Sunday, 5 October 2014

Dumb arguments I've had with my kids

Before I had kids, I never thought I’d one day be standing outside a holiday house, (with all my friends watching on from inside) having a passionate argument with a small person about the merits of a sweaty cube of cheese.

My then-two year old had been holding the cube of cheese since we left Sydney – two and a half hours previous. When we got out of the car, I saw it had not been eaten, but was still clutched lovingly in his sweaty little fist.

One thing was for sure, that fetid cube was not coming into the house with us.

“Just drop it.” I said.
“No.” He replied, his fist closing more tightly around the prize.
“Just chuck it away.” I insisted.
“Are you going to eat it?”
“Then chuck it away.”

And with my friends watching through the front window (waiting to yell ‘surprise’ for my birthday holiday) my toddler and I engaged in a brief but violent tussle over a cube of cheddar.

Finally, might won over right and I prised open his fist (as he screamed blue murder) and gleefully discharged the cube off into the gutter.

That done, we grumpily entered the house and had “Surprise!” yelled at us as my friends jumped out from behind a curtain (which was inexplicably the makeshift ‘door’ to the third bedroom.)

The whole thing was surreal, from the sweaty cube to my friends hiding behind a curtain that logically should have been a door.

The existence of children in your life  brings with it some pretty dumb arguments that you nevertheless find yourself getting quite het up about.

Here are some other dumb arguments I have had with my kids:

What’s heeeee’s name?

One Sunday, Max (then three and a half) was doing some acrobatic work on the coffee table when we heard the tell-tale ‘thump-waaaah!’ sound that signals you will be spending the rest of your day in the ER.

As we checked his partially detached ear and loaded him into the car I began to worry that along with a disfigured ear, he may have incurred some sort of brain damage from the knock to the head.

He had been very quiet and wasn’t even crying any more. I was starting to get really worried. And then I heard this from the back seat.

“What’s heeee’s name?”

This was our regular car argument: Max would point to a random stranger and ask me what their name was. 

The argument would go along the lines of: I dont know/but what’s hee’s name/ I don’t know/ but what’s hee’s name/I don’t know/but what’s hee’s name? ad infinitum until Max had exhausted himself and nodded off to sleep.

But this time, relieved that my son was obviously back to his usual programming, so to speak, I decided to play along.

“Barry.” I replied.
“What’s heeee’s other name?”
“McBarry.” I said triumphantly. “His name is Barry McBarry.”

And so began a long tradition of naming random strangers out the car window.

Madge McBadge, Ray MacEnray, Jan McPutty and Helen Curlybones (an old lady with scoliosis) just to name a few.


A nun is not a nut

Max and I once had a very lengthy and heated exchange about whether or not nuns were nuts.

My point was: just because she’s chosen to dedicate her life to God, does not make her crazy (debatable, I know.)

His point was: But she’s a nut. Look at her.

(To be fair to him, she was wearing the traditional garb and swanning about the streets of Leichhardt like Mother Superior from The Sound of Music.)

But it was the principle that was important so I decided to tell him a thing or to about tolerance and difference and religion and how seriously some people take their dedication to The Big Guy Upstairs.

He just kept insisting that she was a nut.

At which point I thought he was pretty young to be making judgements about other people’s life choices and I told him so …

Which was when  I realised that he was only four and he thought the word for a nun was ‘nut.’

No one is getting in the door until I can actually get to the door


We have this argument every weekday afternoon at approximately 3.20pm.  Coming home from school, my three children charge the front door so that they might be the first through it. But it’s a small porticoe and if they bunch around the front door, the keymaster (me) cannot actually get to the door and it brings proceedings to a grinding halt.

But all of them refuse to give ground. For some reason being the first one through the door is of utmost importance and something not to be surrendered under ANY circumstances.  So we stand at the front door in a bunch while I invoke the usual prophecy,

“No one is getting in until I can get to the door.”

It usually takes about five minutes for them to figure out (again) that the lady with the keys speaks the truth.

I know it’s hard to believe, but I actually know more about ’80s era retro music than you do

My eldest son, (now 14) is a real music buff and to be fair, he has very good taste. He prides himself on knowing everything about everything when it comes to music and bands. He loves Nirvana and finds it hard to fathom that I once played on the same stage as them (Big Day Out 1992) But here’s the proof if, like him, you don’t believe me. (That’s me at 0:58 with the short bobbed hair worrying that no one is going to turn up.)

But I digress, (impressive, or WHAT?)

Recently we had a very heated argument about whether Paul Weller from the poncey 80s band, The Style Council was the same Paul Weller from the very retro cool post ’60s band, The Jam.  Max simply could not accept this as fact and to be fair, it is pretty fantastical when you consider songs like, You’re The Best Thing against, A Town Called Malice.

I have not yet been able to prove that the two Paul Wellers are never in the same room together, and so Max still does not accept this musical aberration as truth.

When it is cold outside, it is preferable for one to dress as though it is cold outside


Conversely, when it’s 38 degrees outside, it’s logical to wear shorts, not long pants and a giant army overcoat.

When you go on holiday, packing your bag usually means packing some underwear


Have you packed?
Did you pack everything you need?
(exasperated) YES!
Are you sure?
Did you pack underwear?
(Embarrassed silence)

Just because I don’t go into your room, doesn’t mean you can convert it into a rubbish tip (and similar versions of same)


This is essentially a very tricky definition of  jurisdictions: if it’s their room, doesn’t that make them the boss of it?  I have not been able to find a legal precedent (that doesn’t put me in the same category as say, Hitler or Mussolini)  that will effectively blow their argument out of the water.

