Divorce Fart

Some of you know that I am writing a book, which is like trying to eat an elephant. One bite at a time.

I’m using Freedom to block those terribly seductive rabbit-holes,  I am switching off my internet for longer and longer spaces of time and  writing in the quiet early mornings. I really enjoyed Zadie Smith discussing productivity on Lena Dunhams excellent 5-part podcast series “Women Of The Hour‘ and incidentally,  on the ‘Big Picture’ episode, Lena and her mother, acclaimed artist Laurie Simmons, talk about their relationship to art and to each other. It’s a beautiful conversation.

Anyway, this year I am trying hard not to allow myself to be distracted from my real goal, which is to finish eating this elephant. If you have any tips about writing or productivity, send them my way. I need all the help I can get!

Here is a little story about baby Peanut, a tale excised from the manuscript now that I have changed the scope of what I’m writing. It’s not in the book, but Peanut loves this story, so I’ll post it here for her to read one day.

At the end of the work day, Keith and I would take it in turns to hold the baby while the other ate dinner. She would not sit happily in her little bassinet, no matter how busily our feet rocked it, no matter how much we smiled and coo’d and attended to her. She was happy in arms – full stop. We watched the West Wing, we ate our roast chicken, and we admired our little girl. Every smile and burp and squeak was miraculous to us. We called her Squeaky, Ivy-Cakes, Little Cakes, Bobo , Ivy-Bones. We were drunk in love with her. Despite the deep ache of tiredness, the screaming, the fractiousness, we did not see Peanut as a difficult baby. We saw our struggle to adjust as our own failing. With time and experience, we would come to realise just how hard those first few months had been, and what a nut she was, but in the thick of it, with the artillery fire overhead and the smoke and the fear clouding our vision, all we could do was scramble in a forward direction and figure it out as we went along. 

One night, I walked the halls with Peanut for an hour, begging her to go to sleep. Keith was always an equal partner in the baby-wrangling, but this night I was on shift and he was reading in bed. Peanut squirmed and wriggled. She stared up at me as I held her firm. The dummy in her mouth smacked and rattled as she sucked it wildly. ‘What is wrong with you?” I sang softly. ‘I would like to be wrapped and cuddled. I would like to be put to bed. Bed is the best place in the whole world. Peanut, you are gone in the head. ‘

The baby’s eyes drifted to half-mast. The dummy-smacking slowed and stopped, and her mouth drooped open slightly. Walking and patting, I silently made deals with the Universe that this was the big one. Peanut had finally gone down. No dice, replied the Universe, which had created this child as a finely calibrated insomnia machine. As soon as her system sensed that it was tilting towards her bassinette, it sent an alarm to the motherboard. ‘Mayday! Mayday! Bedtime Attempt in progress!’ Peanut’s eyes popped alert, her mouth opened, her dummy flew out and the wailing began, all the louder for having been refreshed with a lovely micro-sleep.

I swallowed the intensive screaming going on inside my brain and scored the newly-appeared wrinkle between my eyebrows just a shade deeper. Deep breath. No tears. I walked and walked. Twenty minutes later, the signs appeared. Half-mast, sloe breathing, dummy drooping. I forced myself to walk through another verse of ‘The Wild Colonial Boy’ and then spent forty-five athletic seconds lowering Peanut, by the tiniest of increments, into her bassinette. I did not allow her equilibrium to get altered even momentarily. The muscles in my arms shook with strain as I finally made it the last inch, and carefully, slowly, removed my hands. I hovered tem above her for a moment so that the change in air warmth and pressure form my hastily removed body would not prod her awake, and then, heart in mouth, hardly daring to believe it, I crept backwards to the bed and lay down flat beside my warm husband. I rejoiced in the comforting, delicious softness of the mattress and the silence of the air.

And then Keith let out an enormous fart.

It echoed in the bedroom with honking, squeaking resonance. It was loud in decibel and rounded in tone. There was a momentary silence after its final sqeaak faded away, in which I stared ahead, horrified, and then Ivy began to scream.

I had never thought about divorce before, but in that moment, I considered my options. 

Letter To My Car

Jump in, kids! Time to go to BiLo again! #blessed!

