Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Write Stuff

A friend I haven't seen in a while asked me today how my writing was going.

And it made me stop and think.

On the one hand, I blog regularly... well weekly anyway.  I have some faithful followers who read my blog and tolerate my prattle on Facebook. My post The Brutal Truth About the Third Child, still garners hundreds of hits each day, after it went viral. I even found it being repinned on Pinterest the other day. Awesome, no?

I also write for Weekend Notes.  I am now ranked Number 2 (in Perth) and am finally making enough money to justify the time I spend eating my way around Perth.  I am mentoring a number of cadets as part of the writing program at WN, and even if I am not changing anyone's life, I can at least say I am part of a writing community.

Recently I got to see the proof of my first soon-to-be-published article.  In an actual magazine. Made out of paper! It is true that the subject matter of the article may not be my true love - not to suggest to dentists everywhere that surgery design doesn't float someones boat - but my real desire is to write about women's health, pregnancy, children, loss, fear, pride and the wealth of emotions and experiences that come with being a parent.

So while these little successes push me forward I can feel the yawning hole of 'not quites' and 'no thanks' pulling me back.

Even though I am technically having a 'year off' due to the arrival of Baldy Baby (maternity leave from doing nothing?) this year I submitted two articles to different magazines, and while the initial response seemed positive, their enthusiasm has dimmed, and I have to accept the fact that they probably don't want my stories. 

One article, very close to my heart, I worked on over a matter of months. It was the culmination of a Feature Writing course at uni. It contained the stories and words of some incredible people suffering the worst type of loss, and when I was told by the editor to cut the story down, first by a few hundred words, then by a thousand, I was afraid that the essence of the story would be lost.  I was told that there were 'too many quotes'. How do you edit the words of parents who have lost a child without robbing them of their chance to tell their story?

Yet, people don't become editors of national magazines without knowing how a story should be written, so I have to not only accept her criticism, but learn from it too.

I have so much to learn, yet it would seem that I cannot learn these things at uni, because that very same article earned me a Distinction and the misguided notion that it would be acceptable for publication. I felt a bit silly when the editor told me via email that the story 'read a bit like a university essay'... umm yes, that's because it was.

I read the blogs of amazing writers like Kerri Sackville and Allison Tait. I pour over them looking for answers, trying to figure out the path from blogger to writer, from amateur to professional, from fun to career.

So how do you get started?  Am I on the right path?  Do you need just one big break, or is it a series of small breaks.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Thanks For Nothing, Little Mermaid

It's 7.10am.

My husband is pursuing the Curly Mop.  She is shrieking horribly, dressed in a floor-length mermaid skirt. He is following her with two ordinary skirts.

'Which one?' he asks her, though the answer is quite obvious from where I sit.

'I want to wear my mermaid dress,' she screams, tears rolling down her face.

'You can't wear that to daycare,' he tells her. I can detect a certain throaty restraint in his voice.

I am sitting on the couch, in my pyjamas, feeding the baby.  I'm staying out of it. It's his own fault for letting her put it on in the first place.

Meanwhile, the Bombshell is stacking the drinks fridge with hubby's soft drink cans. I am both impressed and horrified that he has her working like this. She is singing as she does it, so she seems quite happy.  But the noise coming from the playroom proves irresistible, and she stands up to investigate.

'Don't get involved,' I tell her.

'I'm just having a look,' she replies.  Yeah, like rubbernecking at the scene of a car wreck.

He emerges from the room, the Mop wedged under his arm.  He is trying to pull the mermaid skirt off, she is trying to wrench it upwards.  I can't tell who is yelling louder.

The baby stopped feeding ages ago and is smiling up at me.  I push her back on so that I don't get asked to assist with the crazy toddler, who is holding onto the door frame with both hands so her daddy can't drag her out of the room.

She wiggles out of his arms and does a runner.  I hear her feet pounding on the floorboards, the old crystal cabinet rattling ominously. 'I waaaaant myyyyy dresssssss,' she yells as she barricades herself in her room.

