Prep, Pack, Organise, Repeat Until Death


Young Bridget Bardot, Paris 1946 by Boris Lipnitzki

Parenting is always about keeping one step a head of the curve, yes? Wrangling little ones is about changing up environments and food and sleep situations just in front of the toddler meltdown, feeding the family is all about constant replenishment of the stock cupboards, running about town is about filling ones handbag with snacks and coloured pencils, and going anywhere is all about packing the bags. 

Packing bags, unpacking them, excavating the apple cores, and washing the contents.

Packing them, and thinking about packing them. What do I need? What’s happening next? And after that? Is that thing  still lost? (Yes.) Is that thing in the wash? (Yes.) Do I need to get that thing from the shops? (Yes.) All bases need covering mentally, and then in the actual packing. Snakebite  kit. Water sterilisation tablets. Snacks. More snacks. More snacks. Dear god do you all have tapeworm? More snacks.

Pack, unpack, excavate, wash, repack.

Deep breath.

Bali dreams.

Apply coffee.


One of the delights of school holidays is having a break from all the packing. There’s no searching for Guides uniforms and lost forms and correct shoes. There’s still handbag-stocking and food shopping and beach-bag packing, but no school bags, sports bags, Guides uniforms, lost notes…. And a change is as good as a holiday, yes?  (Not as good as a Bali holiday, obvs. Are you in Bali? Gor bless ya. Swim out to the bar and have a cocktail for all of us.  )

Here’s a piece about my organisational woes (and yours. Tell me I’m not alone…) that I wrote a year or two ago.I called it ‘Excuse Me, I Think There Has Been A Terrible Mistake.’

As a single person I was hopeless at looking after my own finances. Paperwork was always lost, and bills were always paid late. Periodically I would enthusiastically begin new ‘systems’ to manage the admin of my life. This bit was very enjoyable: notebooks, highlighters, Post-Its, steely resolve. This time! This time!  Within days the system would collapse.


And here I am now, the custodian of three small children. Suddenly I have to keep track of the most enormous amount of administration. There are school reading diaries and fundraising documents and fees. There are permission slips and vaccination schedules and sports registrations. It is like a tsunami of paperwork and it all makes me want to shout ‘Excuse me! I think there has been a terrible mistake! You have mistaken me for another kind of mother!’


I do occasionally (okay, frequently) forget the school lunch and/or the school hat and/or the lunch-order, but I have never forgotten to pick the actual child up from school yet. I think that’s pretty good. But where are the prizes for that, I wonder?  Who raised the bar so bloody high that it became expected for school mums to all be super-organised PA’s for our demanding child- bosses? Was it always this way? Did my lengthy, indulgent, enjoyable pre-parenthood years just give me a false picture about what being a proper adult really entailed?


In lots of ways, motherhood has asked me to step up and be better. More patient. More compassionate. Less uptight about defecating in front of an audience. Able to juggle hot-button questions like ‘Is God real, Mum? Like Santa?’ even before I have had my pint of morning coffee. And as I enter the kids-at-school years, motherhood is asking me to get my act together and stop behaving like a secretary on my final warning.  Motherhood is requesting, in fact, that I become a grown-up.


There is a theory that I like that says that bad habits can’t be ‘undone’; just over-ridden and replaced by good ones. The brain sets in place the neural pathway of any habitual behaviour, and each time you do the naughty thing, you reinforce and strengthen it. The only way to build new habits is to practice and practice until you create an alternative, equally strong neural pathway. I have spent my adult life reacting to paperwork by putting my fingers in my ears and saying ‘lalalalala!’ and my brain has become very used to that strategy.  But now it’s time to stop.  And once I get started, there are other bad behaviours to address.


I will replace my takeaway-latte addiction with organic green tea. I will replace fruit-and-nut chocolate with kale smoothies. I will stop averting my eyes from the kitchen floor and wash the kitchen floor. I will catch up on my yoga exercises instead of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. First things first: the administration.  Step One: stop putting school paperwork on the floor of the car to gently compost with the takeaway coffee cups and lonely sultanas.  Step Two: Create a new system. This will need equipment!  Step 3: Buy highlighters, notebooks and post-it notes. Step 4: Definitely stick to system this time. Definitely.