 

This column was originally published in Practical Parenting Magazine, January 2016

Dear Car,

I feel like it’s time that I wrote to you to acknowledge that things have changed between us. Our relationship is not what it used to be, but that’s OK, right? Life is about the journey, right Car? Not the destination! (You should totally get that on a postcard, Car.)

When we first got together we had some wild times. Remember, when I was a teenager, all that aimless driving around? I used to put $3 worth of petrol at at time into your broken petrol gauge, and you were always full of my girlfriends smoking ciggies out the window. Sometimes we listened to Kylie Minogue, sometimes The Smiths, and sometimes Public Enemy. We were figuring out who we were, Car.

We drove around the suburbs, to nightclubs, to the city, and to so, so many coffee shops. I didn’t really spill coffee in you then, Car, because I had time to spend hours actually drinking it inside cafes, talking about 90210 and feminism and crap like that with my girlfriends. Just hours talking, uninterrupted.

No time for those shenanigans any more, Car! You feeling me? I know you are! My constant companions these days are three feet tall and drink babycinos. Sure, they’ll talk about 90210 (they’ll give any topic a red-hot go)but their grasp of popular culture is not nuanced. They are more ‘Zombie Bums From Uranus’ fans.

Also, I still drink a lot of coffee, but now I drink it in you, Car, as I ferry kids around to Girl Guides and footy training and shout ‘Don’t bite your brother!’ into the back seat.

You know how recently one of the kids was caught short on the highway and I had to help him wee into an empty coffee cup and then a bit of it spilled? I know we laughed, Car, but it probs wasn’t as funny to you. Sorry.

That reminds me that I want to apologise for what I’ve put you through in the last few years, Car. There’s been a ridiculous amount of vomiting in you since the kids arrived. (Even more than through the nightclub years.) The children peel fruit and blow their noses and throw bits of rubbish in all directions, like tiny little Tudor Kings. At best, I can describe your interior as ‘gently composting’, Car. At worst, the public health implications of you are quite scary.

Remember that time we could not find the source of the stink for weeks, and then one day in the glove-box we found a liquefied banana? How we laughed, Car! It was almost like we were crying! Remember that time the baby threw up and then started eating bits out of it, Car? Champagne comedy, that was.

You know, Car, some of my favourite times are in you. After the mad rush of the morning, when we jump in you to drive to school, Car, the kids and I have great conversations. And as a family, road trips have made some of our best memories. And biggest messes.

But when you are I are alone together Car, that is gold. Just you, me, Google Maps, news radio and takeaway coffee. These moments alone are rare, in this season of life with small children, and I relish them. It smells disgusting in you, Car, but it feels fantastic.

I love you, Car. You’ve got indefinable little bits of gross stuff all over you, but that’s OK. So do I,these days.

 

X Rach

I Am Pregnant With A Cake Baby

Back on the school run. Safety first!

Friends and comrades, it’s been a long time since I have graced this space with my pointless ramblings, ill-constructed arguments, knee-jerk opinions and bum jokes.

How are you?

It’e been a busy summer, and I’m ready to return to the hermit life.

4 year old Pudding has started pre-school this year. A note came home yesterday asking parents to remember to put sunscreen on the children, label the lunchboxes and make sure they were wearing covered shoes. Three strikes for me! The only way is up, yes?

Peanut in year 4 is all about her club The Nerd University of Unicornia and her band The Random Dumbos. T-Bone, in Year 2, remains my favourite weirdo. Here’s a sample conversation:

He: Mum! Truth or dare?

Me: Truth

He: One day you will die

Me: I don’t think you understand this game

I’m trying to do this 30 days of Yoga (I like this lady, she’s good value). I have the crazy-eyed evangelical decluttering disorder and I’m intent on Kon-Mari’ng the stuffing out of my whole house. The children better not look at me sideways or they’ll be in a Salvation Army bin quicker than they can say ‘I don’t like this dinner.’

To be honest, I am still trying to get past the first level ‘laundry/washing-up/what is there to eat Mum/I think I’ve got nits’ part of housekeeping before I can even get to the clutter. But I am having some delightful daydreams about it. Anyway, don’t ask me what the Kon-Mari method is. I will tell you and you will regret having entered into the whole conversation.

In short:

1. A slightly nutty and earnest mum at the school gates asked me today ‘Are you having a baby?’ Look, no, I’m not, but I did question whether it was a good idea to tuck my t-shirt into my skirt this morning so thanks for sorting that out for me.

