me on the shelf downstairs. There are traditions in place, sacred rituals, and how rare is that in our secular, busy, just-buy-the-frigging-cake-mentality lives? And also, bearing in mind my current wrestles with Nietzsche, what would he say on the matter? Surely he would encourage me to climb that Nigella Cake Mountain?

And so, on the afternoon before The Day, I set aside my actual proper paid employment despite the fact that I am under the Deadline Hammer and had two murders, a mass drowning, an unhappy wife and a stalking barista to whip into submission ( that's right Nigella, try licking your pouty lips over that little recipe), placed All My Ingredients on the bench and took down Her Book.

Thence began The Muttering. I know about the muttering because my brother in law was working in the room next to the kitchen and he could hear me the whole time. Apparently it went like this:

Ok ok ok….plain flour, yes yes, big eggs, got them, vanilla extract, ha yes, castor sugar, butter milk, bi carb, bi carb, bi carb, baking pow......der. ...oh no...castor sugar, castor much?...that's nowhere near enough....god! No No No!

Muttering briefly stops while I dash down to the corner stop for more castor sugar.

Muttering continues as above until I manage to compact the wussy beater thingys of the hand held mixer with hardened butter and sugar.

As the motor overheats I rush into brother in law’s room because, being married to N, he will surely have absorbed some cake-making wisdom via osmosis if not actual cooking practice. Luckily K has both and I learn that when one creams butter and sugar together one is aiming for a light fluffy cream like consistency, nothing like the greasy mess I am now waving about hysterically in the air.

At some point in the day C arrives home which is good as once the butter and sugar is properly creamed it has to be added to the sieved flour/baking powder mixture and alternating with the buttermilk/vanilla extract mixture and FOR FUCKS SAKE NIGELLA I ONLY HAVE TWO HANDS.

But finally, finally the cake is cooked and looks quite presentable.

Cut to next morning when C and I now have to do more butter/sugar madness to create delightful ‘butter icing’.

Except Nigella, whom I am beginning to hate, has thoughtfully not bothered to include the actual method of making butter icing in her book. She has the ingredients and some wonderfully charming anecdote about Barbie’s bosoms or somesuch but it seems that butter icing is like breathing or indeed breast feeding (ha bloody ha) and everyone is born knowing how to do it.

Eventually we do discover how to do it and yes it is easy but how much stress would we have avoided if she had just thoughtfully included these six simple words:


And now we must put aside our cake making hat and put on our cake decorator floppy beret.

A word on birthday cake decoration and shape. The Naughty Nephews kindly took me through both versions of the Women’s Weekly Cake Decorating Book and pointed out all their fabulous birthday cakes of the past: the train, the rocket ship, the caterpillar, the Sydney Opera House, the great fucking wall of China (some slight exaggeration here).

Yea verily they are all brilliant but require much sculpting and shaping and scalpel precision type shaving of the very cake that one has already lost sleep over the making thereof. Also, it seems, one needs a shitload of coloured popcorn and chocolate biscuits to adhere to the sides.

So the shape I decided on was a T.

And simple though that shape may appear, even this required C and I to sit down with pieces of paper and ruler and scissors and tumbler of whiskey, cutting and recutting, sipping and resipping, just to create a template that would ensure the correct T shape.

The next decision to be made was colour.

Last year was red. This year….what?
We could go blue or green or take a cake out of Nigella’s tea tray and go white on white. (Except of course we wouldn’t because that’s just ridiculous) In the end I decided to follow on with a theme (ie the chakras) and go for orange. This means that while last year’s cake honoured the base chakra ie the genitals, this year’s moved up the ladder a bit and would honour the bowel.

In years to come we shall go through things like heart(green) and throat(blue) chakras and eventually hit the final third eye/top of the head chakra (one or t’other, I’m a bit sloppy with the boundaries). The obvious benefit of basing your child’s cake on chakras is that the first seven years’ colours are pre-determined, all the way up to… violet.

Just to cover my bases I had a few weeks back bought every possible variety of food colouring, sprinkle shapes(including stars, moons, dinosaurs, flowers and internal organs) roll out ready made icing, tubes of garish ‘write on’ icing, little candy animal faces, smarties and mini marshmallows.

C did the icing, based on his experience with plaster rendering (which he declared to be easier) and I did the decorating based on my impatience.

At last we were done. A proper birthday cake, made from a Nigella book, iced orange, studded with smarties and marshmallows and decorated with a plastic tiger.

We gazed at it with almost as much pride as we had first gazed at Tricky and I looked at the enormous amount of left over butter icing and felt a sudden surge of Nigella directed energy and then immediately whipped up my sleeves and DASHED OFF TWO DOZEN NIGELLA FAIRY CAKES.

