Sunday, December 31, 2006

Why the holiday season is working for me

An antidote to my earlier self-indulgent black rant, in no particular order

1. Spending lots of lazy time with my soon-to-be-gone husband and soon-to-be-left-behind child.

2. Lots of reading time. And new books to read.

3. Enjoying F’s excitement on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Leaving a carrot for the reindeer and a cookie, a white wine (in F’s favourite cup), and a candy cane for Santa. And a note, written across the back of three carefully lined up business cards: ‘Dear Santa, have I been good? Write your answer here (arrow pointing to the side) with this texta (arrow pointing below).’ The answer card was topped with ‘Dear F’, with ‘Love Santa’ at the bottom, and a blank space in the middle. My husband wrote Santa’s answer in old-fashioned cursive, so F wouldn’t recognise our handwriting. When F examined it in the morning (‘He left crumbs! He ate it! This PROVES that Santa exists!’), he exclaimed that Santa’s writing was just like his teacher’s.

4. My First iPod – a birthday present from the Husband. I have been mumbling about not needing new-fangled technology to listen to music and consumerism and ‘boy’s toys’ for a while. I didn’t realise until Birthday Morning that I wanted one, too. I went for an hour-long walk with the dogs in the park yesterday with my new toy and I’m determined to keep it up. What a thoughtful and very cool present. Much better than the year he bought me underwear, including a much-hated G-string, for my birthday. (That was, admittedly, In The Beginning.)

5. A very pleasant birthday spent with the Husband in which he thoroughly spoilt me and let me choose everywhere I wanted to eat and everything I wanted to do, while F was playing at his friend’s house. The gelati at Gelo Bar on Lygon Street was a highlight. Simple girl, simple pleasures.

6. Really enjoying F’s company (when he’s not giving me attitude or behaving appallingly with other young’uns). I just like hanging out with him. He’s interesting. He makes surprising observations. He’s affectionate. He makes me laugh. We spent Thursday picking up mail from the post office, sharing brunch at a local café while I told him stories about when he was little and then read to him from his new books (received in the mail), shopping together for groceries and then a backpack for me, lying on my bed eating toast and reading books (me mine, him his), napping in my bed, and then a quite well-behaved play date/sleepover with his younger ‘cousin’ (actually my mother-in-law’s foster child).

7. Going to Adelaide in three weeks, where I will FINALLY catch up with all my family, who I haven’t seen since March. Mum has promised to make me a lemon meringue pie as a belated birthday cake. A week is not really long enough to rotate between four houses (Mum’s, Dad’s, brother’s, sisters’) but it’s something. And I am well aware that I always romanticise my relationship with my family in their absence, yet after a prolonged stay I’m usually ready to head home. One heavily divided week will keep the romance alive …

8. Backyard BBQs with friends that stretch long into the night, with no work to worry about in the morning.

9. Eating two excellent roast dinners in one day (Christmas Day), followed by an intoxicated night of Trivial Pursuit and Christmas lollies at a friend’s house, while F slept over at my mother-in-law’s with his ‘cousin’.

10. Did I mention all the lazy time with my loved ones? And, yes, there is excitement about the impending Big Trip, combined with a sense of unreality. I think that part of me doesn’t believe it will really happen. But the tickets are booked, the job is (nearly) left and F’s extended time with his dad is arranged … I guess that means I’m going!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Why the holiday season is not working for me

Warning: self-indulgent black mood ahead …

1. F’s play dates are not working out well. Something to do with a disinclination to share Christmas toys by all parties, sugar overloads all round, childish hubris generated by the recent avalanche of gifts, and F’s current ‘phase’. At least I hope it’s a phase. *sigh* My birthday present yesterday was picking him up from a friend’s house to get a long tale about bad behaviour (which mirrored my experience of this trio of children earlier in the week), ended by the observation that F's problem is probably ‘his personality’. A play date he won’t be having again …

2. Apprehension about returning to work.

3. Fear of having no work after impending three-week training-my-replacement period is over. What if I can’t find a job (or at least, one that suits me more than the one I’ve given up) when I return from overseas? My friends and husband tell me of course you'll find a job. But how do they know? And, yes, this is entirely self-inflicted.

4. Rising panic at the thought of leaving my son for two months (okay, seven weeks) very, very soon while I gallivant off overseas. (What if his behavioural problems worsen? What if he misses me too much and feels abandoned? What if he forgets me and prefers his dad when I return? What if he changes while I’m away, with no input from me?)

5. Rising panic at thought of being all alone while husband is overseas for six out of the following twelve months. I’ve been all alone in the inner city with single friends and excellent PT. But all alone in suburbia with crap access to public transport and no single friends left – and working from home – seems different. (Actually, I do have one single friend but he’s an ardent clubber and I’m too tired for that.)

6. I miss my family in Adelaide. Usually I would have seen them by now at this time of year. In-laws are not the same, even if mine are very nice.

7. Apathy. Too much to do and not enough energy to do it all.

8. Deep concern about my parenting skills. Why did F have his biggest tantrum ever this week? Why is he such a smart-mouth at the moment? It FEELS like I’m always disciplining him. What else can I take away after pocket money, Lego, Bionicles, Exoforce (new Lego), dessert and any junk food or sweets whatsoever?!? What I would like is to have an independent observer come in and invisibly watch me for a week or two and then give me an unbiased opinion on what I’m doing wrong (and right) and what to do next. Of course, they’d have to share my values and broad philosophy of parenting.

9. Crappy Melbourne weather – hail, rain, smoke haze and lack of warmth. It’s hot in Adelaide, dammit.

10. Awareness that I am being a self-indulgent grump and there are plenty of people worse off than me. Including me a few years ago.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The drug of a nation

A very fun TV meme from Elsewhere (and picked up up by Kate before me):

1. Earliest remembered television?
The first thing that pops into my head is coming home from school and watching Bewitched with Mum. How I loved Bewitched … But sensibly, I think Play School and Sesame Street were my introduction to television. I have a brilliant 1970s-era record of the Sesame Street cast album, with everyone boogying on a New York Street. Lots of afros and flares. I was so excited when F was old enough that I could pass it on to him.

2. TV series you would want on a desert island?
If I landed there tomorrow: Veronica Mars, my current TV obsession. Series 2, because I haven’t seen it all. My cousins gave me a downloaded version of Series 1 as a ‘joke’ wedding present, because they knew I was incredibly jealous that they had it (I’d managed to grab the odd episode last summer). I actually squealed when they gave it to me! I’m slightly ashamed to say (because it’s so unromantic and kinda wrong), but my husband I watched the whole series in two (or maybe – hopefully – three?) days on our honeymoon, with the odd trip to the beach in between. Veronica is like a cross between Buffy (whip-smart, kick-ass cute blonde who ends up taking of everyone around her) and Agent Cooper (eccentric detective extraordinaire) , with a *tiny* pinch of Donna Hayward (who I never liked all that much) - just with the whole solving-your-best-friend’s-murder thing. And her dad is brilliant. And love a good love triangle/URST (unresolved sexual tension). I have proved that I can watch Twin Peaks over and over again, though.

3. TV that made you laugh
Frontline. You gotta love a show that actually managed to damage the credibility of the genre it was satirising. The humour was so sharp, and often so bittersweet. Liked the way you ended up loving the villains of the piece (the producers, Marty if you think about it) – always a sign of clever storytelling. And I was a media student when it was showing on TV – I soooo wanted to be Emma, the incredibly clever (if under-appreciated and nearly always undermined) producer. I’ve discovered Scrubs this year and fallen in love with it. Just hilarious. Packed with witty one-liners and some great characters. Zach Braff is brilliant and I love his relationship with superficially-gruff-but-goodhearted Dr Cox. I think I’ll have a new appreciation for Garden State if I watch it again now (Braff’s self-penned film about a misanthropic actor who returns to his small town for a visit and resents the recognition he gets for the sitcom he was in). Yes Minister. The Office. Thank God You’re Here: the segments with Hamish Blake and Angus Sampson.

4. TV that made you cry – SPOILER ALERT – Love My Way
Love My Way, for my hands-down worst crying episode at anything fictional. I was watching the dvd and I had to turn it off and take a break. I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed as if my heart would break (cliché I know, but I don’t care). I needed tissues. Lots of them. I can’t stand anything where a child is hurt or endangered – something that happened to me pretty much as soon as I had my son (I learnt the hard way, watching Sophie’s Choice on midday TV while breastfeeding). So, to have a child die, unexpectedly, in the middle of the series, absolutely shattered me. It got me in a very deep, primal way. Whoah. Especially, I guess, because I identified so much with Claudia’s character. (No, I don’t LOOK like that.) I share custody with my ex, we have a seven-year-old child, he and his wife had a new baby this year, we organise our custody in the way they did on the show, before I met my current husband, my son and I lived with an old friend of mine WHO WAS A CHEF and it fell apart partly due to a longstanding unrequited crush. It disturbed me for days. I also cried with happiness when Laura and Max finally got together on Sea Change. (I loved Sea Change and had the BIGGEST crush on Diver, then EVEN BIGGER on Max.) I also cried all afternoon once after a news story on selfish women who work while their children suffer without them. Snotty, semi-luxurious, reclining-on-my-pillows crying. Oddly, it was the week before I returned to full-time work … Probably lots more but I’ll stop there. I am a BIG sook.