2. I am planning Undercover Mother, where I gather a group of school mums to do dawn raids on the town and nail giant granny-bloomers on all the telegraph poles.  Watch this space.

3. Nude suits to the first P and C meeting of the year. Yes or no?

Welcome to 2016! I may have forgotten how to write a blog post.

 

Keith Is Not A Sex Pest

Readers, a question: is it a good or a bad turn of events that Keith is immortalised this week on news.com with the caption’ Keith: not a sex pest‘?

Obviously ‘Keith: a sex pest‘ may hinder any possible future career in politics or child-care, but ‘Not a sex pest‘ is OK, right? Only a crazy, hyper-fueled sex-pest would read a newspaper so fast as to inadvertently skip the ‘not‘, right? Also, I can’t stop saying  ‘sex pest’.

The piece I wrote is about taking children on a 2000 kilometre road trip with no devices or screens. Also, no anaesthetic.

Here’s a bit of it.

1. BE PREPARED TO EMBRACE THE MOTEL PARTY

At the cheap end of the spectrum, a family-room in a regional motel always has some quirky character, sometimes involving bloodstains at no extra cost. A motel party involves pizza, long-life milk and little packets of biscuits from the kitchenette.

Nights are spent lying around five-in-a-bed and watching regional TV ads, or playing weird motel room games. They are possibly the best parties ever.

2. BE PREPARED THAT YOUR KIDS MIGHT SEEM PSYCHO

‘Back seat land’ has its own language and culture, and it gets weirder with every hour that passes. Your big kids, might, for instance, stop playing Flesh Eating Zombies only to teach your youngest a poem that begins ‘Little Johnny took a match and set fire to his bum’.

Of course, you’ll be glad she’s learning poetry, and yet …

At about day three, ours start playing a game they called ‘Sleepy Byes’. One child would start a backbeat, like this: ‘Sleepy Byes, don’t go to sleep, Sleepy Byes, don’t go to sleep’ and then another would drop a rap on top, freestyling along these lines: ‘Don’t go to sleep! Never wake up! You are a zombie! Eating brains! You will die! Blood blood blood!’ and so on.

‘Bless their creative hearts,’ you will say to your husband. ‘We need to talk about Kevin,’ he’ll reply.

3. BE PREPARED TO MISTAKE YOUR HUSBAND FOR A SEX PEST

At some point Keith buys a hat and a pair of sunnies with a creepy, Disco-Stu-in-the-desert vibe from an outback servo. I’m filling water bottles and daydreaming when he suddenly appears at my elbow. My brain doesn’t register who he is for a moment, and in that brief second, his scruffy beard, bare feet, creepy sunglasses and dirty jeans ring an internal alarm. ‘Danger!’ it says. ‘Wolf Creek alert!’

A second later I realise he’s the man I married. Road trips: they can keep that dangerous spark in your marriage alive. 

Keith: not a sex pest!

Read the full story here, if you’re interested.

Also, this week a story I wrote about our Adelaide house-swap was in the Sunday Life Magazine. Less gags in that one.  My editor told me to resist my urge towards cheap comedy. This made me laugh, but not as much as ‘Keith: not a sex pest.‘ I think he should put this on his gravestone, or at least his business cards.

We start the Christmas season travelling this week, from family party to family party. Should be a blast, especially the part where I park myself on my mother-in-laws couch and she makes me lots of cups of tea.

Joyeaux Noel, all!

ps – Sex pest. 

Watching, Reading, Listening #4

What’s up. homies?

It’s been housework madness this weekend. I went deep into the crazy sort-out zone and overhauled a kids bedroom from arsehole to breakfast-time, as the Queen would say. The house is ordered, and I am buggered. Also, eldest spawn goes to camp for the first time tomorrow. I am super excited for her and I dislike her being out of my clutches for three days very, very much.

Here’s a few things I’ve been loving lately.

Watching – I am in a place of televisual joy at the minute with two fantastic shows on the go: Master Of None, Aziz Ansari’s new Netflix show, which is getting heaps of critical attention lately, deservedly so, and Josh Thomas’ third season of Please Like Me (available on iView now) which is getting no attention at all. Both seem to me to be describing the current cultural moment with such sharp sweetness and intelligence.  Just so -

HOLD THE PHONE KEITH JUST DELIVERED ME A CHERRY RIPE ON THE COUCH! WHEN DID HE EVEN BUY IT???? UNEXPECTED CHERRY RIPE!!! What a man.