He's mad now.  He still has to drop the Mop at daycare, and he will be late for work.

I weigh up on my options. I decide my morning would easier if they are both out of the house so I take pity on him.

I pop the baby in her swing and follow the Mop.  She thinks she is going to get a cuddle so she reaches her arms up towards me, whereby I quickly remove the mermaid skirt.

The betrayal upsets her even more, which is fair enough.

I didn't think it possible, but she somehow amps it up a notch. I am hissing at her to be quiet as I head out to the carport in my slippers and pyjamas and bundle her into the car.  I know the neighbours can hear.  It sounds like she is being murdered, and she knows the neighbours can hear and it sounds like she is being murdered.

I tighten her straps and bolt inside the house. The phrase 'rabid dog' springs to mind.

I don't envy him being in the car with her all the way to daycare... I don't envy the people at daycare when Grumpy and her dad show up.

I shut the door on them, and silence descends. How pleasant.

This must be what it is like for men to walk out of the house in the morning, and leave all the chaos behind.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Why This Was the Best Baby Shower. EVER.

About five and a half years ago, when I was pregnant with the Blonde Bombshell, I had a baby shower.  All my friends and family were invited and we did all the usual things, eat lots and play silly games, watch me unwrap presents, all laugh at funny photos of ourselves as babies.

But together, they also made me the best baby present ever.

I cannot remember how the idea came about, I probably pinched it from someone.  But when everyone arrived I told them to grab a piece of felt and a letter and to make me a panel for an alphabet quilt.

I started the ball rolling with R for Rabbit, as we had a pet bunny at the time. He had a very clever name: Bunny.

My brother-in-law sent strict instruction with my sister to make a M for Money panel.  He thought it important that our baby learn about this important commodity from day 1.

In my father's absence [most blokes weren't invited], Mum made a G for Golf panel.  Although dodgy hips and back had forced him to stop playing years earlier, it was still something we associated with him.

My Grandma directed the making of H is for Hat, as she belonged to a generation of ladies who wore such things.

My friend Jacinta, made J is for Jellybeans, a beautiful cascade of lollies spilling over the panel.

My friend Brad, the only male who warranted an invite, created a B is for Button panel.  Being a typical male, he didn't stop at mere decoration, but made it interactive and functional.

My friend Helen made Y is for Yacht. In recognition of the fact that the Rottnest swim due to be held that day, had been cancelled for the first time ever due to bad weather, she christened the yacht the HMAS Rotto.  A day in history, forever immortalised in felt.

My mother-in-law and sister-in-law created a number of panels including N is for Numbers.  Years later, the Bombshell would count the numbers, first to baby Mop and then later to Baldy Baby. She is a born teacher.

My Aunty Di, a keen quilter, naturally made Q is for Quilt, and laughingly pieced it in Fremantle Dockers colours knowing it would offend other members of the family.

26 extraordinary pictures, brought to life by family and friends.  Each square holds a memory and a story.  The Sub chose S is for Sunflower.  In her absence, Tania's mother created her a T is for Teddybear square.

That day also happened to be my mother's birthday, but instead of acknowledging this, she instead asked me to talk about my beautiful Grandma, and the fact that 59 years previously, she was in labour for the first time.  Life was very different then, a baby shower would have been unthinkable.  But it created an unbreakable bond between us, at least on my part, an unbroken line of women, birthing daughters.

At the end of the party, my mum took all the pieces away to sew together.

What she returned with was this:

This incredible quilt has now decorated the nursery for three babies.  And almost every night, for the past five years, I sit and look at it while I am feeding and comforting my children. I smile at the memories, laugh at the stories, and remain grateful for every person who contributed to it.

Best. Baby. Shower. Ever.

