Here we are, rolling into our third week in Port Vila. I thought it was beyond time I started recording some thoughts.
What an interesting adventure we’ve had so far. We are renting a little n air bnb place next door to a village outside the gates of a large resort. The family that own this place live downstairs, their two kids have made friends with ours, and the five children are in and out of both houses all day.
I spent the first two weeks running a little home-school out on the porch.
It was really fun, and really intense. The children downstairs have not been going to school for a while, and lots of the village kids don’t go at all. School is not free here. Like many locals, our host family was hit hard by Cyclone Pam – th economic implications of the cyclone are still clear around town. Little L and T were excited to join in with my guys doing school. Much more excited than my own crew!
Our plans this year were to learn some natural history, so we’ve done a lot a talking about the Pacific Ring Of Fire, a lot of making maps. The skill levels of these five kids under ten vary wildly so I had to do a lot of juggling around reading, writing and maths. We read The Enchanted Wood out loud, sang songs, learnt some rap (!), played Bananagrams and cards.
There were times, as a fake-teacher, when I felt so deep in ‘flow’. One day, I tried to explain to eight-year-old L how to take his ‘five-sentence’ challenge to the next level - how I had just finished a book that morning (A Little Life, for the bookworms out there) in which the lead character Jude moved me so much that I cried real tears at the end of the book. Jude was real to me, and I cared about him, even though he was just a collection of words on a page. I told L that words could be like magic, and books like magical objects.
The next morning L bounded up the stairs to show me the ‘feelings’ he had added to his sentences in the night. Moments like that were so amazing. And there were lots of hilarious times too, of course. But it was full-on, jumping from child to child, all calling for my eyeballs on them. ‘Miss Rachael!’ “Mum! ‘Miss Rachael!’ ‘Mum!’ On the last day of school I had an extra kid from the village with almost no English who called me ‘Teacher Mummy.’
The village was a mixed bag for me. Port Vila is a pretty run-down place and it took me a couple of weeks to get over the sense of menace I felt when we arrived. On our first afternoon there was a big kid- showdown in the yard. The village kids shouted insults in Bislama at my kids (my favourite one so far: ’why don’t you wipe your arse and eat it?’How to respond? ‘Well, maybe I will…?’) ‘You is gross!’ they told nine-year old Peanut. ‘Your hair is gross!’
It was West Side Story, writ small. Young L chased the ringleader out of his yard while my big girl, wide eyed and teary, took some time to process what happened. That night, there was a lot of shouting outside our windows. Our downstairs host came up to explain that a nine-year old girl from the village had gone missing. Everybody was out searching. A couple of hours later, she was found. She’d been hiding from her dad, because he hits her with electrical cords. I was warned that the kids were pretty violent, that they got hit and then they hit each other, and that there had been a few rapes lately, so I shouldn’t walk too close to the long grass.
Outside our window, dogs barked, cats fought and roosters crowed all night long. There was a lot of laughter from the nakamal, the kava bar nearby. Birds were nesting in our roof. The bed was tough on my back. The shower never got hot.
I felt, for a week, pretty nervous about this place.
But now, a few weeks later, I’m all good. I’ve stopped clutching my pearls and started getting the hang of Port Vila. We get the bus everywhere, we’ve found the good coffee, the food market, the secondhand bookstore, the French boulangerie, the Italian supermarket. The kids can all say ‘tangkyu tumas!’ and I can say ‘Name bilong me Rachael. Wass name name bilong you?’ to all my new friends. That’s the limit of my Bislama though, unless I add ‘why don’t you wipe your arse and eat it’ to the conversation which, I’m no Emily Post, but….
The village children are scrappy, fierce, funny and adorable. My three, fresh out of the nerd factory, are prone to weeping about being emotionally ‘triangulated’ by their siblings (I take full responsibility for that.) It’s been fantastic thing to watch them form a new gang together with their Vanuatu friends. They read to each other, play with the Rubiks cubes, carry the cat about, have water fights. They have developed a minor obsession with a little Lego man they call Mister Squishy.
I feel pretty sheepish about my early worries about this gang from the village, these sparkly-eyed little people who now run to me in the yard and ask me to sing ‘Miss Polly Had A Dolly’.
