Hair Bears

This post was first published in Practical Parenting Magazine, April 2015

(image source)

My husband Keith and I both have luxuriant manes of hair. In this and many other ways, we are like a pair of beautiful wild stallions. Thick and full, our hair is both straight and curly, with cowlicks, knots and the occasional mystery dreadlock. All three of our children have inherited our unruly locks (sorry kids!) and this means that in this house, there is a lot of mane to manage.

It strikes me that dealing with all this hair has taken up a lot of my life over the past few years. It’s so exciting when your baby first starts sprouting. Like the gradual shadowing in of a Polaroid picture, your little one starts to reveal themselves – taking shape, layer by magical layer, before your very eyes.

First they grow this sort of thin, wispy comb-over, like a middle-aged British tax accountant. Then the adorable baby-mullet appears. Before too long you are able to give toddlers their sweet first haircut. A fleeting power, though. Very soon after gaining the skill of speech,  mine all stopped letting me treat them like real-life Cabbage Patch Kids and started demanding the right to choose their own do’s.

Currently, all three – including my son – are in a ‘long-hair’ phase. Three year old Pudding is the hardest to manage around this, because logic is not her friend. She‘ll happily submit to a hair-wash because then she can admire how far her hair reaches when it’s wet. Her anguish as her hair dries is hard to watch.

Sometimes I follow a trail of water through the house to find Pudding in a soaking outfit, happily playing Lego with the ‘long hair’ she’s given herself by pouring a bucket of water over her head. Her dream hair is long, sparkly and purple.

Boy hair is a whole other story. I’ve cut six-year old T-Bones hair lots of times. Always a disaster. No matter how many YouTube clips I find or how much care I take, there are only two haircuts I ever manage to give him. One is the Kevin Rudd pudding-bowl, and the other looks like I’ve done the job with the wildly shaking hands of a chronic alcoholic.

Now, like his sisters, T-Bone wants it long, so I’m off the hairdressing hook for the moment. But his golden, thick hair has a bit of a Beatles/Bieber/Rod-Stewart-in-74 vibe. In fact T-Bone has the kind of sweeping, glossy locks that women pay hundreds for in a salon, although perhaps they might decline the Weet Bix crust.

As for my biggest, she likes to do her own hair, and it has all the fabulousness you might imagine from a creative 8 year old who gets her fashion inspo from Harry Potter and Backyard Science. She’s not beyond the disco ponytail or the triple-plait, and lately, she’s been teaming her loom-band choker with a feather stuck in her hair. Janis Joplin lives again, I think proudly to myself as she trots through the school gates.

There they all go, my three, crazy manes blowing in the breeze. One is dreaming of purple sparkly hair, one is be-jewelled and be-feathered and the Hugh Grant flicks of the third are tipped with Vegemite. They may look like unkempt ponies, but they are  intent on flying their own flags,  and I wouldn’t want to stop them.

The Empty Thrill Of Snark

Amelita Galli-Curci seated at desk , photo source unknown.

I’ve been thinking about snark lately, about creativity- poisoning, and the meanness and ugliness of it all.

There’s a real high-school thing happening out there where the online mean-girl gang gather to speculate about blogs they love to hate. Poison pens hovering, they wait for bloggers to write something stupid, outrageous or thoughtless. How very dare you! cry the commenters on these snark threads, as they idly rip apart every aspect of a persons life and crow over the remains.

Bloody hell, who would be a blogger these days? Nobody gets out alive.

Way back in ye olde blogging machine, bloggers would comment on each others sites, because it was the only contact we had with each other. People would write to say hello, I’ve had that experience you talked about, nice hat, etc. People didn’t bother to write mean stuff, usually, and if they did it was the aggressive act of an anonymous weirdo  and other readers jumped in to defend you. If  there was a blogger who you couldn’t stand you either clicked away or you quietly texted your sister to have a laugh.

Times have changed.

Blogging is different now in lots of ways, good and bad. The existence of anonymous snark websites changes the atmosphere profoundly from a largely supportive and warm community space to one where you need a very thick skin to express yourself with vulnerability and truth. I think it’s  a sad development.