5. TV crap that you enjoy.
Hmmm. Embarrassing. I am a crapmeister. (I was worse when we briefly had Foxtel.) I did enjoy Australian Idol, not so much this season, though I liked Bobby Flynn. I actually prefer American Idol. It’s the judges: Simon Cowell is hilarious and there’s some weird sexual chemistry going on between him and Paula Abdul. And my god, unlike Marcia Hines, though she is ‘the nice judge’, she actually SAYS WHAT SHE THINKS. Aaargh! Oz Idol needs Dicko to come back. I was hooked on Australian Princess last year, but haven’t really watched it this year. True confession time: I was into Neighbours and sternly told myself not to watch it anymore because it truly is crap, and I shouldn’t be watching TV at that time. That was three months ago and I haven’t watched it since. I just liked Evil Izzy and Scheming Paul. And Dr Karl when he was an alcoholic skirt-chaser. Moving right along …

6. TV you'll never forget.
Love My Way: episode where the child dies. See above. Also, an SBS doco that aired a few weeks ago, followed a 14-year-old girl working in a jeans factory in China. I turned it on about a quarter of the way through, but was riveted. It was almost more disturbing because the workers WEREN’T starving to death and didn’t live or work in barely lit shacks where there was no room to move. They weren’t forced to have sex with their employers or beaten for not working fast enough. The girls worked all night to finish big orders. They fell asleep on their desks and were prodded awake. They ate shitty dormitory food. They lived in shitty dormitories. They were paid badly, and pay was withheld as ‘bond’ for the first few months so that if they left, they would lose it. Many of them, like this girl, were kids who missed their families badly, and had been pulled out of work for this. The boss – the factory owner - was interviewed and he spoke about the need to control his lazy workers, etc. He seemed selfish and comparatively privileged. But he didn’t live much better than a lot of us. They also showed the owner in meetings with foreign buyers (aka People Like Us – Western movers and shakers) and you saw the way they squeezed him for every cent they could get, and pushed him as hard as they could on delivery. It’s not about evil Chinese factory owners: it’s about greedy Western business people, who get far more out the deal than they do. They cancel orders if they’re late – and set ridiculous schedules. And we wonder why poor 14-year-old girls work 18 hour days?

7. Favourite TV adaptation.
Have to say, I loved the BBC Pride and Prejudice. Colin Firth was a damned good Darcy. (He had the whole disturbed but brilliant and secretly lovely Angry Young man thing going on.) And Jennifer Ehle a suitably spunky Elizabeth Bennett. The recent BBC Vanity Fair with Natasha Little was also wonderful. What a fabulous Becky Sharp! And I thoroughly enjoyed the version of The Alan Clark Diaries shown this year, with John Hurt as the horrid little self-important Thatcher-boot-licking (or navy pump-licking) Conservative politician. So very, very funny. I do reserve a special space in my heart, though, for the (BBC again) adaptation of The Secret Garden, a major milestone in my love of reading. I fell in love with it when I was about six, watching it after school on the ABC, and I was absolutely dying to read the book. Mum LOVES the story of how she took me to Myer and the sales assistant solemnly handed me the Ladybird version of the book. I looked at it and said ‘no, I want the REAL book’. She explained that I wouldn’t be able to read it, and Mum told her that I was really a very good reader and I would be fine. The Myer bookshop lady, exasperated with Mum by now and (Mum thinks) sure that she was a horrid stage mother, handed me the book and said in condescending tones: ‘There you are dear, read it to me’, shooting Mum a presciently (she thought) triumphant look. And then I started to read aloud – perfectly fluently – and the woman apologised profusely and gave me the book. Which I read several times since and still have.

7. Favourite nerdish program
Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister. I remember watching them after dinner with my dad, who was a fan. Later, I remember reading the collected scripts from Dad’s bookshelves. And then surreptitiously nicking them when I left home. And I am looking at them now. My husband bought me the whole two series on DVD and I re-watched them all. Still so sharp and funny and utterly relevant. And Nigel Hawthorne as Sir Humphrey … golden. And I was a BIG Twin Peaks nerd. I have a book of critical essays on Twin Peaks.

8. One TV program you are currently watching.
Love My Way Series 2. Veronica Mars Series 2. Smallville, intermittently. Partly because it's summer, partly because I'm watching Good Lex evolve into Evil Lex.

9. One TV show/series you have been meaning to watch
Um, Buffy. Of course I've seen it, but only intermittently. I really got into some of the narratives, but then missed the start of others. I think the narrative is often what gets me hooked. One day I'm going to hire the first series on DVD, and watch it sequentially. And Weeds.

10. Now tag five people.
Tag! You’re it, if you want to be. If not, you got away. Or you can say ‘barleys’ and then you’ve got immunity. (I don’t know why – it was a 1980s schoolyard thing.)

Monday, December 18, 2006

Keeping up with the Joneses

I hate the Sunday supplements. I buy the Sunday Age for the TV Guide in M Magazine. But, my god, it’s a vacuous piece of shit.

The (relatively new) editor, Michelle Griffin, is a respected literary journalist and a fine writer. She is incredibly intelligent. She seems to be a no-bullshit kind of person.

So, it is increasingly odd to me, after a long not-quite-acquaintance with her on the literary pages, to read her chirrupy little editorials. It’s not those that I have a problem with, though. (Hell, we all gotta earn a living.)

This week, there is an article on the ‘Homes’ pages that really pissed me off. It is about home cinemas:

Rodney Hearn is a born hi-fi and movie buff … He and his wife Anne are such avid cinema-goers that they pay for the gold-class experience. But even that edge of gilt-edged luxury isn’t quite enough for Hearn. “It’s very annoying to be watching a movie while someone is eating a three-course meal behind you,” he says. And it’s even worse in conventional movie theatres “with people behind you talking or rattling chips bags. How much of the movie do you actually get to see? That’s why the home theatre is cut out for people like the Hearns. They’re sinking $100,000 plus – their redundancy cheques – into creating a 9.5 metre by 6.5 metre home cinema on the back of their western suburbs home.

What the hell? So, the obvious solution to annoying eaters in movie theatres is to build your own home cinema? What is wrong with these people? Who are they? The article takes pains to make them sound like your average, perhaps slightly well-to-do couple. (Note ‘western suburbs’)

Their addiction is not as extreme as they might think. More and more people are forking out huge sums to set up a home theatre.
Is this: theatres are the new swimming pools? Obviously designed to make people think that this is normal, that anyone can do it, that you might feel as if it’s something you can’t afford, but everyone’s doing it these days. So just get a loan, or whack it on the credit cards …

Why is the trend towards home cinemas intensifying? … “Deep down, people love the idea of having their own private cinema. It was once just a futuristic dream. Now all members of the family can have fun together, playing electronic games or watching movies on the big screen.”
Oh, so it brings the family together. It’s an investment for the good of the kids.

If you build it, they will stay at home.

Am I crazy, or is this sickening? It’s similar to when they first started advertising steel fridges with built-in televisions. It’s just so extreme.

This reminds me of my short-lived stint at an architecture and lifestyle magazine, where I was gently chided over a line in a book review. It was one of those ‘50 Houses’ type things, showcasing the best new architecture around the world. I’d written something about it giving readers the opportunity to tour fabulous homes that they could never afford ‘But isn’t it true?’ I asked. ‘Well, ye-es,’ I was told. ‘But the whole point of the magazine is for people to realise that everyone can afford an architect. And that sends the wrong message.’

I’m sorry, but if we’re all that rich, why don’t we have better public schools, public health, child care, public transport?

Or are those things less important than the dream of having your own home cinema? Designed by an architect, of course.

Too much

On Sunday, I finally ventured out to do my Christmas shopping. Having slunk past the queues transfixed by the Myer Christmas windows, I elbowed my way through the crowds up five flights of escalators to the toy department … only to be stopped at the magical sixth escalator by a pair of security guards.
‘You can’t go up there.’
I and a handful of just-as-harassed-looking fellow shoppers made our way, as instructed, to the friendly lift lady. Who told us that the sixth floor was closed, and she was under instructions not to let anyone up there.
‘The queue to see Santa is a few hours long, anyway.’
‘But I don’t want to see Santa,’ I wailed. ‘I want to buy toooyyyys.’
‘One hour queue for that,’ she chirped, and I, grumpily, painfully aware that I had work to do this afternoon and all my Christmas shopping to do before I could get home to do it, was a bitch.
‘Well, fine then,’ I sulked. ‘I’ll go and spend my money somewhere else.’
The lift lady smiled, managed to look sympathetic, and waved me goodbye. She’d obviously dealt with sulky princesses like me before. As I walked off, I knew I was being unreasonable. More than that, I knew that a place that was actively turning customers away, that had security guards keeping them off the escalators, that had people queuing for an hour to hand over their money, would not care one bit whether I spent my money elsewhere.

They didn’t have the means to take my money anyway.

Yes, we have too much.

Still, as I wearily slumped from my fifth escalator on the way out, I paused to tell the information woman stationed there that if they’re not going to let people enter the sixth floor, they really should have a sign on the bottom floor to let them know.
‘Oh, they’re doing that again are they?’ she said, shaking her grey perm. ‘I was on the lifts yesterday when they did that.’ A knowing, wry smile. ‘I’m sorry love, but it’s just too much paperwork to get a sign made. It has to go though admin and then it has to be approved by management, and then by the time it gets down here … But I’ll be sure to let people know. Thank you.’

Random thought: the customer service at Myer is generally excellent. Maybe it’s partly because of the women approaching pension age who have learnt to handle annoying customers (like me) with grace. Good on them.

So, on concluding that as a society, we have too much, did I go home and hand-make gifts for my son?

No. I took my orgy of spending elsewhere. I went to Target, which was having 20% off toys, and gathered Lego, confetti glitter glue, a Wolfmother CD single, a Bionicles DVD and a comic book. (In the line, a customer handed me a spare 10% off everything voucher, an casual act of kindness that cheered me up a bit.) And then I went to AFL World and bought a West Coast Eagles cap and t-shirt.

I know he doesn’t need any of it, but it’s part of the whole Christmas ritual, and I’m stuck in it.

I’m too busy and distracted and generally frazzled by work and next year’s travel plans to do much about the problem of Christmas as a celebration of how spoilt we all are. I’m donating some children’s books to a worthy cause and taking F to choose a present for a charity Christmas tree. And my grandmother has asked for contributions of canned goods, pencils, paper, etc. to a woman she knows who is distributing these items to AIDS victims in Africa. So, thanks to her, there is that.

Maybe next year I’ll have a more creative and appropriate approach - though I’m pretty certain I’ll still be spending up big on things F doesn’t need, too. As, I know, my parents did for me.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Hell is other parents. Part One.

I’ve had a bad parenting week.

Partially due to the Boy, who pulled his pants down in the playground AGAIN, forcing me to carry through with my ill-conceived threat to write to Santa and tell him ‘No Bionicles for Christmas’. This was Wednesday.

Monday, after spending the morning throwing up (no, I’m not pregnant) and the day at work feeling weak and dizzy, I arrive at After Care deep in brain fog. They look puzzled to see me. ‘F’s not here,’ they say. I panic. ‘Could someone else have picked him up?’ They couldn’t. His father and stepfather are both at work. Where could he be? What could have happened? Then I remember. On Mondays, he plays at a friend’s house after school. More than a little embarrassed, I reassure the worried-looking carer that I know where he is, I’d just forgotten, and head for the friend’s house.

