‘To Lose Time’

‘To Lose Time’

To Lose Time

 

What happens when you realise you have suddenly lost a whole month…..or, worse, a term.

You find yourself on the couch, crying, because no matter how desperately you want to get out for a walk. To breathe some air, fresh air, you know that you are unable to reach the end of the street. Your body will just not allow you to move how you want.

At the end of our flat, easy to walk along street lies a bus stop. All I have to do is get out the back door, walk along the road, get on a bus, and I’d have some freedom, some conversation, some socialisation.

But between that, I have three children to cajole and convince out the door. I have a pram that is not unfolded waiting for use, it is packed up in the boot. People would not believe how many times that pram unfolded has led to me being unable to venture outdoors. You see, it’s just too many challenges. And for a woman like me, burdened with chronic pain, you have to calculate the risk benefits. We spend our lives looking at the steps, working out what we need before we go up or down them. We have two annoying steps in our kitchen, and I beg my husband to put a ramp in, because as stupid as this sounds, by the end of the day, I have to step over them in two steps just to avoid the pain. I have to plan what I need on one half of the kitchen, and put off using those steps as long as possible. Then, once I’ve gone up the steps, I’m aware of the pain I’ve now caused myself. It doesn’t happen later, it is immediate. As soon as I gone up those two stupid steps I feel it in my pelvis, and it is all part of the toll that sends me to bed with my heat pack early each night.

To leave the house, I have to dress the kids (pain), bending down to put on shoes (pain), bending over to help with toileting (pain). Packing bag (extra steps to get stuff, pain), strapping into pram (pain), packing spare things under pram (pain, unless I can convince the girls to do it).

Then the actual walking (pain). I can only walk so far before I need to sit down. You won’t see me in pain, you will only see us having a drink of water and a chat. Getting the water bottle out of the bag (pain), bending down to give baby a drink (pain).

Lifting pram onto bus (pain). Putting bags under pram in place for the bus (pram). Sitting down on the bus (pain). Getting up (pain).

So today, my pelvic pain has been complicated with a bladder infection. Only, there is never an infection. My body just goes all crazy and the nerve endings are on fire, sending me to the bathroom every five minutes, minimum. No exaggeration, I wish it was. I get up to use the bathroom, get the kids some food out, pass them the food, then use the bathroom again, then sit. It’s a delightful way to spend the day. All I can tell myself to get through the banality and the urge to scream at my stupid bladder telling me to ‘go’….is that I get a day at home with my kids, to cuddle and enjoy some quality movies with. Only, then I accidentally look on fb, or Instagram, (please, hold the hate, I’m actually a huge fan of both, thanks to the ‘connectedness’ we have with family and friends on the other side of the world) and see the awesome, amazing day out other mums have had with their kids…I would desperately love to take my kiddies somewhere special, or even just a playground with them (we did that Monday…hence the overdoing it, again)…..but, today, as nice as it is has been cuddling inside in the rain, and I know I should be grateful for having three gorgeous kids……I can’t help but feel really disappointed with my failings, and annoyed at how much my body imprisons me. It also imprisons my kids because not only are they stuck inside staring out at the world, but they are excluded from group activities that I’m just not up to (thank goodness they aren’t aware yet of how much they miss out on).

Another day…..lost at home with my Endo, and my stupid sore leg (post on leg later). I know, my kids are beautiful, and they are healthy . I need to breathe them in and just be happy with that. I’ll try, hold back the tears, then get back to you.

 

Post – Please don’t feel sorry for me, I know I’m lucky. I do. I just want people to know a) what chronic pain looks like {you don’t see us because we are home when we can’t move, and when you do see us, it’s hidden in our ‘coping’ ways such as sitting down and ‘resting’. I know I’m lucky, it’s not terminal. One day I will walk, and run and be the active sporty girl I used to be. Just not yet…..

‘The Kindness of Strangers’

‘The Kindness of Strangers’

‘When Angels Cross your Path’

Sometimes, people surprise you…in a wonderful way. I want my girls to be the type who are always surprising others. I fancy that my girls will grow up spreading happiness to others who are lucky enough to cross their paths, and my next lesson is about compliments.

This lesson was first written when I was a rookie Mum of two small girls. When we went out, a short shopping trip could take hours. On this day, it was stressful and timely getting things done – banking, post office, but I had just masterfully negotiated past the toy shop to the parents’ room with a successful move around the playground.

I was hastily giving the girls consecutive nappy changes (yes, at one point, I did have two in nappies), getting food out for MJ and trying to get myself set up for a bf for AM.

I think my (then) Miss 2, used to think that my nappy change bag was a magic carpet bag – every snack option you would present to her wasn’t the one she was after, and the little angry dances that she would do on the floor (of anywhere) were getting more fluid and cacophonous. In fact, I’m unsure if she has changed that much, in either the snacking or dancing department.

Anyway, I was managing all of this bedlam when a Mum of three children walked over to say ‘you are doing a really good job.’

My emotional reactions as a Mother are very easily ignited (as I’m sure most others are), and I could have either cried or hugged her on the spot.

I am a firm believer in telling somebody if they look good (girl friends especially), but complimenting a stranger does not come naturally. I can comfortably strike up a conversation with another woman if they are changing their bubba whilst I am, and might even throw in a compliment about their efficiency or cute child.

However, this angelic woman managed to positively spin my day on its axis, and I will resolve to try and change somebody else’s day, in a startling way, with a thoughtful compliment.

I once read somewhere that Mark Twain said that “I can live for two months on a good compliment”. I can rework that by saying that long days by yourself with two little ones can be injected with renewed viguor when an unexpected compliment comes your way.

As I sit in Leichardt, re-reading over this almost five year old post, I find angels still crossing my path. Today, I’ve been so desperate for an allotted one hour of writing that I have paced Norton St for an entire hour, wishing Master A to sleep. I have firmly concluded that the more I desperate I am for him to sleep, the more awake he ‘naturally’ is on that day. Or he can feel the laptop pressing into his behind stored under the pram, and he’s onto my need for work.  Today, I am in such need of some soul soothing with my dear old manuscript, that I have gone to incredible lengths to get in my planned one hour of writing for today (and the week, or probably fortnight as it’s school hols). I had booked this day in for more a month. It was carefully executed, with half a dozen emails on a thread to Miss 4’s preschool booking in extra days around the social calendar of MJ, who had an Art class booked this afternoon.

The day before, (because I am an idiot), I had come up with the genius idea of passing over Miss 4 in that afternoon time slot, so that I would be only left holding the baby. Of course, he would be ready for sleep then, and I could dash to the nearby library, and get my 1000 words in.

Then, two crises emerged – MJ, now a painfully sensitive 7 year old, is desperately tired from our toughest term ever, and refused to leave the house, or accept my rouse of just ‘dropping in’ to say hi to her friends at the class.

I had taken on a visit from Miss 4’s friend for an hour, so the house was total bedlam whilst MJ is threatening to leave home/lock herself in the bathroom/bedroom/etc/NOT GO to Art class. During these conversations, whilst I desperately attempted to coax her out, the 4 year olds and Master A begin a game of throwing things to see if they ‘bounced’ down the stairs. This is a new game never before attempted, and I was too distracted to get a good look at the objects being ‘tested’. They are rollocking in laughter, but the house has erupted in mess. Amidst this, I get a phone call from hubby asking why the preschool has just called him, at 1230pm, to ask where Miss 4 is. Yes, I am an idiot. I had booked Miss 4 in for the day, so that on Art day, I would have my free writing time.

Then my brain didn’t update my diary, in fact, I had ‘Preschool ?’ written in (as this was an extra day I had secured, not her usual). Whatever system I use to manage our children, it had failed me today. So there you go preschool, take a $180 donation from us, but please don’t feel you need to look after or teach my child. No, I’d rather her drive her sister to distraction all day. That’s the way I like my ‘holidays’ to go.

