Sunday, December 23, 2007

Lisa the Pest (20/12/07)

I have not been a nice mother this morning.

I told F off and made him cry (okay, whimper unconvincingly), as much from my own frustration as legitimate rebuke.

In my defence, it was 6.30am this morning.


A few weeks ago, one lazy Sunday, F was reading in his room and complaining about being bored and I was going through old boxes and reminiscing, when I stumbled upon a story I had written when I was ten. I’d written it for my younger sisters, about their Cabbage Patch dolls Julie and Lisa (reborn as real live kids), and they loved it at the time. I was pleased with it enough to enter it into a kids’ story competition. It didn’t win, but it was highly commended and my name was printed in the paper.

My dad then typed it up for me (it was the days before computers) and printed it off for me at the school where he worked. I bound it into a book, and painstakingly illustrated it with pictures that now embarrass me with their tragic reflection of 1980s fashion sense. (Julie, Grade Three, wears an off-the-shoulders fitted top with a matching ra-ra skirt and dangly earrings on the last page, for instance.) Being a grown-up almost-prize-winner, I had given the book a professional edge with a dedication to my sisters on the back cover, along with an ‘acknowledgements’-style solemn thank you note to my father, ‘the typist’.

On this lazy Sunday, I asked F if he’d like to hear a story I wrote when I was a little girl. Being a seasoned story lover, he said yes. And so I pushed aside the clothes and toys I really should have been making him tidy up from the floor, and the two of us sprawled on our stomachs on the carpet, side by side.

As I read this story I hadn’t revisited in years, I cringed at my ten-year-old naivety and clumsy language. I persevered despite its faults: trying, in fact, to gloss over them by enthusiastically acting out the dialogue (mostly fights between the sophisticated Grade Three Julie and her spoilt pre-school sister). As I finished the story, I dared to really look up at F to gauge his reaction.

‘That was GREAT!’ he said. ‘Do you have any more?’

Actually, I did. There was a sequel in the same box, written in old-fashioned, practically illegible cursive, importantly marked ‘CONFERENCED’. It was called ‘Lisa Runs Away’. Flattered, I fetched it and read it aloud as F lay on his back beside me, squinting up at the ceiling in concentration.

‘Brilliant. Anything else?’

I had one more: a version of the original story that I’d rewritten when I was much older, probably eighteen. I was relieved to discover that it was much better. Not an undiscovered masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but not bad. When I finished reading it, I asked F what he thought.

‘Better than the first one I read, huh?’
‘No. I liked the first one best,’ said F, emphatically.


For the record, the story is pretty much as follows:

Lisa is a pest. She annoys her big sister Julie all the time and does naughty things. But she never gets told off. Their mother tells Julie off, but excuses everything her favourite does. Lisa decides she wants to go to school and mum has to say no, not until she’s older. She doesn’t like being told no and is determined to go. The next day, Julie is at school when she hears a voice from the reader cupboard. Lisa has somehow snuck into her classroom and hidden there. Julie tries to conceal her presence, but naughty Lisa goes too far and makes a scene. When she is discovered, the teacher tells her off and they call mum to come and pick her up. Julie wonders ‘whether Lisa will ever stop being a pest’. (‘NO!’ says F gleefully, when we get to that point. ‘She WON’T, will she?’)


A few days later, F was having night frights about ‘straight lines’. (And no, it’s not supposed to make sense. At least, I don’t quite get it.) It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s so spooky-sounding – and, I have to admit, so classically autistic - that I tend to indulge him rather than tell him to go back to bed and not move, as I do when he just says he’s hungry/thirsty/wide awake.

‘I’ll read you something and then you can go to sleep,’ I told him with a sigh. ‘Pick something.’
‘Can you read me Lisa the Pest?’ he asked. I had put in back in the box in the cupboard, along with old diaries and letters.
‘Yes please.’
‘Um, okay.’

I went into the hallway and opened the cupboard. I took down the vacuum cleaner and its parts, the big plastic box where I store F’s paintings and drawings and stories, and yanked out my box from underneath. I crept back to F’s bedroom with the story and lay my head on the pillow beside him, pulling out my travel torch.

‘You will close your eyes as I read, okay?’
‘But I won’t be able to see the pictures.’
‘Bad luck, I’m afraid.’

When I finished, he turned to give me a sleepy hug.
‘Mum, can you leave that on my bookshelf so I can read it whenever I like?’
‘Yes. I know it’s very special, so I’ll take extra good care of it.’
‘Um, okay.’

After school the next day, I came in from the kitchen with a plate of buttered toast and found him on his bed, hunched over something.
‘Look’ he said, turning around. ‘I’m reading your book.’
‘So you are!’

I have to admit, I was feeling pretty damn chuffed by now. But not just chuffed. I don’t know what the feeling was exactly, but to know that my son was getting so much enjoyment out of a story I had written for my sisters when we were young ... that something that was really special to us was now special to him, without my even trying ... It felt good.

‘I think,’ he declared, ‘that you should win a PRIZE for this.’ He paused, thinking hard. ‘You should win ... The Angus & Robertson Prize! You should be on the Angus & Robertson Top Ten Bestsellers!’
‘Um ... thank you.’

I’m still not sure how a child whose parents are avid supporters and frequenters of Melbourne’s best independent bookshops identifies with Angus & Robertson, but I took the accolade as seriously as it was meant and kissed him for it.


In the next few weeks, F took to carrying the book around with him – out to dinner (twice), on day-trips and train journeys, to the breakfast table. Every once in a while I would get another heartfelt appreciation of my writing talents, based on this book.

‘If I was your age when you were ten and I knew you and I read this book, I would think that you should be an author when you grew up!’

‘Can I photocopy this book and bring it to school? I’ve told [Crush] about it and she’s interested to read it.’

And then, on his last day of school ...

‘Can I bring it for show and tell? Please.’

Vanity got the better of me.

‘Do you want to photocopy it first?’ he asked.
‘No. I trust you. I know you will take very good care of it. Won’t you?’
He smiled at me, basking in the reflected confidence.
‘Yes. I certainly will. Don’t worry about it mum.’


Of course, he was right. I should have copied it.

Because last night, I rang his dad (who had picked him up) to check that the book came home okay. He hadn’t seen it. Frankly, he wasn’t interested. I tried to drum it into his head that the book had great sentimental value for me and I needed to know it was okay before he left for Queensland and Christmas the next day.

‘Please look,’ I said. ‘I’ll wait.’
‘It’s dark in his room and he’s assleep.’
‘Please do it in the morning and call me.’
‘Okay, I’ll call you if I find it.’
‘No. Call me. I need to know.’
‘You’ll do it?’
‘Yes, I need to go.’
‘So, you promise?’

‘He won’t do it,’ said The Husband, as I hung up. ‘You’d better call him early tomorrow.’
I called him at 6.20am this morning. He was in the cab. He wasn’t going to call me. Did he find it?
‘Um, no.’ He sounded distracted.
‘You looked?’
‘Um, yes.’

I asked F what happened. He said that he definitely took it home, it had been in his bag, it was on a pile of schoolbooks. I talked to his dad. His dad said, absently, that he had checked the pile, yes, and it wasn’t there, no. I talked to F again. My voice was steely.

‘So. It’s gone.’
‘Noooo’ he wailed.
‘Yep. Gone. And I trusted you to take care of it.’
F started to whimper, a kind of simulated crying that generally demonstrates he is upset, but would like the listener to think he is more upset than he is.
‘Can you write it again?’ he asked.
‘No. I cannot write it again.’


By then, I’d already spent the past few bemused-but-proud weeks reflecting on why F loved the story so much, even as I couldn’t help cringing at it.

And what I’d figured out was that it’s a story no adult could write: it reflects a child’s experience of the world. As a grown-up, I just couldn’t create a mother so obviously and unfairly biased towards one child over the other. I don’t know that I’d write dialogue between two sisters who say ‘SHUT UP’, ‘No, YOU shut up’, ‘No, you shut up’, ‘Stop copying me’, ‘Stop copying me’, ‘I SAID stop ...’ etc. I wouldn’t open with the two girls buying loads of lollies at the corner shop, or have Lisa throw a cat out of the window. But that’s what makes F love it so much.


When I got off the phone to F and his dad, I went back to bed and threw myself face-down on the pillow. Aware that the Husband was listening, if not exactly watching (6.30am!), I had a little whimper. Kinda like F’s I-am-upset-I-swear-I-am whimper.

I boarded the train to Adelaide feeling like something had been scooped out of my chest. I was grieving, I realised.

Grieving what? My story. A little. It was a lovely memory of my early relationship with my sisters. But it was more than that.

I was – am – grieving the loss of something special that F and I shared, something that I can’t recreate by writing another story. It’s a bit like when he lost his Care Bear in Prep and I cried as much as he did, knowing that I’d lost forever the little boy he was with that beloved bear.

Ah well. I guess there will be another special thing.

For now, I need to call my son and say sorry for making him cry. Okay, whimper.

* POSTSCRIPT: F rang The Husband while I was writing this, on the train from Melbourne to Adelaide, and told him that he had found the book in his bag. All of us are very, very pleased. But hell, I wrote this bloody post on the train, in the dining car, the keyboard wobbling as I typed, and I'm not consigning it to the virtual bin just because its whole premise has collapsed.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Hell is other people: Carols in the Park (2006)

The first inkling I have that Carols in the Park will not be fun comes before I even manage to park my bike. F jumps off his cushion on the back and runs excitedly towards the playground and back.

‘Wow!’ he says. ‘This looks great!’

The park is lined with card tables covered in home-made cakes and biscuits, glitter glue, stickers and Christmas ornaments, and racks of tee shirts. A stage is set up in the middle, with a loudspeaker blaring 80s pop into the rapidly cooling evening air. There is a caravan selling Mars Bars beside the sausage sizzle. And a baby animal farm with lambs, guinea pigs, goats and puppies.