‘You’re early,’ the Mother greets me at the door. ‘Are you okay? You look terrible.’ I feel terrible, and I’m about to feel worse. She pulls me into the ‘good’ sitting room, the one they don’t use, to tell me about her afternoon. Apparently, she’d overhead F saying something about sucking a woman’s breast on the way home and told him that if she ever heard anything like that again, he is no longer welcome at the house. ‘I like F,’ she said. ‘But A is innocent, and I’d like to keep him that way. I let him watch The Blues Brothers, but that’s about it. I don’t mean to judge, but I don’t know where F has picked that up from. Do you? He’s a very advanced reader, so maybe he read it somewhere?’ (Yeah, like all those Playboys I keep in my bottom drawer?!) I apologise, and assure her I will investigate and give F a thorough talking to. ‘I mean, it was one thing when he told A about how babies were made last week,’ she continues. ‘I didn’t really mind that, but … I didn’t really want him to know about it, but what can you do? I did have to put up with him saying penis and vagina all weekend, but … but that was okay, I guess.’ I still remember the look on her face last week when I told her that I’d overhead them having The Talk. I slink off to collect my wayward son.

‘What exactly did you say?’ I ask him as we walk home across the park.
‘I said that Supergirl was the stupidest movie I’d ever seen and A said Supergirl was beautiful. So I asked him if he wanted to suck Supergirl’s breast.’
‘Where did you get that from?’
‘From when you get born,’ he chirps. ‘You know, breastfeeding.’ His stepmother is breastfeeding. I breathe a huge sigh of relief and tell him to never say anything like that again.

Back to Wednesday. Wednesday is the day that A comes to play at our house. He’s a nice kid, and they play well together, but they also like to dob on each other. I have a rule: I don’t want to hear about it unless someone is hurt, someone is in danger or about to get hurt, or something is being wrecked. I find A before I find F.
‘My mum told me I have to tell you every time F says something rude,’ he tells me.
‘Great,’ I say, through clenched teeth.

I read F’s Communication Book outside his classroom. He has spent the afternoon in the office for pulling his pants down. I find his teacher. We talk. I find the vice principal. We talk, while F and A play in the corridor outside her office. I am almost in tears.
‘He keeps doing it because it makes the other children laugh,’ she says. ‘But they don’t laugh so much anymore. They think it’s weird.’ I nod and agree. I tell her what I’ve been doing, and ask her what she suggests. Then she says something that really brings me to the edge of tears.
‘F is a great kid,’ she says. ‘He’s come so far this year. We’ve told him we’re really proud of him. He’s incredibly smart, and sometimes that causes problems. But I love having him around.’
Really?’ I say. ‘You do?’
I’ve spent the year worrying that they don’t like him.

I feel slightly better as I walk the boys home. I tell F that if he does it again, I will give all his Bionicles to my mother-in-law’s foster child, J.
‘Who’s that?’ asks A.
‘His cousin,’ I say. It’s what F has taken to calling him, and it’s easier than explaining. I go to the newsagent on the way home and buy glitter glue, textas, paintbrushes. The boys play best when they are drawing together.

I push my bike, loaded with art supplies, through the hot, smoggy park. A lags behind.
F points to the wall along the power station.
‘That’s graffiti,’ he says. ‘S says when he grows up, he wants to write graffiti.’ The boys giggle naughtily. F whispers something.
‘Excuse me,’ says A. ‘F said when he grows up, he wants to sniff vaginas.’
‘WHAT?’ I am furious. I interrogate the boys. I turns out that F said he wanted to sniff bums. Okay, bad, but Andy Griffiths rather than Hugh Hefner territory. A just wanted to say vagina. I growl at them both. I am hot, my throat hurts, my eyes sting, and my arm is sore from pushing the bike for so long.

At the front gate, A taps my arm.
‘Excuse me,’ he says. ‘F said that daisy was stupid.’
I look at him.
‘And stupid is a bad word?’
He nods.
‘Okay,’ I say. I lock up my bike and entertain thoughts of killing the Mother, who has condemned me to what is already a long and painful afternoon.

I am cutting up honey toast and apples at the kitchen table. A comes to fetch his carton of Ribena, and stays to watch. He is thoughtful.
‘So, if F is rude again, his cousin gets all his Bionicles?’ he asks.
‘Oh.’ He pauses. ‘You know, you could give them to me.’
‘That’s an interesting idea, but I don’t think so,’ I say, envisaging even more dobbing in a plot to gain F’s Bionicles. I also envisage the end of the friendship.
‘Oh.’ He takes a slice of apple. ‘You could give half to me, half to his cousin?’
‘Maybe I could have just one?’
I snap. ‘A, if I was to give you F’s Bionicles if he was rude, you’d tell me was rude, wouldn’t you? So, I don’t think it’s a good idea. They’ll go to his cousin. And hopefully, F will be good.’
‘I won’t say he’s rude.’

The Mother is due between 5.30pm and 6pm. At 6.10pm, she hasn’t arrived. I want this to be over. I have a headache with trying to work out who is really being rude, who is making up stories, who actually deserves to be told off, and how to explain that I don’t really care if someone said ‘bloody’. There are just as many complaints about 'innocent' A as about F. Next week, I plan to revert to my rule.

The Mother arrives at 6.30pm, breezily. She has, as usual, brought A’s little brother. The three boys shoot out into the backyard for a light sabre duel. I want her to go. I am too angry and tired to deal with her. The Husband shoots her a look and disappears. He is furious, as is F’s father, about the fuss. They think she is a prude. F’s father actually came out with a killer of a line when I told him how upset she was about the sex ed, and penis and vagina. ‘What would she prefer?’ he said, icily. ‘That A goes around saying prick and cunt?’

The Mother deals with the frosty atmosphere by settling in for the long haul, to show that we are friends and everything is okay. She talks and talks. She follows the boys out the back and comments on the progress of the light sabre duels. She tells me about a meal she made recently, and gives me the recipe, step by step. She asks for lemons from the tree. She tells me that she wants to make lemon butter. She gives me a recipe for lemon butter. She tells me that the great thing to do with lemon butter is to make a pudding. She gives me the recipe. She tells me how nice the lemon tree is, and about her lemon tree, and about her friend’s lemon tree, and what her friend does with lemons, and how her mother propagates fruit trees, and how she herself does it. It is 7pm. She asks me, finally, about the sucking breasts thing. I tell her about the breastfeeding and she is surprised and relieved. She tells me, again, that she wishes A hadn’t been told the facts of life. She tells me, again, that he’s been saying vagina. That she was doing the ironing, and he said ‘Mum, you have a vagina, don’t you?’

At 7.30pm, she finally leaves. At the door, she grabs my arm and asks, ‘Are you doing anything right now?’ I need to cook dinner, serve dinner, bath F, get him into his PJs, put him to bed and read him a story. By 8.30pm. And then I need to write and research an article.
‘A is missing his bike,’ she says. (He left it here last week.) ‘Can you walk him to the park so he can ride it home?’
‘Okay.’ I just want it to all be over. A asks if F can come. I say no, too sharply. I say that F will walk home too slowly and I need to start dinner soon, an edge of resentment in my voice. As we trudge to the end of the driveway, the Mother grabs my arm again.
‘Hey!’ she says. ‘Come here!’ And she gives me a hug. I smile weakly and wave goodbye.
‘Why does F like Bionicles so much?’ asks A.
‘I don’t know.’ I try to be upbeat and friendly, overcompensating. ‘I guess he just does.’
‘I don’t,’ says A. ‘I like superheroes.’ And with that, he climbs onto his bike and pedals off down the hill, me jogging behind.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Red in the morning

Today started with a red sun, burning against a pale grey sky.

At first, I thought it must be a trick of the light. I opened my back door and stepped out onto the deck to get a closer look. It’s odd, that I was so surprised by seeing the sun as a ball of flame. I mean: that’s what it is. But normally, that’s not how it appears.

On the train platform, I looked around. I couldn’t believe that no one else seemed to notice, or find it odd. A little boy skipped by. He had tousled curls and a Bob the Builder backpack, and he stayed one step behind his immaculately suited father.

‘Daddy,’ he said, tugging at his sleeve. ‘Why is the moon in the sky? It’s daytime!’
‘It’s not the moon,’ said his dad. ‘It’s the sun.’
And he quickened his step, forcing the boy to skip faster.

That’s when I noticed: everyone was deliberately avoiding the ominous red sun. I looked again at my fellow commuters, and saw the woman closest to me glance at it, then return her gaze to her feet.

My eyes began to sting. I realised that I was staring directly at the sun, and remembered it wasn’t a good idea.

I remember an old folk rhyme: Red in the morning, shepherd’s warning. What exactly is it that we’re being warned about?

I’m afraid that it’s not just one hot summer, or the worst fire season on record. And I’m well aware that what we’re seeing in Melbourne is nothing compared to what’s happening in the bush.

My feeling is something akin to when I woke up in the middle of the night to find my flatmate transfixed by a crappy disaster movie about terrorists flying into the World Trade Centre. Or so I thought.

The world is changing.

And the natural world is a far more formidable enemy than Osama bin Laden or al Qaeda. Or rather: we are our worst enemy. A cliché, but true.

I don’t know if we have the courage to do what is necessary to stop this. I don’t know if we’re unselfish enough.

It seems to be far harder to make the decision to go without than to send troops and bombs to obliterate far away countries.

By the time that we accept that we need to drastically change our lifestyles it will very probably be too late.

It’s probably too late already.

I have a seven-year-old boy who I love more than I ever thought I could love anything or anyone. And I’m worried that he will not have the life I’ve had. I can’t bear to think or write anything more drastic than that. I just tried, and I literally can’t. A mental barricade goes up.

It’s much easier to be cynical about my own life than my child’s.

I don’t know what to realistically hope for anymore.

As I rode my bike to the train station this morning, towards the burning sun, I couldn’t help but think: What if this is the last year that we live the way we do now?

Will this be the time we look back on as a turning point, the moment when the world changed?