Excuse the dodgy photography... I snuck in to take photos while the baby was asleep, so I was shooting in the dark.  Yeah, it probably could have waited until she was awake, but I seem to have inherited impatience from my daughters.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Even Yogis Get The Blues

It's a truth universally acknowledged, that a mother during school holidays, must be in need of some distractions.

In my case - kiddie yoga, thoughtfully organised by my local council.

After trying to get in the building through the locked rear door, almost setting off alarms, which is always a good way to say hello, the Bombshell, Baldy Baby and myself front up for some 3-6 year old yoga.

I place our old yoga mat on the ground and the Bombshell promptly throws herself down on it and does a very respectable plank.

'Look at me, Mum,' she calls.

'Where did you learn that?' I ask her.

'Batman,' she replied.  Naturally.

She then starts following the instructor around the room, chatting non-stop.

'I'm on school holidays. You know I have two sisters.  I have a jumper my Gwan Jan sewed me.'

'A Gwanjan sewn jumper? What?' the poor girl asks.

'She means a knitted jumper, by her Grandma Jan,' I offer helpfully.

The instructor makes all the kids sit in a circle on the floor. The Bombshell is one of the eldest, and there are few that are pottering around in nappies.  I think she is a very brave woman.

'We will start by making the rules,' she tells them.  A very brave women,

'I think one rule should be that we stay on our mats, unless I say otherwise. Now does anyone else have a good rule?' she asks.

'You should always eat your dinner before going to bed,' pipes up a young lad in the front.

'Errr, yes that's a good one... not really for yoga though,' she says.

'When I ring this Tibetan prayer bell, I want everyone to immediately lie down,' she said.

Boooooonnnnnngggggg. Ten children immediately drop to the floor.  Amazing.

'Can I take my socks off?' asks a little girl.

'Yes, of course,' the instructor replies.

'Can I take my socks off?', asks the next kid.

'Yes,' she says.

'What about me? Can I take my sock...' a little boy starts to ask.

'Yes yes, you can all take your socks off,' she says.

'I don't want to take my socks off,' wails a little kid, not sure if it's a boy or girl to be honest.

'You can take them off if you want, or leave them on.  Whatever you want!,' she says a bit huffily. C'mon love, you've only had them five minutes. Try having them the entire school holidays.

'I'm going to give MY socks to MY mum,' the Bombshell tells the room.  Like anyone cares.

Boooooonnnnnngggggg. The kids drop to the floor. Truly astonishing.

So they start.  To her credit she has them doing salutations to the sun ("hello sun! hello earth!") and the tree pose ("I'm a banana tree") and then the boat pose, which I know I wouldn't have been able to do even before they sliced open my stomach muscles. Three times.

'What animals do we see in the jungle', she asks the kids, as she 'rows' her boat.

'A tiger,' shouts one kid.

'A monkey,' shouts another.

'A bunny,' shouts my kid. Of course.

'Let's do a tiger pose,' the instructor tells the group, as she extends her leg behind her, neatly whacking a small child squarely in the face.  Well, the rule was to stay on the mat...

Then she has them do foot phones.  I don't think this is the traditional name for the pose somehow, but it was impressive to see a bunch of kids sitting with their feet up by their ears, supposedly telling their friends about their crazy jungle adventure (with scary bunnies).

Then - and logic fails her at this point - she says that they should all talk on someone else's foot phone.  One small boy immediately takes the opportunity to give a hefty kick to the kid sitting next to him.  The Bombshell, teachers pet she is, has claimed her pozzie next to the instructor from the minute she walked in.  So it was the teacher's poor luck to have the Bombshell's foot stuck in her face.  There was no bath last night, and I suspect those socks came off the floor rather than out of the drawer.

Then, in another authentic yoga moment, she asks all the kids to do their best 'Darth Vadar' breathing. They all do really well at that one.

Back in the circle, she has them sit down, legs apart, to make a 'magical stew' which they all stir.

'What shall we put in our magical stew", she asks.

'Pepper,' says one kid.  'It makes your teeth strong and healthy.' Hmmm ok.

