Thursday, 13 October 2016

Spare me the small talk


I don't just dread small talk, I LOATHE IT!  It's draining, it's unnecessary and most of the time it's not an interpersonal exchange: it's just some inane person firing meaningless scattergun questions at you to fill the silence.

 Well guess what? I don't mind silence, in fact, I ADORE IT. Especially when I am sitting in the hairdresser's chair: that captive torture chamber where you not only have to stare at your own face for 40 minutes but you also have to field INANE small talk questions from a 20-something hairdresser who thinks "Keeping Up With The Kardashians" is SUCH A GOOD SHOW.

"Going somewhere special tonight?" Unless your definition of 'somewhere special' is my couch with a gin and tonic and the entire fourth season of The Good Wife ready to roll, no I am not.
"What are you up to on the weekend?" Nothing. Nada. Zip. Even if I was up to something, I doubt the details of it would be of any RELEVANCE OR INTEREST TO YOU!!!

And my personal favourite, the lazy person's way of starting a conversation:

"So ... what's been happening?"

Translation: I can't remember anything about you since the last time we made small talk in front of this unforgiving mirror that makes you look like a lizard lady, so give me a few clues about who the fuck you are again.

Well, news just in: a hairdressing salon in the UK has cottoned on to the fact that some of us dread the inane chit-chat of the salon chair and are now providing a 'quiet chair' for those who 'dread small talk.'

UK hair salon offers "quiet chair" for those who dread small talk


I dread small talk so much that I engage in random trips to different hairdressers all over my locality, just so they can't get to know me and start asking more personal questions every time I come in.

In FACT, what I would like is just a hairdresser's version of the public bathroom 'glory hole' that gay men have. You know, you just sort of push your hair through the hole in the wall and it gets magically 'serviced' by someone on the other side and you don't have to look at them or talk to them. 

Because the problem with salon small talk is: I have nothing in common with hairdressers (I have nothing in common with ALOT of people)  and it's really hard to get the conversation 'firing.' And a conversation that doesn't fire, is DRAINING.

Recently I tried to get on board with the chit chat 

 

Here's how things went down:

"Got any plans for the weekend?"
"Yes. I'm going to Melbourne."
"Omigawd, how fun! What are you going to do, go shopping?"

At this point I should have just said, "Yes, I am going shopping," But then I thought, if I opened up the whole shopping can of worms it would probably lead to more questions about shopping about which I'd have to make up some more answers and ... you know the tangled web ... 

So I answered truthfully, hoping it would sound so boring it would SHUT THIS SHIT DOWN.

"No, I'm going down for work."
"OMIGOD YOU POOR THING!!! OH NO! THAT'S TERRIBLE!"  

Seriously, it was like I had just told her I had inoperable brain cancer. 

"No, it's fine. It's fine."  I really felt like I had to calm her down before she started to cry. "I actually like what I do for a living. So it's fine."
"Oh, what do you do?"

Don't answer that! DON'T ANSWER THAT!

"I'm a writer." I said, walking FACE-FIRST into more probing questions.  "I'm going down to do some work with my sister."
Awkward silence. Foolishly, I decided to fill it.
"On a script." 
"Oh! Like for television?"
"A film script."
"Oh! My friend works for Home and Away and they do script meetings on yachts."
"Well, we will not be on a yacht. We will be in my sister's kitchen, so ..."
"Oh."

Insert: the awkward sound of conversation grinding to a halt.

"So when are you flying down, tomorrow morning?"
"No, I'm going down tonight at 8:30."
"OH NO YOU POOR THING! OH NO!!!"
"No, it's fine. It's actually easier than going in the morning, it's not ... it's fine. I'm fine."
"Oh you poor thing! Oh no!"

Another awkward silence as she ponders the absolute TRAGEDY that is my sad little life and the way I spend my weekends flying to other cities in the dead of night to NOT GO SHOPPING. 

At that point, I pulled an old New Idea off the shelf in front of me and started flicking through it indicating that the conversation was over. But it felt awkward and I felt bad about it, so then I started saying inane things about the celebrities in the magazine just to make her feel more comfortable.

And I also made a note in my head not to come back to this particular salon for a while. At least six months should wipe her memory of my sad non-shopping, nocturnal flights to Melbourne life to have script meetings in kitchens and not on yachts.

Here's another thing I dread:  the head massage


Every time. EVERY TIME! And because I keep forgetting to have my file stamped, "NO HEAD MASSAGE" and also because I keep randomly going to different salons so that they can't get to know me,  I have to wait for the hair-washing hand movements to change to 'strangely intimate head molestation' movements and head them off at the pass before it becomes too awkward.

"I don't want a head massage, thanks."
"What?"
"No head massage ... please ... thanks."
"Oh ..."
"I just don't like it."
Incredulous, that I would not want to sample their massage expertise. "Really?"
"Yep. I hate it." Why would I want some 19 year old apprentice MOLESTING MY SKULL? 
"Oh, that's fine." Said in a tone of voice that implies, it's so totally not fine and now they are offended. 
"Yep sorry. Just don't like it."

Now I feel bad because it's awkward and they're still touching my head to rinse off the conditioner, but sort of doing it in a way that indicates they are trying not to 'touch' my head too much because I am so clearly a pathological weirdo.

"It's fine, I mean some people love it." She says, sulkily.
Translation: people who are NOT WEIRD LIKE YOU, YOU TOTALLY UPTIGHT ARSEHOLE.
"I know. I'm weird."  I concede.

And once again, note to self: wide berth on this salon. At least 12 months due to the offence the 'no head massage' move has caused.


Anyway, my point is: when is the quiet chair (or even better, the glory hole) coming to a salon near me? I'd be up there EVERY WEEK getting my hair blow-dried and relishing the SILENCE.

Ahh. Silence.  But not awkward silence. Just. Silence.



