Monday, March 28, 2011

Fatal Mistakes at the Kindy Fete

Perhaps word got out that I was a soft touch.  But they kept coming back, fingering the toys, eyes scanning the tables, watching me for weakness, ready to pounce. Like wild animals.

I was running the Pre-Loved stall for the Kindy fete.  It had never been my intention to volunteer as a co-ordinator, but they say sometimes it is good to find oneself outside your comfort zone.  Let's be clear - I hate selling things.  I hate asking for money, even for a good cause, and so the prospect of selling other people's unwanted junk for 3 hours on a hot Sunday morning did not exactly fill me with joy.

Not only was I selling other people's unwanted junk, but I was selling plenty of my own.  For weeks I had been siphoning off excess toys and games in some desperate attempt to gain control over all the Other Stuff going on in my life. 

I should have known that selling 30 year old, probably collectible toys, for $1 is not the quickest way to a good night's sleep.  Shall we talk about regret for a while?

I should have known that no matter how much of my own junk I sold, it was inevitable I would return home with a bag full of someone else's junk.  Shall we talk about OCD for a while?

I had spent the better part of three or four weeks collecting, sorting and pricing stuffed toys, puzzles, games, clothing and assorted bits and bobs that ranged from a crappy frisbee that obviously came free with a Red Rooster Kids meals to a brand new, still-in-the-box baby's activity table (RRP $35.59). 

My instructions were clear, this stall is for the kids who show up with their proverbial pennies, so price things from 50c to $2.  And that's what I did?  Enormous stuffed toys, many brand new? $1.  A handful of small stuffed toys? Give me 50c.  That huge bag of clothes and shoes?  Let's say $5.

I sold a beautiful, giant teddy bear to a small girl for all the money she had (20c) on the condition she gave it a good name ('Chocolate') and a loving home.

I sold my 1984 Australian Olympic team mascot (Willy the Koala) to a small child for $1, at the same time giving him a lecture on antiques and preserving our heritage.

[Sidenote, panicking that I had inadvertently sold a valuable antique I have just checked eBay to see if Willy the Koala toys are currently worth hundreds of dollars.  They're not, and someone in Qld is trying to offload one for $20 with no success.  Phew.]

I don't know if it was the look of joy in the child's eyes upon finding a great new toy, or the joy of the parents discovering it was only $1 that was more rewarding.  So many parents went from telling their children 'No, we have already spent enough this morning' to 'Sure, see what else you can find'.

My enthusiasm for getting rid of toys waned during the morning, and I saw the sad faces of my childhood staring up at me from a box. Damn Toy Story III and their self-righteous jab at people who abandon toys. 

One by one, many of my toys were rescued from the table and hidden surreptitiously in my bag. 

So, was it worth it?  What grand sum of money did I raise with my three or four weeks of hard work, temporarily losing my lounge room floor, selling my childhood, stealing from my own children...

Just over $230.  Of 10 stalls I made the very least.

Next year, I think I might just give them the $230 and chuck everything in the skip.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Blessed Art Thou Among Women

Sometimes the way the world fits together hurts a little.  It doesn't seem fair, it doesn't make sense.

I have just come home from seeing 'Motherhood the Musical' and I loved it completely.  I laughed so much my face still hurts, but I also had a few sneaky tears that I wiped away when the lights dropped. 

I suspect I wasn't the only one.

The audience was predominantly older ladies, grandma vintage rather than yummy mummies, with a few handbag husbands thrown in.  I felt a bit young, but that's sometimes nicer than feeling a bit old.

It made me want to come home and hug my children.  It made me want to call my Mum and tell her how much I love her.  It made me feel grateful for the wonderful gift I have been given, even if sometimes I want to lock myself in the bathroom and eat a block of chocolate (or drink a bottle of wine) and pretend I can't hear the chaos outside.

At the same time, as the joy still reflected on my face, as I settled down to my computer, I received a message from a dear friend and her husband who are faced with the shattering news that they must say goodbye to their 13 week old unborn baby.

Parenthood brings with it the highest highs and lowest lows.  I doubt there is much that could compare with the pain they are experiencing right now.  The loss of not only a child, but a grandchild, a niece or nephew, a sibling, a cousin.  The loss of a dream, of potential.