Ira Glass from This American Life  has a wonderful theory on the development of creativity: that it takes time to hone a craft. If you’re going to get good, you have to be really crappy for a while first.

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

The problem with writing online is that the development process is public. Every half-arsed idea you float could possibly be captured and examined in all its shameful amateurism by this court of self-appointed, nameless meanies, these arbiters of taste and intelligence.

Snark culture has a particular language and behavior.  Writers call each other ‘hams’ and are saccharine sweet, ham to ham, in the manner of adolescent girl-gangs wanting to prove that they are not the bitches they appear. ‘You hams are the best,’ they say, and ‘this is the funniest thread on the internet,’ all the while inserting the salty blade into strangers relationships with their children. In this language, children are ‘kittens’ and to defend a blogger is to WK, or white-knight them, and this is usually done apologetically, as in  ’can’t believe  I’m WK’ing for….’ The given wisdom seems to be that the bloggers they dissect are utterly craven, and deserve every ugly slur hurled their way. While many writers are measured,  there is a significant percentage who  seem deeply and inexplicably invested in the lives of the strangers whose blogs they read.

There are some nutball narcissists out there writing blogs, no doubt.  But it’s a pretty hard to defend a website that has a thread with over 1000 pages dedicated to parsing and mocking every word written by a Mormon mother of five who writes about life after surviving a plane crash that burned almost all of her body.

The argument for snark says that it is a useful counterpoint to the over-familiar, fan-girly commentary that can appear on blogs. That stuff is skin-crawly, to be sure.  Guardian writer Sady Doyle says it’s useful and necessary. ‘Snark is the kids at the back of the class,’ Doyle says, ‘heckling the substitute teacher; it’s the voice of people who feel stifled, talked down to, or left out; the tool of people who have discovered that honing in on the weaknesses of those in power, exposing them publicly (if only to their own circle of friends), and reducing them to figures of fun (if only in their own minds), makes them feel a little less helpless.’

I think the problem lies in the combination of anonymity and groupthink.  We get encouraged  into a kind of  folie à plusieurs, or ‘madness of many’ – where an idea gains credence by being held by lots of people, no matter how batshit crazy it might be.  Soon we are inhabiting this awful, ugly landscape where people speculate on the mental health, marriage status and pants size of lady-writers  (the bloggers, like the snarkers, are overwhelmingly female).  This mother doesn’t love her child. This child has a developmental delay. This woman needs medication. This one needs cosmetic surgery. The pearl-clutching, body-shaming and moralising goes on and on.

Who are these people?

Who would bother to write these things?

It’s all such a buzzkill.

Reading blog snark sites, when you are a blogger,  is like a secret, guilty pleasure. Some of the gifs are superb, and many of the writers are intelligent and funny. But it doesn’t take long before the sweetness starts to pool in a sour puddle, like reading ‘celebrities without makeup’ or watching Dance Moms. It’s not the behaviour of a useful person, to insert this kind of information into your brain.

Here’s how Caitlin Moran puts it in her book ‘How To Build A Girl’:

Because I am still learning to walk and talk, and it is a million times easier to be cynical, and to wield a sword, than it is to be open-hearted, and stand there, holding a balloon and a birthday cake, with the infinite potential to look foolish. Because I still don’t know what I really think or feel, and I’m throwing grenades and filling the air with smoke while I desperately, desperately try to get off the ground: to get elevation. Because I haven’t yet learned the simplest and most important thing of all: the world is difficult, and we are all breakable. So just be kind.

Creating content is really hard when out there is a living embodiment of your inner critic, hovering over the keyboard waiting to mock your your thoughts. Me, I like to imagine the snarkers like my friend Anthony describes, tapping away in front of a mirror, with a Casio keyboard by their side, set permanently on the Applause button. I wish they would turn their talents to making something instead of tearing at things others have made.

Lets create, not spectate. Let’s allow each other to be nobby, idiotic and dim sometimes. Let’s leave a little wiggle room so that those amongst us with thinner skins are not afraid to speak their truth, make their offerings, and let their freak flags fly.