Sunday, 14 August 2016

15 types of internet commenters



Since the interwebs was created, women have really come to the fore in online forums and comments boxes.  There are three reasons for this female-forward phenomenon.
  1. we are very opinionated
  2. we like to talk
  3. in the digital space, we won't get talked over by a man
Personally, (notwithstanding what follows here)  I prefer a "lean back" sort of judgement, with my hands behind my head and not on the keyboard. But I do enjoy the spectator sport of perusing the comments boxes every now and then.  Who doesn't?  If nothing else, it's always surprising how many people don't know the difference between "your" and "you're."

In my internet surfing travels, here are 15 types of commenters I have seen A LOT:

1. "All about me" commenter

 

As in: enough about this post, here’s a story about me and how good I am that is in no way related to the post above.

2. "Random activist" commenter 

 

This commenter has an agenda and will find any way they can to shoehorn in their pet protest topic.  For instance: on a post about brownies that happen to be made with Tim Tams, they will write something like …

“Buy Tim Tams and you’re supporting the use of Palm Oil and an unethical company”

I have no argument with this commenter. It’s a valid point, but if she’s serious about her protest, she should perhaps take her case further up the chain, like say, to the Arnott’s website.

3. LOL passive aggressive patroniser

 

This is a digital pat and slap manoeuvre. While pretending to be friendly as denoted by the use of ‘LOL’, in truth, they are pointing out to everyone else what an idiot you are.

Case in point: I once wrote a very compelling post for kidspot.com.au about how to poach the perfect egg (I know, Walkley Award, here I come.) I was thrilled that someone had bothered to comment and assumed it was because they were thanking me for some really useful tips .  Then I realised they were just laughing at the fact that I had specified the use of an 800g egg (not realising that the 800g on the pack referred to the ENTIRE weight of all dozen eggs. Mea culpa):

“LOL are you using dinosaur eggs?”

(Maybe I was. You don’t know the truth about my egg supply sources.)

Then there were these recent comments on a post about what to cook for dinner if you forgot to defrost the meat:

“Who needs meat for dinner? LOL. Hardly a big crisis!”

“Microwaves have a ‘defrost’ setting for a reason. LOL”

It has become clear to me that sometimes,  LOL is just code for, "YOU STUPID FOOL."  In which case let's all just be straight shooters and type, YSF instead of LOL wherever applicable.

4. Shoehorn self-promoter

 

These are the people who shamelessly post links to their own piece or links to their latest self-help book in the comments box in the guise of selfless altruism.

"My new e-book, available here, How To Stop Buying So Many Tins Of Tomatoes  may help you with this."

5. "Random sentence" commenter

 

These commenters are my favourite. They sort of relate to the post, but mostly that person just wants to say something ‘out loud’ and get involved. For instance, on a post about "10 quick things to cook for dinner" this commenter will type:

“I'm making fish for dinner!”

I love this commenter, she’s like the friendly person at a party who will burst into your circle and say something like: "I just ate three of those prawns on sticks!" Whilst everyone else is deeply engaged in a conversation about the state of the economy.

6. "Personal attack" commenter

 

The funny thing about the internet is you can’t always see the person you are attacking, so you have to have a bit of a "paint a word picture" stab if you want to have a really personal go at someone. This comment below was seen on a post that made fun of Kim Kardashian's latest red carpet outfit (a dress made out of string, just so you know.)  It gets 10/10 for visualisation effort.

“And this article comes from some chick sitting back at her desk wearing her Supre pants and Portmans blazer.”

I didn’t even know you could get pants at SUPRE!!! I thought they only sold crop tops and oversized t-shirts with "RELAX" printed on them.

7. "I’m not laughing and it’s making me angry" commenter

 

Ironically enough, humour posts are the most divisive of all.

After all, not everyone finds the same things funny. And the more everyone else is laughing and having a good time in the comments box, the more the person who doesn't share the mirth feels compelled to sh** all over everyone else’s good time.

“This is not funny AT ALL!”
"What a stupid waste of time this post was!"

I get it. I do.  I was once at a comedy club when an older male comedian came on stage and started doing some very sexist, “women on their rags” material.  Worse still, everyone was laughing their heads off and it made me FURIOUS.  So I  "booed" him - I opened my mouth, cupped my hands in a makeshift megaphone and went "Booooo!" Like I was at a pantomime and he was the villain.

So I do understand the impulse to let your feelings be known. I guess these people are just exercising their right to "boo". But I should point out that as soon as the "boo" sound left my mouth, I felt inordinately silly and ineffectual in the face of all the laughter.

But the far end of the humourless spectrum is the person with no sense of humour at all: this person cannot comprehend that some posts are just flippant listicles. From what I’ve seen, the problem seems to be a lack of awareness of "tone".

For instance on a post titled "Supermarket Rules" someone wrote:

“Who are you to tell us what we can and can't do?"

I felt compelled to let this person know that the rules were not legislated in parliament and so there would be no charges laid if they chose not to comply with rules like: "Don't bend your arse halfway out into the aisle when reaching for something on the bottom shelf."

8. The hijacker

 

These comments box terrorists take control of the comments box and steer it in a hitherto unforeseen direction: a place where no one could have predicted things would go.

And that place is: a comments box bunfight.

This is the person who, when faced with a news item about say, a missing woman, will say something like:

“She looks like a botox whore!”
To which someone else will reply:
“Shut up, I know her and shes (sic) not a botox whore. YOUR (sic) a Botox whore!”
To which the original person will reply
“YOU are!”

And so on and so on until a post about a missing woman becomes more about the pros and cons of Botox, who has it, who doesn’t and how people who have Botox should die anyway.

And just to clarify, to my knowledge the woman had not had Botox.

Which brings me to ...

9. "You're/your what's the difference?" commenter

 

You're -  a contraction of "you are" e.g: You're an idiot.
Your - possessive pronoun e.g:  That's your problem.

10. "Alarmed by sugar" commenter

 

“OMG! One and a half cups of sugar!”

Um, yes, it’s a cake. MOST CAKES HAVE SUGAR IN THEM, THAT’S THE POINT OF CAKES!!!!

11. "Wrong gender" commenter

 

These are the men who complain bitterly when a women’s website is not speaking directly to them, including them or considering how they feel. Boo hoo middle class white man, this corner of the universe is not calibrated for you.