The Children’s Comedy Club

How are your holidays going, parents?

We’re trucking along. A tiny invisible horse has it’s bony foot in my back on a pretty constant basis lately. That sentence is a bit wrong, but fuck it, so is my  spine. On the good side of the ledger, the weather is glorious, I dipped my toes in the Pacific today, and yesterday I even got out my sewing machine and made the TV some velvet curtains.

Mushroom pie for dinner tonight, flowers in jars everywhere (spring!) and some time spent with my sister visiting from the country  always makes me happy.  As  always, my back might make me frown, but the kids make me laugh. And now, a pile of unfolded washing, a cup of tea and a little iView awaits.

Hospital sisters picnic in the Northern Territory, from New Old Stock, vintage photos in the public archives. 

This post originally appeared in Practical Parenting Magazine, August 2014. 

Spending time with small children is a little like getting a front-row seat at a sort of open mic improvisational comedy club. Kids are big on observational humour – all day long, they share thoughts about life, comments on people around them and questions about the natural order of things. Often, they don’t know how funny they are being.

My five year old T-Bone has taken to making announcements like ‘Tasmania was the third country in the world to invent pizza.’ When we ask where he gets his information, he taps his head solemnly and says ‘My brain tells me.’ This brain thinks outside the box. ‘Wouldn’t it be good if a robber came but all he stole was your sinus infection, Mummy? And then he couldn’t even rob anymore, because he had a sinus infection?’

After school yesterday we had a discussion about rude words (prompted by an incident where two year old Pudding called me a ‘fart-bastard’.) ‘I know a really rude word you can’t say to someone,’ T-Bone told me. ‘It’s ‘can’t.’

‘Can’t?’ I asked him carefully. ‘Who called you a ‘can’t’?’ He tapped his head. ‘My brain told me. Like if you say “You can’t do that, you’re stupid.”’ I agreed that it was important to be careful about that word. Also, you had to choose your moment for ‘fart-bastard’.

Young Pudding is a constant source of amusement to us. She lives in a land of surreal imagination. Recently she told me ‘I hope the mans comes and takes your teefs out so you can’t talk.’ This seemed unnecessarily harsh to me. I only told her she had to put a jumper on.

She’s become very interested in gender, and she splits everything into ‘boy stuff’ and ‘girl stuff’. For instance, the number four is a ‘boy number’ and all the other numbers are girl numbers. Coloured washcloths are boys and white ones are girls. There is one ‘girl knob’ in the kitchen and all the other drawers have ‘boy knobs.’ (These jokes just write themselves.) Along with her dawning understanding of gender, she’s become super interested in genitals. At a family party on the weekend, my mother in law filmed around the table with her iPad. Everybody smiled and waved, but not young Pudding. No, she announced ‘I’ve dot a gina!’ and lifted up her skirt. ‘And here it is!’ she shouted with pride.

For my birthday, seven year old Peanut wrote me a poem that read, in part: ‘I hope you will never forget, our love and no regrets, or the smelliness of Dad’s bum, never ever is you Mum.’ Ah, bless her little heart. She asked me at the dinner table last night, deadly serious, ‘What is a head-butt anyway, Mum? Is it where someone sticks their head up your bum?’

I laughed until I cried. The comedy at my house is not highbrow. In fact there is more talk of poo and wee and ‘ginas than at an emergency urology clinic. It’s lowbrow, but it’s constant. And I may be just a fart-bastard, but to my mind, the more laughter there is in a house, the better for the people in it. Kids are hard work and they need you to drive them everywhere and sometimes they vomit on you and don’t even apologise, but there is no denying that living with them is funny. It’s really delightfully funny.

Favourite TV Writing Of The Moment (Plus, Jessa From Girls In Real Life: She’s Jessa! )

Are you a Girls fan? I am. Keith and I have just finished a leisurely run through season 3. We dragged it out for a while.  Good season.  I love Lena Dunham – I think she’s one of the most original and interesting writers of the moment.

In Australia, I feel the same way about Josh Thomas and Please Like Me. Do you watch this one? Dunham and Thomas write in similar ways. They mine  their own quirky personalities, shining  a bravely bright spotlight on their own awkwardness, and then then branch out to explore relationships and the cultural moment. They always leave me chewing stuff over, and they are both really funny.

