Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Was This Your Day Too?

Australia Day 2013

I wake to the sounds of the baby crying, a strange twisted warble that pulls me from my sleep. I head downstairs, already planning her breakfast of weetbix and yoghurt. I stop outside her door. There is silence.
I hear the noise again, but this time it is clearly coming from outside. I have mistaken the sounds of a warbling crow with my baby crying. My baby is very Australian.

 We start our morning with the quintessential Aussie activity: the early morning run to Ikea. We take two cars and separate the arguing kids. They want food from the food hall, we use it as a bribe for their silence and good behaviour as we trek the massive halls in search of bookcases. The bribe doesn’t work. They are brought home in disgrace.
The Awesome Grandparents and Young Aunty arrive and I escape for some ‘me time’, otherwise known as the Saturday morning grocery shop. The place is bustling and everyone seems to be buying up big for their Australia Day BBQs. I buy the last four lamingtons and a chocolate mud cake decorated with the Aussie flag made of icing.
We are probably the only place on earth who celebrate their nationalism by eating our flag, strapping it to our chests and bums, sitting on it, and putting flashing lights in it and dangling it from our extremities.
The kids celebrate by whinging and whining. Dad disappears upstairs to play video games. Mum has another cup of coffee and reads the paper.
The washing machine beeps and I stand in the heat hanging out washing. The wind is hot and the ground is hotter. I do the hopping dance because I am too lazy to run inside and grab a pair of thongs.
I start making a quiche for our picnic at the fireworks. It has pancetta and camembert . Very European. Doesn’t matter, the macarons I bought from the shop are green and gold with a mango filling. How Aussie. The wine is from New Zealand. But isn’t that the best thing about living in Australia? A melting pot of people and flavours from across the globe, a rainbow of colour and languages and experience.
It’s late afternoon. We walk down Kings Park Drive towards the picnic grounds. Everyone is dragging an esky or a picnic blanket or an umbrella. There are a few Aussie flags and green and gold, but mostly it’s just masses of everyday people in their everyday gear, heading out for a night together under the stars. There is no abuse, no yobs, no anger.
The kids run amok as much as they are able in the packed grounds. They hop from patch of grass to patch of grass in between the islands of picnic blankets. They sit on someone else’s eskie and share their glow sticks with the family behind us.
All around us, thousands of people, I can see that each of the continents are represented (probably not Antarctica though). There are people in veils and head scarves, people in thongs and shorts, people in summer dresses and people in not much at all. We are all here together, under the canopy of trees. We all watch as one as the planes do their flyovers, our voices a collective ooooh as they do their tricks.
As the sun begins to sink, and even more families try to cram onto the grass, space becomes a premium. A small group who have been sheltering under a large tent start taking it down. The crowd erupts in good-natured cheers and cat-calls as the view opens up.
Men walk through the crowd, carrying boxes of glowing swords and wands. The kids get their second wind as the glow wands are broken out and the radio starts counting down the minutes to the start of the fireworks.  
When the show starts everyone cranes their head to the sky. The radio is playing the same songs as last year, and the year before, but no one cares. Everyone is captivated. 300,000 West Aussies all with a collective crick in their neck.
When the show finishes, we all realise why they suggest we bring a torch. It’s bloody dark. The crowds pour back down the avenue, heading towards their cars, the buses, some are just walking. Traffic is snaking in long lines, choking the exits, clogging the routes out of the city. Just a typical day on Perth roads.
Later that night we crawl into bed, the last hint of BBQ in the air, mozzie repellent and sunscreen on our skins.
We truly are lucky.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Letter of Apology To My Middle Daughter

Dear Curly Mop

I can recall the exact moment that your fate was sealed. You weren’t even born yet. It was the day of my 19 week scan and your father and I were waiting for our turn. I desperately needed you to be a girl. I suspect he hoped you would be a boy. I remember saying to your daddy I felt sad that this would be the last time we ever saw one of our babies on the ultrasound monitor. He simply said ‘why is this the last time?’
In that exact moment the prospect of a third child became reality, and you became a middle child.

Two and a half years later, when you were barely two and just beginning to find yourself, you not only became a middle child, but a middle sister. Never the biggest, never the smallest, but always being lumped with one of your sisters as one of either ‘the two big girls’ or ‘the two babies’.
I knew the fraught position you were in, yet was powerless to change it. You were always being told to wait while I fed the baby. Then you were told to hurry up so we could get your oldest sister to pre-primary on time. You were pushed into bed so I could have a moment’s peace, then woken up again so we could do the afternoon school run.

Now at the age of three you have shown yourself to be independent, strong-willed, imaginative and stubborn. You are also completely immune to any sort of threat or bribe. The prospect of losing dessert or TV or a toy means nothing to you, and as such it can be difficult to control you.

