Saturday, April 28, 2007

Can it be a GOOD thing ... ?

My brain broke this afternoon.

I answered The Husband's Skype call from Mexico with this information. After patiently listening to me for a while, he suggested I go for a walk in the park with the dogs to clear my head. I meekly agreed.

He called me back half an hour later. I hadn't gone. He STRONGLY ADVISED I go to the park, and quickly.

Brain still broken (of course), I gathered up the dogs, my purse and my backpack and firmly shut the front door behind me. Which is when I realised that I had locked myself out of the house.


Two weeks ago, I locked F and myself out of the house as we began our walk in the park. He scaled the back fence and got stuck in the part we'd blocked off with chickenwire to stop The Evil Dog from escaping. I climbed onto the garage roof and jumped off into the backyard. I let F in through the side gate (he wasn't VERY stuck). We tried all the windows, hoping for an open crack. There was none. We tried jiggling the frames (or at least I did). No luck.

'Mum,' said F solemnly. 'We might have to break a window. Shall I do it?'

After twenty minutes and another search through my backpack, I found the key. Crisis averted.


Two weeks later, today, the backpack was well and truly empty apart from my purse. So were my pockets. And I knew, from recent experience, that the house was pretty inpenetrable.

This time, the garage rollerdoor wasn't locked. At least I didn't have to scale any rooves.

I didn't break a window, but I did break down the door.

If you try to break down your door, and the lock quite easily snaps off*, and the now-obviously rotting door-frame crumbles around it ... it means you can get inside. So, it's great news. At first.

But, if you live alone (apart from a seven-year-old) and it's that easy to break your door down ...

can it REALLY be a GOOD thing?

* By the way, I banged the lock back into the door-frame with a hammer and it's seemingly back to normal now, so it's not like I'm COMPLETELY without household security. Just in case you were wondering.


I'm typing at my computer with my legs crossed on the seat, yoga-style, because I've just spotted a mouse sneaking its way behind the printer.

And yes, I screamed. Loudly.

The dogs are now roaming about my feet. They don't seem to much care about the mouse, though. I wonder how long it will take before I can walk around the study comfortably. I suspect the rest of the day (in which I have much work to do) will see me creeping about the house in the manner of the mouse.

I also predict that the dogs will not catch it.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

My happy place (at least for now): Williamstown

Williamstown is a strange blend of identities. The ‘Toorak of the west’: home of the rich. ‘St Kilda of the west’: a seaside suburb that families from surrounding suburbs flock to in the summer months – and on sunny days in general. I lived in Williamstown for five months (winter months, mostly) and discovered yet another identity: conservative Williamstown. A place where newcomers are carefully watched by neighbours who have lived in the area for years, and report on their quirks and foibles. (I was almost evicted because I refused to remove a couch from the front porch – both my landlords and neighbours found it unsightly.)

It's a suburb with the feel of a country town, within sight of the CBD towers and the shores of the inner-city seaside stretch between Port Melbourne and St Kilda. Perhaps it’s the geography of Williamstown – a suburb largely bordered by the bay – that retains its small-town feel. That flavour is cleverly helped along by the heritage-listed buildings housing the shops and restaurants along Nelson Place, facing the wharf with the view of inner Melbourne across the bay. Like St Kilda, Williamstown has its own Botanic Gardens adjacent to the beach, and generous parklands running along the waterfront. (Unlike St Kilda, the public transport is awful – to travel to the city outside peak hour, the traveller must change trains at Newport station, one stop after North Williamstown. Try it on a cold winter night.) You can quite easily walk from one part of Williamstown to another - and on your way from, say, the library or the local Coles, to the beach, you’ll pass parks, playgrounds and picturesque stretches of seaside. It is a wonderful place to explore with a child. And yet …

I moved out of Williamstown four years ago, unspeakably relieved to escape the isolation of that beautiful suburb across the bay for the haven of a tiny flat in North Fitzroy. But since I’ve returned from overseas, one month ago, I’ve gravitated there for rest and respite. I’ve been there four times – an average of once a week – cycling to the train station with F on the back cushion, travelling two stations, enduring the still-frustrating train change at Newport, then disembarking. And every visit has granted me the mental equivalent of a deep breath before continuing on my way. I return both invigorated and relaxed (though often exhausted from cycling around with a nearly-eight-year-old and two heavy backpacks).