It’s how Leonard Cohen tells it: ’Ring the bell that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.’

PS – I enjoyed writing a post on my old blog called The Best of The Angry Shriekers That Hate Me.  It was therapeutic.

PPS – Cooker and A Lookers video of bloggers reading mean comments.

I Got A Mothers Day Card From Tony Abbott And It Read ‘Screw You, Stay-At-Home Parasite Lady!’

Mothers Day was lovely around here. My eight year old Peanut made me a coffee for the first time, and wrote me four poems – each of which was funnier than the last. We all went and watched 6 year old T-Bone play rugby in the sunshine, had  a lamb roast at Mum’s place, and then we finished a game of Monopoly. I had two baths, ate Turkish Delight and watched Masterchef with my feet on the heater. It was, all round, a beautiful day.

Late in the evening, though, I went online and saw that the Abbott Government had announced their new child-care package. How delighted I was to read that they are funding a new bonus to some parents, not with the billions saved by their scrapped Parental Leave scheme (as they promised) but by removing childcare tax breaks to single-income families with a ‘family income’ over $65, 000 a year.

Also, they made sure to apply, repeatedly, the shamefully  accusatory term ‘double-dipping’ to those women accessing their legal right to governmental  maternity leave entitlements as well as their corporate entitlements.

Charmingly, this announcement was made on Mothers Day.

The choice that our family has made to have one parent at home while the children are small has cost us in some economic ways and that’s fine. We feel that we’ve gained much from it and  it’s right for us. We pay taxes. We work hard to try and raise well-rounded, community-minded, healthy children that will be an asset, not a drain to the future.

I really love being a stay-at-home mum. It’s not the sum total of my ambition but it’s where I want to send my energies in these early years while my children are so small. I’m lucky to be able to make this choice but it’s a sacrifice too, with economic and career ramifications.

I work part time but it seems that my only use to this Government is when I make a greater economic contribution. The on;y worthwhile family unit, to this government, is the double-income earning version. The time I spend raising and nurturing my children is of no value. I am in fact, some sort of a social parasite.

Oops!

Thanks for making it clear that you have no respect for me, vast cock-forest of the Australian Government. Rest assured that the feeling is mutual.

ps – Tony’s got it in for climate change this week too. ‘Maurice Newman, the chairman of the Prime Minister’s business advisory council, has written in The Australian that scientific modelling showing the link between humans and climate change is wrong and the real agenda is a world takeover for the UN.’ (source). This is his PRIMARY business advisor! (*facepalm*)

I hope you all had a lovely Mothers Day out there. Just FYI, I have respect and admiration for the many different ways that women manage work, home life and raising children. I know so many remarkable women who work hard and contribute enormously to the communities that they live in, whether they are paid outside the home or not.

 

 

Bookshelf: Books About Cooks

In case you haven’t bought a Mother’s Day present yet, I thought I would write a Bookshelf post today and explore one of my favourite genres; the chefs memoir.

I love books about cooks and cooking. Chefs are interesting people. They are artists,  tempered and cured in that sweaty, high-stress, crazy kitchen world of fire and shouting and temporary creations of great beauty. Chefs are something of a cross between performance artists and craftspeople, whose creations are consumed and then disappeared, before their workshop is scrubbed clean for the next performance.

The atmosphere of a commercial kitchen (as any waitress who’s had to venture in with a customer complaint will tell you) is stressed and intense. It’s weird back there in Kitchenland, and a it takes a certain type of personality to handle it, let alone excel at it.  I once managed a restaurant in London where all the Algerian chefs in the steamy hell-hole of a kitchen downstairs  could not pronounce my name (Rachael) and so called me ‘Richard’ instead. I got on with them well, and they taught me my only Arabic phrase: Yalla yalla. (Hurry up.) Once I hid in the dumbwaiter, sent it below and jumped out to shout ‘Yalla! Yalla!’ at them. Head chef Mo nearly had a heart attack. How we laughed!

