Wednesday, May 28, 2008


They say that medical students go through a stage of thinking they have every disease in the textbook. Reading through lists of symptoms, they mentally tick them off and imagine they have all kinds of diseases and syndrome, however rare. They learn to discount them.

It’s a Saturday afternoon. Rain is sputtering outside my window. I’m curled up on the couch in front of the heater, reading The Good Weekend. In the article, a woman recounts having a dry mouth and unexplained fatigue, going to the doctor, and discovering that she has diabetes. I mentally freeze in my tracks. I’ve had a mysteriously dry mouth for a week or so, and had toyed with the idea of Googling the symptom. (It worked when I was trying to figure out why F had a sore bottom: worms. I even Googled handy hints on how to capture a sample for the doctor.) And I’ve been tired lately. Very tired. For no reason. I’d thought it must have been work, but now that I think about it, I haven’t been working that hard.

I put down the magazine, untangle myself from the blanket over my knees, and practically dive for my laptop. I key in ‘dry mouth symptoms’ to Google. Guess what comes up? Diabetes, and not much else. Tired? Check. Lost weight lately? Check. I’d thought it was because I was eating better, but maybe not. Loss of appetite? Well, maybe. After all, I am eating less, so I must have less of an appetite. Going to the toilet a lot? I’m not sure. But I probably am, because I always seem to be getting out of bed early in the morning to go to the toilet.

I try to settle myself back on the couch with the paper, but now I am convinced. The doctor’s office is closed on the weekend. The next two days stretch before me. My dry mouth situation escalates from an annoying feeling to a searing desert in my throat. I pour myself a tall glass of water and ring my mother on her mobile.

My sister answers. She and mum and my nana are all having a girl’s day out, lunching and shopping. We chat about her job for a while before she asks why I’m calling.
‘I had to ask mum a medical question.’
‘Mmm.’ Mum wanted to be a doctor when she was a teenager (and got the marks for medical school – she just lacked the self-esteem to apply). She had five kids, who all survived various ailments. Those two factors - and her innate practical nature - qualify her to be my doctor when there are no doctors around. In fact, I usually call her for medical advice before I go to the doctor. ‘I think I have diabetes.’
My sister laughs. When she has finished laughing, she asks me where I got the idea from. I tell her. She laughs some more. Mum takes the phone.
‘Do you have a dry mouth?’
‘Are you tired? Do you feel flu-y?’
‘Yes. Yes.’
‘Do you go to the toilet a lot?’
‘I think so.’
‘Hmmm. Gerta had all those symptoms.’ One of her best friends has adult onset diabetes.
I hear a voice in the background, faint but clearly audible.
‘Nana says go to the doctor.’
‘I hear her.’
‘So, Gerta had those symptoms huh? I feel a bit faint.’
‘You could fall into a diabetic coma if you don’t get it checked out.’
‘I know.’
‘That’s what happened to Gerta. She had a really dry mouth, she said she was climbing the stairs at work and practically foaming at the mouth ... and she fell into a coma and had to be taken to hospital. That’s how she found out.’
‘Oh my god.’

‘Guess who’s here now? Wait, I’m putting you on speaker phone.’
It’s my other sister. They’ve just stopped the car and picked her up. Now they’re on their way to the local shopping centre, for more shopping. They are dedicated shoppers, my Adelaide family. It’s practically a mandatory Saturday activity.
‘Hi, Nana.’
‘Is F there? What’s he doing?’ It’s the sister who just climbed into the car.
‘He’s watching TV. And reading a Digimon comic.’
‘What’s Digimon?’
‘It’s like Pokemon. Only not.’
‘Oh. HI F!’
I turn away from the mouthpiece and repeat the message for him. He lifts his head from the comic, just the slightest movement, and nods.
‘Uh huh.’
‘He says hi!’ I report. There is a satisfied chorus of adoring sighs.
‘So, what’s up?’ says the newly arrived sister.
‘She thinks she has diabetes,’ says Sister 1, sounding faintly amused.
‘Oh. Right.’
‘GO TO ...’
‘I’ll go to the doctor on Monday, Nana.’

‘Anyway, why are you calling me?’ asks Mum, the thought only just occurring to her. ‘What can I do? I’m not a doctor.’
‘Mum, I always call you for medical questions. You know that.’
‘She does,’ says Sister 1.
‘But why?’
‘Because you always wanted to BE a doctor.’
‘But I’m not.’
‘Yeah, but you have the NATURAL INTEREST in medical matters.’
‘Oh. Okay.’
‘Mum,’ I say, ‘I have to go in a minute. This call is costing me a lot of money. But ... if anything happens to me, and they call you, can you tell them that I might have diabetes? You know, if I fall into a coma.’
‘GO TO THE DOCTOR!’ says Nana.
‘Ariel ...’ says Mum. I hear my sisters laughing.
We say our goodbyes.