Dessert is not a basic human right


My kids act like I am some kind of heretic who should be reported to a higher authority whenever I declare that they don’t actually NEED dessert.

The argument comes about when we run out of ice cream, at which point they start rocking the fridge back and forth like rioters.

I have tried to explain to them the logistics of replacing the large four litre tub of ice cream BEFORE the current one is used up and that sometimes there might be ONE DAY where the running out of the old ice cream does not perfectly line up with the buying of the new ice cream.

But they just act like they want to report me to the police.

“You don’t actually NEED dessert.” I say.

This stops them in their tracks. They all stand stock still and make the sign of the cross.

“Devil woman.” They hiss in a frightened whisper.

When travelling three minutes to school, does it really matter who sits in the front seat?


I understand this obsession on a long car trip … but three minutes, seriously, you can’t sit in the back seat for three minutes without bitching and moaning the entire way?


No you can’t buy crap on ebay with your own pocket money …


Because when it comes and it’s crap, you cry. Every. Time.

What dumb arguments have you had with your kids? 

(That's a rhetorical question BTW, don't feel obliged to answer it. It just seemed abrupt to end a post without asking what you've been up to.) 

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Why are we not extinct?

Have you ever looked at the animal kingdom, then looked at humans, then back at the animal kingdom, then back at human beings again and wondered why human offspring are such a pain in the date to take care of?

Baby giraffes, for example, just schloop out, get up and go.  There's none of this, 'Ooh make sure you support his head or it will fall off ...' malarky.

And you don't see Mama Giraffe patting her newborn to sleep in elaborate ways, or force-feeding it solids while it turns its head this way and that to avoid the spoon (probably because giraffes don't use spoons but that's a whole other area to do with opposable thumbs versus hooves) or having an argument about the shape of the leaf she's just proffered Baby Giraffe as a morning snack.

I'm sure, there is a scientific answer to all of this: something to do with the fact that our brains, unlike a giraffe's, are not the size of a pea, something to do with walking on two legs (means your pelvis is narrower so the baby has to come out earlier) and the overall sophistication of the human brain and how wonderfully complex it is and optimising cognitive and motor neurone development and metabolic rates blah blah blah blah BLAH!

But all that science doesn't change the fact that some aspects of human parenting are just much harder than they should be.

And if we are making such a meal of this most basic survival tactic (raising children to make sure the species is propagated) how are we not extinct?


Here are 10 things about human parenting that should be easy, but are actually ridiculously difficult


1. Sleeping


Subsection a) Newborns

If babies are so tired? Why don't they just go to sleep? It's not hard. And it's not like they've got a million things on their mind that are whirring around and around tormenting them. As far as I can see all that is on a baby's mind is: boobs, soil pants, be cranky cos I can't sleep.

What's the problem baldy? This is the time in your life when you are allowed to sleep the day away and no one will judge you.  Make hay while the sun shines you crazy fool!

Subsection b) Toddlers

Alls I'll say on this is: what is not to like about an afternoon nap? I cannot think of one thing (apart from maybe dribble on the pillow, but even that is not a dealbreaker for me.) I don't have one bad thing to say about the concept of an afternoon nap.

 Subsection c) Children


Why is bedtime such an area of total avoidance tactics for kids? I love bedtime. I can't wait to get in there and get me some shut-eye. Why are kids so averse to going to bed? If sleep is so essential to brain development and survival in general, how are kids not EXTINCT if they don't even like sleeping?

2. Eating


Subsection a) Breastfeeding

While some women find this easy, there is a large section of us for whom this whole suckling your own young thing is an unmitigated disaster.  This should be a no-brainer.  You're a mammal. You give birth to something, you feed it.  We all have the equipment. Why is it so hit and miss?

The animal kingdom does not seem to suffer such extreme existential difficulties as humans: that is because the animal kingdom has 'innate behaviour.'

Breastfeeding should be 'innate behaviour.'  So why do some of us just suck at it? (pardon the pun) And then we have to endure the expert advice and the theories on why it's not working and the weird rigs to make things work and the specially shaped pillows and the 'football hold' and the 'make sure you've got a quiet place and a drink of water to rehydrate' and the nipple creams and ...

This stuff should just .... work! How are we even still here?  Why am I not extinct?

Subsection b) Feeding toddlers

Again, this should be a no-brainer. If a toddler wants to live, why don't they just eat what they are given?  Why are they such fussy little f***ers? Who gave them the right to throw their food on the floor while we kow-tow around them ducking and weaving and just praying that something of some nutritional value will go into their mouths.

How has it happened that we waste our time doing elaborate things with food to try to force our children to do something that should just be innate behaviour?

Again, how are we all not extinct if this is the way our young behave? It's absurd!

Subsection c) Feeding children

Some years ago before I had kids, I saw an episode of Oprah featuring Nigella Lawson. Nigella was there to give advice on feeding a family and was presented with a particular family of six.  There were four kids and every single kid had a different food fetish: Grace didn't like peas, but she did like beans, Tom didn't like beans OR peas but he did like pasta, Hannah didn't like beans OR peas OR pasta but she did like steak ... Riley only ate foods that were white and they could not touch each other on the plate and so on and so on.


This poor wretched woman had to make four different meals every single night.

I did not know how she was not sitting in the corner rocking back and forth.  I also did not know that I was looking at my future.  Not the four kids named Grace, Tom, Hannah and Riley, but the poor wretched woman who had to make multiple meals every evening for fussy kids with dumb food fetishes.

 I know it's partly my own fault for not being tougher on them but COME ON!
This whole eating thing is pretty essential to survival. Do you want to be a dodo bird?