I kept calling my husband, increasingly desperate with each update, and his latest piece of advice, was to just put them in the car and head to Art class, ‘they’d be fine’. Unfortunately, my physical self prevents me from ever ‘forcing’ the kids to go anywhere. So, my friend came to the rescue and took the two troublesome (but cute) 4 year olds. Right, two down. Now, let the screaming begin. ‘It’s okay’, I said to her. ‘We will just go and see the girls, as we can’t see them any other day in the holidays, they have things on…so let’s just go and say hi.’ (genius move?, no, just wait…)

Well, we arrive in the car park, and the level of screaming that erupted I haven’t heard since we were in terrible twos. I tried to reach her to calm her, but she was so upset poor darling she didn’t want me to touch her. My next inspired move, call hubby. I’m on the phone when a lady in a painting apron comes over to the window. My first two thoughts are – a)they have realized she’s late and worried about going in to class, so they’ve magically materialized to collect her, b)I’m parked in the wrong spot, or I’m parked badly, and I’m about to get told off.

No, the artist was so concerned about the screaming she could hear from her studio (cue my embarrassment), that she’d come out as she’d imagined something terrible was occurring. I said -‘no, we just don’t want to go to class’ (how stupid am I? why am I there? What kind of a mother am I? – all of these thoughts enter my head. You’ve already wasted money on preschool, why not waste more money on missing art class?).

This beautiful lady, invited us to go in to see her studio, to see a real artist’s workshop, and as she spoke she talked about artists that inspired her. There were landscapes scattered across this gorgeous workspace. I said to MJ, that this lady, looked as though she painted similar subject matters to Uncle David. Well, this lady nearly collapsed on the floor with bewilderment, as apparently Hockney is her absolute favourite, and she is a huge fan. This angelic artist, went to where she could hear a crisis, and just offered her space and her time. This connection, no discussion or judgement on the reasons as to why she was tired/cranky/crying, made MJ suddenly happily skip up to class to see her friends.

So, I update this old post, still singing the praises of guardian angels, especially the beautiful Susan Baird, who works next to ‘Art Est’.

To cap it off, once I finally had Master A asleep on Norton St, and was starting to dash off my 1000 words, I had an older couple look over at me with wonder that I was working with a sleeping baby. ‘Wow, what an amazing woman you are with your laptop by your baby (umm….desperate idiot more like, I thought)…….what a beautiful baby. Do you have more?’

When I told them I had three, the lovely lady smiled and said ‘oh dear, what a job, you’ll go to heaven that’s for sure.’ I may be agnostic, but it still made me smile, and was the icing on top of a very hard day.

Counting Steps

Counting Steps
  • Life with Chronic Pain 

Dealing with chronic pain, on a daily basis, with three small children, is obviously very challenging. I can’t remember having a day without pain. Fortunately, I have adorable kids that make it so much easier. The combination of the pain and kids is all part of a daily game of coping, one that we all experience, for different reasons. My daily challenge is chronic pain, and the only time it really gets me down is when I miss out on something that I was really excited about doing, but I’ll save that for another post.

Today I just want to try and explain to you about the masks I think that we all wear while we try and get on with our day, and my ‘counting steps’ method, that helps me get through mine. Getting the kiddes to and from school without too many hassles (incuding crazy Miss 4 attempts at making us late) and managing my pain throughout it all is hard, but it’s hard for all of us. As my husband likes to say, ‘we all have our own shit to deal with…’, and it’s true. You start talking to anybody, really talk to them – and there is something stressing them out.

My daughter has knee pain, and sometimes she gets really upset that her knee is hurting her again, and keeping her awake late. She will roll around from side to side on the bed crying, saying, ‘it’s not fair…why do I get knee pain?’ I try and explain to her, that we all have something. Mummy has her pain, my sister has her terrible Thyroid condition, Pa has a bad back. Daddy has a bad back. There are children at your school` with nut allergies. I ask her ‘how would you feel if you always had to worry about what you ate? And needed injections if you had the wrong food?’ This strikes a chord with my daughter, as my kiddles are obsessed with peanut butter. In the school holidays, they go crazy, and want peanut butter sandwiches every single day (because they can’t take these to school). We talk about how some people have lost their Mummy or Daddy, or some children get very sick and spend a lot of time in hospital. It’s really hard to talk to a six year old about sick children, because then they start to ask you about death, and kids….and it makes you feel scared and vulnerable about your child, and you don’t want them to be thinking about it themselves. I still haven’t worked this one out, and I’m getting off topic again.

What I try and do is to make her feel grateful that she only has knee pain. It may sound crazy, but I am also grateful for my chronic pain. It may be hideous, and may mean that I spend a lot of my evenings resting on the couch, unable to move, but it’s not fatal. My husband probably isn’t thrilled when he comes home tired to a kitchen as yet unfinished and pots yet unwashed, left because my pain has got so bad that I just can’t do it anymore. There may be mess, but if I’m in pain he is very strict about me not overdoing it. He has repeatedly said he would rather deal with the kitchen mess, or do the washing himself, then have me having to go off in an ambulance for a few nights. Which does happen a few times a year when my pain levels get too far out of control.

On a daily level, I tend to push it to the side and just get on with it. I have a method at home, I call ‘counting steps’, in my head, but it is essentially about picking up things off the floor in the least amount of steps possible. It’s about limiting reaching up and down, which adds to my pain, or walking down the two stairs in our kitchen which can really inflame my condition. So, I’ll bend down to get the dustpan and broom out of the cupboard as I pick up the spoons that Atty dumped out of the drawer, then, staying down low, I’ll sweep up and pick up the few toys that are scattered on the floor. Once I’ve tidied the floor. Then I’ll get the handful of things off the table and walk down the two stairs where I stay kneeling and crawling around putting everything away on that level, counting steps ahead, ‘two more blocks, two more steps, then I’ done.’ I have to plan things out but once I have, I will get some books and get my heat packs and get ready to collapse. Maybe rewarding myself with a cuppa and I might leave some snacks out for the kids if I’ve had them prepared earlier (otherwise that’s too much work in one block for me), leaving some cut up carrots or grapes out so they can self serve when they are hungry. Once I’ve done the kitchen, that’s all I can manage for awhile and the kids and I snuggle and read books. I really struggle to get back up once I’ve finally laid down, so I need to have enough set up for them to be happy to sit with me for awhile. They might ask for something I haven’t got out, a sandwich, cut up apple, but they have to wait. When MJ, our eldest is home she is amazing, and will make the sandwiches for the little ones, and understands that she has to wait. Miss 4 is not so patient, and will whinge at me, but she still has to wait. The baby never fusses. I just have to watch he doesn’t climb anywhere out of sight by bribing him with more ‘Thomas’ books. So, yes, it’s tough, but, it’s not cancer, and I’m not dying. I feel as though my last two surgeries in the past year have both made a more than 50% improvement each time, which is huge progress to say the proceeding five years (having my babies), left me with my condition so debilitating I could barely walk or get out of bed.

I don’t mean to sound too ‘new agey’ about my pain, but the cause of my main pain is a long history of Endometriosis, which often has more complex issues then what I’ve experienced. Most people with Endo as bad as I’ve had, with over eight laparoscopes each excising more Endomeitriosis that had grown back, have problems with fertility. My husband and I didn’t have that. We were actually fortunate enough to fall pregnant without even trying. The first time was completely unplanned and unexpected, but, sadly, ended in miscarriage. Most of my friends probably don’t know this, and miscarriage still isn’t talked about enough, but I don’t have the answers on that today. Losing our first baby, was also a sad way for us to demonstrate to our families our commitment to each other. Instead of celebrating, we found ourselves tearfully informing our parents over the phone about the urgent surgery I required. We only had one week to enjoy our pregnancy before it was over.