Anyway, if you’re not a Girls fan, get back to training your falcon or whatever. If you are, check these pictures out. It’s Jemima Kirke, the actress who plays Jessa.  And she is so Jessa that it’s like a parody. I love it.


(all pics from the Life In Pictures series at

How To Be Abusive In Five Languages!


Men in party hats, c.1930′s, private collection (Retronaut). 

My seven year old Peanut really likes Girl Guides. In fact she told me yesterday that she plans to do Junior Guides, then Guides, then Senior Guides, then Dead Guides, then Zombie Guides. So, right the way through, which is nice.

Recently Peanut and her little friend A participated in a ‘market stall’ night, where all the girls set up tables ad sold items for twenty cents. Peanut and A spent the afternoon making cards. A, an impressive kid, wrote up Shakespearean quotes. Peanut found a book I had unearthed at the op shop called ‘The Insult Dictionary’, which outlined ways to be creatively abusive in French, German, Italian and Spanish,  and she lavishly decorated a few insult cards. They wondered whether to charge the other Guides twenty cents to be insulted, but in the end she and A decided that whenever anybody bought a card, they would stand up and insult them for free.

They were very excited, but at pick-up, Peanut was deflated. The other stalls all had lollies on them. How could a card that read ‘Was this omelette made with terodactyl eggs?’ compete with a bag of snakes?

I sympathised, and then I paid her to insult me instead. It’s my birthright as her mother.

Here, for you, a few choice epithets:

Keep your wandering paws to yourself. 

French: Vous avez fini de me peloter!

German: Horen sie mal mit der fummelie auf!

Italian: Tenga le mani a posto.

Spanish: Guarde sus peznas para otra occasion.

Let your ghastly children pee on your feet, not mine. 

French: Dies-done a vos mioches d’aller faire leur petit pipi ailleurs que sur mes jambes! Qu’ils fassent ca sur vous, pas exemple!

German: Lassen sie ehre kinder gefalligst uf ihre fusse und nicht auf miene pineln.

Italian: Faccia fare pipi ai suoibambini sui suoi piedi, non sui miei.

Spanish: Digales a esos mocosos que pisen sus pies, no los mios.

Chinless wonder! 

French: Degenere!

German: Doofes gestell!

Italian: Aristicraticone!

Spanish: Mariquita!

Repulsive, foul-smelling layabout!

French: Repugnant voyou!

German: Widerlicher lump!

Italian: Ribbutante vagabondo puzzolente!

Spanish: Ronoso!

Other word nerd posts you might like:

The Lords Prayer in Pidgin

I’m Not Up To Dick Today (And Other Examples of Victorian Slang). 

Unicorns, Pickers and White-Hat Hackers (Interesting Modern Terms)

Her Breasts Are Soft And Tender As The Pelicans (Pick Up Lines From 1663). 



honest school notes #6

Dear Office,

I know that school holidays have begun, and so this note may be a little bit late. Are you still there, Office?

The end of term was a little stressful again.

The children keep demanding food, and more food, and more food, until I feel like a short-order cook with a terrible Workplace Agreement.

The mornings start well (this is a lie) but very quickly it all goes wrong.

The one with the treadmill. | 31 GIFs That Will Make You Laugh Every Time

I just can’t quite reach where I need to be.

Are These The 43 Funniest GIFs Of All Time?

I get there in the end, but the method is strange and awkward.

11 People Who Are Having An Awkward Time Right Now

My methods are degrading for the children too.

25 "Seinfeld" GIFs That Speak To You On A Spiritual Level

Not that they notice. They are often engaged in some kind of inventive sibling warfare anyway.

They frequently employ the phrase ‘penis-gina’. Also ‘Fly me to Poo-Poo Land.’

25 "Seinfeld" GIFs That Speak To You On A Spiritual Level

Last week, T-Bone even came in the room with a handful of undies, threw them in the air and shouted ‘It’s a Panty Festival!” Yes, he used that word. It was like he kicked me right in my soft underbelly.

Feeding, washing and wrestling these kids off to school in the last week of term feels like battling through jelly. I think I’ve got one all clean and packed up, and another paints their shirt with a  handful of Vegemite. At least I hope it is Vegemite. And through it all, I wail like a hopeless balladeer:  ’Where is your reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaader???’