12. "Random bad experience" commenter

 

For instance: This person once had a really bad experience with an umbrella and so posts about umbrellas really upset her and should be banned from all websites so as not to upset her further and cause her flashbacks. Posting things about umbrellas is just plain INSENSITIVE!

13. "Responds at length to the headline" commenter

 

This is the commenter who responds at length to the header but doesn’t actually read the article wherein they might find a more nuanced exploration of the topic that negates their need to rail against the header alone.

14. "Pro capital punishment" commenter

 

E.g. “This person should be (insert violent method of extermination here)"

15. Parenting choices militants

 

Breastfeeding, bottlefeeding, co-sleeping, control crying, sugar, no sugar, attachment parenting, nude parenting …

What are they vehemently opposed to? What’ve you got?

Thursday, 3 March 2016

10 commandments for kids *




When Moses came down from the mountain with Yaweh’s Ten Commandments it was a different world. People were being smote, bushes were spontaneously combusting and God was broadcasting from the sky in an ‘attention Kmart shoppers’ announcement for the desert.

It’s also worth noting, that men were partial to big flowing kaftan garments and women were regarded as livestock-type possessions.

My point is, times have changed since then and therefore, so should the rules.

Here are 10 modern commandments* of life that we should be teaching our kids.

1. Thou shalt put thy shoes in the same place every afternoon. 


That way, thou shalt be able to find them again in the morning.

2. Thou shalt honour thy mother by eating whatever is put in front of thy face every evening. 


For there shall come a time in thy early 20s when food shall not spring from this magical source, the Lord thy mother and thou shalt be in for a rude shock.

3. Thou shalt put thy dirty clothes in thy vessel marked: THE DIRTY CLOTHES BASKET.


That way thy clothes shall be cleaned and thy shall be able to wear thy favourite Methyl Ethyl band t-shirt or say, a pair of matching socks when thouest most desires it.

And lo the Lord thy mother doth sayest: be it not in the basket, be it not washed.

4. If thou cannot sleep, thou shalt not wake thy mother and tell her about it.


Lo the Lord thy mother doth sayest: If thou cannot sleep, I am not interested in hearing about it, especially if it doth be 3am in the morn.

5. Thou shalt not leave homework and assignments until 10pm on a Sunday.


For that is the time when the printer shall surely run out of ink and all the printer ink shops shall be clos-ed.

The Lord thy mother, cannot help you with this.

6. Thou shalt put thy dishes in the magical device known as THE DISHWASHER.


Putting thy dishes in the purgatorial place known as the bench top above the dishwasher, shall be a sin.

7. Thou shalt not worship false gods such as the empty milk carton or empty jam jar.


For lo it is not magical and it does not refill itself if you put it back in the fridge.

8. Thou shalt honour thy father and thy mother by vomiting directly into the toilet bowl.


As opposed to: all over thyself and thy bed clothes, on thy parent’s bedroom floor or directly into thy mother’s lap.

 

9. Thou shalt honour the kitchen sabbath.


The kitchen sabbath begins at 9pm sharp every evening and ends the following morning at dawn.  No bowls of cereal, toast, sandwiches or snacks of ANY KIND shall be madeth by you or the Lord thy mother during the kitchen sabbath.

The Lord thy mother, lo she does not give a shit how hungry thouest be beyond this holiest of hours, 9pm sharp.


10.  If thou dropped it on the floor, thou shalt pick it up.


Thy lint from thy pocket, thy scrappy piece of paper, thy pointy piece of Lego, thy shoe. For lo the Lord thy mother doth sayest: nay I am not the freaking maid in this joint.

11. Thou shalt not covet thy siblings’ toys, privileges, ice blocks, sweets, biscuits and the like.


For lo he got the same as you and the Lord thy mother does not give a sh** how unfair thou thinkest life is.

The lord thy mother giveth and the Lord thy mother shall taketh away.

* May contain 11 commandments

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Confessions of a toy pusher



Hello, I am that annoying person who compiles a list of dumb-arse toys you should buy for your kids every Christmas.

 

Kidspot.com.au calls this list, 'Top 20 Toys for Christmas (insert current year here)' and everyone clicks on it. 

 

At first I thought it was going to be like Tom Hanks' job in Big. And at first it kind of was: I was sent free toys, I was invited to morning teas with FREE CAKE, I was pretty much on the take and sold to the first person who sent me a free sample of Barbie's Glam Camper van.

But I have been doing it for three years and this is my scorching of the earth to ensure I never have to do it again.

As part of the ‘research’ for this list, I am sent invites from toy marketers to all their morning teas, toy fairs and toy exhibits so that they may show me their wares. I have attended many of these fairs, I have been given a private viewing of a Furby Boom during which I lost the will to live and I have read countless marketing blurbs describing the latest revolution in bead art technology.

After three years, this is what I know and I will now impart it to you, free of charge:

There are about 15 categories for ‘new’ toys every year and despite their efforts to polish up the same old turds, every year when I show up to eat their free cakes, the 'new' toys are the same ones they dazzled me with last year.

Here are the 15 categories of toys I am guaranteed to see every year

 

1. The toy that connects to an app


This is actually every single toy in existence. Once they’ve finished showing you all the features of the toy the rep then excitedly tells you that the toy also ‘connects to an app’ on your mobile device. LIKE THAT’S SOMETHING WE PARENTS WANT TO HAPPEN!

Like we want our kids stealing the iPad AGAIN to play their stupid games on it and ask us for money to buy into the next level.

Like we want our kids to sign up with our email addresses to ANOTHER COMPANY THAT WILL END UP SELLING OUR DETAILS TO THE HIGHEST BIDDING SPAMMER.

Like we want our kids to load up our iPad with so many apps and games that we can no longer download the latest episode of The Walking Dead!

ENOUGH WITH THE APPS!!!!

2. The A.I thing that talks to you and eventually reaches self awareness so that it can kill you in your sleep

 

I just do not get the appeal of these creepy talking things. Not only are they stupid battery chewing hunks of plastic landfill CRAP!!!! But there is something so passive about a toy that does all the story-lining and voice work for your kid.