Clusters of grown-ups sit on rugs and deck chairs gathered around the play equipment and in front of the stage. Some of them attend to small children, but most of them are chatting among themselves, waving plastic wineglasses or stubbies.

Children are darting excitedly about everywhere, scrambling on the monkey bars, jostling at the stalls, running from one activity to the next. One small boy wears a Santa hat. Sisters wear matching Christmas dresses, red and green and gold, trimmed with red tulle and teamed with Blundstones. They have tinsel in their hair.

I walk up and down the playground, looking for somewhere to chain my bike. I pause at several likely looking wooden posts, but they all prove too thick. F darts to the slide and back, to the cake stall and back.
‘Mum! Mum! What are you doing?!’
‘Wait here,’ I manage, through gritted teeth, wheeling the bike further down the road, where I find a plant tethered to a conveniently sized wooden stake.

‘Can I have a sausage? A cupcake? I want to play!’
I spread the rug near the stage and take him to the sausage van. We eat what will pass for dinner and watch the crowd, then F runs off to play.

I am painfully self-conscious, as I always am at these occasions. I am not part of the Mother’s Club. I can carry on a conversation with some of the parents some of the time. There are two mothers who sometimes invite F to play and me inside for a coffee; one of regularly. There is another who often stops me in the schoolyard to say ‘We MUST catch up. We will.’ We never do. This embarrassing charade has lasted a year. Her son approaches me at the school gate and asks ‘when can I play at your house?’ ‘Any time’ I say, but his mother always hurries him off with apologies. This mum was standing beside us as F and I applied sauce to our sausages, but didn’t look at us. Now I notice that she had inadvertently set up camp behind us. Our eyes don’t meet.

I sprawl on my stomach on our quilt, facing away from the mum and my other ‘neighbours’, with their wine and conversations, and pull The Monthly from my bag.

Small feet run across the corner of my quilt, kicking dirt over my pages. I brush it off and keep reading. Now is the perfect time, I tell myself, as I swing my bare feet behind me, to catch those articles I missed on the first read.
F’s sneakers skid into view. I close the magazine and shoulder my bag.
‘Should we look around?’

We visit the baby animals. F sits on a hay bale, hardly daring to breathe, as a guinea pig is placed in his lap. He strokes it tentatively at first, then with confidence. His face is intense with pleasure. He pats a sleeping dog, an indifferent lamb and passing goat.
‘You try’ he says as I watch him marvel at the lamb. ‘Wouldn’t you like a jumper like this?’ he enthuses.
He sits with the dog, watching to see if it will wake. I take a photo. At the gate to the enclosure, he pats a girl on the arm.
‘Excuse me’ he says solemnly. ‘I recommend that you pat the lamb.’

‘S and A said this would be boring! Boy, were they wrong!’

After we make a Christmas ornament, he returns to the playground, I to my quilt and magazine. The wind is cold, and I wrap myself in a scarf. The wind whips at the gap between my jeans and my flimsy Indian shirt. I tug on my jacket, but it rides up again.

F leaps over my legs and lands hard beside my head. He pulls an Andy Griffiths novel from his backpack and settles companionably by my feet.
‘Don’t you want to go play?’
‘Nah. Can you read to me?’
I wriggle around to face him and we lie on our stomachs together. We suck on candy canes as I read. Raindrops fall on the page: lightly, gradually at first; then steady, hard drops.

F has brought a smaller patchwork quilt, a Christmas quilt my mother made for him. He helped to choose the material and lay out the pattern. I pull it over our heads as I shelter, just as the PA crackles, Duran Duran stops mid-lyric, and the mayor introduces himself.

‘Wow,’ breathes F. ‘He’s famous.’
The school choir are on stage. A teacher with a guitar starts the first song. Around us, none of the kids or parents are singing. F scowls through the rain.
‘I want to sing too.’
‘You can.’
‘Up there?’
‘Here, you can.’ Under the quilt, I start to sing. F is not mollified, though he half-heartedly joins in. My jeans are sticky with wet. F and I are waging a war over the quilt.

Santa is coming, with presents, in one hour.

I gloomily reflect on my crappy performance as a mother tonight. One of the two friendly mothers walks past. I am too fed up to say hello. I’m afraid of what else I might say. Inwardly, I am furious. With myself, with the parents who don’t speak to me and with this whole stupid school where nobody is like me, not at all ... and of course, yes, with myself.

And even though I know it’s NOT about me, it’s about F, I am ready to go home. He sneezes.
‘Okay, we need to go.’ I jump to my feet.
‘You’ll get sick. You’re getting a cold.’
As I shake dirt from the quilt and roll it under my arm, the mother camped beside me looks over and smiles. She rolls her eyes, complicitly, and I smile back and wave.
Bitch. NOW she can see me. Oh well.

F mumbles and whines all the way to the bike. As I pad the back bike rack with the quilt, the PA dies. Two latecomers head our way.
‘It’s all off’ someone tells me. ‘We’re going home.’
‘M just arrived as everyone was going home!’ says F, TOO gleefully. ‘He’s too late, isn’t he?’
I mount the bike and squint into the rain as I glide past the queue of parked cars.

‘When we get home’ I shout over the traffic, ‘our Christmas tree will be waiting for us to decorate it. I’ll run you a hot bath and get the decorations from the garage and then you can have hot Milo with marshmallows.’
F sighs contentedly. His whine adjusts.
‘Oh, mum’ he says. ‘You’ve just cheered me up by saying that.’

Ten minutes later, as I turn into our street, I do something I know I should not.
‘F’ I call. ‘Do you wish I was more like the other mums, that I hung out with the other mums?’
It’s actually something I think about a lot.
‘No mum’ he says. ‘I like you just the way you are.’
‘There is ONE thing I’d change ...’
‘... but it’s really something I’D have to change.’
‘What’s that?’

And we’re home, The Husband opening the front door to greet us, and a pine tree on the verandah.

* NOTE: I found this written out in an old notebook, and it just seemed to me to illustrate how much things have changed (for the better) in a year, and I'd never posted it, so decided I would now.

Jingle Bell Rock: Carols in the Park (2007)

I’m determined that this year’s Carols in the Park is going to be different.

For one thing, I have organised with a friendly mother to meet up with her tonight. So, I will have company. For another, F has joined the choir this year and will be up on stage, singing. We are part of things. We will engage.

I pack our patchwork quilt and a small, pathetic picnic, cobbled together from muesli bars, bread and butter sandwiches, cling-wrapped ham, and empty water bottles filled with juice and water. It’s all I can salvage from my near-empty kitchen. I’m pretty sure there will be food and drink there, anyway. I bring a book, just in case. And a pile of Yu-Gi-Oh magazines for F. I’m tired, and contemplating catching a cab to the park (a $5 ride) when F walks into the bedroom wearing his bike helmet with his red shorts and red and green Sylvester and Tweety tee shirt. If he’s ready to ride, so am I.

As we load up the bikes on the back verandah, we hear the front gate swing open and shut next door. Footsteps sound by the back fence.
‘M!’ shouts F to the boy next door. ‘M! I’m afraid I can’t play with you tonight. I have Carols in the Park and I’m singing in the choir! SORRY!’
‘That’s okay,’ comes the reply. ‘I have my school’s Christmas concert anyway and Santa is coming.’


It’s a short bike ride and I feel a little ashamed of the near-cab experience. I guess it feels easier than I imagined because this year, F is riding his own bike rather than sitting, heavily, on the back on mine. He is excited, and shouts conversationally at me as we cycle along the footpath of Somerville Road. Trucks and cars stream by, dulling his small voice into an indistinguishable drone. I shout back lots of ‘uh huh’, interspersed with instructions about when to stop and where to turn.


The park is sparsely populated when we finally arrive. The yellowing lawn is bordered by card tables, covered with brightly coloured cupcakes and lolly bags. A small fenced enclosure houses animals, once again. A couple of lambs, a chicken, a goat. A man in a too-tight red tee shirt emblazoned with ‘Kingsville Carols’ is helping the musicians unpack their gear from a van parked in front of the stage, a lumpen black block in the centre of the park. (I later find out he's the recent mayor.)

F runs for the playground as I lock up the bikes. I carefully unfold our patchwork quilt by the stage, nearby another couple of rugs. A woman walks by barefoot, nursing a can of beer. I watch her polished toenails pass. A mother I recognise trots officiously across the park in a Christmas apron. She carries a paper cup with a coffee company logo in one hand. I pick up my purse and follow her trail, back in the direction she came from. Yarraville Cellars has a tent here, next to the coffee wagon. I pick up a bottle of Margaret River sparkling and two plastic cups for $10 and make my lazy way back to my quilt, secure in the knowledge that tonight I have company. Tonight, I will not be conspicuously out of place. Tonight, I will be comfortable.

I sprawl on the quilt with my book, leaving the sparkling unopened for now, sipping at my water bottle instead. George Michael’s ‘Last Christmas’ crackles and blares near my bowed head, the syrupy lyrics jamming in my head with the description of an elderly Egyptian aristocrat preparing for his lover in my book. After a while, I wonder where the mother I’m meeting is. It’s now the time she’s due to arrive, 6pm. I stand to look for her. As I do, my eyes meet a familiar gaze. An ex of mine, my most recent and most contentious (four years ago, for the record) is standing on the blanket directly behind me. Weirdly, he emailed me about reviewing his latest book earlier today – the first time I’d seen or heard from him in months. Of course, he lives in the neighbouring suburb – this one, in fact – so it’s not entirely surprising that he’s here. Except it is.