3. Toilet training


This is another area of child development that I cannot reconcile with the idea that supposedly we are the most evolved species on the planet. Surely the transition from pooing in your pants and having it squish all over your arse to realising that it feels much better to just let it drop away from you into a receptacle should just be innate: a sudden realisation one day, that you do not want to sit in your own excrement any more.

Why have we evolved into a species that has to be 'taught' how to go to the toilet properly?
Kittens know this stuff! Kittens!

Aren't we supposed to be smart? If we're so smart, why are our kids running around with poo catchment devices strapped to them? Isn't that physical proof that we are in fact, as a species, a bit simple?

4. Getting dressed


Subsection a) pyjamas to clothes

It would seem to me, that getting dressed is just something that has to be done. It's a non-negotiable requirement of being human: like, not sitting in your own excrement beyond the age of four.   It's not something that should ever be up for "debate." So why do kids bitch and moan and carry on and try everything they can to avoid getting dressed in the morning?

Subsection b) clothes to pyjamas

I think I have written before about my kids' penchant for sleeping in their clothes. Once they have the clothes ON, they don't want to fuss around with pyjamas at bedtime. Is it so hard to pull your shirt up over your head, replace it with a pyjama shirt and then do the same on the bottom half of your body? And those pyjamas are right where you left them, by the heater, on the living room floor.  I'm doing everything I can to facilitate the process.

Subsection c) Oral hygiene

What is not to like about having a mouthful of minty freshness and clean teeth? What is not to LIKE???? Why is it a continual battle to get kids to brush their teeth: morning and night. I've given up on morning, I just don't have time to say the same thing over and over to each child five times. I've decided to save my breath for more important things like, "GET DRESSED!"

And if good oral hygiene = good health and good health = survival, why do children rail against it so fiercely? 

5. Getting in the car


When my kids were little and I had to strap them into car seats and five point seat belts every time we needed to go anywhere, I couldn't wait for the day that getting in the car just meant saying, 'get in the car.'

My kids are now 11 and 14 and that day has still not arrived.

6. Starting school


This is controversial, but I don't get this.  Why is this still being "debated" and agonised over?  A teacher friend of mine really simplified this whole thing for me.  She said, "The year your child turns five, is the year they should be at school." See? Simple.  Don't think about it any more than that.

There's even a cut off date, I think it's 30th of June. And I do understand that when your child's birthday is pretty close to that date, it might be a line ball call. But I'm talking about the other end of the spectrum: the kids who are already five, or they turned five in February. Feburary! And parents are still going, "Hm, I don't know, I just don't know: to send or not to send."

And I acknowledge that every kid is different and some kids aren't socially ready and there will be exceptions blah blah blah. But within reason, people!

We're now seeing seven year olds blitzing their classmates in kindergarten because they got 'held back'  until they were 'ready.' Ready to what?  Be bigger and smarter than everyone else just because they had been on earth for two years longer ... evolving?

One thing I will say, people: school is not a competitive sport, if you are holding your child back, to give your child 'an edge' over their classmates, UP YOURS!

7. School awards nights


Having experienced both the public and private sectors in this area, I would have to say, that the public sector has it all over the private in this regard.

Here is the comparison:

At the state primary school, we go in, we sit down, principals says a few words. A FEW words. She's brief, she's concise, she's on message, she's on a needs to know basis.  Minimum amount of awards given out. Children move like well-trained soldiers up to stage and back to their seats.  Children stand up in seats, turn around to face us. Sing song. Cute awww, applause. The end.

At the private high school ... oh it's Power Point presentations from here to ETERNITY! It's keynote speakers it's 45 minute addresses from the principal, it's every freakin' kid in the form getting some bull**** award. It's a whole heap of information I didn't need to know, it's architect's drawings of the new science block its FOUR HOURS OF MY LIFE I WANT BACK!

(The free cake, however, is top notch.)

This stuff should not be a punishment. It should be something we all look forward to. But the fact of the matter is, we all dread it and no one wants to go.

8. The teen years


In theory, this is where we should all be able to just sit back and relax and take our foot of the parenting pedal a bit, enjoy the burgenoning young adults our kids have become.  And it is, to a point.

However ...

... just recently, I was rudely awakened to the fact that the teen years are going to be something like the toddler years again.  Your kid will do dumb things and you will constantly be on watch to make sure they don't hurt themselves.

9. Family dinners


When these go well, they are a joy to behold.

But just recently it occured to me (when I was dining with adult companions) that I have developed a terrible habit of bolting down my food like a pack animal. This is because when I eat with my kids there seems to be some race to finish eating and get away from the table.

If I don't inhale my food in one gulp, I will be left alone at the dining table, sadly consuming my food like a lonely spinster.

If eating together is so important for our social well-being, why are my children so plainly against it? 

10. Letting them go


After all this pain the arse stuff, we should be desperate to see them go, right?  So how come the thought of my youngest two starting high school next year makes me feel sad and like it's almost over? And how come every time I see a little blonde toddler who looks like my Max, I go, "Awww, little Maxie, I miss him so."

And what about when they move out of home? What will become of me? I never thought I'd be one of those mums, but despite all of the above, I don't ever want them to leave.
What's that about?  Why am I not EXTINCT?

Sunday, 10 August 2014

If I had a girl ...

You always want what you haven't got. Here's my list of things I would do if I had a girl.

Above: how my daughter and I would get around town ... if I had one ... 

I am the mother of three boys. This means people often ask me if I would have liked a girl. The honest answer to that is: yes. I would have loved to have had a girl, quite simply because I am a girl and it would be great to have a like-minded soul in the house.