I look over at F, sprawled, seemingly comfortably, across the hard wooden floor, his head bowed over his comic. My heart floods with affection for him. Then I wonder: what would he do if I fell into a diabetic coma and no one was here? What if it happened this afternoon?
‘F, darling,’ I say, trying to seem as casual as I can so as not to frighten him.
‘If anything ever happens to me ... and, you know, no one is here ... can you just call Nana and tell her? You know her number.’
‘Sure.’ He doesn’t look up. I feel pleased at having successfully not frightened him. I am satisfied that if he called mum, she could tell the hospital or whoever about my diabetes. I am covered. But what if she’s not home? What if she doesn’t pick up? What if the hospital just calls The Husband first?

I dial the bookshop where he works and chirp a friendly hello at the person who answers. The Husband's voice comes on the line.
‘Hey there.’
‘Hi darling. I’ve got something I need to tell you. It’s going to sound a bit odd. I don’t want to scare you.’
I look at F and sidle out into the hallway, shutting the door behind me. I lower my voice and stage whisper into the phone.
‘I think I have diabetes.’
‘What? What are you talking about?’
He doesn’t sound scared. He sounds annoyed.
‘I read this article ... and it says that the symptoms of diabetes are a dry mouth and fatigue and I have both! Remember when I told you that I’ve had a dry mouth and I wonder what it is?’
‘Sort of.’
‘Well ... I Googled ‘dry mouth’ and it confirmed it. Practically the ONLY THING that came up was diabetes.’
‘You don’t have diabetes.’
‘Don’t worry, I’m going to go the doctor on Monday and have it checked out.’
‘Maybe you’re drinking too much coffee. Maybe that’s why you have a dry mouth. The caffeine.’
‘I hardly drink any coffee. Maybe two cups a day. And I’ve been drinking water ALL DAY and it’s making NO DIFFERENCE.’
‘Right. Do you have headaches?’
‘Um ... no. But that’s not a symptom.’
‘It would be. You’d have headaches from the high blood sugar. And you don’t.’
I don’t know what to say to that.
‘I really have to go,’ he says.
‘Okay. But ... if anyone calls and anything happens to me ... can you tell them that I might have diabetes?
‘You don’t have diabetes.’

He’ll be sorry if I DO have diabetes! I think as I hang up and return to the lounge room. Maybe he just doesn’t want to think about bad news. Maybe he is trying to be positive. I look at F across the lounge room.
‘Do you want grilled cheese and cut-up apple for lunch?’
‘Yes please.’
‘Do you know THe Husband’s phone numbers at work?’
‘No.’ He looks up and frowns a little. ‘No, I don’t.’
‘I’ll tell you what,’ I say. ‘Why don’t I write down The Husband’s phone numbers – work and mobile – and put them up on the pin-up board? Just in case you ever need them .. you know, if anything ever happens to me. Not that I think it will.’
‘Okay. Good idea, Mum.’ He goes back to his comic. Success! I now feel fully prepared in case I fall into a diabetic coma.

When The Husband comes home, I am still safely ensconced on the couch. No coma. But I have developed a massive headache. And, now I think about it, I have had headaches on and off for a while.
‘Sorry about calling you at work to tell you I think I have diabetes,’ I say. ‘I guess it must have seemed a bit weird?’
‘Yes,’ he says. ‘It was. Very. And you don’t have diabetes.’
‘But I have a headache! In fact, I’ve remembered that I HAVE been having headaches.’
‘Not drinking enough water.’
‘Remember? I’ve been drinking loads of water. At least, today I have. And I still have a headache.’
The Husband lets out a deep sigh and fixes me with a straight-talking gaze.
‘Ariel. Every time you have PMT you are fatigued and you have headaches or feel light-headed or whatever and you think you are pregnant. And you never are. Do you have PMT right now?’
‘Um ... yes.’
‘There you go.’