Yesterday a toddler appeared at my screen door. There was nobody in sight, so I took him to the village next door to find his Mum. It was the first time I had been inside the compound, and it was an eye-opener. I followed a young boy through shanty-town laneways, corrugated iron and cardboard huts, piles of garbage. It was dusty and hot. Eventually, we found the boys Mum playing bingo with her friends, and I handed over the baby, a cutie called R with a winning grin.
Keith is working through the week, like a champ, and on the weekends he’s in holiday mode. We have been spending a lot of time with his cousin, her husband and their six children, a really lovely family - totally unflappable, even with such a big tribe! The kids have spent four years living in Port Vila, and maybe that’s the key. They are self-sufficient, kind and charming. I’m taking mental notes.
We’ve visited blue holes and snorkelling spots, fire shows and little islands.
Our favourite thing is to take the the bus around Efate and watch the people out the window: the women in their beautiful flowery dresses, the children everywhere – yesterday, a dog racing at speed down the road with a wrapped newspaper package in its mouth – hot chips perhaps? It looked like a guilty dog! The billboards in Bislama – a Creole language , a hybrid of French and English – make me happy. ‘Plis yu mus no jam jam’ on a wharf; ‘Numba Wan Yumi!’ on a rice ad, the chicken house in our backyard with a sign that reads ‘Kingdom Bilong Fowl’.
The bus drivers all love a chat and the girls play a game they call ‘Sweet and Sour’, waving at passers-by from the bus window and rating whether they respond (the ‘sweet’ hit is very high around here) while T-Bone barely looks up from his Harry Potter. Still – he’s happy. Port Vila no longer feels like a scary town, but rather a vibrant, bustling, exuberant one.
We are eating lots of pamplemousse (grapefruit – very sweet and delicious here), long-life milk, paw-paw and peanut-butter Saos.
I’ve been reading some great books and am trying hard to sit on my hands and leave the two I picked up today for the next leg of the trip. (I will fail.) The kids are Harry Potter all the way, of course. Some things never change.
Next week, we’re blowing this town. Keith is finishing up work and taking two weeks of actual proper holiday, and we’re planning on taking a ferry to an island called Malekula, and exploring an area called the Dogs Head. Malekula is much quieter than Port Vila and the most culturally diverse island in Vanuatu. We’re looking forward to seeing the two main tribes: the Big Nambas (who wear massive penis gourds) and the Small Nambas (who presumably buy sports cars to compensate). Also, hoping for a few wonderfully quiet days on a little coral island off the mainland, Robinson Crusoe style. It’s time Keith tried out the fire-lighting flint he got for Fathers Day.
We need to take lots of food, malaria-preventatives and an Girl-Guidey, can-do attitude. (Oh dear, this is my challenge…. ) But I think it will be amazing. From there we’ll head onto another island called Santo and then (funds permitting!) to Tanna Island where we are keen to see the cargo-cult rituals that date from pre-WW2, and also look into the mouth of an active volcano! We’re doing all this all the super-cheap, but it’s not a cheap place, Vanuatu. Everything costs a bomb.
After that: home, a bonfire to dispose of our festy clothes and – praise the Lord and pass the Terry’s Chocolate Orange! – my beloved bathtub and my comfortable bed.
Tropical love to you all! Another update, at some point, I hope. Gud naet. xx
It’s late, I’m trying to download thousands of pics off my phone to make room for our trip away, and I’m stuck here waiting for the process to finish…first time I’ve stopped all day. It’s been mennal around here!
At 5am tomorrow we’re blowing this joint to head off to the South Pacific for five weeks. SO exciting. Part work, part play. I’ll be doing some home-schooling (first order of business: ’Hitler, He Only Had One Ball’ in 3 part harmony, and then I’ll wing it from there.) Also, lots and lots of lovely lovely relaxing (keeping in mind of course that my three companions, aged 9, 8 and 5, will be at my side demanding I feed them coconuts every seven minutes.)
All is enthusiasm! around here. I even got a leg wax and a spray tan in honour of the occasion, which is extreme grooming for me. Usually as fancy as I get is putting my bra on for the school run. The children looked at me with disdain when I told them that this week I was paying a lady to rip the hair out of my lags and then paying another lady to paint me brown.
The planning and prepping and packing has reached serial killer levels of organisation but I think I’m done.