These days, the only commercial kitchen in my life is my own, where I churn out chicken casserole and blueberry porridge for at least three seatings and fifteen covers a day. I might bring back ‘yalla yalla’ though. Could help with the school run…

Here are a few of my favourite books about cooks:

Trail Of Crumbs: Hunger, Love and The Search For Home by Kim Sunee is a memoir that drips with bohemian glamour. If you are partial to the ‘moved to Europe and fell in love and here is my soup recipe’ genre (and who is immune to this?), then you’ll love this offering. It’s Kim Sunee’s story of her search for connectedness – adopted as a child, she feels rootless, and tries to anchor herself by settling in the Provencal countryside with L’Occitane founder Olivier Baussan, and then by opening a bookshop in Paris.  As one does. Kim is a poet, and her style reflects this. Add a hefty chunk of fruit-n-nut chocolate, and this book is a Mothers Day bath waiting to happen.

Spilling The Beans by Clarissa Dickson Wright is a wonderful read; with all of the wit and brio you would expect from this woman, one half of the British ‘Two Fat Ladies’ cooking team. This book traces Dickson Wright’s aristocratic and troubled childhood, scarred by her relationship to her brilliant, brutal father. Clarissa, bedevilled with alcoholism, parties away her fortune in style, and then in wretchedness, and finds redemption, finally, in her love  of food. An amazing story.

Anthony Bourdain is the king of the art-punk (‘don’t touch my dick, don’t touch my knife’) chefs, and he practically reinvented the genre with his first book Kitchen Confidential: Adventures In  The Culinary Underbelly.

“So who the hell, exactly, are these guys, the boys and girls in the trenches? You might get the impression from the specifics of my less than stellar career that all line cooks are wacked-out moral degenerates, dope fiends, refugees, a thuggish assortment of drunks, sneak thieves, sluts and psychopaths. You wouldn’t be too far off base.

The business, as respected three-star chef Scott Bryan explains it, attracts ‘fringe elements’, people for whom something in their lives has gone terribly wrong. Maybe they didn’t make it through high school, maybe they’re running away from something-be it an ex-wife, a rotten family history, trouble with the law, a squalid Third World backwater with no opportunity for advancement. Or maybe, like me, they just like it here. ”

It’s a rocking ride.

Stephanie Alexander, writer of the kitchen staple ‘The Cooks Companion’ and latterly, creator of the Kitchen Garden program that is transforming schools all over Australia, is an Australian icon. In her memoir A Cooks Life she traces her journey from childhood in Melbourne, through her training in London and Paris and finally to Melbourne in the 70′s, when Australia’s restaurant culture came of age. This book is a story of Alexanders culinary triumphs, and the personal toll that her success exacted.

Blood Bones and Butter  by Gabrielle Hamilton is  one of my favourite chef’s memoirs. This evocative and beautifully drawn portrait takes the reader from the sudden ending of Hamilton’s wild, idyllic childhood, through her global wanderings and finally to her internationally acclaimed New York restaurant Prune. She ties the threads of her life story together so beautifully. It’s a wonderful tale, lyrically and honestly told.

A Suitcase and a Spatula was written by my friend Tori, who blogs here (and I interviewed here). In this book Tori takes the reader on a leisurely journey around the world with her as she cooks and eats at a series of wonderful places. It’s armchair-travelling at its finest!

Finally, My Life In France is my all-time favourite food memoir, by my favourite all-time foodie, Julia Child. I absolutely adore her warmth and eccentricity. She is like nobody else, and in this memoir she describes the year she spent in Paris with her new husband, where she first learned to cook. It’s the story of the two great loves of her life – French cooking and Paul – and Child  tells this love story with great humour and energy.  An absolutely delightful read.

To end this post, I’d love to share the last scene of Curb Your Enthusiasm Season 3, where Larry David tries desperately to cover up his chef’s Tourette’s Syndrome, at the opening night of his restaurant. Possibly the best restaurant scene in television history. (And highly unsafe for work!)

