How is 2017 beginning for you? We are home this week, on holidays together, with nowhere to be and nothing on the books. It’s fabulous. Keith is building a new grey-water pipe, which means he is ringing in the new year covered in sludge and smelling like a tarts arsehole, and I am systematically making my way through every room in the house; sorting, spring-cleaning and decluttering. We are busy in the best way, and spending lots of down time too, reading, watching movies and playing Bananagrams.
I miss writing here, and inspired by Kate, I think I will try and write once a week in this space, to decant some of my thoughts onto the page and sort them out. Like Joan Didion, ‘I don’t know what I think until I write it down’.
Today I thought I’d explore something that makes my toes curl and my heart race. If I had testicles, this subject would make them retreat into my body.
I am bad with money.
This is shameful and humiliating, and I have always been like this.
I sabotage myself constantly. I am frugal – I menu plan, I shop at the op-shop, I don’t buy much ‘stuff’. But the part of me that is thoughtful and careful with money is constantly undermined by the other part of my brain that is weird and anxious about it and so avoids thinking about it as much as possible. Which makes me on the one hand careful, and on the other hand, utterly unaware of where the money is going.
As in; I make careful lists and then buy the sparkly things as they appear before me, like a child.
As in; I think about and plan my shopping and then never check my change or keep track of things in process.
As in: my actions make my plans a waste of time and energy.
Self-sabotage! What fun!
I open up to this failing to you guys in the hope that there are some of you that feel the same. Are you bad with money? Are you good with money? How does one get from one persona to the other? This is one of my great intentions for 2017: to improve on this aspect of life.
Being bad with money is childlike and infantilising. It upsets me because I am good at managing the complex family life of work and kids. I can handle it, I like it, and I actually pretty rarely drop the ball even though I definitely play up the parts where I stuff up (which are frequent) for comedy purposes.
But this inability to keep track of my financial life blocks me; it holds me in the eternal hopeless present, and it undermines my sense of achievement or agency in other aspects of life.
Keith and I had one of our finance conversations yesterday. These fun chats are the ones where my hands get shaky and my voice gets squeaky and I basically hold my breath until we can stop talking.
Lucky us, though. If I was married to me we would be in dire straits, living in a yurt somewhere and wondering what happened to our superannuation paperwork. Keith, however, is a scientist, engineer and a master of all kind of nerd-craft, and has a complex spreadsheet of such matters. It is colourful and complex and looking at it makes my palms sweat.
As you can imagine, I am not at all frustrating to be married to. Over the years we have refined our systems to avoid conflict in this regard, and we largely do. But yesterday, I was baffled by ‘purchase charges’ on my bank statement and Keith lost his cool. He can’t understand my stupidity about this stuff, and I am ashamed and defensive.
The good thing is that I am not extravagant. Just a fucking idiot. So there is hope.
I’ve been looking for some advice around the place. I really like the podcast Bad With Money, by Gaby Dunn. and I tried listening to a couple of others but they are either all about investing or leap unexpectedly into bible verse, which is disconcerting. I tried watching a couple of budgeting YouTubers but they put me to sleep and have crazy eyes. Lots of people seem to be reading The Barefoot Investor. Yay or nay?
That’s me for 2017. Bad with money. Hoping to get better.
The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016 is post-truth: an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.
It’s a new landscape, where as fascism takes root around the world, ‘fake news’ is a massive industry,and Donald (who is himself an invention who didn’t even write The Art of The Deal, the book that underscores his entire persona) has appointed a white supremacist as chief White House strategist.
What can we rely on? What’s next? Can I have a blanky? And a drinky?
Here’s Karl Rove, the later-outed ‘unnamed source’ from a 2004 New York Times Magazine article by Ron Suskind: ‘ The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
‘We’re an empire now, and we create our own reality.’
Guess we’ll just have to watch how that plays out. Fun timez ahead!