We grieved, and got busy choosing our first apartment together, and I was drowning in coursework from my postgraduate teaching degree I had already recently started. Before we realised it, we were pregnant again, this time with our darling daughter, who is now almost seven. We went on to have two more healthy babies; the third was merely a thought before he became a reality. And after two gorgeous girls, we were thrilled to have our lives graced with a cheeky, beautiful little boy.

My body suffered through the pregnancies, and I know my Mum wishes I’d waited longer between having our three babies, as my body was still in severe pain two years after my second, with me barely able to take a step or get out of bed. Yet, this was the life I was given, and my kids are amazingly gorgeous and fun, and even with all my ‘counting steps’, it’s still a bloody beautiful life.

 

 

Side note – thanks to my Mum and husband for doing everything they could to be there as much as they could through my pain, and for allowing me as much hospital rest I need when I need it. I love you both so much. Thanks, and thanks to my team of mum helpers – you are all amazing! Love xxxxx

Lesson Eleven: Finding the Magic in the Everyday

Lesson Eleven: Finding the Magic in the Everyday

‘Finding the Magic in the Everyday’

When my eldest daughter was a toddler, I tried to introduce her to some Disney classics, but she was too young and quickly lost interest. Surprisingly, the first movie to hold her attention was ‘The Muppets’, or ‘The Moopets’ as she called it. As you observe children watch movies, You realise that they aren’t required to have ‘suspension of disbelief’, instead to them, a movie isn’t something coming out of a box via technology. The television is a portal to the world of ‘The Muppets’, and when they don’t want to view that Henson world anymore, they can tune in to something else, and disappear down the modern rabbit hole somewhere else.

The special effects employed in movies these days greatly surpass the talents of the Henson’s Muppets, in such legendary movies as ‘The Labyrinth’ or ‘The Never Ending Story’, which often look a bit odd to us adults watching them back. But for kids, it doesn’t matter how fancy the effects are or how big the budget is – the world that is presented is that world exactly how it is. Think the dog looks a bit strange as he flies through the sky? Well, that’s how it looks. Think the Oompa Loompas looked a bit orange in Willy Wonka, well, yes, they were orange!

To children, the world is magical. Fireworks are magic (I must admit, I do get giddy with excitement over the New Year’s Fireworks we have here in Sydney, they are pretty spectacular). Butterflies, ladybugs and even moths are magic. I watch with wonder as kids enjoy the world as it is presented to you. They don’t question tomorrow. They don’t actually hassle you for the latest toy, okay, maybe once or twice. Whilst in the shops, they will energetically clamour over to the well-positioned product at the check out, but after we’ve survived that, they are back to enjoying the thrill of seeing a baby pass us in the shops, or someone with a puppy.

Parents want to give their children the world, but to our children, we are the world. And everything we give them – through the movies, the books, the people we see are all of the world that become aware of. If they don’t see it through us, then it doesn’t exist. Russia could be Tasmania for all kids understand. Tasmania could be Japan. I mean this in a geographical context not a political context, but on politics, we all know that no child is born racist right? Not only are we presenting them with the world through their experiences with us, but we are also shaping their ideological frameworks. No pressure.

Share the magic with your kids, and look for it beyond the special effects. The eyes of children help to make the world seem a more magical place.

‘The Argyllshire’ (Chapter 20)

‘The Argyllshire’ (Chapter 20)

‘The Argyllshire’ (from Chapter Twenty, draft in progress ‘The Cry of the Fig Tree’)

Sydney, 1916

Stella found herself saying goodbye to her parents from Sydney Harbour on May 11thth, 1916. Her pale hand mechanically signalling her farewell, whilst Stella herself watched as if trapped behind glass. The proceeding week had been a maelstrom of goodbyes and organising, and Stella had felt herself carried away. She had been unable to stop and enjoy the endless cups of tea she had shared throughout the week with friends, or to question the energy pushing her towards her anxious departure.

There were thousands there with them to see them off, most of them nervous families farewelling their brave sons. Stella noticed how small her parents looked, not merely because they were lost in a throng of excited onlookers, but because there lives had reached a weary mid point, and they looked aged. Her father didn’t look stern or serious, he looked sad and powerless. Her mother, who cleaned the house from morning until night, didn’t look to have the strength to walk back to the tram station. She looked timid and tired, and had cried as Stella had hugged her goodbye. They reminded Stella of a pair of bedraggled mice she’d once seen in a children’s book, clinging to each other, stranded on a piece of plywood as it sunk in the ocean. Yet it was Stella who was the little bedraggled mouse setting off on the ocean. She yelled out ‘I love you,’ but she may as well have whispered the words, heartfelt as they were. I love you, she thought in her head, hearing the voice tinny in her mind. She thought that she saw her mother’s head move slightly towards her, her chin tilt forward in a proud fashion, and hoped that she felt all the love bursting forth from her eldest daughter.

Stella had the sudden urge to get off the ship, to run back and hug them one last time. She wanted to smell her mother’s floral scent and to feel her father’s rough hand upon her back. Yet the time for farewells had finally halted, as the alarm of the great ship the Argyllshire sounded, and she felt a lurch as it pulled away, carrying with it over five hundred passengers and two thousand soldiers from the 7th Brigade.

‘Don’t cry dear’, here, take my handkerchief,’ said an older woman, smiling at her, as Stella’s single tear wandered uncontrolled down her cheek.

Stella looked at the woman. She looked surprisingly sophisticated against this backdrop of angst and anticipation. The woman, probably closer to fifty than her mother was, seemed to wear her age comfortably as she stood calmly looking out towards the water. As Stella turned to return her handkerchief, she watched as the woman adjusted the scarf that she had been wearing around her neck, gracefully moving it to tie around her head. She was wearing it in a way that reminded Stella of Annette Kellerman, the one they called the ‘Australian mermaid’, the image further solidified by the setting of the ocean surrounding them.

‘So, where are you off to in these testing times?’ the woman asked.

‘I’m off to London. To the Red Cross. To be a Nurse.’ Stella cursed her shy staccato speaking, and wished she had an ounce of the woman’s calmness.

‘Well well, aren’t you a little hero then my dear.’

‘How about you?’ Stella asked, blushing.

‘I’m going home to see my son. He was injured in France, in Verdun. I have to be with him. They were sending him back to England.’

‘Are you from there? Mrs?’ Stella asked, not confident in the accent. There were many born and bred Australians who spoke with a clipped British tongue, as though from the radio. Stella’s mother had encouraged her to open her mouth more when she spoke, but Stella hadn’t wanted to lose her Australian-ness. It was part of her.

‘Yes dear, I’m Hilda, Hilda Ford, and I’m from Cornwall. God’s own country. Haven’t been back there for twenty years.’

‘Why so long? It must have been hard to be away from home all that time?’

Stella asked, then cursed her own insensitivity. ‘I’m sorry,’ she muttered, blushing. ‘I only ask because I don’t know if I can manage to be away from home for a day.’

‘Home is where you are dear. I met my husband here, so love made it much easier to stay. The heart ties you to a place, or to a man. But, he’s gone now so it’s time to for me to return.’

‘I’m sorry.’ Stella’s words sounded empty.

‘That’s quite alright Miss?’

‘Stella. Stella Wright.’ Stella replied, blushing again.

‘My husband died five years ago now. We had a nice life. He’ll be glad he missed all this wretched war going on.’ The two women looked out towards the great emptiness of the ocean that surrounded them, both quiet for a while. Stella began musing on her destination, and the hostile and unfamiliar world of London hospitals and the war she was heading towards.

Stella needed something – an image, a smell of this foreign land to connect her, to help reassure her of her decision to leave her beloved Sydney behind.‘Is there anything else, apart from your son, that you are looking forward to in England?’ Stella wanted an image of their mother country. She was recalling all the stories she’d heard over the years about the poverty and the grime and the smoke, and was desperately hoping that this woman would help to brighten her outlook.

‘Oh no dear, I wouldn’t go back if I didn’t have to. I’m leaving my daughter behind here now. It might be years before I get back to her. Her, and the grandchildren. They get to grow up with the great expanse of sky over here that we really don’t get in England. It suffocates you. It, ah well…the weather…doesn’t let up.’