Remember playing with your dolls and doing all the voices? Even the voices of Ken and Stiffy (Ken’s weird friend the GI Joe doll whose legs did not bend hence the name, ‘Stiffy’ Just me?)

That was half the fun. Now there’s a Furby that names ITSELF before multiplying by having its own Furby babies to amass the army that will eventually take over the earth.  It also comes with its own arsehole 'personality', takes virtual showers and complains when the water pressure is too low.

If I wanted an arsehole for a toy, I'd get an old G.I Joe doll and name it Stiffy.

3. The animatronic pet for sad kids who aren’t allowed to have a dog or a cat

 

Sometimes they come on a skateboard and have sunglasses because what's more fun than a real dog? A dog on a skateboard with sunglasses.

Then there's birds in cages that whistle and repeat back what you’ve just said, a butterfly that lands on your hand and there may or may not have been a faux stick insect in a cage.

Just buy your kid a freakin’ guinea pig for Christ’s sake!

4. The pink horse thing with hair

 

I don’t know why the horses have to have hair, but they do. And I don’t know why they all have to live in a house  or a shoe together, but they do. What I’ve discovered about girls’ toys is that there is a big focus on:

  • Share house living
  • Lurid pink d├ęcor
  • Horses with hair
  • Big eyes. BIG BIG EYES
  • A thematic tie-in to the movie coming out that you will have to sit through next school holidays.

5. The teeny tiny cute thing with big eyes and lots of teeny tiny bitsy pieces and it lives in a house or a tree with other teeny tiny things and it’s from a TV show

 

Some of them live in a pet shop in Paris or some shit. I dunno. Are they dogs or cats or beavers? I just don’t know. I just know that they come in a box with one squillion tiny bits and pieces that will be lost and sucked up by your vacuum cleaner within the month.

Toy companies STOP MAKING TEENY TINY THINGS THAT END UP INSIDE THE VACUUM CLEANER YOU ARE WASTING EVERYONE’S TIME!

6. The digital gaming device that 'reinvents' the entire digital gaming device genre

 

I don’t understand these things and I do not aspire to understand them. As soon as the marketing material comes through for these waste-of-space-in-my-living-room pieces of digital-gaming-excrement my brain just shuts down.

The last one that was foisted upon me like it was the re-invention of the hula hoop was Disney Infinity.

I couldn’t attend the ‘presentation’ so I had to hear about it over the phone from a 12 year old toy rep. She was nearly hyperventilating as she told me about it and I could barely keep my eyes open. Sensing my total disinterest, she sent one through by courier to seduce me with its magical gaming-like-you’ve-never-seen-before properties.

It had figurines and consoles and Mr Incredible was running through Shrek’s castle and my GOD it was dull. My kids played with it for about an hour then lost interest.

7. The faux learning device

 

Ever since Baby Einstein CDs were touted as the way to make your baby smarter, I have hated this 'make your baby smarter' horseshit. But I have always included them in the list, because I figured at least they were trying to offer something educational.

Last year it was a watch that rewarded kids for getting off their fat arses and doing some exercise. It was so depressing. It detected their movement and then said things like: “Good job you just earned five diamonds.” And then it sent them a pic of five diamonds that went ‘brrring!’ just for getting off their fat arses and moving around.

Really? Is this where we’re at?

8. The dumb toddler thing that makes annoying noises and sings alphabet songs


I call this section: It don’t mean a thing if it don’t talk and sing.

Sometimes it’s a train, last year it was a chair with a lift-up seat that looked suspiciously like a commode. As one of my colleagues shrewdly pointed out, it would only be a matter of time before you lifted the lid and found a crap in there.

It sang, it made up games, it affirmed you effusively for choosing the triangle. It was like The Singing Bush in The Three Amigos: it just would not. SHUT. UP. In my defence, I suggested that parents take the batteries out and just use it as a little chair. Because how much do toddlers love little chairs?

9. The  remote control ... whatever


Helicopters, cars, 4WD vehicles, boats, flying fairies. They climb up walls, they respond to the touch of your palm, they chew up batteries, they end up gathering dust under a bed because the batteries ran out and no one wanted to buy any more.

Batteries, batteries, batteries.

I predict that in the future, human children will have devolved in such a way that they will no longer be able to make those very complex 'vroom vrooom' 't-t-t-t-t' vehicle noises they can now make because the toys will be doing it for them.

Sad.

10. Some kind of Elmo toy that will do the parenting for you

 

Big Hugs Elmo started out as a big soft toy with long arms that cuddled you. Then the following year, Elmo started handing out affirmations: “You give the best cuddles.”

Then the year after THAT Elmo started putting your kid to sleep for you by shutting down and saying: “It’s time to go to bed now.”

Perhaps next year, Elmo will be running an ethics class.

11. Some kind of doll that shits its pants

 

Disclaimer: I have an deep-seated hankering for one of these because my mum would never let me have one as a kid. To be fair, I can see her point now.

They are revolting. But still I want one. I don’t know WHY!

This year it was Big Snacks Sara (or something) and you made her snacks. She ate them. She shat them out. Welcome to motherhood, girls. Are we having fun yet?

12. A nerf gun that REINVENTS THE ENTIRE NERF GUN GENRE

 

I don’t know where they are going to go next with these because every year the cartridge that holds the bullets gets bigger or the bullets come out faster. Nuclear capability perhaps? It’s a slippery slope.

13. Small rubbery pieces of crap with eyes that are breathlessly described as ‘collectables’

 

 Remember Trashies? Then they made these weird Shopkins things plus a crappy little supermaket shop with a stiffly turning conveyor belt that tipped all the Shopkins things over when it moved and would probably make your four year old cry.

These are just more teeny tiny bits of crap that end up all over your floor at home. FUCK YOU TOY COMPANIES! FUCK YOU!

14. Something overpriced and elaborate from a Star Wars movie

 

But with no female characters obvs.  Because extensive research has shown that girls are weak and need to be chucked in the creek.

Am I right toy companies?

15. A pillow that does something a pillow probably shouldn’t do like glow or turn into a monster

 

Don’t get me wrong, I like Pillow Pets, but I’m just not sure about the psychological effects of your pillow morphing into a monster while you sleep. What will they think of NEXT?

