All posts in Family Life

When My Baby Became Creepy Dude

This post was first published in Practical Parenting Magazine, March 2016

 U.S. Daughters of farmers near La Forge Project, Missouri, 1938
When my first child Peanut was born, I felt a yearning, desperate urge to know who she would become. ‘Who are you?’  I would whisper to her beautiful, inscrutable little face. ‘What kind of human will you be?’

It felt impossible to believe that this tiny, blinking baby would morph into a full and complex person. And I’m almost certain that in all the different possibilities I conjured, I never imagined that one day this child would like to inhabit the character of a guy she called Creepy Dude.

At nine, my Peanut is in the full and spectacular bloom of childhood. She’s a delight – so utterly herself, in the calm harbour between the worries of her younger, more sensitive years, and the approaching maelstrom of puberty.  She’s in this wonderful place where she’s old enough to bodysurf the waves, and young enough to be swept up in a fierce towel-cuddle by Daddy afterwards.

There’s a lot to love about this age. Peanut and her equally offbeat friends have created a club they call the Nerd University of Unicornia. They call it The UUN (rhymes with tune).  Spelled backwards, just for kicks. The UUN spend a lot of time planning their meetings, at which they march around the backyard saluting like tiny Communists, except that their marching song is about pizza rather than the uprising of the oppressed working classes. The UUN anthem is a sight to behold. It’s performed to an awkward boy-band style dance routine and contains this chorus: ‘We’ll fight for the freedom! We’ll fight for our love! We’ll fight for the power! We’ll fight for our lives!’ In between choruses, each member does an introductory rap, using their UUN name.  Peanut’s UUN name is Beaver. Short for Justin Beaver.  Because she sings all the time. Peanut’s rap goes like this: ‘My n-n-n-n-name is B-B-B-B-Beaver. I am quite like a golden retriever.’ (This is about the point at which I am overcome with cuteness poisoning so severe I have to sit down and put my head between my legs.)

Peanut has another character that we call Creepy Dude. She loves pulling out Creepy Dude because it freaks me out, and messing with her mother brings Peanut great joy.  Creepy Dude likes to pluck and pat my shoulder. ‘Hey, lady,’ Peanut says in a low and weird voice. ‘Hey, sexy mama.’

She also has an impersonation she calls ‘Dumb Person Shaving’. It’s hard to describe in words, but suffice to say it is both strange and wonderful.

This kid, this age, is the absolute best. It might be even sweeter because next on the list comes puberty, those mythical Badlands to which Peanut will certainly bring the theatricality she has displayed since childhood. That flamboyance, mixed with a few thousand microliters of estrogen, may make for an interesting cocktail. Fingers crossed that Peanut will keep the comedy, as well as the drama.

I’m looking forward to it, all of it. I adored that sweet baby version of Peanut. I adore the creative comedian of her childhood. And I think I’ll enjoy the adolescent version too.  It’s the coolest thing, being ringside for the slow unfurling of a person. I’m incredibly grateful that I get to watch it. I could not have anticipated, nine years ago, that the answer to my question ‘Who are you?’ was going to be, among other things, ‘Creepy Dude’. So I can’t really guess what teen-Peanut, or even grown-lady Peanut will be either. I can’t wait to find out though.

 

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. 

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 buy alprazolam online with mastercard 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…

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 laparkan.com/buy-prednisone/ 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

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.

 

House-Swapping: It’s a Yes From Me!

We have been registered on a house-swapping website for a year or so now, but have never gotten on the horse and done the actual crazy thing yet.  Until this trip to South Australia.

It was a bit nerve-racking. It’s such an intense thing to do, open your home for another family to come in and live. Lots of people have made a horrified face when I told them our plans. (Hi Mum!) It is a bit full on. It forces you to up your lifestyle game. Stuff piles and junk drawers and broken handles won’t fly. We had to accept the fact that we lived like animals and create a new kind of reality.

We cleaned out all the cupboards and scrubbed all the corners. We made signs like ‘don’t climb this crumbling retaining wall!’ , ‘don’t drink from this tap!’ and ‘broken drawer: don’t open!’ We made notes in a guest book about garbage night and coffee shops and local doctors and wifi and electronics. We fixed the greywater system and the water pump and the toilet,  re-soldered bedside lights and repaired outdoor furniture. We sewed curtains and hung pictures.

Everywhere we looked, there were jobs to do.

It was nuts!

And yet, it was fine. I made a little pact with myself that I wouldn’t let it become stressful, wouldn’t let it turn into a kind of ‘my god, why hast thou forsaken meeee’ kind of drama. I decided to think of it like  investing in a fancy future. It was just a lot of work.

On our final weekend, Mum and Dad took the kids for a sleepover so Keith and I could go hard. He was the outside dog, I was the inside dog, and we didn’t stop for hours and hours – into the night, and through the next day. Packing, cleaning. Cleaning, packing.