It’s that familiar, stilted mix of awkward and familiar, as we discuss today’s email and the fact that his son’s primary school choir is performing tonight, too. I hadn’t realised. A tall, slender, pigtailed girl stops at his side.
‘H. You remember Ariel, don’t you?’
She squints at me, unsure. He gestures at F, buried in a Yu-Gi-Oh magazine at my feet.
‘You remember F?’
A shadow of recognition passes over her face. She nods a little and smiles at me. I say a cheery hello. She is a lovely girl. She met me and F just once. She and her young brother were floored and kinda spooked by then-four-year-old F’s excited, unpunctuated stream of chatter. (The Asperger’s, I now realise.) I think she liked me. I gave her some pretty bangles and a girls’ comic I’d picked up from work. She told her mother about me and her mother freaked. Ah, memories.

I count out my change, now aware of eyes (maybe) (probably not) on me from behind. F stays on the rug, reading, while I fetch us sausages in bread from a stand run by the local Scouts. $1.50 each. Bargain.
‘Can I have an ice cream too?’
I inspect my coins.
‘Do you think your dad will give me a couple of dollars to buy chips later if I buy you ice cream?’
‘Maybe, then.’

The Christmas-aproned mother stops at our rug and bends down close.
‘Hi. Raffle ticket? Go on.’
I count out a dollar from the silver coins I’ve given F for ice cream and write his name on the ticket. She gives us a printed booklet containing the words of all the carols and the logos of all the sponsors. F digs a biro out of my bag and sets to work circling all the songs he likes best. ‘Silent Night’ is in, ‘Rudolph’ is out. He is sad that ‘Jingle Bell Rock’, his favourite, is not there.

On stage, the man in the too-tight red tee shirt speaks into a microphone at 10 minute intervals, welcoming everyone and exorting them not to forget that Yarraville Cellars, the Scouts, the coffee place and the ice cream van are all here, and all selling stuff.

I’m really starting to long for my companion to arrive. The rugs are closing in, forming their own mismatched patchwork on the grass. The happy chatter I know so well – and dread – with its reminders of high school and cliques and me not belonging to one, not even to one person. Maybe this is why I love books so much. (It’s not.) With a book in your hand, you don’t look alone, you look busy.


Every once in a while, a small girl from F’s class will wander by. They say hello to us. F smiles and greets them, then returns to his magazine. The girls run shrieking around the park, weaving in and out of the rugs. Some of them are girls F plays with in the playground; girls from his class.

‘Why don’t you play with the girls? Your friends.’
He shakes his head. One of the girls is his Crush. This, I think, is the problem. He has been hanging out with The Crush more and more this year, to the point where he has been playing with her in the yard most days, rather than with his mates. I overhear him say things to her like ‘you look nice today’ and ‘that was a really good kick’. In this year’s music concert and his recent assembly performance alike, The Husband and I have noticed him standing on stage or sitting in the audience stationed conveniently beside her, shooting her the occasional reverent glance.

I should mention here that The Crush is absolutely stunning. Her father is Maori, her mother Anglo Australian. She has long, straight, shining hair that hangs halfway down her back and smooth dark-olive skin. Long dark lashes, huge brown eyes, a shy, sweet smile – and a healthy twinkle in her eye. She could easily have been drawn by Walt Disney. Even I have to admit that she is a pleasure to behold (as well as a fabulous girl - spunky, tree-climbing, kind). Her mother laughed to me, at F’s birthday party, that her daughter has been the token girl at a lot of boys’ birthday parties this year. F knows at least four other boys in his class who have whispered about being ‘in love’ with her.

The problem is that a week ago, The Crush’s best friend asked F, witheringly, if he was ‘in love with Crush or something?’ He of course said no, but his former best mate retorted that yes, he is, and he knows because F told him so. F was inconsolable after school that night (‘it’s humiliating’) and is now too embarrassed to talk to her. The real tragedy in this is that The Crush has been a wonderful friend for F, complimentary and encouraging about his efforts to improve his attitude and be a better friend. I love the way he is when he’s around her. (The other night, when I put him to bed, he sighed and told me that he's been wondering if all his recent good behaviour has been because of him, or because of her influence on him.)

But I have to let him be. I can give him advice about pretending it didn’t happen and not letting a couple of mean remarks lose him a good friend, but I can’t walk him over there and make him play with the girls again.


F and I are alone for about an hour. On a neighbouring rug, a loud-voiced woman barks a litany of complaints.
‘What the hell is wrong with her? I didn’t bring her here just to stand around. I don’t wanna be here anyway. Why is she just standing around? That’s it. I’m never getting takeaway again if you don’t appreciate it. What’s she DOING? I don’t want to be here.’
She and her husband are eating McDonalds, their burgers still half in their wrappers. I feel sorry for the girl standing around somewhere, presumably over in the playground. I fantasise about telling the woman to shut up or just go home. I try to bury myself in my book.

F licks his ice cream cone in the middle of the playground, watching the surrounding chaos. He is still stubbornly solitary.

I hear my friend the mother greeting a chain of other parents on her way over to our rug. She breezily apologises for being late.
‘It’s fine’ I say. ‘Want a drink?’
I probably could have been talking to some of these parents myself, this year: I’ve seen them at parties and exchanged pleasantries outside the classroom. But something in me is frozen. I feel safer behind my book. F and I are a fine couple.

F’s friend, L, crashes onto the rug beside us. He’s wearing a cotton wool Santa beard with a fur-trimmed hat and red tee shirt and shorts. He is buzzing with excitement. F joins him, and together they disappear into the playground. At last.

F’s father appears, camera in hand, and sits between us. Feeling better already, I offer him my plastic glass of sparkling. He sips at it and passes it back. He tells us that his wife and son were ejected from the Toy Library today, in the moneyed suburb where they live, because his son (just past one year old) was too noisy. His wife was volunteering at the time. The sparkling makes it even more hilarious.

The kids from The Other primary school file onto stage, all wearing their school uniforms and Santa hats. They kick off the first of three carols.
‘They’ll probably kick our asses at this, too,’ mutters my friend the mother (MFTM). She is up with things like inter-school rivalries, much more a part of the community than I will ever be. Apparently, they regularly beat us at sport.
F’s father and I squabble about school uniforms and who has more shirts at their house while the kids sing ‘Jingle Bell Rock’.

Then, it’s the moment we’re all here for. The Other primary school kids file off the stage and our kids take their place. They are wearing an assortment of red and green clothing. Some of the girls wear strappy, flowery dresses. They are beaming with pride. F stands, straight and tall, in the front row. He sings loudly, solemnly, enthusiastically. Most of the kids hold their songbooks in their hands, but his is at his feet, held in place by his sneakers. He’s obviously been watching what bands do, or something. He squints at his feet during the lesser known song, eventually giving up and reading the songbook of the girl next to him. I notice, regretfully, that The Crush is at the other end of the stage tonight. F’s friend L is a few rows back. He occasionally leaps up, his jaunty red hat poking above the heads in front of him. His grin threatens to split his face in half.

The Deputy Principal appears at my side, standing between F’s father and I.
‘Look at him’ she says. ‘He’s come so far. You must be so proud.’
We are, of course.
‘He said he wanted to join the choir because they needed more boys and he felt it was his duty’ I tell her. She laughs.

As they finish, I push my way to the front of the stage and open my arms for F to leap into them. His father is right behind me. As we all stand around congratulating the kids, waving at passing choir members with the ‘thumbs up’, a keening, wailing noise fills the air, coming closer and closer. It’s a fire engine, sirens blazing. A man dressed all in red, with black boots and a belly-deep white beard, is hanging from it, waving.


The kids swarm towards the engine, an instinctive mass of excitement. F is at the front of the pack. I run, barefoot, burrs prickling the balls of my feet. An anarchic line is forming behind a plastic chair that Santa is being led to. Squealing, shrieking, swelling and lurching. It’s survival of the fittest, as the kids squash forward, pushing in and out and squeezing each other tight in a serpent-like kid sandwich. I shout at them to all take three steps back to give the ones at the front breathing space, and sort out a couple of the obvious skirmishes in front of me. ‘Back of the line!’ ‘Give her some room.’ ‘Your big sister was in front of you a moment ago.’

‘WOW!’ says F. ‘My mum, the policeman of the line, huh? Who would have thought it? She should be a footy umpire!’


Ten minutes later, we have a lolly bag and are making our way back to the rug. F’s father is going home. I ask him to buy me chips first, and he does. We have a pleasant walk around the park. When I get back, F is reading his Yu-Gi-Oh magazine, eating lolly snakes and watching the band, made up of some musical parents, sing jazzy Christmas songs.

MFTM and I eat the lime flavoured chips and drink most of the sparkling, before F asks to go home. We leave her the rug and the remainder of the food and drink before we return to our bikes, and cycle home in the fading light, shouting conversation as we go. As we idle at the traffic lights at the top of our street, I notice a golden peach sunset bleeding into grey-lined clouds over our shoulders.

The Husband is waiting in the lounge room when we get home.
‘How was it?’
‘Great’ says F. ‘Can I have a drink, I’m thirsty.’
‘He was wonderful. He sang beautifully. We were so proud. And I was the policeman of the line. For Santa. F couldn’t believe it!’
‘Yeah, I was embarrassed. I couldn’t believe that everyone knew I was your son. It was humiliating.’
‘Oh.’ I am annoyed. ‘Well, maybe I won’t come listen to your class read tomorrow, then. If I’m so EMBARASSING.’
‘NO, mum!’ He throws himself to the ground and hugs my ankles, pinning me to the middle of the hallway. ‘NO!’
‘But I thought I was embarrassing.’
‘Not in the classroom mum. THEN you’re actually being HELPFUL.’


Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night ... and all that jazz ...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Eight things meme

Here is my response to the eight things meme currently doing the rounds (via Redcap)

Eight things I am passionate about:

my son
the rest of my family - my husband, my parents, my siblings
books and writing
water - the sea, anywhere else you can swim
independence - I HATE being told what to do and when to do it
travel - a new passion, but one I think about a lot
justice - from my son's classroom to the wider world
original thought and expression

Eight things I want to do before I die:

travel more
write a book and have it published
live by the sea
stay in the same job for more than a year
spend lots more time with my family
read loads more books
be published in The Age, preferably in the books section
live in New York awhile

Eight things I say often:

F**k (maybe I shouldn't, but I do)
Puppy (a pet name for F that I am supposed to not use, but I do, I don't even know why)
This is the last straw
This might be stupid, but ...
Hell yeah
Say 'please'
I'm not everyone else's mother, I'm your mother
If you do that/say that one more time ...

