Monday, April 28, 2008


Yesterday we went to a park where a brass band played in the rotunda and great big dahlias overbalanced in a single bed. It was sunny and cold and reminded me of what winter will be.

It was good to be out of the house after a week of illness. I was down with 'a virus' (thanks $70 doctor visit) with complimentary bacterial throat infection (oh, another $70?, well, sure); Al had the classic tonsillitis, which feels rather less childish than its ice cream and jelly connotations suggest. The girls have been low grade sick for weeks.

The last days have been horrible. It's hard when one party is sick; it's impossible when both parents are down with no-one to step in (my brains dribbled out of my ears after the fourth hour of children's television). But mostly, being ill threw into relief how utterly unhappy we are in our lives at the moment. The girls remain ... oh, difficult. We have almost no money. We can't find cash for a new pair of shoes for Al, let alone to send our kids to a school we feel good about. I work long hours on a professional wage, pay awe inspiring amounts in tax, and yet I have one pair of jeans and they cost $7, and I can't afford to get my hair cut. All the things I love - eating out, yoga, theatre, new books - have gone. It's hardly the underclass and we're not near to eviction or starvation - and I still have my painting - but our buffer has gone. As I've written about before, I've been frugal as a choice but now it's enforced and as much as I wish I could say otherwise, it sucks. It's grinding and boring and worrying.

When we decided to have kids we decided that one of us would stay home with them. We realised we would be taking a financial hit through this choice but that was okay because I really believed that for our family this was the best way, the path to a measured and free childhood for the girls, and a happy and relaxed family for us all. It seems those best laid plans are algey, and we're enduring the annoyances and rather larger sacrifices for not much at all. The girls are patently not happy and nor are we.

At dinner the other night Lucy said, "No-one likes your soup, Mum". I cried. It summed up how everything I've been trying for seems so irrelevant to my kids (yeah, I know, welcome to parenthood); Lucy doesn't want a slow childhood, she wants a pony and swimming lessons and as many dinosaur books and movies as I can fit in her bedroom (Nell, I don't know - she really like tofu and dogs). I feel like a loser: I'm a breadwinner who can't make enough money for my family to live on, a mother whose kids hate her meals, a hippy who wants to buy shoes, and my waist measurement puts me in the high risk category for diabetes.

I'm forgetting what we're trying to do here. ...

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A nice day: family bushwalk at Liffey Falls, followed by gelato (as all bushwalks should be) and a walk around Westbury admiring motorcycles (Nell and Al) and dahlias (Lu and me), and then a happy family dinner. We felt like a unit.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


Five years down here and it's still a shock to walk into Princes Square and see the leaves tumbling from the trees and lying deep on the grass. For the first time, the kids understood just how much fun this autumn thing can be.

Friday, April 18, 2008

I take all my parenting tips from the Hollywood stars

I never thought Angelina Jolie and I had much in common, save for us both being partnered up to hotties and looking awkward when we wear high heels. But turns out, we share the greatest bond of all: we're really crap mothers.

I think women's magazines are poisonous, what with their misogyny and those dodgy clairvoyants, so I never read them, save in doctors' surgeries (when it's like anaesthetic to dull the one hour wait for my four o'clock appointment) and the chip and fizzy drink aisle of Coles, where I wander forlornly, wondering who thought getting rid of Atomic Tomato flavoured crisps was a justifiable way forward for Samboy. And here I read that grave fears are held for Ange and Brad's kids. Grave fears are held because there'll be six under six (I only ever got to two under two), the kids fight, they're jealous of each other and they're given junk food (which according to a dietician is a 'ticking time bomb') to eat. Truly, these kids are doomed, damned and betrayed by such cruelty, as their clearly disturbed behaviour (Pushing! Fighting over toys!) shows.

I have no idea if any of the reports are true (though I tend to doubt the reliability of 'sources' and 'those close to the couple') or if people believe them, and can't think it actually affects A & B in anyway to have this written about them, but it really shits me that these kinds of messages are spewed into my world for the punters' weekly dose of moral indignation.

