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Three Small Children Walk Into A Restaurant

This post was originally published in Practical Parenting Magazine, December 2014

Teenage delinquents, 1930

We’ve got this saying in our family that we call ‘Pulling a Mamma Mia’. It dates from the year my mum thought that the flamboyant ABBA themed chick flick by the same name would be fun for the extended family to watch after Christmas lunch. The male side of the family gang included (with all respect) a rev-head, a scientist, a footy tragic and a grumpy septuagenarian. It did not go well. One by one, the men left in disgust, and ever since, a ‘Mamma Mia’ is the name we call any situation where your hopes and dreams are unlikely to be borne out in reality.

Road trips with small children, for instance? Mamma Mia. Fancy all-white outfit on a two- year-old?  Mamma Mia. Any event that keeps the kids up after bedtime? Mamma Mia. Classically, a Mamma Mia ends in tears (definitely the children’s, and likely the parents too.)

Sadly, taking my three kids under eight to a restaurant is a total Mama Mia for me. I love the idea of this so much. Unfortunately, there is a large gulf between how I imagine a family restaurant outing, and the noisy, weepy, shameful reality of the thing.

Recently we stopped at a little Japanese joint for dinner on the way home from a party in the city. It had already been a long day, we had an hour’s drive ahead, and the best idea would have been some sort of takeaway in the car.

But I don’t get out much, and when I spied this little Japanese restaurant, it seemed perfect. My husband Keith was skeptical, but when he saw the Mamma Mia fervour burning in my eyes, he conceded. In we trotted, the five of us; kids aged seven, five and three, hopped up on party sugar and skating on the emotional edge of impending bedtime and big-city excitement.

It went downhill fast. The kids lolled and dangled over their chairs like chimpanzees. They moaned and whinged. They insisted on using the chopsticks but wailed when every mouthful fell off en route to their faces. Sadly, nobody was giving our table admiring glances.  In fact, other customers seemed to avoiding eye contact altogether.

The three year old, who is obsessed with new toilets, insisted we visit the loo and kept me in there, standing by her throne, insisting ‘I not finiched,’ for ten minutes, as she sang ‘Everything is Awesome’ to herself and swung her legs. Everything was not awesome.

Back at the table, the tired and sensitive seven year old was trying to force green vegetables in her mouth. She could see that Mum and Dad were stressed out, and I could see that she was going to choke. It wasn’t ideal. Five year old T-Bone was creating peak mess, surrounded by a circle of rice and seaweed and trying to drink through three straws threaded together. At least little Pudding looks cute perched up at her chair, I thought, and turned to see her with her hands down her pants. ‘I touching my gina!’ she informed the room, with delight and pride, at the top of her voice.

It cost us fifty bucks and ten minutes down the road the whinging began from the back seat. ‘I’m hungry Mama. What’s for dinner?’ Oh, man. Mamma Mia.

Shirley Temple gif from Buzzfeed.

honest school notes #6

Dear Office,

I know that school holidays have begun, and so this note may be a little bit late. Are you still there, Office?

The end of term was a little stressful again.

The children keep demanding food, and more food, and more food, until I feel like a short-order cook with a terrible Workplace Agreement.

The mornings start well (this is a lie) but very quickly it all goes wrong.

I just can’t quite reach where I need to be.

I get there in the end, but the method is strange and awkward.

My methods are degrading for the children too.

Not that they notice. They are often engaged in some kind of inventive sibling warfare anyway.

They frequently employ the phrase ‘penis-gina’. Also ‘Fly me to Poo-Poo Land.’

Last week, T-Bone even came in the room with a handful of undies, threw them in the air and shouted ‘It’s a Panty Festival!” Yes, he used that word. It was like he kicked me right in my soft underbelly.

Feeding, washing and wrestling these kids off to school in the last week of term feels like battling through jelly. I think I’ve got one all clean and packed up, and another paints their shirt with a  handful of Vegemite. At least I hope it is Vegemite. And through it all, I wail like a hopeless balladeer:  ’Where is your reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaader???’

Compounding the situation, my back hurts.

And then: menses.


Office, all I want to do is complain to my mother on the phone.

And maybe get out for the night with my friends.

Just an innocent night out.

Blow off a little steam.