Where was I?

The other thing I watched and loved lately was the BBC Adaptation of Wolf Hall – you can get that one on iTunes. 6 parts of deliciously painterly, understated period drama. If you loved the book, the series absolutely lives up to it, and if you don’t know the book – go get it! You are in for a banging good time.

Speaking of banging, Rob Delaney from Catastrophe is my new favourite TV-totty. If you follow him on Twitter he says things like this:

Hey #Teens: would it be cool if I put a #saddle on my #toilet?

BBC series Catastrophe was so bloody funny, and so sharp on relationships. I loves him, and I loves Sharon Horgan, with whom he co-writes the show. If Please Like Me and Master of None are like an anthropological field trip into Gen Y territory, Catastrophe is more like hanging out with people I recognise. Here’s the trailer to Season 1 (Season 2 coming soon I think.)

Reading

I am always reading several somethings, and many pass through me without leaving much of a trace (insert curry joke of your own choosing here.) But some wonderful writing has made me stop and think lately – not new stuff, but stuff I’ve loved.

Summerland, by Malcolm Knox (Sydney readers from the Northern Beaches might especially love his vivid descriptions of Palm Beach)

The Beautiful Room Is Empty ( I just adore Edmund White, and this part of his memoirs traces his life hanging with the beatniks and bohemians of 1950′s New York).

The Elena Ferrante ‘Neopolitan novels’ series (you may have heard of this sweeping, dense epic trilogy of female friendship that begins with My Brilliant Friend – an amazing read and a lovely present if you’re starting to think about Christmas)

Aloud to the kids, Keith is reading Voyage Of The Dawn Treader and I have just started Playing Beatie Bow – they are both books we adore, and the kids are liking them too. Full Mum and Dad endorsement on both.

Listening – some podcasts I love right now: 

Mortified  - teenage diaries. HILARI HORSE. They are all funny, but if you search for ’22 shades of awkward’ where a clueless pre-teen tries to write a sexy novel in the style of Judy Blume…well, you will thank me, and maybe even send me Cherry Ripes.

Dear Sugar - love advice from the sultry-voiced Cheryl Strayed (author of Wild) and Steve Almond. I could listen to these two read the back of the shampoo bottle, just for their gorgeous tones alone, but they are so wise, so thoughtful, and so candid – it’s a wonderful podcast to listen to. Good for the soul.

On The Media – Getting trustworthy news can be a tricky affair these days. This long-running program explores how ‘the media sausage’ is made, and is sometimes scary, always enlightening.

Rum, Rebels and Ratbags – finally, if you like a bit of Aussie history, ABC Radio’s Dom Knight and David Hunt put together a fabulously funny and quirky 10-parter on Australian colonial history. It’s an engrossing listen. Great with kids.

On Spotify I’m having a Wainwright moment – Martha, Rufus, Loudon, a little Kate McGarriagal: the whole gang. And 4 year old Pudding and I had a thrilling dance-off to Whispering Jack last week.

That’s it for me.  The Cherry Ripe of unexpected delight is over and  I’m off to bed, ready for a big week ahead. But first – to stand at the door and peer in at my firstborn for a while.

What are you reading/watching/listening to? Any recommendations for me?

Watching,Reading, Listening #1

Watching, Reading,Listening #2

Watching, Reading, Listening #3

Beautiful Three-Year-Olds

‘Camera Shy’, 1941, by Shorpy

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

Are you currently sharing your house with a three year old? Don’t you sometimes wish you could freeze time, and just keep your little one at this age forever?

Three year olds are so hilarious.  My smallest child Pudding makes me laugh almost every time she opens her mouth.  She’s my third child, and my last, and I cherish all her wild flights of fancy. I know that one day soon, in the blink of an eye, she’ll be a little schoolgirl. She’ll be full of other kinds of kid-madness, but she’ll grow out of that special, nutty pre-schooler magic.