In the last day or so Nell, Lu or both have:

* eaten marshmallows and green cordial before bed and then fallen asleep without brushing their teeth;
* watched the whole series of Walking With Dinosaurs, twice;
* Eaten paint;
* Eaten chook food (in my defense, it was organic);
* Head butted and body slammed each other; in one memorable instance, Lucy kicked Nell in the face and Nell bit her toe (just like those python crushing the elephant/ elephant falls to the ground and crushes the python scenarios);
* Competed constantly for my attention;
* Screamed loudly and annoyingly in public places;
* Always wanted what the other one had;;
* Tantrumed because there'd be no playing in the dog park mud today.

And while I don't think these reflect the very best parenting practices and kiddie attitudes, I'm okay with all this (perhaps a little worried about the paint). Because I'm a good parent and my kids are good kids.

That magazine had a lot in common with the brouhaha over the 'I hate kids' posts a month or so ago, over at feministing. The posts annoyed me but I was really pissed off by the comments, here and at other sites, that often took a 'tolerant' stand of 'I don't blame the kids, I blame the parent'. People's whining about kids behaving badly reflects a belief that a) kids spring fully formed from the head of Zeus, all clued up on social rules and self-discipline; b) have no claim to freedom of movement or freedom of association; and c) that adults conform to social, legal and moral rules (cf. any early Saturday morning outside of the Saloon on Charles Street/ any other pub anywhere).

And I'm kind of sick of people holding parents to a standard of behaviour, a clarity of judgement, a commitment to purpose, that we don't expect of the childless. I'm not talking about systematic cruelty or on-going abuse but the daily stumblings as we try our best. People are fine about their 'addiction' to chocolate, their lazy Friday take-out noodles, their bludging in front of the telly, their spending money on expensive shoes instead of rent, their failed attempts to start exercising or whatever other quirky vices we all lay claim to. And that's fine, because we are all lazy and tired and forgetful and all the other things that stop us being The Very Best We Can Possibly Be. Yes, I do have a duty to my kids' welfare that is different to the duty we as adults have to our own selves, but my kids eat a lot less junk food and watch a lot less telly than the average Australian who frowns when the girls eat a brownie and whine annoyingly amongst a self-satisfied cafe crowd.

And I think there's a kind of irony in that magazine, with that article, sitting right next to the Salt and Vinegar chips and the Fanta in Coles.

Focus of attention

There's an old man down the road from where we live, and he keeps a classically old man garden: trim and clipped and nary a leaf where it shouldn't be. Around the edges of his front lawn he grows dahlias. I'm not sure if they're prize-winning dahlias but they are of a startling size and colour and I wouldn't be surprised to see them in a wine bottle at the next horticultural society event at St Albie's hall (I love flower shows).

It's not how I grow flowers; I'm more an all in together, how much can we fit in this space kind of a gal. But there's something to be said for setting things out so carefully, so evenly spaced, so that each plant, each great big bloom, draws my focus in tightly. Each morning on my way to work I walk past the white picket fence and stop for a moment to look at the architecture and the more-varied-than-you-might-think colours of the dahlias. Sometimes, when he's feeling particularly gallant after one of our chats, the old man (is his name Tom? I have a feeling it is ..) cuts me a few flowers to take home, and hands them over with a wink.

I love this one the most, it's like the beginnings of an Eric Carle flower, bearing the brush strokes proudly.

I'm timing my trips home to catch the old man watering his garden, so that I can ask for a stub of the root. Somehow, this seems less bold than knocking on his front door, though I'm not sure why; what gardener isn't thrilled when someone loves a plant so much they want to take a little bit home?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Good night

After dinner we raced through the back streets with the girls in matching yellow prams screaming 'faster, faster', the dogs running beside. We passed the little white cottages on the corner and the owner stepped down from the verandah to give us a bag of passionfruit. He had been sitting, waiting for someone to come by, so that he could share the bounty; tonight, we were the lucky ones.

So this weekend, pavlova.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Slide night :: the good looking side of the family

I get my work ethic and my unforgiving standards from my father's side of my family. But my charm, elegance and good looks in a hat are inherited from my mother's.

