Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The golden years of low-maintenance friendship

When I had my first baby the stars aligned:

My good friend Jane had also just had her first child and she lived a short stroller walk away from us.

A lot of people join a formal mothers group, but Janey and I were the mothers group.  It was just the two of us, an informal but emotionally binding arrangement every Thursday morning. The morning would finish up just late enough to ensure that Max would not fall asleep on the walk home and ruin the sacred hours of nap time.

Jane's baby, Maia, was 10 months older than Max.  Maia was - and I mean this in the most loving way - a bit of a menace. Max was only just learning to sit up when we started our 'mothers group' and Maia's favourite trick was to stand behind him, a sippy cup in each hand, her arms spread wide and waiting.  We would watch and wait, watch and wait. Jane would say, 'Maia..." in a warning tone but Maia would not move or blink.  Then at the exact moment we stopped watching, "whack!" she would bring her sippy cups together and violently 'cymbal' poor Max in between.  She was masterful, you had to give her that.

Maia had to be watched like a hawk in those early years.

As they got older, Max learned to hold his own and our mothers duo became a more relaxed affair.  They played together happily and we no longer had to watch with one eye for Maia's sneaky baby-tipping malevolence (until her baby sister, Josie came along.)  There were some questionable antics in the side passage of a human excrement nature once but apart from that, those Thursday mornings were the most relaxing hours of my teeny, tiny, toddler-based life.

I recall a particular fascination with the dolly stroller.  Max would always be enlisted to push Maia - bigger and heavier by 10 months - from one end of the house to the other.  It was a surprisingly serious exercise: Maia sitting blank-faced and uncomfortably crumpled into the doll-sized stroller, Max steadfastly pushing with all his might to move her along. It went on for hours.  They would appear like this in the living room, then retreat to the other end of the house, only to reappear minutes later, in exactly the same serious, blank-faced way.  I'm not sure what their destination was, but they never seemed to reach it.

This sort of surreal toddler behaviour is always so much funnier when there is someone else to witness it with you.

Because the thing about early motherhood is, it's isolating.  Spending hour upon hour in a toddler's company, (while having undeniable moments of delight) can be mind-numbingly dull.  You can find yourself watching the Teletubbies in an intrigued sort of a way ("Hmm I hope the Noo-noo  comes out of the cupboard today.") You can slowly go coco-loco if you don't keep an eye on things.

But if you are lucky enough to have someone like-minded who is in the same phase, where activities must cease at noon for nap time and motherhood is not some competitive sport, you are all set for some golden times.

Those first few years with me, Max, Jane and Maia,  I realise now, were golden times indeed.

Three and a half years after Max, I had my twins and I moved half an hour west across Sydney.  It was harder to meet up in that informal, relaxed way (no more a brisk stroller walk down Bondi's Blair Street)  Meet-ups involved three children strapped into car seats and a desperate race back to Leichhardt at noon sharp with one eye on the rear vision mirror praying for children to not fall asleep on the way home.

But most recently life has again intervened.  Jane has gone to France for a 'gap year' with her little family (Maia now 14).  Even before she left for the northern hemisphere, we didn't see as much of each other.  We both work and meet-ups have to be arranged after hours.  By the time we do meet up, there's an agenda list of things to catch up on that virtually have to be 'ticked off'.

It's not the same as the guaranteed weekly catch up where the conversation just takes up where it left off the week before.

It's a bit like when you first leave high school and you realise how lucky you were to be seeing your friends five days a week.  That comfortable taken-for-granted friendship you had now has to be 'arranged' and scheduled in.

If you are in the toddler years,  enjoy those golden times. I'm not necessarily talking about the quality time spent with your child, I'm talking about the quality time spent with your good friends.

 It will be a while before that kind of low-maintenance friendship ever comes your way again.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

The Magical Land of Business Speak

If you've been at home with your kids for a few years and you're thinking of returning to work, the workplace may seem like a magical place where you get to talk to adults all day about adult things. But  the corporate world really has become the 'Magical Land of Business.'