Today, Anzac Day, ‘Willie’, as we’re affectionately calling it, is packed with families. It’s a gorgeous spring day (even though it's autumn): flawless blue sky, golden sunlight, crisp air. The beach is crowded with toddlers and pre-teens ankle-deep in rock pools. Middle-aged men and women settle contentedly on the sand beneath wide-brimmed hats, books or magazines in hand. Dog owners meander along the shore in tracksuits. Two elderly Mediterranean women, round as grapefruits in sleek fifties bathing suits and shiny caps, wander along the fringe of the waves. A bronzed, white-haired man, also Mediterranean in appearance, strides in the opposite direction, chin raised high, swollen belly resplendent above royal blue Speedos. The parks across the road and further along the path, where sand blends into grass, are fragrant with the aroma of barbecue. Women in headscarves and ankle-length skirts stroll along the beachfront as I huff past on my bicycle. They nod hello to the Middle-Eastern family pedalling before me in single file.

A teenage Asian couple, self-consciously hip, pose for photographs against the backdrop the sea and sand. She wears black lace leggings under her skirt; his blazer-style jacket is teamed with blue jeans. A pair of forty-something parents walk backwards, two steps ahead of their infant daughter, who totters along with a red bucket, her face framed by a matching sunbonnet. Their hand-held video camera is trained on her every move.

A young mother, early thirties, strips self-consciously down to her two-piece bathing suit and follows her primary-age son to the conspicuously empty sea. He shouts excitedly and kicks at the shallow waves with one toe, spraying water back towards her. She resolutely looks at him as she kicks back, then out at the water – anywhere but back at the sensibly clothed adults on the sand.

‘Let’s SWIM!’ shouts the boy, as the water rises to his knees, then his waist, as he barrels towards the horizon.
‘Do you think Mum can do this? It’s pretty cold.’
‘Of COURSE you can!’

Of course, this is us: me and F. I do eventually submerge myself in the cold water. Despite Melbourne’s proximity to the chilly Bass Strait (and Antarctica beyond), today, the ocean is pretty okay. That’s relative, of course. It’s still bloody cold.

F flees the deeper waters before I do.

We collect shells in the rockpools. I inadvertently collect shards of glass, some of them dangerously angled upward, and deposit them in a bin on the footpath.
‘You DO care about the environment’ observes F, admiringly.
‘Yes’ I reply. ‘And I also care about people’s feet.’
We build a sandcastle with a fort and a dug-out pool. It is messy but elaborate. As I scoop out tunnels and get increasingly muddy (in my hair, up my legs), F declares that I am obviously an EXPERT at sandcastles.
‘Well’, I say, trying to sound authoritative. ‘I HAVE been doing this for thirty years.’
He thinks about it.
‘Since you were ONE?’
‘Um, yes.’ I have forgotten that I am thirty-one, now.
We eat a fish and chips picnic on our spread-out towels.

And then we pile all our books, towels, magazines, shells and wet towels and bathers into backpacks and onto my bike (with F on his back perch) and cycle across Williamstown to Nelson Place, where we buy ice-cream cones from the Williamstown Ice Cream Factory, choosing carefully from over fifty flavours.
‘Mum, I don’t want to swap a SINGLE lick with you!’ announces F, sweeping his tongue over a mound of iridescent Blue Heaven.
‘Good’ I reply, absolutely sincerely.

We eat our ice creams in the park opposite, overlooking the boats moored in the harbour and the CBD skyline across the bay. Evening is falling. The colours of the sky sky blend purple into mauve into dusky pink, then powdery blue over the sea. The lights come on over the tennis courts adjacent to the playground. A small boy sits on the end of the slide, chin in hands, watching the players with rapt attention. The dogwalkers and cyclists and joggers and shrieking children dissipate. F swings up and down on the flying fox. Across the playground, under a tree, his mother sits under a tree and scribbles in a notebook, pausing at intervals to inhale the evening air or listen to a magpie’s last call. Not really watching him.

‘MU-UUUUUM!’ he hollers. ‘PLAY WITH ME!’

Friday, April 20, 2007

Everything old is new again

It's week two of my new (old) job, editing a fairly unglamorous monthly publication, which I have returned to after two months overseas and one year working elsewhere.

Despite being absolutely exhausted; despite working from approx 9am until 1am every day for a week (with parenting breaks in between); despite the fact that adapting to a new publication design has meant lots of fiddling and readjusting and completely replacing every single image in the document after finishing them all; despite the fact that a change to the scheduling is resulting in a part of the publication being finished the weekend before we go to print (Monday!), at a time when I should be home with my son but instead will be bringing him to work - despite ALL these frustrations, I am really really pleased to be back.