Compounding the situation, my back hurts.

And then: menses.


Office, all I want to do is complain to my mother on the phone.

19 Signs Your Mum Is A Cool Mum

And maybe get out for the night with my friends.

Just an innocent night out.

A Comprehensive Glossary Of Gifs

Blow off a little steam.

Recharge for the term ahead.

25 "Seinfeld" GIFs That Speak To You On A Spiritual Level

A term in which, Office, I promise to be organised, efficient and punctual.

19 Signs Your Mum Is A Cool Mum

Until then, my apologies (again.)


Ms McIntosh

Honest School Notes #1

Honest School Notes #2

Honest School Notes #3

 Honest School Notes #4

Honest School Notes #5


Mama – Dispatches From The Frontline Of Love (A Book Review & Giveaway)

Recently I reviewed Antonella Gambotto-Burke’s book ‘Mama – Dispatches From The Frontline Of Love’ for Mamabake. It’s a great read. Gambotto-Burke picks through the terrain of modern motherhood with her trademark  honesty and passion.  

One-On-One Talk of Steve Biddulph with Antonella Gambotto-Burke

I’m going to give away my review copy - if you’d like it, leave a comment below.

Books about motherhood usually follow something of a predictable formula. No matter the philosophy behind them, they tend to deal with the practicalities of childbirth and child-rearing. When they delve into the emotional realm, it’s largely to explore psychiatric issues like post-natal depression, the emotional landscape of the post-baby partnership, or the psychological aspects of child development. .

‘Mama – Dispatches from The Frontline of Love’ by Australian writer Antonella Gambotto-Burke is something of a different beast. It is a fierce book, beating with passion and energy, and it has a bone to pick with modern parenting culture. Acclaimed Australian writer Gambotto-Burke brings her idiosyncratic brand of journalism – at once academic and emotional – to this most primal of subjects: the nature of motherhood.

Gambotto-Burke is unafraid to describe and own the transformative, primal force of love that comes with the birth of one’s first child. The book explores issues as wide-ranging as femininity, intimacy, marriage, death and the sexualisation of children.

Gambotto-Burke conducts interviews with a palpable energy that fizzes on the page. She spars with Steve Biddulph, Shelia Kitziger, Michelle Shearer, Laura Markham and Melinda Tankard-Reist, among others.  Amongst interviews and truncated  ‘guides to parenting’ with writers, educators and experts, this book explores Gambotto-Burke’s own foray into motherhood,  which required  her to grapple with her own troubled childhood, and the somewhat emotionally disconnected identity she had created as a result. ‘Repudiating the vulnerability I felt had wrecked the lives of women around me,’ she says, ‘I modelled myself on my controlled father….Consciously, the prospect of motherhood repelled me.’

When she did become a parent, Gambotto-Burke was shocked and rocked by the intensity of the love she felt for her daughter, Bethesda. Gambotto-Burke, at her best when turning her  white-hot intellectual curiosity on herself, captures in her writing the intensity of the process by which women are alchemised – made anew, never to be quite the same again – when they become mothers.

‘On first hearing that little voice – as fine and friable, I thought, as cotton thread – the impact on my soul was that of the highest magnitude of earthquake, those that occur every hundred years, say, or every thousand. The old shell that I called myself cracked and was swallowed by a sudden crevasse, and just as suddenly was lost in the commotion. That which I felt was not joy, or even a willingness to throw myself in the path of a car to save her, but simply this: a desire to be with her so plunging I would have killed for it.’

It’s a fiery book. Gambotto-Burke can be funny and endearing, but she can also be infuriatingly didactic. The tone of her essay ‘why I don’t own a television’ rings judgemental, as does the exhortation ‘never, ever listen to the radio or loud music when your baby/toddler is around.’ To my mind, her strong adherence to the tenets of ‘attachment parenting’ can feel like the placing of the child’s needs above the mothers needs in every instance, in a way that can feel, even in the reading, exhausting and impossible.

But as a writer, Gambotto-Burke has a compelling voice, and as an investigative journalist, she brings together a series of threads that weave a fascinating and novel picture of modern parenting culture. Her book, Mama, makes an important contribution to the body of work about motherhood.