The Magical Land of Business has seceded from the real world and has now developed its own unique language.  Everybody speaks this strange new dialect fluently. You will find yourself quite befuddled by it if you've been at home with toddlers who say, "I'm hungry," when they are hungry, "I'm bored," when they are bored or "in triangles," when they want their sandwich cut into triangles.

In the Magical Land of Business, people engage in a lot of double-speak, no one really says what they mean and there's alot of 'pea under the cup' stuff going on (as opposed to the relatively simple conundrum of 'pea up the nose.')

So for those of you who are making the transition from straight-talking toddlers to double-talking executives, I have provided translations for the top 10 business phrases to help you ease back into the workforce:

1. “Loop me in”
Translation: “I am too lazy to keep up with this myself so can you spoon-feed me by telling me everything I need to know in concise digestible form.”

2. “Low hanging fruit”
The easy stuff that requires no effort to achieve but has not been done because everyone is too busy on Facebook.

3. “Think outside the box”
If you are asked by someone to "think outside the box," that person is really saying: 
 “Think of something that I haven’t yet thought of because I am too important to think.”

4. “Let’s shop that out”
Unbeknownst to me (until recently) this does not mean, "go to Target and indulge in some retail therapy after you've finished work." 
When a superior or colleague says, "let's shop that out," what they are really saying is: 
 “I have no idea how to think for myself and would like other people’s opinions to inform me as to what I should be thinking about this.” 

5. “Action items”
A phrase designed to make mundane office tasks sound like impressive pectoral-pumping activities similar to those undertaken by Bruce Willis in Die Hard.

6. “I want you to give 110%”
Translation: “I want you to do your job and a little bit of my job as well.”

7. “Give me the net-net”
Translation: “Your extraneous facts are boring me senseless please get to the point before I faint from lack of circulation.”
(Interesting factoid: in Police Speak this translates as: “Just the facts, ma’am.”)

8. “Screw the pooch”
To “screw the pooch” means to cause a monumental stuff-up.  If you are told: “don’t screw the pooch,” it means you are dangerously close to being fired and you should log onto mycareer.com asap or consider having that third child.

9. “What would that look like?” 
You will hear this a lot.  It does not mean start painting a vivid word picture and embellish it creatively.  If someone says this to you, what they are really saying is: 
"I don't understand what you are talking about, but am too embarrassed to say, 'I don't understand what you are talking about.'" 
(Just say it again, as if you are talking to your two-year old.)

10. “Socialise internally”
To move from desk to desk talking to your co-workers about irrelevant stuff.  If you herald it like this:  “I’m just going to socialise internally on that.” It will appear that you are actually doing something important, when really you are just gossiping.

Just one more tip, I know it's difficult to resist, but when you return to the workplace you'll find yourself fitting in much better if you don't:

 • confiscate sharp objects from your colleagues 
 • say, "do you want a smack?" when someone is frustrating you

Thursday, 17 May 2012

The voyage, the tournament, the trek

Unlike Celebrity Apprentice, motherhood is not so much a 'voyage' or a 'tournament' as a trek: it's an exciting idea, about halfway through you'll realise you've got aches and pains in all sorts of weird places and more than once you will wonder what you've gotten yourself into.

There's a lot of lists going around about how to prepare for 'baby.'  But what about the ongoing trek?

I have compiled a list of 10 things you will need if you are planning on becoming a mother.  And remember, these are long-term concepts. I'm not talking about cotton balls and nappy buckets here, I'm talking really, really useful stuff that you will really, really need:

1.  A pair of tongs.  Yes, I know you have a pair of tongs. But you will need another pair of tongs... to pick up the underpants or the 100% polyester super hero or fairy costume that has been worn for 16 days straight  and now lies in a fetid pool of stink on the floor of the bedroom.  I have such a pair and I use them regularly. Just don't get them mixed up with the ones you use to turn the sausages.

