That time my daughter needed an exorcism.

Do we even like being parents anymore? I’m joking, obviously but I go through memes and photos and posts every day taking about a) how hard this gig is and b) how we all need to self medicate to survive parenthood.

And the funny part is, almost all the things complained about are the parts of parenting I secretly don’t mind so much. Like the fact my five year old will come and ask me something and use a word that isn’t correct or say a sentence that doesn’t make sense, and when I say I don’t understand she will repeat the EXACT SAME WORD just slower or louder like she is speaking to someone of incredibly low intelligence.
“What day is tomorrow?”
“Friday.”
“No. What DAY is tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow is Friday.”
“No. The day after today. WHAT DAY is it?”
“Dude. It’s Friday. I don’t know what answer you want.”
“The day after today.”
“Tomorrow?”
“Yes. What DAY is that?”
“Tomorrow is Friday.”
“No. WHAT…DAY…IS…IT?”
“….you need to go play.”

It’s infuriating. It makes me want to stab myself to death with a spoon. But it’s absolutely hilarious and that’s what I love about parenting.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been on this whirly-gig for almost two decades now. But all those things that drive you insane today? Funny as shit in 5-10 years time. Trust me. One day your house will be clean, your car won’t have smashed milk arrowroot on the carpet, your kids will hold conversations that actually make sense and you will MISS this insanity.

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Let me tell you a story. It’s one of my favourites. To set the scene my eldest daughter is 7 years old. You wouldn’t know it to look at her now but she had this incredible temper when she was little. In fact, most people unless they experienced one of her infrequent but volatile rages wouldn’t have believed me then. This particular day it is summer and I am getting the kids to school. My Nanna took us because I didn’t drive back then and I was about 25 weeks pregnant with my first son and fourth child. Nanna was waiting in the car with E who was 3 and going to go swimming with her auntie that day. I am walking a 7 year old J and 6 year old B into their catholic school. Everything is fine.

I think I need to stop here and explain that I carry large with boys. Like, I’m big. With girls I have a teeny compact rockmelon under my dress, with boys…let’s just say that I was once stopped at 15 weeks pregnant with R and asked how much longer I had. (I may have growled at them).

Anyway, I’m waddling along and I mention to B that it is water play at her class today. She had swimmers and a towel and her class was going to play with sprinklers and buckets of water and have a grand old time. J says, “Why does she get water play and I don’t?”
I explain that her class is having a water play day, I don’t know, I don’t make the rules. She immediately launched into how unfair this was. B getting water play and E getting to go swimming.
“I can take you swimming at Nanna’s after school,” I say.
Not good enough. J is saying that is also unfair because then her sisters have done two water things and she has only done one. Her friends wave hello. She glares at them. She is beginning to melt down. She starts screaming she doesn’t want to go to school.
“I DON’T WANT TO GO TO SCHOOL! I DON’T WANT TO GO TO SCHOOL!”

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I kiss B goodbye and push her towards her classroom and away from her sisters wrath. People are staring. The bell rings and it’s assembly day so kids begin to move towards the hall. Throngs of children and me clutching my demon child’s hand while she struggles to free herself all the while screaming at the top of her lungs, “I DON’T WANT TO GO TO SCHOOL!”

At the doorway to the hall the Principal comes up to us and tries to talk J into coming inside and – I shit you not – she HISSES at him. Then screams in his face those same words. He retreats. I don’t blame him.

At this point basically every head in the school is turned towards my daughter wailing. People whisper to B who is sitting placidly with her class. Privately she looks pleased because she will forever be known as the ‘good sister’ and also because she will have mad street cred for living with such a crazy person and surviving.

I realise I cannot take her in. This temper tantrum will run it’s own course but she absolutely cannot go to school today. So I turn to J and I say, “Okay. We are going home.”

But I do it in that mum way. You know the way. Like, your voice is totally calm but the kid knows shit just got real. And J looks at me and knows this so she starts screaming, “No! I WANT TO GO TO SCHOOL!”

She’s hysterical. I half drag her towards the exit. She’s screaming the whole way, “LET ME GO TO SCHOOL! LET ME GO TO SCHOOL!”

But I can’t back down because I made a call and kids smell weakness.

She is digging her heels in and I’m so big and pregnant, you guys. But it becomes clear the only way I’m getting her back to the car is if I carry her. So I heft up this 7 year old on my belly while she is kicking and screaming and yelling, “LET ME GO TO SCHOOL!”

I am headed towards this little path behind the church and there are colourful flower beds. I see the parish priest walking a visitor around them, both marvelling at the roses while I am heading towards them with a kid that looks like she needs an exorcism. Just before we get to the priest and companion, J does this wild whole body buck that because of my centre of gravity being off due to massive belly sends both of us sprawling on the concrete, my shoe breaks, my skirt rides up and I skin a knee. I burst into tears.

Here we are. Both of us crying, me bleeding, one shoe and the priest looking on in horror. J sniffles and looks at me and says, “Please mummy. I don’t want to hurt you…..but I will.”

The priest recoils and retreats to the safety of his rose bushes.