Off, into the wild blue yonder. Me, overseas for the first time in ten years (!) and the children, overseas for the first time ever.
I shall report on other lands very soon. I must, must, must get on with all my jobs before bed. Really I only came on here to find this: the Lords Prayer in Pidgin. I love Pidgin so much. I can’t believe I’ll be hearing it next week!
Sadly, Practical Parenting Magazine has been shut down. After more than seven years of writing a column there about motherhood, I feel a little bereft. This column required me to sit and think, every month, about what’s going on with our family, and it’s created a sweet little archive for us to look back on.
There is something poignant about finishing up this column as little Pudding begins her orientation for primary school. My world of tiny children underfoot – nappies and sleeplessness and breastfeeding – is drawing to an end. This week, we are packing and prepping for our first trip overseas with the kids, and my first in ten years. It’s definitely the end of an era. Time for me to put my head down and focus on finishing my book about stay-at-home mum life.
This column is one of my last written for Practical Parenting. There are one or two more that were in the pipeline – I don’t know if I’ll post those.
To my long-time readers, thank you for supporting and enjoying these little postcards.
I am tackling the Weet-Bix cement crusted onto the breakfastbowls and trying to listen to the radio when my four-year-old Pudding wanders into the kitchen. ‘Let’s pwetend we’re sisters and our Mum and Dad were killed by monsters and we work at the Post Office,’ she shouts excitedly.
‘Not right now, Pudding’, I say. ‘Go and find your sister.’ Her sister appears, doing a handstand against the fridge. ‘Watch this Mum!’ she says, as she tries to balance a pillow on top of her feet. The pillow is dangerously close to a pot plant. ‘I can’t look now, Peanut,’ I say. ‘I’m trying to wash up breakfast before I make dinner.’ ‘What’s for dinner?’ seven-year-old T-Bone asks, taking a break from the Minecraft handbook he has been reading out loud for twenty minutes.
‘I don’t know,’ I say, but the children aren’t listening. They are, in fact, all talking at once.
‘’Can I use your sewing machine?’ asks one child. ‘Can you make me a bubble bath?’ asks the next. ‘Can you feed me like I’m a dog?’ asks the third.
‘No,’ I tell them all. ‘Please – can’t you all just go and play something?’
They look at me skeptically. It’s time to go out, anyway.
In the car, I would love to listen to the radio but Pudding and Peanut are singing a song about Harry Potter that goes on longer than a Kanye West vanity mix. And like a gentle background hum, T-Bone is still reading Minecraft tips aloud. The children fill the air with their noise – and these, mind you, are the happy sounds. The decibel level reached when the bickering starts is extreme. And when I’m forced to intervene, my own hopeless shouting adds to the chaos.
I love the creativity of my kids, and the wonderful, random things that pop from their brains, but sometimes it is just So Bloody Noisy. At the end of the day, every part of me becomes desperate for quiet. That walk down the hallway after putting all three to bed is so thrilling. In my mind, I strut that hallway like Beyonce. Yaaasss Queen! Ahead of me lies a peaceful evening, ready to be filled with laundry-folding and Downton Abbey – just like Beyonce, I’m pretty sure.
Sometimes the sturm and drang of raising small children feels a little overwhelming. The fighting, the crying and the questions can feel relentless. In those times, I try to remind myself of these thoughts from American physician Dr. Harley Rotbart:
In the course of each bedtimes bedlam, try to see into the future. The next time the clamour crecendoes, but before the din dims, imagine your biological parenthood clock wound forward to the time they have grown and left home. Picture their formerly tousled bedrooms as neat, clean and empty. See the tidy backseat of the car, vaccumed and without crumbs or Cheerios. Playroom shelves neatly stacked with dusty toys. Laundry under control. Then wind the imaginary clock back from the future to now, and see those moments of mayhem for what they are, finite and fleeting moments. Never to be reproduced. Precious.
It is a happy chaos that I inhabit right now, full of the noise and debris of so many full and energetic lives. What a gift that is – even when it’s exhausting.
I wrote the column below for Practical Parenting Magazine nearly six months ago, just after Grandpa was diagnosed with lung cancer. The disease felled him swiftly after that, each week grimmer than the one before, although Grandpa, famously, uttered no expletives stronger than ‘oh, boy.’