Oh wait, I know, an app.

Monday, 16 March 2015

17 annoying things parents do


As a demographic mass, parents are possibly the most annoying group in society. Not only does the government always pitch their tax cuts and free money to us every budget cycle (as though 'working families' are more important than people who live alone with cats) but we also clog up the roads every morning and every afternoon when we're doing the school run. (Because heaven forbid our precious bundles should be made to use their legs for purposeful walking as opposed to enriching extracurricular activities.)


Let's face it, we are annoying.  Here are 17 annoying things parents do.*

 1. Talk about their kids


I don't mind hearing about my friends' kids and I don't mind hearing a story that is a GOOD story about your kids. But don't tell me incessant banal sh** about your kids, because guess what? I have my own kids and incessant banal sh** is MY LIFE!

If it's a story about how your toddler obsessively licks the bin every morning, then I'm in: that's funny. But if it's a story about how your kid is 'taking learning risks' and 'hitting every milestone right on the button' *loud snoring noise*

 2. Volunteer photos of their kids when no one asked


If I ask, show me. But don't shove your phone in my face and volunteer a photo of your kid for me to admire, appropos of nothing.  As above: I have my own, I know what a baby/toddler/kid looks like and if I don't know you that well, yours are inconsequential to me: they just look like  curly-headed potatoes with eyes.

So, unless I know you quite well and am interested in what your kids look like, don't make me pretend to admire photos of your potato-with-eyes kid.

3. Block footpaths/shop aisles and access to sales racks with their GIANT Mack-truck sized prams


Something about having a pram seems to make people think they are hard done by and therefore deserve right of way.  I know this, because I used to be one of those people.

But since then, I have been run off the footpath by the Mummy Mafia, two-abreast-and-chatting-a-mile-a-minute in their Lorna Jane too many times to forgive.

I have also had precious, PRECIOUS access to a sales rack blocked too many times by a mother with a giant pram.  She just parks it right near the 'Extra 30% off' rack and then goes about her business rifling through the cheap stuff before I can get to it.  I can't go around her and I can't approach from another angle to get to that blue and white striped top BEFORE SHE DOES because she's created a road block with her Bugaboo.

 4. Let their kids do cartwheels in between the tables at restaurants because if the kid isn't bothering them, they're not bothered


Guilty as charged.

 5. Talk about where they're sending their kid to school/high school


Despite the fact that this is possibly the most tedious and boring topic of conversation in all of Christendom, I have found myself initiating this conversation too many times to mention. And then I get deep into it and I suddenly realise what a deeply boring person I have become. I hear us blah-blah-blah-ing  on about our kids, and how the school has to be right for the kid and as long as the kids are happy ... and OH MY GOD SHUT UP!!! What a boring bunch of people we are.

 6. Secretly think their kids are more awesome than yours 


Guilty as charged.

 7. Talk about their kids' NAPLAN scores as though NAPLAN scores actually MEAN SOMETHING!!!


Let me say this once: NAPLAN scores are not a test of your kids' intelligence, they are a test of how well the school is teaching your child according to the national curriculum.

And sure, this may be sour grapes because none of my kids ever end up in the pointy section of the graph, (except for punctuation and grammar which is just some weird anomaly and see what I did there? I HATE MYSELF FOR IT.) But seriously, it's not the HSC.  It's a basic skills test to make sure the school is teaching your kid properly.  So stop quoting me the 'band' your kid is in for numeracy skills. I’m. Not. Interested.

 8. Trail their kids through Target or Kmart leaving a slipstream of chaos and destruction in their wake


Guilty as charged.

 9. Let their kid hog the swing at the park because it gives them a chance to check Facebook/emails while they push


 10. Think it's cute for their toddler to play peekaboo with you over the back of the plane/bus/train seat THE WHOLE WAY


It's cute a few times, then it just gets exhausting. Know when to quit, people. Know when to quit.

 11. Say 'use your words Portia' when Portia is having a major meltdown in public and is clearly completely BEYOND words


Just pick that kid up, put her under your arm like a football and wing her out of there NRL-style.  Now is not the time for 'right-on' parenting.

 12. Invent dumb spellings for standard names to make their kid 'different'


Tyffannee, Lee-arne, Blayke, Ezmay, Me’Chell, Kareena etc. etc.

Two things:
a) Remember primary school you doofus?  Being different is not AN ASSET!!
b) You have just bought your kid a lifetime of having to spell out out their name for people, over and over and over again.

 13. Create annoying disorganised bunching chaos at the airport


This was me, about three weeks ago, herding my kids through Sydney Airport. I was aware of how annoying we were, we just couldn't stop being annoying. Everywhere we went. We were annoying.  We were THAT family.

 14. Let kids use an ipad without headphones in public


On a plane, on the bus, on the train, in a cafe.  You find yourself subjected to the perky generic sounds of Peppa Pig or the incessant "BOING BIP BOING BOING!" of the latest educational 'Find that fruit game' because some bint won't make their toddler wear headphones.

 15. Take toddlers to a fancy schmancy restaurant and then demand a kid-friendly menu


In fact, let’s just limit that one to the first half of the sentence.

Parents of toddlers: it’s two or three years of your life when you can’t go out to fancy restaurants (unless you shell out for a babysitter) and I know it’s hard. But please, take one for the team.  Just accept that your lifestyle has changed for a while and be gracious: either stay home or leave that kid at home.

For those of us who have lived through that phase and come out the other side, we don’t want to eat our fancy food while your toddler wraps spaghetti round his entire body, squeals intermittently and makes dough balls with bread in a water glass.

(To be clear: I'm talking about FANCY restaurants, not your local kid-friendly bistro.)

 16. Let their toddler rough up your dog/cat indiscriminately because the toddler  'needs to learn’


Yes, he needs to learn that dogs are unpredictable and don’t like being ridden rodeo-style by some 30 pound toddler. But if your child then gets bitten, don’t start calling for the ‘dangerous dog’ to be put down.

(Again, to be clear: I’m talking about dogs on leads here, I am not talking about uncared-for dogs that roam the streets and are a menace to society.)

