It’s cool to be a bit crap

With a short (but welcome) burst of school and kinder again this week, I’ve found myself taking stock of my winning and non-so-winning moments these school holidays.

Let’s start with my great moments – the ones where I was patient, creative and engaged with the children.  I baked with them (to be honest, it was more for them than with them).   I painted and crafted with them (and then finished their projects when they got bored and drifted off).  I took them to the library, to live theatre and the movies.  I spent a whole day making over their bedroom until it was fit for the pages of a glossy coffee table magazine.  I even strapped my bewildered feet into ice skates for the first time ever, in a surprise mother-daughter bonding session.

Looks pretty impressive on paper, doesn’t it?

School holiday moments (the good ones)

My feel-good school holiday montage

But in the interests of transparency, I’ll also share some of my not-so-great moments. Such as the three days straight where it rained pretty much constantly, and the puppy crapped and pissed in the house a lot.  On those days, the children fought and sulked, I yelled (even though I realise it’s not cool), and frequently resorted to eating chocolate hiding behind the pantry door.  To be honest, I was a bit of a grumpy cow.

And what made my mood even more morose was that all of my friends seemed to be doing interesting, fun-looking stuff on Facebook and Instagram.  I wondered why I was stuck in a funk at home, while everyone else was (apparently) exploring Melbourne and revelling in their children’s company?

Social media can be a bugger like that at times.  Like when you’ve just stepped backwards into a puddle of urine (again) and thrown the dishcloth dramatically across the kitchen and bellowed WHY IS THE DOG INSIDE THE HOUSE AGAIN?  AM I THE ONLY ONE WHO EVER TAKES HER OUTSIDE FOR A WEE!!? At times like this, it can seem like everyone is a more creative, proactive and fun parent than you.

creative parenting

What’s wrong with me? Why didn’t I think to fashion superhero elements into the children’s clothing this morning? (image: Abbey Hendrickson)

But looking back on those grumpy cow moments, I’ve decided to cut myself a bit of slack, because the truth is that being in charge of little people doesn’t always make for a relaxing, uplifting experience.  At times it can be exhausting and (is it okay to say this?) pretty boring. I’m just not that into hide and seek. Or playing memory match, with the house a veritable pigsty around me.  Does that make me a crap parent?

What I suspect is that everyone has their crap parent moments.  We all lose the plot now and again, and say things we regret as soon as the words are out of our mouth (even the most excruciatingly patient, earth-mother types).  It’s just that we generally don’t broadcast them on social media.

And in the parenting stakes, I’m pretty sure it’s okay to be a bit crap now and then.  We’re human, after all.

So next time you read that blog post – from the amazing, inspiring tree change family who live in the idyllic farmhouse and gather organic vegetables, which they cook in their rustic kitchen and eat at their hand-crafted, reclaimed timber dining table every night … just imagine what doesn’t make it into the blog.

Like maybe sometimes the children refuse to wear the romantic gumboots and be photographed picking berries, and instead chuck an enormous tantrum and demand to play on their mother’s iphone, which she is constantly shoving in their face at every instagramable opportunity.

You’ve got to admit – it’s kind of fun to conjure up.

gumboots are so hot right now

Empty gumboots (image: Monica Hoinkis)

 

 

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Dream Weaver

I love sleep. I love it now in a way I could never have remotely fathomed as a child.  A good nights’ sleep is now pretty high up on my list of good things.

The only problem is that I have an annoying tendency to bouts of insomnia – and nowadays I can’t even blame these on the children.  Discounting periods of illness (or freak nightmares in which they are swimming in baked beans), they generally sleep like the proverbial log.

The only good thing about a really bad nights’ sleep, is that the next night will be better. Here’s a brief run-down of how my bad nights tend to go:

0300 HRS:  Open eyes, after realising have been tossing and turning for best part of the night (in actual fact only past 10 minutes).