After dinner, F I sit side by side on the couch, sipping hot chocolates and prodding gooey marshmallows with our spoons. We are wearing flannelette pyjamas and reading books. We are warm and content. The Husband clears our dinner plates from the coffee table and takes them to the kitchen. He pauses at the doorway on his way back to the couch.
‘Why are my phone numbers up on the pin-up board? I’ve never noticed them before.’
‘Ask F,’ I tell him. He looks at F, his eyebrows doing the questioning.
‘Well ...’ F thinks hard, pausing before his face lights up with the answer. ‘It’s in case anything ever happens to Mum! So I can call you!’
‘Ah.’ The Husband looks at me, hard, his face teetering between amusement and annoyance. ‘Like a diabetic coma?’
‘But you don’t have diabetes.’

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Yo! Mama’s Day

F told me last Saturday, rather grandly, that he was going to treat me “like a queen” for Mother’s Day. “You deserve it!” he continued.
“Why thank you,” I responded, also rather grandly, tossing my hair with smug entitlement.
We were passing through the Myer cosmetics department at the time, and I think the phrase made me think of all those snarmy ads with the models assuring you that ‘you’re worth’ expensive face cream and nice shampoo. I was getting into the spirit of things.

Cycling home from school on Thursday, he called back along the footpath through the wind and the traffic: “For Mother’s Day, mum, I’m not going to get you anything. I’m going to donate money for breast cancer instead.”
Something about his tone made me suspicious. I’d just shut down a request to make his own lunches from now on ... which, I’d quickly surmised, was so that he could stack them with banned substances (mainly sugar). Though his professed sentiment was noble, his high-handed tone teetered between generosity and punishment.

“That’s lovely, how nice,” I said.
Silence from the bike ahead.
“We-eellll ... actually, I’m going to pretend Mother’s Day doesn’t even EXIST.”
“That’s fine,” I called smoothly. “Because I was planning to do exactly the same thing about your birthday.”
“This year?”
“Uh huh.”
“Oh. I’m only joking, you know.”
“How interesting.”

That night, watching Gordon Ramsay and eating takeaway noodles, I told The Husband about F’s breast cancer plan.
“He TOLD you?” he asked.
“What do you mean? You mean he didn’t make it up to piss me off?”
“No. Something about donating to breast cancer came on TV the other night, you were here, we looked at each other and nodded.”
“Oh. So he was doing it to be nice. At least, at first. Good.”

This morning I was woken by a hug.
“Good morning, your majesty.”
“Happy Mother’s Day, my queen. Would you like breakfast?”
It was very early.
“Um, maybe later.”
“Can I play the computer?”

Some hours later, I was instructed to sit in the study while he put the finishing touches on my presents. I got chocolate almonds (my favourite vice) and cupcakes (also a hit), both from the school Mother’s Day stall. He made me a handmade book about Ben 10, his latest cartoon craze. And I got a card with a Mother’s Day poem:

Mother’s Day is like, a day for ya mama,
So don’t give her no drama,
Let her wear pajamas
while this day is a mama o’rama


Lovely. My favourite present.

Then we went out for breakfast in a cafe down the road, where I ate poached eggs, sautéed potatoes and roast tomato, and F ate crumpets with honey. I read my way through the weekend papers and F read the latest AFL kids’ comic and excitedly opened his new packet of footy cards. I probably got three sentences out of him.

I ran into a friend, eating at a table across the room, his laptop on a chair beside him. (A business meeting on a Sunday? Life of a freelancer!) F barely looked up from his mag as my friend tried to make conversation with him. He got about three sentences, too, though. My friend and I had been at the same party the night before. And I only realised when I left the cafe that this meant he would realise I was still wearing the same dress I had on last night. The dress I was wearing when he DROPPED ME AT MY DOOR at 1am. Embarassing.

In the old days, being seen in the same dress from last night’s party meant I’d got ‘lucky’. Or got so trashed, I’d crashed on someone else’s couch. Today, it meant that after he dropped me home, I’d fallen asleep in front of my laptop under a quilt on the couch, watching successive episodes of Veronica Mars on my laptop until 3.30am. And that I was so tired when I woke up that I decided – what the hell – I’d keep the dress on for breakfast.

My, how life changes ...

This afternoon, The Husband, F and I went to the Sun cinema to see Iron Man as our Mother’s Day outing. We took the boy next door, and the kids were so exciting that they ran down Anderson Street shouting. I loftily reminded them that this was a MOTHER’S DAY trip, so they should make it pleasant for me. At the cinema, they’d run out of Choc Tops and the ATM had run out of money. No EFTPOS. The Mother’s Day crowd was not pleased. My particular little crowd included. We ended up with popcorn and soft drinks. I was so disgruntled to miss out on my Choc Top sugar rush that I went for raspberry lemonade instead. The ultimate non-alcoholic headrush.