 17. Get their outrage on in the comments box about listicle-style articles that have anything to do with parenting and kids


The internet rewards articles that have lots of comments: even 'Shut-up-YOU-are' style comments that are barely decipherable due to bad spelling. So if you don’t like it, ignore it and Facebook/Google will assume the article is not interesting to anyone. As a result, it will disappear. Don’t get your outrage on in the comments box, you’ll only make that sh** rise to the top of the feed again.


* Disclaimer: in the interests of full disclosure, the writer acknowledges that she has been guilty of most of these annoyances in her time as a parent, not including numbers 7 and 17.

Monday, 16 February 2015

45 things that go through a woman's head when she's walking through IKEA



Going to IKEA is a bit like having a baby: it seems like a good idea at the time, but once you’re in the thick of it, you start to wonder if you’ll ever make it out alive. Here are 45 thoughts that go through my head whenever I go to IKEA.

1. I am going to have the best time and when I’m finished my house is going to look awesome.

2. Ooh, free pencils. I want one! And a tape measure. This is the best day ever.

3. What … ? Why are all these people here on a weekday? Don’t they have JOBS!?

4. Get outta my way large family who brought grandma AND grandpa!

5. OK, stay on target, stay on target – you are here to buy a KALLAX shelving unit only. Repeat KALLAX shelving unit only. Do not, I repeat, do not buy any cheap scented candles or plastic boxes.

6. Oh that white couch looks so smart … HEY IDIOT! What have we discussed? You cannot have white furniture. Right, cannot have white furniture, must not buy white furniture.

7. I wish my living room looked like that … but … would I have to get a handyman to come and drill holes into my walls to make those shelves work? Forget it.

8. Ooh, a little box of screws and nuts … who doesn’t need lots of nuts and hooks and screwy bits?

9. I think I’m gonna need one of those big yellow bags.

10. Something about that cheap couch just doesn’t quite look right, it’s like the cover doesn’t fit properly or … Hello! Chair pads!

11. If I buy these chair pads, everything in my life will be perfect.

12. What are these things? EKSALS? I don’t know what they are, but I think I need some, they look like some sort of storage solution.

13. I think I might need two bags.

14. Ah the dining room section. You know what? I’ve been thinking lately that a fold-out dining table would solve all my problems. Where’s that stupid free pencil? Now, LAGSIG fold-out table … Aisle 56 Area 45 … hang on or was that Area … oh forget it, I don’t need a fold-out dining table … focus, focus. KALLAX shelving unit, KALLAX shelving unit.

15. Ah, the kitchen section, where all my dreams can come true. I feel like I just took a Valium, it is soooo organised and relaxing in here. If I had that kitchen, I would be so happy.

16. Hey! Idiot! We’re here for square shelving, keep moving, keep moving and don’t look left or right.

17. Right, where’s the shortcut. Oh I see it, almost there …

18. Ooh! Hanging tub thingies for my kitchen. THAT will solve all my problems. I can hang some herbs like Jamie Oliver does.

19. Hold the phone! Under-bench lighting … that I don’t have to call an electrician to install? I’m in.

20. Think I’m going to need a bigger bag.

21. OK, now stay on target, we’re almost to the shelving section, square shelves remember, square shelves.

22. Stupid big family in my way again. Burn them off. Indicate and overtake, walk like an Olympian, heel-toe, heel-toe.

23. Ahh, shelving, here we are. Now, KALLAX shelving unit, where are you?

24. Do I want a unit of nine or 12 squares? Dammit, I should have measured the living room wall. Rookie mistake! Rookie mistake!

25. Aisle 21 Area 15 . Right, got it, stay on target. Now get out! Run, run. Don’t go through the market hall just go straight to the picking section, then to the checkout and GO! Blinkers on.

26. Uh-oh the bedroom section. Do not buy any cute cheap lights for kids, do not buy any cute cheap lights for kids … or dumb hanging soft toy storage.

27. OH a bed canopy! That’d be fun. $14? Why wouldn’t ya? And some of these plastic storage boxes … hang on, do I need a shelving unit with those – HEY! Stay on target, we’re going straight to the checkout, remember?

28. Think I’m going to need a trolley.

29. Uh oh, here comes the soft furnishings section. Do not buy cushions, do NOT buy cushions. Or funky Swedish fabric to MAKE your own cushions. You don’t sew, remember, we’ve been through this before.

30. Whew! Made it through I’m nearly there … HEY! Lighting … FOCUS! Do not buy cheap paper lanterns, do not buy cheap paper lanterns. Well, maybe just one.

31. Ooh trolleys, now I can get more stuff. No! Take the shortcut, take the shortcut … I see the shortcut to the checkouts, take it, quick, take it and you can still get out of here alive!

32. OK, so I took the shortcut but … what? Market hall? How did I end up here? Goddamn you Swedish temptress! OK, so maybe just one box of wine glasses, they’re so cheap, why wouldn’t ya?

33. And these napkins are fun.

34. Oh and these coffee mugs, I think I’m going to start a new theme, blue and taupe. Three blue, three taupe. And I’ll need some new blue and taupe placemats to go with my new theme.

35. Aaand maybe some plates.

36. OK, we’re nearly there …just walk straight through the cheap-scented-candles-that-smell-like-food and garden-knick-knacks-that-you-don’t-need section.

37. Ooh a gazebo! Could I do that myself without calling a tradesman? HEY! You’re here for square shelves, KALLAX shelving unit, Area 15 Aisle 21 … or vice versa, anyway, remember, keep going. Just keep walking.

38. Oh my god, I’m finally here. There’s the checkout and there’s a checkout with only one person waiting. Quick speed up and get in front of the big family who brought grandma and grandpa, how did they get in front of me again?

39. Awesome, self-serve checkout – I don’t have to talk to anyone about how my day is going.

40. I LOVE this self-scanner thing, I feel like a shopkeeper. I might even ask that lady how her day is going.

41. Uh-oh, no bags. I’m gonna have to buy another one of these stupid big IKEA bags to carry all my stuff and then when I get home I’m going to have to wedge it into the linen cupboard with the other five I already have.