It’s been a season of illness, stress, worry and sadness, and we are now preparing for Alan’s funeral this week. I will write more about him when the dust settles around us a little. For now, this esteemed mathematician and loving grandfather is now only present in our memories and anecdotes, and a particular cheeky sparkle in the eyes of his grandchildren.
We will miss him very much.
For Practical Parenting, July 2016
Lately, all three of my children have been sleeping in my bed, which is both lovely and terrible. It’s lovely, because their arms and legs are strong and small and cling so tight; and I know that the pure, fierce affection of childhood will shift and change into something else someday, and I will miss it. But it’s terrible, because the children squeeze up so tight to me that I can’t breathe, and feel that I am in some sort of medieval dungeon-prison with no room for all the occupants, where we must turn over in unison on a given signal. Also: wee.
There’s a little more room in the big bed at the minute because Keith is in Europe for two weeks. Sometimes we tick along fine when the big Daddy is away. This is not one of those times. The system starts crumbling on Day 2, when the fridge coughs and dies. Then, school problems begin with one of the kids, which, over the next fortnight will grow increasingly difficult to manage, and finally, most distressingly, there is a diagnosis of cancer in our extended family.
I find myself swapping between worries, mulling over each in my mind, one at a time. Who’s up next? Move it along Cancer, you’ve had your time. Bullying, where are you? That’s enough out of you. Next worry please! Form an orderly queue!
The carnage in the kitchen is epic as I try to salvage food from the deceased freezer in an Esky while I wait for the new fridge. Young Pudding, obsessed with craft in the manner of all four-year-olds, takes to glittering and redistributing the contents of the recycling box everywhere.
I’m trying to stay cool but I realise I’m struggling when I accidentally bum-dial myself and record a shameful voicemail where I rant at the kids in the voice we call The Fishwife.
I really miss my partner in crime. There’s nobody here to help turn the small dramas of the day into comedy after bedtime, and most critically, take on some of the kid-energy, so that I have some restorative, necessary privacy with my own thoughts. Without it, bit by bit, I start to go slightly nuts.
Last night I did the full-service final shift of the day, fighting the strong urge to collapse on the couch and watch Wife Swap. Public speaking talks were prepped, homework completed, lunches made and sports equipment set out for the morning. The kitchen was cleaned, the laundry hung. Children were scrubbed, read to, tucked up, and happily asleep. That final shift of the day required a Coke and two mini Wagon Wheels. But I got there.
This morning though, after a night crammed into the medieval prison bed in which one child wet their pants and another had a nightmare (there is lava on my nose!), I just could not get up. ‘Five more minutes’ begged Peanut as she wrapped her little legs around mine. ‘Five more minutes,’ begged T-Bone as he clung to the other side. ‘Jus’ five more minutes, Mama’ chimed in Pudding, lying with her dead weight fully on top of me.
I gave in. Five more minutes. Ten, even. We were a bit late to school. In the single-mum zone, with so many tasks to stay on top of, it can feel like there’s not a lot of room for those quiet moments. But in fact, those sweet ten minutes in bed, cuddling all three kids – that was probably the most important job of the day. Certainly it was the best one. And, to be honest, I could not do any more.
Lunches must be packed, pantries filled, clean clothes available in the drawers (or at least in a pile on the lounge). The car still must be filled with petrol, admin forms signed, work deadlines met. Family life is steady and relentless, and there’s always washing-up to be done. Sometimes this is comforting and satisfying, and sometimes it takes all of my available brain-and-heart space; and then life asks a little more.
An unhappy child. A sick relative. Flu. Travel. A list of worries that weigh heavy.
In short, a tough winter.
I think I am tracking along fine, one foot in front of the other, and then my body starts doing something to let me know it’s not OK.
‘Shush,’ I tell my body. ’It’s fine, we’re on top of it all, body. Shush…’
‘Stop and listen to me, you crazy witch,’ says my body, via the interesting method of making me short of breath for hours every day.
After a battery of tests to rule out anything sinister, the diagnosis I’m left with is stress and anxiety.
My solution: keep the home fires burning, dole out love and lasagne and priorities those healthy things like walking outside, yoga, making myself leave the hermit-cave and see my friends. I’m trying not to worry about the things that are out of my control, and trying to be a support for the loved ones around me who are hurting, without internalising the pain that they are feeling.