Five minutes later I am hobbling back to the car, broken shoe in hand, both J and I crying and Nanna jumps out and says, “What happened?!”

Where to begin?

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Now, as far as shitty parenting days go, that was right up there. It was so far up there. It’s one of my top 5 Shitty Parenting Moments.

But now we laugh about it. So I guess it’s also one of my top 5 Most Hilarious Parenting Moments.

What I’m trying to say is the real shitty stuff is the stuff you will never laugh about. Sickness, broken hearts, those heart stopping moments when you think ‘there but for the grace of God, go I’. You’ve probably all had one of those. The day to day with kids is hard work, I’m not devaluing that, but it’s fleeting, man. It really is. But it’s so fucking good as well. The hard stuff is part of the tapestry of your parenting journey. It just wouldn’t be the same without it.

So, yes. Drink your wine, eat the chocolate, sneak the good ice cream. But try to think, “Will I laugh about this one day?” “Will I miss this when she is walking out the door on a date at 18?” For me the answer is almost always, yes.

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Dad.

I’m going to tell you a secret. It took me years to love my dad properly. I didn’t understand him really. He was never a mean dad, he joked with me, I have a picture of us on the beach, him giving me a piggy back so I know he played with me when I was small. But as a child I took those things for granted. But mum was my go to, alright. I knew mum bought all the birthday and Christmas presents and Dad was just as surprised as me to see what was inside, I knew mum cooked the dinner and washed the clothes.

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My dad, seemed this odd mystery to me. He disappeared in the morning before I was awake and came home and lay down on the couch where most nights he promptly fell asleep. He was always really into things I didn’t understand, like cycads and palms and occasionally I would be pressed into watering these which I really begrudged. He was always finding things he loved and bringing them home like rocks and cow skulls and broken birds that would chirp on top of the bathroom mirror light where it was warm while I brushed my teeth. He would sometimes say to me, “What do you think of this design? Do you think it would make a good chair?” And I would be bewildered by this because I didn’t know if he was planning to quit his job and become a chair maker. One time mum and I had to role play customers while he pretended to sell us smoke alarms. The falling asleep on the couch alarmed me. My friends and I creeping by him on the way to my room dodging the cup on its side on the floor where he had been practising his putting before he fell asleep. Sometimes he would have two TVs going in the same room – both on sport – and he would be asleep in front of them.

It took me years – I’m embarrassed to admit – before I realised he was sleeping because he was exhausted. My dad would get up early and go to work and often stop by the family farm on the way home to round up cattle or feed them or fix something. I never connected these absent hours to the sleeping on the couch. He worked and worked and he was tired. In my childhood innocence I didn’t connect this with the yellow pay packets that came home, with the clothes on my back, with the food on the table, with the tennis lessons or tae-kwon-do lessons or those Christmas presents he was just as surprised at as me when I opened them.

It took me years to think…oh. My dad went a great many years dreadfully under appreciated by me. When I sit with him now a part of me whispers “I see you, I see you, I see you.” because for years he was invisible to me. And I learnt that my dad is funny, he tells hilarious stories. He is quirky. He is kind to animals which I think shows great character in a man. He will fix something before he throws it away, or at least have the intention to. He loves my mother in a way that blows me away. Years ago on my wedding night my mother fell asleep and he came in and stroked her hair and said, “God, she is so beautiful.” And I thought how magical to have someone love you so fiercely even while you’re asleep that he blurts out his love and you never even know.

So there it is. My dad. Happy Father’s Day. I see you.

The Hardest Thing about Parenthood.

I’ll tell you the hardest thing about being a parent. Or actually, what for me has been the hardest thing about being a mother. The invisibility.

There are dozens of ‘hard things’ and the hard stuff happens immediately. It begins right there when you see those two pink lines on the little white wand you just peed on and realise that you can say goodbye to soft cheese for the next 8 months (I know friends, it was a struggle for me too). You feel tired, emotional, your skin stretches and warps over your abdomen and you watch as stretch marks bloom across you. I remember one night going to sleep with perfect breasts and I woke the next morning to step in the shower and caught sight of my chest in the mirror and thought I had those strange marks from sleeping all over my breasts until I realised they were stretch marks that literally appeared overnight like magic. Across my thighs they were deep, painful looking scarlet scars as though I had been whipped. I looked down once when I could still see my calves and was fascinated by the fact I had a lone red tendril of stretch mark on my calf, far from my stomach that was the cause of all this. And that’s before we hit hyperemesis, SPD that literally crippled me (although I was fortunate enough to suffer no major lasting effects), gestational diabetes.

Then labour. The pain that comes with opening a portal to life, the panting, the pushing, the sweat, the blood.

Swollen breasts filled with milk. Cracked nipples. Post partum bleeding. Sleepless nights. The perfume of baby powder and newborn and underneath it all the faint sour smell of baby vomit on your shirt you didn’t notice until you were in the shops grabbing bread because – goddamn it, do we ALWAYS need bread in this house? Where does it go?