But if you write yourself a list, the pros and cons of boys versus girls basically balances itself out. Boys wee on the toilet seat, but girls steal your hair elastics. Boys are noisy and physically combative, but girls can be quietly devious and they really hold a grudge. Boys leave dinosaurs, LEGO and trucks all over the house for you to trip over; girls leave pink fluffy bits and creepy pony-things with hair-dos everywhere.

It’s much of a muchness.

I love my three boys, they are awesome company. We also like a lot of the same things: science fiction movies, Japanese food, walks in the park, Will Ferrell and Ben Stiller. We think the same things are funny and we all prefer the humanities over the hard core sciences.

But sometimes, just sometimes, like when I trip over another plastic machine gun or I have to scour the boys’ clothing section in the local department store, I fantasise about what it would be like if I had just one “pink one.”

Here is my completely fantastical and unrealistic list of all the awesome things I think I could do if I had a girl.

1. Do perfect plaits on someone else’s hair


I love doing other people’s hair. When I was a kid, I had an extensive Barbie collection plus a Barbie Fashion Face and hair-dos were my stock in trade. It’s not the same doing plaits on your own hair – you get sore arms and one of the plaits always turns out back-to-front.

If I had a girl, I would be able to do awesome plaits in her hair, plus we could experiment with things like French braids, chignons and sock buns. So many hair-dos and no-one to do them on.

2. Go shopping in the girls’ clothes section of a department store


FYI mothers of girls only: you are spoilt for choice in that completely fabulous girls’ wear section. You’ve got your smock top and leggings combos, you’ve got your little tops with ruffles on them, you’ve got your stripes, your florals, your polka-dots, your gelato colours, your rainbow motifs AND  you’ve got those completely adorable knee-high boots with comfy rubber soles (that I actually want for myself) and that’s not even counting all the cute dresses and fairy tutus!

Do you know what we have in the boys’ section? Two choices: your basic drug dealer/pimp look in a crazy patterned hoodie, or your boring and conservative nerd-goes-to-Sunday-School in checks and stripes outfit. So you’ve got your skateboard punk or your Christian Antioch youth. There is no in-between. There’s no room for a boy who say, likes fashion but doesn’t fit into either of the aforementioned categories.  Sure, you can get some good stuff if you go designer and splash around a LOT of cash (say in Pavement or Industrie) but I’m talking about the average middle-class budget here.

Sometimes, I wander into the girls’ section and just touch things. It’s heavenly in there.

3. Buy the mother-load of Barbie stuff


When I was a kid, only my American friend, Jordi had all the cool gear like the camper and the dream house, because she brought it all with her from the US. These days, what with internet shopping and the global economy, you can get that stuff here! Plus the outfits! The accessories! The complete range of personalities and looks!  These days, Barbie has ‘careers’ that define her – and a pink espresso machine.

Every year I ask my boys to get me a Barbie for Christmas. They think I’m joking. I’m not.

4. Decorate a girl’s room


With regard to soft furnishings, it’s a bit like the clothing thing. The choices for boys are: dinosaurs, spacemen, pirates, cowboys and masculine checks. It’s very hard to make something visually pleasing with that palette. Plus, girls tend to personalise their space a bit more lovingly.

My friend has two girls and their bedrooms are quite simply, delightful. They each have a little dresser with a mirror; there’s pink sparkly throw cushions on the bed and the bed itself is shrouded in the soft veil of a mosquito net. The word “LOVE” is spelled out in photographs of the family on the pinboard; there’s a row of coloured fairy lights pinned to the wall and a variety of shoe styles to suit every outfit and mood are painstakingly laid out in neat rows on a shoe rack.

Do you know what we have in my boys’ rooms? A big box full of guns, every available surface covered in LEGO, cowboy doona covers and dirty old sneakers thrown into a big plastic bucket.

5. Go shopping in a proper wafty, just passing the time, way


My boys are quite good shoppers, but for them, it’s a search and destroy mission. There’s no wafting around until something-you-didn’t-know-you-needed catches your eye. They need an objective, a plan of attack and then it’s mission accomplished and we’re out of here.

My mother, sister and I, have a completely different approach: we go in with a vague idea, we waft, we split up and keep in contact via mobile phones, we come back together and give opinions. If someone (usually Mum) puts their hand on a pair of jeans with a 12-inch zipper we say, “Seriously, how long does your zipper need to be?” If someone else (usually me or my sister) puts her hand on something from Perri Cutten we say, “Oh hello, Morag! Are you ready for the retirement home?” It’s a social activity, it’s collaborative and it’s relaxing.

There’s nothing relaxing about going shopping with boys: they’re either underneath the racks making the clothes spin with their feet, or they’re being all business-like and choosing the first thing they lay their hands on and saying: “Yep, that’ll do. Let’s go.”

It’s hunter versus gatherer and I’m a gatherer.

6. Watch dumb girly movies at the multiplex


Instead of wasting my time watching some dumb action movie with talking machines in it, I would like to waste my time watching some dumb romcom with talking hair-dos in it.

7. Pass on my vast collection of Alannah Hill cardigans, smart coats and fabuloso boots of every genre and style


I have a seriously fantastic wardrobe. There is so much good stuff in there. And no one to hand it down to. I’d love to keep it all in the family, so to speak.

8. Be a completely fearsome MOTB and GMOTB


That’s: Mother Of The Bride and Grandmother Of The Baby.

Let’s face it, the boy’s mum is a bit peripheral on both these things. It’s all about the ladies when it comes to weddings and babies. When I got married, my own mother-in-law was left completely out in the cold while Mum and I planned the whole thing in a completely inept and lacklustre way. It must have been excruciating for my MIL because a) she only has boys and b) planning fabulous events is her forte (this I know now).

But she wasn’t MY mum and it’s all about the bride.