Also, I have a minor obsession with this lady.
Alejanda, so uber-American, with ever-so-slightly-crazy eyes, and a serial-killer-level of organisation, is bringing me life.
Chill out, my body is telling me. Spend a little time on the lounge watching YouTube clips of Alejandra bringing lunatic order to her shiny, shiny world. I don’t want to – could not – live like this, but watching Alejandra do it is inexplicably appealing and calming. Also: My Dad Wrote A Porno is the other shining glory of my existence right now. Listen immediately and then write and talk to me about it. It is the funniest possible present you can give your ears. And you will never, ever think of the Titanic again without picturing ‘nipples, as hard and large as the rivets on that fateful ship’.
I hope you are travelling well out there, comrades. May life be treating you well and if not, I advise applying 20 minutes of organisation-porn and 20 minutes of Belinda Blinked, painful, fumbling and hilarious erotica written by Jamie’s Dad. Works for me.
This post was first published in Practical Parenting Magazine, June 2016 (but the children were playing Forceful Club only yesterday. The battle over kissing the dead-bee continues.They are SUCH WEIRDOS. I blame their father)
My four year old daughter walked into preschool recently singing a charming song her big brother and sister had made up. It was called ‘Killer Vaginas from Outer Space’, and although I got out of there very fast, I expected a stern email all day, because I knew Pudding would perform all the verses. There’s a bit about Venus, something terrible happens to a penis, and basically, the whole thing is a job for Dr Freud.
Thing is, Pudding’s big brother and sister have as much influence on her as I do. They, at four, were pure as snow, raised on nothing but Play School, Angelina Ballerina and a little old-school Narnia for balance. Pudding, on the other hand will recite (unrequested) ‘There was an old lady who swallowed a poo. Perhaps she’ll spew.’ Her literary references range from Zombie Bums from Uranus through to Captain Underpants and the Talking Toilet, and when cornered, she’ll shout ‘My name is Inigo Montoya! You killed my father! Prepare to die!’
Pudding has watched her two older siblings hone the art of war, you see. With three kids under ten, the fights in our house can be epic. Hunger Games, Real Housewives, crisis-in-the-Middle East epic. A lot of my parenting time is spent in negotiating squabbles that are both ridiculous and deadly serious.
Take the Forceful Club, for instance, a trampoline game created by the two eldest. The rules are hazy, but two things are clear: it involves violence, and to join the club, all members have to kiss a dead bee. The four year old cried bitter tears about the bee rule, the big two were adamant and I was shoe-horned into one of my more hopeless conversations. ‘Pudding does not have to kiss the bee! Can’t you bend that rule? Well, can’t she just get her face close to the bee? She can blow on the bee! Be reasonable!’
Basically Forceful Club is like Fight Club except the first rule is that you have to talk about it. Endlessly. Other things my children have fought about lately: who was which number on the digital clock, who would get sucked into a black hole first, who owned the dead caterpillar in a container, whose turn it was to wear the comedy teeth, and (this last involved furious shouting) how to pronounce ‘Nuttelex’.
I’ve got brothers and sisters of my own. I remember the intensity of sibling rivalry in childhood and these days I love how we facilitate the magic of cousin-gangs. The parental bond may be our lodestar, the central fact of our lives, but siblings are the first scratching posts on which we figure out how to deal with the weird landscape that is other people. The relationships we have with our brothers and sisters are often the longest and most profound of our whole lifespan – for good, or for bad.
‘Be kind!’ I urge my kids, too fiercely. ‘Speak nicely to each other! We are never, ever rude and mean to each other in this family!’ This is, of course, clearly untrue, probably impossible, and, like so many other aspects of parenting, driven by the ghosts from my own childhood. It’s hugely important to me, this job I have of nurturing that sibling bond. After all, I hope these three people, who I adore so much, will be looking out for each other long after I have gone. Today, the comedy teeth; tomorrow, the inheritance. Good luck, my little loves, enjoy raising each other, and may the Forceful Club be with you.
I haven’t been here for a while – my tank is low on juice.
It’s been a fairly depleting few months with Keith travelling a lot and the children having one of those loops of winter sickness.