I added extra colouring to the orange icing and ended up with a plate of lurid pink and camouflage green cupcakes. Sadly this is the only proof I have that they existed.

This story began as a stressful and worrying experience but ended happily with eight bottles of champagne and seven home delivered Turkish pides many hours later after the children had been put to bed.

And I realised that Nietzsche was right all along with the mountain and the suffering and what makes the most fulfilling experiences and the good things coming from bad. And he was almost right about alcohol being the scourge of civilization and how we should all just avoid it like the plague except miraculously, the next day, apart from a slight seediness, there was NO HANGOVER.

It was, simply, a marvelous party.



Friday, July 18, 2008

And then he was two

Tricky turned two today.

And it was glorious.

What do you think of, I said to his father, the fact that he's turning two, what does that make you think of?

I think...that time goes so fast, he said, that I can't believe it's two years already.

I think that, I said, But also I think of this day, and the days that led up to it, giving birth to him and what a strange and extraordinary time that was.

And then I think of the years that led up to that day.

The waiting and the hoping and the wishing and the counting and the medicating and the testing

and then he came.

And even now, two years later, sometimes I can't quite believe it.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Tiny tinkles

"Can you remember your potty?"

I was washing up as I asked this of C who was finishing one of his one million reports on the computer.

"No." He didn't even look up.

It occurred to me that having spent his early formative years in a caravan in the frozen tundras of Gloustershire in the UK during the early 60s, C probably had to make do with a hole in the lino but I didn't suggest this. It made my own nostalgic glow for my big plastic elephant potty, with the happy smile and the oddly formal bow tie, seem... indulgent.

But after all, small people do spend a lot of time on their potty, I thought. Why shouldn't they be pleasant, or even comfortable?

Friday is Tricky's 2nd birthday and so on the weekend we did a little shopping at K-Mart.

I was actually after a motorbike, just a chunky no-frills plastic motorbike that he could sit on and zoom about the place. I have very strong memories of my youngest sister and her no frills plastic motorbike and the joy it gave her for many years. I know this is simply stting myself up for disaster ie. why should a toddler in 2008 necessarily enjoy what another toddler enjoyed in um 1982 simply because they're related and also um...toddlers, but I liked the simplicity of the concept.

It's not one of those ride on things that play nursery rhymes (he has one of those) or has a spinning around thing under the handles (his little friend Toby has one of those) or plays a succession of big band instruments (his little friend Jude has one of those), it is Just A Plastic Motorbike and all you can do is sit on it and use your feet to propel you along. If one wants, one can make brrrrm brrrm noises as well. Or as in my little sister's case wooof wooof noises because she was obsessed with puppy dogs.

And so the search began but of course it is always difficult to find exactly what one wants in a K-Mart. They are not designed for exact purchases they are designed to suck you into a vortex and barrage you with bright light and shedloads of stuff in the hopes that you may accidentally buy yourself a rice cooker and a microwave potato capsule when you only wanted a grater.

Also, I find the staff elusive and timid, shy of eyecontact with potential customers and fearful of giving actual advice on where anything the fuck is.

C and I planted young Tricky before a shelf full of exceedingly ugly plastic dinosaurs (that roar when you press their temples together) and ducked and weaved from aisle to aisle around him looking looking looking for non-fancy motor bike.

There were minor victories. I found the motorbike section and was jubilant for about 33 seconds until I realised it was was chockablock with fancy motorbikes, the musical, big band playing revolving sort as described above but also alternative pink ballerina versions of same because...I don't know... some advertising genius has realised that girls will only endure toy motorbikes and bikes in general if they are pink. And festooned with flowers. And tutus. God knows how I ever made it through childhood with a green dragster.

Luckily as we were leaving with our collective tails between our legs (and a god awful plastic T-Rex with squeezable temples ) C spotted exactly what I wanted, stacked amongst the (real) barbeques. I have no idea why the non-fancy plastic motorbikes were stacked with the barbeques but there you go. In some shy, retiring, staff member's mind it made perfect sense.

As we were leaving the inevitable happened and we were sucked into the "that's right I needed to get that" vortex emerging out the other side with... a potty.

Tricky has seen a potty in use at childcare by a couple of his fellow small people. A couple of times he has managed to wee in the toilet before a bath. We are not by any means rushing to potty train but it seemed like as good a time as any to purchase essential equipment. And we were in the vortex.

There was much head scratching and murmbling to ourselves as C and I discussed which potty/toddler toilet seat would be best. It became increasing clear that this was actually a conflict between his memory of the potty (ie. nothing) and mine (ie. Elly my friendly ride on wee on poo on elephant, with the bow tie and the raised trunk).