It’s the same with babies. We all say, “Oh, let’s not tell anyone until we’re past the 12-week mark.” And then we immediately go and ring our mums. And would we take our mother-in-law’s advice on breastfeeding and baby routines? Neee-owww! (No) Maternal grandma is queen bee in this department, too.

On the upside, I won’t have to pay for any weddings. High five testosterone-forming-stem-cells!

9. Have the “now you’re a woman” talk


Just kidding.  How happy am I that I won’t have to do this? I shut my own mother down when she tried to have it with me 30 years ago.

10. Give extensive advice on frenemies


Recently my twins recounted a story where one of their friends had a little hissy fit because he wasn’t given the role he wanted during a classroom group activity. When the twins tried to explain their side of it to him, the friend shouted: “I don’t wanna hear it!” And huffed off to the other side of the classroom.

“Then what happened?” I asked, expecting that they had persevered with trying to appease him and engaged in some serious emotional entanglement and passive-aggressive argy-bargy.
“We just ignored him,” they said, and then they changed the subject and started talking about something else.

Oh, to be a boy! It was as simple as that. Someone got upset, they ignored him. That was that. They’ll all be friends again tomorrow.

I have had some serious “frenemies” in my time and I really feel I could impart quality knowledge on the topic of how to handle tricky female friendships. But my boys will never need my advice on that one.

Boys are so cut and dried. They have no stamina for grudge-holding nor do they heed any of the unspoken, “You should have known what I was thinking and feeling” subtext.

Which, come to think of it, is what I love about boys. And why I love having a house full of them.

So, do I really wish I had a girl?

No, not really. I may be missing out on shopping, planning a wedding and playing hairdresser, but on the upside, I didn’t have to go and see Frozen and I don’t have to guard my hair accessories. I just put them down and when I come back, they’re exactly where I left them.

Tell me, mothers of girls, is that what happens in your house?

Friday, 27 June 2014

10 things you can't plan for as a parent (but totally should).

Parenting is not so much about pre-emptive backburning as it is about putting out constant spot fires.

When you first find out you’re pregnant, you get all proactive because at that point, you’re in control of your life:  you buy cots, nappies, wipes, baby clothes in all sizes and you really convince yourself you’re going to be TOTALLY on top of this whole parenting game.

Then you give birth to a small human being and it slowly dawns on you that you are no longer in full control of your own destiny.

With every year that passes, there is something else no one told you about that you should really have planned or had a contingency for. That’s when you realise that parenting is not so much about pre-emptive backburning as it is about being prepared to put out constant spot fires.

Be alert, but not alarmed because …

Here are 10 things you can’t plan for as a parent (but really ought to anyway).

1. Stitches

If you have kids, someone, somewhere at some point in time is going to need stitches.  You can say, “Careful …” all you like, but sooner or later someone is going to just run headlong into a brick wall anyway. You can’t prevent it, but you can prepare yourself for the fact that your kid will  go to pieces when the doctor produces a needle and thread to sew up the wound.

What you should also be prepared for is the fact that it’s not so much the stitches that will make your kid scream, but the needle that comes BEFORE the stitches, often times directly into the wound itself, that will require you to exercise your best firm-hold-use-arms-and-legs-to-keep-him-immobilised grip to keep your child from flailing around when the needle goes in.

In fact, one of the most common refrains of parenting is: Do you think that’ll need stitches?

With the underlying subtext of: Can I get away with not taking him to the emergency room this time?

2. Nits and worms


No matter how fastidious you think you are, these will at some point enter your home.  You can’t really prevent it but you can mentally prepare yourself for the inevitability of it.  Don’t freak out, don’t be ashamed: it’s just nature’s way of making all parents equal. Because no matter how vigilant and ‘clean’ you think you are, it will happen to you.

If you are really unlucky, one or both of these will make their way onto your person.  Which is the point in your life when you really know you have become a parent: sitting quietly while your partner combs bugs out of your hair like a couple of chimps in the jungle.

Or perhaps treating yourself to four squares of  ‘bum chocolate*’ after dinner.

*a.k.a: Combantrin

3. Midnight vomit


Learning to run to the bathroom to vomit into the toilet is a massive developmental milestone that should be on all key developmental indicator lists.  The day your child identifies their body’s ‘vomit’ signals and reacts accordingly is almost as a big a day as when he takes his first steps.

Until he reaches that point, you need to mentally prepare yourself for the fact that your kid will wake in the night and either vomit all over themselves or come into your room and vomit all over you.

What can you do? Nothing much except acquire a good vomit clean-up technique that can be carried out in the dead of night without waking up the whole house.

4. A totally trashed couch that not even Vinnies will take


If you are planning on getting a new couch, don’t bother until your youngest child is about 10.  There’s no point.  It doesn’t matter how vigilant you are, that thing will be trashed.

Just accept that your couch is no longer a couch, it is a jumping castle, baby change table, cubbyhouse, giant serviette, a snot-post (like a cat’s scratching post but for snotty noses), a wee-absorber and a place where the baby will vomit.

And when you are done with it, just take it into the backyard and set fire to it. Believe me, Vinnies doesn’t want it.

5. Spilled drinks


It doesn’t matter how many times you say ‘careful’ or ‘don’t spill that drink’ or even reach across and shift the glass of milk away from your child’s flailing, clumsy hands, there will be a spilled drink at dinner time at least once a week.

My advice: just serve water. It’s easier to clean up and doesn’t make the floor sticky.

Sometimes my kids spill their water and I just leave it to dry. Can’t be bothered. It happens all the time. It’s like breathing in and out in this house.

6. Concussion


So far, we have had two concussions in this house.  Two out of three kids ain’t bad.  Be alert but not alarmed when your child, after falling and hitting their head somewhere, suddenly asks you the same question three times in a row or cannot remember what day of the week it is. And get thee straight to the ER.

Take a good book and maybe a deck of cards because once you reveal to the doctor that your child lost consciousness, if only briefly, you will not be allowed to leave that emergency room until the requisite four hour monitoring period has passed.

7. An act of defiance or mischief that is totally out of character (or so you thought)


Just to keep you on your toes, your child will at some point, when you are least expecting it and when it is least convenient, do something completely out of character that will see you sitting in the principal’s office lamely saying something like, “I don’t understand, it’s just so unlike him.”

It seems to be a rite of passage for kids to suddenly turn left when all their lives they have always turned right,  to suddenly decide they will be the kid who steals everybody’s calculator and hoards them under their desk, to spontaneously write nonsensical profanities in chalk all over the wall behind the girls’ toilets (yours truly, I still don’t know what possessed me.)

It happens to the best of us. You can’t plan for it, but you can be prepared to come down like a tonne of bricks on your kid in order set them back on the right path. Rest assured, the tonne of bricks approach usually works with most kids and only has to be employed once.

8. A bathroom of embarrassment


When you have ‘company’, be prepared for the fact that your kids will probably leave a ‘deposit’ behind for your guests to admire. You can try to go all Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction and be the equivalent of a crime scene ‘cleaner’, but it is inevitable that the one time you forget, will be the time the real estate agent comes around to bring prospective buyers through.

(At which point you need to impress upon your potential buyers that the extra ‘feature’ in the toilet bowl is not one of the inclusions.)

If it’s not an unflushed deposit, it will be an inexplicable ‘banner’ of toilet paper from one side of the bathroom to the other, a wee-sprinkled toilet seat or toothpaste spit in the basin.

9. Being implicated as racists


I have some friends who are the most right-on, proper, non-racist, unbigoted people I know. They are exemplary human beings and carefully impart their values to their children at all times. But their youngest child is determined to make them look bad.

He was last seen barring another child of ethnic descent from entering the preschool cubby house while saying, “We don’t want your kind in here, chocolate face”.

I have no suggestions for this one, it has me beat.

10. Imperfect teeth


All the brushing and flossing and careful coddling of those beautiful pearly whites will not prevent the inevitable. It is an unavoidable fact of childhood that something will be knocked out, chipped off or broken in half before the onset of puberty.

So far we have had one front tooth cracked in half and one that has had to be pulled out because it had an abscess. Teeth are one of the major casualties of childhood.

Find a good dentist and have him on speed dial.

*Note: the coining of the phrase "bum chocolate" should be credited here to the Mckee/Gray household of Cammeray

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Weird stuff my mum used to do that I am now really vibing with ...

When I was a kid I thought my mother's obsession with the pigsty in my bedroom was weird.

"What's her problem?" I thought to myself.  "It's not like she has to live in here."

I also didn't understand why she got mad when I "cleaned up" my room by shoving the big wodge of mess into my cupboard and then leaning heavily on the door until it was tightly packed in like a Jack-in-the-box.

"What's the problem?" I thought.  "It's tidy enough for me."

One day I was minding my own business, hosting a tea party in the pigsty when my mother reached the end of her tether.

"I said, 'Clean up this pigsty!'" She shrieked.  (I suspect now, it was about the tenth time she'd said it.)

Then she slammed my bedroom door so hard that my little China tea set shattered and everyone at the tea party fell backwards.

The door flew open again; Mum was mortified.  She then spent the next six months scouring the shops to try to find a replacement tea set.  It so happened that the tea set was irreplaceable. (It was that one high quality toy item  that we just happened upon in a toy shop and then never saw again.)
But every day when I came home from school there would be a new "peace offering" sitting on my bed: a plastic tea set, an "almost-but-not-quite-right" China tea set, a new doll for my tea party.

She told me recently that she still feels bad about losing her temper and breaking my tea set 35 years ago. I told her that I completely understood why she did that.

Until you become a mother and find yourself shouting things like, "Whose shoes are these?", "Take your bowls to the sink!" and "The dishwasher is now receiving!" you do not really understand that there is method in what appears to be the madness of motherhood.

(It's a bit like being the humourless office manager that no one likes: walking around with your necklace pen so that no one can steal it; making sure that everyone got the memo about the meeting in boardroom five, because if you don't remind everyone, no one will turn up and everyone will say, "I didn't know there was a meeting in boardroom five?")

Here are some other "weird" things my mother used to do that I now completely understand because I do them myself.

1. Shimmy around the kitchen floor on a towel


You know what I'm talking about: the old "mop the kitchen floor then shimmy around on a towel to dry it before kids and dogs can come in and ruin your good work" trick.

And then this seemingly absurd demand: "Don't come in here, I just mopped the floor!"

So we're all supposed to stay out of the kitchen for the rest of our lives now? I used to think.

Well, yes. Got a problem with that?

I used to see my mother doing the kitchen floor shimmy and think it was hilaaaarious.  What a nutbag! I thought to myself. Now? I love me a good shimmy around the kitchen floor on a towel.

2. Walk into kids' bedrooms and obsessively sniff the air


"The Nose knows." We used to snigger about my mother.  She could sniff out a dead sock in the crack of the couch or a mouldy orange in a school bag at ten paces. It used to annoy me that she'd come into my room and immediately start sniffing the air:

"What's that ...? Is it ... parmesan cheese? Did something die in here?"

Now I find myself doing it every day. Why are kids so stinky? And why are they so impervious to their own stink? It kills me.

3. "It's the dotty bits of paper that I can't stand."


My mum used to say this. And I used to go, "Whatevs crazy lady. Whatevs." (Or the 1970s equivalent of "whatevs.") She'd bend over and pick at my bedroom floor where the offending "dotty bits of paper" resided. I could not for the life of me see what she was talking about.

Now? I am constantly picking up "dotty bits of paper" off the floor ALL OVER MY HOUSE!  And I find myself muttering, "It's the dotty bits of paper that I can't stand."

4. "Do you have to make pancakes and no thanks I don't want one."


Remember when you decided to make pancakes and you couldn't understand why your mum wasn't thrilled about the prospect of someone making pancakes?  And then you didn't understand why she didn't want you to make her one? What's not to like about pancakes? What is she? CRAZY? 

Recently my eldest son offered to make crepes as a special treat for breakfast.  I watched with gritted teeth as he sifted flour like wedding confetti all over the kitchen, used a metal spatula on my Jamie Oliver non-stick frypan and slopped pancake batter in the unreachable gap between the bench and the cooktop.

As it happens he makes a pretty good crepe. My sister and I, however,  used to do that thing where you make crepe batter then you try to make pancakes with it.

Mum used to decline our anemic, gluey "pancakes", quietly wait until we had lost interest, then sidle in and make herself the perfect thin, lacy crepe.  I used to think that was impolitic of her.  Now I understand.

5. Swim in the pool without getting her hair wet


I don't know what it is about getting older, but my hair just ain't what it used to be. As a result, if I'm having a good hair day, there's no way I'm going to ruin it by putting my head under the water when I go for a swim. It'll take hours to dry and when it does it will be a big, old, bag-lady, fright-wig. And don't even get me started on the prospect of going to bed with wet hair and waking up with the wig-on-backwards look.

So I make like Esther Williams and breaststroke my way elegantly around the pool with my head out of the water.

Just like my mum used to.

I also never understood why Mum didn't want to stay in and play Marco Polo with us, or at least do a few somersaults or multiple laps underwater to see how long she could hold her breath before she got out.

She knew then what I know now; 20 seconds in the pool is AMPLE!

6. A completely non-negotiable attitude to Kentucky Fried Chicken


We were allowed to have Macdonalds, but KFC was absolutely, no exceptions, don't-even-try-to-change-my-mind blacklisted.

I get that now. And don't get me started on people putting greasy chicken buckets on their heads.

7. "Tall things go on the tall shelf."


This was my best friend's mother. She had a thing about putting the tallest items on the top shelf of the fridge. And she would get very frustrated when Cassie did not comply.

"The tall things go on the TALL shelf." She would say insistently.

I get it now. If you put the short things on the tall shelf, you run out of room for the tall things. I say this every other day to my kids: "The tall things go on the tall shelf."

8. Obssessive hoarding of stationery items and a refusal to share them


This was my dad. "Don't take my stapler off my desk!"  Jeez, I used to think, Dad's pretty uptight about his stapler. But every day, as I waste another 20 minutes hunting down the kitchen scissors, the sticky tape, the stapler ... I feel Dad's pain.

FYI: I now keep my most treasured items (stapler, sticky tape, calculator and a green highlighter pen) in a secret drawer of my desk.  To the outsider, this seems like unnecessary hoarding behaviour, but to a parent, it is just a basic survival instinct.

9. "Plating up" her takeaway McDonalds


Every other Sunday we would get McDonalds.  We were never allowed to eat in, or get soft drinks. Two more things I did not understand back then, but I do now.

When we got home, Mum would get out a plate, arrange her burger and fries on it and then daintily add an extra splodge of sauce to her cheeseburger.  As I sat on the couch, with my head virtually inside the takeaway bag inhaling my food, I thought Mum was SUCH a weirdo.

I get this now: just a modicom of civility to take the edge off the idea of fast food.

10. Driving the wrong way in the shopping centre car park


I have covered this before. But this was the one thing my mum did to break the rules. She was the most goody-two-shows, law abiding citizen ... until she got into that Grace Brothers car park at Warringah Mall and all bets were off. She would flagrantly ignore the yellow arrows on the road and take the quickest route to the parking spaces nearest the store's entry.

She was so blase about it,  that as soon as I got my license I took that same route in the same carpark, thinking it was what everyone did. I was completely aghast when people "honked" and "hooted"  their outrage as they came at me the right way.

Someone even wound down their window and yelled out, "You're going the wrong way, idiot!"

It hasn't stopped me. Something about being a mother makes me think I own the place. Even my ex-husband (a shameless law-breaker in every other way) found this behaviour shocking.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Confessions of a real estate copywriter

My name is Penny Flanagan and I am a real estate copywriter.

It's an odious confession and I am suitably ashamed of my flagrant overuse of the words, "immaculate" "stunning" and "sleek" - just to name a few of my standard go-tos.

I also have these phrases programmed into my auto-correct (with coded anagrams):

Gourmet gas and stone kitchen (ggsk)
Seamless flow through bi-fold doors to deck (sftd)
Palatial master retreat with ensuite and balcony (pmreb)

Real estate copywriting is a purple-prose artform: it is the art of saying nothing whilst using as many stupid superlatives as you can think of.

At times, out of desperation and boredom, I have invented some words.

Other times, I have reached for some fake French words: not because I am a bilingual wordsmith, but because fake French words, to an idiot, sound pretty and sophisticated.

And my client is an idiot; my client is a real estate agent.

The worst thing about being a writer who works for real estate agents is that bad is good.

Essentially what they want from me is; a very bad piece of writing.

They want sentences packed with too many adjectives and they want me to repeat the same idea over and over again, in subtly different ways, all within the opening paragraph.

They call this ingenious writing method:  "the hard sell."