Recharge for the term ahead.

A term in which, Office, I promise to be organised, efficient and punctual.

Until then, my apologies (again.)


Ms McIntosh

Honest School Notes #1

Honest School Notes #2

Honest School Notes #3

 Honest School Notes #4

Honest School Notes #5


Only Three Hotties Can Help Me Now

Oh dear.



These noises are brought to you from endoscopic sinus surgery. All is well, as planned, no problems, but eurrghghghgh. Plurghghgh. Orghghg.  I permanently have that burning sensation of having water up my nose; and it’s not a pain that medication helps. Tomorrow I’m having the plastic stents that are still in my sinuses removed, and I’m hoping that will be the turning point.

In the meantime I am turning to three hotties in the hope that they hold the power to distract and heal me.

First: Pa Ingalls. Suspenders, no shirt.

Second: a fiery glance from Christopher Plummer.

Finally, the last straw. The big guns:  if sax solos, red crotch-roses and Rod Stewart  loosening his oversized bow tie won’t help me, nothing will;  and ps- if this is not the best three minutes of your day, I don’t think we have anything in common any more.

(Christopher Plummer dedicated to my mother in law Liz, and Rod to my darling friend Sally.)

In Praise Of Crazy Lovebirds

Two of my oldest friends celebrate their eighteenth wedding anniversary today.

They remind me of Paul and Linda.

Damn crazy lovebirds.

They also remind me of these words:

Let us be guests in one another’s house
With deferential “no” and courteous “yes”;
Let us take care to hide our foolish moods
Behind a certain show of cheerfulness.

Let us avoid all sullen silences;
We should find fresh and sprightly things to say;
I must be fearful lest you find me dull,
And you must dread to bore me anyway.

Let us knock gently at each other’s heart,
Glad of a chance to look within–and yet,
Let us remember that to force one’s way
Is the unpardoned breach of etiquette.

So, shall I be host–you, the hostess,
Until all need for entertainment ends;
We shall be lovers when the last door shuts
But what is better still–we shall be friends.

Carol Haynes

More on marriage:  long-term couples discuss ‘for better, for worse’  in Jane Caro’s  fascinating six-part Radio National series on long-term relationships. 

Happy anniversary Matt and Shirin!


Drunk New Year Tweets From Caitlin Moran

Never complain, never explain, buy a good bra for sex-dancing, read lots, exercise your body like a dog, fuck the patriarchy and more.

Best new years advice list ever  from the superb Caitlin Moran.

Never complain! My mission for today.

I’m off for a swim.

(Like a dog.)


Celebrity Memoirs: The Best, And The Best-Worst

Are you looking for some holiday reading? Me, I’m partial to a celebrity memoir. Good is great; but nutty works for me too.

I think celebrities come in two main flavours.  There are some variations on the theme, but in general you turn celebrity because you posses some magical combination of talent plus chutzpah, or shamelessness plus ambition. Either way, you also need a good dose of luck, and a certain shiny charisma.

For me, there are few pleasures as relaxing as settling down with a  good trashy memoir and a cup of tea. Ah, low brow bliss.

In this post I’ll share a selection of my favourite celebrity memoirs.

First, the good.

I’m nay sporty, but I really loved Andre Agassi’s book ‘Open’.  His ambitious, immigrant father Mike intensively, perhaps abusively, coached all four of his children in tennis in their Vegas backyard. It was  Andre, his youngest, who became the star. This story is anguished at times, triumphant at others, often funny and incredibly open. Mostly, it’s poignancy lies in how intensely Agassi hates the game of tennis.

Arnold Schwarzenegger wrote a book this year. Arnie is larger than life, a macho, self-aggrandizing creation, and his memoir ‘Total Recall’ is quite the journey into the psychology of such a man. It explores Arnold’s journey from his simple Austrian childhood to movie star/politician/multi-millionaire, and it’s a fascinating read.  His life, from the earliest, reads like a coldly planned treasure-hunt for glory and riches. He’s massively successful in these ventures, and he is, without doubt, charming and smart and funny. He pokes fun at himself, to a point, and admits wrongdoing, to a point. This book is a study in intense ambition, in the single-minded pursuit of power and money.