Clive James once said that humour is ‘common sense, dancing’. In this frightening and confusing cultural moment, Joe Biden memes have been bringing me joy, as Joe puts orange powder in the bathroom for Donald’s nose, threatens to throw hiswig in the fireplace and stashes fake birth certificates and ‘Secret Muslim Agenda’ files about the place. Obama is kind and big-daddyish; and Biden is all of us.
My fave is the one where Joe says ‘these memes are just an illusory escape from the public’s feelings of utter powerlessness and uncertainty right now’…
Home from our travels, where the T-Bone, like a cat, immediately re-accqainted himself with his favourite spot: in a patch of sunshine in Mum and Dads bed. I didn’t have to put butter on his paws or anything.
As for me, I immediately re-acquainted myself with the normal run of Sunday: 4 loads of washing, purchasing half the supermarket, producing meals every ten minutes, washing the school clothes and searching for the hats (unsuccessfully.)
That right, I remembered. In real life I am Cinderella.
For the last 2 weeks we’ve been on the move; riding on the back of trucks, sleeping in tree-houses with rats, eating whatever is placed in front of us, and wearing the same two filthy outfits. Amazing how much time in the day there is when two parents are there to negotiate the battle that has erupted during the children’s game of Farting Rainbows, when you have no laundry to do (rather, no way to do the laundry you have), and when you have no food to cook, and must just wait for ‘dinner’ and whatever appears then, good or bad.
With all that time, we played endless games of cards and Bananagrams, read books and slept. It was a marvellous, epic adventure, one that has opened our eyes to many possibilities, and now that we are back, I feel a little smothered by all the stuff in my house. Be warned, Salvation Army. Mama has the crazy eyes.
Pics and details to follow – for now, I have a lengthy to-do list to tackle. First item on the agenda: start dreaming of the next adventure.
Here we are, rolling into our third week in Port Vila. I thought it was beyond time I started recording some thoughts.
What an interesting adventure we’ve had so far. We are renting a little n air bnb place next door to a village outside the gates of a large resort. The family that own this place live downstairs, their two kids have made friends with ours, and the five children are in and out of both houses all day.
I spent the first two weeks running a little home-school out on the porch.
It was really fun, and really intense. The children downstairs have not been going to school for a while, and lots of the village kids don’t go at all. School is not free here. Like many locals, our host family was hit hard by Cyclone Pam – th economic implications of the cyclone are still clear around town. Little L and T were excited to join in with my guys doing school. Much more excited than my own crew!
Our plans this year were to learn some natural history, so we’ve done a lot a talking about the Pacific Ring Of Fire, a lot of making maps. The skill levels of these five kids under ten vary wildly so I had to do a lot of juggling around reading, writing and maths. We read The Enchanted Wood out loud, sang songs, learnt some rap (!), played Bananagrams and cards.
There were times, as a fake-teacher, when I felt so deep in ‘flow’. One day, I tried to explain to eight-year-old L how to take his ‘five-sentence’ challenge to the next level - how I had just finished a book that morning (A Little Life, for the bookworms out there) in which the lead character Jude moved me so much that I cried real tears at the end of the book. Jude was real to me, and I cared about him, even though he was just a collection of words on a page. I told L that words could be like magic, and books like magical objects.
The next morning L bounded up the stairs to show me the ‘feelings’ he had added to his sentences in the night. Moments like that were so amazing. And there were lots of hilarious times too, of course. But it was full-on, jumping from child to child, all calling for my eyeballs on them. ‘Miss Rachael!’ “Mum! ‘Miss Rachael!’ ‘Mum!’ On the last day of school I had an extra kid from the village with almost no English who called me ‘Teacher Mummy.’
The village was a mixed bag for me. Port Vila is a pretty run-down place and it took me a couple of weeks to get over the sense of menace I felt when we arrived. On our first afternoon there was a big kid- showdown in the yard. The village kids shouted insults in Bislama at my kids (my favourite one so far: ’why don’t you wipe your arse and eat it?’How to respond? ‘Well, maybe I will…?’) ‘You is gross!’ they told nine-year old Peanut. ‘Your hair is gross!’