Bon appetit! Happy Mothers Day! And if you have any books about cooks to add to this list, leave them in the comments.

More Bookshelf posts:

Trying To Understand Terrorism

Man Vs Wild

A Sweet Look At Crazy Irish Catholics

5 Great Read-Along Chapter Books For Kids

Celebrity Memoirs – The Best, And The Best-Worst

Adventurous Women

 

 

 

The Quality Of Mercy.

(image via news.com.au)

Like so many of you, I am incredibly saddened today by the deaths of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

I’ve felt very torn about it in recent weeks.

Luckily, I’ve not seen the memes and comments that I know have been circulating – people angry, baying for blood, supporting the execution.I am lucky not to have such commentary pop up in my orbit, although I know those voices are noisy.

Rather, I’ve been initially confused and latterly moved by the outpouring of sympathy I saw for Myuran and Andrew.

These two men willingly organised and participated in illegal activity in a country that clearly warned of the death penalty. The drugs they smuggled had the potential to ruin many lives, even to kill. Stories of the boys as younger men painted pictures of them that set off all my red flags: Andrew was a ‘bully’ at school. Myuran studied mixed martial arts and was said to have an ‘explosive’ temper.

I couldn’t understand the sympathy. I couldn’t get on board. Even though I would  never have publicly voiced support for their execution – anybody’s execution – I also didn’t publicly support my many, many friends who voiced their sympathy either. I just stayed out of the debate.

I talked to my mum, who is so compassionate, and who stood for mercy. I tried to understand her position but I could not get past the fact that they went willingly. They were the architects of their own destiny.  They chose the behavior that ended in the predicted result. They were…bad boys. I felt uncomfortable with how we all seemed to be enforcing our values, our laws upon another sovereign nation. I quietly wrestled with my feelings.

Today, I am so sad.

I see things differently.

They were clearly such lost boys, Andrew and Myuran. Stories of both their early lives are similar in tales of aimlessness,  drugs and oblivion-seeking,  an inability to fit easily into the world around them. They were unformed and troubled.  They were, in fact, like many of us at that age. In neurological terms, the frontal cortex is not fully developed until about age 25, and the last of the higher functions to develop are critical – a sense of maturity in judgement; insight; a sense of consequences.

Who among us didn’t so stupid stuff at twenty three? Make awful decisions? Just get away with stuff by the skin of our teeth?

The behavior of Andrew and Myuran in jail demonstrates a maturity and responsibility that were there, latent, yet to show themselves at the time of their arrest. Yes, they did huge social damage in their early lives. But in the ten years since, they showed themselves capable of good judgement, of remorse, and of responsibility and insight. In fact, as their adult personalities emerged, Andrew was a empathetic and kind spiritual leader to others in the jail, and Myuran was an astonishingly accomplished artist.

‘Success is cumulative,’ said Myurna to his cousin Dharminie Mani (via news.com.au) ‘No one wakes up successful. It takes hard work behind the scenes where no one else can see. It starts when you set yourself goals, you make sure you do something small everyday.’

Their deaths achieve nothing (other than some diplomatic difficulty yet to play out.) But their lives were, over the last ten years, achieving much, even in jail. How much more could they have offered as mentors, pastors, artists and cautionary tales, had they not been killed yesterday?

I feel heartsick for their families, and I am glad to be Australian today, where the overwhelming voices of our politicians and public speakers confirms that we are not cruel. We believe in redemption. We have compassion for the fact that people can make mistakes, and we believe that they can change. We are willing to operate within the grey area. We do not kill.

With all respect for the sovereignty of Indonesa, and the irrefutable fact that these two boys broke its laws and should be subject to their legal system, the death penalty is barbaric and utterly pointless. Joko Widodo had the opportunity to demonstrate compassion and vision this week, and he chose, instead, to kill.

“A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” ~ Mahatma Ghandi

Vale, Andrew and Myuran. May your deaths be a catalyst for change to this brutal system.

A Thick Skin and A Strong Funnybone: Young Women and Comedy

You’ve got to have a thick skin to be a woman making art these days. When people don’t like you, it’s super-easy for them to go online and suggest you get raped.