Pudding says ‘sticky steak’ instead of sticky tape. She like to play with ‘fridge magnicks’ and to eat her ‘vitamin seed tablets. ’ She says that there are people called the Ottomans who live under the ottoman in the lounge room. She talks to them. Actually, she says they can kill people.  (Visitors, be warned.)

The rich inner life of a three-year old is amazing. There are several imaginary friends in Pudding’s roster, but Annabel has the cheekiest vibe, and the most fully realised personality.  Pudding talks to Annabel a lot. I was inspecting chin hairs in the bathroom recently while Pudding was perched on the toilet next door.  ‘That is not true!’ I heard Pudding hiss under her breath.

‘What’s not true?’ I asked.

Pudding came in, pulling up her pants indignantly. ‘Annabel just said to me “you do poos in the bath every day”!’

‘Well, that’s patently untrue,’ I said. ‘You tell Annabel that you are not a baby and you do not do poos in the bath.’

‘I will certainly will tell her that,’ said Pudding. We both shook our heads at the outrageous accusation. It was so Annabel.

Pudding dresses herself in the garb of a tiny lunatic, ignoring all rules of fashion. She’s used to hand-me-downs, and puts them together in wildly inventive ways. ‘New thongs, Pudding?’ her Dad asked at the breakfast table. ‘Haviana’s, are they?’ Pudding looked at her feet. ‘Well, they’re mine now,’ she said.

Three year old’s are just adorable, suspended in that land somewhere between child and baby. They are still so little, still so sweet, but unlike your average frustrated and enraged two-year old, they  have the language skills to express the madness within.  For instance, where a toddler might throw their plate at dinnertime, Pudding can verbalise her displeasure.  ‘Trust me this, Mama’, she told me once, ‘Slokini is disgusting.’

This is not to say that parenting a three year old doesn’t take some bloody hard graft. It can be psychologically exhausting playing Mums and Dads for hours. Also, it gets messy. Yesterday, for instance, Pudding poured a cup of milk into the Tupperware drawer.  It happened as she tried to carry a brimming cup across the kitchen to the fridge because ‘Annabel told me to make a freeze-milk.’

Pudding is extremely busy, and not good at cleaning up her own mess. She wept bitter tears recently when I insisted she put her craft stuff away.  ‘But Mama, you don’t understand’, she wailed. ‘It’s so boring!’ Oh, bless. Believe me, Mummy understands.

More than the funny things they say and do, the best thing about three year olds is the intensity and purity of their affection. ‘You look beautiful Mama,’ three-year olds will tell you.   ‘Your hair is so pretty. Your shoes are so nice. You are so good at that. I love you so much Mama.’ Now, to invent that time-freezing device…

Tribal Instincts

Published this week in Sunday Life Magazine, a look at modern parent subcultures. Missing here: the Mad Religious, the Drug-Addled, the Silly-Voiced, the Odd Smelling and many other tribes I couldn’t fit into a tidy little box.

THE BOBO TRIBE

Originally a French term, Bobo is a conflation of the term “bourgeois bohemians” and it describes a rising demographic found mostly in our inner cities. Often combining the high-tech with the natural, Bobos love gadgetry and artisanal products. For instance, they might use a wireless wristband to bio-hack their metabolic health while riding their vintage bicycle. Fashion is “normcore”, or intentionally understated. Bobos are defined largely by food: veg is organic, grains are bad, nuts are activated, juice is green and coffee is cold-drip. Their diet may be raw vegan, paleo or 5:2. Don’t worry, you will find out which within the first few minutes of conversation.

Superpowers: Fermentation, free-boobing, beardiness, acro-yoga, ironic tattoos and superb gastro-intestinal health.

Armour: Kefir water, chemical-free sunscreen, gluten-free DSLR camera, chia seed mini-muffins in bento box.

Sample statement: ”Bugger, CrossFit ran so late I forgot to feed my kombucha mother. Can anybody give me a dink back to Tamarama?”

THE NO-NONSENSE TRIBE

Breathtakingly capable, these parents sign readers, attend committees, and return school forms on time and free of mystery stains. Even the car of the No-Nonsense Parent is clean, which goes beyond the capability of 85 per cent of parents with small children. They separate their whites and darks. Both the women and the men are impressively groomed, hairless as Sphinx cats, and often highly sporty.