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The teething, the worry of SIDS, the baby check ups and doctors appointments, the growth charts and milestones: check, check, check…

Baby proofing and blending of foods and patience until you think you might explode from buried frustration. Endless on loop soundtracks of the Wiggles, or Thomas, or Strawberry Shortcake and barbie shoes that never seem to exist after the first five minutes of leaving their box.

Clothes and washing and which school is right? Are they happy? Are other kids mean? Is MY kid mean? Homework and more doctors visits and fever in the night that leaves you sleeping on the floor by the bed sponging a scalding forehead with a tepid cloth and praying the panadol kicks in soon.

Head lice and parent/teacher interviews and costumes and parties. Christmas presents and birthdays and school discos and is my child happy? Is he happy? And oh, my heart is breaking. And vomit buckets being emptied.

Football games and netball games and swimming lessons.

A thousand sandwiches.

Which high school? Should I let her wear make up? Is she too young? And teens with boyfriends and parties and leaving you and leaving you and leaving you. And you have to balance your protection with your need to see if she can fly. Will you fly? And heartbreaks and colds and doctors visits and the orthodontist and talent quests where she sang like an angel.

Bearing witness. Day in day out. Endless. A hundred things. A thousand memories and you are their keeper.

The hardest thing is the invisibility. Of knowing there is not a single time they will remember all of those thankless things you did because you loved them until they are the keeper of memories for their own children.

But writing them out just now, they didn’t feel like that much of a hardship after all.

Survival and Ghosts.

When I was little I was really scared of ghosts. Not like a white sheeted floating figure but actual spirits. I’m a pretty reasonable person and I like to think I’m fairly grounded in reality and yet I don’t know everything and there are millions of things in the world I don’t understand so while there may be (and probably is) a reasonable explanation for this when I was little I was plagued by this apparition of an old man walking past my bedroom.

To set the scene we were living in this old house that was owned by The Blue Nurses who were left it in a will by the old guy that lived there before us. We had just moved back to QLD after living down in NSW in a caravan by the beach where we ate so much fresh fish that I seem to have developed a permanent aversion to it (but that is beside the point) and taken up residence in this giant old house. I assume at one point it was all joined together but it was like a duplex by the time we got there. Two large bedrooms either side, bathrooms and kitchens and living areas and on our side a wide enclosed verandah. No toilet. The toilet was downstairs and I was terrified of it. My parents are like the King and Queen of ‘making do’. Most women would be driven crazy by having to cart a 5 year old outside and downstairs in the dark to the toilet but my mum just stoically bore this burden. This wasn’t the only flaw in the old house. The bedrooms which came off of the enclosed verandah had large glass doors – beautiful – but impractical to shut every night so we left them open. And the enclosed verandah had windows but no glass. Just fly screens. And some didn’t have fly screens because they had long been torn off. One night I woke up basically exsanguinated by mosquitos. My dad also liked to pot plants (once in the living room which did drive my mother to distraction although we can laugh about it now) and at that stage he was in a cactus phase and he kept them all over and he was also fond of rocks and he carted ones he particularly liked home and put them on the verandah. My mother worried the verandah would collapse under the weight but she just puts up with these little eccentricities. I should mention that I actually really love rocks also so this isn’t weird to me. I just managed to have both my dad’s love of hoarding with my mother’s love of purging items so I collect them and then throw them all away in a fit of decluttering. Anyway. Back to the house.

The other side was linked to ours through various doorways that were closed off with furniture. In my room it was kind of barricaded by my large wooden toy box, which I was grateful for because the other side was completely full of stuff that had belonged to the old man and his wife before she passed. It had their pots and pans, clothing, her make up, furniture etc. I assume the Nurses went through it and cleared out anything of major value but the fact there was still rouge that had once coloured this dead woman’s cheeks kind of freaked me out a little.

Most of the time when I was small my mother would read me Enid Blyton books and draw on my back until I drifted off. But sometimes I would be lying there awake and I would see this old man walk past my door. It freaked me out so badly because I kind of knew he shouldn’t be there and that he wasn’t actually THERE. I lived in fear he would one day not just walk past but turn his head and look at me and if that happened I would just die of fear but I couldn’t stop watching for him in case he DID look at me. I kind of brushed this off as an overactive imagination on my part. Nothing is there, nothing is there, lalalalala, go to sleep…

Anyway, I had this cat Tinkerbell and one day she got hit by a car and died. After that I kept seeing Tinkerbell. Lying in a patch of sun on the verandah, walking through the house casual as you please like she wasn’t dead and buried under a tree in the backyard. Finally, I come to my mother and tell her I’m seeing Tinkerbell. And mum doesn’t appear shocked by this at all and says, “That’s okay. Sometimes they just stick around for a little while after they die.” (Years later she would tell me she wasn’t shocked because she herself had also been seeing Tinkerbell). THIS COMPLETELY FREAKED ME OUT. Because my line of thinking was that if I was seeing Tinkerbell because, no big deal sometimes they just stick around awhile, then maybe I WAS seeing Old Man because HE was sticking around. And I didn’t not want Old Man to be sticking around. I wanted him to not be walking past my room, thank you very much.