To me, there’s something incredible about women in the public eye who are able to ignore  the constant hate bombs they are showered in, and continue creating. There is a certain culture of young women who have come of age in the online era, this strange new frontier in which privacy is dead, and sexism is alive and thriving, who take their own experiences and refashion them into art. They are brave and funny. They skewer the culture that they live in. Times are weird. Weird for women. Thank god for female comics.

Here are four of my favourites:

1. Lena Dunham – Lena is something of the head prefect of this new vanguard. This  NY Mag profile of the first season of Girls outlines why the series (now in it’s four season) was so groundbreaking.

2. Desiree Akhavan – first came to the public eye with her hilarious web series Park Slope (‘a show about superficial, homophobic lesbians’) and has just made her first feature film Appropriate Behaviour. You can listen to an interview with her on the podcast Death, Sex & Money. 

3.  Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson of Broad City capture some of the true essence of female friendship in their series (which they write, produce and star in.) It is hilarious stuff- filthy, filthy, filthy, with such a sweet heart. Two excellent profiles of them: the New Yorker and The Atlantic.

4. Amy Schumer, one of the sharpest and most searing of the new breed of female comics, is one of my current feminist heroes. This clip, from her new season, is gold. Bums are sexy! Also, they are where the poo comes out.

What Not To Do At The Theatre

Well, here we are, at the tail end of the school holidays. Not always the easiest couple of weeks. We’ve had a really relaxed  time these holidays though, thanks to a gentle cold that has lazily passed its way between all the members of the family – one ill, one better, one relapse, one recovery…so my general  ’snot be green, don’t let them be seen’ philosophy has kept us fairly well contained to barracks most of the time.

It’s been nice, very restorative to spend some time in the bubble. We’re deep into this excellent board game called Settlers of Catan, which involves a lot of intense resource trading.  We’re reading Treasure Island and Nanny McPhee out loud. Keith has been taking the kids to the beach so I can drink tea and watch Real Housewives in peace. We’ve been cooking a lot. Holding some family dance parties. In fact, Keith pulled some sort of a muscle dancing to Whams Bad Boys today and even though he may not want that made public it is absolutely beyond my control not to share it.

In this spirit of disclosure I should confess that I made an absolute gold standard dick of myself yesterday.

My mum very generously took my sister Sam, my sis in-law Karla and me to see Les Miserables in Sydney this weekend. It was a great show, a packed house. In the second act, during an emotional solo, my water bottle suddenly rolled away from my feet. I was sitting in the aisle and I made a terrible split second decision to jump up and grab it.

Unfortunately, the slope was quite steep and the bottle picked up speed.  I tried to dash quickly so I could grab it fast, but it took me six or seven rows to get it. Once I was up and running, I was sort of trapped in the hideous moment. I’d started something and I had to play it out. My feet gallumped loudly – somebody yelped ‘Jesus!’ and the usher ran after me. I must have looked like a sudden madwoman about to storm the stage.

I dashed back and sat down as soon as I could. Sam, Mum and Karla were looking at me in horror. ‘You looked like a bloody cheetah!’ Sam whispered. All the seats around me were laughing. I thought I could not be  more ashamed until I realised that my high-waisted ‘mom jeans’ were fully unzipped. I’m used to getting away with undoing the top button when I settle in and let my gut relax, but- take note ladies! – it’s harder to get away with that when your  zip is a bloody foot long.

Sam re-enacted it for me when we got home. Oh, the shame! The shame. I blame genetics-  evidenced by this story I recounted a long time ago in a post about my Mum:

One of Mum’s oldest friends is a bush poet. After working for years on a script on the Eureka Stockade, she got the chance to stage a reading for a group of investors at a city theatre. The audience was full of hard-nosed business types, me, and Mum, who was bursting with pride and excitement. At the shows conclusion, everybody clapped politely, but Mum was out of step with the vibe of the crowd. She leapt to her feet, cheering wildly, and then tried to sit down again when she realised that nobody else was getting up. Unfortunately, the chair beneath her folded up in the meantime, so she landed on the floor. Can you picture it? Gymnastic leap in the air, with clapping, to full floor finish. Priceless.