Stella could feel her chest constricting. She thought of the smell of the fig tree from her window at home and took a deep breath. It was only this morning that she had left it behind, surely she can’t have already forgotten its’ sweetness.

The woman looked at Stella’s downcast face. ‘Don’t worry dear, you do your duty and Europe will be waiting for you right on the doorstep.’

‘And your grandchildren will be here for you.’

‘Oh they’ll be all grown up by time I get back. Won’t remember me at all.’ The woman answered, dismissively.

‘Surely it can’t be that long? We nearly got them in Turkey, we’ll get them in France.’

‘My dear, who ever told you that we nearly got them in Turkey?’ the woman looked at her, her eyes narrowing.

Stella coloured slightly. ‘My father.’

Stella looked at the crowd, to see if they could spot the man that inspired so much love and fear in her simultaneously. She was always trying to do something to make him proud, to make him see her. As she scanned the crowd, and recounted their farewell in her mind, she still had no real idea if she had inspired him or disappointed him with her plans for London and her career as a nurse.

‘Who knows what will occur, but I doubt it will be over soon. I do wonder how many British boys have to die before those Yanks decide to come over and help? And how about all those Australians, refusing to vote for a conscription? Disgusting. We need men to fight those Huns dear, and if we don’t have men, we’ll be dealing with those Nazis running all over the world. They’ll be destroying all in its path, right up to Westminster. It could be years before we clean up this mess, we need help. Although, if America does finally decide to join in, who knows what help they’ll be in ending this mess.’

Stella’s heart was racing. She felt guilty that her body pulsed with a surge of excitement at the talk of the fighting continuing. Part of her was worried that it would all be over before she got to London, but now, it sounded as though she’d actually be there in time to help, to do something.

She also felt sorrow roll over her, the thought of leaving her parents here, to face the changing world if America got involved too. How much bleaker could it get for them? Would they be alright on their own? She looked back down at the shore, trying to make out the city she was leaving, the parents she was leaving behind for god knows what to happen to them, while she went off in the world.

Oh god, please look after them, Stella thought.

Although, she didn’t believe in God.

***

Stella woke up to her first morning on the ship, drowsy from the barbiturates she’d taken the night before. Her mother had pushed them into her hand, reminding her that sleep was a ladies first prerogative. It kept both your complexion and your spirit bright. She didn’t think that she would use them, but finding herself lying alone in a room without her sister sleeping beside had made her feel so unbearably sad, that the unwanted, unasked for tear, began to descend down her cold cheeks again. The thought of the ocean swirling around below her didn’t comfort her either. In an effort to stem the tears, she’d taken them without another thought.

As Stella lay waking in her bed, she felt the tumble of the waves challenge the pit of hunger stranded within. She wasn’t sure that she could eat. She looked around the cabin – sparse and empty of anything. There was a small window through which she could see the grey sea, tumbling and reaching up to her. It looked grey and dirty as it slammed against the boat, not at all like the glistening blue that she remembered from her beach days.

It all felt so strange. She tried to stand up, but was immediately knocked off her feet into the opposite bunk. The woman there smiled at her.

‘Not easy, is it dear?’

Stella recognised her as the woman from the deck, Hilda. She smiled wanly at her.

‘First time on a boat?’ The woman asked her, lying relaxed with a journal across her stomach.

‘Yes,’ Stella muttered grimly, as she attempted to get out of her bed again. Gripping the side rails, she miraculously remained on her feet this time, as she felt the waves smashing against the window.

‘Oh well love, it might take a few days, but then you should be okay. That is, unless we hit some rough weather.’

‘You’ve been on a boat before?’ Stella asked.

‘Yes dear, when I came out from England.’

‘Oh, of course.’ Stella nodded awkwardly. This woman was so worldly and experienced, and here Stella was, a young nobody, who couldn’t even get out of her bed properly.

‘Come on dear, let’s try and leave the cabin together. You can hold on to me for support.’

Stella felt more useless, the woman was nearing her sixties, but she stood up from her bed strongly and surely, and Stella felt her warm arm around her elbow.

‘Now, don’t hold out much hope for good food here either dear – it’s food for fuel not taste, more than anything.’

Stella nodded her head. Her stomach felt as weary as her head, taking the smells and bleak sights as a sign that perhaps she had made a grave error by leaving.

‘Some toast, that will do you some good, with some marmite on it. That’s what they are giving our troops, you know’.

Stella looked about the boat, scanning the passengers. She saw young men, children with their mothers and elderly couples, but not many single young ladies. She was the only one, as far as she could see.

Stella passed by a young man in a uniform smoking off the back, the smoke mixing with the boat’s diesel, forcing the bile to begin its ascent. A rollicking wave knocked the boat up and down, sending Stella stumbling into the side. The soldier turned to steady her, taking her other hand as Hilda had done.

Stella looked at the young man, dark eyes with heavy eyelashes, and immediately thought that he looked far too young to be going off to war. ‘Thank you’, she said, before quickly darting her eyes away. ‘Anytime ma’am’, he said as he returned to his cigarette.

The smell of the smoke reminded her of her father, and kept her stomach churning as easily as the waves below her. Before she could stop herself, she was suddenly doubled over. As she went to reach out for something to hold, suddenly all went black.

‘Here dear, I’d like you to meet Mr Johnson. He’s the ship’s navigator. He’s come out to help.’ Hilda said as she laid a cold compress on Stella’s forehead. Stella found herself sitting in an armchair surrounded by a group of onlookers. There was a group of soldiers who all seemed to be, well, laughing at her.

‘Now, now, what we have here is all nerves. Get a load of this into you’. Mr Johnson said, as he offered Stella a flask. It smelled vaguely of the vagabond that lived in the park at the end of their street. Her father would give him work in the summer, when he’d be clean shaved and didn’t smell to bad, but by winter, all you would smell would be the potent mixture of what her mother called the ‘devil’s liquor’ and urine.

‘No, thank you’, Stella said, pushing the flask away. The potency of the liquid set off another round of retching over board, making Stella so overcome with embarrassment that she could feel sweat greasing her palms that gripped the ship’s barrier.

‘You’ll be surer than sure once you realise this beauty ain’t going to get you into any trouble. It’s the fear that makes you sick. She’ll be keeping at a nice fourteen knots, with over ten thousand tonnes of her cursing through the water, and not a hint of interference from Neptune, I can almost guarantee it.’ Mr Johnson said with a chuckle.

‘I suggest if you won’t have any here rum, that you then get someone to bring you a hot cup of black tea, same as my grandmama used to always have. Then, miss, you should put yourself down sit here. Be on the watch for the Sirens for me. And, if you see them, well then, the hit to your head was a good one!’ Mr Johnson said laughing as he turned to leave. ‘ Be glad you ain’t one of these brave lads we are ferrying across the ocean to battle, because you’d sure as heck be dead once you reached the shore if you let the sea sickness affect your mind. Gets your balance all off. You are lucky mind! That’s why women ain’t never got a place in the war. They are too soft. This is all men’s work.’ He said as he returned back down into the bowels of ship.

Stella knew that the man was trying to be kind, but he made Stella prickle with anger all the same. It was true that she was soft, she was sickly, but that didn’t mean she enjoyed being laughed at, or made to feel she didn’t belong within the war effort. She was going there to help.

***

Stella remained mainly oblivious to the goings on of the troops from NSW, with their main destination shrouded in secrecy, and her sickness keeping her confined to her bed.

She had a parade of people visiting her room to offer her seasickness remedies, but Stella often felt that all they really wanted to do was gawk at her. There wasn’t much entertainment on board after all.