It was West Side Story, writ small. Young L chased the ringleader out of his yard while my big girl, wide eyed and teary, took some time to process what happened. That night, there was a lot of shouting outside our windows. Our downstairs host came up to explain that a nine-year old girl from the village had gone missing. Everybody was out searching. A couple of hours later, she was found. She’d been hiding from her dad, because he hits her with electrical cords. I was warned that the kids were pretty violent, that they got hit and then they hit each other, and that there had been a few rapes lately, so I shouldn’t walk too close to the long grass.
Outside our window, dogs barked, cats fought and roosters crowed all night long. There was a lot of laughter from the nakamal, the kava bar nearby. Birds were nesting in our roof. The bed was tough on my back. The shower never got hot.
I felt, for a week, pretty nervous about this place.
But now, a few weeks later, I’m all good. I’ve stopped clutching my pearls and started getting the hang of Port Vila. We get the bus everywhere, we’ve found the good coffee, the food market, the secondhand bookstore, the French boulangerie, the Italian supermarket. The kids can all say ‘tangkyu tumas!’ and I can say ‘Name bilong me Rachael. Wass name name bilong you?’ to all my new friends. That’s the limit of my Bislama though, unless I add ‘why don’t you wipe your arse and eat it’ to the conversation which, I’m no Emily Post, but….
The village children are scrappy, fierce, funny and adorable. My three, fresh out of the nerd factory, are prone to weeping about being emotionally ‘triangulated’ by their siblings (I take full responsibility for that.) It’s been fantastic thing to watch them form a new gang together with their Vanuatu friends. They read to each other, play with the Rubiks cubes, carry the cat about, have water fights. They have developed a minor obsession with a little Lego man they call Mister Squishy.
I feel pretty sheepish about my early worries about this gang from the village, these sparkly-eyed little people who now run to me in the yard and ask me to sing ‘Miss Polly Had A Dolly’.
Yesterday a toddler appeared at my screen door. There was nobody in sight, so I took him to the village next door to find his Mum. It was the first time I had been inside the compound, and it was an eye-opener. I followed a young boy through shanty-town laneways, corrugated iron and cardboard huts, piles of garbage. It was dusty and hot. Eventually, we found the boys Mum playing bingo with her friends, and I handed over the baby, a cutie called R with a winning grin.
Keith is working through the week, like a champ, and on the weekends he’s in holiday mode. We have been spending a lot of time with his cousin, her husband and their six children, a really lovely family - totally unflappable, even with such a big tribe! The kids have spent four years living in Port Vila, and maybe that’s the key. They are self-sufficient, kind and charming. I’m taking mental notes.
We’ve visited blue holes and snorkelling spots, fire shows and little islands.
Our favourite thing is to take the the bus around Efate and watch the people out the window: the women in their beautiful flowery dresses, the children everywhere – yesterday, a dog racing at speed down the road with a wrapped newspaper package in its mouth – hot chips perhaps? It looked like a guilty dog! The billboards in Bislama – a Creole language , a hybrid of French and English – make me happy. ‘Plis yu mus no jam jam’ on a wharf; ‘Numba Wan Yumi!’ on a rice ad, the chicken house in our backyard with a sign that reads ‘Kingdom Bilong Fowl’.
The bus drivers all love a chat and the girls play a game they call ‘Sweet and Sour’, waving at passers-by from the bus window and rating whether they respond (the ‘sweet’ hit is very high around here) while T-Bone barely looks up from his Harry Potter. Still – he’s happy. Port Vila no longer feels like a scary town, but rather a vibrant, bustling, exuberant one.
We are eating lots of pamplemousse (grapefruit – very sweet and delicious here), long-life milk, paw-paw and peanut-butter Saos.
I’ve been reading some great books and am trying hard to sit on my hands and leave the two I picked up today for the next leg of the trip. (I will fail.) The kids are Harry Potter all the way, of course. Some things never change.