Immediately screw eyes shut.  Try to envision floaty clouds and peaceful meadows, in vain attempt to block out ‘I wonder what time it is? I bet it’s 3am. Why do I always wake up at 3am?’ type thoughts.

clouds and meadows - insomniac fodder

Please note this image contains both clouds AND meadows, and was taken by someone called ‘Allan’

0315 HRS: Get up, go to toilet (keeping eyes squinty in order to trick body it is still asleep). Tuck self back in bed and snuggle luxuriously into sheets, instructing self to fall into coma-like sleep for next 4 hours.

0317 HRS:  Resist overwhelming urge to look at clock. Tell self it is in fact 7am and alarm has just gone off, in order to trick body/brain into going back to sleep.

0330 HRS:   How can bed be so bloody uncomfortable?

DO NOT look at clock. Do NOT think about time. Time is an imaginary mathematical concept which is based on the motion of matter…

…Except for people who have jobs, and children to boss around, and phone calls to make, and shopping lists to write, and washing that they need to put on first thing in the morning or everyone will run out of underwear and STOP IT!!

Stop thinking about the time and GO to SLEEP.

0344 HRS: Give in and look at clock. I knew it. Why do I always wake up at frigging 3am??

Time is an abstract concept


Time is an abstract concept (image: Milos Janata)

0350 HRS: Commence mini anxiety attack.

Throw covers off and sigh a lot, imagine downward spiral into insanity.  Wonder at possibility of actually having nervous breakdown, and how on earth family would survive while I reside in facility reminiscent of One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest.

0400 HRS:  Remind self have had anxiety attacks in past without ever actually ending up in loony bin. Concentrate on breathing. Be mindful. Or something.

0402 HRS:  Mini anxiety attack retreats.  Feel proud of self for remaining in bed, and not alerting snoring husband to potential need for straight jacket.

Realise, however, that could not possibly be more awake.  Consider merits of Pilates session or vigorous star jumps in lounge room, in order to make use of awake time and unusual craving for exercise.  Attempt to store feeling away for morning, when such prospect is usually akin to poking finger in own eye.

pilates


Person who is not me, but could be how I looked if I did ever do pilates (image: myyogaonline)

0411 HRS:  Slip into familiar self-doubting thought pattern, and begin to ponder faults: Sedentary lifestyle, lack of financial plan, greater than ‘healthy guidelines’ alcohol consumption, failure to use legumes and quinoa enough in cooking, frequent use of sarcasm in communicating with children…

0430 HRS:  Remind self of half-decent job raising kids, running household, maintaining health professional status and fact that children don’t have scurvy.  Feel moderately better.

0435 HRS:  Hungry. Soooo hungry. Craving hot dog with mustard, sauce and cheese.

0440 HRS:  Still hungry. Now dreaming of club sandwich.  Try to channel hunger into creative meal ideas for kids involving kale.

Kale and sweet potato pie?

Hot dog with kale leaf in place of bun?

0500 HRS:  Okay, technically morning now. Hear car driving past in distance, and feel simultaneously relieved (that night is over), and sickened (at paltry amount of sleep achieved so far).

Imagine how will feel at 1500 HRS when required to be serious health professional with genuine interest in client. Hit self on forehead repeatedly. Forcibly shut eyes and attempt to conjure up existential ‘sleep window’.

sleep window


This is kind of how I imagine my elusive, existential sleep window (Image: Matthew Peterson)

0525 HRS:  Sleep window?! Where is sleep window?!?  Alarm due to go off in 1hr 35 mins and still no sleep window.

May as well just check phone..  Read blogs/check Facebook/look at photos so as to feel vaguely productive while waiting for sleep window…

0700 HRS:   What!!? Alarm going off! Shit!!

Extremely up to date with everything ever posted on Facebook, yet no sleep or creative meal plans involving superfoods.

0701 HRS:  Oooooh.  Eyes really heavy now.  Bed so warm and comfortable.

Maybe just ‘rest’ eyes for a sec while mentally preparing for the day….

(zzzzzzzz).

My (attempted) technology break

This weekend we put in some serious family bonding time, travelling down the Great Ocean Road, to a remote farm property near Johanna Beach.  A family love-in, if you will. With no wifi, and no 3G coverage.  Yeeeek.

When we arrived late Friday afternoon, we were greeted by the farm owners and their beautiful cattle dogs Charlie Brown and Zach.  They took us on a tour of the property, and encouraged us to use the produce as needed.