The fierce pride we feel in our children, the unrelenting love, the desire to be what they need us to be, this is what keeps us going each day, what makes overlook the pain, the frustration and the exhaustion which comes with parenting. 

Some people get the chance to stand in front of a roomful of people and quite literally sing about their highs and lows.  They get to share stories we know all too well, crack jokes at our collective expense, and at the end of the night they get applause for their efforts from a room full of people.

Other people spend the night alone in the knowledge that next week they must say goodbye to their baby, and all the love in the world, all the friends and family who may be there for them, cannot possibly bring enough comfort.  It can never be enough.

I don't know how to finish.  I want to acknowledge both the happiness and the sadness I feel tonight. 

I don't know how to reconcile these feelings.

The One About the Breast-Feeding Related Ankle Injury [July 2007]

Dear everyone
Wow, things are happening fast.  So many firsts for the little Bombshell over the past week – first smiles, first doctor’s appointment, first party invitation, first flirtation with a boy.  Who said life was dull?
I will start with the smiles, because I am just so chuffed that I finally got my first smile.  It was about an hour ago at 5.15am.  Usually smiles during feeding are followed by a loud fart or explosive poo, but this was different.  I had her on my lap and we were just looking at each other.  I asked her if she was still hungry and suddenly her face just broke into this massive grin – all gums and chubby cheeks.  Her beautiful eyes were smiling at me.  I waited for the accompanying bodily function but it never came.  It was a smile just for me! I could have cried. I feel amazing!!
This overwhelming feeling of well being and good mothering makes up for yesterday when I actually forgot my child’s name for a while.  I was in Retravision buying a crock pot (sexy, I know) and the lovely lady helping me was talking about her own grandchild and nattering on about children being a blessing .  Meanwhile, Shannon is thinking about the pros and cons of oval versus round slow cookers.  This must be a really important issue because it obviously took up all my remaining brain function because when she asked the seemingly innocuous question ‘and what is your little girl’s name?’, for the life of me I could not remember!  I just stood there, blankly, staring at this woman while my brain went ‘what IS my little girl’s name?’.  She just patted me on the arm and said ‘don’t beat yourself up about it dear’ and wandered off to help a man buy a blender. 
The Bombshell and I also had our 6 week check-ups this week, and she passed hers with flying colours (naturally).  I haven’t weighed her recently, but she has a new fat roll on her chubby thighs, so I am guessing she’s doing okay. Mr Maths and I had her stretched out on the breakfast bar about a week ago, and by our calculations she has grown about 7cm since birth.  If you do the sums, that means she will be about 4m tall by the time she is 5 years old.  Pretty good if she plans on being a professional basketballer!
Anyway, Mr Proud had bought a rather nice bottle of champagne for the obstetrician after the Bombshell was born, which he dropped off after being discharged from hospital.  When I went to see the doctor the other day he mentioned he had taken it down south on a weekend away with his wife.  I was waiting for the inevitable ‘it was a lovely drop with a nice bouquet’ type of comment.  What I didn’t expect was   to be told that he drank the champagne but ended up falling down some stairs.  Apparently he’s not much of a drinker.  Oops.  He did say it was a lovely drop though (boom boom).
Finally, a word of warning to all expectant mums out there.  Here’s a new one for the books – breastfeeding related ankle injury. Yes, perhaps it’s only possible in my crazy world, but I have injured both my ankles and I am blaming my breasts.  I had noticed after about two weeks at home that my ankles were both really sore and sometimes so weak I would almost fall over when I stood up after feeding the baby (which was a bit scary, maybe that’s why it took so long for her to smile at me). But I realise it’s because I have my feet up on the footstool  and by sitting there for up to eight hours a day with my heels digging into the (faux) leather, it’s pushing my ankles out!  Weird! So now my latest accessories are two ankle braces, and I no longer rest my heels on the footstool, but let my feet dangle over the edge.  I look like a complete dork, but it hurts less.
So that’s us for week 6.  Some of you might be thinking ‘what about the party invite and flirtation with the boy?’.  Well, it’s called a tease (no, not the Bombshell, although on that point, I notice that her eye lashes have grown considerably in the past week too).  I have to save something for next time.
With love and hugs and gummy smiles,
Shannon and the Bombshell

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Drooling and in Pain. Why I hate Dentists Part 2

I was back at the dentist again this morning, the second of three scheduled appointments to fix my teeth.  To be honest, I thought I had been treating them quite well.  I brush twice a day, don't smoke, I don't drink sugary drinks and I have plenty of calcium-rich milk in my coffee.  Sure, we all know now I didn't floss, but it's not one those things I was ever taught, and I guess it just slipped my mind.  A friend of mine told me her dentist said 'there are people who can get away with not flossing, but you are not one of those people.'

Apparently neither am I.

My face is so numb that one of my eyelids keep drooping and the occasional tear which squeezes itself out could be due to the multiple anaesthetic injections I received or the miserable hole in which I find myself.  My lips feel enormous and I swear I am drooling, but my chin is so numb I can't actually be sure.  I tried to drink some water with the multiple anti-inflammatories and pain killers the dentist told me I would need, and I promptly spilt it all down my face and chest.  No drinking in public then.  Righto.

The funny thing was that she needed to keep giving me extra anaesthetic, and not because I am a complete wimp but because the women in my family seem to have a very high requirement for pain relief.  This became apparent after the birth of my eldest daughter, and finally succumbing to the need for an epidural after 12 hours of labour, what should have taken 10 minutes took over an hour until I was actually numb.  It happened to my sister a year later, and it was only then that our mum mentioned the same thing had happened all those many moons ago when we were born.  Rather useful information that would have been helpful before the babies were born perhaps.

The downside to this affliction is that it takes much longer to wear off, and so I am yet again faced with the prospect of heading off to uni looking like I have the palsy, with a demented smile that would scare young children and - quite likely - a line of dribble down my chin.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Great Class(room) Divide

It was inevitable really.

Last week at uni, forced to do group work with girls barely half my age, the expected finally happened.  I'm just surprised it took three weeks.

'So are you coming to the Tav after class?' says young blonde Number 1.

'Totally, I'm so glad it's the weekend.  It's been a long week. I need a drink,' says young blonde Number 2.

Ignoring the fact that this was a Wednesday and as far as I can tell weekends still start on Saturday (or possibly Friday night) I had been waiting for the conversation ever since I enrolled in uni late last year.

To be honest though, to call it a conversation gives the distinct impression that I was included in it.  I wasn't.  The young blondes were tolerating my company, and taking advantage of the fact that I had actually done the readings and knew vaguely what I was talking about.

I wasn't being asked to come to the Tav, but I was finally having that moment when it became blindingly clear that I was a mature aged student, and the only place I would be going after class was to collect my children from daycare and then home to cook everyone dinner.

And I am quite happy with that.

For the half hour we were in our groups (approximately three minutes of which was spent discussing our readings) the girls talked about going to the movies, boys, other classes they were doing, their enormous workloads, their part time jobs and a litany of other equally fascinating topics.

Listening to them (as I wasn't expected to participate) it occurred to me that the primary difference between them and me, was not our ages or our life experiences, where we were heading after class, or whether we knew the difference between memoir and personal essay, but the fact that I really wanted to be there.

They were all working their way through their (first) undergraduate degree.  This course was a core (compulsory) unit, one of four they were currently undertaking.  They had not chosen to be there, and they seemed to have little desire to be there. 

Please do not think I am being too harsh on these girls - I remember feeling exactly the same way about some of my anthropology and psychology units about 14 years ago. In fact, the more time I spend with them, the more I understand my own younger self.

And I like them, I do.  I even admire them.  Spending an entire three hour class on Facebook without getting caught is surely an impressive feat of tenacity.

For them perhaps, going to class is a chore, equivalent to going to work or some other important but un-fun event.  But for me, going to class is an opportunity, a window to a new life, a possibility, freedom. I am glad of this, but I also know that I would never have been able to come to this conclusion now had I not been just like those girls in the past.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The One About the New Mums Group [June 2007]

Dear everyone
Our little blonde bombshell is now almost five weeks old and gaining weight steadily.  We are thinking of enrolling her in sumo classes, because according to the highly technical weighing she had yesterday (using the kitchen scales and a washing basket) she has gained over half a kilo in the past fortnight, and a kilo since birth!  No wonder my back is so sore.
 Maternity leave has been great fun – I have lots of lovely lunches and morning teas with friends and family.  All the ‘baby weight’ that dropped off after the birth seems to have gotten lonely and has come back.   It’s hard to watch two hours of Kerri-Anne without a block of chocolate! Actually, it’s hard watching Kerri-Anne full stop. Huey’s Cooking Adventures on the other hand is great, and I am getting some lovely ideas for dinners!
I went to one of the ‘new mum’ afternoon teas run by the hospital.  What an eye-opener.   40 women and babies means 40 prams, some the size of a Rav 4! We had to queue to get through the door.  Because this session was for babies aged between 1-8 weeks, it meant that for a lot of us it was our first session.   We all stood nervously, talking to our babies because we were too shy and zombified to talk to each other.  You had to sign in, put name stickers on yourself, your baby, your pram and your forehead.  Not really.  Then you left your baby in the company of the ‘volunteers’ (four old dears wearing white aprons) and wandered into the main room which was still set up in the ‘lecture’ style seating from the prenatal classes they also run.
I admit I thought it would be a small group of women, having coffee and Tim Tams chatting to each other about how beautiful their baby was, and trying to outdo each other with how well they are coping.  Uh uh, it was the complete opposite! It was a huge group of women (having coffee and Tim Tams) telling horrible stories about their babies, their breasts, their husbands, lack of sleep, lack of milk, lack of bodily functions, babies getting sick, mums getting sick, nipples falling off, things falling apart.  I sat there stunned, fidgeting, thinking about all the terrible things that can happen to babies, and wishing I was at home watching Kerri-Anne.
The volunteers were there to comfort any of the babies that cried, but if they couldn’t be settled or needed a feed they would pick the baby up and stand just inside the door.  All the mum’s heads would swivel in the direction of the door every time it opened, and the offending mum would slink off in the direction of the screaming baby. Few of them returned!! Occasionally a volunteer would be standing there with a baby for ages and no one would claim it, so they would wander up and down the aisles and we would all giggle because when the Mum finally noticed it was her child, she would be really embarrassed – one woman knocked over her coffee and dropped her Tim Tam in her hurry to grab her child.  She never returned!! By the end of the session, only five babies remained in the pram room (Baby Bombshell included) – all the others were attached to a breast or had been taken home by their mortified mothers.  Apparently the Bombshell never made a sound.  She made up for it when we came home though, and she screamed for the next day and a half!
Last week, while enjoying a Devonshire tea with a friend (it’s a tough life) I was playing with my  bub’s little feet and almost cried when I noticed that her little toes were all curled up because her feet were too big for her suit!!  I had bought the 0000 suit only 2 weeks earlier because she was too little for her 000 suits... now some of her 00 suits are beginning to fit.  My little girl is growing up so fast.  She’s doing a lot of grown up things!  This morning she was actually dancing to Justin Timberlake.  She rolls her eyes when I make stupid jokes.  She knows how to manipulate men.  And she uses her wily charms to make everyone fall in love with her.
Me, I am doing pretty good.  Apart from letting my child listen to Justin Timberlake and eating too much chocolate, I feel like I am coping well with the ‘new mum’ gig.  I try and eat something green every day (and not just Peppermint Aero), I try and get out of my pyjamas every day (and not only because there is baby vomit on them) and I baby talk to complete strangers only about half the time.
There was that time I bought boy nappies by mistake, but in my defence the word ‘boys’ is very small and not immediately apparent.  I now realise that the box is blue for boys and pink for girls, but I try and not be so rigid in my stereotypes!!!
 Anyway, that’s it from us for today.  It’s such a beautiful day I might pop bub in the pram and go for a walk.  Or I might lie on the couch and watch Kerri-Anne with the block of Top Deck I just bought. ..

Love always

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Mean Mum

Have you ever noticed that at an AGM there often comes a time when suddenly every pair of eyes is remarkably preoccupied - staring out the window, looking at a watch, being rubbed with the glasses on the lap... what? You were looking for volunteers?  I didn't notice sorry, I was rubbing my eyes, glasses off - couldn't see, you see.

In the day and age of email, avoiding volunteering is even easier.  You can deny ever having received the email.  It must have been diverted to junk mail.  The kids must have deleted it.  The virtual silence is a lot easier to stomach than the awkwardness of an actual silence.

So, if it's that easy to avoid volunteering via the email, why do I find myself coordinating the 'Pre-Loved' stall at The Blond Bombshell's Kindy fete in a couple of weeks time?

 No really, it's a serious question?

When I realised what I had done I was initially quite annoyed at myself.  I would have to collect, sort, price and sell a bunch of unwanted items belonging to complete strangers.

Then I realised I would get to collect, sort, price and sell a bunch of unwanted items belonging to complete strangers. Cool! I get first dibs on all the cool stuff (I will pay for them obviously) but first dibs!  As a youngest child I never got first dibs on anything.  Moreover, as a youngest child, collecting the unwanted items of other people (ie older sisters) is second nature.

And I could also use the opportunity to get rid of a bunch of my own unwanted items.  Double cool.  All those loud and annoying battery operated toys that I have hated for years.  Gone!  All the unwanted kids clothes I have received over the years.  Gone.  All the crap I have bought from other people's garage sales and school fetes.  Gone.

I feel free and liberated.  Like I have shed 5 unwanted kilos.

I am now so enthusiastic about making this the best ever PreLoved stall that I am personally filling the bags with my own donations.  I even snuck into the Bombshell's bedroom while she was at Kindy and emptied out her drawers. What a mean mum! 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Dear Gentlemen, Please Grow A Pair

Dear Tradies

To all the painters and electricians, handymen and plumbers, garden guys and tilers I implore you:

Please grow a pair!

And I am not talking about a pair of trousers, but what is in them.  Toughen up lads.  If you're tough enough to drive a shiny new ute with enormous chrome wheels and a stereo system that would put GunsNRoses to shame, then you're tough enough to say 'No' to a person you have never met, a person who is not even standing in front of you, who doesn't know your face, someone on the end of the phone.

It's not that hard fellas.  If you have no intention of showing up to give a girl a quote for a job, then just say so.  Don't fob her off with 'I'll give you a call and we'll make a time for me to come out'.  Because you never call back.  You never make a time. 

Let's practice the following sentences:

'I'm sorry but I'm very busy at the moment, and I don't really have time to come and give you a quote'.

'I'm sorry but I can't really be arsed driving all the way out to your place'.

'I'm sorry but I don't get out of bed for a job worth less than $1,000.'

'I'm sorry but your job sounds too hard and I really can't be bothered.'

'I'm sorry but the surf is too good this week and I don't plan on doing any work let alone give free quotes to a landlocked suburb too far from the beach.'

All a girl wants is a little bit of honesty.  If a tradie told me that the job sounded too hard/too small/not profitable enough I would probably reward them for their honesty and give them a call the next time I had a bigger, more expensive quote.  Have the balls to be honest with your customers.  If you're not interested - say so!

This year I have had electricians, who live only a few streets away from me, twice fail to turn up to give me quotes.  The job ended up being worth well over $1,000.  They missed out.  Bathroom Renovators who never returned my calls missed out on a job that ended up being over $5,000.  Painters who took too long to get me a quote missed out on a job worth over $7,000.

Grow a pair fellas.  You'd be amazed how far it could get you.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Why I Hate Dentists (Subtitle: It's my own fault)

I am consciously trying not to clench my hands, instead allowing them to lie flat along my thighs.  It's only when I realise I have hiked my dress up over my knees that I can see I am not fooling anyone.  We can all smell the fear in the room.

The dentist is not looking at my knees though.  She's more interested in the mess in my mouth.

'Suction', she says for the tenth time.  I can tell she's getting irritated with her new assistant, or is she irritated with me, an otherwise rational woman in her early 30s with a very childish and irrational fear of dentists.

'You know you really need to floss, Shannon', she tells me.  'How regularly do you floss?'

Surely she doesn't expect a response.  My mouth is full of cotton wool, doing a poor job of absorbing the saliva that the assistant seems incapable of suctioning.

The sound of the drill is making my heart race.  Writing this now I can still hear it piercing my head, vibrating my sanity, emptying my wallet.

I had the choice of a standard filling or a porcelain one.  The porcelain one would last much longer but at almost $1,000 it wasn't an option.  I actually felt my eyes prickle when I saw the quote.

'Does that start with a 9?' I asked.

The receptionist looked nonplussed. 'Yes...'

They try to disguise the chemicals, the pastes, the fillers they use with a peppermint flavour, as though it will make the experience of having your head drilled more palatable.  It just makes me hate peppermint.

'Are you okay, Shannon?' the dentist kept asking.

Maybe I shouldn't have told her about my fear of dentists.  She probably thought I was going to throw up.

'Almost done now,' she also kept saying, although it was almost an hour before she released me on the promise I would return to get three more teeth fixed.

'Two pregnancies and poor flossing are ruining your teeth.  Sometimes Mums need to put themselves first', she tells me as she pats my arm and shuffles me out.


$400 later, and with the left side of my face feeling like it had inflated to comic proportions, I stood in front of the dairy section at Coles.  The only food I could safely eat without accidentally chewing off my own tongue would be yoghurt or creme caramel.

The dentist had suggested yoghurt,

I chose the creme caramel.

Monday, March 7, 2011

McDonalds for Dinner

Each month one member of our Mother’s Group arranges a night out, a catch up strictly for Mums only.  Sometimes we go out for dinner, or it might be Indian takeaway.  Future plans include the movies, yum cha and a rather unlikely but terribly decadent day at the spa.
The other night we went to McDonalds for dinner. Not only did we eat there, but we cooked as well.
Before you throw your arms up and deride us for cutting down virgin forest in South America to grow cows, let me explain.
Most of you would be familiar with the concept of Ronald McDonald House.  Many of the major children’s hospitals in the country have one, and they are designed as a home away from home for the families of sick kids who are undergoing treatment at hospital.  Most of us know they exist, but if you are like me and have never had a seriously ill child, you would probably have never set foot in one.
The Ronald McDonald House at PMH in Perth is not just a suburban house with a few extra bedrooms.  It is a colourful compound with self-contained units, a playground, toddlers TV room, teenagers retreat and a kitchen big enough for the dozens of families which may be staying at any one time.
The weekend house manager told us that sometimes the diagnosis of a sick child can happen so fast that parents don’t even have time to pack a toothbrush.  If they are a rural or remote family, they are sent to the nearest airfield and arrive in Perth, disoriented, probably frightened and sometimes thousands of kilometres from home and family.  The last thing parents want to be worrying about after  a day in hospital with their sick baby is what to cook for dinner for themselves, and often, their other children who have also been uprooted from friends and school, from their normal lives.
This is where the Make A Meal Program comes in.  Almost every night of the week, every week of the year, a group of people come in and cook a meal for all the families staying at Ronald McDonald House.  These are not professional cooks and it’s probably more like an episode of It’s A Knockout than MasterChef.  We were a group of Mums on their night out.  Following us that week would be a school group, a group of friends, a family group, a women’s business group and one of the Perth professional sporting teams.
The Perth Make A Meal Program is the most successful program in Australia, and so popular there is a two month waiting list just to get a place. The volunteers must provide all the ingredients for a two course meal, with different main options.  If the house is full, this could easily cost $250.  Our group of 6 put on two massive meatloaves, two vegetarian quiches, two sweet potato frittatas, an enormous salad, and two huge chocolate self-saucing puddings with double cream.  All up our shopping bill was around $120.
We turned up at the house around 4.15pm and immediately set to work.  The six of us have been friends for years but we had never cooked together.  Jo, who arranged the night was super organised, and had not only provided each of us with shopping lists costing around $20, but also photocopied multiple recipes and organised us into groups to tackle each dish. Half of us had brought along a bottle of wine, and by quarter to six we had settled down with a glass of something fruity and a packet of TimTams while the dinner cooked. 
This was not meant to be a sombre night.  We had a ball and met some fantastic people.  By quarter past six families had started arriving in the dining room, and minutes later one of our group was cuddling a newborn and chatting with the parents.  Dinner was ready by 6.30pm and after everyone had served themselves, we heaped our plates and went to join the families in the dining room.  Even though there was the inevitable awkwardness not always knowing what questions to ask, and the sadness knowing each of these families had a seriously ill child a few hundred metres up the road, ultimately we were all parents and we talked about our favourite topic – our children.
After the families had dispersed, the dishes were stacked in the dishwasher, and the leftovers labelled and bundled into the communal fridge, the manager came to thank us.  Not all groups end up sitting with the families and eating their dinner, they cluster in the kitchen and don’t mingle, he told us.  He was especially grateful that we moved so freely with the families. I’d like to pretend that it was easy to do, but I am sure in the back of my mind I was afraid that the guilt and relief that I felt – because I was able to go home that night, that my children were healthy and safe and tucked up in bed - would be plastered across my forehead like a neon light.   
I doubt the families even think about this.  It’s arrogant to assume there would be any sort of resentment.  Everyone we spoke with, and most of those we didn’t, had smiles on their faces.  Many approached us after dinner to thank us.  A group settled down in front of the television, many headed off to bed.  It could have been any house in Australia, except this one was a little larger, a bit more special.  Obviously I couldn’t see into the private rooms of the families any more than I could see into their hearts, and I am sure there is a lot of pain and grief and anger.  I am sure that sometimes the emotions are not private at all, and they shouldn’t have to be.
But that night, for us anyway, Ronald McDonald House felt like a happy place.  I am proud that we were able to make even a small contribution.  If cooking meatloaf for a couple of dozen strangers doesn’t rock your boat, then I am sure there are other ways to help.  If I had any feedback to the organisers of the Make A Meal Program it would simply be to make available a copy of the menus that had been provided over the previous few weeks, just so we were not unknowingly dishing up the same BBQ or Sticky Date Pudding that families had endured three times in the same week.
Later that night, I stopped and watched my daughters as they slept soundly in their bed and cot.  I’m not the sort that prays regularly, but I am always willing to acknowledge how grateful I am for what I have.  And that night it was fierce gratitude that my children are healthy but also the comfort in knowing that if circumstances changed, there would be a place like Ronald McDonald House just up the road.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Gift Vouchers and Foot Gratings

The first gift voucher I remember receiving was a leaving gift from colleagues when I was pregnant with the Blonde Bombshell.  My plan at the time was to finish work at 39 weeks and spend the following week or so relaxing.

Anyway, like many women having their first baby I began to get a little preoccupied with what to do 'down there'.  Do you shave or wax it all off?  Leave it Au natural and let the doctors decide what to do?  Get them to wax a little arrow pointing down saying 'baby this way'?  I decided to use my gift voucher for a bit of a tidy up.  I thought the doctor might appreciate it.

'Hello, I would like to book in for a bikini wax please'

'No problems, have you been here before?'

'No, this is my first time'.

'That's fine, when would you like to come in?  There's a space on Friday'.

'No, I will be 40 weeks pregnant, can we make it a bit sooner just in case the baby decides to come early?'

'Ummm so you're 40 weeks pregnant and you want to come in for your first ever bikini wax?...'

The rising anxiety in her voice was a bit of a concern and needless to say the following conversation about increased blood flow to the area, and risk of horrific bruising didn't fill me with confidence.  Surely turning up to labour looking like I had already tried to remove the baby with a Dyson wouldn't give the best impression.

I decided to use my voucher for a pedicure instead.

Since then I have received a couple more vouchers for pedicures and I just love them.  I especially love them when they're from my Mum and she provides snacks and babysitting services at the same time.

What I don't love is foot gratings.

I remember being horrified and disgusted when I saw the old lady sitting next to me have her feet shaved during her spa pedicure.  It was as though the beautician had popped out of NailsRUs (or wherever we were), ducked into KitchenWitch and bought a Parmesan shaver and then proceeded to shave layer after layer of grey foot peelings from this lady's foot. I shuddered, thinking that I would never be that old, never be that disgusting that I would need my feet shaved.

About five minutes later when the beautician settled herself down in front of me, I shuddered, realising that I was that old, I was that disgusting.  My feet needed shaving.  The lady tried to discreetly sweep the pile onto the floor, but I could see it.  Through the tears of humiliation I could see it!

Why am I bringing this up?  Well, during my child-free trip to Sydney my friend and I popped in for a pedicure.  My foot-lady automatically pulled out an entire Italian kitchen of shaving and grating utensils, whereas my friend merely needed a light buff with an emery board.  But while we were there a B-grade celebrity walked in for a pedicure, script in hand (it was Balmain, after all).  She's been in television and movies for over a decade, we'd all recognise her face if not her name.  She's famous.  And beautiful and probably rich. 

And she needed her feet grated.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

First Day at University - Will This Be on The Test?

Today was my first day back at uni, and I already feel like the archetypal poor student. After coughing up $9.50 for three hours parking I went to a cafe to observe students for a while.  That quickly got boring so I went to find my classroom.

In my small class of about 20 students, I am one of four mothers (including the tutor) and one of four people over the age of 30. Needless to say, the four people over 30 are the mothers.  I think two are even grandmothers! The rest of the (predominantly female) class are young.  Very young.

One of the conversations I overheard included:

'I love your tattoo!'

'Yeah, I love yours too.  Did it hurt?'

'Naaaa. Awww a bit. You?

Many of the girls reminded me of me when I was in my 20s.  They meant well, had big ideas and were terribly pretentious in their idealism and anger. They call themselves 'jaded' and 'feminist' without ever substantiating it and spent half the lesson attached to their mobile phones. One young girl stank of smoke and I wanted to tell her off, but thought it might not be appropriate since I wasn't her mother.

The class I am doing is Creative NonFiction - a hybrid of literature and non-fiction, a marriage of journalism and storytelling.  What you would get if you threw Four Corners and Playschool in bed together.

We did a number of writing activities today but one of them struck a chord so I am going to reproduce it here.  We were asked to write a paragraph about six roles or identities that we play in public or private.

My primary identity at the moment is that of MOTHER.  I have two little girls and it is difficult to escape the duties associated with mothering, although I am still coming to terms taking ownership of the identity mother.  The activities swamp my day and sometimes I feel I don't get to 'play' out any of my other roles, yet it still feels foreign to take on the title.  Being a mother is the single most rewarding thing I have ever done and a primary reason I am here today being a STUDENT.

From today I am a STUDENT again.  This is my 4th degree and I had vowed never to do another one after finishing a Grad Dip of Medical Science (Education) back in 2005.  But writing will be a way of life for me, one that can fit around my other identities especially MOTHER.  If you love it, it's not work.

I have always been a SISTER but since becoming a MOTHER I have felt the pull towards my sister a lot more, especially as she had children around the same time as I.  We have really discovered each other in the past few years and found out we share many secrets and desires.  I am fortunate I get to see my SISTER regularly as part of my MOTHERS GROUP.

As a member of my MOTHERS GROUP I am one arm of a tight group of mums who have been meeting (with and without children) for almost four years.  We are honorary family members, babysitters, gym buddies, Kindy mums, coffee drinkers, recipe and battle-story swappers, someone to bitch about and bitch to. I am the organiser of the group, the list maker, planning all the rosters and parties.  Sometimes I hate that, but I love my group.

Recently I have been a RENOVATOR.  It's a process much akin to getting pregnant and having a child except that having a baby is quicker, cheaper and less painful.  We are about to finish significant second storey additions and I am currently interviewing painters and blind-makers, the finishing touches to our new house.  I am eagerly awaiting my new study, very attic-like and a perfect space for a new writer.

But before all of this I was a WIFE.  We have just celebrated our 11th anniversary and have known each other half our lives.  I met my husband on the first day of university back in 1995.  We have essentially grown up together and he is very supportive of all my roles, especially my becoming a student.  Again.

After I finished writing this I was somewhat surprised to see that I had not included WRITER as one of my roles.  I guess that will come in time.  At least I didn't have any difficulty coming up with 6 roles.  I had half a dozen more on the tip of my pen that I could have included.  At least being a mature aged student comes with some benefits - two of the twenty year olds in my group couldn't come up with more than 4 roles and identities.
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