Next week, we’re blowing this town. Keith is finishing up work and taking two weeks of actual proper holiday, and we’re planning on taking a ferry to an island called Malekula, and exploring an area called the Dogs Head. Malekula is much quieter than Port Vila and the most culturally diverse island in Vanuatu. We’re looking forward to seeing the two main tribes: the Big Nambas (who wear massive penis gourds) and the Small Nambas (who presumably buy sports cars to compensate). Also, hoping for a few wonderfully quiet days on a little coral island off the mainland, Robinson Crusoe style. It’s time Keith tried out the fire-lighting flint he got for Fathers Day.
We need to take lots of food, malaria-preventatives and an Girl-Guidey, can-do attitude. (Oh dear, this is my challenge…. ) But I think it will be amazing. From there we’ll head onto another island called Santo and then (funds permitting!) to Tanna Island where we are keen to see the cargo-cult rituals that date from pre-WW2, and also look into the mouth of an active volcano! We’re doing all this all the super-cheap, but it’s not a cheap place, Vanuatu. Everything costs a bomb.
After that: home, a bonfire to dispose of our festy clothes and – praise the Lord and pass the Terry’s Chocolate Orange! – my beloved bathtub and my comfortable bed.
Tropical love to you all! Another update, at some point, I hope. Gud naet. xx
It’s late, I’m trying to download thousands of pics off my phone to make room for our trip away, and I’m stuck here waiting for the process to finish…first time I’ve stopped all day. It’s been mennal around here!
At 5am tomorrow we’re blowing this joint to head off to the South Pacific for five weeks. SO exciting. Part work, part play. I’ll be doing some home-schooling (first order of business: ’Hitler, He Only Had One Ball’ in 3 part harmony, and then I’ll wing it from there.) Also, lots and lots of lovely lovely relaxing (keeping in mind of course that my three companions, aged 9, 8 and 5, will be at my side demanding I feed them coconuts every seven minutes.)
All is enthusiasm! around here. I even got a leg wax and a spray tan in honour of the occasion, which is extreme grooming for me. Usually as fancy as I get is putting my bra on for the school run. The children looked at me with disdain when I told them that this week I was paying a lady to rip the hair out of my lags and then paying another lady to paint me brown.
The planning and prepping and packing has reached serial killer levels of organisation but I think I’m done.
Off, into the wild blue yonder. Me, overseas for the first time in ten years (!) and the children, overseas for the first time ever.
I shall report on other lands very soon. I must, must, must get on with all my jobs before bed. Really I only came on here to find this: the Lords Prayer in Pidgin. I love Pidgin so much. I can’t believe I’ll be hearing it next week!
Sadly, Practical Parenting Magazine has been shut down. After more than seven years of writing a column there about motherhood, I feel a little bereft. This column required me to sit and think, every month, about what’s going on with our family, and it’s created a sweet little archive for us to look back on.
There is something poignant about finishing up this column as little Pudding begins her orientation for primary school. My world of tiny children underfoot – nappies and sleeplessness and breastfeeding – is drawing to an end. This week, we are packing and prepping for our first trip overseas with the kids, and my first in ten years. It’s definitely the end of an era. Time for me to put my head down and focus on finishing my book about stay-at-home mum life.
This column is one of my last written for Practical Parenting. There are one or two more that were in the pipeline – I don’t know if I’ll post those.
To my long-time readers, thank you for supporting and enjoying these little postcards.
I am tackling the Weet-Bix cement crusted onto the breakfastbowls and trying to listen to the radio when my four-year-old Pudding wanders into the kitchen. ‘Let’s pwetend we’re sisters and our Mum and Dad were killed by monsters and we work at the Post Office,’ she shouts excitedly.
‘Not right now, Pudding’, I say. ‘Go and find your sister.’ Her sister appears, doing a handstand against the fridge. ‘Watch this Mum!’ she says, as she tries to balance a pillow on top of her feet. The pillow is dangerously close to a pot plant. ‘I can’t look now, Peanut,’ I say. ‘I’m trying to wash up breakfast before I make dinner.’ ‘What’s for dinner?’ seven-year-old T-Bone asks, taking a break from the Minecraft handbook he has been reading out loud for twenty minutes.