Eight books I've read recently:

Darkmans, Nicola Barker
Through the Children's Gate, Adam Gopnik
The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Moshin Hamid
Addition, Toni Jordan
What Was Lost, Catherine O'Flynn
Infidel, Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Asperger's Syndrome and Your Child
The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing

Eight songs I could listen to over and over:

Bittersweet Symphony, The Verve
High and Dry, Radiohead (or anything on The Bends, really)
Been Caught Stealing, Jane's Addiction
Common People, Pulp
Today, Smashing Pumpkins
Living in the City, Stevie Wonder
How Soon is Now, The Smiths
She Sells Sanctuary, The Cult

(not terribly eclectic, me - and yes, stuck in the past)

Eight things that attract me to my friends:

No-bullshit honesty
A sense of humour
Similar interests, particularly an affinity for books
A talent for original thought
The ability to stand up for what they believe in
Being themselves
Having all their own, natural body parts (unless they need an artificial limb or something I suppose)

I'm not a big tagger, so anyone who feels like doing it (and hasn't been tagged), let me know in the comments!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

A hypothetical holiday

There’s nothing like a holiday to refresh the mind.

That is, unless your holiday is punctuated by a helluva lot of work. Including spending your first day finishing up an already overdue 3500 word assignment - albeit in a beautiful setting, your laptop perched on a deck overlooking bush and framed by jasmine, taking breaks to swim and eat fish and chips.

And by getting up at 6:30am the following day to catch the bus back to Melbourne, where you will do more work and attend your work Christmas party.

At said Christmas party you will proofread the publication you had hoped to be proofing for the last time at lunchtime that day, amusing yourself by scaring people off, waving said publication at them and inviting them to help. To your horror, said publication will still be unfinished at this time. (It will have, since the weekend, been under the control of Someone Else.) Someone Else suggests you come back at 3pm the day after the party to do a final proofread. You point out that you will be at the beach, approximately three hours away, and that you will have no internet access. You reluctantly outsource your editorial duties.

Despite the fact you don’t drink much anymore, you down successive glasses of white wine and champagne in an effort to erase the panicked anxiety you feel. Luckily, you don’t (you think) say anything particularly stupid to anyone. You are pathetically, overwhelmingly grateful for the presence of your Longstanding Friend, who offers to help you proofread. In fact, without you asking, she takes half the pages from you and follows you to the doorway of the club where your party is being held, where you both settle behind the counter with your pens and your wineglasses, squinting through the dim light and battling your lightly toasted brains.

You catch a cab home after midnight and fall into the empty bed awaiting you at home. You wake feeling ill at 4am. And again at 5am, 6am and 7am. At 8am you tumble out of bed, check your emails, throw some clothes on and catch the train to Footscray station, where you embark for the beach again.

The journey to Melbourne approximately 24 hours earlier was peaceful, drowsy. Your few fellow passengers had slept on the bus from the beach. Today, just a couple of hours later, the bus is full of tourists: backpacking teenagers in skimpy singlet tops and short shorts, a Japanese couple with cameras swinging from their necks, pensioners in polo shirts. The mood is festive; instead of air-conditioned silence, the bus is noisy with piped commercial music that assaults your hungover eardrums. Luckily, you have come prepared with your i-Pod and a selection of music loud enough to drown out Sneaky Sound System or Celine Dion or whatever the hell is popular at the moment. You mainline The Smashing Pumpkins at full volume as the bus navigates the Great Ocean Road.

You are cranky. You are aware that you are deserting your post by leaving your work unfinished, but also aware that this is not what you signed up for. And that staying would be deserting the post at your marriage. You try very hard not to think about work.

Back at the beach house, you bundle yourself in a pink blanket and huddle on a cushioned bench on the balcony with a book. Sulphur-crested cockatoos flock in a tree over the road, like jaunty Australiana-themed Christmas decorations. A pair of magpies swoop towards your head, flying low over the balcony. You retreat inside. The book blocks work out of your mind for a while. While you’re reading it. Every time you stop, the details of work and all the things you can’t control crowd in once again.

The following afternoon, you walk on the beach. It’s cold: tracksuit weather. Still, you know that the water is your best chance of feeling better again.

The water is choppy, magnificent in its fury. This is a grand tantrum, not a petty, circular buzzing argument: your own state of mind. You stand, thigh deep. The waves loom above you in the near distance. Turquoise walls of water rise, curve and dissolve into dramatic sprays of foam, spat back to shore. It is so cold that your skin actually tingles; tiny electric needles of shock. It is strangely pleasant after the initial sting. You throw yourself against the waves, over them, with them, standing still as they crash over you and through you.

You realise that perhaps you don’t find the sea relaxing, as you’ve always thought. Perhaps a better word is ‘exhilarating’.

You scan the distant waves for dark shapes. Against your will, you imagine a sudden pressure on your thigh, jaws clamping around you. You creep towards the shore. You tell yourself how silly you’re being, remind yourself how few people are actually attacked by sharks each year in the whole of Australia. Remember that it’s more dangerous crossing the road than standing here. You make your tentative way back towards the horizon. Followed by the slow creep back. It’s like a clumsy underwater dance.

You are no longer thinking about work. And on the way home, it remains, if not gone, banished to the dark corners of your mind.

Another day at the beach; this one glorious, sun-soaked. It leaves your hair thick with saltwater and your back streaked with sunburn, despite your regular applications of sunscreen. You finish two books: really good books that you don’t have to read for work. You eat lots of fish and chips and Magnums for dessert and walk the beach and the tracks around the lighthouse.

On the car ride home, you and The Husband manage to chatter about inconsequential matters. You remember your wedding two years ago at this same coastal retreat (your mother-in-law’s house, in fact) and reflect on how life has changed for the better.

At home, you unpack the car, hand your straw hat back on the hook in the bedroom, and sit down in your bathers and shorts to read the mail you unpicked from the mailbox.

You read the letter from Centrelink advising you that they want to prosecute you for fraud as a result of overpayments from three years ago (the result of a disputed phone call; overpayments you have been paying back, in instalments, for approximately three months).

That hard-won holiday insouciance dissolves as you read.

All those high-voltage thoughts, not just about this but about work too, crowd back into your head before five minutes have passed.

You lie awake past 3:30am and are almost (but not quite) late for listening to kids read in your son’s classroom the next day.

Welcome home, you think.

Friday, December 07, 2007


I have been here:

more specifically, here:

and here:

Normal blogging to resume shortly ...

Thursday, November 29, 2007


He is in the shower. I stand beside the bath, turning idly before the mirror. I lift my tee shirt above my stomach, peer critically ahead, and turn again to examine myself in profile.


‘What are you doing?’

I turn around, dropping my shirt as I do. F is watching me with interest.

I have not really been aware of my actions until now; it’s an unconscious habit.

‘Oh. Um, I’m looking at my stomach.’
‘Let me see.’
I frown at him, trying to work out what he means.
‘Do it again. I’ll tell you if you’re fat or not.’

I do it again, this time facing away from the mirror, towards him. I’m a lot more self-conscious now.
‘Turn around.’
I do. I’m suddenly, stupidly aware that whatever he says next will be the truth, unfiltered by grown-up caution. I hold my breath a little as I wait for it.

‘Nope’ he says. ‘You’re not fat.’
‘Really? Oh good.’ I am relieved. A few months ago, I shooed him out of a dressing room for telling me I looked fat while I was trying on jeans.

(Literally, I told him to get lost. He walked out of the shop and onto the street in response. When I came looking for him, a salesgirl pointed out the door, saying ‘he told me that he was going to get lost’. With my new Asperger’s knowledge, I cringe every time I remember it.)

‘You might look fat in a dress though,’ he adds.
I laugh.
‘Why is that?’
‘Most people look fat in dresses.’
‘I wore a dress on Sunday. Did I look fat then?’
He considers it.
‘No. You didn’t. So, I guess you can wear dresses.’
He pauses, twirling under the shower faucet.
‘I don’t think you need your diet anymore, Mum. I think you should stop it now.’
‘Yes. You’re PERFECT.’

I lean into the shower and hug him, not caring about getting wet.

‘Thank you’ I say.

At the supermarket that evening, I buy a box of Turkish Delight ice creams. And I eat one on the way home.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The defeated

F has a friend who comes to play after school every Monday, while his mum is at work.

L is a delightful child, who I most prize for his sensitivity and compassion as a friend to my son. (I grit my teeth when he walks in the back door, rifles through my cupboard, opens my freezer and says 'I'm hungry! Feed me!' and 'I want a chocolate biscuit', but that's beside the point.)

However, L has one noticable quirk. He loves John Howard.

A few months ago, he first spotted the 'Not Happy John' sticker on my filing cabinet.
'Is that John Howard?' he asked.
'Why does it say Not Happy John?'
'Because I'm not happy with John Howard.'
'But why?'
'Well, he locks children up in the desert when they haven't done anything wrong,' I said. 'Isn't that right, F?
'Yup.' F didn't look up from the floor, where he was sprawled, drawing a picture.
'So, you don't like John Howard?' asked L.

L was visibly shocked.

His mother had already told me that he liked John Howard. She was a bit embarassed. She's a nurse. L doesn't get the sentiment from her. Her theory is that he likes authority, and automatically reveres the person in authority. (He's also shocked by the idea of Australia as a Republic.)

A month or so ago, L was crouching on the back lawn, making BMX-like accessories for his bike out of toilet rolls, when he noticed the 'Still Not Happy John' sticker on my bike.
'Huh!' he said. 'Not Happy John! Not happy KEVIN, more like it!'