After 5 hours of togetherness in the car, all that space and fresh air was like a tonic to the soul.  I was just a little discombobulated, when I found I couldn’t access Instagram to post a picture of the kids with the dogs.

Zac the sheepdog

Looks like we have to get a dog then…

We were shown to our wooden cottage with views of the serene hills dotted with cows, sheep, and the occasional kangaroo.   Ah… the serenity.  And yet, I quickly worked out that if I stood on the balcony with my arms outstretched, I could sometimes get enough reception to refresh my Facebook feed.  

We also met a very opinionated sheep called Barbara, who was well-trained in the art of voice projection.

In the morning we were hounded out of bed by kids eager to check the nesting boxes for breakfast eggs and feed the sheep.  So off I trudged – sleepy, make-up-free and clad in sensible footwear.  I made sure my phone was securely in pocket, ready to capture the picking, plucking and gathering activities.  Annoyingly however, the sheep were unable, (or just unwilling) to divulge any secret wifi hotspots.

PlumsWe took to the road again Saturday for some obligatory sights – the Apostles, Port Campbell beach, and a cheese farm.  All beautiful.  And along the way, I checked my phone and found the sky hadn’t fallen in on social media.

Back at the farm that evening, we opened a bottle of sparkling for an anniversary toast, and took in the stunning view together for a few minutes.  But when Cam returned to cooking the dinner, and the kids went checking for eggs (again), I found myself walking 500 metres up a hill, to post this pic to Instagram.

Serenity... and Moet

Moet: meet the cows. Cows: this is Moet.

The farmer looked at me like I was a little bonkers, as I waved down to him – glass in one hand and phone in the other.  Maybe he was right.

After dinner (and handwashing of many dishes) we all sat together on the couch and indulged in a bit of Winter Olympics heckling and local cheese eating.  Now this was quality family time.  We turned in for an early night, while the fog rolled in and a gentle rain started on the iron roof.  Arguably the best sound around.

All in all it was a spectacular weekend away from my laptop.  And if it wasn’t for bloody Barbara and her nocturnal exclamations, I could say it’s the most tranquil few days I’ve had in as long as I can remember.

Barbara the sheep

Barbara (old windbag)

A Whole lot of Nothing

Aside

image-22Well, I must admit that I’m a little bit sad it’s over.  The much-anticipated, much talked-about girls weekend away.  Four old friends, comfortable hanging out in their PJs with mad hair and no make-up, and one vacant beach house.

I always get a particular feeling of joy when I hear talk of a friend planning a girls weekend away.  It’s a daggy feeling of sisterhood – a ‘go forth and indulge, on behalf of all the mothers out there’ type sentiment.  So if you’ll indulge me, here is ours, in a nutshell.  And I think the best way to start is to tell you what we didn’t do this weekend.

We could have gotten dressed up for a posh dinner out, without having to worry about feeding or bathing children, or organising babysitters.  We could have gone out for brunch or lunch, or brunch and lunch, if we desired.  We could have seen a movie, or walked to the beach.  We could have suited up, attended to our much neglected depilatory duties and visited the mineral springs for an afternoon of bathing.  We could have done any or all of these things, but we never quite got around to it.  And it was fabulous.

For two delightful nights, I wasn’t awoken at 2am by anyone who’d wet their bed, or needed a drink, or wanted their pillow fluffed.   I spent a whole weekend without getting cross, or shouting (and then feeling bad about it).  I didn’t have to coax anyone into the bath, and then out of it.  I didn’t make my bed, or anyone else’s, and I didn’t do any laundry.  I didn’t have to remind anyone to go to the toilet (or flush it afterwards, and wash their hands, for that matter). How joyous.

We arrived Friday night, between us having endured three mad days at work, one convoluted car and child-swapping rendezvous, and one (somewhat unglamorous) ferry ride from Queenscliffe.   We had enough provisions to get through the first dinner and breakfast, and enough wine to sink a ship.  Tracksuit pants and ugg boots were donned, and drinks were poured.

image-23We ate moussaka and debriefed about our days.  We drank more wine.  We played our version of Trivial Pursuit – the one where up to five hints may be given, and questions are turfed out if deemed too difficult, too esoteric, or just plain stupid.  At one stage we granted Marteen a piece of pie, sheerly due to the gusto and comedic genius with which she delivered her (incorrect) answer.