The only thing that you seem to want is the one thing I find hardest to give: my complete, undivided attention. Hard because I have three children and a house to run and my writing. Hard because you always want to play imaginary games, but you don’t actually tell me what we’re playing, so I always get it wrong and you tell me off.

There are some things I want to tell you. I do tell them to you now, but you’re three and stubborn, and you don’t listen to anyone except Dora.

Although you will always be surrounded by the blonde bombshells, twins separate by five years, never feel you need to be like your sisters. Never feel you need to be the eldest and never feel you need to be a baby.

You are my middle, and just like a ham and salad sandwich, this family would not be complete without the middle. I need you to be yourself, and whatever you are at that point in time is fine with me. I will do my hardest to never compare you with the other girls. I will probably fail, but I promise to do my best.
I see you trying on different personas, trying to get attention: the naughty girl – baiting your older sister until she hits you in frustration, or deliberately pushing the baby over. I see you trying to be the sweet girl – coming to tell me at all hours of the day and night that you ‘wuv’ me, batting your eyelashes, puckering your mouth. I see you trying to be the baby, refusing to get out of nappies, using a baby voice, copying your baby sister.

Please don’t spend your life trying to be someone you’re not. It’s exhausting. Experience has taught me you should spend your time and energy trying to find out who you are.
It is an important lesson: if people really love you, they will accept all of you, and love all of you. If someone says they love you because you are thin or smart or have curly hair, then they don’t really love you. It’s taken me many years to realise that I can be loved despite having flaws.

It’s a liberating realisation to be able to relax in your own body and be yourself, and still be loved.
You may feel hard done by being the middle, but I believe that in life we are never given any more than we can handle. Don’t look upon it that you are neither the eldest nor the youngest. Instead, see yourself as being both a big sister and a little sister. Your sisters cannot claim such a varied and important role; you will have the protection of your big sister and the opportunity to guide your little sister.

Some people may claim that the life of a middle is the hardest, always forgotten, overlooked in the drama of the older sibling and the intensity of the baby. But in other regards it could be the easiest, you have someone else to forge the path and fight the battles with your parents, while you have someone else to bring up the rear, and takes the burden of empty-nest concerns.
That being said, I do not expect you to coast along. I see the fire within you and know that you will make your own way, despite your place in the middle, or perhaps because of it.

I’ve always said that if money was of no concern, I would ask for two things. Clean sheets and a newly made bed every night (someone else to do the washing, of course) and someone to deliver me beautiful fresh sandwiches every day with a variety of exotic fillings.
Embrace your middle-ness Curly Mop, because every day of your life, you will be surrounded by the fresh sheets of your sisters, protecting you from the world, yet you will also be the exotic filling in our family sandwich, making our life more interesting and exciting.

Perhaps I took those analogies just a little too far, but I hope you understand what I mean.
And now I am hungry.
Thank you for being my daughter Curly Mop, whatever your place in this family, you are a perfect fit for me, and I will always love you.



The Blonde Bombshell, Franken-Baby and The Curly Mop (image courtesy Dilkarra Photography)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Stuff of Nightmares

I am hereby changing my youngest daughter’s moniker from Baldy Baby to Franken-baby.

And if they ever make a movie about zombie babies who take over the world and eat everyone’s brains, I will become a ‘stage mom’ and put her forward because quite frankly (no pun intended) she is the most wretched, awkward, lop-sided, grunting baby you will ever meet.

She thinks she is crawling.

She’s not. She’s really not.

Imagine the motion of a bicycle with square wheels. That’s what Franken-baby looks like.

At first I thought it was just beginners bad luck. She would lurch forward from the sitting position, thrusting her arms in front of her moments too late to prevent her face-planting the carpet. She would then pull herself forward on her tummy, the friction causing her pants to drag down exposing her bum, furthering hindering her motion.

Instinct obviously told her that her knees were meant to be doing something, so she would bend one up (but just one), but sideways rather than beneath her, so that it acted like a rudder, sending her gradually in a slow, awkward circle on the floor.

Then there was the noise, a combination of grunting and high-pitched shriek. It was a bit creepy but I just assumed it was the shock of forward motion after eleven months of being static.

A week or so later, I thought that Franken-baby might have made some developments. But she hasn’t: not only has she accepted her new mode of tummy-transport, but now it doesn’t seem to involve her legs at all. They remain completely superfluous to requirements.

Meanwhile, all her little baby friends are walking like professionals (nothing sinister intended there) while she lurches along on her belly like an eel with arms.

So, not creepy at all.


Monday, January 7, 2013

All For A Bra

8am It’s the first day of day care for 2013. I try not to whistle as I sign The Curly Mop into her day care room. Baldy Baby is chewing on my keys. Everyone seems happy. (It won’t last).