Handbags and satchels contain items for every occasion (wet wipes, tweezers, night-vision goggles, etc.) Spag bol is cooked in large batches to keep the busy work week humming smoothly. They are actual, proper grown-ups – and the P&C Federation would crumble without them.

Superpowers: Fundraising skill, death stares, ability to raise a single (beautifully arched) eyebrow,excellent information retention, household-management systems.

Armour: Premium-grade iPhone scheduling app, clothes iron, insomnia, low-level anxiety disorder, complete inability to say no, buttocks like two puppies fighting under a blanket, the pale eyeballs of the terrifyingly healthy.

Your best opening line: ”I am not worthy.”

THE HOT-MESS TRIBE

Hot-Mess Parents often sport a fashion look best described as “shagged through a hedge backwards”. They arrive late, dishevelled and confused. School bags contain unsigned forms and rogue “crunch and sip” elements. Children and/or parents may have head lice.

Tears and coffee mingle on yesterday’s trousers as Hot-Mess Parents race to soccer training, only to realise they have packed the Irish dancing bag.

They are, frankly, all over the place like a madwoman’s poo-poo. By week eight of the school term, the percentage of parents who have shifted tribes from All-Business to Hot-Mess is high.

Superpowers: Pulling it together at the last minute, lightness of spirit, excellent blood pressure and incredible scrispering (scream-whispering) talent.

Armour: Three pens (none work).

Sample statement: ”Hat parade? What hat parade?”

Read the whole thing, if you’re interested , at Daily Life. 

In today’s news, Keith and I are off to a wedding up the coast. Sans kids, even (thank you, Mum and Dad.x)

Road trip! Road trip!! Road trip!!!!!!!

Happy weekend to you all.

x

Raising Girls: The Caitlin Moran Edition

I adore Caitlin Moran and her posthumous advice to her daughter deserves to go in the pool room.

It begins:

“Dear Lizzie. Hello, it’s Mummy. I’m dead. Sorry about that. I hope the funeral was good – did Daddy play Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen when my coffin went into the cremator? I hope everyone sang along and did air guitar, as I stipulated. And wore the stick-on Freddie Mercury moustaches, as I ordered in the ‘My Funeral Plan’ document that’s been pinned on the fridge since 2008, when I had that extremely self-pitying cold.

“The main thing is just to try to be nice. You already are – so lovely I burst, darling – and so I want you to hang on to that and never let it go. Keep slowly turning it up, like a dimmer switch, whenever you can. Just resolve to shine, constantly and steadily, like a warm lamp in the corner, and people will want to move towards you in order to feel happy, and to read things more clearly. You will be bright and constant in a world of dark and flux, and this will save you the anxiety of other, ultimately less satisfying things like ‘being cool’, ‘being more successful than everyone else’ and ‘being very thin’.

“Second, always remember that, nine times out of ten, you probably aren’t having a full-on nervous breakdown – you just need a cup of tea and a biscuit. You’d be amazed how easily and repeatedly you can confuse the two. Get a big biscuit tin.

“Three – always pick up worms off the pavement and put them on the grass. They’re having a bad day, and they’re good for… the earth or something (ask Daddy more about this; am a bit sketchy).

“Four: choose your friends because you feel most like yourself around them, because the jokes are easy and you feel like you’re in your best outfit when you’re with them, even though you’re just in a T-shirt. Never love someone whom you think you need to mend – or who makes you feel like you should be mended. There are boys out there who look for shining girls; they will stand next to you and say quiet things in your ear that only you can hear and that will slowly drain the joy out of your heart. The books about vampires are true, baby. Drive a stake through their hearts and run away.’

There is more, of course, all fabulous. Read it in it’s full glory here. 

Also, from Caitlin Moran, her Drunk New Year Tweets 

Also, on raising kids:

You Don’t Have To Be Pretty (And Other Advice For Daughters)

Introduce Your Daughters To Eccentric, Interesting and Original Women

Raising Girls – The Eight-Year-old Edition

On Following A Child’s Spark

Don’t Worry, Stressed, Enraged and Weeping Parents! Your Children Will Give You A Million Chances To Do Better

(And from the old blog, one especially for the boys, On Being The Mother Of A Son)

Enjoy those kids this morning, comrades. May today be the day they master the coffee machine and tell you how much they love your hair  x

The Ministry Of Unacceptable Underpants

Natalie Wood, good undies.