Maybe that could come true in a positive way. Maybe this could be the year that we collectively wake up?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

T'is the season to be shopping. Or selling.

In honour of the Shopping Season, and somewhat inspired by Comic Strip Hero's random rant about annoying shop assistants, I've decided to list some of my own retail pet hates - from both sides of the counter. Feel free to add your own ...

As a customer

1. 'That looks really good on you.'
Yeah, right. What else are you going to say?

2. 'You know what everyone's wearing with that at the moment?'
Do I look like I'm sixteen and get my fashion advice from Paris Hilton and friends?

3. Sales assistant looking aggrieved when you decide not to buy something that 's been recommended.
Operative word: buy. With my money. It's not like I didn't appreciate your gift.

4. Ambush you as soon as you glance at something: 'Oh, I love that, don't you?'

5. Pouncing on you as soon as you walk through the door. 'Hiiiii, how are yooouuu?'
I know some of them are forced to do it. I still hate it.

6. People who call you 'love'.

As a counter slave

1. 'They have that cheaper at Borders/KMart/Myers, you know.'
Then buy it there.

2. 'Can I get a discount?'
'Why is that?'
'Well, you never know if you don't ask, do you?'
Actually, you do. It's not a street market.

3. Customer talking on a mobile phone while they are being served. ESPECIALLY if they approach the counter, hand you their purchase while talking, and roll their eyes as if to say 'I'm on the phone!' if you ask them a question. Like, 'is that cheque or savings?'

4. Waiting until the store lights are out and it's one minute past closing time to ask complicated questions involving tracking down 'that book with the blue cover, reviewed last month in the Age'.

5. Celebrities who give you the 'you do know who I am, don't you?' look when you serve them, combined with an imperious air. Usually they hail from the B or C list.

6. People who call you 'love'.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The land of wishes

I decided to unpack my boxes of books today.

I packed up two of my bookshelves in a fit of American-style positive thinking two months ago. ('If you behave like you are moving house, you will move house.')

It's been clear for a while that we are, in fact, not moving house. But for some reason, I haven't unpacked those damned boxes. They've remained stacked in a corner of the study, for no good reason. Just in case. Meanwhile, the plundered bookshelves sit half-naked, accumulating new, haphazard, piles of books that don't quite cover them. Proof copies. New purchases. Picture books. Old favourites picked up from elsewhere and put down here.

In a fit of procrastinating this morning, I unpacked the boxes, sorted the haphazard piles, and restored my neglected shelves to their former dignity. I have three freelance articles due this week, plus my full-time job. (And my son.) It's all in the name of preparing for when my full-time work stops in January. And making nice with contacts who will hopefully continue to feed me next year.

Today, Sunday, is the day to get much of the work done.

I have decided that I will work better in a neat study.

As I empty the first box, my son appears excitedly at my side. He picks out a handful of books and hands them to me.

'Here you go.'

'What are you doing?'

'I'm helping.'

'Thanks. Why?'

'Can I play with these boxes now?'


As the empty boxes are scattered around the room, my son gets out his box of textas and begins work. There is a pirate ship, with a Pirate Smurf sticky-taped to the front and assorted pirates lovingly drawn inside and out. There is a Bionicle cubby house. I am enlisted to cut out windows and a trapdoor. And there is a Time Machine.

'I am such a lucky boy,' grins F. 'What did I do to deserve all these boxes?'

I finish my task and make grilled cheese on toast for lunch before moving on, finally, to my articles. F drags the Time Machine into the kitchen and writhes around on the tiles as I slice cheese and light the grill.

'I'm visiting other lands,' F informs me. It seems that the Time Machine is a cross between an invention in the latest Captain Underpants and the Magic Faraway Tree. 'I'm going to the land of wishes. What do you wnat me to get for you?'

I pause as I cover every white space of bread with cheese, right up to the corners. I think carefully.

'I would like some time. Can I have a week's worth of time between today and tomorrow?'


He lies back on the tiles, rolls on his side and wriggles backward into the box. He rolls over agin, the box covering his head, feet and arms. Only his bum, clad in shiny red boxer shorts, is visible from above. He talks to himself. He emerges triumphantly from the box. I come to meet him. He puts his hand into mine.

'There you go,' he says. 'I got it for you.'

'Thanks.' I kiss his cheek.

It was a nice thought.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

10 signs you drank too much the night before

1. You wake up at 6am. WIDE awake.

2. By the time the alarm clock goes off, you're in sleeping mode. It takes you a few whacks of said clock before you remember: when it shrieks at you, it's time to get up.

3. You forget (for once) that you cunningly set your clock 15 minutes ahead (months ago), and thus manage to get up in time anyway. Hooray!

4. You feel dizzy-ish when you stand up.

5. You remember leaving a self-pitying, self-indulgent comment on someone's blog at 1am.

6. You remember that you somehow posted it twice. You'd like to apologise, but you're too embarassed, as this will entail leaving YET ANOTHER COMMENT.

7. You are relieved rather than annoyed that you've left your bike at the train station. This means you can get a cab to the station. Walking not an option.

8. In the cab, you reach into your bag for your sunglasses and pull out a plastic wineglass.

9. Mental check: WHAT DID I SAY AND WHO DID I SAY IT TO? Nothing too bad springs to mind. But nothing too scintillating either.

10. You thank [Divine Being of choice] that you are happily partnered (married even!) and therefore don't have to worry about who you might have unwisely kissed or inappropriately flirted with.

Monday, December 04, 2006

My weekend in a nutshell

On Saturday night, my husband bought me a box of chocolates while he was doing the grocery shopping.

On Sunday afternoon, his dog ate them while I was reading on the back porch.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Inherited nostalgia

As The Husband and I once again contemplate moving house, I find myself wondering what kind of living place I really want. What makes me happy?

I’m compiling a wishlist in my head, which more often than not contains a strong element of: ‘if only I had THAT house again, on THAT street’. Or something like it.

My son, aged seven, has inherited my raging nostalgia for past houses.

One Sunday night a few weeks ago, with just the two of us for dinner, I put on an old home video tape I’d discovered. We sat companionably on the couch, hands and mouths full of home-made hamburgers (higher than F’s mouth is wide), equally entranced by the sudden vision of four-year-old F in the bath.

My heart melted as he squirmed around, lisping a little (I’d forgotten he lisped at four!) singing the theme from Lilo and Stitch: ‘I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You’. To me, on the other side of the camera. Seven-year-old F was gleefully chuffed at his follow-up performance, solemnly miming ‘I think you stink’.

Then it was dinnertime and he was pouring sauce onto a hot dog on his plate. He tipped the bottle upside down and shook it. A red torrent drowned the hot dog bun, lapping at the broccoli and carrots sitting beside it. F stuck his fork into the mess and lifted the whole bun to his mouth. He licked it and put it down.
‘Don’t you like it?’ came the voice from behind the camera (me again).
‘No. There’s too much sauce.’
‘Do you think Mummy should have done it for you?’

The screen fuzzed black and white for a second and then filled with water and the sound of children shrieking. The camera zoomed in to reveal F again, chubby and lively in royal blue Speedos, jumping from the pool steps into the water as an awed little girl stood by, watched, then followed suit. It was the now-defunct Footscray Pool, where we used to swim every week or so. It was a fifteen-minute walk from our old house.

The Husband (then De Facto) cooked dinner as I filmed him. A close-up of the meal, one I’d forgotten was on his repertoire. I remind myself to ask him to cook it again. F’s beloved Cheer Bear (now face-down in a toybox) ‘talks’ to the camera and conducts a tour of the house. On the couch beside me, F giggles. He has abandoned his burger and curled up on the cushions, glued to the screen. I threaten him with ‘no TV’ and he wriggles back towards his meal.

He’s at the Show, stumbling in fake snow, throwing ‘snowballs’ at the camera. The screen goes black and I hear my own squeal. He’s hit me. Then he’s eating hot chips in the sun, the Ferris Wheel in the background. His Action Man vest, now worn, and faded, is proudly new, the colours bright. He shows off his Action Man compass and Action Man walkie-talkie. He waves his Action Man rifle in the air and takes imaginary aim.
‘I’m shooting helicopters,’ he says. ‘They’re the baddies.’

F perches on the end of his bed, impossibly small and chubby. A red cap partially obscures his face. A Spiderman backpack sits on one knee, his favourite Care Bear (Tenderheart) on the other.
‘You’re not going to kinder today,’ I say.
‘Really? Yes!’ he says, punching the air.
‘I thought you liked kinder.’

The camera is approaching the house from the street. Tendrils of jasmine embrace the frame of the porch. My old bike sits beside the wheelie bin, sun-bleached silver and purple streamers at the handlebars. I loved that bike. (Stolen) There is, for once, no F on screen. Stevie Wonder wails plaintively from deep inside the house. The hallway fills the screen, jammed with boxes and bare bookshelves. The virtual tour of the house continues, lingering lovingly in each room, pausing at the back door to take in the courtyard, F’s treehouse, even the outside toilet. Finally, the tour ends in F’s bedroom, stripped of its toys and posters. Painted stars and planets dance along the walls. Tenderheart lies abandoned on the bare mattress. As the closing bars of the song sob: 'this time could mean goodbye', the lens zooms in on the bear, closer and closer, pausing on his absurdly cheerful face before the screen goes black and the scene shifts to our current front yard.

F has abandoned his burger again. A corner scrap sits on his plate.
‘I’m feeling a bit sad,’ he says.
‘I’m sorry. Do you think it was the music? Mum was being a bit silly.’
I pat his shoulder, and am shocked when he crumples into a sob that racks his little chest, bursting from within. He is a dramatist, but not now. He’s seriously upset. I grab the remote and press stop, then gather him into my arms and let him cry.
‘I miss my old house,’ he gasps. ‘I want to go back there.’
‘I’m sorry honey, we can’t. The owners moved in.’
‘I want my treehooouuuse …’

I’m sad, too. I loved that house. I moved into it on my own: just the two of us, moving from a tiny flat (no yard) in North Fitzroy. I had believed that I would never afford a house for us and a yard for him. I had some truly awful times in that house, but I didn’t blame the house. I also had some great times. And we were happy there.

I managed to console F with an ice cream for dessert and a story about how his Poppa once built us a platform when we were young, which was like our treehouse. It had a sandpit underneath and a rope ladder on the side, and once, in a fight, one of my brothers threw the other off it.