When 11am came on Saturday and we were still in our pyjamas, we all agreed that an invigorating walk to the back beach was in order (this being a beach getaway and all). But none of us got to the vital stage of actually putting their shoes on.  Instead, I lit the open fire and we sent brave Sally to the corner store for milk and newspapers.

So What on earth did we do all day Saturday? We drank tea and coffee, and talked.  A lot. Our conversation topics, in no particular order, included: bed-wetting, Australian politics, the internet, pornography, cancer, cosmetic surgery, school readiness, Facebook, lesbian sex, hairballs (the latter two not being related in any way, I hasten to add), the meaning of life, sibling rivalry, homelessness, online shopping, and of course, the devastating demise of Patrick.  Poor, manly, aloof but always smoking hot, Patrick.

A sample of our debating topics:

Q. Is it technically stealing if your child has eaten his/her body weight in grapes by the time you get to the supermarket checkout?  A: No, not really*.

Q.  Can you really get away with putting sardines into a bolognese instead of meat? Rach? A: Apparently (strangely) yes.

Q.  Does the fact that these days we prefer to sleep with the fan on and earplugs in make us officially old and/or weird?  A:  Yep.

* Unless it was cherry tomatoes, which come in a packet, and then you ditch the and swap it for a full one, then yes, maybe it is kind of stealing.

We read the papers and then the seriously out-of-date trashy magazines to be found at any reputable beach house.  Two of us wandered off for a long afternoon nap. We agreed that Kim Kardashian, whilst being a vapid, infuriating twat, does have the most amazing skin in the universe.  We skipped lunch – opting instead for brie and biscuits – and took great joy in the absence anyone pestering us for more food, biscuits and treaties, on the hour, every hour.

And when we realised the afternoon was getting on, two of us ventured briefly out again, in search of some beach-house-worthy fish.  We opened another bottle of wine and prepped dinner, and no-one screwed up their face at the sight of green beans, or had to be threatened with early bedtime to eat their fresh rockling with herbed breadcrumb crust. We really pushed out the calorie-laden boat with a home-made pear and rhubarb crumble.

smokers?At one point, in the grip of pure girl power and with the conviction of the rather drunk, we decided we should write a children’s book.  How hard could it be?  We all agreed on the key themes of toilet humour, fantasy and family values, but predictably, it didn’t get much further than that.

In a rare moment of outdoorsiness, we ventured onto the freezing balcony to watch for a meteor shower, or some such astronomical event.  The sky was pretty cool, but after approximately seven minutes we retreated inside to watch the open fire, and contemplate another uninterrupted night’s sleep.

So there you have it.  It turns out that the ultimate indulgence for four women, who spend their lives juggling children, work and household duties, was to do nothing.  Sally and I did have a massage on Sunday – we felt the need to partake in some form of organised, non-pyjama-clad luxury.  It was awesome.  And as we drove home, in a heady cloud of aromatic oils, we wondered: what would await us?

A happy family and tidy house would be positively utopian, but surely too much to expect.

A happy family but untidy house would be reasonable, and acceptable.

A grumpy family and untidy house would be seriously harsh on our post-escape buzz.

So you can imagine my feelings of joy and relief, when I opened the front door to encounter the first scenario, along with the added bonus of some long overdue garden maintenance and dinner on the way.  The stuff of dreams are made of, and relationships are buoyed by.

Someone hand that man a Father and Husband of the Year award.  Quickly.  I think he’s about to collapse.

We are Family

It is Sunday evening, and I have taken up residence in my husband’s man-cave for the next hour or so, while he puts the children to bed.  Not a bad payoff, I feel, for cleaning up the veritable mountain of dishes left over from today’s lunch with friends.  There are two reasons that I’m quite happy with this transaction:

a) I do a much better job of the dishes.  It’s my thing.

b) He is somewhat merry after our long lunch, and has been revving the children up with frenzied tickle fights, to the point that they are now behaving as though they’ve snorted a few lines of coke and followed it up with a red cordial chaser.  Good luck with getting them to bed, sucker.