(An aside – while I worked, I listened to all 13 episodes of the Charles Manson Series on the old-Hollywood podcast ‘You Must Remember This.’ This sounds so grisly, but it is, in fact, an amazing series that dissects the dark heart of the 1960′s. If you like true crime – were you a Serial fan? – this is the genre at its clever, complex best. )

Anyway, we finally made it out the door, and after a week’s outback road trip, we  arrived here in Adelaide, where we are staying in the house of a family who feel like a kind of Christian parallel universe version of Keith and I. They have kids the same age, and there are so many crossovers in the kitchen and around the place, except that they are very devout, judging by their bookshelves and art, and K and I are godless dirty heathens, judging by ours. They seem really, really nice.

And – hooray! – they are happy at our house, and we are happy at theirs. It’s been fantastic. I texted a picture of Keith at their piano when we arrived, and Chisty texted me a picture of Josh at ours. They looked hilariously identical – two happy middle-aged beardy dads. It’s a very communal system – we text back and forth – does this work? Where is the remote? Garden is watered! The house-swappers feel, weirdly, like friends we have never met, which I’m actually kind of comfortable with. I’m a blogger after all – I have a number of friends like that.

Now,  Keith is working again, and I am living out my home-school fantasies (Can I get a ‘Yes, ma’am!?’) (No.) We’re enjoying living life in a different place for a few weeks, and Adelaide is a lovely town. It would be financially impossible for us to rent a place like this for three weeks with actual Mickey Mouse money.  Instead, house-swapping operates in a sort of honesty economy – you look after our stuff, we’ll look after yours.  This place is amazing – near the tram line, ten minutes from town, and with a good coffee machine.  We even have a bike with a toddler-cart!  I’ve got new books, the kids have new toys, and the vege garden is producing dinner.

My friend Emma thought house-swapping sounded amazing. ‘What, so you just wear their clothes and everything?’ she asked. ‘No, Emma, ‘ I said. ‘You don’t just walk out of your own door and into every aspect of the other families life. It’s not Wife Swap. But I love you. Never change.’

House-swapping has been such a success for us that I can’t imagine holidaying another way now. Plus, we get to go home and enjoy the fancy house we slaved to create, and haven’t got to enjoy yet. Bonus!

Multiple Personality Mum

“I was a strict disciplinarian, perhaps too strict at times, but my God, without discipline what is life?” – Joan Crawford.  Making normal parents look awesome for the last seventy years.  Cheers Joan!

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

Before I had my first child I read a squillion parenting books. They were not that useful for the reason that none of them were teaching me how to parent my specific child. The Book Of Peanut would have covered theatrical, emotional, hilarious daughters. I could really have used that book. But the Book Of Peanut would still not have helped me when number two and number three children came along.

Eight years into this parenting caper, I’ve realised that all my children have a different mother, because they all need different mothering from me.

Little Peanut has always been fiercely independent and sensitive to the social atmosphere around her. Yesterday I had to talk her through the process of cleaning the rotten banana out of the bottom of her schoolbag. I insisted that she do it herself, but from the theatrics, you would have thought that I’d requested she clean out the flue of a Victorian chimney.

It was a drama, yes, but it was also massively comedic, like her flamboyance always has been. Mothering Peanut has always meant helping her process and make sense of life – judging when to step in and when to step out. I’ve got better at it as the years have rolled by.

My 6 year old son T-Bone needs another kind of Mum. He’s always been a thinker, a bit of an eccentric. He’s so bright in fact that sometimes he’s like a big brain on a stick, not tuned into his body at all. He needs a lot of really physical mothering from me. As in, walking him through every step of getting dressed. As in ‘you’ve put your undies on over your pants again, darling’. As in, holding in the Mother Rage on a school morning.

The thing with an affectionate boy-child is that there is no gold in the world as precious as their cuddles. They are just glorious. And chances are I will have them for a long time – in fact, sometimes I imagine T-Bone on a podium in thirty years, accepting the Nobel Prize for physics. And there I am, doing his tie.

Pudding, three years old and my third child, is easy like a Sunday morning. She’s funny, chatty and up for anything. If the house is full of big girls, she’ll loom-band up a storm. If her brother has a friend over, she convinces them to play ‘My Two Dads’. (So modern!)  With me, she’s my car-buddy, my shopping companion, and totally happy to watch re-runs of Friends over lunch. She is so easy to mother.

These days, I try to find time in the day to narrow in on each kid at some point. I p6lay Mums and Dads with Pudding, read the Treehouse books in a cuddle-puddle with T-Bone and play the ‘Walking Game’ with Peanut. This is our latest thing. She stands on the piano stool which makes her slightly taller than me, we put our arms around each other waists and pretend to stroll along, having a ‘grown-up’ chat. ‘Hey, let’s go see a movie! What shall we see? Mad Max? You can buy the coffee, I’ll drive…’  For independent little Peanut, pretending she is eighteen and hanging out with Mum is as good as it gets.

There’s still ten years till we get there though. It’s a long game, this learning to be a Mum. I feel really privileged to get to play it.

PS – Winners of the book giveaway announced on this post: Anxiety and the Post-Baby Conversation.