Top: Great-grandmother Agnes Passmore and great aunt Nora
Bottom: Grandad and Uncle Wal.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Future perfect

Back from Brisbane, I spent a few hours today in the garden. Spreading muck, sowing some broad beans, lettuce and broccoli, but mostly planting flowers: 60 mixed iris, sweet peas and Queen Anne's Lace, to keep company with the multitude of freesias, the 100 ranunculas, last year's daffodils and the 140 tulips still sitting in the vegetable crisper. If the plans unfurl in the way I hope, we will drift in colour for months.

Anyone who writes about gardening can't help but state that the planting of seeds is an act of faith; no matter how simple the science, there's something quite surprising in the green from the brown, the pink (or red, or yellow, or white) from the green. Today, the planting of flowers seemed even more a statement of hope than usual. When I think of that loveliness, it sits in a vase in our house - flowers in the garden are too far away for me. And in that image, the vase sits in a house that is serene, sharing space with a family that is happy and calm. A family, indeed, with a rather different emotional tenor to the one we shared today.

Today, Lucy behaved horribly, so horribly I can't quite remember a time when she did not (though I am almost sure that time was only about 48 hours ago). So horribly that is was all I - all we - could do not to scream at her, to hit out hard. Al and I don't physically punish the girls, and days like today strengthen that resolve despite - and because - we want so badly to smack her. On days like today that smack could only be vindictive. On days like today we come to the brink of something very harsh and I'm not sure what stops me - self-discipline perhaps, sometimes drifting into my happy place, a deep breath, screaming in my head, or the intervention of Al (who only fifteen minutes ago was in the same position). We're good and kind people, our own parents were great role models, we have a whole set of financial, social and emotional resources and still we come so close.

As a childless person I was blithely judgmental of any parent who hit their child in anger or laziness or frustration or resentment or any of the 100 other emotional states we are not meant to experience as parents, and to be honest I still often am. But my goodness, the only difference between me and those I judge is that my hand stops barely short.

I love my kids, it goes without saying. But sometimes I need to say it, to remind myself that it's true, and to hold on to that image of a vase of flowers in a happy home.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

In my time, I have thrown the odd, gorgeous party. Once, outside under the mango tree, with my own basil-cured salmon and enough champagne to swim in. Outside, under another mango tree, on picnic rugs, with candles all around (a guest, Paul, who knows a thing or two about hosting, told me I was a woman who knew how to use candles), ending with a pear and brie tart. Another time, in winter, serving seared kangaroo fillet and a mushroom risotto to good friends who brought good wine. At the time, and in hindsight, all really rather lovely.

I've also been a guest at the odd gorgeous party: farewell do's in pink mansions by the river, lights from the city sparkling on the pool; tipsy dinners on the verandahs of old Queenslanders, conversation sharpening as the wine flowed; a catch up lunch of corn from the garden and butterflied lamb, barbecued on Paul's deck and eaten under a grape vine, followed by sundaes with raspberries from his garden. My friend Tambo has made me peach bellinis for one birthday and Maggie Beer's quails in a fig bath for another (don't believe the book - removing those backbones and ribs is much trickier than you are lead to believe).

Today, I hosted my first proper kid's birthday party, a few weeks after Lu's actual birthday. Honey joys, chocolate crackles, and not quite enough Cheezels, red and green cordial, a cake with sky blue icing and a Tyrannosaurus marked out in sprinkles and smarties; carrot sticks that the kids didn't even sniff. Plus, lots of space in the park and ducks to feed. And balloons. I was hailed by the younger set as the hostess with the mostest.

Whereas I once measured the success of a gathering by the volume of the laughter and the lateness of the leave taking, today I was pleased that no-one got stung by a wasp or run down by the Little Athletics cross country carnival that was racing past the picnic table.

Now it's back to Brisbane to work for a week, taking Lucy to play with the grandparents. Grandad, Meema, be warned - there are plans to scare you at the airport tonight with much roaring like a dinosaur.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Music to my ears

Lucy only ever sings two songs: I'm a Little Teapot and The Old Grey Mare (she ain't what she used to be, ain't what she used to be, ain't what she used to be ..... ad infinitum).

I've really never had expectations about what she would sing, but if I'd been asked, The Old Grey Mare wouldn't have made it onto my list of top five most likely.

Less unexpectedly, Nell loves to bop around to Wake Me Up (Before You Go-Go). Because it just keeps getting better and better, and it's poetry speaks to any age.