I am very happy to be home, but after a quiet month in the bosom of my family, the pace of life back in the school term is quite hectic. Car pools! School forms! Calendar management! When I was homeschooling I did not require myself to sign any forms at all, and my starting hour was extremely civilised.

It has been lovely to see my friends again though.

Sarah came over to help me fold the massive pile of washing on my couch. But each time she unearthed a pair of my undies, she was horrified. She had a number of problems with them. Stretchiness, ragged elastic,  actual holes.  ‘I’m staging an intervention,’ she said.

Yesterday I found a paper bag in my letter box containing two pairs of new knickers and a letter from The Ministry of Unacceptable Underpants. ‘It has come to our attention that you have not renewed your underpants at the recommended intervals’, it began. ‘By following our quick checklist you can ensure the reliability and safety of all your underpants.’

The checklist that followed was exhaustive. It included the following questions: Can you see through any part of your underpants that were once opaque? Does the elastic around your underpants hold the garment securely in place? Is the integrity of the gusset still acceptable? Can a breeze enter through any part of your underwear?

The Ministry gave me four weeks to update my collection, after which point they advised that I should expect direct community action. I intend to follow the guidelines, and shall begin by my sending my worst pairs directly to the Ministry for disposal.

My underpants may be the worst, but my girlfriends are the best.

Dobby The House Elf

 

This post was originally published in Practical Parenting Magazine, September 2015

 You know what explains housework stress? Science. The second law of thermodynamics says that entropy (or disorder) is always increasing. Therefore, toy-clutter will expand to fill the available space. The washing-up will breed. And Mount Washmore on the lounge will always tower.  It’s actually ridiculous how much messier life gets once you add kids.  One tiny, three-kilo baby can add a shockingly disproportionate amount of chaos to a formerly smooth-running household.

Having kids can be messy for your relationship too. Welcome to tonight’s round of ‘It’s Your Turn’:  the fun after-dinner game that the whole family will love!

As parents we become servants to tiny, unreasonable masters, and this takes some getting used to. I remember intense surges of panic in the early days, as I realised ‘there is NO WAY OUT of this’. As I adjusted to motherhood, this feeling passed. That’s because I was absolutely in thrall to my master. Really, motherhood is a little like Stockholm Syndrome.

But the main, overriding and unpredicted shock of new motherhood for me was the housework.  I was really excited to become a Mum. But I had not realised that small print in the Motherhood Contract had also locked me into a lifetime of being Dobby The House-Elf. It’s a common story, and it happens easily: one partner is home with the baby while the other is putting in a full day at their job (with the not-insignificant addition of the emotional weight of being ‘provider’ placed upon their shoulders), and also managing a shift of baby-wrangling when they get home. The stay-at-home partner feels like it’s only fair that they manage the lion’s share of housework. Everybody is working their tail off in Newborn Land.

The housework, though: it’s crazy. Breastfeeding women eat like first-grade footballers, babies soil clothes constantly and nappies leave a pungent odour of sickly-sweet poo through the house. Add more children to this mix, and there is just no way of keeping on top of the chaos. It’s like they say: trying to do housework with small children around is like running a blender with the top off.

There’s a real coming-to-terms that had to happen for me when I became Dobby the House Elf. In lots of ways I embraced it, unexpectedly. I found something deeply satisfying and pleasurable in those mundane tasks that were all part of building a foundation of our family life. I remember calling Mum after we moved from our flat into a house when our first baby was five months old. ‘Mum, I’m hanging out the clothes on a HILLS HOIST!’ I told her joyfully. ‘Who are you,’ she said, ‘and what have you done with my daughter?’

It’s tough though. It took some reconciling, that identity shift from single working woman to stay-at-home mum. Domestic life takes negotiating with your partner too, so you don’t end up nursing terrible resentments about your role.  (Watch out, kids! Mum’s gonna blow!)

Whether you stay at home or your partner does, whether you work part-time, full-time, or not outside the home at all, it’s crucial to be able to acknowledge that housework takes time, holds real value and can be incredibly stressful, like all jobs.  It’s a good conversation to have before the baby arrives. And when I say ‘baby’, I mean the Master of Your New Universe, Maker of Incredible Mess and Evil Smells. Prepare yourselves, my pregnant friends. Housework is coming.