Deeply pleased, in a way that convinces me, in my heart of hearts, that I have done the right thing.

In my previous job, despite the fact that they tried to be flexible, it was a full-time, 9-5 (okay, 8-4) office job, and I was the member of a tiny team charged with holding the office fort. There's only so flexible an employer can be within those constraints.

Even though - strictly career-wise - that previous job was a leap forward and this one is (comparatively) a step backward, this one is the right thing for me, right now.

I had always wanted my old job. It satisfied what I thought was the place I wanted to be in the world, where I wanted my career to culminate (or nearly - culmination is pretty final). But the day after I accepted it, I sat in bed and cried - really sobbed as if my heart would break. (Giving myself an enormous headache into the bargain.) I felt sick. I felt as if I had betrayed my son. Deep inside, right at my core, I felt as if I had given a part of him away, or decided to neglect him in some meaningful way.

I'm not saying anything about what women should or shouldn't do. It's just how I felt.

This week, I feel good. That deep core of me is at peace. My heart is glad.

I know this sounds very flowery and cliched, but - pah! - I'm too tired to do much more than type what comes to me.

In my new (old) job, I work bloody hard - ridiculously hard - for one week, relatively hard (but not quite full-time) for one week, and barely at all for the other two weeks of the month. I'm in the Bad Week now. But, because I've done this job before, I know how the cycle will settle in.

And apart from all the lovely picking my son up from school AT 3.30PM and taking him to his classroom door in the morning, the being able to bug him to bring home his reader and chat to his teacher about his behaviour, the watching how he interacts with other children and with school staff ... apart from all this, I am also very, very happy to do be doing the actual job again. I love the fact that I know everyone. That people are glad to see me back. That I really like and respect my colleagues. And the work is deeply interesting - to me, anyway.

I am tired and delirious and incredibly overworked today. But I'm also ridiculously happy.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Post office surprise

Went to the post office this morning with one of those slips from the mailbox in hand, curiously addressed to Mr F [Surname].

I'd forgotten. My mum asked last week if she could buy and send him a fortnightly comic she thought he'd like, because when she was a girl, her far-away grandmother used to do that for her.

Today is the first instalment, now waiting on the kitchen table for when F finishes school.

When the Express Post package was handed to me over the counter today and I saw my mother's familiar handwriting, I wanted to cry - for just one little split-second moment.

I have no idea why.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Evil Diaries: 1


Since The Husband left, I hate this part of the evening. I open the back door - just a ruler-length wide - and shout into the blackness for the dogs. Every time I open that door, I can't prevent the thought rushing through my head that something else might come in - that, ridiculous as I know it is, there might be an intruder on the back porch, waiting for this opportunity. Though I also know that if there WERE an intruder, the dogs would have gone crazy.

The Good Dog shuffles quickly into the house. No sign of the Evil One. I peer into the night, into the far reaches of the backyard. Not only no sign, no sound either. It's obvious. He has escaped to the front yard again.

For some reason, I don't repeat the process at the front door. I return to my computer, the Good Dog spiralling at my heels before finally wamdering off to stalk the kitchen for mice.


Work finished for the night, I've settled in to read the last gasp of my book in bed. Outside my wondow, I hear movement in the front yard. Wood clanking, softly but unmistakably. Is it someone trying to open the front gate, getting stuck on the fortress of wooden palings plugging the gaps at the bottom of the white picket fence? No, it's the Evil One, nosing around and trying to escape.

I am tired, especially of That Dog, so I go back to my book, dropping it on The Husband's side of the bed and switching off the bedside light when I'm finished. I fall assleep quickly.


A dog is barking out on the street. Barking so loud that I am wide awake - along with half the neighbourhood, I imagine. It's a familiar bark. The Evil One has somehow made his way out of our amateur fortress.

I leap out of bed, past the Good Dog, who is shaking the sleep from her eyes and rising from her plush basket at the foot of my bed to see what all the fuss is about.

I follow the sharp, high pitched racket beyond the gate and to the footpath, where I spot the Evil One on the street corner, poised for flight to the park, spotlit by the street light. His ears and tail are pricked, his chin tilted as high as it will go, his tone defiant. He seems to be shouting at the dogs on the corner, the ones whose fence he flies at in incandescent rage when we pass on our daily walk.