Now he wants Poppa (who lives in Adelaide) to build him a new treehouse.

I spoke to Poppa this afternoon. He’s thinking about it.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Overheard on the train platform this week

Two schoolgirls in nondescript private school uniform. Probably year 11 or 12. Slightly offbeat in a hipster kind of way. Cropped, mussed, dyed and streaked hair, teamed with funky spectacles. They shriek excitedly among themselves.

I tune in to: ‘You’ve got a hot Asian and I don’t! Where’s the justice?’

Tune out again.

Tune in (but don’t look up) as the decibels shoot up again sharply.

‘GUESS WHAT? She’s got a hot Asian and I don’t! That’s so not fair.’

A moment of silence.

Curious, I look up, just in time to see a flicker of something cross the face of their newly arrived companion. (She’s Asian.) One second later, she is laughing with them.

‘She’s got a hot Asian,’ continues the loud one. ‘And you are a hot Asian. What about me?’

The train arrives. Torn between morbid curiosity and the same kind of moral restraint that keeps me from watching Neighbours these days, I decide not to be nosy and choose a seat at the far end of the carriage from the trio.

Still, I can’t help but hear the shrieking continue. It’s mostly muffled, but as we pull up to Footscray station, the decibels rise again. The loud one is squealing about her desperate quest for a Hot Asian to call her own.

The weird thing is, I think these girls are having their own crazy stab at political correctness. Positive discrimination. I’m reasonably sure they mean well. There was no malice whatsoever directed at the ‘hot Asian’ friend. In fact, the show was further dramatised for her benefit.

But I wonder: how does she feel about it? How does the ‘hot Asian’ boy feel?

One of my dearest friends, Indian by birth, has always hated the idea that men might dally with her as an ‘exotic’ experience. I don’t blame her. When we first met, we had a mutual friend who was engaged to an Indian and was subsequently obsessed with Indian culture. The Dear Friend similarly hated the idea that perhaps Mutual Friend saw her as a collectable, a cultural accessory. I’m sure Mutual Friend would have been genuinely horrified at the thought herself. If it was true, it was both subconscious and (inappropriately) well meaning.

But, back to the schoolgirls: I guess teenagers are, on the whole, pretty obsessed with stereotypes. And positive ones are better than the alternative. Hopefully, they’ll grow out of it.

But what do I really know on this? Maybe I’m wrong.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Jobs I have hated: 1

Working on an architecture magazine as an editorial assistant

This job made me realise that I have to do something that I can in some way be passionate about or intrigued by. I know that many, many fine people would see this as a great job, or at least a great industry, but it's just not me.

I was more intrigued by sewage treatment in my next job (corporate PR) than I was by high-end architecture. The houses were stunning, but they didn't make me feel anything. They were so detached from my life, and most people's lives.

Writing copy for an engineering magazine, at least no one expects you to find it fascinating. (And actually, translating extremely technical concepts into plain English and tangible outcomes is an immensely satisfying challenge.)

Editing pretentious, utterly humourless copy about buildings and their oh-so-stylish creators is not especially challenging.

Maybe I am being a little unfair. I also hated this job because I was unexpectedly bad at it. My copy about building materials and household appliances for the advertorial supplement was riddled with errors and inconsistencies (to my initial shock).

I was called into the director's office and told to be more careful, asked why my work was so much less than he'd expected from my interviews and sample work.

I was terrible at this job, at least partly, because I was deeply depressed and going through one of the worst times of my life. My personla life was a confusing mess and I wasn't coping. I was on antidepressants and I was messing with my doses and my mind was operating at 100kph. Erractically so.

I couldn't produce consistent work because my mind wasn't working consistently.

So I quit after a month, with no job to go to. I just couldn't face being so awful at a job I didn't even like. And I didn't know when I'd be any better.

I went to Adelaide instead, escaping my personal problems and (a little bit) the question of what to do next. I slept on my dad's couch, and I went to Adelaide Writers' Week every day, where I sunned on the lawns with a friend. And I cried right there on the grassy slopes, with big black sunglasses and a big black hat for shelter; because I was a f***-up and I had Blown It.

Then I heard an inspiring young writer I had never heard of talk about his life in an Israel-under-siege. He was funny and clever and eloquent and politically balanced (difficult in Israel) and I really wanted to write about him.

So, from the depths of my existential despair, I rang the editor of a magazine I liked, and asked if he would publish an interview with this author, if I could get one.

He said yes.

Slowly, from there, my life began to pick up again.

And I don't regret quitting that job at all.

Monday, November 27, 2006

It's a knockout

I have had concussion three times in my life that I can remember.

The first time, I was eight years old, showing off on the school playground. I was trying to impress my younger brother’s classmate (how sad was I?) with my never-before-tried trick of hanging upside-down WITH ONE LEG. When I unhooked one leg, I accidentally unhooked the other one too, and I fell on my head. I ended up in the sickroom, then confined to bed for the next day.

The second concussion was fifteen years later. I was 24, and I was drunk. Showing off again, really. I was walking home with an old friend I’d once had a mild crush on (which I had just confessed, and discovered it had been reciprocated). It was 3am, and we were on our way back to my flat, having nowhere left to drink. We had just left the truly awful Parkview Hotel (affectionately nicknamed ‘The Parkspew’) and were stumbling down St Georges Rd, North Fitzroy. There were no cars on the road, or almost none. Crossing Holden Street, I stopped in the middle of the road, put my arms around my friend’s neck, and hung there. Then I let go. And fell backwards onto the bitumen, pretty well on my head.
‘Oh my god, oh my god!’ yelled my friend. ‘Are you okay? Why did you do that?’
‘I thought you would catch me.’

A car cruised to a halt as he hauled me to my feet, with some difficulty. The window rolled down and a guy roughly our age stuck his head out.
‘Look after your f***ing girlfriend!’ he bawled. ‘Keep her off the f***ing road!’

We laughed and carried on up the road.

I woke up in the morning and felt the back of my head. My hair was sticky, matted. I looked at my fingers. They were smudged red with blood. So was the pillow.

‘Look!’ I said to my friend.
‘Yeah, I noticed last night,’ he said. ‘I thought you knew.’

Three days later, experiencing nausea, dizzy spells and more spaciness than usual, I went to the doctor. He said I should have come to him earlier for stitches, but it was too late for that now. The concussion seemed to be wearing off, and I’d be fine.

The third time I was concussed was Friday night, at F’s school concert.

It was the final number, all the kids singing as the Blues Brothers, dressed in black, with sunglasses and fedora hats. F wasn’t in it. (In fact, to my mild embarrassment, he was sitting in the front row with his head in a comic book.) But, the mother who had driven us had forgotten her camera, and I was taking photos on her behalf.

I suddenly decided this was too cute to miss, that if this was F, I would definitely want a photo. So, I ducked and ran back through the adoring crowd towards the bag and my camera. THUNK! I reeled backwards, cartoon-like, and steadied myself on the backs of my heels, trying to figure out what had happened. It took a few moments to realise that I had run into an iron bar that bordered the hall. Luckily, nobody had noticed. I grabbed my camera, straightened myself, and wove unsteadily back through the sea of plastic chairs.

My camera’s batteries, as it turned out, were irretrievably flat.

I emerged from the hall with a visible lump on my head and a slightly skewed sense of being. And a headache.

Today, after one in-between day of existing outside myself, I know that I felt decidedly abnormal yesterday, because now I’m feeling relatively normal.

Thinking back on past episodes of concussion, I realise how far I’ve come (or alternatively, how old I am). This time, I wasn’t showing off. I wasn’t drunk or trying to impress someone. I banged my head amidst the excitement of a school concert.

And I’m more of a hypochondriac than I was at 24, because I spent yesterday obsessed with how I was feeling. And there wasn’t even any blood …

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Talkin 'bout my generation

Generation X young adults who were born in the mid 1960s to the mid 1970s, typically perceieved to be disaffected and directionless.

Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary, fourth edition (2004)

I stumbled upon this gem in the course of a harried working day, and paused to savour it. The official definition of an entire generation. (Mine.)

So I rifled the office reference library (with the encouragement of my equally amused, equally harried boss) and found this:

Generation X Members of the generation of people born between the mid-1960s and the mid-1970s who are highly educated and underemplyed, reject consumer culture, and have little hope for the future.

Collins Concise Dictionary, fifth Australian edition (2001)

and this:

Generation X the generation following the baby-boomers characterised in contrast with that group as being not as easily identifiable as a group and in particular as not being vocal on social issues but rather concerned with individual gain.

Macquarie ABC Dictionary (2003)

Wow. That's me, huh?

I can't wait until they come up with the definition for Generation Y.

But, chuckles aside, it led to a sobering thought: obviously, Generation Z is next. Then what?

If we weren't currently overwhelmed by the looming threats to our existence posed by climate change, dwindling water resources, peak oil, dwindling forests, escalating world conflict, and greedy governments too obsessed with their own immediate gratification to do anything about all of the above, maybe I wouldn't be wondering if there was something eerily prescient in this.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Suburban revolutionaries

I didn’t feel like attending the G20 protest at all today. I was going in the first place because a mother at school had asked me to, and it was such a novelty in that environment, I couldn’t refuse.

Last night, I was already regretting my decision. It was the end of an especially long working week and I was feeling, frankly, a little depressed. The last thing I wanted was to tear myself away from the house (let alone bed) and walk around the city, for any reason. Ditto talking to people. But I’d made the commitment and would feel shallow and self-involved if I pulled out.

This morning, after an uncharacteristic (these days) one drink too many, I eye the bedside clock with trepidation. The phone rings. My husband answers. It’s the Mother, relaying the message that she will be arriving early. She wants to make a banner, and she needs my help.

I’m barely dressed and out of the shower when she arrives. I haven’t brushed my hair. I’m not wearing shoes. Remnants of last night’s make up are smudged from my eyelids halfway down my cheek. (I won’t become aware of the latter until I glance in the mirror on my way out the door.) The Mother is dressed for protest in a t-shirt, jeans and sneakers, sensibly armed with a backpack and water bottle. She also has two absolutely enormous slabs of white card (discarded advertisements that she has salvaged from Mitre Ten this morning) and three rolls of packing tape. She means action.

