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.

Cooking With Kids: Overnight Bread

Are you familiar with the concept of no-knead bread? This method basically replaces the usual  kneading time with a very long prove on the kitchen counter. This way, the gluten develops through a long, slow fermentation and the bread develops a delicious flavour.

We’ve been making this bread for a few years now. It’s a lovely thing for the kids to do – they can mix it after school, leave it to prove overnight, and (if I’m on top of life and up early) we can have fresh bread for breakfast. Otherwise, lunch.

You can search the web for lots of no-knead bread recipes, but here is ours:  the simplest version of them all. You can throw this baby together in five minutes: the work to pleasure ratio of this recipe is very, very high. (Just mentally prepare yourself to spend a good five minutes scraping messy, sticky dough off the children’s fingers.)

  •  3 cups of flour, 1 3/4 tsp of salt and half a teaspoon of yeast. Use your fingers to spread the dry ingredients around the bowl, which helps to start the yeast activating. (We add a little LSA or kibble grain here too.) Then, add the water and mix until it just comes together into a sloppy ball.
  • Leave it overnight in a bowl covered in plastic wrap. We tend to make it after school, and bake it in the morning. Anywhere between 12 and 24 hours proving time is OK.
  • In the morning, take a cast iron pot (I use my Le Crueset here), and heat it, lid on, in the oven at 200 for twenty minutes.
  • Take the sloppy bread mix out of the bowl and drop it in a little flour on the counter. Flip it over and into your pot, and bake it in the oven (lid on) for half and hour, lid off for another fifteen minutes.

So easy, so rewarding. Smelly so good.

(You can share your creations too: post your bread to Ruth’s Instagram thread at #ggbreadrevolution )

Happy baking!

More cooking with kids: Greek yoghurt pannacotta with raspberry sauce, and toasted muesli. 


Last Minute Fathers Day Present? The Kon-Tiki Expedition!

Fathers Day on Sunday!

Need a last-minute present?

Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdal took a wooden raft across the Pacific in 1947, just to prove his theory that the South Pacific was peopled by ancient people from Peru.  On board the Kon-Tiki, he had five friends, all cool Scandinavian dudes of different types; scientists and anthropologists and seekers, all young men a little adrift in the aftermath of their service in World War 2.

If I turned left, I had an unimpeded view of a vast blue sea with hissing waves, rolling by close at hand in an endless pursuit of an ever-retreating horizon. If I turned right, I saw the inside of a shadowy cabin in which a bearded individual was lying on his back reading Goethe, with his bare toes carefully dug into the lattice-work in the low bamboo roof of the crazy little cabin  that was our common home.

“Bengt,” I said, pushing away the green parrot, which wanted to perch on the log-book. “Can you tell me how the hell we came to be doing this?”

Goethe sank down under the red-gold beard.

“The devil I do, you know best yourself. It was your damned idea, but I think it’s grand.”

He moved his toes three bars up and went on reading Goethe unperturbed. Outside the cabin three other fellows were workin in the roasting sun on the bamboo deck. They were half-naked, brown-skinned and bearded, with stripes of salt down their backs and all looking as if they had never done anything else than float wooden rafts westward across the Pacific. Eric came crawling in through the opening with his sextant and a pile of papers.

“Ninety-eight degrees forty-six minutes west by eight degrees two minutes south – a good day’s run, chaps!”

This is such a great read. Funny, smart and an absolute classic of the adventure genre. Heyerdahl and his gang are the original and the best beardie-weirdies. .

Such a great Fathers Day present, if you haven’t picked anything up yet, or if you are totes organised for this weekend, a jump-start on Christmas!

Here are some more fantastic Man Vs. Wild book titles for your beloved big boy, or an excellent gift guide from Lexi at Pottymouthmama. (This wash-bag is my favourite.) See more of Lexi’s picks here.

Happy Fathers Day, Daddyo’s.

Sex Tips From History: Masters and Johnson

In the late 1960′s, William Masters and Virginia Johnson ran a pioneering sexuality clinic where they carried out all the research that culminated in their ground-breaking books Human Sexual Response and Human Sexual Inadequacy (note: wonderfully cheery tome for Christmas presents, this last!) They went on to start the practice of sex therapy as we know it today.

There’s a recent HBO series about their life and work called Masters Of Sex (the second season is playing on SBS online, Australian readers). I’ve seen the first season and enjoyed it – lovely 50’s costuming and set design as well as good writing and performances. But then I came across the book the series is based on: Masters of Sex by Thomas Maier, and it was just a cracking read.