8.05am I take Baldy Baby to her day care room and place her on the mat next to a little boy wearing mauve pants. Baldy looks at me as I sidle away but doesn’t seem too perturbed. I think she is more interested in the mauve pants as she keeps swiping at them. The carer asks me if I completed the three page ‘daily routine’ form. I give her a blank look: what form? I am given another and I bend awkwardly over a baby sized table filling it out.
8.20am I attempt to leave Baldy and she erupts with indignity. The carers push me out the door assuring me she will be fine. As I drive away, the feeling of elation I had all Christmas at the proposal of day care starting, is gone. I head to the shops with an ache in my stomach.

9.30am Standing in the food court I debate between the ‘healthy’ salad roll and the ‘yummy’ fast food chicken roll (hey, I’ve been awake since before 5am, it’s practically lunchtime). Despite my better judgement I choose the salad, and within two minutes of unwrapping it I am back at the counter complaining about the wet soggy wrap and the brown and dried out lettuce. The replacement they give me isn’t any better and I end up tossing most of it away. I knew I should have gone to Red Rooster.
10am I am standing, mortified, in the change rooms in Myer as a professional bra fitter pokes and prods and explains why my breasts look lumpy and ugly. She had originally not wanted to fit me at all because I had technically only stopped breast feeding a week ago. They recommend at least eight weeks before fitting a bra as your boobs will shrink even more (oh good). I practically grabbed her by the shirt and hissed ‘you don’t get it! This is my only child-free day. I haven’t had a new bra in six years.’ I keep checking my phone compulsively, convinced that day care will call any minute. It’s not until I walk out of the shop that I realise I wasn’t in Myer at all. I was at DJs. Doh.

10.30 I am searching for a new dress to wear to a friend’s wedding next week. I have very specific requirements. You might call me fussy. Or delusional. I make a pact with myself to go into every women’s clothing shop in Karrinyup. That’s about 346 shops. I go into the ‘young people’ shops and the ‘old people’ shops. I go into the ones that sell silver and gold lame leggings

And even the shop that sold metallic hotpants.

I didn’t find squat.

I did however find the Bombshell’s pre-primary teacher and we had a nice chat about how much it sucks trying to find clothes. Of course, neither of us actually used the word ‘sucks’.

11.30pm Digging through my handbag looking for a tissue, I find the form I was given last year at day care. I also find a pair of knickers (not mine), a squashed rice bubble bar that expired in August last year and a Baci. I eat the Baci. I decide to keep the rice bubble bar ‘just in case’.

12.30pm I am back in the car. I have bought one bra, no dress and yet have four bags of other random crap I neither need nor want. I am my own worst enemy.
1pm Tootling down Hay Street in Subiaco, the universe decides to open up a car bay right outside the row of fashionable dress shops. I take the hint. The first shop doesn’t stock maxi-dresses (the only length I wear), the second shop doesn’t stock anything over size 14, the third one doesn’t stock anything less than $800 and the last one doesn’t stock anything with a back. And even I, with my dubious style, will draw the line at wearing a bra with a backless dress.

1.30pm I am sitting in the car scoffing a burger. I do not believe in making the same mistake twice. I begin to relax. Obviously Baldy Baby is having an absolute ball.
1.40pm The phone rings. I am being summoned to collect Baldy Baby.

2.00pm I walk through the door at day care. Baldy is sitting on the mat with the other babies. She is playing, sort of, in between sobs. Deep, rasping sobs that start way down in her diaphragm and erupt in a little sigh. Her face is wet with tears and when she sees me, she pushes me away with one hand and pulls me to her with the other. When I pick her up and cover her with kisses, apologising repeatedly, she grips me with her little fists and gives me a toothy grin through the tears. She turns to the room and waves bye bye. I can take a hint.
2.10pm I go to check on the Curly Mop, not enjoying the prospect of having to come back a third time that day. But she, like all her little friends, is asleep on her mattress. She is on her tummy, her bottom sticking up in the air. I decide not to wake her, thereby sentencing myself to a third drive to day care for the day. Did I mention it was 40 degrees?

3.30pm After pushing Baldy around in a trolley through the grocery store, ignoring stares by well-meaning people at her somewhat unorthodox and very unladylike posture, I am now home, and she is asleep in her cot. I look longingly at my computer, my fingers twitching, but I make myself unpack the shopping and load the dishwasher before easing myself into my chair and starting this blog. Two minutes later I hear the Bombshell banging on the front door, home from her holiday with her grandparents.

5.00pm We are back in the car going to day care. Again.
8.30pm The kids are in bed, asleep with any luck. I finally get to sit down again at my computer. My husband is watching Nigella on the TV. I bet she doesn’t have to wait six years for a new bra.

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