My daughters probably have this gene too. Soz girls. It’s beyond our control.

x

Listen To Mummy! Except When Mummy Is Stupid.

American avant garde and rock musician Frank Zappa (1940-1993) poses with his parents Francis Zappa (1905-1973) and Rose Marie Zappa (nee Colimore, 1912-2004) in his home in Los Angeles, California. IMAGE: JOHN OLSON/THE LIFE PICTURE COLLECTION/GETTY IMAGES

 

Like many small children, our three like to spend the hour after they are put to bed inventing increasingly flimsy and desperate excuses to get up again. They all have FOMO.  Autumn has brought some glorious daytime sunshine and chilly nights (the best) and so some of our cold-weather rituals have begun: porridge for breakfast, hot-water-bottles at bedtime.

They are all sharing one room now and so last night I tucked all three  in with kisses, hot-water-bottles and the usual optimistic/hopeless lecture. Within five minutes,  three year old Pudding was out in the kitchen casually filling a plastic bottle from the water filter.

‘What are you doing?’ I asked her.

‘Yeah, I just take this to bed, Mummy,’ she said.

‘In what parallel universe?’ I spluttered.  There is already at least one wet bed every morning at our place. The washing machine is my constant companion. No way am I letting these kids take half a litre of water to bed!

‘No water bottles in bed! Absolutely not!’ I said sternly.

‘WHAT?’ came dual voices from the bedroom.

‘I’m telling Pudding she can’t take a water bottle to bed!’ I called. ‘Now go to sleep!”

‘But can I keep my water bottle?’ came a worried little voice.

‘And mine?’ piped another.

I was incensed. Were they all stashing bottles of water in their beds? No wonder everybody was pissing themselves! And what else was in there, for gods sake? Mars Bars? Greek salads?

‘No water bottles in the beds!’ I shouted. ‘Bring them out straight away!’

With much indignant muttering, Peanut and T-Bone stomped out to the big room and presented me with their hot water bottles.

‘Oh!’ I said. ‘Oh right! Water bottles. I thought you had water bottles. You can have those water bottles.’

Back to bed they went. Just another arbitrary, confusing moment in the arbitrary, confusing landscape that is childhood.

x

 

Freelee The Banana Girl (Down, Down The Rabbit Hole)

The last time I got sucked so hard down an internet rabbit hole was when I discovered one  of those ‘teach yourself….anything!’ video-sharing sites. I am a sucker for factoids. I love that stuff. I got sucked further and further in until I found myself watching a step-by-step guide on how to fashion a prosthetic penis (also known as ‘packing’) out of condoms and hair gel.

Enough! I thought. Put down the laptop and go to sleep. (Perchance to dream of interesting adventures.)

Well, I did it again last weekend when I started looking at the YouTube videos of an Australian ‘raw vegan’ blogger who calls herself Freelee The Banana Girl, and then I could not stop.

Ah naw.

Menstruation is ‘toxic buildup’ leaving the body, says Freelee. A healthy woman should have a ‘thigh gap’. Etc etc. Her creepy boyfriend enters at one point to say that a raw vegan diet makes his ‘banana harder’.

Ew.

Ew.

They have a massive YouTube following, these two. So comforting to think about!

Anyway, I still feel dirty from that lost, weird meander through YouTubeland. Keith was away last week, and I blame the slightly rudderless anxiety that comes upon me when he’s not around for more than a couple of days. I  especially found the long-haul flights stressful this time.

I guess Freelee the Banana Girl helped me make it through the lonely, lonely nights.

Otherwise, all is well around here.

Overheard from the kids bedroom last night:

3 y/old:  You’re my best friend.

6 y/old:  You’re my best friend.

3 y/old:  You’re my best friend and my brother.

6 y/old: You’re my best friend and my sister.

3 y/old: You’re my best friend.

6 y/old: Can we stop doing this now?