‘I don’t know,’ I say, but the children aren’t listening. They are, in fact, all talking at once.
‘’Can I use your sewing machine?’ asks one child. ‘Can you make me a bubble bath?’ asks the next. ‘Can you feed me like I’m a dog?’ asks the third.
‘No,’ I tell them all. ‘Please – can’t you all just go and play something?’
They look at me skeptically. It’s time to go out, anyway.
In the car, I would love to listen to the radio but Pudding and Peanut are singing a song about Harry Potter that goes on longer than a Kanye West vanity mix. And like a gentle background hum, T-Bone is still reading Minecraft tips aloud. The children fill the air with their noise – and these, mind you, are the happy sounds. The decibel level reached when the bickering starts is extreme. And when I’m forced to intervene, my own hopeless shouting adds to the chaos.
I love the creativity of my kids, and the wonderful, random things that pop from their brains, but sometimes it is just So Bloody Noisy. At the end of the day, every part of me becomes desperate for quiet. That walk down the hallway after putting all three to bed is so thrilling. In my mind, I strut that hallway like Beyonce. Yaaasss Queen! Ahead of me lies a peaceful evening, ready to be filled with laundry-folding and Downton Abbey – just like Beyonce, I’m pretty sure.
Sometimes the sturm and drang of raising small children feels a little overwhelming. The fighting, the crying and the questions can feel relentless. In those times, I try to remind myself of these thoughts from American physician Dr. Harley Rotbart:
In the course of each bedtimes bedlam, try to see into the future. The next time the clamour crecendoes, but before the din dims, imagine your biological parenthood clock wound forward to the time they have grown and left home. Picture their formerly tousled bedrooms as neat, clean and empty. See the tidy backseat of the car, vaccumed and without crumbs or Cheerios. Playroom shelves neatly stacked with dusty toys. Laundry under control. Then wind the imaginary clock back from the future to now, and see those moments of mayhem for what they are, finite and fleeting moments. Never to be reproduced. Precious.
It is a happy chaos that I inhabit right now, full of the noise and debris of so many full and energetic lives. What a gift that is – even when it’s exhausting.
I wrote the column below for Practical Parenting Magazine nearly six months ago, just after Grandpa was diagnosed with lung cancer. The disease felled him swiftly after that, each week grimmer than the one before, although Grandpa, famously, uttered no expletives stronger than ‘oh, boy.’
It’s been a season of illness, stress, worry and sadness, and we are now preparing for Alan’s funeral this week. I will write more about him when the dust settles around us a little. For now, this esteemed mathematician and loving grandfather is now only present in our memories and anecdotes, and a particular cheeky sparkle in the eyes of his grandchildren.
We will miss him very much.
For Practical Parenting, July 2016
Lately, all three of my children have been sleeping in my bed, which is both lovely and terrible. It’s lovely, because their arms and legs are strong and small and cling so tight; and I know that the pure, fierce affection of childhood will shift and change into something else someday, and I will miss it. But it’s terrible, because the children squeeze up so tight to me that I can’t breathe, and feel that I am in some sort of medieval dungeon-prison with no room for all the occupants, where we must turn over in unison on a given signal. Also: wee.
There’s a little more room in the big bed at the minute because Keith is in Europe for two weeks. Sometimes we tick along fine when the big Daddy is away. This is not one of those times. The system starts crumbling on Day 2, when the fridge coughs and dies. Then, school problems begin with one of the kids, which, over the next fortnight will grow increasingly difficult to manage, and finally, most distressingly, there is a diagnosis of cancer in our extended family.
I find myself swapping between worries, mulling over each in my mind, one at a time. Who’s up next? Move it along Cancer, you’ve had your time. Bullying, where are you? That’s enough out of you. Next worry please! Form an orderly queue!
The carnage in the kitchen is epic as I try to salvage food from the deceased freezer in an Esky while I wait for the new fridge. Young Pudding, obsessed with craft in the manner of all four-year-olds, takes to glittering and redistributing the contents of the recycling box everywhere.