Girl’s Weekend!

Who are these outrageous brides of Christ? I don’t know, but I love them. Photo source unknown.

I’m blowing this joint for a night down the coast with my girlfriends. I anticipate much cackling and hopefully, incontinence.

See you on the flip side!!


Notes on Life From A Wollongong Cafe

Let me paint you a picture of life as lived in a Wollongong cafe. (Please note, snide mockery aside, I love Wollongong. I really do.)

Now, prepare yourselves for sophistication and wit. Imagine, perhaps, the round table at the Algonquin in 1956, or Maxims of Paris during the Belle Epoque.

Here’s what I overheard. A group of suits are talking about a recent holiday they spent together in America. One man tells a tale of a friend that befouled himself so badly while drunk that ‘when I stepped in the room it come up between my toes.’

A woman in the group adds that she and her friends ‘spent heaps at the Playboy Mansion. We deserve it! Our husbands are throwing money up their arses and bums!’

This sentence threw me. Arses AND bums? What does that even mean? Cocaine? Bottom-sex? What? I swear, these are her exact words. I was listening hard and taking careful notes. (Don’t deconstruct me. )

It’s hard to concentrate on other writing when conversations like these are happening.

On my Wednesday writing days (all three kids in various institutions), I vary my routine between a cafe in town that hates children and the local library. I was out of my usual zone when I crossed paths with the  ’arses and bums’ crowd. But the scene reminded me of when I wrote about trying to work at the public library.

1. A pair from the University of The Third Age sit at the table next to me. When Lady Senior first describes her personal project of learning Esperanto, I think ‘Oh my god.  When I retire, I am so learning Esperanto.’ Twenty minutes later, ‘For the love of fuck, please stop talking about Esperanto before I stab myself in the eye with a pen.’ Also, flirting techniques for seniors: ‘Oh, you so don’t look like a grandmother,’ followed by a tone adjustment to Low, Earnest, Really Listening levels and adding ‘And are you fully ready for that change in your life?’

2. Stupid hipster barista gives me a dirty look when I asked him for more coffee in my coffee. A cup of foamy milk is not a latte, dude. I am not the twit here. You are the twit! You are the twit! Say clever and cutting things to him inside my head. Actually not very clever. More like ‘You think you’re good. But you’re not.’

3.  Accidentally pour hot coffee on self and shriek ‘Fucky fuck! Fuck!’ Quietly accept dirty looks from amorous seniors. Bad library behaviour. I am the twit.

4. Apply Pomodoro Technique to writing work and struggle to focus for twenty minutes. Sadly realise have the attention span of an adolescent chimpanzee. Unfortunately have more responsibilities.

5. Check time for optometrist appointment and think about frames for reading glasses. Realise that while mocking seniors next door, I am in fact, tripping, metaphorically, on the heels of their orthopaedic sandals.
6. Mmmmmm. Orthopaedic sandals.

7.  Seniors are leaving, undoubtedly for the early bird dinner special at the club.

8. Mmmm. Schnitzel.

9. Young man with wild hair has just set up his laptop opposite mine and is now eating Jaffas by the handful. This is why I love the library.

10. Stingy young bastard is not offering any Jaffas and now all I can think about is Jaffas. This is why I hate the library.

11. Totes! Awks! Male Senior just turned and stared intently at me for an uncomfortable moment. Was he thinking about his ‘personal project’ and forgot to turn off his staring gaze? Have I been mumbling out loud again? Or, sick of talking about Esperanto, is he turning his Casanova stylings to the coffee-stained, muttering woman to the left in the ‘outfit’?

9. Realise that while I have been gently mocking seniors in my head, they have spent all morning engaged in light erotic banter and unpressured research. Meanwhile I have a busy afternoon in front of me full of cooking, cleaning, chaffeuring and refereeing who ‘started it’. I am the twit. I am the twit.

10. Mmm. Retirement.

Wherever you are today, have fun. And just to make these last five minutes of your life not such a terrible waste, Here’s the one phrase in Esperanto that should open doors and throw rose petals at your feet in life: ‘Tiu ĉi sinjoro/sinjorino pagos por ĉio’, or ‘the lady/gentleman will pay for everything’.