Oh, how they make me laugh.

As an antidote to Freelee The Banana Girl (or maybe I just can’t stop saying Freelee The Banana Girl) here are a couple of great current affair programs and interviews that I’ve enjoyed lately.

On The Gist, Bill Browders tangle with Putin is epic – an amazing, jaw-dropping and sobering listen.

On Background Briefing, Sarah Dingles 2-part report on ‘radicalisation’ is gripping. It tells the story of how Isis use social media to target young people and turn them towards jihad. It brought to mind the ‘flirty fishing’ cult techniques of the 70′s.

Hope all is well with you all out there, and you are eating your bananas. (51 a day, to be precise. ) According to who, I hear you say?

I’m so glad you asked!

It was Freelee The Banana Girl.

 

The Beautiful Madness: Life With Six Year Old Boys

March 1943. “Rochester, New York. Mrs. Babcock, Shirley and Earl greeting Mr. Babcock in front of the house.”  From the Shorpy Historical Archive.

This column was first published in Practical Parenting Magazine, February 2014

Have you ever heard that theory that our kids are all sent to teach us something? I think there’s something in it. My biggest child, for instance, is on a mission to save me from the sin of vanity (“Mum,’ she asked yesterday, ‘are you growing a beard?’) The smallest one is determined to protect me from the pangs of loneliness should I ever find myself in the terrible position of being alone in the toilet while I wee.  And finally, my middle child, my only boy, the sunshine of my life and the biggest nut in the whole cracker box, is sent to teach me patience.

T-Bone is six, and sometimes our relationship involves physical pain. His cuddles are vigorous – one might even say ‘furious’ –  and he likes to ‘teach’ me how to play the piano by violently pushing my fingers down on the keys.

Last night I dreamed I couldn’t breathe. I was being painfully squashed and trapped by some mysterious force. Eventually I woke up enough to realise that T-Bone had got into my bed in the middle of the night and gone to sleep right on top of me. He is so affectionate, in fact, that my osteopath bills are enormous.

At the beach this summer, we’ve been doing a lot of swimming in the waves. It’s been fantastic, but T-Bone and I had one terrible altercation.  The sea was angry that day, my friends.  The waves were big and dumpy. Still, T-Bone was determined to go ‘through’ them all, while I tried to encourage him to dive under.  I held tightly onto his hand. A big set started rolling in and breaking on top of us. ‘We have to go under T-Bone!’ I begged. ‘Just hold your breath!’ My stubborn child was insistent. ’Just go through, Mummy! It will be fine.’

‘We’ll get dumped! GO UNDER!’ I shrieked and ‘THROUGH!’ he yelled back. I could not let go of his hand and so the next moment, there we were, tumbling through the washing-machine of white water until we came up gasping. ‘We should have gone under that one, Mum, ‘T-Bone said.

But life with a six year old son is not all sea-weed hairnets and spinal adjustments. T-Bone also teaches me every day how much love my heart is capable of – infinite, delicious amounts. ‘Love you, Mama’ comes from his lips constantly, as does the phrase ‘What is there to eat?’ He can demolish a bowl of Weet-Bix like the Swedish judges are watching, and for a feeder like me, a son that loves to eat is enormously gratifying.  This beautiful boy who hates wearing pants, who hums all day long, who loves machines and mermaids; this boy is one of the great joys of my life.

Still, T-Bone is sent to teach me patience. Just a few days ago I was forced to throw out the oversized Coles hand just an hour after he got it, because T sang  ‘Down, down, prices are down’ at such volume and length that we all nearly cried.

There is a certain vocal pitch I hit when shouting at him.   ‘T-BONE!’ I shriek, as all the dogs in the neighbourhood run for shelter.  ‘STOP! T-BONE! STOP!’ He often seems about to cause irreparable damage to property or person, and sends my stress hormones into sudden overload,  but where my girls would be upset for hours if I bellowed at them like an angry moose, it all washes over T like a wave.  ‘What is it?’ he says when the yelling finally penetrates. ‘Love you Mama. Is there anything to eat?’