One passenger, Mrs Jackson, suggested cayenne pepper, which was not to be found anywhere in the galley. Another passenger suggested sitting on brown paper, which someone thought might be in one of the cabins on the upper deck, but to no avail. One of the ladies from the upper deck came and offered Stella one of her garter belts to wear around her stomach, to prevent the sickness from rising. All it did was cut Stella in half. Eventually she gave up, with the realization shortly hitting her that her seasickness was going to be her companion all for the entire trip. She tried to spend as much of her day on the deck, where she could take in the fresh air, that is, as she felt as though the air did help, as long as the boat was moving steadily.

Stella walked on to the deck one morning right into a conversation between Hilda and Mr Johnson. ‘You are right Hilda, they should have more leave.’ He said, trying to be optimistic, ‘and it’s a pretty town, housing a stunning town hall that was built by an Australian. But, you know, it’s not enough. We have ships out there ships waiting for us. But you are right, that’s what it’s about.’ Said Mr Johnson, looking out to the boys on leave for the morning in Durban.

. Let’s hope she gets us there fast enough to see him.’ Hilda said, stroking the boat’s side.

Stella stayed remained sitting on the deck, sitting and watching as the officers clambered back on the boat, full of excitement. ‘You should wait Miss, until we get to Dakar.’ The last officer said as he climbed back on board, grinning wildy. He was smiling so broadly, as though he only had adventure on his horizon. ‘My cousin reckons that there is great fun to be had there with the niggers. He wrote us home that they threw coppers into the water to get them diving in. He reckons that they are the best in the water. They would always dive for the money, and would always bring it up.’ For some reason, this made Stella sad. It was as though he thought he had so much to look forward to, but there was only torment ahead on his horizon. Stella could not even think that far ahead, as her stomach churned and she raced for the side of the ship, again.

‘I’m sorry love, but my grandma used to always say that the best cure for seasickness was to sit under the shade of a tree.’ Said Hilda as she came back out, watching Stella vomiting over the side for the umpteenth time that day.

Stella thought of her tree back home in her courtyard. Her patient and loyal fig tree, and longed to be back under its’ shade, and not in the curse of this storm. ‘Will it pass?’ Stella asked Mavis, hoping that if she could only ride out this trip then it would all get easier, and everything would be alright. That she would be alright.

‘I’m sorry, dearie, but I think the worst is still upon us.’ Hilda said, as though reading her thoughts. Stella took a deep breath, knowing in her bones that Hildawas right. She leant over the side one more time and saw her tree out in the ocean. It was there at home waiting for her, as her parents would be, when all this was over.

 

 

Fields of Gold – The Secret Business of Childcare Waitlists

Fields of Gold – The Secret Business of Childcare Waitlists

There is a battle going on in the Inner West, and it has nothing to do with the housing market. It is all about securing a revered and much demanded childcare spot. As chocolate is an antidote to a breakup, so is childcare an antidote to a mother’s sanity.

Childcare is an opportunity for both us and our children to make friendships, improve our social connections and learn new skills. Unfortunately, securing our darlings a day in these havens, (that come with organic cooked food and yoga classes) is complicated battle. A battle that is fought on a field covered in gold.

My first encounter with the childcare process came under a cloud of intense stress and worry, and made me want to instantly give up. When our first little darling was born, we were living in Balmain, heartland of no chance places. I got scared hearing the stories from all the lovely, organised women in my mother’s group who had already put their names down at half a dozen centres before their child was born. When I heard these stories, mine was already six months old, so, obviously,  my next step was…to do nothing. I could see I didn’t have a shot, and was concerned about the financial sense of committing our names to centres we may not be living near, or need, when we were offered a spot.

To secure a venerated place, there are two types of mothers. Firstly, those Kikki K VIP members that are organised enough to put their child’s name down when they are in utero. I admire them, really I do, and I even tried to be like them. I am like them, a little. I love Kikki K, and I love even more spending money there. I somehow, disappointingly, never manage to actually find time to use the stuff….the beautiful organisational folders sit emptily by my pile of papers in my inbox. It’s one of my many skills my husband marvels at.

Then, there are those mothers like me, who always mean to…..really really plan to. But……don’t quite get the forms finished. Or sent in……another skill I possess.

By baby number 3, I had learnt a bit more about the competitive nature of childcare spots, and had put down my unborn baby’s details down three months before he was born, in 2015. Smugly I sent off the email, only to get a prompt reply that there was not a spot available until at least 2017, two years away. This was a centre that wasn’t even open yet!

Through many boring hours reading the wonders spouted by flashy childcare centre websites, I developed a simple and transparent system of only choosing centres that didn’t charge a fee. This filter narrows your selection to about twenty five percent of centres. If I see a centre that is prepared to not push you for an administration fee, then I am going to instantly feel more love for you than the others. I saw the policy as a symbol of their openness and generosity, not as a tactic of devouring money from desperate parents who probably will never be given the chance to step foot in the centre.

For those of us who are committed to an area – we have a mortgage, we have connections in the community (through a primary school), then all we can do is wait. And hope. How ethical is it for places to charge fees, knowing that their lists are overflowing with children?Is there any possibility of returning the money to parents once their child doesn’t get a spot. The combination of limited places of preschools in my local area (and I’m sure many others) and the documented evidence that pre-schooling is essential for child’s development adds to this issue. It is scary how slim our chances are of gaining a spot and how desperate we all are to get one.

The problem with this, the issue that underpins our desperate hope, is that childcare centres charge a waitlist fee, some charge a large one. I’ve heard of anything between $20 (average) to $200 on non refundable wait list fees to put your name at the end of a very long list. Some need to pay a deposit, plus the bond, which for one mother was non refundable once they decided they no longer wanted to place. That leaves lots of money sitting around, for the Queen (or King) to be counting in her counting room.

What is this administration fee really for? How much time and effort does it really take to enter the details onto a computer? I know it takes me an incredibly painfully long time to fill in an enrolment form, but do they need to re-enter it, or can’t they merely scan it or file it? I have read that some councils use this for future budgeting and staffing requirements.

In my research, I have come to understand that the situation as it stands is perfectly legal. It continues to be so as the fee is only the promise of a possibility of a place, not a guarantee. I have issues with those high demand centres accepting money from everyone. It seems unethical that those centres know most of the parents applying don’t have any chance as their lists are overflowing like a chocolate fountain at every happening kid’s party. This leads me to me asking ‘show me the money’! How much unjustified administrative fees sit in coffers throughout the inner west, from parents who never even had a chance of a place.

I’ve learnt that there are incredibly organised mothers who are right on top of this issue. They use a tried and tested email of regularly calling the centres and sending off emails checking their child’s wait list status. One Mum, used a copy and paste job – a gentle probe disguised as ‘checking if any more information was required for their child’s enrolment’. Any form of regular contact is apparently an opportunity that could potentially bring us closer to a spot.

Yet, this presents me with further questions – what components underpin the decisions regarding the places that are given? I am too polite to regularly check in for an update on a place, not wanted to disturb people who are busy looking after children. Rather, naively perhaps, I see it as my job to wait for a spot to become available, and to trust in the system. But I wonder, does my meekness imply that I don’t deserve a spot, and furthermore, how do they decide which child is given a spot? Is it order of the child waitlisted, or is it order of priority (parent working, disabled, etc), or is it to appease those desperate parents that continually call the centres? Finally, is there any independent auditor who is monitoring this selection process?

In my research I was told of instances where centres can’t give the place away. They try to contact parents who have changed location or don’t return the centre’s phone calls, so apparently, by not keeping our details current, we are somehow missing out on places. Personally, I think this situation might occur as often as Nessie appears in the Loch. It certainly hasn’t been my experience, I apparently still don’t have a place at any of the centres I put my now four year old daughter’s name down at three years ago.

Is it really ethically acceptable for centres to take money off parents of two or three year old children, knowing that they have children who have been on the list for three or more years before them? The Inner West is a place to raise children, to make money, to spend money – in houses, in the great shops and cafes, and on endless waitlist fees that, similarly to your late night partying Saturday nights, you are never going to get back.