7 x Septembers: A Quick Look Back Through Seven Years of Blogging

I’m joining in with Pips 7 x Septembers tody: a wild trip down a Septembery rabbit hole of the last seven years of blogging. So many memories.

September 2008: Two Wondersuits Good, Two Wondersuits Bad

September 2009: Hens Just Want To Have Fun. And Flash Boozies.

September 2010: The Black Ghost. 

September 2011: In Which Keith Explains Some Of His Incomprehensible Research And The Children Are Massively Busted.

September 2012: Mini-Man Is So Hot Right Now

September 2013: Torn Between Two Lovers

Wow, it’s been quite a ride these last years. The best years of my life, in fact. There are those of you reading out there that have been with me ever since I started blogging seven years ago. I appreciate your love and support so very much.

Here’s hoping the next seven years are as happy, as unpredictable and as chaotically wonderful as the last have been.

Charming Morning Stories About Head Lice


Jeepers, Jim Bob, this head lice outbreak is really making me take a second look at our entire religious philosophy, Sshhhh, Michelle. Shhhh.  It’s our path and we embrace it.  Now get back in that bedroom and get ready to bite down on them rosary beads.

Shocking confession.

My head is itchy.

Jesus Mary and Josephine have mercy my head is itchy.

We’ve just been through the head-lice treatment process, and my sinking heart is telling me that we’re going to have to do it again. But I’m reminded that it could be worse – I came across this old column I wrote the first time I had to treat the kids for nits, and it was much, much harder back then. Pre-schoolers are nuts! You can’t even bribe them with Plants Vs. Zombies sessions and chewy mints from your handbag.

Pre-schoolers don’t believe in personal space. When sharing your bed, they like to sleep on your head, when you visit the toilet they come in to see exactly what you’re up to, and when playing with their friends, there are no physical boundaries whatsoever. Parents don’t especially love this desire to get up close and personal, but you know who does?

Head lice.

With one four-year-old and one toddler, I’m deep in pre-school and day-care land. It was only a matter of time before we had our first infestation. My mellow, scientist husband was not enormously helpful. ‘Do you have to worry about nits?’ he asked. I looked at him blankly. ‘I mean, is it unhealthy if they just… stay living on the kids heads?’ I took a deep breath and painted a little picture of primary-school social exclusion followed by an adulthood in which our children lived in a shed out the back, writing manifestos about anarchism while building homemade explosives. He came around.

I didn’t want to use pesticides and unpronounceable compounds on my children’s heads before I tried the conditioner option first. This method involves stunning the little critters with gallons of hair conditioner. It doesn’t kill them but it renders them comatose long enough for you to pry them all out with a fairy-sized Comb of Pain. You have to do it every day for a week so you get all their eggs too.

It was a miserable process. First, I sat in the bath with Peanut and T-Bone comb-torturing them while T-Bone whimpered and Peanut screamed ‘You’re HURTING me! You’re HURTING me!’ Which I was, of course. Mainly by genetically gifting her with stupidly thick hair. Then I had to shower the kids one by one. This was an especially tough call with two-year-old T-Bone, who struggles with the logic of shampoo. He likes to tip his head forward and stare blindly into the soapy water as it runs into his eyes.

So he fought me with all of his stocky fifteen kilos, using every limb to push off every wall, as I held him under the water and begged for mercy. Finally I got his head clean and put Peanut in. She’s fiercely independent. ‘I will do it,’ she insisted. ‘Don’t look at me! Nobody look at me!’ I obediently turned my head away just in time to see T-Bone doing a revenge wee on the clean towels. Then Peanut slipped over on the shower floor, which had become a treacherous slime pit of conditioner and tiny unconscious nits.

Did I mention I was pregnant? In the end we all cried, the nits survived, and I was forced to repeat the farce about six more times before their heads were finally clear of insect squatters. Then, of course, they headed back to pre-school to play hat-swapping games and start the miserable cycle again. But I have a solution, my friends. Lateral thinking. Next outbreak, I’m going to suggest we get the kids to play Chimpanzee, where they tackle the problem by picking the bugs painstakingly out of each other’s hair. They can sit as close as they like! Happiness for everybody. Nit problem? What problem?

Go well, my friends! I wish you a beautiful Tuesday free of infestation.