Running as a constant low sad note through our lives right now is the illness of my father-in-law. He’s a wonderful friend, an important person in my life, a brilliant and kind mathematician with a capricious twinkle in his eye. The more I understand Alan, the more I understand many parts of my beloved partner Keith, and watching Alan cope with lung cancer has taught me many lessons about dignity and stoicism. I wish I was not learning these lessons, but there we have it.
Being social feels too exhausting right now. I am at peak capacity with these children, this house, this husband, these feelings. It feels good to be honest about saying ‘no’. It feels important to be home, playing chess,sorting the endless washing pile, cooking spicy beans and drawing the blinds down on the outside world. I am trying to find moments to write and trying to conserve my energy.
Sometimes it’s impossible to manage more.
In the meantime, Raised by Wolves, written by my spirit animal Caitlin Moran and her sister, is bringing me many, many laughs. (Free on SBS right now – is anybody watching it? It is hilarious), and it was my birthday this week (forty-five!) Keith and I went for a lovely quiet date last night. We saw Tarzan – my advice is to suspend the critical eye and enjoy the scenery – i.e Alexander Skarsgard (happy phwooarsdday night!)
Afterwards we ate bresaola, drank Prosecco and talked travel. Home by ten. It was lovely. Quiet. Perfect.
I had a story in last weekend’s Sunday Life magazine about the joy of girlfriends. It contains that gold-star anecdote about the time I accidentally showed a topless selfie to the deputy principal, and also this tale:
Home from holidays recently, I faced a towering pile of laundry. My friend S came over to help me fold and bring me up to speed on the local goings-on, but she lost her train of thought each time she encountered a pair of my knickers.
She was horrified on a number of levels – age, bagginess, general nanna vibe.
“I’m staging an underpants intervention,” she said.
Yesterday I found a paper bag in my letterbox containing two pairs of new knickers and a letter from The Ministry of Unacceptable Underpants, beginning: “It has come to our attention that you have not renewed your underpants at the recommended intervals. By following our quick checklist you can ensure the reliability and safety of your underpants.”
The list 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 they warned of direct community action.
While underwear-shaming and accidental sexting scandals are key components to my female friendships, this community has another function. We are a safety net for life and all its unpredictable slings and arrows. Here, deep in the trenches with small children, we lean on each other for help. Any time one of us drops, the machine rolls into action. Lasagnes land on doorsteps and schedules to manage the kids start circulating. There is a direct and practical aspect to my female friendships: when we have to be responsible, we are. And when we bundy off the responsibility clock, we are absolutely ridiculous, making each other laugh until our weak pelvic floors give way.
These moments, cackling in the coven of my witches, bring me such joy. They are the icing on the cake of life.
It’s a love letter to all the ladies in my life – word counts made me restrict this piece to only my beloved school mum gang, but I’m lucky enough to also have a school-friend gang, an online lady-squad and a coven of Pink Ladies, all of whom hold sacred spaces in my heart.
I’m sorry the children were late this morning and wearing the wrong clothes.
I lost my Sunday, you see.
There is so much organisation involved in getting three kids clothed and prepared for a school week that I tend to use Sunday to get on top of that stuff. I bake muffins and bread. I freeze sandwiches and squeezy yogurts and make sure there are lots of apples and carrots in the fridge. I do my best to tackle and conquer the washing pile so that there are pants, undies, socks and hoodies ready for the week ahead. This make me happy. I feel I am ready to take on the world.
If the weekly sort out and the night-before planning don’t happen, mornings are a stressful mess of shouting. There is not a lunchbox, drink bottle, hair-elastic or hat to be found anywhere.
We had a thing at our place on Saturday night. Now, I don’t get out much, so when I do, my latent party animal just goes mental. I’ll leave out the details of what was said and done on the night (I can’t remember them) but let’s just say that there were a lot of pisco sours, one girlfriend left with ‘strippers remorse’ and one did the washing up with such enthusiasm that she smashed two wineglasses. Sunday morning I was not at my peak. There may/may not have been noises at my house that sounded like a giant cat was trying to expel a furball.
By Sunday night I felt human again, but I was not chia-seed raspberry pudding-Martha Stewart- mother. I was Nurofen Plus -stop-breathing-so-loudly-Mummy’s-got-a-headache mother. Plus, I had dressed as a Mexican man for the party and I was having trouble scrubbing off the moustache. I am sure that if this ever happened to Martha, she would know precisely the blend of organic oils and unguents to deal with the problem.