42. Finally, I made it out. I’m clear. I can see the EXIT. I’m free! I’m … wait I think I forgot something …

43. Oh sh**, I forgot the KALLAX shelving unit. I’m going to have to come back tomorrow.

44. Help me, I can’t remember where my car is.

45. Seriously, somebody help me. I don’t even know who I am anymore.


Sunday, 4 January 2015

Confessions of a school volunteer




Life as a school mum is peppered with call-outs for volunteers.  And when it comes to volunteering, there are those who do and those who don't.  If I'm going to be honest, my instinct is to be in the latter category. But I have tried, with varying degrees of success.

Each time I tried (and each time things went pear-shaped ... again)  I learned something new: about myself, about the art of volunteering.

Here are my five most formative volunteering experiences and what I learned from each one.

1. The white elephant stall 

 

The first time I volunteered I didn't actually volunteer.  My friend Antonia volunteered on my behalf. She had gone to the P&C meeting to see what she could do to help with the school fete.  When they asked who would do the white elephant stall, she shot up her hand and volunteered both our names. 

 

Her thinking was: we both like second hand shops, so who better to run one?

 

It was a nice idea in theory and I was keen to start stock-taking awesome bric a brac. I even went to the newsagent and bought some cute little price tag thingies with string so that we might attach them to all the quirky treasures that surely would inhabit our picture-perfect white elephant stall.

 

I imagined us sitting on stools, in big straw hats, chatting away sipping coffee, while people "oohed" and "aahed" over our gorgeous second-hand wares. We would be quite the curators, I imagined.

 

However, we had not counted on two things:

 

a) Sorting, pricing and storing the contents of a white elephant stall takes top notch big-picture organisational skills.

b) When you say this:

Please donate to the white elephant stall

Most people hear this:

Please dump your worthless rubbish in the school hall: free council clean up!


We got bits of wood and wire, broken mugs, bags of old shoes that not even a hobo would want for free, mismatching wine glasses, ice bucket holders (sans ice buckets) mouldy clothing including underwear and lots and lots of foot spas.  More foot spas than was humanly decent.

Faced with this mountain of detritus, we soon realised we did not have the required skills to deal with it.  Adding to the problem was the fact that it was taking up considerable space in the school hall and the music master was not happy about it.

There followed various inept attempts to move our "stock"  somewhere else, none of which came to fruition and the first hint that we were not equipped for this task.
 
Next we set about "organising it." I did random unhelpful things like write prices on things with an indelible black marker pen while Antonia spent an inordinate amount of time talking to herself while sorting and grouping things in to price points.  Only to realise she couldn't keep track because meanwhile I was moving things around and writing on them with a black marker pen.

In short, we were both indians and we needed a chief.

So far, not so good.

The day of the fete we set up our stall and everything was going fine: until  2pm when we realised that  if we didn't start a fire sale like, RIGHT NOW we would again be stuck with mountains of junk to deal with after the fete finished. And given our track record, the school hall would not be offered as a "storage" option.

This stuff would be coming home with us if we didn't start getting rid of it.

We started spruiking like a pair of pros.
"Everything $2!"
"Everything must go!"
"FREE foot spa!"
This was precisely when the head of the P&C witnessed me selling off her "priceless" and lovingly donated gold-rimmed wine glass set (of five, yes five)  for the fire sale amount of $2. (Truth be told, I was about to GIVE them away.)

Honestly, I thought she was going to send me to detention.  She rushed over, snatched them back and told me they were "worth much more than $2 thank you very much!"

At the end of the day, still sitting on our mound of rubbish we were mercifully bailed out by a fast-thinking school dad who organised for Vinnies to come and pick up our remaining unsold "stock".

Lesson: If you are an indian, do not apply to be a chief.

2. The cake stall

 

My next foray into volunteering was to heed a simple but plaintive school newsletter call out:

Cake stall helpers required. Please call Julie on 9724 5566

I called the phone number, as required, and was slightly disappointed when I was not greeted with gushing declarations of thanks  for volunteering my "helper" services. In fact, Julie seemed completely disinterested in having heard from me. I'm pretty sure I heard her yawn in my ear as I explained why I was calling.

"Just come to the senior staff room at 2pm on Tuesday." She said wearily.

I turned up with my best helper apron on.  In my mind, I was imagining a fun communal vibe as all the helpers laid out cakes, gossiped and became lifelong friends.

I stood at the door of the staff room looking for Julie.  Then I spotted a bored-looking woman standing over a table full of cakes quickly put two and two together.

"Julie? I'm Penny, we spoke on the phone."

"Take this cake and put it on the table outside." She said, simply.

I did that and wandered back inside, keen to do some more "helping." I saw about 10 other "helpers" being directed by Julie to take one cake each out to the table.  No one was having much fun. No one was bonding, and apparently no one was really needed.  It seemed Julie was just humouring us all and allowing us to help her because she assumed we had such empty lives we had nothing better to do than ferry cakes one at a time from one table to another.

After the cakes were set out on the table we all stood in awkward silence and waited for further instructions from our Dear Leader. Julie just went about her business setting prices on the cakes, sorting out her float money and pretending the rest of us didn't exist.

In light of my expectations, the stiff silence and the lack of bonhomie was tragic.

After about 10 minutes of pretending it was normal to stand in an empty school playground with an apron on doing absolutely nothing I decided to make like a banana and split. I never saw Julie again and I vowed never to volunteer for anything with her name attached. Which pretty much cancelled me out of most volunteering activities at the school because Julie, in spite of her chronic lack of leadership skills,  was the Big Cheese of volunteering.

Lesson: Don't expect to make friends or be thanked.

3. Canteen duty

 

After ascertaining that P&C people didn't actually want the amateurs amongst us messing with their work, I decided to volunteer for a different department: the canteen.  Apparently they actually were desperate for helpers and added to that, I have done enough time in cafes and pubs to know how to put together a mean salad sandwich and count back change out of a five.