We seriously discussed all the pros and cons of each model. We struggled to separate stacks of potties that had been far too firmly wedged into place by some doe-eyed tightly wound staff member.

Not the blue Wiggles potty - too ridiculously expensive, not the padded Dora The Explorer toilet seat - too ridiculous to bear.

This potty wouldn't match the bathroom.

That potty was just a study in stupidity.

Tricky patiently filled his nappy waiting for us to make up our mind about which pot he would eventually crap in and attempted to shoplift a toasted sandwich maker (stacked carefully just near the heated toilet seats) out of sheer boredom.

Eventually we settled on a plain white one with a high back. Nothing fancy, nothing extravagant. Comfortable but not cushy.

And that night, while road testing it, Tricky managed the tiniest wee in the world. Cue ticker tape parade and dancing girls to celebrate.

Somehow, we've started potty training. In a very gentle, casual what-ho sort of way...

"This is a perfectly good potty," said C. "He's very happy with this."

It was true, he was happy, but it occurred to me that I could always apply a few stickers to brighten things up a little.

Attach some sort of music playing device to entertain him during those long waits. A big band music playing thing, say. Or a thing that spins around.

Or at the very least, a bow tie.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Before Sunrise

While I was on holiday, the rest of the playwrights in the group finished Thus Spake Zarathustra and their various written responses, and next Tuesday we meet to mull over Nietzsche's life and argue over whether he ever really got laid (which will obviously be a pivotal moment in our theatrical intepretation).

I, however, am only up to part 3 of The Z-Man which means the bit where Zara praises winter, goes in hard with various townspeople and their silly other prophet related beliefs, and puts the boot into such things as involuntary bliss and mediocrity.

To these irritations I can't help wishing that Nietzsche had included things like Having One's Toddler Chuck A Tantrum That Lasts For Well Over One Hour and Husband's Uncanny Ability To Keep Reading Newspaper During Said Tantrum.
This last 'irritation' of C's was almost enough to see me collect up every philosophical text in the house and batter him about the head and shoulders in a blind rage, but (despite having lived here for over two years) we still don't have a reliable book cataloguing system in place and it would take me too long to amass such texts into anything solid enough to be capable of violence.
The exception to the book cataloguing disaster is (of course) my precious collection of Books Of My Childhood and frankly the energy I'd be forced to expend to draw blood with my paperback copies of (say) The Borrowers series just wouldn't be worth it.

In the land of the man with the ridiculous moustache I can report that the mountain motif is getting a steady workout, I've just read a gory bit about a shepherd with a snake caught in his mouth, there's some mad dwarf action, and I just know it's all going to end badly, what with it being so based on the writer's experiences and him dying insane and from syphilis. (Or was it a brain tumour? See, the getting laid question is important after all.)

Alain de Botton talks about Fred and his writings in The Consolations Of Philosophy which I started reading to help understand more about Nietzsche and have continued to read to learn more about myself. It may well be Philosophy Lite but it's all I can handle right now and frankly any insight, even if it's simply that drinking hemlock is a health hazard, is a bonus.

Alain de Botton's version of Nietzsche tells me (I still don't have a fucking clue what Zarathustra is saying) that all these difficulties are necessary, that we must keep climbing the mountain to achieve worthwhile happiness (as opposed to that lightweight involuntary bliss) and that we should allow that lofty inspirational joyous things can and mostly do develop from base moments and urges and actions.

So I try not to get depressed about having to go back to the beginning with my tv script draft, I try to see that it's ok to have failed to get it right so far, that in failing and starting again I am learning to get it right.
And I try not to give up on actually reading Zarathustra, being so far behind the others, and wishing I could fling it out the window and do some comfort reading instead.

And I try very hard not to get down about Tricky being so upset and out of sorts since our holiday return, his screaming and hitting and his furious face clawing (have I mentioned the furious face clawing? No? That would be because it upsets me then.) and just keep on doing the best I can with him, speaking calmly and putting him down when he claws or hits me and loving him with all my heart.

And that keeping on loving thing goes the same for his father too, even when we seem to be emotional strangers who happen to be sharing a bathroom sometimes, because we are after all, both climbing this particular mountain, this parenting mountain and I know how hard it is for me and therefore how hard it is for him too.
We both feel tired and old and angry at times, we both have disappointments and challenges in our work that knock us down, we both feel helpless and stupid and useless when Tricky cries for an hour and can't seem to be calmed.
We may not always understand each other, all the time, we may feel tired, old, angry and completely fucked in general but we're still climbing, together, and hey there's something in that.
And so often it's more.

And it's not all climbing, I keep reminding myself.

Sometimes it's stopping and breathing deep and admiring the view.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Home Again Home Again Jiggety Jig

He looked like this. But at an airport. And screamier. And more tomatoey...

We made it home intact but it was a very near thing. The cracking point came, funnily enough, at the very end of our journey as we waited for our luggage to be delivered via 'carousel'.

As I waited with Tricky by our small mountain of hand luggage I had the brilliant idea of amusing my over-tired, over-sensitive toddler with a couple of blown up balloons.

Yes, I'm one of those organised clever mothers who tuck little toys and balloons into their handbag for just such a moment when one's child needs distraction. So there I was, blowing up balloons (not too large) and tying knots in the end and trying to explain why there were no red balloons left, only yellow and blue.

Cut to...balloon suddenly being blown away and drifting down one end of the airport with my toddler in hot pursuit as I stood by the small mountain of hand luggage and my husband waited up the other end of the terminal for our larger mountain of proper luggage.

And, call me stupid (because I certainly did) but I expected Tricky to get the balloon and come straight back to me.

But he didn't. Because he is not quite two. And he had been restrained in a small space for five hours.

And I had to leave the hand luggage, all the computers and cameras and brand new portable dvd player and leg it after him and then when I caught him and started heaving him back to the seat because god forbid he should happily walk hand in hand with his MOTHER, he let go of the balloon and started screaming the place down.

It is gone I shouted. Let it go. I will blow up another one.

More screaming.

I will blow up another one, I shouted. Can you hear me? I WILL BLOW UP ANOTHER ONE.

It dawned on me eventually that this was not quite the thing to be shouting in the middle of Sydney Airport. And it didn't work anyway. It didn't matter that I had a fistful of yellow balloons in readiness.

He wanted the one that drifted away past the airport security guy who sternly ignored it.

He wanted the one that drifted past the backpackers who tried to kick it as it went by.

He wanted the one that drifted past the family, who saw my loudly shrieking little boy and failed to put two and two together so that when they finally saw the yellow balloon and the woman picked it up she handed it to her little girl as they disappeared through the doors.

Another yellow balloon hastily blown up and return of C with luggage. Now we had to make it onto a taxi. With a child seat. The taxi queue guy took pity on us and called us forward through the crowd that had suddenly appeared alongside us.

Tricky dropped the balloon and it sailed back into the airport.

Cue screaming tomato.

Cue quietly hysterical mother attempting to drag enormous backpack plus toddler plus baby backpack behind ridiculously cheerful husband dragging two small wheely bags, suitcase, two computers and camera bag towards taxi at front of queue.

Taxi queue man sends minion into airport "to get kid's balloon."

Korean tourist retrieves it and carries it out to us.

Three steps later Tricky drops balloon again.

Amidst new screaming hell, not so cheerful husband drags back all baggage to say that taxi at front has no child seat.

Mother begins to weep inwardly.

Delightful blonde woman from taxi queue leaves own bags to get balloon and hand it back to us. Mother weeps openly.

Enormous semi trailer type taxi appears, seemingly from clouds. It has child seat. We get home and fall gratefully in front of takeaway chicken curry.

Tricky wakes at screamy ten minute intervals during the night.


Love 'em.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Message To The Management

The Screaming Tomato would like it to be known that he does not approve of airline travel. 

To begin with there was promise of "aeroplanes", it was all aeroplane this and aeroplane that as we set off from home in the (smelly) taxi. But when we boarded said "aeroplane" they disappeared. Despite numerous loud requests for "aeroplane" and visits to the window, no aeroplanes were forthcoming. This is not acceptable.

The Screaming Tomato does not approve of seatbelts. 

Just because he is under the age of 2 and entitled to free airfare (but not his own seat) that does not mean he should be harnessed to the mother person. Especially during loud noise and strange vibrations. The Screaming Tomato will make his displeasure known by shouting and kicking his legs. He will also arch his back in an unpleasant manner. The father person's attempt to restrain the Screaming Tomato shall be useless. The mother person's attempts to "sing little songs" and produce trinkets wrapped in paper shall be useless.

The Screaming Tomato does approve of a little tap in the wall that provides water. 
The Screaming Tomato does not approve of being told "no more water" and "oh dear we have accidentally splashed this poor man." 

The Screaming Tomato will continue to show his displeasure in appropriate fashion.

The Screaming Tomato does approve of Papa and far.
The Screaming Tomato does approve of taking a trip to the Little House In The Bush.
The Screaming Tomato does approve of being allowed to watch Charlie and Lola on new portable dvd player whenever he damn well likes.

However there is rumour of another so called "aeroplane trip" in the near future.

The Screaming Tomato should like the management to know that they are hereby put on notice.