'Salt,' says the next kid. 'To make it salty.'  Ok.

'Carrots,' says another. 'They make you big and strong.' Yup.

'Pork,' says one kid, upsetting at least two families in the room. 'It gives you fast muscles.'

'Honey,' says my kid. 'It makes you brave and strong.'  Of course.

The class was nearing the end, and she decides it would be a good idea to have them finish in the corpse pose. But she's not quite sure what to call it, so she says they will all be 'corpses, dead people.  We will all lie still like we are dead.  Like corpses...'  Way to start them having nightmares lady.

Once they're laying down, she comes along and puts rocks on their tummies.

'No throwing rocks,' she cautions the boys in the front.

Dead people don't throw rocks, love.

'We're going to lie still and breathe for ten seconds,' she tells the group.

'Ten, nine, eight...'

The Bombshell doesn't even last until six.  She's lying in a contorted pose, it must have been a horrible death. She is wiggling around. 'Mum, look at my rock,' she says as it slipps off her tummy.

Ten seconds.  She can't lie still for ten seconds.

I'm going to have to get one of those Tibetan prayer bells.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Note To My 16 Year Old Self - If I Was Actually My Five Year Old Daughter

It's been school holidays for 8 days, 6 hours and 35 minutes, not that I am keeping track or anything.

On the one hand it has been a relaxing week in that I have not had to rush off to pre-primary every morning. I have also been able to spend some quality time with the Blonde Bombshell.

On the other hand, I have had to spend a great quantity of time with the Blonde Bombshell.

The Bombshell looks nothing like me.  She is tall and slim, energetic and athletic, with long straight blonde hair and bright blue eyes.  I'm more on the pudgy, slothful side of things, with (artificial) red hair, brown eyes and no desire whatsoever to hang upside down on the monkey bars.

She looks so different to me that I began to wonder whether she was actually my child.

But yes... turns out she is.

She is a walking, talking, back-chatting, sulking, highly emotional, miniature version of me. It's uncanny and very disturbing.

My friend Helen says that it is like 'holding up a mirror to ourselves, and not liking what we see.'

So true.

The thing is, the Bombshell's constant complaint these school holidays is that I 'don't understand her'. With her eyes rolling, and her hair flicking, she flounces around with her hand to her head that I am so unfair, and how could I possibly understand.

Kid, I understand you so well it's freaky.  You're a mini-me.

You're bright but you're lazy, and you scoot along on previous success knowing that you'll get there without trying too hard, but it means you never do your best. It also means you are shocked when you fail at something.

You want everyone to know how bright you are, so you throw your pencil down when you finish your work, so everyone knows you're first [sorry Larissa, I know you hated this about me in Year 6].

You are generally very thoughtful and kind, but you hate it when everyone takes advantage of you, so every now and then you blow a gasket and become a selfish witch, and stop communicating with the world.

You are quick to scream and yell and bitch - but only to the few people you truly love and trust. For everyone else you are well behaved and silent. You won't speak your mind. It means you will grow up to be lousy at confrontation.

You like things to be just so.  Some times that means being so particular it borders on OCD. You expect others to be just the same as you, you expect them to know 'the rules', and when they don't, you tend to lose it.

You live in another world, a made-up world.  You write and draw and sing and create.  You are constantly creating. Sometimes it is a fine line between imagination and delusion.

You love to give. You can be very generous. You also love to receive#.

*  *  *

I foresee great battles being fought between the Bombshell and myself when she is older, we will butt heads in a fiery and brutal way. 

Yet I also foresee that she will be my best friend, once she realises that I do, in fact, totally and utterly understand her.

#It's my birthday in a month!

Things They Should Have Told Us

You may notice that I have changed the name of my blog.

For some time now, probably since the day the Bombshell was born, I have come to the realisation that parenting is relentless.  It never stops. You never get a break, even when the kids are sleeping, because after you become a parent you suddenly start sleeping with one ear and one eye open, eternally vigilant, eternally paranoid.