2. An obsessive compulsive attitude to the TV remote. By that I mean, you need to know where that thing is every minute of every day. Because it will disappear. And you will never find it again. (If you're lucky, you may find it, years later, in the lift-up seat of your child's ride-on car.)  From the moment your baby is born, you need to get that remote control and put it in his/her hand and say this: "Where does it go? On the coffee table, yes it does, yes it does. This goes on the coffee table doesn't it? Yes it does." If you do not do this you will find yourself back in the 1970s where people had to get up off their arses to change the channel on the television. Yes it's true, there actually was such a time. It was harrowing and we never want to go back there again.

3. A "too high for little hands to reach" hook for your car keys. As above.  As soon as your child can move and carry something simultaneously,  your car keys will go missing. You will then find yourself making like an Orthodox Jew on The Sabbath and walking everywhere  until the keys turn up inside the Playmobile garbage truck.

4. A special set of throw cushions for 'best.' You know those fancy throw cushions on your couch? The really nice flocked ones? If you are about to have a baby, say goodbye to those nice fancy throw cushions because they are about to get trashed.  My top tip, is to have a special set that you bring out for dinner guests or just in the afternoons to cheer yourself up. I have such a set.  If we are having dinner guests, my children are allowed to pose neatly in close proximity to the cushions but they are not allowed to touch the show throw cushions with any part of their bodies. When the guests are gone my special cushions go back in their secret hiding place. It makes me happy.

5.  A forensics kit. This is especially useful if you are planning to have more than one child.  Once you have more than one child it will be impossible to determine: who left their cereal bowl in the living room, whose ice block wrapper is floating around in the space behind the armchair or  whose socks are shoved down between the couch cushions.  There will be bald-faced denials and random finger-pointing.  Unless you see the perpetrator with your own eyes it will be impossible to perform any sort of satisfying retribution. A forensics kit will help you determine who is to blame and in turn dole out the punishment which will make you feel like you have some sort of control over your household again.

6. A big black marker pen.  You know all those fancy bespoke labels you can buy on the internet, where you can choose a dinosaur for boys and a flower for girls and have your kid's name printed out to stick on everything they own? That's nice. You will do that once. Then you'll resort to the black marker pen for EVERYTHING.  I have even labelled the outside of a raincoat: obsessively plastered my son's full name all over it because I got so tired of kids stealing his raincoats (the desperation of a wet day can really bring out the worst in people.)  I figured at least then we would clearly see who the perpetrator was. It never went missing again. But neither did my own son ever wear it to school again. So that would probably account for the fact that it never went missing.

7. A pair of kitchen scissors to cut up chops. Just practical.  Don't judge. We all do it.

8. A blase attitude to cooking food that doesn't get eaten.  Just accept that nine times out of ten no one is going to eat the food you cook and it will go straight in the bin. In fact, just get into the habit of making it and sliding it straight from the frypan into the bin to save yourself the pain.

9. A sock detector.  This is like one of those metal detector contraptions that old men use on the beach at dusk, only it finds socks.   Kids' socks go missing. No one knows why, they just disappear into the ether about one week after you've bought a bulk pack of 25. You can get a sock detector from Danoz Direct. (If you mention this blog you will also get a free rotating carpet sweeper.)

10. An unerring, unwavering, bottomless sense of compassion for stubbed toes, bumped elbows, sore eyebrows and any other sudden sharp unexpected pain that will cause your child to cry out for sympathy.  Unfortunately I have reached my limit on this sort of thing.  I've been at it for 12 years and I just don't care any more if someone bangs their foot on the kitchen stool. Just walk more carefully, I've got nuthin'.

So there are ten really useful things that you will need to embark on the trek of motherhood.  I hope you have found my advice helpful and not too big a dose of the 'reality' stick.

Because motherhood is indeed like a trek through the foothills of Nepal: it's arduous and exhausting but every day you will stumble across something wonderful you weren't expecting.

For example, here is what I got for Mother's Day last Sunday:

Friday, 11 May 2012

I'm a very bad driver

I am. A very bad driver.  I'm not so much a dangerously bad driver, as a local neighbourhood menace sort of a bad driver. I like a bit of 'touch' parking. And I'm fond of mounting the curb as I take sharp corners. Just to test out where it is.