His mum told me today that he stood in the line on Saturday pleading with her.
'MUM! Please! Put in a vote for me! Vote for John Howard!'

She didn't.

'He's not as unhappy as I thought he'd be, though,' she observed this afternoon.
'Don't worry L,' I told him. 'You'll change your mind soon enough. You'll be a fan of Kevin.'
'He looks just like John Howard, only 20 years younger,' F's father helpfully added. 'You'll hardly notice the difference.' (He was kicking a footy around with the boys on the back lawn, before he took F home.)
'We'd better!' I said.
L's mother laughed.

'Ah, my son's a Liberal,' she said ruefully.
L nodded.
F frowned and crashed purposefully into him from the side, even though neither of them had the ball.
'Hey!' I applauded the sentiment, if not the action.

I forgot to discuss the election with F this afternoon and now he's gone. The Husband, who spent the afternoon in the back yard with the footy while I worked inside, told me that F was more concerned with the OTHER voting contest this weekend.

'He was very grumpy,' he laughed. 'He said I hate Natalie. I told him that wasn't nice, so he said I hate the voting public.'

On the contrary, I rather love them right now.


There's only one 'Still Not Happy John' sticker left on our fence this morning.

I'm not sure if it's due to sabotage or souveniring, but I hope it's the latter.

I'm leaving the last one up, out of curiosity, just to see if that one disappears too.


At 10am yesterday morning, our newsagent had sold out of The Sunday Age - simply unheard of, in my experience. Someone else was asking after it at the same time as me, and the newsagent suggested we try the supermarket.

I sped down the road ahead of my rival, picturing us both in the race for one last newspaper. Didn't I feel silly when I arrived to find a big pile in the doorway?

I bought The Herald Sun, too. Again. Second time this year. It's good to see how the Other Side are reacting.

Over my morning coffee, sitting in the weak morning sun in the window of an Anderson Street cafe, no less than four people tried to take my paper, not realising I'd bought it.

It's so nice to see people so interested and engaged with politics again. Here's hoping it lasts past the initial buzz of this weekend.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The sweetest victory of all

So, they actually did it.

I’m so excited I can’t think straight. (Still.)


One of my favourite moments from the election coverage was when ‘Red’ Kerry O’Brien said ‘In Bennelong, it looks like the ABC is leading ... I mean the ALP is leading ...’ Pause. Red face. ‘I guess that had to happen at some point tonight.’

I got all teary when the cheering broke out at ABC headquarters when it first looked like Maxine was actually going to win it. Seriously, how proud would you be of your former colleague?

Imagine it: Maxine McKew, Minister for Communications. (Even though she’s strongly hinted she’d like Education.) Imagine the collective sigh of relief at ABC headquarters.

I predict that this forthcoming book will be a bestseller. I know I want a copy.

And Peter Garrett, Minister for the Environment. Surely he’s going to show his true colours now that he’s in the job. That's if he gerts it, I suppose. It seems that he might not. Though I don't know how one stupid, ill-timed joke disqualifies him as Minister for the Environment. I read in the SMH that they think he might lose that one but get Minister for Indigenous Affairs. That would be pretty good, too. Can't he have both?!

I have to admit that I’m more excited by Maxine (yes, I know it’s not 100 per cent confirmed, but ...) and Peter Garrett (fingers crossed) than by Kevin the conquering hero himself. I reserve my judgement until he starts work.


How about that speech? He’s certainly no Keating in the orator stakes. He’s a great speaker – a natural – smooth, polished, exuding ‘ordinary bloke’ humility. He wears his erudition lightly. Much more so than the famously ‘prolix’ Kim Beazley. But he speaks from the head, not the heart. There’s no passion, no clever wordplay. His message is tailored for the ‘everyone’ he promises to govern for.

When he opened with ‘I will govern for all Australians’, my heart sank. Talk about ‘me too’. But then he followed it up with his own ‘dog whistle’, this time aimed at us, the chardonnay left. ‘For indigenous Australians. For those who have come here from other countries.’ Phew. Didn’t like the schtick about national security. Didn’t like the suck-up to America. But it’s all part of the reassurance game, I suppose. I did like the fact that he said he would act urgently on climate change. And the education revolution is wonderful in theory. Here’s hoping it includes properly paid educators and the return of a workable public school system.

I guess times have changed. I guess Latham proved that ‘mainstream Australia’ doesn’t want a passion-fuelled Keating. Speeches that read like poetry are SO 1993-1996.

I think Kevin 07 and his team have some massive opportunities. One of them is the rare window they have to fix the big problems in our federal system. Imagine if they actually work together with the state Labor governments to rebuild public health and education without playing the traditional blame game. They probably have a very limited time-frame in which to do it.


Oh, and Julia Gillard, second most powerful person in the country. A woman. A genuine lefty. Living a few train stations away from me. Bless her and her empty fruit bowl.

That was the other big emotional moment for me last night, seeing her finally, cautiously, embrace victory, with tears in her eyes.


Of course, this, really TRULY the sweetest victory of all, is not one for the true believers. It’s the one for the battlers who have returned to the Labor fold.

I’ll be interested (and nervous) to see how the ALP goes about keeping them without alienating its progressive wing.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Election day nerves

I'd prefer 'Bob Brown for PM', but I'm operating in the realms of reality.

I planned to spend today getting stuck right into some work I’ve been procrastinating about. Work that involves a lot of thinking. Work that is due in one week.

But, of course, I can’t think.

Not about work, anyway. I didn’t realise just how nervous and excited I was about this election until this morning.


Drag myself out of bed, after several not-so-subtle proddings from The Husband over the past hour. While he is stirring his breakfast rice porridge, I decorate our white picket fence with a row of ‘Still Not Happy John’ stickers from my desk drawer. I am rather fetchingly clad in my pyjama top and last night’s straggly ponytail.


Get dressed in my traditional election-day outfit: a Mambo tee shirt I bought in 2001 that says ‘Mambo Super Chump’ on the front, with a caricature of John Howard’s head atop a lollipop stick on the back.

Read The Age online. Worry about the late surge to the Coalition. Dismiss it. Worry about it again.


The Husband and I walk the matter of metres to the nearest polling booth. We pass Nicola Roxon on the way. The Husband points at her as she heads away, presumably on her way to the next stop.
‘Look, it’s Nicola Roxon’ he says.
She must hear him, because she waves at us and calls out a hello.
‘Good luck today!’ I shout, full of confidence - and pride that my local member has bested Tony Abbott recently.
‘Thanks!’ she calls back, and disappears.

It strikes me, as I bask in the warmth of our little exchange, that a friendly encounter with your local MP really could sway a swinging voter, wrong though that seems. On Insight yesterday I watched a fifty-something man talk about how he’d decided to vote for Kevin Rudd after seeing him on Rove and deciding he seemed a ‘good bloke’. A man beside him nodded agreement. Bizarre, but good, I guess. For ‘our team’, if not for what it says about Australian voters.

The Husband and I follow our election ritual of heading straight for the Greens representative and taking a how-to-vote card, pointedly and rather snootily refusing the Liberals’ volunteer.

There is already a long line, snaking across the asphalt and towards the playground, past the card tables piled with boxes of old books for sale and a wicker basket full of food, wrapped in cellophane: a raffle prize.


I cast my vote. And yes, I fill out the Senate card ‘below the line’, all bloody 68 preferences. I have no idea who some of these people are, especially the independents.

An elderly lady leans on a cane beside me in the neighbouring booth as I painstakingly fill out my Senate sheet. She peers closely at me, reading what I am doing. I am inexplicably annoyed, as if she is copying my answers on a test.


Woo-hoo! I’ve done it.

We browse the books and I buy six, including two Goosebumps books for F, who has just gotten into them.

On the way out the gate, we follow our other election day ritual, solemnly handing back our How to Vote cards for recycling.


We collect the dogs from home and walk to the monthly Farmer’s Market held nearby in the Yarraville Gardens.

I buy a Fair Trade coffee and a slice of orange and poppyseed cake and eat them on the lawns, while The Husband daringly flaunts the council by-laws and lets the dogs off the lead on the adjacent oval. He walks in circles on the yellowing grass, against the backdrop of rust-red towers of shipping containers and the hum of traffic on Whitehall Road.

The Husband and the dogs join me on the grass and the dogs alternately try to eat my cake and chase a nearby dog, letting off machine gun bursts of staccato barks.

The market throngs with clusters of wandering people, many of them trailing dogs. One woman draws stares with a little white dog perched atop an old-fashioned vinyl shopping trolley.


I stop on the way home to buy the papers. I get The Age, The Australian, The Herald Sun and The Financial Review.

‘You’ve got a lot of reading to do there’ laughs the girl behind the counter at the newsagent.

‘You got all four papers?’ asks The Husband.
‘We need to know how the other side is thinking.’

The main road is much busier than usual. Everyone seems to be lingering outside after they cast their votes.


We run into friends from Seddon outside our house, on their way back from the polling booth. They look at our fence and laugh.

‘What do you think about that?’ my friend, who has known us for about six years, asks The Husband. ‘Are you thinking, why do we always have to make a statement?’
‘No,’ says The Husband, surprised.

The Husband loves making a statement. He particularly enjoys wearing his ‘Free Palestine’ tee shirt to work, in an area where most of his customers are firmly on the side of Israel.

‘It’s very interesting,’ says my friend.

‘I should have got some posters for the Greens and Labor and put them up, too.’
‘Or Dave O’Neill!’ she says. ‘He seems like a nice guy. I just noticed he’s a candidate.’
No offence, I’m sure Dave is lovely, but I’m not going to support him just because he’s a famous nice bloke. I have no idea why he’s standing, or what he stands for.

Their baby stirs in his pram and they say their goodbyes.


We go out for lunch, with an armful of newspapers. The cafes are packed.