I sleepily and probably not-too-graciously lead her down the hallway and out the back door, wrestling with the placards, which are each roughly my size.

Do I have scissors? String? A lead pencil? A cloth to wipe down the cardboard? I obediently fetch the requisite tools. I have been to protests in the past, but didn’t prepare to this level. I think I kind of shambolically grabbed supplies for the day (water, camera, purse) and lurched out the door.

‘What do you think we should write?’ asks the Mother.
‘I don’t know,’ I say dumbly. I’m wishing we could forgo the banner in favour of breakfast along the way. Perhaps at a café in the city. Perhaps Degraves. Poached eggs on toast, latte …
The Mother has a few ideas, she says. Her first one is pretty good: ‘Free Trade Makes Third World Into Fourth World’. I certainly don’t have anything better in mind. My mind is selfishly preoccupied with food and what I might have said over drinks last night. And whether my husband is planning to strip our lemon tree in its entirety. (He’s gathering lemons to donate to an anti-whaling boat this morning.)

I watch as the Mother carefully traces out the letters of her slogan on the newly clean cardboard.
‘I don’t meant to be rude,’ she says. ‘But do you think you could help?’
‘Oh. Sure.’
I get up from the Outdoor Couch and join her kneeling on the deck. We chat idly about school as we form letters using strips of tape. I begin to enjoy myself. It’s a bit like high school art class, or playing ‘making things’ with F. I wish he was here. He’d be having a wonderful time. (He’s at his dad’s for the weekend.)
‘Don’t you think,’ says the Mother, leaning back on her heels and frowning critically at my handiwork, ‘that you should be using three strips of tape for each stroke of your letters?’

My husband leaves for the anti-whaling boat in Port Melbourne with his three bags of lemons. The tree is still groaning under the weight of the remaining fruit.
The Mother glanced at her watch. ‘Shit,’ she says. ‘We’d better hurry.’

When we get to the State Library (half an hour late, but with a great banner), there is a crowd, but it’s not an overwhelming one. It’s far less than the 5000 figure estimated by the media, which we’d scoffed at as inadequate.
‘Oh,’ says the Mother. ‘I thought there’d be about 10,000.’
‘Yeah.’ I feel a wave of exhaustion already. I’m lightheaded, and glance hungrily across the road at Melbourne Central, where there must be some food. The Mother takes out a lunchbox and offers a shortbread biscuit. It’s a practice run for baking with the kids at school. I’m impressed, and wonder wearily where she gets all her energy. I’m vaguely aware of being a grump and a wet blanket.

The Mother talks animatedly about George Monbiot’s The Age of Consent and the notion that third world nations should withdraw from dealing with the first world and trade among themselves, have their own treaties. I don’t know what I think. I’m aware that my brain, my thinking and reasoning, is fuzzy. I say something about the fact that the corporations are in the third world now and it’s them who are shaping what’s happening. What can governments do? I wish I knew more. And that I could mount a coherent argument.

If only more stay-at-home mums used their free time reading Monbiot and the like and forming theories about global justice. After all, it’s the middle-class, home-owning, interest-rate-fearing mums and dads who drive politicians’ actions.

I realise that I see myself as a socially aware, politically informed person. A veteran of protests. A Greens voter, preferring Labor to Liberal of course. But somewhere along the way, thinking about jobs and overseas trips (and, let’s face it, before that, impending marriage and career), I’ve lost touch. I’ve been skimming the right papers and websites, watching Four Corners and occasionally Lateline (in bed, to fall asleep to). But I haven’t really been engaging with the ideas I find there: teasing them out, developing theories. The last protests I attended were the anti-war ones, just before and after we invaded Iraq. I read books on the situation. I organised forums on the topic for the bookstore I worked at. My co-workers and I took time off work to march under a banner bearing the name of our store. I was engaged. That was four years ago.

Today, I might look socialist-chic in my scruffy jeans, sensible sandals and Indian shirt (or I might not). I occasionally write (book reviews) for a right-on magazine. I know all about Tariq Ali, John Pilger and co. But the Mother is the one surfing this particular zeitgeist. I’m just paddling in the shallows.

A dreadlocked twentysomething in cargo pants gives up the thumbs-up. ‘Nice banner.’ A black-clad hipster with a white card at his belt reading ‘MEDIA’ snaps a photo, followed by another twentysomething, this time with a camera phone. He grins at us in solidarity.
‘She did most of it,’ I admit.

A diverse crowd lolls on the library lawns. Some listen intently to the speakers who stand, megaphone in hand, on the back of a ute parked in Swanston Street. Others talk excitedly amongst themselves. There are earnest-looking student types in jeans and slogan t-shirts (‘Capitalism makes me see red’). A couple of men with bandanas tied across their noses Zapatista-style amble past. Others seem to be making their political statements in a more abstract maner. One girl wears a hot pink tulle fairy skirt. A bearded young man flickers past her, also wearing a pink tulle skirt over tights. But there are also middle-aged mum and dad types – like us, I suppose – some of them with kids in tow. Drums play and clowns dart in and out of the crowd. It’s like a street fair. But that’s how I remember the S11 protests, too.

The carnival atmosphere is only made incongruous by the overwhelming presence of police, many of them wearing riot gear: plastic face masks, batons. A line of officers in reflective yellow vests (all men) stand behind the stage and line the kerb of Swanston Street. Clusters of them infiltrate the crowd, apprehensive, alert to any change in the mood. Watching them, my confidence erodes at the edges, just a little. I remember arriving home from the S11 protests flushed with the satisfaction of a good day out, then fielding phone calls from my mother and ex-boyfriend, both full of the sensational news reports. I’m pretty sure it will all be fine, but in the midst of the ‘war on terror’, I’m not 100 per cent convinced. Some of the police are on horseback, and I remember footage of baton-wielding police riding into crowds six years ago.

When it becomes clear that the march is finally starting, half an hour after we arrive, I make sure we’re not in the first few rows – just in case. Our banner takes up roughly one lane of the road. My shoulders ache as we bookend the banner, and start to walk. A young guy in a red Socialist Alliance t-shirt shouts chants through a megaphone at our backs. ‘Whose streets? Our streets. Whose war? Their war.’ I am happy to march, but too self-conscious to chant. I feel like I do at school assemblies when they sing ‘Happy Birthday’. Silly not joining in, but sillier still at the thought of doing so. The Mother chants in unison with the crowd. Megaphone man moves in front us, directly in front of us, and I decide to chant. ‘1, 2, 3, 4, we don’t want your racist war.’

The Saturday shoppers lining the streets have mostly stopped to watch. Many of them have brought out their cameras and mobile phones and are snapping away, waving and smiling.
‘See, all those people are on side,’ I say. ‘I think that counts.’
‘Why don’t they join in?’ replies the Mother.
We turn past the Nike store and up Bourke Street.
‘I’ve got a Nike bag, look,’ says the Mother. She does, too. ‘And shoes.’ I glance at her sneakers.
‘No one will notice.’
‘I thought about covering them with paper,’ she continues. ‘But I decided that was silly. They’re old. I’m not going to throw them out.’
‘No,’ I joke (badly). ‘You don’t want to waste the labour of those tiny hands that made them.’

We reach Collins Street, which is blocked off, and the crowd comes to a halt. The Socialist Alliance hand out red flags as if dispensing lollipops, and another red-shirted student leads another round of chants with the megaphone. A sea of flags wave in unison. Exotic birds perch in trees – men with cameras. One of them is definitely a professional. His enormous camera is trained on the barricades. Nothing seems to be happening. I can just see a row of police at the front, some of them on horses. I swing my camera towards them. One of the policemen has his own camera directed at the crowd. Overhead, helicopters circle the sky. I see more police on the roof of a nearby building. In another, media crowd an office window. Everyone is watching everyone else.

Down on street level, we are stuck in place, encumbered by our enormous banner. Toddlers sit on their parents’ shoulders. A Superman in drag, inexplicably slathered in blue face make-up, strides about purposefully. A grey-haired man in red suspender braces holds a sign high above his head: ‘Queer, straight, black, white, one struggle, one fight. RADICAL WOMEN!’ A hippy couple clutching an angelic bare-chested child weave through the crowd. Occasionally a chant goes up. I buy a magazine from a passing Big Issue vendor. We finish our water. I run into friends and we all talk about the absence of violence. A cheer goes up as a protester on the roof outside the media window brandishes a fire hose and turns it on the crowd below. I vaguely presume they are enjoying the relief from the heat.
‘It’s not like S11,’ says my friend. ‘People have lost their taste for violent protest after the other September 11.’
‘It’s good to see a bit of a scuffle, though,’ sighs his companion. ‘It’s nice to see a bit of passion.’

We decide it’s time to go. My friend suggests we leave our banner behind.
‘Yes!’ I agree, too eagerly. I want to give my arms a rest. And I want a coffee, maybe some food. ‘We’ll be gone,’ I say, trying to sound persuasive. ‘But our message will remain.’
‘Wouldn’t it be better to take our message out there, onto the streets?’ argues the Mother.
‘No!’ I say.
I photograph her with the banner and we farewell my friends.
‘Maybe we’ll get home and find out that it’s all happened after we left, or when we weren’t looking,’ I say, and we all laugh.
The Mother and I go for coffee and cake.

I check the Age website when I get home. Apparently, there was a scuffle when we weren’t looking. Plastic-clad protestors threw urine and safety barriers at police. I see photos of faceless bodies in anti-contamination suits, and remember seeing them dancing in the street.

Soon after, my husband arrives home from the anti-whaling ship. He had a great time; met the crew, including the founder of Greenpeace. They loved the lemons. ‘Look!’ he says, taking something out of his bag.
‘Oh,’ I drawl. ‘So you’ve been to the revolution and bought the t-shirt.’
He looks hurt, and I apologise. He’s passionate, not cynical.

What am I?

Friday, November 10, 2006

Smells like stupid

I knew the Age was dumbing down, but I didn't know it was becoming THIS dumb:

I'm sure, if we really admit it to ourselves, a lot of us would kill to smell like Kylie. OK, that may be a little strange, but when I discovered Agent Provocateur was Ms Minogue's favourite scent, I rushed out to buy a bottle ... I just had to know what the princess of pop wafted into a room wearing.