 

 

Final note – dedicated to my Mother’s Group in Balmain, 2010, who gave me many invaluable pieces of advice, including childcare (which although I didn’t follow, was still brilliant and demonstrated to me how much you all knew what they were doing), and who got me through many insane moments with my first darling – a little runner (who you all kindly took turns in running after, thus giving me a break). Thanks ladies!

Lesson Twelve – ‘Everyday Friendships’

Lesson Twelve – ‘Everyday Friendships’

Smile Talk

When I was a young girl, I was often berated for not smiling or for appearing unhappy. I was a happy enough child but very contemplative, and often lost in thoughts or observations in what was happening around me.

I couldn’t possibly make myself smile. I was too distracted trying to camouflage myself in my surroundings. I was desperate to witness that heated discussion of the couple nearby, or to subtely listen to the school girls behind me on the bus while I pretended to read.

I was shy and very unsure of myself. I couldn’t force a smile as I was too afraid to talk to others, and being berated for not constantly smiling wasn’t going to encourage me to do so.

I was too lost in my little stories of my imagination, and I was not very good at small talk. Strangely I just accidentally wrote smile talk (since corrected) – which is an apt description of what I’m attempting to write about.

Smile Talk

That is, that friendly small talk you have with someone next to you on the bus, or at the playground. You catch their eye, smiling at them, and conversation is initiated.

You find yourself smiling throughout the whole exchange of pleasantries. Afterwards, you feel content and happy that two people can have a random interaction, and it feels as though there is harmony surounding you.

I can’t help but think if I’d been better at this skill at school it would have been easier to make friends. I was the new girl four times at school, and it was a gut-wrenching experience. Each time, I would look for my bosom friend (‘Anne [of Green Gables‘] and Diana style). I would resolve to myself at the start of each school year to talk to more people and not to be so shy, but my blushing severely impaired this resolution. I was so shy that if I needed to talk to the bus driver as I hopped on the school bus (probably to explain my baby sister’s missing bus pass), a slow queue would often build behind me, and I would redden.

I would try and answer questions (only ones that I was very confident with), but the embarrassment of putting my hand up would mean my cheeks would be red once the teacher gave me her full attention. I could barely get my answer out and my confidence quickly dissolved. Laughter permeated the classroom at my discomfort.

I often went days not talking to anybody in class, only saying ‘hi’ at recess or lunch in our small circles. During my early high school years, I was often on the sideline of these conversations, and found it very hard to contribute. I witnessed the golden friendships being formed around me and often felt as though I was the third wheel.

Year 9 was when I had my first inklings of real friendship at school, and my dreams of sleepovers and hanging out started to come true, but it was not to last. This is not a good year for the development of girls – we all seem to be trying to force our way out of girlhood and will resist anybody who stands in our way. My small circle was soon due to for a shake up.

After many arguments, negative commentaries and outrageous break ups – new little pockets of friendships were formed, I didn’t belong in any of them. I suddenly to endure much harassment and derision for my introspection, labelled ‘snobbery’, and there was bullying for the months that followed. Thankfully, I found a disabled toilet to spend lunchtimes in, and finally, the anger dissipated.

Somehow, I found somebody who didn’t mind that I was quiet (she was even quieter), and we could sit in our own little corner away from the negativity, talking about our heart’s desires.

That girl was my first ‘Diana’ – and I’m so lucky that I still have her to confide in at anytime, almost 18 years later!

This was the first real friendship and to have this pure understanding gave me a huge boost. This confidence has built over the years (independent travel definitely helped). I slowly found that I became less hesitant with my smile and more open to new people.

Once I felt that kindred understanding,  I was on my way to seeking out more friends.  I have found that the easiest way, is to start with a smile and to proceed purely by just, being nice!

I’ve moved universities and to new countries, and have thrown myself into new social settings (as nervous as it still makes me feel). ‘Smile talk’ turns into coffee dates, and slowly you find yourself chatting to somebody who was once a stranger, is now an essential part of your day.

I am blessed that I have gone on to have many meaningful relationships with a wide group of friends since school – and these friends have helped me through many teary days as relationships have ended or hospital stays.

My chronic pain has complicated relationships for me and has often meant, through my honesty, that I have become closer with others faster, as I have had to explain some ordeal that is going on with my health at the time (one such shocker was a painful miscarriage during my first semester of my postgrad degree – oh what a horrendous time, but I’m grateful for the girls there with me) .

Whilst living away from home these friends were my family, and I think of them still (and will always) with so much love and appreciation. I could not have got through those times or been who I am today without them.

I haven’t wanted to demonstrate how my shyness left me lonely, but rather to illustrate the importance of real meaningful friendships, and the benefit that they can give to you. I’m also attempting to explain (or to teach my girls), that often igniting powerful friendships can start simply with a smile.

It is so much easier to make friends once you have children! My girls have been my gateway to friendships as you can comment on similar snacks/screams/nappies that you see another Mum use, and suddenly you are chatting happily away with a stranger about all your personal trials and tribulations!

I met one of my dearest closest friends by merely sharing smiles. We’d pass each other on our morning walk with our newborn baby girls – usually one of us going in or out of our apartment building. It took one of us (me), to ask if we could start heading out on walks together at a prearranged time for a change. The walks turned to morning coffee and now, with our almost four year old girls (also best friends), we have had many great play dates and mornings together and we’d be lost without that friendship.

Being unwell has cemented the need for powerful friendships, as I have often had to rely on people in a way that would probably look uncomfortable on paper. But my gorgeous girl friends make helping out seem so natural that I’ve been able to turn to them for anything from regular childminding during my uni days, help to drs appointments, play dates, hospital pick ups and once even taking my daughter to her gym class (most of this list from the one amazing friend)!

My lesson to my daughters is, although this has taken me more than twenty years to realise – is to see everybody as a potential friend, and to smile your shyness and discomfort away. You’ll soon find people wanting to talk to you – and conversations enrich your daily experience. I learn so much from my beautiful friends every day.

I still observe people keenly and find human behaviour fascinating,  but I save my contemplative moments for when I’m by myself and find myself smiling when out and about (without having to think about it like I once did). If all else fails – talk about how beautiful someone else’s baby is (as all babies are) – you will surely make a friend easily then!

 

Best friends from birth, flower girls at my wedding (2011), and a new baby girl added to the circle in 2012. By 2017, we now also have two gorgeous boys who make us laugh. Beautiful things can grow out of a smile.

 

 

 

 

 

Dedication: I dedicate this post to my friend Kamila, who has always got my back, and will let me rant and vent about my health and personal issues, without ever judging me.  I feel so grateful that we both rented the same dodgy apartment in the most beautiful location opposite Mort Bay Park. The walking and talking we enjoyed every day made early motherhood so much easier to bear, and are treasured memories. Thank you Auntie Mila xxxxxxx

 

 

Lesson Ten: ‘My three year old has cellulite! Trim the fat….talk!’

Lesson Ten: ‘My three year old has cellulite! Trim the fat….talk!’

‘My three year old has cellulite!’

Lesson Ten: New Years Resolution: trim the fat…talk!

‘Look at my legs Mummy, I have cellulite!’ Matilda cried out as she pinched her legs!

Now before you bring out the pitchforks and storm my front door, this complaint isn’t mirroring my talk. In fact, I have no idea if I have cellulite or not! I assume I do, after all I’ve delivered two healthy girls into this world and that was not via a journey of salads and mung beans.

I have a new approach to my cellulite – I don’t look at my legs! That is one part of my body ‘fixed’, but there are many other areas that still need addressing. This is not so much a lesson as a rant. I have been doing my best to improve my body image talk and be a good role model, but as you will read, these efforts are overshadowed by a family tradition of obsessing over your faults, and how we are all drowning in our contradictions.

Getting back to Matilda, and her ‘fat’ legs.

I was having coffee with a (extremely lean) girlfriend the other day who was complaining to me about her cellulite while the girls were playing nearby.