I have my cup of tea, my computer, and that’s pretty much bliss, as far as I’m concerned.  It’s so quiet in here!  And experiencing the man-cave from within, I can appreciate it’s magnetic pull, which often causes my significant other to go missing in action.  It is here that we eventually discover him, after one of us notices his prolonged absence following simple tasks such as putting out the rubbish.

If I turn my head, I can look out of the window and catch a glimpse of the house, as a small nude body goes streaking through the sun room.  I can faintly make out high pitched shrieks (hilarity or injury? – It’s often difficult to tell the difference) and the thud of their stampeding feet.  And is that Dancing Queen he’s playing?  Christ, he’s had more to drink than I first thought.

The thing is, I now realise that I really do need to go to the toilet, but I fear that if I go back inside, the magic bubble will burst.  The children will instantly remember that they desperately needed me, to help them find the green Texta, or to make them a crumpet, or to referee their current argument about who’s turn it is to play the kazoo.  Maybe I could sneak inside without them noticing?  Nope – too risky – I’ll just hang on.  If I need to, I could always use my teacup, I suppose.

The studio used to be one of those old-school, dirt-floored sheds, filled with rusty tins full of nails and utterly creepy spiderwebs.  But my ingenious father worked his magic a few years ago, to turn it into a proper room to house Cam’s vast collection of old vinyl and electronic equipment, which he amassed throughout his former, pre-reproductive life.  It now also houses a ratty fold-out couch and our old refrigerator, elevating it’s status to fully-fledged man cave.

It provides a sanctuary from the crazies who rule our house (the children, not me of course), and doubles as a snoring retreat, for those nights when the red wine has been flowing a little too freely.  I also suspect, just quietly, it may be the place of some covert rum-drinking, from time to time.

The desk is littered with a colourful array of tiny wires, bulbs, screws, a soldering iron and something with wheels on it.  I think these are the contents of the mysterious padded post-packs addressed to him, which have been arriving on our doorstep with increasing frequency of late.  If you’re wondering – no – I don’t think he’s building a bomb (I’ve checked, and can find no trace of suspicious liquids or timing devices).  It’s just that when it comes to late night online shopping, we both have our vices -mine being fashion, and his being robotics.  Whatever floats your boat, I suppose.

My escape to the man-cave this evening is something my husband and I have come to refer to as a ‘free period’ (as in, the free period you had in high school, when you were supposed to engage in private study).  In my friendship circle, they are also known as a ‘spare’.  They can be a single (typically a few hours), double (the full day), or a full-weekend spare.  The latter are a rare beast – highly negotiated and desperately coveted.  I have one coming up in August, and the mere thought of it always elicits an impromptu happy dance.

Spares are allocated on the basis of need, and are run on an honour system.  It is usually quite evident when a spare is required.  For example, when I came home from work last weekend, I could see that Cam was losing the good fight.

At first glance, it appeared that the house had been ransacked by a very thorough intruder, leaving no stone unturned.  It also looked like someone had detonated a rice-filled device in the kitchen.  It was icy outside, the rain hadn’t relented all morning, and as a result, the kids were in stir crazy, difficult-to-please mode.  The gourmet fried rice he had prepared for their lunch just wasn’t right – they wanted a sandwich – and I could almost see the steam coming out of his ears.

And so, having the perspective and patience of the one who had been out of the house for the morning, I granted him an on-the-spot free period, banishing him to his cave for the remainder of the afternoon.  I felt like a (slightly underdressed) fairy godmother.  If I remember correctly, I think I added that he should really do his tax, but honestly, who was I kidding?

The very next day, I’d had to call in the favour, after I spent a particularly long morning at the park, attempting to wear the little beggars out.  Back home only thirty minutes, Cam caught me.. well… hiding from the children, behind the wardrobe door, as they roamed the house endlessly calling my name.  ‘Mumma? Where is she? Muuu-meeee? I can’t find her! She was here a minute ago…MUUUUUMMMMMMEEEE!!! WHERE HAVE YOU GONE???’ Man, they just don’t take a hint.