I’m trying to stay cool but I realise I’m struggling when I accidentally bum-dial myself and record a shameful voicemail where I rant at the kids in the voice we call The Fishwife.
I really miss my partner in crime. There’s nobody here to help turn the small dramas of the day into comedy after bedtime, and most critically, take on some of the kid-energy, so that I have some restorative, necessary privacy with my own thoughts. Without it, bit by bit, I start to go slightly nuts.
Last night I did the full-service final shift of the day, fighting the strong urge to collapse on the couch and watch Wife Swap. Public speaking talks were prepped, homework completed, lunches made and sports equipment set out for the morning. The kitchen was cleaned, the laundry hung. Children were scrubbed, read to, tucked up, and happily asleep. That final shift of the day required a Coke and two mini Wagon Wheels. But I got there.
This morning though, after a night crammed into the medieval prison bed in which one child wet their pants and another had a nightmare (there is lava on my nose!), I just could not get up. ‘Five more minutes’ begged Peanut as she wrapped her little legs around mine. ‘Five more minutes,’ begged T-Bone as he clung to the other side. ‘Jus’ five more minutes, Mama’ chimed in Pudding, lying with her dead weight fully on top of me.
I gave in. Five more minutes. Ten, even. We were a bit late to school. In the single-mum zone, with so many tasks to stay on top of, it can feel like there’s not a lot of room for those quiet moments. But in fact, those sweet ten minutes in bed, cuddling all three kids – that was probably the most important job of the day. Certainly it was the best one. And, to be honest, I could not do any more.
Lunches must be packed, pantries filled, clean clothes available in the drawers (or at least in a pile on the lounge). The car still must be filled with petrol, admin forms signed, work deadlines met. Family life is steady and relentless, and there’s always washing-up to be done. Sometimes this is comforting and satisfying, and sometimes it takes all of my available brain-and-heart space; and then life asks a little more.
An unhappy child. A sick relative. Flu. Travel. A list of worries that weigh heavy.
In short, a tough winter.
I think I am tracking along fine, one foot in front of the other, and then my body starts doing something to let me know it’s not OK.
‘Shush,’ I tell my body. ’It’s fine, we’re on top of it all, body. Shush…’
‘Stop and listen to me, you crazy witch,’ says my body, via the interesting method of making me short of breath for hours every day.
After a battery of tests to rule out anything sinister, the diagnosis I’m left with is stress and anxiety.
My solution: keep the home fires burning, dole out love and lasagne and priorities those healthy things like walking outside, yoga, making myself leave the hermit-cave and see my friends. I’m trying not to worry about the things that are out of my control, and trying to be a support for the loved ones around me who are hurting, without internalising the pain that they are feeling.
Also, I have a minor obsession with this lady.
Alejanda, so uber-American, with ever-so-slightly-crazy eyes, and a serial-killer-level of organisation, is bringing me life.
Chill out, my body is telling me. Spend a little time on the lounge watching YouTube clips of Alejandra bringing lunatic order to her shiny, shiny world. I don’t want to – could not – live like this, but watching Alejandra do it is inexplicably appealing and calming. Also: My Dad Wrote A Porno is the other shining glory of my existence right now. Listen immediately and then write and talk to me about it. It is the funniest possible present you can give your ears. And you will never, ever think of the Titanic again without picturing ‘nipples, as hard and large as the rivets on that fateful ship’.
I hope you are travelling well out there, comrades. May life be treating you well and if not, I advise applying 20 minutes of organisation-porn and 20 minutes of Belinda Blinked, painful, fumbling and hilarious erotica written by Jamie’s Dad. Works for me.
This post was first published in Practical Parenting Magazine, June 2016 (but the children were playing Forceful Club only yesterday. The battle over kissing the dead-bee continues.They are SUCH WEIRDOS. I blame their father)
My four year old daughter walked into preschool recently singing a charming song her big brother and sister had made up. It was called ‘Killer Vaginas from Outer Space’, and although I got out of there very fast, I expected a stern email all day, because I knew Pudding would perform all the verses. There’s a bit about Venus, something terrible happens to a penis, and basically, the whole thing is a job for Dr Freud.