If you have been unfortunate enough to have had to peruse the real estate ads in the past few years and have laughed derisively at the copy contained therein, please spare a thought for the professional writer who has been forced to shit that word excrement onto the page.

In our defence; we do it simply because that's what the client wants. 

They don't want a good, crisp, factual piece of writing with rhythmic sentences and clear intentions. They want  meaningless "floofer-fluff" sounds with stupid words like "stunning" and "superb" peppered liberally throughout each paragraph and then regurgitated again in bullet points (just in case you didn't get it the first time round.)

If we don't give it to them, they send it back with helpful feedback like this:

It's just not exciting enough.
It's a bit boring. 
You're not selling it.
I need your best, times 65%  (I think he meant, he wanted my best PLUS 65% more, but clearly maths was not his strong suit.)

I have tried to single-handedly improve the genre

 In my early years, I decided to pioneer a crisp, factual journalistic style; something I would be happy to put my name to. That was my litmus: "Would I be happy to put my name to this?" If the answer was "no," I went back in and toned it down.

I produced some lovely, clean pieces of writing ... and as a result, I got no work for about three months.

Then the first job that landed to me (after no one else was available, I was so far down the chain with my crisp, factual prose) I just went to town and gave it a bit of  "superb" and "fabulous." I may have even used the word, "spectacular" to describe some pretty ordinary district views. 

All of a sudden I was in demand again. I realised then, that there was no byline and so I just went all "fabulous" and "spectacular" on their real estate arses.

 I got quite popular.

And as writing gigs go,  it's money for jam.

If you can grin and bear the constant "feedback" from the client (a person with no tertiary education who gives you helpful "pointers" on how to write better) it's relatively easy money.  And the work is sporadic enough to allow you to do other things with your life in the downtime.

But in terms of purposely writing badly, working for someone who tells me to give it my best TIMES 65% and using dumb words ...

Where is my limit?

I have hit my limit a few times in the last five years. For a while I simply gave them mean nicknames as a coping mechanism.

Fat Neck
The Amazing Pear-Shaped Man
Roberta (She was very common and reminded me of Cat Stewart's, Roberta in Underbelly.)
Nuggety Joe (A miniature bag of walnuts who claimed to be a cage-fighter in his downtime)
The Gymp (He would specifically request me by name,  but always, ALWAYS sent my copy back with petty grievances. It occurred to me that he was the kind of guy who would like to tie his girlfriend up and keep her in a dungeon below the house.) 

Then mid last year I hit my limit again after Nuggety Joe sent my copy back with the complaint that I had not used enough pretty words to describe the backyard. (It was a south-facing square of dirt and I made the judgement call; the less said the better. )

So then I decided I would only work with agents who didn't give me the shits.  As a result, my client list is rapidly dwindling.

Then, just the other day,  I received this email from one of my previously preferred agents: 

Hi Penny,

Pam from (company name omitted) here, I work with (agent's name omitted)

The copy writing (sic) has been great as usual, and thank you. (Agent's name) has just asked if we could avoid using the words spacious and refurbished. Generous and renovated work, or anything else you can think of.

Let me know if you have any questions.

Warm Regards


At first glance, it seems innocent enough.  The tone is friendly and I like the way she started off by "stroking" my ego, to prepare me for the ridiculous request that follows.

So hats off to Pam for her people skills.

But can I avoid using the words "spacious" and "refurbished"? And by "avoid," she meant,  don't use them ever ... Again ...

In any bit of copy.


(Because as requested, I called her to let her know that I had some questions and she clarified it for me.)

I could give you a detailed and thorough argument for why it is near impossible NOT to use the words "spacious" and "refurbished" when writing real estate copy; something around how I have to say the same thing in different ways over and over, so I actually need three words that mean the same thing: Large. Spacious. Generous.

If you can think of a word that isn't ridiculous that can replace "spacious" in my magic three, please post it below.  And no, "capacious" is not an option.

As for "refurbished."  Call me a word nerd but to my mind there is a subtle difference between "renovated" and "refurbished."  "Renovated" implies something old, brought back to life. "Refurbished" implies a sort of polishing up, a more decorative sort of makeover. 

And considering most homes on the market in Sydney have been to some degree, tarted up for sale, whether it's repolishing floors and adding a fresh coat of paint, or a total overhaul situation, I need to distinguish these nuances with different words.

(For the record, a learned colleague of mine once coined the phrase, "freshly schemed" to describe bathrooms and kitchens that have been tarted up for sale but not properly renovated. She said I was welcome to use it and it has served me well.)

And I don't mind if people have a really good reason for not liking a particular word.  For instance, one elderly Catholic gentleman once very kindly asked that I not use the word, "immaculate" when writing his copy.

"I'm very religious," he said, "and to me, that word is only appropriate for the Virgin Mary." 

He spoke to me personally and he was very polite and apologetic about it: acknowledging that it may be a weird idiosyncratic request.

(I have a soft spot for the veterans: the old school real estate agents with their strong work ethic and "no lies" integrity.) 

So, part of my problem with the email is:

a) the lack of good reason for banning these words
b) the delegation of this trivial task to someone lower down the food chain

One of the things on Pam's "to do" list that day was, "email copywriter re the words spacious and refurbished."   

It's just a dumb power play by a small man in a cheap suit.

But my real point (and I do have one) is this: 

I have just taken you through the ridiculous words I have used in real estate copy. I have made words up, I have used faux Frenglish words, I have completely overdone the superlatives to an embarrassing degree on a regular basis.

I have joined two words together to create new compound words that do not (and should not) exist.

And THESE are the words that I am no longer allowed to use?


I think I have just hit my limit.

Consider this the detonator that will blow the bridge.