Monday morning was a shambles. There was no little note in the lunchbox; in fact there was was barely recognisable food in there. After a fruitless search, I was forced to tell the nine-year-old ‘Just grab a jumper out of the lost property and I’ll wash it and replace it!’ She did. But the jumper she grabbed was size 4, and she is nine, so that didn’t work out so well for my already shabby reputation.
The truth is, Office, that I can have a wild Saturday night, or I can have the children fully prepared for school on Monday. I tip my hat to those parents who can do both, but I am not one of them.
This weekend, back to reality. Saturday night will see me sorting socks in front of the television with a nice cup of tea and a Terry’s Chocolate Orange, Sunday will see me getting our shit together, and Monday will see the children at school fully equipped for the day ahead.
This post was first published in Practical Parenting Magazine, June 2016
Dedicated to Nanna!
Nothing new under the sun, German postcard, 1910
I’m thinking I might start a fashion line called ‘Four Year Old’. Every garment in my first collection (I shall call it More Is More) will be sparkly, glittering or bejewelled. It will be spectacular, and also, utterly mad.
Four is the age of independence, a time when a fierce sense of personhood expresses itself in lots of ways, most fabulously through the wardrobe. I will choose my clothes, Mummy! No! I will dress myself!
Little Pudding is my third child down the runway of life, and I’ve realised a few things along the way. First, resistance is futile. The more you want your child to dress in Fair-Trade neutral organic cotton woven by a feminist collective in Uzbekistan, the more they will assert their right to wear synthetic Frozen-themed sportswear.
I’m thinking, specifically, here, of the pain I felt when my firstborn Peanut became obsessed, age three, with a pair of satin Wiggles boxer shorts that Nanna picked up at the op shop. (Nanna!!) I hated those shorts, and the emotional power this gave Peanut (See Mummy sweat! See Mummy plead!) spurred her on to greater and greater heights of rebellion, until eventually she insisted on wearing, every day, the Wiggles boxer shorts, a t-shirt that read ‘Bring Back Warnie’ and a pair of plastic Wiggles sunglasses. When I insisted on putting her uniform through the wash, she would wait patiently by the window. ‘Is Warnie dwy, Mama? Will Warnie be dwy soon?’
Hopelessly optimistic, I would proffer classic brown sandals, woollen capes and sweet bird brooches, as she pushed past me to get to the pink heels that Nanna picked up for her at the op shop. (Nanna!!)I was so adamant that my first-born daughter wouldn’t fall victim to the Princess syndrome that of course (can you feel what is coming? Nanna found it hilarious) by age four Peanut would not only wear nothing but pink, but also insisted she be referred to as Pinky Winky.
When my son T-Bone was four, he insisted that his outfits be ‘like a fruit salad’ which involved combining colour, pattern and print in such violently clashing ways that passers-by would have to shield their eyes from the glare. Also, he loved to wear his clothes backwards, which made for a lot of bum-flashing.
Of course, now that Peanut and T-Bone are nine and seven, their fashion choices take different forms. Peanut wears two different shoes to school every day, and chooses her outfits on how well they facilitate handstands. T-Bone barely notices whether he has shoes on or not.
It’s my third child, Pudding, who is deep in the pre-school fashion zone now. Bedazzled and glorious, she embodies the opposite of Coco Chanels famous advice: ‘get dressed, and then take one thing off’. For Pudding and her peers, enough is never enough. In fact, the pre-school playground should sport a warning sign: ‘Beware: Intensive Glitter Zone. 7% Chance Of Mild Epileptic Fit. 85% Chance Of Headache. Do Not Look Directly At Children As Costumes May Blind’.
This third time round, I surrender. I empty my drawers of all the neutrals, the camel, tan and cream, the darling brown Mary-Janes and the vintage coats. Off they go to the op-shop, for other hopeful mothers of size 3-4 youngsters. I retain the synthetic fibres, the unnatural colours and anything Frozen. Also, I’ll take notes for the fashion line. And I’ll dedicate the first collection to Nanna, because she knew all along, of course, that this sweet and hilarious time won’t last and the best idea of all is to just enjoy it, in all its sparkly madness.