And at this point start to I feel a bit guilty, a bit ungrateful, for wanting to flee their unwavering love and neediness.  Why do I feel such joy in escaping those sticky little clutches for a bit?  It’s because being a parent is utterly exhausting – that’s a universally accepted concept.  I know for a fact that after a few hours to myself, my patience stores will magically regenerate, and I’ll be a much better parent.  I’ll also be less likely to be sporting ‘that cross look’ (as my children refer to it), which has caused some fairly permanent frown-lines between my brows.

So tomorrow morning, during my few hours off for the week, you’ll find me revelling in my own space.  I will be enjoying my coffee without having to explain why we shouldn’t lick the table, or pick our nose in public, or wresting the salt shaker out of someone’s little mitts. To the casual observer, I might appear to be reading the newspaper, but I’m generally not taking the words in.  I’m simply doing nothing in particular, by myself, and loving it.

Re: Formal Complaint, School Holiday period ended 14 July, 2013

Aside

Dear School Holidays,

I regret to inform you that I am writing to make a formal complaint, which I plan to pursue through the appropriate channels, until I have a resolution.  My primary complaint is in regard to false advertising charges.

Firstly, you were sold to me on the promise of enabling quality time with my chilled out, engaging children, who would luxuriate in long sleep-ins and creative play opportunities.  There was no mention, in your brochure, of my children deciding to make an olympic sport of arguing, or of their plan to turn the house into a rubbish tip / war zone / obstacle course.  I certainly was not advised of the requisite five-fold increase in washing.

When I signed up, I did not realise that July school holidays came with mandatory waves of drawn out illnesses that would hit one child, then the next (just as the first one was coming good).  Frankly, I could have done without the bi-weekly doctors appointments, and surprise visits from feverish children in my bed at 3am.    I suppose you think that simultaneous croup and vomiting in the middle of Friday night Sex and The City repeats was amusing?  It was not.

On another matter, I would like to address the issue of art and craft activities.  Prior to all future school holidays, I would appreciate it if you would arrange delivery of a large shipping container of art and craft materials, along with a part time project coordinator (must have industrial cleaning experience), and a case of gin.  And on that note, I don’t know if you are acquainted with Mister Maker, but if you are, could you please ask him to tone it down?  His perky attitude and obsession with gloopy glue are getting up my nose, and placing unrealistic expectations on regular parents, who do not have ‘doodle draws’ or time lapse photography at their disposal.

I would also appreciate, in future, a list of appropriate suggestions to be used when my children complain of being bored, or being hungry, or having been wronged by their sibling.  I have completely over-used the suggested ‘you’re a smart girl/boy, I’m sure you can find something interesting to do’, the ‘you can chose a piece of fruit, or wait until the next meal time’, and the ‘please be kind to each other, and try to work through your differences’.  I have therefore been resorting to sarcasm, and ‘oh for F*$# SAKE!!’ under my breath a little too much, which I realise is not ideal.

Incidently, can you please suggest an appropriate consequence (I don’t think I’m supposed to call them punishments), for the following scenarios:

a)  Walking out of a store and wandering up Burke Rd alone, whilst I am engaged in the purchase of more frigging art and craft materials.

b)  Screaming and striking at each other in the bath over who’s turn it is to hold Kwazi Kat or the giant squid.

c)  Repeatedly sneaking dried apricots from the pantry when they have specifically been told not to (yes, I know it sounds petty, but it was the principle at sake)

My final issue is the absence of any actual ‘holiday’ component this school holidays.  Instead, I was regularly subjected to Facebook posts from families frolicking in Europe or the Pacific Islands, with their tanned, cherubic-looking children.  

Although I have found the whole experience decidedly harrowing, I would feel inclined to overlook the above issues, and withdraw my complaint, if you could see fit to arrange a suitable island escape (preferably Polynesian) for the coming holidays this September.  You may liaise with my husband on this issue, as I wash my hands of the whole affair, and would prefer not to be bothered with the details.

Sincerely,

M. Nitschke

 terrorist