My favourite memoir of the year though, was Julia Childs My Life In Paris. This gorgeous read captures Julia’ eccentric, unique wit so well, and the story of how she moved to Paris in 1948 with her diplomat husband Paul is romantic and charming. Paul and Julia married late in life, and  their passion for each other parallels  Julia’s growing passion for food,  as she studies at Le Cordon Bleu. Plus, it’s all set in 1950′s Paris. Oh, go on then.


Are you still  hungry for celebrity babble-ons?  Try anything by the glorious Carrie Fisher. Wishful Drinking’ is her most recent. Or, perhaps, the beautiful ‘What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship and Love’ by Carole Radziwill, which explores her life after marrying into the Kennedy family.

If, however,  you’re looking to settle into some real fine trash, I can’t direct you past Kendra Wilkinson’s ‘Being Kendra: Cribs, Cocktails and Getting My Sexy Back’, where the ex-Playboy Mansion startlet examines ‘life after baby’. I wrote about this incisive and searing cultural examination of modern sexual mores on my old blog. Kendra is a grade-A, top-drawer, Christmas-cracker nut job. Her book is like accidental absurdism.

Here’s a sample:

Let me give you ‘Kendra in the shower’:

‘Usually, I’ll make toast or an egg sandwich and a coffee and a smoothie and bring it all into the shower with me. I kind of have it all scattered round like a buffet. Some things are on the bath ledge, some things on the sink counter, some stuff on the floor. I’ll put my coffee (in a covered to-go mug) on the soap dish and my sandwich right by my razor – close enough for me to grab but still not get wet. Maybe I’ll leave my smoothie on the sink and kind of peek out from the curtain and grab a few sips here and there. I’ll be shaving with one hand and have a coffee in the other, or have a loofah in one hand with soap suds trying to wash my body while I’m chowing down on an egg sandwich in the other hand…That’s something I do almost every time I shower in the morning, and I do it all so quickly and efficiently that it allows me so much more time each week to spend with my family.’ .

I am not just mocking Kendra. Well,  I am totally mocking Kendra, but I am also grateful to her for inventing the personal hygiene/breakfast combo, and putting it on the page for me to enjoy. No judgement. Yes, she eats egg sandwiches while she soaps her mammoth bosom. But I transcribed her detailed showering routine, and I published it on the Internet, so I am clearly the bigger idiot.

Do you have a favourite memoir to share? Let me know. I’ll add it to my list. Happy reading!

If you’re interested, another Bookshelf post: Adventurous Women. 

Team Nigella (Also, Young Barack Is Looking Right At Me. Into My Soul, I Think.)

Tough year for Nigella Lawson. I love her, and I’m sad for her. I love her cooking, her wit, the way she is both bluestocking and sensualist.  I’m so sad for her this week.

She has had a terrible run with the fates – the deaths of her mother, sister and husband from cancer, and now the ugliness of being grilled in court about her drug use and her mothering capabilities by her ex-husband Charlies Saatchi (called, in this excellent opinion piece, a cad, which seems quite the wrong c-word to me.)

Firstly, what’s a little dabbling in recreational drugs? This fine looking young man liked to smoke pot and ‘maybe a little blow, when I could get it, ‘ he said. He still went on to be the leader of the free world. Twice.  And he can catch flies in his bare hands. (YouTube.)

Of course, it is impossible to know the truth of any marriage, and ugly to speculate, but  Saatchi’s behaviour follows a painfully familiar pattern of the controlling man looking to punish the partner who has left him.

I am going to revisit this podcast of Nigella describing life in Italy, and her difficult relationship with her mother, this week.  She is a fascinating woman, Nigella. I hope she moves on swiftly from this awful period.

Sad now. I might sit here and look at Barack for a while until I cheer up.

Shabby Hotel Room Dreams

Last weekend Keith and I left the kids overnight with Nanna and Pop, and took off to a wedding down the coast.

It was fantastic.


I adored the joie de vivre of the groom’s mother, who danced up a storm and provided me with a golden image to file in my ‘when I grow up’ catalogue. Life force! It is so attractive. What is a smooth or ‘beautiful’ face compared to a person inhabiting their space on the planet with energy and enthusiasm and curiosity?