At Hausfrau, the table next to us is packed with B-list (maybe C-list?) celebrities, most of them recognisable from from Thank God You’re Here. The one we don't recognise is very loud, as if he wouldn't mind people looking over and realising who he is sitting with. Afterwards, the Husband tells me that Brooke Satchwell accidentally touched his arm.
‘Were you excited?’
I think he might be serious.

‘Nobody touched your arm’ he says.
‘Um, no. How terrible.’
I tell him this would only disappoint me if Hamish Blake was at the table and didn’t touch my arm.

I am still thinking about Hamish Blake touching my arm when The Mother cycles down the footpath towards us, trailing Kujo on a lead. Kujo is so enormous that his head is pretty much in line with her seat.
I look away, across the road. The Husband looks right at her.
‘Hi guys’ she calls out as she passes us.
‘Hi there’ says The Husband.
I say nothing.

‘Wow’ he says.
‘Yeah. I was officially REALLY rude.’
‘I was pretty rude too! Did you hear the way I said hi? It was like I really didn’t care.’
“Oh yes, I heard that.’


We both read the latest political news online.

I do about five minutes worth of actual work.

Then I write a really kind of pointless blog about my day.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Earliest memory meme

Via Eleanor Bloom

I’m pretty sure this is my first memory. It doesn’t add up to much, but here it is.

I have a memory of holding out this stapled book I had made and showing it to my mother. It had two stories in it.

The first one was called ‘Joanne Peg’. It went: ‘Joanne Peg found a worm in the dirt.’ That was the whole story.

The second one was ‘Me and My Friend’. It was a little bit longer. My best friend’s parents had died, so she was coming to live with us forever. ‘Wheee!’ There is a picture of two stick figure little girls joyfully bounding on twin beds, because they are so very happy.

I remember this second story with a kind of retrospective horror that it obviously did not occur to my childhood self that my friend would be devastated rather than pleased if her parents died. That her response would not, in fact, be: ‘Wheeee!’

I was four years old. I was very proud of my book. I can remember the bright texta colour drawings and that I was standing in our cement courtyard in the backyard when I gave it to my mother. It was hot.

I don’t remember my mother’s response. She probably just said it was lovely, I guess. As you do.


The meme doesn’t ask for a second or third memory, but I’ve dredged them up anyway, so ...

I remember being at school, in Prep. I remember that I had very long, very straight hair that hung past my bottom. It took a long time for my mother to brush it for me. I usually wore it in two long plaits, tied with ribbons to match my clothes.

My mother says I came home from my first day of school quite annoyed. My parents are teachers, and I had thought that I was going to teach the other kids. I was shocked, apparently, to discover that I was expected to be one of the taught. I adapted quickly though.

I was very small and very quiet. I had a best friend who lived around the corner from us. We shared the same name. She was tall and, while by no means fat or even chubby, she was a solid girl. They called us Big A and Small A. She was about six months older than me, and it was her job to walk me to and from school. One day she forgot and I waited in the school office for a very long time until my mother came to find me an hour or so later. Big A was in a lot of trouble.

In the playground, I sometimes played Star Wars with the boys. There was only one part for a girl, so I was the only girl allowed to play. It probably helped that I wore my hair in braids, making me a perfect Leia. The raised wooden fort in the playground was our Starship Enterprise. There was only the one Star Wars movie back in those days, so no one knew that Darth Vader was Luke’s father or that Luke was Leia’s sister. At some point in the game, ‘Luke Skywalker’ would kiss me.

There was a girl in my class named B. She had very short, cropped hair and she lived with her grandmother. She was always in trouble and her grandmother was always being called up to the school. One day, sitting next to me in class, she pulled out her scissors and chopped off one of my plaits. I cried and cried.

Another day, B inexplicably went missing. They searched the whole school for her. They rang her grandmother to see if she’d walked home. She hadn’t. The police were called to comb the neighbourhood. My teacher was frantic. After this had been going on for a while, to everyone’s shock, B crawled out from under a desk in the corner of the room, where she had been hiding all that time.

F loves to hear these two stories, and asks for them so often that I have invented a raft of other ‘B’ stories over the years.

I remember sitting in a circle on the carpet one day, the teacher asking us in turn what we wanted to be when we grew up. There were the usual firemen, teachers, nurses, football players and doctors. When it came to me, I quite innocently said that I wanted to be a mother. Everyone laughed. I hadn’t realised that would be funny, and that I was supposed to come up with a ‘real’ job.

F loves that story, too. He said to me one day, quite out the blue, that of course I was a good parent, because I’d always wanted to be a mother, ever since I was a little girl.


I'm supposed to tag at least five people, but I'm going to do the cop-out option instead: if you like the idea of this meme, please do it, and please let me know if you have so I can pop over and read it!

So, the rules are:

1. Describe your earliest memory where the memory is clear, and where "clear" means you can depict at least three details;
2. Give an estimate of your age at the time;
3. Tag five other bloggers with this meme. (Or, do as I did and just extend an open invitation)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The kind of person I am

We’re in the car, driving from Yarraville to Richmond. IKEA country.

It’s hot. 37 degrees hot.

I line the burning black leather seat with my denim jacket before I sit. The silver foil windscreen cover stings my fingers as I peel it off for the drive.

My armful of CDs falls beside me with a plastic clatter.

We’ve chosen most of them for F’s tastes. AC DC. Blur. The Beatles. The Verve. (He loves Bittersweet Symphony since Matt Corby sang it on Idol.) I’ve snuck in an ‘oldie but goodie’ of mine, too, one that jumped out at me as I rifled through my CD rack on the way out the door.

We agree to take turns choosing the music. The order, decides F (and we don’t challenge him), is youngest to oldest. So, F goes first. He chooses Back in Black.

I turn to see him listening earnestly, a faint smile hovering at his lips. He is quite still.
‘Are you enjoying that?’
‘He’s a connoisseur, not a headbanger,’ says The Husband.
I glance back again. He is now bobbing back and forth, the dreamy expression replaced by a fierce, slightly self-conscious, expression.

The Husband is right, of course, but F prefers the idea of himself as a headbanger.

‘What will you pick?’ he asks The Husband. ‘You’re the next youngest.’
‘Mum can go next,’ says The Husband. He’s into reggae at the moment and isn’t about to throw that into the mix.
‘Great!’ I settle back with a grin, enjoying the lukewarm breeze in my hair.
‘What will you choose, Mum? I bet I know! I bet it’s Bittersweet Symphony! To get us in the mood for driving.’

I’d mused on this on the way from the house to the car.

‘No,’ I say. ‘I’ve changed my mind.’
‘What? It’s A Long Way to the Top?’ He sounds hopeful.
‘Nope. Something you don’t know.’
‘F, you need to take turns. That’s the rule. That means I can choose whatever I like, not what you want me to choose.’

‘It’s rock,’ I venture, as I fumble for my CD in the pile. ‘It’s good.’

A few beats later ...

‘Do you know what kind of person I am?’
‘No. What kind of person are you?’
‘I’m the kind of PERSON,’ he replies, somewhat imperiously, ‘who when someone TELLS me to like something, WON’T like it.’
‘Ah,’ I say. ‘Are you now?’

He is silent when my song comes on. Not, I think, the silence of the connoisseur.
More like a silent protest.


Earlier that day ...

‘Hey!’ says The Husband. ‘We’re out of dental floss!’
I don’t look up from my newspaper.
‘You’re using it!’
‘Uh huh.’

The Husband got back from his overseas sojourn fanatical about the wonders of daily flossing and preached about it with all the fervour of a Mormon on a train for his first month back.

‘You know what?’ I say, folding down my paper to fix him with a stare. ‘I’m the kind of person who, if you bug me about doing something, if you TELL me to do it, I won’t. You left me alone, so I’m doing it.’


Is it genetics or small ears lurking in hallways? Or both?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Verbal diarrhea (or: how one thing leads to another)

Recently, on a not-so-good day, a work colleague asked me how F is. I don't know her terribly well.
'He's good, thanks' I managed.
'And how's school? Does he like it?'
'Oh, not really.'
'Oh. Why? Is it his teacher?'
'Yes. I hate her.'
'Oh. Is she a yeller, is she?'
'No, she's just a bitch.'
'Yes. The other day I screamed at her. She told me that he wasn't having an emotional week even though F was diagnosed with Asperger's. She rolled her eyes at me.'
I glanced up to see the work colleague, someone I have known vaguely, in a pleasant 'what are you reading now?' kind of a way, for three years or so, looking back at me in blank horror.

I'd said too much.

I'm not sure if I drifted off or she did.

But at least I had a bit of an excuse: I was distressed. I was having a shit few weeks. I was aware, that day, I didn't have my shit together.


Last night, at a work gathering, I got chatting to a newish colleague I've never met before. He's been there for months, but as I'm so incredibly rarely in the office, our paths had never crossed. He seemed nice. We fell fairly easily into one of those bantering chats about nothing much.

Someone asked if I wanted a sandwich. I politely demurred. Another colleague, a very close friend of many many years who I can say anything to, made a joke.
'You didn't see them being made?'
I laughed.
The new colleague raised an eyebrow.