From one stage to the next, there is no pause. You go from the indignity of being pregnant to the trauma of birth, to breastfeeding every few hours, to watching a baby start walking, then talking, then talking back, then they start having opinions on everything, then they are off to school, whereby starts a whole new host of issues.

It's not awful, or terrible and I wouldn't ever want to change it.

It's just relentless.  Hence the name of the blog.

Consider it my community service to all future parents: things you probably should know about being a parent.

The title Relentless sums up parenting pretty well, but it wasn't my only choice when it came to blog titles that provided an apt explanation of parenting.

Here are some others I considered:

FLAWED: The mistakes we make as parents, only make our kids better people. We hope.

ETERNAL OPTIMISM: What other choice do we have?

COUNTING THE DAYS: We spend our lives as parents counting the days, til baby is born, til they take their first steps, til they start school, til they leave home.

WAITING FOR GRANDKIDS: There has to be a pay-off for all this mess.

WE'RE GOING TO NEED A BIGGER CAR: Life with three kids.

WEETBIX AND JATZ: Keeping my kids alive since 2008... 

What lessons do you think new parents need to know?

Friday, July 13, 2012

When Words Come Out Wrong

Last week we received our daughter's pre-primary school report.

One comment by the teacher was the fact that sometimes the Bombshell is difficult to understand.  We have had her assessed by a speech pathologist and apart from a bit of a lisp, all her verbal failings are normal for five year olds and we were told not to worry.

So yesterday when I was outside on the verandah chatting to our builder, I was mortified when the Bombshell joined us outside and told me:

'You're a dick, Mummy.'

The builder stopped mid-sentence and just stared.

'Um, pardon?' I said, stunned.

'You're a dick, Mummy. Let's make jokes.'

The builder almost choked.  He discreetly turned around so he could laugh without encouraging the Bombshell and her potty mouth. 

'Do you know what you are saying?' I asked her, incredulous.

And fully expecting her to say 'school' I then asked her 'Where did you hear that word?'

'You said it,' she replied.

The builder was practically bent over double by this stage.

'Let's make jokes,' she repeated.

Now, the Bombshell is not known for her sense of humour.  I don't think many five year olds are.  They're too literal and don't understand things like sarcasm and subtlety, let alone what is appropriate to joke about.  A 'joke' she told me the other day went like this:

'Let's pretend the baby is dead.  Oh, there's a spider on your head!'.

Um, not funny.

But I needed to get to the bottom of this dick thing before the builder called DOCS on me.

I crouched down her height and looked her in the eye. 'I'm not sure I understand what you mean, can you explain what you are saying?'

She rolled her eyes at me and gestured towards the back of the house where we had a wooden deck.

'You're a dick, Mummy. Geddit?'

Oh.  A deck.

Not funny. 

Maybe we need to go back to the speech pathologist for another assessment.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

How To Make Your Mother Proud

I’m not sure if I should be writing this post.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have written about some pretty inappropriate posts and some plain dumb ones. I have even plastered a photo of my boobs on the internet.  But my mum took the photo, so I guess it was ok.

But this one – I wonder – if I should keep it to myself.

Bombshell – forgive me if this mortifies you later on in life.

Yesterday I was handed my daughter’s pre-primary report.  It was bursting with work samples – writing, drawing, numbers, spelling. She is a good kid, bright and the teacher had some lovely things to say.  

But tucked at the back was a self assessment where the child reflects on how well they are doing, the things they are good at, and the things they could improve upon.

The Bombshell was confident that she did her best at sharing and taking turns, at helping others, and having good manners. She felt she played nicely, listened carefully and always tidied up.

She then was asked to say what she was good at.  She said she was good at writing stories and drawing pictures. So far, so good.

Then, at the very end, was a space for her to say what she wished she was better at.

My daughter’s first academic report:

‘I wish I was better at wiping my bottom when I do a poo’.

So proud.

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