In front of us in the line for tickets, is the parent who thoroughly disapproves of F and periodically asks his kids not to play with him because he doesn’t like “his attitude”. (As I type, F is shouting and screaming in the backyard over football, so I do sort of get it, even while I despise him for it.) The boys are thrilled to see each other. They grab each other’s arms and squeal. In the theatre, we sit directly behind F’s mates. They are eating pieces of fruit their father pulls from a backpack. He slowly, methodically peels a banana and bites into it just as F and Boy Next Door burst into their first bout of squabbling over the chips and soft drink that I – foolishly – bought them to share. To SHARE. In the dark. While they are also supposed to be quiet.

The movie is great, for the sort of movie you can see with a couple of primary school boys. Two hours with Robert Downey Jr is an excellent Mother’s Day present. F’s verdict: a bit gory (he hid his face quite a few times, with me telling him when he could look again), but good. And he gave the soundtrack 10/10. I was impressed when he spotted Marvel comic guru Stan Lee in a cameo (playing Hugh Hefner for three seconds). A nerd in training.

I have a brilliant son who loves me and thinks I deserve to be treated like a queen for a day, and a husband who spent half his day kicking the footy in the backyard with my son and his mate, and babysat for me last night while I went out to a party. I’m doing pretty good.

Peace out, y’all ...

... and happy mama’s day ...

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Mean mummy: My war on boredom

I am waging war against the words “I’m bored”.

I’ve never been very tolerant of that complaint. I believe that kids need to be bored sometimes, and to develop the ability to find something to do. Which is what my mother always said to us if we complained we were bored. What came next was the ominous or I’ll find you something to do.

Thanks to a chance encounter with a cousin in Adelaide a few months ago, I have a new and lethal weapon against boredom.

My cousin and I ran into each other during a session at Adelaide Writer’s Week. We hadn’t seen each other for about three years – since her brother’s funeral, actually, which made for a charged atmosphere as we sat through the session, a panel discussion on death. Afterwards, we withdrew from the crowds assembled by the tents and sat under a tree high on the hill, overlooking it all. Voices drifted up to us, strangely disembodied, channelled through the speaker systems. In the shadows of this very public conversation, we talked intimately – for four hours straight – about our families.

Among the heavy issues, we laughed about how my approach to parenting often echoes my own upbringing. Our mothers, sisters-in-law, have always been close. We realised, unsurprised, that they also shared a lot of the same mantras. (“I’m hungry.”/ “Eat an apple.” / “I don’t want that.” / “Well, you’re not that hungry then, are you?”)

We got onto “I’m bored”. My cousin was surprised at my mother’s punchline.
“We NEVER said we were bored,” she laughed. “Because my mum would give us a chore to do!”
“I might borrow that ...”


A few weeks ago, F and his best friend, the boy next door, were asking if they could play the computer. “No.” Could they watch a DVD? “No.” Deep sighs. They stretched out on the dining room floor.
“But we’re booooored,” they moaned. "There's nothing to doooo."
“Right!” I said. “Clean your room, then.”
Their mouths literally fell open, their eyes wide. I wanted to laugh.
“I warned you a month ago about this.”
“We’re sorry! We didn’t mean it! Can this be a warning? We won’t do it again.”
“Nope. You had your warning.”

F had been absolutely charming all weekend. Polite, affectionate, fun. Now, from the bedroom, there came banging. Stomping. A low-level growl (the best friend) and a louder, black-toned barking (F).
“I HATE my mother! I wish someone else was my mother!”
Stomp, stomp. Shuffle, shuffle. Bang, bang.
“This is SO UNFAIR.”
I stifled giggles. Despite the anger, things were obviously getting done.
“Whose STUPID idea was this anyway?” called F.
“It was my cousin.”
“Well, I HATE your cousin. I wish you didn’t HAVE a cousin!”
“Maybe she’d hate you, too,” I replied serenely, and returned to my keyboard.

Twenty minutes later, the boys had called me in to inspect the room, and had eagerly bounded outside to find something to do. Success.


This morning, as F shelved his toothbrush and toothpaste, he sang out from the bathroom, apropos of nothing “I’m bored”. Pause.
“Okay, you can clean your room then.”
“But I’ll be late for school! I’m not really bored!”
“I know.” I looked up from cling-wrapping a sticky clump of frankfurters for his lunchbox. “You just wanted to see what I’d do, didn’t you?”
I let him off, in the spirit of healthy curiosity and – more importantly – getting to school on time. But this is one weapon in my parenting arsenary that I’m holding onto.

Thank you, cousin.