We moved into my parents first bought house when I was seven which effectively put an end to the Old Man walking past my room but I was still completely freaked out about going to sleep. I would lie awake for ages. I would pile dozens of teddies around my body in bed in order to confuse any potential ghosts about where I was, perhaps they would just miss me if I was camouflaged by teddies. Almost every night I was anxious about ghosts. Avoiding ghosts was my primary goal in life. And then one day I got sick. Probably with just a flu or something but I was completely miserable and far too sick to care about anything except sleeping and trying to keep down fluids and not boiling my brain with fever. And I stopped caring about the ghosts. I was so sick I was just like the seven year old version of, “I’m too sick to deal with your shit.” When I got better I began to worry about ghosts again. But I found that interesting. That when you were very sick, you didn’t really care about anything except being sick.

Now days when I am having a rough patch with myself mentally it’s difficult for me to care about anything but how sick I am. It’s consuming. It pushes everything else out. I don’t do my hair. I don’t care I’m wearing jeans four sizes too big. I don’t care that I’m 34 and don’t know what I want to do with my life. Every single fibre in my body is dedicated to one purpose – survival. Last week though I found myself obsessing over my face. I get hormonal cystic acne on my chin when I’m about to ovulate because my body is under the impression the best way to catch a mate to fertilise it’s impending egg is to be sure he sees me by planting a beacon on my face. It’s frustrating to the extreme but my body is very firm on this being the correct plan of action so I suffer through. And last week I was like “THIS IS BULLSHIT! No one should have to simultaneously deal with acne AND the emergence of smile lines.” And I was googling how to clear the cystic acne and really miserable and then I remembered that a month ago I wouldn’t have given a shit about my face. Because I was too busy just surviving a month ago. The fact I was caring about something so trivial was a sign of WELLNESS. Cystic acne was basically my ‘ghost’. You only have time to obsess over the little stuff when you aren’t busy doing battle with the big stuff. I was still morose over my face but I was happy I could be morose. That there was enough of me left over to give to something petty. To care enough to be vain.

I looked into the mirror. And I smiled.

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Three Stories.

Sometimes I take out little random memories like jewels from a treasure chest and examine them in the light. Ahh, here is the time I was about 5 and got shy and accidentally hugged the Tupperware lady instead of my Mum. And here is the Christmas Day I got given not one but two kittens. Recently I found three stories that seemed completely unconnected at first and when I went to write them down I realised that my life actually has this theme to it. I’ll put them below. Three Stories.

~1~

One time when I was about 15 I was in my kitchen partaking in one of the great Australian traditions of eating Milo directly out of the tin. I had just put the world’s biggest tablespoon of Milo into my mouth and was busy trying to breath carefully through my nose lest I succumb to Milo Lung which is the greatest tragedy to befall all Australians partaking in the great tradition of Milo eating when suddenly there was a knock at the door. Wait, let me explain. * Milo Lung is where you accidentally inhale the granulated Milo into your lung while eating it from the tin and immediately begin to cough, spraying Milo all over everything within a 2 metre radius and try not to die while asphyxiating on chocolaty goodness. It’s a dangerous sport but a rite of passage. * Anyway, there was a knock at the door. I stop mid chew to see if mum or my brother would answer the door but they’ve all gone somewhere and I can’t not answer the door. I know it’s for me anyway because it’s that time of day when someone would knock at my door. I peek around the corner and it’s my partner who is basically getting a glimpse of his future twenty years down the track when he will catch me in all manner of compromising food situations where I’m stuffing my face just as he walks in. But back then I’m not really ready for him to see me with Milo all stuck between my teeth because we don’t have that sort of relationship yet. So as I dash by him I am holding up one finger in the universal “just a second” gesture and I have to dash to the bathroom and brush my teeth about five times because Milo is the most tenacious bastard you have ever met. It took about 17 years for me to come clean about that moment. Finally, I’m sitting there with him and I say, “I don’t know if you remember this but this one time you came to the door just as I’d started eating Milo and I was horrified and had to rush to the bathroom to brush my teeth and when I came back you asked what I’d been doing and I lied and made something up.” He has one of the most fickle memories – he can recall every song lyric he has ever heard but can’t remember this one time when we were about 14 and went into the city and he pinched a monorail from the Expo 88 exhibit at the art gallery. I’m like, “How can you NOT remember that? It was a MONORAIL!” But he forgets things. Meanwhile through some miracle of mind he manages to recall one arbitrary day nearly twenty years ago when I ran past him with my cheeks puffed like a squirrel full of Milo. “Oh yeah, I get it though. Milo can be such a bastard to get out of your teeth.” Seriously? 17 years I held on to the shame of a covert Milo eating mission and he just accepts it as normal.