It was a promising beginning. The canteen coordinator was a lovely 50-ish woman who practically cried with thanks when I turned up. So far so good. Gratitude: tick.  She was also a very good delegator and gave me a big list of tasks to complete before the recess bell sounded.  Apparently I was the best helper she'd ever had and she kept telling me so.  I was having the greatest day ever.

Things went a bit pear-shaped however when I apparently did not properly police the two queues at the canteen window: one queue was for junior school kids and the other queue was for senior school kids. There was also a yellow line behind which they had to stand, UNLESS it was their turn, at which point they were allowed to step forward and state their business.

One particularly beguiling little girl kept turning up in the markedly shorter junior school queue. She would smile at me like the cat that got the cream and buy another chicken chilli tender before thanking me in a most charming way. I thought she was just taken with me, because I was so welcoming and motherly.

"She's not a junior!" A kid yelled at me. "You're supposed to tell her to get in the other queue!"

Pretty soon there was an angry mob of kids at the window demanding to know why I had let someone rort the system. Apparently this was a serious offence and "she does it all the time!" But I refused to be drawn into their petty dibby-dobbing mostly because I did not want to admit to myself that I had been "had."

"Queue, schmew!" I shouted finally over the dibby-dobbing rabble.

Which was when the orderly two-queue recess rush became a disorderly "everybody bunch at the window" free-for-all.

When my friendly canteen coordinator returned from the cool room to see the chaos I had unleashed she shouldered me out of the way and started shouting instructions about two orderly queues and staying behind the yellow line.

Some weeks later, the school-run not-for-profit canteen system went under and the canteen contract was put out to tender. I'm not saying my little 'queue schmew' stunt was the cause, but I have a feeling my amateur antics were the final nail in the coffin.

Lesson: Just because there's no pay, doesn't mean there are no rules.

 

4. Parent band


By this stage, I was extremely reluctant to stick my head up ever again.  But just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in.

One morning, I was minding my own business at the local coffee shop when two of my favourite school mums (a particularly rebellious pair who had recently infiltrated the P&C and started wreaking havoc amongst the straight-laced Julies of the world) snuck up behind me and said:

"Ah-ha! Just the person we've been looking for!"

They had a proposition for me.  Would I put together a parent band to perform on the day of the school centenary fete? (Important sidebar: in another life, I was a relatively successful indie musician.)

My mission, if I chose to accept it, was to hand pick my own cracking hot band out of available parents and play a few awesome tunes to impress the dignitaries and politicians who would be walking through the school on the day.

"Your call, you do what you want, you're in charge. Just make it good." Said Agent 1.

They also had "intel"  A video of the previous parent band which they played to me on their i-phone.

"See this?" Said Agent 2. "This is what we don't want."

It was a bunch of parents having a really fun time making a very awful noise with drums,  Casio keyboard, flute and tambourine.  Apparently it was their version of House of the Rising Sun. It wasn't any version I'd ever heard, let's just put it that way.

And once again, flattery made a fool of me.  But in my defence this task was right in my comfort zone and the one area in life where I am actually comfortable taking on the role of leader.

What could possibly go wrong?

I accepted the challenge, imagining myself as a veritable Jack Black in School of Rock. I could whip these parents into shape and show them how to ... pop-rock-with-a-country-twist.  How hard could it be?

What I did not foresee was all the previous 'parent band' members, the have-a-go funsters,  assuming they would be included.  I decided to give them enough rope to hang themselves.  With my core musicians already in place ( a terrific bunch of naturally talented hobby players who were prepared to let me lead) we invited the others to come to rehearsal and show us what they had.

They came, they sang, they stank up the rehearsal room and remained completely obvlivious to the fact that they were creating a stench of mammoth, "Oh my god why would you want to do that in public?" proportions.

I remembered then that complete lack of talent always comes hand in hand with a complete lack of self-awareness.

Added to that, they expected the rest of us - the ones with the actual musical ability -to simply back them like a karaoke band. They came with all manner of ridiculous song suggestions, no charts (musical notation that might have helped us do their bidding) and the expectation that we would stand in the background spontaneously playing whatever song came into their head at the time.

After rehearsal I went home and sent an email to Agents 1 and 2,  tendering my resignation as "band leader." I couldn't deal with these nutcases and nor was I prepared to:

a) perform in public with them
b) be the one to tell them their services were not needed

As a last-ditch compromise, I suggested we allot them one song each in the hour-long set; but they were to bring charts to the next rehearsal and there would be no, House of the Rising Sun or Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend.

Agent 1 was having none of it. True to her cat-amongst-the-pigeons form she fired off a group email informing everyone bluntly and with no apology,  who was "in" and who was "out."

Then as a final "so there" she effectively signed my death warrant:

"Penny is in charge, what she says goes!"

Fun times in the playground after that, as I became, "The diva who kicked everyone out of the parent band."

But the show did go on. And in case you're wondering, my hand-picked musical cohorts and I rocked the weather shed on the day of the centenary celebrations.  We rocked it like  ... a bunch of 40-something parents playing some very acceptable country pop rock.

However, a lot of people still hate me and I can no longer enter the school playground for fear of having a "Kick me I'm a diva" sign taped to my back.

Lesson: Don't get involved, no matter what the circumstances. Just don't get involved. Ever.

 

5. The scone and coffee stall


But take heart, these tales of volunteering horror do have a happy ending.  When my eldest child started high school I took advantage of the "clean slate" and decided to give this volunteering thing one last go.  Going with my adage of sticking to my skill set, I put my name down for the "coffee stand" at the annual school open day.


Soon after volunteering my services,  a very organised and efficient email arrived in my inbox: I was allotted a one hour shift on the day and told where to show up including a very helpful map of the school attachment.

I turned up to find a well-oiled machine going on in the school's home ec. kitchen.  Students with chef's hats on were pumping out trays of perfect scones one after the other. Another set of students were then jamming and creaming them. And yet another two were manning the espresso machine in a most professional and efficient manner.

My instructions were simple: take orders, deliver orders to tables. I could do that. And I did.

Clearly, someone "big-picture smart" was in charge; all I had to do was follow instructions. It was busy and fun and I even made some friends.

Lesson: It's a numbers game. One out of five ain't bad.