'I have a thing about sandwiches' I admitted. 'I can't eat them unless I see them being made. Or if I make them myself. And I can't eat unmelted butter. There's probably butter in them.'
'Is it a trust thing?' asks New Colleague.
He knows someone who can't eat anything unless they see it being made, can't even have pre-mixed drinks, but is fine if the food/drink is prepared by someone they really trust.
'No. It's because I don't like it being soggy. At all. I have to make it in a special way, like with lettuce on the outside, protecting things like tomatoes from touching the bread and making it soggy. And that way I know it's fresh.'
'Ah.' He makes another joke about his friend.
'Oh, well, I can still one-up you on that' I said breezily, buoyed by approximately three sips of wine. 'My dad went through a stage where he couldn't eat anything that wasn't prepared by my mother.'
'Was it a trust thing?'
'No. I don't think so. He's just very fussy and said that he knew she knew how to make things just the way he liked them.'
'That must be a problem.'
'Oh no, it's not like that's all he ever ate. He sometimes ate out I guess, at places he knew he liked. It was just most of the time.'
'I think that sounds like a trust thing.'
'No. Once mum left him ingredients to make a pizza and he made it and then he threw it out because it didn't taste right. That can't have been trust. She chose the ingredients. And it was himself.'
'So it was his way of getting her to do everything for him?'
'I don't think that was it.'
'So he washed his own clothes and stuff?'
'Hmmm, no. Not really. Once, while my mum was in hospital, he woke my sister at 6am to ask how to use the washing machine.'
'He looks after himself fine now.'
'What happened?'
'Well, they separated.'
'So, that's how he got over it?'
'No. I think he just did somehow. I don't live in the same state as them, so I'm not sure what happened. I just went back for a visit and he wasn't doing that anymore.'
'So did he leave her or did she leave him?'
'Kinda both. I dunno. I guess they just grew apart. Or something.'

Pause. Silence.

'I'm going to get another drink' said New Colleague.

I turned to Longstanding Friend. We looked at each other.

'I think I just scared him away' I said. 'I have no idea how or why I just told him all that.'

We laugh. Longstanding Friends are a Very Good Thing. They know you are crazy and they love you anyway.

* NOTE: If you read this, sorry dad! It's not you, it's me. Really. I know you're now a whiz in the kitchen and with the washing machine.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Disturbing things I've heard in the last 24 hours

1. Next stop: Werribee

From a high school teacher I know. The latest thing in schools is for kids to video each other doing humiliating things and send the videos around on their mobiles. DETAILS ERASED AT REQUEST OF SAID TEACHER>

2. Rosemary's baby

My friend was unavailable for lunch today because she was meeting with some people who approached her in a cafe because they want to use her baby (aged around 4 months) in a film. A HORROR FILM. She's not sure about it, but is meeting them for lunch anyway. She's an impeccable parent, so I'm sure she won't be agreeing to have him doused in fake blood and cast as the devil's spawn or the subject of a child sacrifice. It's just so incongruous. 'Excuse me, I'd like to cast your baby in a horror film.' I have to admit it made me laugh. A lot.

Friday, November 09, 2007

My son rocks!

I have done terrible things with Photoshop to erase F's identity, but I just had to share this picture.

Sometimes as a parent, amidst all your despairing and wringing of hands, a moment comes that is just so perfect, so proud, that all the crap is blown away, at least for a while, and you're left with a warm glow in its place.

Those moments are usually pretty banal to the casual observer. A certain hug, a particularly unusual or amazingly apt observation, an exchange witnessed.

Tonight, this was mine.

This time last year, F's friend was picked up from our place en route to the school music concert, put on by and for students of the music program. F begged for us to tag along. I wasn't doing anything special, so agreed. He sat through the concert riveted. He sang along to the songs, clapped and cheered, and at the end, announced that he wanted to join the music program. He wanted to be on that stage next year. I didn't take him that seriously, but he remembered when school started this year.

In fact, since that concert a year ago, when a trio of his schoolmates brought the house down playing ACDC's 'TNT', he has developed a passion for rock music and ACDC in particular. ('Mum, I think I prefer the classics to recent music,' he told me today as we rode to the music concert. 'I think ACDC is better than Sneaky Sound System, after all.')

Tonight, I watched as he once again sat riveted to all the performances. He cheered on his friends. He even counselled a couple of them about stage fright (he assured them that they would 'be great once they got on the stage'). During his song, 'Hit the Road Jack', he unexpectedly stood up out of his seat during his guitar solo and proceeded to rock it out, applying lashings of stage presence. During the group song that followed, he stood beaming beside a friend (the one who is not allowed to play with him anymore, yet spent the concert by his side, giggling and chatting excitedly) and sang along with great gusto, dancing and swinging his hips in the front row.

This is such a turnaround for the boy who has always been reluctant to join group activities and performances. And seeing the way he mixed with the other kids so easily and with such reciprocal affection has made my day and will carry me right through the weekend.

At the end of his number, I stood up and he gave me a high-five, then leapt off the stage to give me a hug, before running to join his friends on the floor for the final, group performance.

After the show finished, he jumped around with a couple of friends for a while, beaming as a few grown-ups (and a couple of kids) approached him to congratulate him on his passionate solo.

Then, he hunted down his music teacher to solemnly thank her for teaching him 'Hit the Road Jack'.

'You did a really good job. You did well,' he said.
'Yes, you did do well.'
'No, he was saying YOU did well. To teach him,' I said.
'Oh. Thank you, F.'

F loves his music teacher and so do we. She has been nothing but encouraging and has stoked his enthusiasm for the subject and, by way of gentle encouragement, got him to the stage where he is confident to tackle new and hard things, and even perform them in public.


There is a teacher's aide in F's classroom who works part-time with two students who have special needs. (Not at all with F, I might add.) She is a really lovely woman and adds a much-needed touch of warmth to the classroom. I have seen her comfort F on a couple of occasions. This afternoon when I picked F up from school, she was in charge of the classroom for the afternoon. F's friend pulled his mother and I in.
'Sorry,' said the mother. 'L invited us in.'
'COme IN!' she said. 'The more the merrier!'
The class was laughing and joking and having a marvellous time. She was telling them how wonderful the music program sneak peek had been that afternoon and that she just might come to the concert.

Well, to my amazement, she came. She was the only teacher (other than the music teachers) to do so. At the end, she made a point of walking over to F and shaking his hand and congratulating him on his performance.


I am absolutely delighted that F has such great teachers, even if they are not his classroom teacher.

It's not only your kids who do small, perfect things that make you happy to be alive.

(Rotten) apple for the teacher

Wednesday night, I went to see the psychologist who diagnosed F to talk about my 'issues' in dealing with the whole thing. The most concrete useful thing to come out of it was her suggested plan of action for dealing with F's teacher - to WRITE HER A LETTER of apology. Short, sharp, to the point. A way of avoiding me losing my cool again.

I did it and delivered it yesterday. Okay, it was delivered to her desk in an envelope, as she was away. Pretty much 'sorry for yelling, we have been through a very tough time as a family but that was no excuse, I hope we can return to working together for F's benefit'.

Today, I drew together all my courage and prepared to re-enter F's classroom to listen to kids read.

Dear little F was so eager for me to come back that he took it into his head to pop into the classroom and ask her 'is my mum welcome in the classroom?' and pop his head back out, shouting 'MUM! SHE SAID YOU'RE WELCOME IN THE CLASSROOM! COME IN!' as I sat on the benches outside talking to two other parents.

I spent Friday morning assembly talking to a friend, a mum with a kid in F's class, and another parent I'd never really met before, who - as it turns out - had same teacher for her sons, who have special needs and are on the autism spectrum. She loathed the teacher for the same reasons I do. Interesting. When I told her I'd lost my temper she said 'I'm sure you're not the only one. And if you were, she had it coming!'

After assembly, I slunk into the classroom. And the teacher, while perfectly polite in the words she used, was a complete and utter bitch to me. Flinty. Eyes like shards of ice. Shooting orders at me. A perfunctory 'thank you' at the end, said with no warmth or feeling whatsoever. And, instead of letting me call out kids in the order I choose, as I've done all year, she's told me that from now on I'm only to listen to the kids with the most difficulty, who actually need help. Not that that would really be a problem, in principle. It's the timing of the announcement. (And the fact that that means I can no longer listen to my son read, the reason I'm in there.) She wants to put me in my place. And to dissuade me from coming back.

Fuck her.

I got home thinking that was such an unpleasant and faintly degrading experience, I would never come back again.

But I'm not there for her, I'm there because F likes it. And if my presence makes her uncomfortable and she wants me gone, then I will not give her the satisfaction.

Only six weeks to go. God, I hate school.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Closing the big can of crazy

Not much to report the last couple of days, but that's good. It's great.

The big can of crazy that was recently cracked open is starting to close again.

I wrote a book review and submitted it. I've nearly finished re-reading and noting an 800+ page book for my next review, due by week's end.

I cooked dinner tonight.

Today, I spoke to the school psychologist on the phone to update her on the F situation and DIDN'T CRY.

This week's task: Speak to F's teacher and apologise for yelling (but only for yelling).

Monday, October 29, 2007


I have officially lost my cool. I just yelled at F’s teacher.

Actually, I really screamed at her. LOUD. With everything I had.

I’m still trying to work out if I’ve lost my mind, too. I don’t think I have though. I think that everything I did this afternoon, bar the actual moment where I screamed at the teacher that she was talking BULLSHIT, was fair enough.

I sent F and his friend L to the oval to kick the footy and play while I spoke to the teacher. She didn’t look pleased when I walked in.


‘So, how did you go today?’
‘I’ve spoken to the boys involved, and F was at fault, too.’
‘Uh huh.’
‘He snatched the football from the other boy and kicked it.’
‘Yes, he shouldn’t have done that. But W still shouldn’t have hit him.’
‘He hit him with a flat hand.’ She demonstrates, holding up an open palm. ‘Like this.’
‘So? He still shouldn’t have hit him.’
‘Well, maybe F shouldn’t have BULLIED him.’

I am a little shocked. I don’t think a boy snatching the footy from his friend classifies as bullying. I’ve seen those kids on the footy oval (and in my backyard). Yes, F shouldn’t have snatched the footy, but it hardly classifies as bullying.

‘You still don’t hit someone’ I say. ‘You don’t respond with violence no matter what.’
‘He’s a PREP,’ the teacher sneers.
‘So? I don’t care. I don’t want anybody hitting my son, whether they’re a Prep or not.’
She rolls her eyes.
‘I should have been told about this. I spoke to my mother this morning. She’s a teacher. She says that schools are supposed to have policies about what to do when children are hit in the head. That would mean telling the parents.’
She is silent for a moment, obviously taken aback.
‘F and A were interrupting my class, talking about this on Thursday. They were being disruptive. I don’t handle disruption in my class.’ (Freudian slip? I think she meant to say ‘don’t tolerate’.)