~2~

My first break up was a truly horrendous affair and occurred when I was 10. I’m about to revive good old Peter Brown for this story because he was my first boyfriend or what passed for a boyfriend in fourth grade – which basically meant we played together at lunch time. We had a whirlwind love affair that lasted approximately one month. That was because his usual friend who he played with had up and gone to America for a month to visit some NASA camp leaving Peter to his own devices. Peter attached himself to me and my best friend and we had a grand time that month, catching ladybugs…actually I can’t remember what else we did except catch lady bugs but I assume we did something. He sang me Beach Boys songs. I gave him a matchbox car which was actually one of my very best matchbox cars so this was A BIG DEAL. Anyway, fast forward a month and his regular gal comes back from America and he just DITCHES me. I was so mad, you guys. I GAVE him my CAR. Right so I write him this note and I’m like, “I’m not going to be your friend anymore because you are mean.” And I give it to Peter. And he is like, what the hell is this? And I’m like, what’s it look like, asshole? And he is like, I’m taking this to the teacher. And I was like, oh shit. (I’m paraphrasing, neither of us swore). And he goes and stands in line behind a bunch of kids getting their work checked and I’m FREAKING OUT. I’m sure I’m going to be in so much trouble for writing this mean note. I end up cutting in line and telling the teacher I’m sick and need to go home and off I go. Every day for about a week I freak out after lunch that Peter is going to tell the teacher about this note and I have to go home because I can’t deal with the anxiety of this hanging over my head. Finally mum gets the shits with having to pick me up early and takes me to the doctors to see if there is actually anything wrong with me. The doctor says my lymph glands are up a bit and I probably feel poorly and I think it must be a miracle and I’ve made myself sick but feel completely well somehow. Mum now believes me but I know the jig is up and I’m just going to have to face whatever music is coming. The next day I go up to Peter and I’m like, “Look, are you going to tell the teacher or not?” And he looks at me bewildered and goes, “Tell the teacher what?” And I’m exasperated and say, “About the note!” And he goes, “Oh that!” And waves his hand, “I threw it out. I don’t care.” And I walked away completely amazed I’d made such a big deal about nothing. The next day I open my tidy tray and my matchbox car is sitting inside.

~3~

When I was 18 I had two daughters. My youngest was a couple of months old and despite not managing breastfeeding with my first daughter (lots of issues with prematurity and my own inexperience) I was totally smashing breastfeeding this time around. Still, it was all new to me and I didn’t really have a good grasp on how my boobs really worked at that stage and I was still pretty shocked at the amount of force a let down would have. For the uninitiated when you breastfeed at some point during the feed you ‘let down’ which is where the milk starts just flowing of its own accord. I didn’t realise this occurred before I had kids. Like, I’d read about it but reading and seeing are different things. The milk comes out in multiple sprays and just SHOOTS out. Like a water pistol under extreme pressure. I can’t really describe it. Sometimes the milk runs out so fast the babies can’t swallow quick enough and they’ll pop off because they’re only small but that know this is crazy. By this stage though my baby had gotten bigger and learned to cope with the flow but I’d discovered that babies are also really distracted and if something is interesting they’ll just come off and have a look around the room with absolutely no regard for the fact your boob is now exposed to the world. So here I am. Sitting on the couch in my living room and my then partner has invited his work mate around for a visit and this is the first time I’ve met him. The work mate whom I shall call Paul is sitting at right angles to me on a separate couch and he seems nice enough. Paul is impeccably dressed and very gay and hasn’t had a lot of experience with babies or boobs but he politely ignores the baby I’ve just put to my breast which is nice for me because I was still kind of getting the hang of this myself. My then partner and his work mate are chatting away and I continue to nurse and just as I let down and the milk turns into a fire hose they start laughing at something and the baby pops off to check out the situation in case it’s something she might be interested in. My boob is now free and seriously shoots milk across the room on a trajectory that’s going to land it straight towards poor suspecting Paul’s arm. I clamp a baby wrap down on my boob to stop the flow but it’s too late and some has definitely landed – if not on him – near him. I’m mortified. I’ve just met this man and I’m squirting milk at him. I’m not sure what is the socially acceptable thing to do in this situation. Firstly, I’m not sure he has seen, he is giving me no outward signs of having seen. But if he is just being polite and HAS seen and I say nothing he is going to think I just go around shooting milk at everyone. So I should definitely apologise. On the other hand, if he hasn’t seen and I apologise I’m drawing attention to a fact that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. I really only have a second to decide so I go with an apology. “Umm, I’m really sorry about that…the milk, I mean. And how it kind of….shot…at you. I didn’t mean it.”
Paul is perplexed and has no idea what I’m talking about. So now I’m forced to explain about the lactation process and how it’s unpredictable and babies are inquisitive. Paul is now thrilled with this knowledge, “You mean it just SHOOTS out?! That’s amazing! That’s hilarious! I’d be squirting people for fun. Don’t even worry about it.” While Paul didn’t have much experience with babies or boobs he knew exactly the right thing to say.

Three stories. And you know what I learned? Most of the time nothing is as bad as you think it is.

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You Got It.

What is your earliest memory? Mine is being held by my grandfather. He said when I was born he didn’t intend to like me. He thought he was too young to be a grandfather and was offended by my existence. But when I came home from the hospital with my mother I would settle in his arms. He didn’t want to choose me – but I chose him.

He would rock me in his arms and sing me a lullaby and I would fall asleep. I liked sensory things like the satin that rimmed my blanket and scratching stickers. I have this vivid recollection of my grandfather holding me in front of the inside of my auntie’s wardrobe where she had a collection of stickers and me picking one of them off. I remember her protesting and him defending my right as the baby to demolish her sticker collection. That is my oldest memory. Being safe in his arms.

In fact in all my earliest memories I only remember being loved and cared for and cherished. I remember there always being somebody’s lap to climb into and someone to listen to my chatter. I remember my mother stroking my back so I could fall asleep, my auntie taking me out early in the morning and teaching me how to swim, my grandmother hanging clothes while I shadowed her out to the clothesline and she listened to my stories, monopoly games with my other auntie.

And my grandfather. Infinitely patient with me. A streak of mischief that wasn’t tamed when he became an adult. His laugh. His hands roughened from work. His pockets always jingling with change.

I remember sitting in his car on the way to the shops one time when I was very small and Roy Orbison “You Got It” came on the radio and I began to sing and him laughing because I knew the lyrics. We were going to buy things for Nanna from the grocery store and he let me pick ice cream but then remembered he left his wallet in the car and only had the change in his pockets so instead of putting back the ice cream he put back what he came to buy and came back later with his wallet for what he actually needed.

Sometimes when I am feeling low or like I don’t want to keep going, when things are hard – I think of all the care and love he showered on me when I was little and I think I owe it to him to be brave. Because he gave me a wildness by teaching me to laugh at life. Because he treated me like I was precious and left a hard act for any man to follow. Because he sang me to sleep. Because he put back what he needed just to give me something I wanted. Because my oldest memory is of being safe – because of him.

Because he loves me. Even if he didn’t intend to in the beginning.

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Beautiful.

When I was about 10 we had a school camp. I can’t remember where we went but it was out bush somewhere and there were cabins and a tennis court and some really awesome swimming pools that no one supervised us using because it was 1991 and life was different back then. If one of us had of drowned it probably would have been our fault and the whole class would have gotten detention or something. And the drowned kid probably would have been threatened with the cane. Anyway, while we were there we had a formal dinner and everyone was supposed to bring a nice dress or, for the guys, a nice pair of pants and button up long sleeved shirt.

THIS WAS A BIG DEAL.

Seriously it was a huge deal. Because not only was it a formal dinner but a guy had to ask you and you had to pair with them and it was expected that he pull out your chair, fetch your plate and dance with you at some point. You wouldn’t get away with it these days. Can you imagine? You would probably get sued because girls are capable of getting their own plates. But again, 1991.

So anyway, my mother is a wonderful seamstress. Now days if you make your own clothes they have a kitch term called ‘handmaiden’ which is a play on ‘handmade’ and ‘maiden’ which is probably also not very PC but back in 1991 if you sewed your own clothes you were just a seamstress. Mum took to the challenge of a dress for a formal dinner with an enthusiasm that shocked me. She found a pattern for a gown, and I mean it was a serious gown with wide off the shoulder bands, a sweetheart neckline, a full skirt that was tea dress length and a fabric rose pinned between my boobs if I had of had any, but I didn’t because – once again, it was 1991. She made it from yards and yards of white puffy sheer fabric with little black felt dots the size of a match head and I basically looked like Cinderella.

It was over the top. The other girls were sporting the very best Myer had to offer or whatever but no one had a Cinderella dress because we were 10. To add to the Cinderella effect I am not sure anyone had ever even noticed I existed much before unless it was in the capacity of best friend to my best friend who was this adorable little elfin thing and a twin to boot so everyone loved her. I was the 1991 version of that ugly friend that the cute chick has. (Don’t worry, when puberty hit I became completely rocking but back then still totally invisible). I don’t know if I had ever worn a dress in front of these people before. I did own the world’s ugliest tracksuit I wore without a care because it was warm and I didn’t give a shit about fashion. I wore sneakers with basically everything I owned. I wore socks with flats. I shouldn’t have been allowed to dress myself but it was 1991 and parents didn’t care if you looked weird so long as you came home before the streetlights.

Okay, so here we are. It is early evening at camp and I’ve showered and washed my hair and donned my Cinderella dress and flats (with no socks) and emerged and basically all the girls went, “Ahhhhh” and the teacher asked if she could braid my hair which was pretty much the most fancy my hair had ever been in it’s life.

We got to the hall for dinner and people kept saying, “You look really pretty.” Or “You look beautiful.” And this had never happened to me before in my life so I was mortified by the attention and kept saying, “No, I don’t.” Which was 10 year old speak for, “Shut up and stop talking to me.” After about the tenth time this happened a female teacher pulled me aside and said, “Hey, if people are telling you you look nice or that you’re beautiful it’s because they think you are. No one is forcing them to say that to you. When you say you’re not that means you’re saying that their opinion doesn’t matter. They are wanting to tell you this because they believe it, so just say thank you.” And I felt bad because truthfully me disagreeing with them did just seem to make the conversation awkward. So the next time someone said, “You look lovely”, I replied with, “Thank you. So do you.” And they beamed at me and went away.

And I feel like maybe no one has ever pulled aside many of my friends and ever told them that. One of them will put up a profile picture or something and I might say, “You look amazing.” And more often then not they will say, “Oh, no. I look dreadful, look at the bags under my eyes, I look so tired.” Or something similar and I think, “Dude. Ain’t none of us perfect here but I said that because that is my truth. I don’t willy nilly hand out compliments for fun. I don’t tell you it because I want you to say, “No, you are” and I am not saying it because I’m just being nice. If I say that you are beautiful, it’s because to me, you are. Just say thank you and know that whatever you’re seeing, this is my honesty.”

I grew up watching women deflect compliments as though they were waving away flies.
“You’re beautiful.”
“I’m not.”
“I’ve had this outfit for years.”
“I need to lose some weight.”
“I’m not.”
“I’m not.”
I didn’t know how to accept a compliment with grace and just allow it to be their truth. That right at that moment I was beautiful to that person.

So practice it. Thank you. Just two words. Ready?

You’re beautiful….

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The (fictional) Manual.

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I hate parenting pages. Actually the older I get the more I hate them. I understand they’re a necessary evil because when you first become a mum or dad you essentially have NFI what you’re doing and set out to find a method that works well for you. Except for most people I’ve come across the ‘method’ they choose is essentially what they would have done anyway but finding someone else saying it validates their parenting choice and makes them feel like they’re doing the right thing. Still, I get that.

My parenting journey now has spanned 19 years from when I was first pregnant with my eldest daughter to now, my youngest being 5. Over nearly two decades my style emerged rather organically. Much of my parenting style in the early days was learnt through observation – watching my mother tend to my younger brothers who were 8 and 11 years younger than me. And then slowly over time I kept the parts that worked for me and discarded others and found new things that worked. And obviously each child was different, with new challenges and their own unique personality.

What I didn’t have for much of my parenting journey was a team of other parents on the internet telling me I was shit. For my last three kids I have been active on the Internet but by that stage I was fairly confident in my ability to keep small humans alive so most things just rolled off my back. Actually, I wish I had the same self confidence in other aspects of my life. I find it really easy to just say an internal, “Oh, fuck off,” to unsolicited parenting advice – meanwhile mimicking Sia when I leave the house trying to hide my face from someone that glances at it lest they notice my freckles or smile lines or hormonal chin pimples. But parenting I’m celebrity confident at.

It’s NOT that I figure I have it all worked out. It’s that I am okay with the fact I don’t. That what works today may not work tomorrow. That as long as I try to be fair, respect my children, don’t sweat the small stuff and try every day to do my best that there is very little I can do in any 24 hour period that is going to ruin their life. I’m not going to berate myself for feeding little Jimmy a ham sandwich just because some other mum on the Internet wants to talk about how her kid doesn’t even know pork exists just because it makes her feel better about her own choices.

Parenthood actually isn’t hard. It’s the pressure we put on ourselves to be perfect because we care SO MUCH that is hard. Every time I see a photo with some accompanying text that says, “Do this for your kid or its DOOOOOOMED” I feel simultaneously grateful that I’m not brand new in the parenting pool and sad for every new parent wading in that thinks if they aren’t baby wearing their 18 year old will have insecurity issues.

So this is the only piece of advice I am going to give you.

There is no manual.

There is not a single book or site or program or baby whisperer on the whole planet that can give you a step by step guide to not fucking up your kids. In fact, so long as they’re fed and clothed and you are doing your best, chances are – you aren’t going to fuck them up anyway. If you’re a SAHP – you aren’t going to fuck them up. If you’re a working parent – you aren’t going to fuck them up. No matter whether your kid is bottlefed or breastfed – it isn’t going to fuck them up. If you miss out on awards day because you completely forgot – they will get over it. If you still kiss them goodbye at the school gate at 15 – no harm done.

There is no manual. It’s just you learning how to parent in a way that works FOR YOU. It’s okay to hate some parts. It’s okay to admit you have an age that you don’t really mesh with (for me that’s ages 8-12, big struggle).

Kids are resilient. Parenting is fun. Family is amazing. Feel free to hide parenting pages on Facebook from your newsfeed. People were doing this long before the Internet told them how.

Sink or Swim.

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Earlier this week a well known writer posted an article about how her son doesn’t do chores because his only job is to be a child. To a degree, I get that. My five year old doesn’t have any chores either. But Lana’s son isn’t five – he is fifteen. In three years he will be able to drink, vote and be a legal adult. I have no concerns that this boy will grow to be a responsible and contributing member of society. From reading her life for some time now I can see that he appears from the outside to a a pretty decent kid. And so obviously whatever she is doing works for her.

My general opinion though is very different. Worlds apart – if you will. Because the world is hard and nothing is free and everything comes with a price. My children have been raised to help out a decent amount. In fairness – I have six children and for a good chunk of my parenting journey a work away husband – Lana has one child and what seems to be a hands on husband. I COULD do everything myself but I figure if they’re going to be part of a family then they need to understand that means we help each other out. Oh, and I don’t pay them for chores either. Sorry. No one will pay you to do the dishes when you leave home. At what point did ‘childhood’ come to mean ‘super loads of fun with no responsibility’? Being a child means play, school, lack of responsibility for things like rent, bills, taxes, car maintenance and politics. You can have all those things and still load the dishwasher.

In my opinion there is a vast difference between a little child of five and a budding adult of fifteen. Teen years is where you need to start giving them the lessons they will need to know to make it in the world. I’m not interested in making life easier for them, in the blink of an eye they will be out from under my wing, unsheltered and I need to know they can weather storms on their own. It becomes a transformation from ‘raising a child’ to ‘raising an adult’.

It’s hard. It’s much easier to say yes, to do it yourself, to pay that for them, to say ‘just keep it’ when you’ve agreed your 18 year old will start paying board. It is incredibly difficult as a parent to take the floaties off your child and then watch them learn to swim. The desire to throw them a rope is overwhelming. It’s hard. But as a mother, I set my jaw and offer advice instead of aid.

This year my 8 year old will get his first proper chore. He will be expected to unload the dishwasher every day. To begin with, one of the older children will buddy him and then he will have to do it alone. Chores will be shuffled as the littler kids learn other aspects to keeping house. From fifteen I know my eldest daughter could have ran the house herself. At 18 – preparing to leave home (she has just begun collecting items for her own place now) – I know she will do fine. That more than just the mechanics of a task she understand the cost of meals, the time a job will take, the importance of doing it correctly.

I understand that children frequently do not want to do chores. But as my kids know and often sing to each other, “You can’t always get what you want.”

The Facts of Life.

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This week a note came home about how my year six son is going to be doing sex ed next week. He called it ‘health’ which was him sanitising it because he is awkward about it. Which I understand because I still vividly recall my sex ed talk in grade seven.

Allow me to set the scene. It’s summer, four year seven classes have been jammed into the front rows of our giant hall, a small bird-like woman stands in front of us. We have separately had discussions on puberty and all the interesting yucks that go along with that and now they have brought us together so the boys and girls can be mortified as one.

In year 8 we would get the more in depth talk that involved slides with horrifying examples of flaccid penises slowly becoming erect but they toned it down a little for 12 year olds.

The woman tried her best as we all squirmed in front of her, keeping her face impassive as she described erections and wet dreams and finally the briefest, most uninteresting description of sex that ever existed. It sounded totally dull and gross. I don’t think any of us were in a hurry to abandon Super Mario Bros and our rollerblades to engage in what she was describing.

Finally she came to an end. I swear every kid was perched on the edge of his or her seat ready to bolt from the stifling hall at the nearest opportunity and begin the process of repressing this memory as quickly as possible.

“Any questions?”

Christ on a cracker, lady, are you kidding? NO ONE is about to ask a question in front of our whole year about something like this.

A lone hand raises.

100 heads swivel to stare at the kid who I am going to call Peter Brown for the purpose of this blog. Peter was not a popular kid. In fact it was widely rumoured he picked his nose and ate it. Peter sang like an angel and was ribbed about it frequently. Peter loved Nancy Drew novels and once hand wrote out every book in the series and gave it to me as a recommendation. Peter gave absolutely zero fucks about everyone’s discomfort. Peter wanted answers, dammit. Everyone was like, “Shut up, Peter, what are you doing?! Put your damn hand back in your lap!” But Peter coolly stared straight ahead at the woman on the stage and waited for her to call on him.

Clearly she didn’t expect questions either. The first time in her entire speech that she looked a little rattled was when she said, “Yes?”

“Can you have sex even if your penis ISN’T hard?”

I got to hand it to Peter. He didn’t look embarrassed or stumble over the word sex. He said it like he said the word sex every day. We were all still calling it, “It”.

“Ahh….I…um….well, usually it’s hard.”

We all got ready to leave again. But Peter wasn’t done. He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms, cool as a cucumber, “But if you WANTED to do it and it wasn’t hard, could you?”

“It’s hard when you do it.”

“But what if it’s not?”

“Well, it just usually is.”

“But usually isn’t always. If it was soft, could you?”

“I don’t think that would work?”

“Why?”

She is red faced and flustering because I’m guessing exact mechanics of the sex wasn’t really part of the program. We are all half mortified by the exchange and half impressed by the fact Peter just won’t let it go. Our classroom teachers are chuckling awkwardly at the sides.

Finally, red in the face, she half yells, “You just can’t put it in soft! For one, it just won’t go in! You can’t just STUFF it in there! And secondly, it probably wouldn’t feel very good!” And then she stops, looks a little shocked at her outburst and blinks a couple of times.

“Okay,” Peter says, nonchalantly, “Thank you.”

And then before anyone else can ask a question she quickly tells us we can go.

And that’s the story of how Peter Brown became a legend and stopped me from successfully repressing all memories of my first sex ed talk.