We had a great moment when a dandy-looking guy in a wool waistcoat and artistic hair turned out not to be a graphic designer or barber-barista,  but in fact an astrophysicist turned statistician working at Oxford. His job involved crunching climate change numbers. Keith’s ears pricked up, and soon the two were intent in conversation. Me, I was basically dribbling as I listened with my mouth open, trying to make the one word in each five I understood match to the English I knew.

We stayed overnight in a room at the local pub. This room had nothing in it except a bed, a bin in the corner, and a shelf mysteriously bolted to the wall. A bare lightbulb swung over the bed. It was a room you could sleep off a bender in. You could spend a night or two in disgrace when the wife kicked you out. You could, perhaps, go through a lonely, shivering heroin detox in that room. But the sheets were clean, the walls were freshly painted, and the bed, although lumpy, was surprisingly comfortable.

Down the hall, the bathrooms were separated by sex. The male bathroom was, curiously, missing both sink and shower rose, and the the female shower sported a hand-soap dispenser high up on the wall.

I was silent and dubious for a minute, and then: ’If we were backpacking,’ Keith said, ‘this room would be the biggest score.’

It was true, I realised. It was clean, it locked, there was room to spread out your luggage. There was even a little table in the hall with a kettle and teabags, and a telly bolted up high. In backpacking-land, it was a palace.

When we got back from the wedding, we lay back on our lumpy bed and talked about taking the kids around Europe, staying in rooms like this. We debated the merits of Turkey and Italy and the Middle East. We wondered how old the kids should be to handle it, and how we would do it.

In the morning, we read the papers, with no toddler demanding release from the bars of her cot for ‘tea-butter toast’.

I carted my stuff out for a shower and passed a fellow resident in the lounge. He was tall, bald and heavily tattooed and looked in fact like the sort of gentleman that fellow prisoners might refer to ‘Mad Dog.’ But he was quietly having a cup of tea and watching a television cook make a duck lasagne.

Keith and I had excellent Eggs Benedict in a sweet little cafe,  and enjoyed a conversation  in which we finished full sentences without either of us breaking off to say ‘The next person to say ‘poo’ at this table loses half their dessert.’  We hung out on the dock and read the papers and then we made our way north to take our three little friends home from their weary grandparents.

Huge thanks to Mum and Dad for minding the kids. Huge thanks!

We’re back in the swing of normal life again now, but that weekend was a beautiful interlude. It reminded me that this life we are living now with very small children; this chaotic  intensity: it is a passing season. One day, these kids will be so big that we can all bunk into a shabby old room together. Some distant place, some distant time.

Until then, Keith and I will always  have Mad Dog’s Palace.

How To Freak Out The Tattooed.

I caught a really interesting program on Background Briefing recently. Journalist Ian Townsend investigated the rise of tattoo popularity and the potential dangers of tattoo ink. I’ve got a couple of little ones, from the 90′s. That was when tatts started going mainstream, says Townsend. Luckily, I didn’t get any ink I regret. Just this sweet Britney portrait.


By 1998, 10% of Australian adults had one, a number that rose to 15% by 2006; and now, 30% of women in their 20′s have a tattoo.

Fascinating stats.

But there’s also a rising concern about the safety of tattoo inks, which have been found to contain toxins, heavy metals and potential carcinogens. In Australia, tattoo inks are imported as industrial chemicals, and thus occupy a sort of ‘regulation black hole’. In addition, many people are buying home kits and cheap inks online for backyard tattooing.

Listen to the full podcast here. And if you’re still thinking about getting ink; here are some ideas: ( all from this Tumblr, where I spent the best ten minutes of my day):

This one is for my dear friend Lucy. (I think we should do this ourselves at your 40th weekend Lu. Let’s discuss. )

And these next few will surely pass the test of time, for when Grandma’s still got it,and Grandpa’s just an old scamp!

New Piano!

The family band is about to take on a whole new sound after we took delivery today of a shiny new piano.

I can’t play anything except the theme tune to A Country Practice. But the K Dog plays beautifully and is teaching the big two. He is so in love with this bad boy that he can’t quite pass it without sitting down and having a play.

Much plinky plonky music from our house over the next while I think. I can’t wait to belt out a little Angel Of the Morning and other hot hits of the moment.

Happy days!