‘F has had a very tough week, which is why I’d especially think you should have told me rather than me hear it from him. He’s had a very tough week emotionally.’
She ROLLS HER EYES. I see red.
‘You’re saying he didn’t have an emotionally tough week?’
‘I don’t think so,’ she drawls.

This is where the yelling comes in.

‘You don’t think so?! We have had a tough week! He has just learnt that he has Asperger’s. It has been a very tough week emotionally for both of us. How dare you tell me that MY CHILD has not had an emotional week? What do you know? I have seen him vomit when he got back from the doctor’s, I have seen him cry like I haven’t seen him cry in ages. He has been sick. Don’t you dare tell me ...’
I step backwards towards the doorway.

‘Don’t you yell at me’ she says.
‘You know what? I don’t want to talk to you.’

I turn to leave. At the door, I swing around and scream, really scream:

‘That is BULLSHIT!’

And I storm across the schoolyard, past F’s friend’s mother, talking to a cluster of other parents. I’m not ready to collect the boys. I feel like I am having a nervous breakdown. I still want to yell and scream. I have had enough.


My feet take me to the school office, where I pace up and down in front of the empty principal’s office. A few students loll on the new plastic lounge chairs outside the office. The school secretary’s glass window is empty, too. A young male teacher in a tracksuit is talking to a mother. I hear her say she is waiting for the Deputy Principal (also in charge of ‘special needs’). I start to leave, then return. I pace in front of the staff room, then back to the office. I hover. I am literally shaking with anger.

People are eyeing me cautiously.

‘Are you looking for someone?’
‘Oh, um, yes, but I think she might be looking for her too, so I’ll go.’ I wave at the woman who waiting when I arrived.
‘No, I’ll get her,’ he says. ‘Or maybe [Principal]?’
I eye the open office as I wait. Maybe I can slip out and wait in there, where no one can see me. Just in case I start crying.

The principal arrives and sweeps me away. She gets me a glass of water. The deputy arrives, too. I explain what has happened over the past couple of days.

I explain what I have just done and, lawyer-like, apologise for having yelled (NOT for what I said) and ask them to pass on my apology for having yelled. I tell them that I am appalled that anyone could say what she said to me, and very concerned if that is F’s teacher’s attitude. I tell them I want F to be listened to and that it is not okay for anyone to hit him, Prep or not. I explain that I was particularly annoyed that this last week, when the teacher KNEW what had happened on Monday, she did not tell me what had happened or even look into it. I told them that all I wanted was for the two boys to talk to each other and to be told what they did that was inappropriate.

The two principals say all the right things. (Almost.) They defend the teacher to a fault:

Of course no one should say that, but she wouldn’t have meant that. Not like that.

She’s had lots of special needs kids and knows exactly what she’s doing.

She must not have known what happened that day or of course she would have told you.

But they do seem very understanding and acknowledge that times are tough, that they want to know all about this and approach it as a team, and that F is a wonderful child.


When I leave, F and his friend L are in the corridor, looking for me, football under F’s arm. I walk them to the bikes.

‘Where were you? What were you doing?’

I tell them that I got angry with the teacher, that I lost my temper and yelled at her and that I shouldn’t have done that and I will need to apologise. I figure it’s not a bad lesson – that anyone can lose their temper, but that it’s not right and one should apologise.

‘So, did you sort it out with W?’
‘He beat up F. He hurt him,’ says L.
‘I know. And you were the only one who stood up for him and helped him, I hear. Thank you. You’re a very good friend.’
‘W lied at first’ says L. ‘But eventually he had to tell the truth. He stood there and cried.’
‘Oh yeah.’ I am unsympathetic. ‘Did he get told off?’
‘Not really. [Teacher] was pretty nice to him because he was crying. She was very mean to F.’
‘Yup. She yelled at him.’

‘What happened?’ I ask F.
‘She told W to apologise and he wouldn’t and she didn’t make him. So I said to her “You’re letting him get away with it just because he’s got a sweet and innocent little face”.’
‘Oh dear.’ I do remember saying something of the sort myself last week.
‘Yes,’ says L. ‘Then she said to F ‘GET OUT OF MY SIGHT!’ And he hid under the table.’

Anyone with any knowledge of Asperger’s or experience with an Asperger’s child would:

a) Not say something so literal – his response was textbook stuff
b) Not bark orders like that – they don’t do any good
c) Realise that he was, in fact, telling the truth – even if he was doing it somewhat rudely – and take that into account when telling him off.

My thoughts? The teacher is a bitch. The school sucks. And I will have to figure out a way to ingratiate myself again so F doesn’t cop it.


Oh, and apparently W and his brother have been banned from playing with F. Which would explain why I ran into their parents on the street yesterday, walked RIGHT PAST THEM, and they pointedly snubbed us – me, F and The Husband. Oh well. That’s a bummer for F, but a blessed relief for me.

It is interesting, though. Why would one ban their child from playing with a boy because their child punched said boy in the face three times and tried to kick him in the stomach?

Another planet

‘Sometimes I feel like I don’t belong on this planet,’ he said as I was tucking him into bed over the weekend.

I immediately recognised it as a line from his book, All Cats Have Aspergers.

I don’t know if he was really thinking that or just trying it on for size.

The lighter side

I was on the couch in the lounge room; he was playing in his room with the boy next door.

‘Oh, M, YOU certainly don’t have Aspergers,’ I heard him say. Pause. ‘I mean, M, you’re NOT Aspergers.’*

Later, I casually asked him why he had said that to M.

‘Because,’ he said, ‘M was reading and when I started talking to him, he stopped reading. He was easily distracted by me. He wasn’t so focused on his book.’**

He’s right, you know.

I think it’s a good sign that he’s working this thing out in his head.

* We tell him he doesn’t HAVE Aspergers; it’s not a disease. He IS Aspergers; it’s a way of thinking.

** We used the example that when he’s focused on reading or Lego, he blocks out the world. He’s in his own world and nothing can get in. That’s a part of it. (I’m like that, too.)

R.E.S.P.E.C.T. (at school)

This morning, I was so incredibly angry with the school that I thought I was going to explode.

I imagined storming into F’s classroom, taking his hand, and leading him out of there (‘I WON’T be bringing him back!’) I imagined storming into the Deputy Principal’s office and redirecting all my anger at F’s teacher at her. I imagined telling her just what I think of the school and their shitty response so far to F’s Aspergers. I thought about telling her (at high volume) just how pissed off I am that she personally blocked the tests he was lined up for in Prep, thus delaying his diagnosis by two years. I idly planned to turn up to the school’s open morning tea in a couple of weeks, where parents are encouraged to come along and share their enthusiasm with prospective parents, and tell all those prospective parents just what I really think of this bloody school.

Instead, I turned on my heel and stormed out of the schoolyard. And when I got home, I phoned F’s father to tell him exactly what happened.

Which was ...

I approached F’s teacher to tell her that I wanted to make sure that the meeting between F and W, where they would talk out Thursday’s punching incident, would still happen.
‘But he was away on Friday’ she said.
‘Yes, he was sick. That’s why I want to make sure it happens today.’
A sour look. Pursed lips. Stony eyes.
‘I’ve had some conversations anyway, and it didn’t happen the way you think it did.’
‘Well’ (I felt my tone become cutting, feel the anger rising in my throat, my chest trembling with the effort to keep it under control) ‘That may be true, but my son was still punched in the head and I want something done about it.’
‘That’s not what happened. There was blame on both sides.’
‘Yes, he made a smart comment and he was punched. That’s still not appropriate and I still want it resolved.’
‘I don’t know that that was it. There was blame on both sides. It’s alright, I’m very fair’
‘LOOK, I know that F can exaggerate. But I know when he’s telling the truth. He was very, VERY upset on Thursday. He cried like I haven’t seen him do in months. I want F to feel like he’s been listened to, and he wasn’t on Friday.’
‘He wasn’t here on Friday.’
‘Okay, on Thursday. He was not listened to on Thursday. He wasn’t listened to by the yard duty teacher, who fobbed him off. And nobody was going to tell me about it. I wouldn’t have known that my son was hit in the head if he didn’t tell me. You weren’t going to tell me.’
‘You have to trust me. I’m very fair.’
‘If my son is hit in the head, I want to know about it. He came home with a splitting headache.’
‘I’m very fair.’

She flounced off to the classroom. I flounced off in the other direction. Meanwhile, I have no idea what apparently happened. All I know is that he was, in fact, hit in the head, and that the school want to fob me off about it.

All I want is for them to set up the promised meeting between the two boys so they can talk about it and resolve it and so that F knows he has been heard. If he did do something else wrong, then they are free to punish him, too.

But there is no way in hell that it’s okay to decide that the Asperger’s boy exaggerates and is oversensitive, so his story doesn’t need to be heard. And that if there are two competing voices, his is obviously the wrong one.

AND ... why would I trust someone just because they tell me to? Especially when they have quite obviously shown they are NOT fair. It’s my son we’re talking about. As if I’m going to say ‘okay, it’s not my place to question your ways’. It is my place and it will always be my place to know how his problems are dealt with and to see that they are dealt with to my satisfaction.

My parents were/are teachers. My sister is studying primary teaching. The Husband, his brother and I have all completed part (not all) of teaching degrees. I get that it’s a hard job. I get that they’re not social workers. I get that they have a million kids to deal with at once. I get that parents can’t demand the world. But I can ask that problems at school – especially physical violence – are appropriately dealt with.

And maybe ... just maybe ... that on a week when my son has received some very tough news, that he be treated with some small degree of consideration. Even – and I’m pushing it here – that that same consideration be extended to me. Which means? That we are both listened to with respect.

Fat. Bloody. Chance.