My Miss Tilda, three and a half, is a magnet. She is very clever at collating the language and information around her – ready to pour forth later. She can multi-task – listening as she quietly amuses herself nearby (I have this talent too).

I am doing my best Mumma duty to keep my body criticisms to myself and have been practising killing off my critical inner voice since Tilda was born. It’s hard. I probably used to hear a minimum of ten things a day in my head, but now I don’t notice so much. The girls keep me busy and most days I don’t have time to check in a mirror. That helps.

I have awful eating habits. I have got into the terrible habit of grazing throughout the day and not really eating lunch but having a huge dinner. I live off museli bars and yoghurts and have done this for years (except when breastfeeding, hold the lambasting)! It’s not that I’m consciously dieting, it’s just that I have this habit of having small meals as I don’t get particularly hungry at a set time and have to remind myself to eat. At the end of the day I do enjoy a small square of chocolate with my book and won’t have it if I’ve had ‘the wrong’ type of foods in the day. Does that mean I’m dieting? I’m not sure.

But yes, I am aware of the calories I intake, but it passes through my mind as naturally as water from the tap.

I try not to worry about them and I do love to indulge! I love my Smiths originals and Tim Tams when I am lazily enjoying a movie on the couch.

When I indulge, I have no regrets. I savour every mouthful and enjoy the pleasure; otherwise it is just a waste!

I do still struggle with getting dressed into a new outfit, as you don’t know which ‘part’ is going to stick out. Sometimes my inner voice is bursting with criticisms and I might change half a dozen times before going out for a special occasion. My inner voice is punishing – ‘Oh my God, look at you! Oh your flabby arms, oh no your Mummy tummy is showing!’ Sometimes I am in tears before I can leave the house. I need someone to reassure me, to comfort me.

I can’t do it myself.

When I was in high school all we cared about was the Formal. I was so obsessed and excited that I chose my dress when I was in year 9, and treasured it in my wardrobe for the year before it was needed. I punished myself in the lead up to my year ten formal. The event that I saw would be the absolute pinnacle of my high school experience. I remember flicking through the Rosemary Conley ‘Hips and Thighs’ diet before realising it all looked too hard. Plus my Mum wisely refused to let me diet.

I heard girls talking about laxatives, and I tried that for a few days but was racked with pain and couldn’t sleep due to the discomfort. I have never admitted that. It was very stupid.

There was an adorable girl in my year who had that girl next door quality and she used to eat all the time and was quite happy and confident about it. She wisely suggested to me that exercise was the key, not food. So I started running more and walking the dog and decided that would be my focus. I think I looked quite cute for my formal. I was very pretty in pink. I enjoyed being pretty when I was fifteen. Many years later, I dyed my hair black and tried to shake the prettiness off me. My hair looked like a wig. It wasn’t me.

I was obsessed with presenting the best me, and often felt what I wore failed me. Almost all of the women in my family also suffer with this cringing obsession about how we look, or more accurately, how terrible we look. When we take family photos all you hear is:

‘Oh my god, I look terrible!’

’Oh look at my chins (me)!’

‘God I look fat, I shouldn’t have worn that!’

In my family, skinniness is revered – whether through genetics, ill health or fitness – you are automatically adored and placed on a pedestal. It doesn’t matter what you wear…you will always be mentioned and discussed as looking ‘gorgeous’ and ‘divine’.

Others, the medium sized, averaged among us, fail a mention. Those who have medical issues that prevent exercise, or are taking despised but necessary medication that make your weight balloon – give up at the sheer unfairness of it all and decide to enjoy their wine and not give a f*k. That is until we are all gathered at big family parties. Then, almost all of the women in my family imprison themselves in their bedrooms not wanting to come out. We all hate what we are wearing.

My Mum, who would probably consider herself body conscious, and is often nervous in other areas of her life – shines at parties. She puts together the perfect outfit accessorized with headwear and jewellery. Her hair is freshly done and her nails bright and she is resplendent in her ensemble. She bursts with confidence and never hesitates or changes what she has. She is always ready first. I’m proud of my Mum and the way she does this. I am saddened when she criticises the photos later.

Compliments don’t come our way very often. We hurl insults at ourselves though, and are very good at refuting the comments we hear others say about themselves:

‘No, you are gorgeous.’

‘Your eyes look amazing with that dress.’

‘Stop, you always say that about yourself, it isn’t true.’

We have all learnt to curb our swearing or cursing around our children, as we don’t want them running about spouting these words all over the playground. We haven’t learnt to keep our negative words to ourselves.

I’m fat…my legs are fat, my tummy sticks out.’

These are probably some of the regular sentences and discussions that swirl above my daughter’s playland.

What are the things that you say aloud when you are complaining about yourself?

Is there any purpose in this? Are we seeking reassurance or confirmation from our confidantes?

We all know we shouldn’t say these things, yet we all do. We have heard them our entire lives from our mums, aunts and grandmas. My sister is very good at silencing my inner critic, but if she isn’t around – the words spill forth and tumble like a fountain around me. They remain etched in the tableau.

The spiteful words imprison me and I can’t disagree with myself. I need someone else to do it. That power does not live within me and rather than becoming strong enough to refute myself, I am learning NOT TO SAY ANYTHING when I look at a picture. I am trying to enjoy the memory of the moment. Live in the moment. Be kinder to your self.

It took a long time to find me. I had to reach inside and travel alone a lot. Being a Mum has helped me identify me. I have a label. I am a category. This is who I have become, who I am.

These contradictions and criticisms are of course, common. I’m writing about it for the first time, others shout their disgust loudly. This student did an inspiring (I don’t use this word lightly, she did inspire this post) job or drawing attention to the gender issues of body image and the impact on children. See her roar at:

http://www.upworthy.com/watch-a-student-totally-nail-something-about-women-that-ive-been-trying-to-articulate-for-37-years-6

There are some great groups that are attempting to address the cultural and media forces that affect body images. The people over at http://www.about-face.org have listed ways that we can take action to improve our body image. Listed on http://www.about-face.org/take-action is five ways to ‘make change’.

My favourite is:

Practice looking at yourself in the mirror and finding 5 things you like, and not saying/thinking about what you don’t like. Repeat each of the positive attributes 5 times to yourself, out loud.

Some of my personal tips are:

* Stand back from a photo and look at the entire image

– if you see a play and sit close to the stage you will see all the make up on the performers. The illusion is thwarted, as you can’t see the character but the person. Bring your focus back to look at the mise en scene and the magic is there waiting for you. It is not a young man with lines drawn on his face, but an old man, weary and tired.

– when someone takes a photo of you – look at the overall image. Look at the person standing next to you. Try and find their faults? Can’t? They look good don’t they, as do you. Don’t look at your frown lines or double chin – look at the smile and the memories connected with it and savour that moment. That irreplaceable moment in time when you smiled and were truly happy and the camera snapped that moment.

Photos are supposed to help re-connect us with our happy moments. Not a showdown with our faults. Try it.

This new years, I’m not going to make a silly resolution to myself about dieting or getting fit. I enjoy walking and getting out and about and do so when I’m well enough. I don’t need to make a pledge to myself that will often be unable to keep and make me feel as though I’m a failure! Being a Mum is already tough enough without that extra strain!

Resolutions invariably lead to disappointment, and the year is too fresh and new for those.

I’m going to relax, smile and stand back and look at the whole picture. And curb that fat talk! My three year old daughter does not have cellulite!

 

‘Making castles in the air….here, there and everywhere!’ Lesson Nine

‘Making castles in the air….here, there and everywhere!’ Lesson Nine

 

Lesson Nine: ‘Patience and Creativity’

Matilda’s new favourite past time is to make castles. To build them here….to build them there…to build them everywhere!

This means finding all the blankets and cushions in sight and fashioning them into some type of cavern. She begins her task by busily dragging every toy from around the house towards the construction site. She fossicks about picking up toys, blanets, cushions, shoes, jewellery. until every crevice and crack of the castle is blocked with anything from Dora figurines, teddies and hair ties as mortar for the space.