I squat on the pavement in my pyjamas and coo at him to follow me. I have to ease my way to within an arm's length of him before he trots over - then sprints past me towards the house and through the front gate. He's Evil, but he's not stupid.


I am back in bed, now wide awake, a cocktail of anger, adrenalin and self-rebuke (I should have dragged him in at 10pm!) tumbling through my veins. I really hate this dog - firmly The Husband's. It's the first day of school in the morning. I have so much work to do I'm worried about how I'll possibly get it all done. I can't sleeeep ...

The Good Dog is curled up assleep in her basket.

The Evil One is in the laundry - the sin bin - intermittently rattling on the door.

Mercifully, F is still silent in his bedroom.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Raising money: kid style

'Maybe we should have a garage sale,' I mused to F, as we ambled our way home from the milk bar.

While I was in Mexico, his father had taken him to the pub and set him up as a busker, raising money for his World Vision child. His father has also, in the past, taken him to the local newsagent and encouraged him to ask them to sell his hand-made comics for $2 each. And then ask the newsagent every week if they had sold any yet, or ask why they're not displayed on the counter. (The Husband felt so sorry for the newsagent - who was across the road from his bookstore - that he snuck in there one day and bought the comics to give them some peace.)

So, I wasn't surprised when F announced that he was going to sell the seashells he found on the beach yesterday for $2 each.
'We won't find any customers on our street' he told me. 'You'll need to take me to the pub.'
'I'm sorry, but no one will buy those shells for $2. And we're not selling shells at the pub. It's not quite the same as playing your guitar at the pub for World Vision.'

F reappeared with his guitar.
'Let's go to the pub. I want to raise money for [World Vision child]. He doesn't have any Lego.'
'I'm sorry F, but no. We're not asking people we don't know for money.'


I remember how my cousin and I used to haul her white plastic ghettoblaster onto the suburban council strip, turn up the volume, and dance and sing - hats laid upside down on the grass.
'Do you have any change?' my cousin once called to a neighbour scurrying by.
'No, sorry.'
Ten minutes later, the neighbour scurried past again, head down, bulging shopping bag in hand.
'NOW DO YOU HAVE ANY CHANGE? We'll do a dance and sing for you!'
He stopped and dropped fifty cents into one of the hats.
'I'll pay you NOT to dance and sing' he muttered as he hurried off.
My aunt was mortified when she caught us.

I guess that now I'm my aunt - or my mum (who would have been equally embarassed).


'Wait a minute' says F, as I head for the front door, wrestling with a dog lead in each hand. He is leaning a piece of white paper against the wall, writing intently with his new lead pencil. 'I'm going to sign people up to the [Surname] Corporation.'
I watch him write 'name' and 'phone number' and picture him handing these out on the street. I know what he's doing. He's going to ask them to sign up to donate money.
'I'm sorry, you can't do that. You can't ask people to give you their details and send you money.'
'Why not? That man did it to you yesterday.'
He watched me sign up to Amnesty International yesterday on the main street of Yarravile. The 'man', a twentysomething who talked enthusiastically about the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie - which we were on our way to see - had stopped us as we walked by on our route to the cinema. F had been very curious about why I would agree to give $15 per month (every bit counts) to a man on the street.

'Amnesty International and World Vision are not just people on the street. They're groups that help people.'
'I'm forming a corporation. I'm going to help [World Vision child].'
'Yes, but people know those groups. They know that the money will go to poor people. I know you'll give the money to [World Vision child], but they don't know that.'

He is deflated, thoughtful, on the short walk to the milk bar. He drags his hand along the fences we pass, lets his designated dog pull ahead, leading him like a horse dragging a cart.
'How would I get a job in advertisements?' he asks, suddenly.
'Um, you have to go to a modelling agency. Why?'
'I need money! I really want some Bionicle Battle Machines.'
'I thought you needed money for [World Vision child]. Was some of that money going to be for you?'
'Only a bit of it.'

I tell him that he can save his pocket money, that maybe he can do some extra chores.
'Models have to sit nicely and their pictures taken' I tell him. 'You hate smiling for the camera, don't you?'
Thank god.

On our way back from the milk bar - drinks in hand, milk in my satchel - I suddenly blurt it out: 'Maybe we should have a garage sale.'

I do have green garbage bags full of old clothes and toys piled on the verandah. I don't mean to reinforce the message that he can sell things to get toys - it's more that he's given me an idea.