Much of the research the pair undertook was through direct observation of thousands of sexual episodes – from masturbation to intercourse. Watching 382 female and 312 male volunteers over nearly a decade, they amassed huge amounts of data that exploded many long-held myths and misconceptions about sexual behaviour. Their methods and findings were astonishing and shocking, set as they were against the prudish conservatism of the 1950’s.

Masters and Johnson

Masters and Johnson were the first to map a general framework of sex: their ‘four stages’ of intercourse. They observed and described an excitement phase of initial arousal, a plateau phase, orgasm and a resolution phase. They filmed and studied the nature of female orgasm (debunking the Freudian myth of ‘mature’ and ‘immature’ orgasm), examined sexual function in older people, looked – to a limited extent  - at homosexual sexuality, and tried to unpack the nature of sexual dysfunction.

Their findings are really interesting in terms of sexology and American culture, but their own relationship runs as an fascinating counterpoint to the story.

After a time, Masters and Johnson began using themselves as subjects in their research. Eventually, Johnson divorced his wife and they married. Theirs is a relationship that tells a poignant story about sexual politics in the pre-feminist era. Masters is the one who suggests that their professional relationship expands to include the sexual. Johnson, a divorced single mother of two, is involved in the most satisfying work of her life. She is, to a degree,  trapped in the exchange, and later in life, admits that she was never romantically attracted to Masters.  ‘Bill did it all – I didn’t want him,’ she says. ‘I had a job and I wanted it.’

Virginia Johnson and Dr. William Masters

Virginia Johnson is, for me, the most interesting character in this story. A beautiful and charismatic woman, she is fiercely intelligent and although not a medical doctor, an indispensable partner in Masters research. A woman who made the most of the restrictive time and culture she lived in, and eventually produced a major body of scientific work.

Masters and Johnson

You could not invent the rollicking tale of Masters and Johnson. It’s a great read, and if you’d like a little historical sauciness as you do the washing-up, you can listen to an interesting interview with the author Bill Maier on the NPR program Fresh Air here. 

As always, (imagine I am dropping my voice half an octave and holding eye contact just a few seconds too long here) happy Hump Day, and all the best with your climax.

Sex Tips From History: Sexual Positions, for Medievalists or Modern Multi-Taskers.

Sex Tips From 1972: The Hairy Joy Of Hairy Sex (It’s sexual. And it’s hairy.)

Sex Tips to Avoid (doughnuts, forks.) 

The Key To Happy Long-Term Relationships: Be Smart, Make Your ‘Lie Self’ Come True

Are you familiar with the incisive, hilarious work of Dan Savage? He’s a sex-and-relationship advice columnist and writer. (Listen to him here.)  I love Dan, and I came across this wonderful clip via the Brain Pickings website this week. In it, Dan describes his key to a happy long-term relationship: accepting that there is a ‘price of admission’ and throwing yourself into the joy of it all.

It’s good.

When you think about it, you meet somebody for the first time, and they’re not presenting their ‘warts-and-all’ self to you.They’re presenting their idealised selves. They’re leading with their best. Right? And then eventually you’re farting in front of each other. Eventually you get to see the person who is behind that facade of their best, and they get to see the person who is behind your facade. Your ‘lie self’. The lie you presented to them about who you really are.

And what’s beautiful about a long-term relationship, and what can be transformative about it, is that I pretend every day that my boyfriend is the lie that I met. And he does the same favour to me. He pretends that I am that better person than I actually am. Even though he knows I’m not. Even though I know he’s not. And so we’re obligated to live up to the lies we told each other. We are then forced to be better people than we actually are, because it’s expected of us.

And you can, in a long-term relationship, really make your ‘lie-self’ come true. If you’re smart, and you demand it, and you’re willing to give.

It reminded me of something I heard Elizabeth Gilbert – another of my favourite people – say when interviewed on The Gist podcast: ‘You’ve got to love people more than they deserve, and if you’re lucky you’ll find someone that loves you more than you deserve too, and that way, happiness lies.’

Welcome To Springtime (In Baby Animal Gifs!)

Little rabbit gets a big kiss.

Cutest Baby Animal GIFs Pitbull

Little orangutan gets a shower.

Baby Orangutan Bath

Little monkey gets a bath.

Baby Monkey Bath GIF

Little hedgehog licks the hard-to-reach bits.

Baby Hedgehog GIF

Little polar bear learns to walk.

Baby Polar Bear Learns To Walk

Little cat schools big dog.

Dog Boop GIF

Little bat yawns.

Baby Bat GIF

And finally: little pig crawls out from under his blankie.

Cutest Baby Animal GIFs Baby Pig

“Spring is the time of plans and projects, ” said Tolstoy in Anna Karenina.  My project:  to keep plugging away at my book, and to keep trying to manage my naughty spine with good grace. What are your plans for the season?