Thing is, Pudding’s big brother and sister have as much influence on her as I do. They, at four, were pure as snow, raised on nothing but Play School, Angelina Ballerina and a little old-school Narnia for balance. Pudding, on the other hand will recite (unrequested) ‘There was an old lady who swallowed a poo. Perhaps she’ll spew.’ Her literary references range from Zombie Bums from Uranus through to Captain Underpants and the Talking Toilet, and when cornered, she’ll shout ‘My name is Inigo Montoya! You killed my father! Prepare to die!’
Pudding has watched her two older siblings hone the art of war, you see. With three kids under ten, the fights in our house can be epic. Hunger Games, Real Housewives, crisis-in-the-Middle East epic. A lot of my parenting time is spent in negotiating squabbles that are both ridiculous and deadly serious.
Take the Forceful Club, for instance, a trampoline game created by the two eldest. The rules are hazy, but two things are clear: it involves violence, and to join the club, all members have to kiss a dead bee. The four year old cried bitter tears about the bee rule, the big two were adamant and I was shoe-horned into one of my more hopeless conversations. ‘Pudding does not have to kiss the bee! Can’t you bend that rule? Well, can’t she just get her face close to the bee? She can blow on the bee! Be reasonable!’
Basically Forceful Club is like Fight Club except the first rule is that you have to talk about it. Endlessly. Other things my children have fought about lately: who was which number on the digital clock, who would get sucked into a black hole first, who owned the dead caterpillar in a container, whose turn it was to wear the comedy teeth, and (this last involved furious shouting) how to pronounce ‘Nuttelex’.
I’ve got brothers and sisters of my own. I remember the intensity of sibling rivalry in childhood and these days I love how we facilitate the magic of cousin-gangs. The parental bond may be our lodestar, the central fact of our lives, but siblings are the first scratching posts on which we figure out how to deal with the weird landscape that is other people. The relationships we have with our brothers and sisters are often the longest and most profound of our whole lifespan – for good, or for bad.
‘Be kind!’ I urge my kids, too fiercely. ‘Speak nicely to each other! We are never, ever rude and mean to each other in this family!’ This is, of course, clearly untrue, probably impossible, and, like so many other aspects of parenting, driven by the ghosts from my own childhood. It’s hugely important to me, this job I have of nurturing that sibling bond. After all, I hope these three people, who I adore so much, will be looking out for each other long after I have gone. Today, the comedy teeth; tomorrow, the inheritance. Good luck, my little loves, enjoy raising each other, and may the Forceful Club be with you.
I haven’t been here for a while – my tank is low on juice.
It’s been a fairly depleting few months with Keith travelling a lot and the children having one of those loops of winter sickness.
Running as a constant low sad note through our lives right now is the illness of my father-in-law. He’s a wonderful friend, an important person in my life, a brilliant and kind mathematician with a capricious twinkle in his eye. The more I understand Alan, the more I understand many parts of my beloved partner Keith, and watching Alan cope with lung cancer has taught me many lessons about dignity and stoicism. I wish I was not learning these lessons, but there we have it.
Being social feels too exhausting right now. I am at peak capacity with these children, this house, this husband, these feelings. It feels good to be honest about saying ‘no’. It feels important to be home, playing chess,sorting the endless washing pile, cooking spicy beans and drawing the blinds down on the outside world. I am trying to find moments to write and trying to conserve my energy.
Sometimes it’s impossible to manage more.
In the meantime, Raised by Wolves, written by my spirit animal Caitlin Moran and her sister, is bringing me many, many laughs. (Free on SBS right now – is anybody watching it? It is hilarious), and it was my birthday this week (forty-five!) Keith and I went for a lovely quiet date last night. We saw Tarzan – my advice is to suspend the critical eye and enjoy the scenery – i.e Alexander Skarsgard (happy phwooarsdday night!)
Afterwards we ate bresaola, drank Prosecco and talked travel. Home by ten. It was lovely. Quiet. Perfect.