'You could get a lot of money for that mattress under your bed' F observes, sagely.
'I could make up little bags of my toys, like they do at Savers. I have four Action Men and an Action Man top and an Action Man vest I don't want. I could make Action Man packs!'
I am a little disturbed by his savvy marketing idea.

'How will people come?'
'I'll put an ad in the paper.'
'Mum, if you have Microsoft Word, you can make signs on the computer. And we can put them up on poles. Do you have Microsoft Word?'
'I do.'
'We can say: Boys! Get Your Action Man!'
'And Mum, I have a great idea for a sign.'
'Is it your wife's birthday? Have you got her a present? Come here! We have unwanted jumble for every kind.'

I'll say it again: I am disturbed by his savvy marketing mind. Even if it is a bit misguided.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A day in the life of a work-from-home contractor (or: signs that you’re not going to get any work done today)

Another mother kindly spirits your child away for a couple of hours so that you can do some work. You then spend one and a half hours talking to your husband on Skype. The remaining ten minutes is spent in the shower. You open the door to the kind mother and your returned son wrapped in a bath towel.

You allow your son to sit in your bed and watch the football game you taped for him on the weekend, eating crackers and cheese from a plate and dribbling crumbs on your quilt. On the way to your desk, you are sidetracked by the plotline you glimpsed on Dr Phil when rewinding the football video. You switch on the television and before you know it, you’ve watched the whole show on ‘You’re Not the Hot Person I Married’. (Ironically, this is the only television you’ve watched all week. Obviously, when you’re bad, you’re very, VERY bad.)

A courier drops off some papers for you to read before a meeting next week. You solemnly accept the box and put it down beside the front door, before retreating to the couch to read your book.

After answering some work-related emails, you are sidetracked by your daily e-newsletter, and end up enthralled by Camille Pagila’s reader question-and-answer, particularly her dismissal of global warming as a left-wing beat-up. ('Man is too weak to permanently affect nature, which includes infinitely more than this tiny globe.') You are reminded why she is your least favourite feminist. And, in your opinion, not much of one at all. Or, evidently, much of a ‘liberal’.

Next, you end up reformatting your blog a little – just playing with the colours, really. You’re about to get back to work. Okay, start work.

Your son discovers you and asks to look at his blog. You acquiese. He wants to upload a video. You don’t know how. He wanders off, unimpressed with your limited skills.

You have a minor squabble with your son. You write a blog entry about it – your first in weeks. Procrastinating about work has ended your procrastinating about your blog.

You sit at your computer and answer another round of emails. You fill out your employment forms. You really must post them. You’ll need to go out.

You look over at your son, wandering about the house complaining about how boring you are and asking how long before he can go to his dad’s. (For the record: two and a bit weeks.) You look up the local cinema’s session times on the internet.

You put your work forms in your bag and holler to your son to get his shoes on. You’re going out.

It’s 3pm. Your work day is over.

** Disclaimer so as not to totally reinforce the opinion polls and recent media chatter: I’m working part-time from home. The work will get done. It will just be later, and late at night. And yesterday was much better … despite the presence of my child plus guest all day and for sleepover that night. (In fact, I think it explains my fatigue.)

*** Disclaimer 2: The mum who spirited my son away was the one whose child I had been minding for the past day and night. Otherwise I would have felt bad about having her watch F while I chatted to the Husband. (Really, I promise.)

School holidays: Week Two, Day Five

F: Mum, I'm writing a letter to DA [Disney Adventures] and no one will stop me from posting it.
Me: Uh huh. Why would I stop you? Are you writing a letter about me?
F: I'm writing a letter that says I have nothing to do because Mum won't let me play the Play Station.
Me: Oh. Right.
F: Yeah, and I might ask them if they have any cheats for Lego Star Wars the video game.
Me: Yeah, you might as well do that while you're there.
F: You can't stop me from posting it.
Me: I'll take you to the post office and help you post it.
F: Mum, if they publish my name, will you let me buy DA? [He hasn't been alllowed to have kiddie mags for about a year, in a delayed response to the awful consumer crap content, advertising directly - and scarily effectively - to kids.]
Me (sarcastically): Absolutely. If they publish your name. I'm sure DA will be very concerned about your not being allowed to play the Play Station.

On reflection, I bet Nintendo are one of their advertisers. I bet they WILL care about his Play Station being banned. I bet they will publish his letter and give him tips on Lego Star Wars the video game (along with the game's price and availability).

And I'll have to buy him the magazine.