 I have nearly knocked the neighbour's picket fence horizontal with the number of times I've misjudged the 'swing in' to my driveway. Admittedly my driveway is very narrow and it's hard to get a good swing arc happening. They're very good about it. They just appear out front every second Sunday, push the fence upright and touch it up with some white paint. They don't even glare at me.

The old man across the road, the one who does glare at me like he wants to kill me, once gave me a very thorough talking to about my inability to back out of my driveway without nudging the cars that are parked opposite. (At last count there were six different cars attached to that house.  I'm not sure how all the people who drive the cars  fit into that house but they seem to be making a go of it.)

He told me (with a lot of hand waving and crazy hair pulling) that a 10 tonne truck could easily back out of my driveway. Therefore, he concluded,  I need not make such a fist of it every time.  I agreed with him. It was probably true. But I just don't like having to go backwards and forwards and backwards and forwards in small increments when I'm in a hurry. Which I always am at two minutes to three.  In the end, we agreed to disagree.

They continue to park their six cars there. (At their peril.) He continues to glare at me every morning.  I give him a wave and say, "Hello!" in a cheery voice before getting into my car to offend him with my bad driving.

He's a glutton for it. He stands and watches me when he could just as well go inside and save himself the pain.

Which brings me to my main point. When someone is a bad driver, I think it is very impolite for people to stop and gawp while that person (me) executes their bad driving.  Say for instance, I'm backing into a parking space and I've cocked it up and come a cropper on the curb.  I don't need a bunch of  people (usually men) standing with their arms folded, watching me like hawks as I have another go at it. It only makes things worse. 

Just the other day I pulled into a service station. It was being dug up all over the place and things were very confusing. There were witch's hats and bits of orange 'access denied' tape everywhere. I pulled in beside a pump and then realised I couldn't get out front-ways.

I reversed and heard a small plastic crackly sound. Thinking I'd backed into something, I went forward again. The same crackly plastic sound again. Thinking I'd forwarded into something, I went backwards again, with a bit more juice, because I was getting slightly panicky.

By this stage, people had begun to stare.  Slowly their heads turned. One man got out of his truck, mouth agape and then scratched his head in sheer disbelief: as if what I was doing was so beyond him, he just could not tear his eyes away.

Another man, standing by the pump, shook his head gravely in a very judgmental fashion.

I floored it and heard the plastic crackly sound really loudly this time. There was a slight lift in the chassis as one back wheel went over something.  As I drove away with people staring, the truth of the plastic crackling sound was revealed in my rear vision mirror: a mangled witch's hat.

I'd done quite a job on it.

I had reversed and forwarded over it at least three times. It must have looked to everyone as though I had a particular vendetta against it and wanted to just finish it off once and for all.

Well I say this. Stare off people. I am a very bad driver.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Children should be free to express themselves with a video camera. Discuss.

How soon is too soon to trust your kids with the video camera?  This week, I answered that question and if you're interested, nine years old is too soon.

On Saturday, we had to attend the annual open day for my eldest son's high school.   I had volunteered to work the coffee stall and my time slot was 2pm - 3pm.  As luck would have it, Max was performing in the school band on the other side of campus at exactly the same time.

I'm not usually a stage mum, but I'd already seen the school band perform their set that morning and I have to say, they were a pretty tight unit.  I wanted to get some footage to show to the family.  If only to prove that school bands don't have to sound like a bunch of chimps with saxophones and an overamplified bass guitar (as was our primary school experience.)

As I was flying solo that weekend, I needed an extra pair of hands. I looked around me and saw two nine year old boys. I picked the most focused one. The one who can take direction and rarely forgets to change his underpants. The one who can follow a brief.  The one who, when told, "go into the living room, get my handbag and bring it here," doesn't wander into the living room and then forget the rest of the sentence.

I showed him how to use the camera.  He was very attentive but I have to say, he did show undue interest in the zoom button and how it worked. I was reluctant to show him.  But he begged me.

I relented:

"I"ll show you the zoom, but only if you promise not to use it." I said.

He swore on his life, that he would not use the zoom button.  I handed him the camera.