(From the blog 'Beauty Beat')

Yes, I know it's a blog - on beauty - written by a New Woman beauty writer, but COME ON.

And why do blogs have to be more vapid than the standard paper? Because it's 'what the young people are reading' and young people are shallow? The Guardian manages to run successful blogs without dumbing itself down. Why can't the Age?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Overheard on the tram

Young couple, (very) early twenties.

Her: So, which of my friends do you think are hot?
[He tells her]
Her: Oh, EVERYONE likes her. Of course you like her. She's got a great body.
Him: Her body's not so great.
Her: You always go for blondes, don't you? [She is brunette]
Him: Not really. [thinks] Oh yeah, I guess I do. Yeah, I do find blondes more attractive.
Her: It's just that there are more attractive blondes around than attractive brunettes. Don't you think?
Him: No. I 'm just more attracted to blondes.
Her: [sounding a little hysterical now] I can't help my hair colour, you know! That's how I was born!

Long pause, some murmuring. He gives her a reassuring hug.

Him: That dress you tried on back there was really unflattering, wasn't it?
Her: Yeah, I thought it was!

I tune out in despair. Somehow suppress overwhelming urge, which I've had ever since I sat down at the beginning of this conversation, to say to them both: 'Hey, this conversation will not end well either of you'.

Also fight equally powerful urge to say to girl, who is leaking insecurity from every pore: 'Hey, you're gorgeous. Don't worry about it.' (She is.)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Doorstep musings

Opened the front door earlier this week and spotted this little fella hanging in the tree outside my door, just beyond a seven-year-old's arm reach.

My theory? F was throwing Spidey in the air and watching him 'parachute' to earth (home-made parachute fashioned from cut-up sandwich bag and blue wool). Spidey got stuck in the tree, F got distracted and forgot about him.

I'm leaving him there for now. (Bionicles trump Spidey easily at the moment - he won't be missed. Besides, F is at his dad's from this morning to Friday.)

It makes me smile every time I look at him.

And yes, I am procrastinating by writing this instead of completing work for tomorrow.

Oh well - what else are public holidays for? Apart from drinking, wearing silly hats (at least, this public holiday) and having BBQs or hanging at the pub.

Can't be arsed doing any of these festive things. Quitting one's job without having another one to go to (as I did last week) tends to make one feel sombre. And a tad unmotivated re. voluntary homework.

Surprise! You're a poledancer

Oh dear.

My sister is throwing her twin a surprise poledancing party for their 24th birthday. They and ten friends (or is that eight friends?) will learn poledancing routines, dress up in costumes, and basically drink and be merry.

I think I will get them each a copy of Ariel Levy's Female Chauvinist Pigs as presents. My husband suggests I get them Richard Flanagan's The Unknown Terrorist, his thriller about a poledancer who is mistaken for a terrorist.

Arrgh, I'm a sanctimonious old cow. Let them have their fun.

I'll worry if they come home with underwear stuffed with tips, or a job.

(For good-looking twins, it's not outside the realms of possibility.)

Hooray! I'm not a psychopath!

Bored and procrastinating, I came upon a little website that runs quick automated quizzes, ranging from the bizarre (What Kind of Meat Are You?) to the frankly disturbing (Are You Bipolar?).

Having been hooked on Dolly/Girlfriend/Cleo/Cosmo quizzes as a teenager, I found myself spending longer on the site than I meant to. Here's the results of Are You Abnormal? Apparently, I'm very unlikely to be a psychopath, obsessive compulsive or narcissistic (though I may have a borderline personality or a social phobia). Now I can sleep at night ...

You Are 24% Abnormal
You are at low risk for being a psychopath. It is unlikely that you have no soul.

You are at medium risk for having a borderline personality. It is somewhat likely that you are a chaotic mess.

You are at low risk for having a narcissistic personality. It is unlikely that you are in love with your own reflection.

You are at medium risk for having a social phobia. It is somewhat likely that you feel most comfortable in your mom's basement.

You are at low risk for obsessive compulsive disorder. It is unlikely that you are addicted to hand sanitizer.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Bloody hell

After spending the morning in bed watching Scrubs on DVD, telling myself I'll get up after just one more episode ...

I finally dragged myself up, into the shower, out the door and on my bike. Down the road to the shops, where I prepared for the next few days by getting as many groceries as I could fit on the back of my bike. Including everything I need for a Sunday roast dinner.

Then I got home, unpacked the groceries ...

and realised I left the leg of lamb at the butchers.

Off I go back to the shops AGAIN on my bike AGAIN.

Bloody hell.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


I don't think about class very often, but recently it's been nibbling at the edges of my subconscious.

I think it's partly due to my recent reading matter. I've just finished this year's Man Booker winner, Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss. Great book (and I agree pretty much wholeheartedly with James Ley's review in the Age this weekend). The characters all are all victims of their class in some way.

Those who have benefited from the British colonial regime live on in an atmosphere of faded gentility - left behind and long forgotten by their colonial masters, but still clinging to the customs and prejudices bequeathed by them. One of these characters, a retired judge, has risen far from his humble beginnings in the merchant class. He has lived his life in intense discomfort, belonging nowhere - never accepted by his British civil service colleagues, but tutored by them to adopt their disdain for his own people. During his Oxford education in England, he learnt that his Indianness was disgusting, despicable - that his dark skin, his eating habits, his religion, and even his very smell were something to be ashamed of. He returned home stuck between worlds, clinging to the habits and manners of an English gentleman (including brutal contempt towards his own people) to disguise his lack of self esteem.

On the other side of the cultural divide are those characters attracted by the lure of modernity rather than the lingering attractions of colonialism. The American dream dominates - the land where anyone can make it if they try hard enough. The judge's sole servant, the cook, puts his money on this dark horse of fortune - literally. Scraping together savings from illicit sales of home brew liquor and other similarly dodgy enterprises, he manages to send his only son, Biju, to the US, where he hopes he will make his fortune and thus escape the family's cycle of servitude. Of course, Biju (an illegal immigrant) lives in a cellar corner in Harlem, endures a series of woefully underpaid jobs, dreams of a Green Card, and is bone-achingly lonely. He is as much a servant as his father is, but with no community and no support. Biju is despised and resented, as the judge was in England all those years ago. He, too, is stuck between cultures.

In Australia, we don't talk about class much. In fact, we often like to think that it doesn't exist. It does seem to be creeping onto the agenda more these days, though, with discussions of CUBs (cashed up bogans), the popularity of Fountain Gate's most famous shoppers, Kath and Kim, and a briefly scandalous extended essay last year by the wonderful Margaret Simons, Ties That Bind, published in Griffith Review and extracted in The Age. Simons, an admitted member of the latte-sipping intelligentsia, aimed to find out was really happening in the hearts and minds of the Howard voters of Australia by visiting the outer suburbs and talking to some of those who lived there. Some found the article patronising; others found it enlightening.

A new book by Andrew West, Inside the Lifestyles of the Rich and Tasteful (the first in Pluto Press's NOW! series of short books) similarly aims to penetrate a social class and examine how and why it lives the way it does. In this case, he enters the world of Australia's upper middle-class, which he divides into two camps: the materialists and the culturists.

The materialists like new, cutting-edge, difficult-to-obtain possessions that make them stand out from the grasping aspiring classes. They've moved on from IKEA and Country Road. They use Vogue Living as their bible. They eat out at prestige places like Vue Du Monde and have second kitchens where the real cooking is done so that the 'show kitchen' can stay pristine. They're interested in money and more of it.

The culturists like cosy, deliberately rustic, 'unique' items that show their individuality. They have country houses or beach getaways. They are socially and environmentally conscious and worship literature, art and music. They shop at the Queen Vic Markets and cook from The Cook's Companion. Anyone can fit into the culturists' club if they want to: 'It demands only three things of its members: a curiosity about the world, a commitment to reading and self-improvement, and an ability to conduct a relatively fluent conversation.'

But, concludes West, the vast majority of Australians aspire to be materialists. 'They seem more accessible, and easier to fathom.' He continues: 'Their lifestyles seem within grasp of those just below them on the ladder: the middle-class aspirationals. The materialists and their political representatives in the Liberal party continue to hold up to aspirationals the illusion that, with a little more hard work and some wise investments, they too can live the caramel-coloured, concrete-rendered, four-wheel-drive-in-the-garage, power-boat-moored-in-the-dock, ski-pass-to-Aspen-in-the-pocket dream.'

The materialists' promise has proved more alluring to the public than the generally communitarian outlook favoured by the culturists, says West - even though public opinion polls show that most Australians do share their in-principle support of public institutions, such as Medicare and public education.

The problem, perhaps (and here I'm making my own interpretations), is that the language of the culturists, their support of the arts and the environment and social justice, reminds the general population of the Keating years. Perhaps they don't trust that support for those on the fringes of society, the conspicuous disadvantaged, can exist without pulling out the rug from under those in the middle. Perhaps they have sharp memories of the way that the 'cultural elite', personified by the media, reacted to Pauline Hanson - ridiculing her lack of sophistication and questioning her right to speak rather than engaging with her arguments. Focussing on her ill-informed racist surface and her simplistic solutions rather than the howl of disenfranchisement that lay beneath for many of her supporters - a symptom of the ALP-led globalisation (as latterly acknowledged by Bob Ellis, culturist extraordinaire).

Or there is the alternative reading: that we have been conditioned to be selfish, to think of our own interests first. That the general population may well be committed to public health and education, to the preservation of the environment, but that these things come second to their desire to get ahead. That the priorities of modern life lie within the walls of one's compound - be that a McMansion or a studio apartment. Mortgages come first. Plasma TVs and two cars come first.

Hmmm ... too tired to think on it any longer.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

To complain or not to complain ...

I don't know why this particular topic is one that drives me to write about it, but anyway ...

I went to the school yesterday in my official capacity as Very Proud Parent. The Boy, who has been known to struggle with his behaviour, was to be presented with a teacher's award at assembly - something that would only happen if he had been on a good streak. There we were, all four of his parents - myself, my husband, the Boy's father, his very pregnant wife - fully armed with one camera per household to record the occasion.