I am patient. I watch her pulling toys from her room out to the lounge.

I watch her pulling cushions and blocks from the lounge down the hall to her room.

Once, she even blocked our hall with a construction that was mainly scaffolded from a hat box and a stool…..it was hard to get to the bathroom or bedroom that night as every movement of a tutu or shoe in the way was ‘destroying her castle’!

I watch her and marvel at her creativity and ponder her future career choices, possibly in Architecture. I don’t mind the mess, I enjoy the process…and I sit and admire. Although I know that later when she goes to bed, we will have a big task ahead as we dismantle the structure and unpack the clutter remaining.

I allow her this indulgence as she is continuously confronted with my complicated health problems, which often means we spend a lot of time at home. I worry about the effects of having an ill Mum on such a vivacious child – I don’t want to deflate her happiness.

Most of the time I get by with heat packs and rest, and going to bed early. Although, when I have a flare up of pain or other intrusive symptoms, I cannot just take myself to the closest emergency. My history is so convoluted that I need to wait to see my specialists in a hospital almost an hour away, who will need to formulate a new plan. That is the best, although often painful approach.

A few weekends ago I had a bad episode of chronic pain. I should have gone to hospital, but the thought of waiting eight hours to be seen and ‘wasting’ that time away from my girls, when I can just wait to see my doctors and have a clear plan organized with an admittance planned meant I suffered at home with the pain relief on hand. Patiently.

Sometimes my determination to wait it out, means that I am often not the easiest person to live with and can be a bit short with my hubby, and easily overwhelmed.

Being patient as you watch your house being converted into a castle helps me to be patient in other areas of my life.

Although this past month, I just couldn’t wait it out any longer and I needed to take myself off to emergency. There was a plan outlined for the following friday but I had an acute problem arise over the weekend and by wednesday I was a walking zombie barely managing to speak or sit down.

Having children means also accepting when you can no longer be the Mum or wife you want to be. It sometimes means taking yourself out of the picture to get some rest and recover – rather than drag everyone into your web of pain and tears.

Knowing that my girls are so well looked after by my Mum and my darling hubby when I’m sick helps me to give into that decision much easier, but I feel that I am less a person when I have to admit defeat to pain, and voluntarily take myself away from them. I feel such a useless Mum and wife, but this is who I am as a result of the ravages on my body by having my beautiful children.

Having castles in your house shows you the beautiful potential of empty baskets and boxes as they can bear the weight of your castle. Being stuck indoors doesn’t become boring, but rather a way to redo our play area to make it ‘cosy and rosy’ for ‘bubba and Mama’. I have no idea where Matilda picked up this expression, but she loves using it, and puts on a bit of a Yorkshire accent when she does. I don’t know if the voice is an affectation picked up by my (Yorkshire) grandparents, or our Yorkshire cousins who we infrequently skype and stayed with for a few weeks last year. Then again, it could have emerged from something more meaningless via the television through ‘Peppa Pig or ‘Little Princess’ – adored shows in our house.

I am beginning to think that I am writing less about lessons for my girls but rather lessons from them. Matilda sometimes seems three going on fifteen with the kindness and patience she shows towards us. Then there will suddenly be the tornado of a three year old tantrum. At other times, she is my little baby who cuddles into my arms with her ‘num’ (dummy) and ‘Percy’ (Miffy comforter) and falls asleep against my head. I cradle her and kiss her on my favourite part of her which is that little chubby, delicate, soft bit of skin under her neck….and I breathe her in.

As a girl, I used to stretch out on my trampoline and search the clouds for castles in the sky…now I watch my girls building theirs and feel a love in my soul I never knew possible.

‘Ten Dreams for Ten Years’

‘Ten Dreams for Ten Years’

 

As my little baby has now turned 3, here are ten things I dream for her doing or becoming over the next ten years.

 

These aren’t goals for academic results or lofty aspirations for sporting prowess, but dreams of ways that we can add colour and happiness to her development. I know that this list might appear delusive, but I have daily plans for my daughters, so I don’t see why I shouldn’t be wistful about the next ten years.

 

  1. To play by running around simply and barefoot in the yard with her little sister by her side in a world of their own creation (a yard which we do not possess as yet, but plan to, within ten years anyway).

 

  1.  To appreciate others. To show thanks or show gratefulness for what others do for her.

 

  1. To travel (as a family). Within Australia, outside Australia….be exposed to landscape, to cultures to people. To learn how to initiate conversations with strangers – through using us as guides, and with us always supporting her efforts. To clarify, I mean other little girls at camping grounds or children she is sitting next to on a plane. I obviously do not  mean to talk to  ‘strangers’ as in random people on the street by herself.

 

  1. To have at least three best friends. To never limit herself to one friend or one group. I hope that she would try and be friendly with people across a few different cliques, rather than sticking within her familiar group. (Mia Freedman over at Mama Miawrote a fabulous blog post about how many best friends your children should have, but I can’t seem to find the entry. I vaguely remember her talking about five…).

I know that this could be difficult and awkward for a young girl (or anyone), but through travel and other forms of exposure (see list), this experience can be made easier (I had pen pals for years after some family holidays…I wonder if children these days instantly become facebook friends after meeting on holidays…or? I’d be interested to hear input from those who know).

 

  1. Play a team sport. Through my own experience of team sports or in after school clubs I found myself  mixing with people who you wouldn’t normally form friendships with. This can definitely boost your confidence and friendship networks, and I can only assume make yourself less likely to bullying attacks (please correct me or comment on this if my assumptions are wrong).

 

  1. To have tried a musical instrument.

This may sound slightly ‘Tiger Mom’ -ish, but I think everyone should be introduced to music as early as possible.  I am sure my Mother is laughing at this point, as my parents ‘encouraged’ me to play piano for about ten years, and I fought against it every step of the way. I hated practicing. I hated the teachers and I was extremely nervous at playing in exams or concerts (probably because of the lack of practice). The years of piano lessons certainly did not grant me with any musical skill, nor did it help my Maths skills  (working off the theory of left brain/right brain) – neither weakness helping the other really.

What it did show me was the effort that goes into mastering skills in music (and other Arts) and I became a devoted appreciator of musical talent and I enjoy listening to all forms of music including classical, opera, jazz and contemporary pop.

I have a close friend who is a brilliant viola player and I love to attend her Orchestra’s performances (see TMO – an amazing Sydney group) and can truly appreciate the skill and effort that have gone into playing such emotional and intriguing compositions.

 

  1. To encourage her love of books by modeling this passion at home. A place where the television is often turned off (and other electronics) as we enjoy a quiet afternoon/evening reading. My girls and I often already lay in bed together reading – me reading my novels, Matilda ‘reading’ her magazines through the pictures or by reciting her adored picture books aloud (such as the beloved classic ‘Possum Magic’ by Mem Fox) and bubba chewing on board books.

 

  1. To encourage her cheeky humour which already gathers a following at parties and local activities. She is a natural show-off (as are most toddlers), and I only hope that this self-confidence blossoms into her teen years, not fades.

 

  1. To hold her sister in high esteem as one of her closest and dearest friends and to build on that unshakeable sister bond every day as they grow older.

 

  1. To know that her Mother is always and forever her biggest fan and proudest supporter and will love her every moment no matter what (even during her foolish toddler tantrums I often find myself secretly smiling inside at how gorgeous she is).

As we approach Mother’s Day this weekend, I don’t need presents or gifts to thank me – my gift would be if my little girl (and girls) achieved all this and more.

Wish Making

To finish with a fabulous sentiment from Jodi Picoult (to apply to my girls) –

“What I really want to tell him is to pick up that baby of his and hold her tight, to set the moon on the edge of her crib and to hang her name up in the stars.”
― Jodi PicoultMy Sister’s Keeper