Please enjoy his work (below):

Monday, 7 May 2012

All complaints must be made in writing

Every morning before I get into the shower, I make this announcement:

"Attention children. I am about to get into the shower. While I am in the shower I will not be able to hear you.

Please do not:

 a) bang on the door
 b) attempt to talk to me through the bathroom door

If you have issues with socks and underpants, arguments over the television etc. please wait until I am out of the bathroom and contact me personally."

Despite this very clearly worded and specific announcement, I still hear this every morning, through the misty haze of running hot water:

(frantic footsteps outside the bathroom, down the hall, up the hall)
(muffled child's voice in distant room of house) Bwah bwah bwah!
 (footsteps again, getting closer this time)
(frantic banging on the bathroom door followed by)
Bwaw bwaw bwaaaa - bwah! Bwaaah bwa bwa!

As you can plainly see from the above, I cannot understand a word they are saying when they talk to me through the bathroom door.  But still they continue to try and make contact.

To be fair,  there have been some mornings when my preemptive parent announcement has worked and I have showered in peace for a full three minutes. It's heavenly.

Over the years I have learned that these types of five minute 'coming soon' bulletins (i.e. coming soon: mum will be out of contact for three minutes while she showers) can actually be quite effective.

My eldest child, previously referred to in this blog as What's For Dinner, is now 12.  When he was three years old he was the most delightfully sociable child but would throw the mother of all tantrums when it was time to leave a playdate. We used to call it, "the rage."

To combat "the rage," I began giving five minute, backstage-at-the-theatre-type calls about fifteen minutes before leaving.

"Attention, this is your 15 minute call. This is your 15 minute call. We will be leaving in 15 minutes. Please do not throw a tantrum. Repeat do not throw a tantrum."

I repeated this announcement at five minute intervals until it was time to leave. It actually worked.

(If you're interested this technique also works for turning off the computer, leaving for school and bedtime. It partners very well with the use of an egg-timer to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that 15 minutes is up.)

My other technique to combat excessive whingeing used to be the following definitive proclamation:

"All complaints must be made in writing."

For a while that was a winner. They're all boys, so they're really not big on writing things down. 

Until one day when I was in the bathroom.
A knock at the door. A muffled voice.

"Bwah bwah bwaaaaah!"

"All complaints must be made in writing." I shouted back.

Footsteps. Silence.

Then a piece of paper was slipped under the door. Scrawled across it in purple texta was this:

I carnt find any soks

Time for a new technique.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

The weekly round-up and The Crafting Hall of Shame

Hello and welcome... to the weekly round-up. 

If you are reading this post:

a) you are obviously trying to avoid something more important that you should be doing

b) you have spent the morning bidding on unnecessary ebay items and needed a circuit-breaker to stop yourself bidding on a faux fur gilet from China

c) you like the idea of being a crafty parent but actually spend more time on the internet 'researching' "craft activities for kids" than doing them. (In the course of your research you usually end up on Pinterest looking at aspirational pictures of children's bedrooms imagining that one day your kids' bedrooms will be stylishly dotted with  funky objects d'art and neat pots of pencils.)


d) you googled "nude ladies" and somehow ended up here instead. You must be really disappointed and I'm sincerely sorry

However you ended up here: please be welcomed to the weekly crafters round-up.

This week in craft I earned myself a prominent place in the Crafting Hall of Shame when I attempted to make grassheads. (See below if you don't know what grassheads are.)

Please note: these are not the grassheads I made

My first mistake:

  • thinking I knew better than the people who had done this before and posted their triumphs online

My second mistake:

  • not reading the very detailed and useful instructions posted by the people who had triumphed in the making of grassheads

My third mistake:

  • pre-emptively blowing my own trumpet and telling the Kidspot content producer, Lauren that my grassheads were going to be "totally awesome!" (She's very busy and I thought speaking young person's language would really give me 'cut through.')
My fourth and final mistake:

  • going slightly off-piste, getting a bit creative with it and deciding to use alfalfa seeds instead of grass seeds 
For those of you not already in the know, alfalfa seeds do not sprout in the same way grass seeds do. (i.e. with small upshoots that will break through a stocking wall: I know that now)

When I checked on Mr Alfalfa after three days, he didn't seem to be sprouting any hair.  He did however appear to be developing a suspicious tumor-like growth and some unfortunate whisker work on the side of his face, (which incidentally reminded me of an elderly gentleman I used to know, may he rest in peace.)

Here is what he looked like when I first created him:
Mr Alfalfa
Here is what he looked like three days later.
"It's not a tooma!"
And just for context, here again is what grassheads are supposed to look like:
Proper grassheads from cassandraben.blogspot.com

I considered faking it by poking holes in the stocking to make the alfalfa stick out like crazy alfalfa hair (the way I had imagined it in my crafting dreams) but then realised it could result in an angry mob of crafters turning up to my house and pelting me with their failed grassheads.  (Some people take their crafting very seriously.)

So I decided to do some snowflakes instead.

Click here to watch the snowflakes video

This was all part of my winter craft extravaganza. (Not to be confused with my Autumn Leaf Craft extravaganza which incidentally resulted in my other entry into the Crafting Hall of Shame: see just add banjos and a trailer park.)

If you are here for craft and activities, here are the rest of the videos in my highly anticipated winter crafting series:

How to make a Knitting Nancy
How to make a kite
How to make a seashell windchime
Make an indoor teepee

And that is this week's round-up. See you next time Crafters (or nude lady gogglers as the case may be.)

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Please forward to: The Moon

 Man Savaged by Chainsaw in Minto

I don't wish to sound to por-TENT-ous, but the above news story got me to wondering:

would it be possible to opt out of the human race and set up a new home on the moon?

I am currently looking into it. But rest assured, if I do set up shop on the moon, I will post my forwarding address here.

However, here is a list of people who will not be welcome in my New World Order Of Hypersensitive Nitpicky Humans:

  • People who cut each other up with chainsaws
  • Young men who drive noisy fast cars and then give me "the rude finger" for no good reason other than: I was waiting to enter the roundabout and I stopped suddenly to avoid a collision
  • Television executives who program endless repeats and franchises of NCIS, Law and Order, and Fat People On Parade-style reality shows
  • Anyone who has won or competed on a reality TV show (except for Julia Morris, she is most welcome)
  • Lara Bingle and the weird-looking paparazzi man who continues to pap her
  •  AJ Rochester 
  • Any woman who has ever posed on the cover of a magazine in a bikini and high heels alongside the heading: "I Love My New Body!" (or the like, which unfortunately cancels out Julia Morris.)
  • People who say: 'at the end of the day,' '24/7' and 'going/moving forward.' (Unfortunately for me, that means a few of my good friends and Delta can't come and she's so pretty. But rules are rules.)
  • People with official-looking lanyards and clipboards who knock on my door during the day and claim an urgent need to see my energy bills so they can 'give me a better deal.'
  • Anyone who was born after circa. 1950 and still says, "abbo."
  • The old man who lives across the road and scowls at me like he wants to kill me.
  • People who listen to 'doof-doof' music
  • Boofheads
  • Joggers: they stop for no-one and what they're doing is more important than where you are going
  • Large swarms of MAMILs* One or two is okay, but it's the swarms I find particularly frightening.
  • Nudity and/or anyone who is free with theirs.
  • Anyone who doesn't know the difference between "your" and "you're"
  • Justin Bieber and One Direction
  • Teenage girls who scream at Justin Bieber and One Direction
  • Kardashians
  • Ridiculously high heels (sorry that's not so much a person as an object, but still: NOT WELCOME!)
  • Bland inoffensive television personalities (the ones who are interchangeable) - only offensive, opinionated and interesting people are welcome on my moon.
  • The person who invented Jack Vidgens's hair
  • Jack Vidgens (bottom) and his hair (top)

If you are not on the above list (and you did not invent Jack Vidgens's hair) please feel free to join me should the human race finally repel me to The Moon.

Exact address to be advised.

*Middle Aged Men In Lycra (a.k.a Bicycle Men)