It was the first time I'd been to the school other than on a pick-up since I'd officially complained about the Aqua Barbie Girl performance. For the record, the principal had rung to apologise and conceded that it was a bad decision to have young children perform the song and the Deputy Prinicpal has admitted she should have picked up on the fact when she was watching rehearsals, the teacher involved would undergo professional development sessions so it would never happen again, and the school would instigate a policy of properly reviewing performance items. I had sort of gleaned from the way she clipped off the conversation and hung up the phone that she didn't really meant that she was glad I had brought it to her attention - but gave her the benefit of the doubt.

When I was treated very coldly by certain teachers (the Deputy Principal, the teacher who was taking my son for the day while his teacher was away) and shot daggers by the teacher who was undergoing profesional development, I still decided, as I am known for occasional paranoia, to hold off on any conclusions. When my husband (who frequently calls me on my fits of paranoia) pointed out this treatment, I realised I hadn't imagined it.

It's good that the school will think about the values they are teaching their students, so I'm glad that I did make the complaint.

I think.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Sex sells at primary school concert

There is a time and a place where you expect to see young girls bouncing about, spouting misogynistic lyrics about being dollies to be touched, played with and undressed at the whim of an adoring male. Hey, it's a material world after all, right? And sex sells every time.

The time and place is Video Hits on a Saturday morning.

So, imagine my shock and horror when the time and place also turned out to be at my son's primary school concert. The girls (and boys) were seven and eight years old. The song was Aqua's 'Barbie Girl'. The person who had chosen the song and taught the kids the lyrics was their teacher. And the school principal was looking on.

What is wrong with this picture?

What is really, truly wrong is that nobody at the school seems to have seen anything wrong with it. I don't know if it's worse that a teacher chose it or that the school principal or deputy didn't see something amiss at the rehearsal stage.

"The teacher must have chosen the song for the Barbie connection and not the lyrics," was one comment. (Yes, I have been raving about this to everyone I speak to for the past day.)

I bloody well hope so, or it's even worse than I thought!

But surely she must have noticed the lyrics as she was helping the kids to learn them by heart? And isn't it her job to notice?

Here are some choice excerpts:

I'm a blonde single girl in the fantasy world
Dress me up, take your time, I'm your dollie
You're my doll, rock and roll, feel the glamour and pain
Kiss me here, touch me there, hanky-panky


You can touch, you can play
You can say I'm always yours

one more:

Make me walk, make me talk, do whatever you please
I can act like a star, I can beg on my knees
Come jump in, be my friend, let us do it again
Hit the town, fool around, let's go party

You can touch, you can play
You can say I'm always yours

I can't help but feel very concerned indeed about the values that are being taught and held at my son's school. Either that teacher has precisely one brain cell, or those materialistic, sexist, misogynistic values are so deeply embedded in her being that the thought of teaching them to young children doesn't even give her pause for thought. One thing is for sure. I don't ever want her teaching MY child.

And so is one other thing: if that had been my daughter on stage, I would be raising hell up at the school.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

House hunting blues

Just finished first official day of house-hunting feeling decidedly glum.

It's not that there aren't that many good places out there (though there aren't) or that at every inspection we attended there were fifteen other people looking just as desparate as I felt (though there were), or even that at the last house on our schedule - one that we were expecting a lot from - the tenants didn't turn up to open the door, the agent didn't have a key, and fifteen people trooped awaylooking pissed off/shattered (yes, you guessed it, this did happen). I think it's a combination of all these things.

I love and hate moving in equal measures (I think - I started off at love and am cascading towards hate right now).

The 'love' part comes from the anticipation of the unknown. You just might find your perfect place, and will PROBABLY end up somewhere that doesn't have all the features you've grown to hate about the place you currently call home. (Last house: that was the outside toilet - even though I didn't actually want to move that time around. And distance from somewhere nice to walk the dogs. This house: the 20 minute walk to the train station and laughable bus service. And same distance from a decent coffee and newsagent. And anything, really, apart from The Boy's school and a very nice park, where we don't walk the dogs as often as we should.)

The 'hate' part: the enormous hassle of finding a new place to live. Prostating yourself before real estate agents. Packing. Cleaning. Discovering subtle ways in which you have altered the house and which will cost you bond money. (Previous discoveries include dogs having scratched paint off the back door, dogs leaving urine stains on carpets, brother/flatmate having cracked glass door panel moving a cupboard, child having daubed blue paint on white weatherboard exterior). Twisting your stomach in knots over whether you'll find a property worth applying for/be accepted for the dream property. Spending your hard-earned savings on overlapping rent and bond and other moving costs. Unpacking.

More good things: having a clean, sparkling new start of a house. Getting rid of all the crap you've stockpiled since the last move. Discovering a new neighbourhood - or at the least, a new corner of your neighbourhood, if you haven't moved far. (Mmmm ... stomach knots slowly untwisting as I think of a return to civilisation and PT.)

I have been dying to move out of my house for the past six months. We locked ourselves into a two-year lease before I realised how much the public transport thing would kill me, as a non-driver. I have to admit that my partner told me so.

I just hope that it turns out and that we manage to make ourselves look good enough on paper (grrr, grrr) to elbow fifteen other applicants out of the way.

And, yes, Virginia, I believe that Melbourne is in the middle of a rental housing crisis. It's all true. Even in the West.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Super mum goes awry

It's nearly midnight and I can finally go to bed. Why? Because I have now baked and iced twenty odd cupcakes for my son's birthday, to be distributed to his class tomorrow.

When he asked me earlier this week if I could bake cupcakes for his entire class, I could think of no reason to say no. I thought it was so sweet that he asked. I guess because he is turning seven, and I have this feeling that he is slipping away from me - not yet, but soon. So, anyway, I said something along the lines of 'yes, of course' and slipped off to watch crap TV feeling warm and fuzzy about my mothering skills. Mock-groaning to my colleagues for the past three days that I have promised to make those cupcakes and must do them , between work and bed on Wednesday night. As I bitched and moaned, I felt secretly quite smug that I am the type of mother who does such things - even if I do work. Definite super mum.

The first real, actual twitching of feeling too tired to do it, regretting my foolish, simple-seeming promise, was when my partner was on his way out the door to the shops and I realised I hadn't prepared ingredients. No problem - gave him a list of things to get.

Next twitch crept up on me as I sat on the couch eating chocolate ice cream and strawberries and watching Extras, luxuriating in doing nothing ... and realising that nothing was about to end.

Then, having reluctantly pulled self off couch as the credits rolled, knowing that my perfect, super-mother status was looking shaky at best, I congratulate myself for dragging self into kitchen and the task at hand ... and notice that my darling partner has bought enormous muffin-sized paper patty-pans. Means more baking to be done and enormous cakes for small children - but I can handle that. Annoying, but do-able.

I go to the cupboard and start pulling out ingredients - and remember, with horror, last weekend, when seven-year-old son shook (sealed) sugar container over head like a lone maraca, and the lid came off, spilling sugar over his head like a particulalry nasty case of dandruff. Remember laughing uncontrollably at the sight. Remember NOT taking this as a sign that I should buy more sugar.

I almost have enough sugar to make normal batch of cupcakes. No problem, they will have to be slightly less sweet than usual (not to worry, industrial-strength icing will ensure the little darlings don't even notice).

Partner enters kitchen and notices the sugar problem. Murmuring and head-shaking indicate perhaps I am not so very super. Hear throwaway comment about how I should have checked cupboards before 9:30pm the night before the birthday. Partner suggests I include icing sugar to top up. I give him withering look and explain that this would be ridiculous and that he doesn't know anything about baking. (I don't always take kindly to kitchen advice.) He looks at the big patty pans (that HE bought) and realises they are somewhat large. Bafflingly suggests I call my mother for advice about how to make the cakes fluffier. (???!!!) I fix him with a look he correctly translates as: 'What is wrong with my cakes? Do you think I can't do fluffy? Leave the kitchen immediately', and he explains that if the cakes are REALLY fluffy, maybe they will rise enough to fill the little pans. I tell him that's ridiculous, but beat the ingredients extra hard just in case.

I add a pinch of icing sugar to the mixing bowl. I long for my bed and a book.

Final stages. I'm getting the cakes ready for the oven. They seem to look like they'll be okay, and that I can do the required twenty. I have to. After all, there is no sugar to do another batch, even if I DID summon up the energy. I now wonder why I decided to do this. Not even the stay-at-home mums do this, let alone the ones who need to leave for the train at 7am tomorrow. (Though the stay-at-homes do about a million other things, including take their kids to school and help out at class, fundraising, etc.)

No time to ponder whether this reeks of over-compensation.

The cakes are out. Granted, they struggle to half-fill the patty pans, but they have risen enough to classify as cakes rather than biscuits. I'm sure they'll taste good. And I'm still relying on the icing to dress them up.

Okay, icing. I will do something really impressive. I will make footy team cupcakes. I ask my partner, who is watching TV on the couch (lucky him lucky him) what the West Coast colours are, and set to work. A lot of bother later, I proudly carry a plate of schizophrenic blue-and-yellow cupcakes into the lounge room.


I wait for my accolades. My partner looks at the plate in silence. This is bad. I can feel him working up to something. 'They're a bit small.' Pause. 'Maybe you should take them out of the patty pans.' I tell him that the patty pans are very important. I don't really know why. Maybe I think they look suitably festive. Maybe I don't want to do anything else to them. Maybe I just don't want him to be right.

'Do they look like West Coast cakes?' I ask hopefully.
'Not really," he says.
I look at them. I have to admit I'm not sure exactly what West Coast colours are but I hazard a fair guess that the blue is not soemthing akin to sea-green.
'Can't you make the blue a bit darker?'
'No,' I say. 'I can't. It has to be this light or they won't taste any good.'
'Really?' Not really. I just can't fix it now.
'We'll tell him that these are West Coast colours,' I say. He will love it. He will believe us. I know it.
'Sure,' says my partner. 'They'll be fine.'

So I take a photo or two of my masterpiece, my four plates of stunted cupcakes striped sea-green and lemon-yellow, and breathe a sigh of relief that I have done it. I have even rung my son's father and asked him to come and get the cupcakes in the morning and run them to school for me.

'He told me you were doing that,' he says. 'He's really looking forward to them. That's great.'

It's as close as I get to super mum at the momvent anyway. I'll tackle the problem of my 'big present' that I've just found out is the same as his Dad's 'big present' tomorrow.

For the record, here are the almost-super cakes: