Last Christmas, I gave you my heart

I think I must have blacked out for a bit there. And now I’ve come to, Christmas – that sneaky, emotion-charged season – is in full swing. Do you know what that means? It means it’s a whole year since I looked up from making pom poms (those bastard little school fete pom poms) to realise that my marriage was toast.  It also means I can legitimately buy myself (I mean the kids) an enormous tiger soft toy and listen to soppy Wham songs.

I’m doing those things right now.Wham. Tiger. Me

Yep. Last Christmas was positively craptastic.  There’s nothing festive about sucking it up and holding it together for the kids, when all you want to do is crawl under a large rock. I was lucky, though, to have my sturdy support crew, who propped me up through December and January while I stomped my feet and cried bucket-loads. Whatever it took (wine, inappropriate jokes, nose blowing) they had my back, and helped me stumble through the season in a pretty rock ‘n roll fashion.

This Christmas is so much better.

Some marriage break-ups stretch out over a bumpy, painful road for years. Mine felt more like a gut-wrenching supernova at the time. But once the shell shock subsided, I realised that not only was I still standing, I was starting to feel a little inkling of something good. It felt like one of those stinking hot Melbourne days we have, after the rain washes all the heat and stink away. When everything feels fresher and newer, and suddenly you can breathe properly again.

I won’t sugar coat it and say it was a walk in the park from there on. Some of this year was absolutely, mind-numbingly, face-palmingly frustrating.

And here’s what really blows about being a separated parent. It’s the stupid (and not so stupid) little things:

Stupid little thing 1

The school uniform that got left at the other house.  And by the way, it doesn’t make any difference how many sets you buy – they always end up at the other house.

Stupid little thing 2

The Goddamn Tuppaware and drink bottles and homework books that you need right now, this very morning, but are also at the other house.

Stupid little thing 3

The freaking 20-pack of kids socks and undies you bought last week, which seems to have migrated, on mass, to – you guessed it – the other house. Or the grandparents’ house. Or their beach house. Or ANY HOUSE OTHER THAN THE ONE YOU’RE IN RIGHT NOW.

< Deep breathing >

(not so) Stupid little thing 4

It’s when you’re in the car, absentmindedly fielding questions about McDonalds / why you shouldn’t play with your doodle in public / why the lady on that song just said shit… And then the littlest one hits you up with:

‘Mumma, can you explain again why Daddy had to go and live in another house?’

It’s the little things that make your heart feel like it might just implode. Because you realise that these questions are just floating around in their subconscious all the time, and it’s only every so often that they rise up to the conscious level and bubble out as words.

At times like these, about the only thing that can save you from unravelling then and there, is a really funny motivational meme.

YOU'RE ALL MISS UNIVERSE

But the good news I have is that at this point, I’m still relatively sane. And on the whole, things have been pretty awesome this past year. Being mindful of attention spans and word count, I’ve decided to loosely classify the good bits into the following neat categories:

People. Dancing. And The Universe.

People

This year, from the comfort of my lounge room, and thanks in part to this little blog, I’ve met people from all over Australia. They made me laugh out loud, and reminded me I was fun again.  They saw me travelling to Byron Bay for 5 days of yoga, mindfulness and slightly raucous gin and tonics.   And to Darwin, for my first crack at a long distance relationship. And two stops on the train, for renegade dietitian meetings. These beautiful new and old friends helped me start picking up the pieces and sticking them all back together again.

And the kids – my little people . They’re just as baffling, and high maintenance, and hilarious as they ever were. I can’t help but be happy when I look at their precious faces and sturdy little bodies. Sometimes I want to eat them.  I mean like literally devour them. And sometimes, when they’re arguing (which is a large percentage of the time), I also want to knock their bloody heads together.

Dancing

I dance a lot these days. I’ve always danced in the kitchen and on big nights out. But six months ago I twisted the arm of a new buddy into taking me dancing (it didn’t take that much twisting – just a few scotches).  I’m talking beginner swing dancing class.

It was equal parts excruciating, exhilarating and hilarious.   Not unlike year 10 dance classes, except this time we didn’t have pimples or bad ’80s hair. We walked out with two huge grins plastered to our faces, and were hooked.

Dancing is nice because it gets you touching other people (albeit sometimes strange and sweaty people), and laughing and being a dork. In the words of Amy Poehler – dancing gets you out of your head and into your body. And by the way, I am totally in love with Amy Poehler. She has a lot of piss-funny and wise things to say about life and divorce. One of them is this:

‘Someday you may be in a happy couple again. Someday you will wake up feeling 51 percent happy and slowly, molecule by molecule, you will feel like yourself again. Or you will lose your mind and turn into a crazy person. Either way, let’s just hope you avoided tattoos, because most are pretty stupid anyway.

Oh crap.  I wish I read that last bit earlier…

Amy Poehler

The Universe

The Universe is a funny thing.  Sometimes it knows stuff you don’t, and puts you in funny places at funny times, to show you that stuff.  Sometimes it taps you on the shoulder, and then when you don’t listen the first time, it gives you a big old shove.  And then it slaps you square on the bum and grins.  Kind of like this:

Universe: Hey – look over here

You:  Ah – c’mon.. That’s ridiculous!

Universe: Yeah, I know. But trust me – I’ve been doing this a long time you know?

You:  That’s outrageous!  It’d never work.  Surely you can’t be ….. ?

Universe: Yes I can. Just shut up and go with this.

Sometimes you just have to stop overanalysing and defer to The Universe.  Because it knows stuff.  And maybe there just aren’t enough newly tattooed, swing-dancing, bar-tending, biker mole dietitian types these days.

Simples 😉

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Burnt chop syndrome (and other real life lunch scenarios)

Well I can’t blame an evil publishing giant this time, but tonight I’m clambering back on to my school lunch soapbox.   You see, last night it took me no less than 40 minutes to assemble three sets of kinder/school/work lunches.  Seriously.  And as I finally snapped the lid on the last box I wondered – what is wrong with me? Surely it shouldn’t be that hard.

But after debriefing with friends today, I find it’s not just me.  Evidently, there is a certain state of mojo required to expedite a school lunch.  And if you’re not feeling it, you’re in trouble.

Now in retrospect I have to admit that the wine (and the resultant CBF state of mind) probably didn’t help.  But I also blame the cute kleptomaniac who now lives with us.

Billie


I’m sorry? What is the sweet potato you’re referring to?

At one stage I had to give chase in order to wrestle a sweet potato from her jaws (mental note: never look other way with pantry door ajar).  A moment later I turned around to find her balancing on top of the rubbish bin – looking simultaneously gobsmacked and delighted by her own daredevil feat.  And seemingly every two minutes from that point, I was downing tools to rescue various household objects or human appendages from her needle-sharp choppers.

Added to the amusing puppy antics, it seemed like every plastic container I sought out was either missing a lid, needing to be washed, or had mysteriously vanished from the face of the earth.

So what did the lunch boxes finally consist of?  As you can see below, I seem to have peaked early, with child 1.  By the time it came to packing my own lunch, I was functioning solely on autopilot, and all I could muster was a Vegemite sandwich.  I was suffering a bad case of burnt chop syndrome.

burnt chop syndrome (school lunches)

Anyway, burnt chop or not, it got me thinking about the other unfortunate school lunch scenarios I’ve encountered over the years.  And here’s a sample of my top five.

Can I hear a few ‘HELL YEAH‘s in the house?!

Scenario 1.  The Incorrect Fruit

Mother:  (unpacking lunch box)  Why didn’t you eat your banana today?!

Child:  (looking revolted) Because I hate bananas.

Mother:  No you don’t – you like bananas.  You can’t tell me you don’t like bananas.

Child:  No I DON’T like bananas and you don’t know because you’re NOT ME.

Mother:  (breathes deeply) You ate two bananas yesterday.  Of your own volition.

Child: (sulking) Well I don’t like them when they’re black and squishy.

Mother:  Now come on – I put that banana in your lunch this morning and it was not black and squishy then.  It’s black and squishy now because it’s been thrown around in the bottom of your bag all day.

Child:  (stoney-faced) Well I don’t like bananas anymore OKAY?

Outcome:  Mother mentally crosses banana off ‘acceptable fruit’ list, sighs and absentmindedly takes bite of squishy banana (then forces self to chew and swallow when realises child is watching intently).  Mother looks at bowl full of bananas purchased that day, and inwardly screams.

Banksy bananas


(image: Jez)

Scenario 2.  The Incorrect Cheese

Mother: (unpacking lunch box) Why didn’t you eat your cheese today?!

Child:  Because it looked funny.

Mother: What do you mean it looked funny?  It was just cheese.

Child:  But it didn’t have a picture on it.

Mother:  That’s because I cut it off a block of cheese.

Child:  (withering look) Well I only like the wrapper cheeses.

Mother: But the wrapper ones cost $60/kg, and the block of cheese is the same thing but costs $15/kg. I don’t see what the problem is?

Child:  It IS NOT the same!  Your cheese is disgusting!

Outcome:  Mother feels defeated by marketing conglomerates and pours glass of wine.  In future, mother buys ‘pretty’ cheese with strange girl or robot faces on the wrapper in order to provide cheese option which child will actually consume. Child / marketing company celebrate.

Acceptable cheeses

Scenario 3:  Sandwich Rage

Mother:  Okay, quickly now, would you like ham/cheese/tomato, or turkey/cranberry lettuce, or tuna/celery/mayonnaise in your sandwich?

Child:  Jam.

Mother: (visibly tenses) I didn’t offer jam.  What about cream cheese/carrot/sultana?

Child: (deadpans):  Honey.

Mother:  (through clenched teeth)  Are you serious?!  ARE YOU!?

Child: (defiantly) Well I don’t feel like any of those options!  Why can’t I just have jam?

Mother:  (in small, tight voice) Because you had jam yesterday.  Because you can’t have jam every day.  Because you need to eat VEGETABLES!

Child: (sighs dramatically) Okay well give me cheese then.

Mother:  (no words… Stalks to fridge, takes cheese slices and slams into sandwich, throws into lunch box)

Child: (face crumples and begins to wail dramatically) Why do you have to be so grumpy at me?  You don’t even LIKE me!  (stamps ridiculously out of room).

Outcome:  Mother feels simultaneously furious (for being stamped out on), dejected (over recurrent lunch drama), mean (over shouting and sandwich slamming) and exhausted (always exhausted).

Husband enters kitchen with ‘what’s all this about’ look on face and receives ‘don’t look at me that way’ face in return.  Mother wonders what is wrong with her as she is already shouting at 8am, when she had vowed it would be a shout-free day.

The terrified sandwich

The terrified sandwich (image: Sakurako Kitsa)

Scenario 4:  The ‘Forgotten’ Lunch

Child:  What’s for afternoon tea?  I’m starving.

Mother:  (staring in disbelief at contents of lunch box)  You didn’t eat ANY of your lunch today!  What is going on?

Child:  Oh.  I forgot.

Mother:  (still incredulous)  What do you mean you forgot?  How can you forget to have lunch?

Child: (looking furtive)  Well it was Lucy’s birthday and she bought in cupcakes.

Mother: Yes…?

Child:  And Charlotte’s mum was on canteen so we got a lolly snake and Jumpys.

Mother:  And so I wasted my time packing you a healthy lunch today, so that you could eat lollies and cake all day instead?

Child: (angelically)  I didn’t waste ALL of it – I ate the Tiny Teddies at recess.

Outcome:  Mother throws sandwich in bin, feeling her life is one big cliche, and curses self for implementing spartan Mon-Thurs no drinking rule.  Mental stocktake of house for any form of liquor uncovers half bottle of sticky in fridge from weekend entertaining.  Mother wonders at acceptability of drinking dessert wine before dinner.

Is this a thing?  This should really be a thing..

Is this a thing? (this should really be a thing)

Scenario 5:  No Bread In House

Mother:  So sweetie, we seem to have run out of bread.  You’ll have to have biscuits and cheese today.

Actually..  sorry.. I think these biscuits are a bit stale.

Child: I’ll have to have a lunch order!

Mother: (sounding upbeat) No no, I’ll just make an antipasto plate for you – you don’t need to have bread every day.

Child: (uncomfortable with deviation from the norm)  But I just want a sandwich…

Mother:  How about some…. baby beetroot… and some crab dip… and some chorizo and rice crackers…?

Child:  (panicking now)  Why haven’t we got any bread!? I can’t eat any of that – I need a lunch order!

Mother:  (slowly losing resolve) But it’s good to try something different!  You might start a new trend amongst your friends – I bet they’ll all be jealous… ?….

Child:  (detects weakness and goes for the kill)  Everyone will laugh at me and I’ll have no friends and I’ll be hungry and (sobs) I – just – want – a – lunch – order (sobs again while peering through hands).

Mother:  (dejectedly) Oh okay I suppose.  But no party pies.

Child:  (Miraculously recovers from lunch panic and beams triumphantly).

Outcome:  Mother sips tea and tries to look at upside – calculating minutes of free time bought by lunch order.  Contemplates drying hair or putting on make up, then looks over at younger child and realises kindergarten does not have canteen.

Mother takes deep breath, channels Zen state, and returns to fridge…

 

NEWS FLASH: Impossible Quiche Saves Day

I’m sitting on the couch, snatching a moment of peace with my coffee and computer. The weather’s grey and drizzly, the puppy’s sprawled in the plush bean bag by the heater (I’ve conceded defeat on that one), and the room is filled with the loud tick-tock of a metronome.  One of the kids was playing on the keyboard, but has since scuttled off elsewhere, leaving just the oppressive tick, tock, tick, tock.  And so goes my Thursday afternoon.

dog comaWe’re almost a week into the holidays, and my patience is waning.  I’m trying to embrace the mess, but really I’m not fooling anyone.  I’ve reverted to ‘take no crap’ mode.  In the car just now I presented them with the facts: If you don’t stop arguing I’m going to lose the plot!  Of course, what I really wanted to say was I’m dangerously close to LOSING MY SHIT.

…< big breath >….

The addition of our newest family member – the delightful Billie – has added an extra level of intensity these school holidays.   It’s been wonderful watching the kids rolling on the grass with her, lovingly making her dinner and cooing to her while she laps up her puppy milk. And against house rules, we’ve engaged in many indulgent, late-night couch snuggles.  She’s beautiful.

billie on bean bag

With the territory though, has come a few not-so-great moments.  There’s the early mornings which always start with paper towel, Pine-O-Clean and rubber gloves.  And there’s the constant stream of ‘Billie NO!’ ‘NO SHOES!’ and ‘No BITE!’ exclamations throughout the day.  Beautiful, and kind of exhausting.

Because of the puppy we’ve stayed close to home this week, and I’ve been donning the apron and getting my Nigella on a bit.  So while I’m inspired, here’s one thing I’ve been meaning to do for ages:  I want to share the magic of The Impossible Quiche.

Don’t worry – I haven’t gone all ‘easy, quick meals for mums’ on you.  I’m just really loving this quiche right now – it’s dead simple and bloody delicious.

The ‘impossible’ component is the lack of any pastry, yet the oddly pastry-like end product.  And the bit I’m amazed by is that it’s all light and fluffy, rather than all eggy and wet like your traditional frittata.  As long as you have the integral ingredients of eggs, milk, flour and cheese, you can make up the rest depending on the contents of your fridge.

I also tried this with gluten free flour, and it still worked beautifully.  The kids and my ‘eggs are not dinner’ husband all gave it their seal of approval.  And (be still my beating heart!) it even holds up well for lunch the following day.

Behold.. The Impossible Quiche (thanks Anna!)

The Impossible Quiche

Core ingredients:

4 eggs

1 cup grated cheese

1/2 cup self-raising flour

1 1/4 cups milk

Discretional ingredients:

Spring onion / onion / any vaguely onion-like vegetable in arms reach

Chorizo / ham / bacon / last night’s leftover sausages

Cherry tomatoes / capsicum / sun-dried tomatoes / spinach leaves / any old crap from the crisper

Basil / parsley / neither

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 200 celsius and grease a large, round, quichey-looking dish (I use a non-stick fluted metal pie dish)
  2. Heat oil and cook spring onion lightly, then add tomato / ham / other crisper remnants and cook down for a few minutes
  3. Whisk eggs, milk and flour in a bowl, then stir in cheese and add vegetable mixture from the pan.  Season, add herbs.
  4. Pour mixture into quiche dish and bake for ~40 minutes, until golden on top and not wobbly in the centre.  Leave to stand for 10 minutes.
  5. Slice and serve with a green salad (the kids may baulk – but at least you tried)
  6. Pour yourself a glass of wine, sit back and bask in the glory of the impossible quiche.

Go you.

wine

ps. It also helps to close your eyes and pretend you’re sitting in a wine bar
(Image: Judy Merrilll-Smith)

This is forty

To my younger self, forty always conjured up images of no-nonsense mother-types, ensconced in track suits and devoid of style or glamour.  The forty year-olds I knew had sensible, greying hair, and were really into cleaning, gardening and watching the tele.

When my mum turned forty, I was thirteen years old, hormonal and often insufferable, I imagine.  In my eyes my mum was generous, dependable, a bit daggy, and perpetually exhausted. Who could blame her, with three teenage kids to deal with?   For a while there she sported an eighties perm, and when my friends remarked on how young or pretty she was, I scoffed and mumbled.  In my worldly teenage eyes, mums didn’t qualify as pretty.

Mums went to work, ferried us around to our various activities, and mine took herself off to lie prone on the bed for twenty minutes, each and every afternoon, around four thirty. Mum invented the power-nap, before it actually became the Power-Nap.

And now, all of a sudden, I find I’m forty.  How on earth did that happen, I wonder?  I’ve been booted out of the mid-to-late-thirties club.  Politely but firmly shown the door.

Part of me wants to cling to the furniture and make a scene, as they drag me out.  I can’t be forty!  I don’t have particularly sensible hair!  I’ve yet to submit to the neat bob, or the lob (that’s the long bob), even if it would shave hours off my weekly grooming regimen.  In fact, I’ve recently had my locks dyed red.  I imagine the name on the tube was Deep Denial Red.

I am finding more grey hairs these days, but it’s not the fine silver ones subtly appearing in my regrowth that bother me.  The ones that strike fear into my soul are the alien, wiry white hairs that suddenly announce themselves by standing to attention on my part line.  These albino follicles appear from time to time, seemingly overnight, and I dutifully yank them out in a ridiculous show of defiance.  Take that you horrid impostor.  We don’t want your type around here.  And tell your friends!

I garden from time to time, albeit begrudgingly.  And I now know that late afternoon fatigue that forced mum to have to lie down.  The kind that rolls in like a fog, until sometimes you’re so shattered, you think you may just vomit.

Okay, so there are times when I do feel forty.  A frazzled mother with permanent frown lines, lecturing the kids over toys not put away, knees up at the table, and starving children in Africa.  Last night, I believe I used all three in the space of our dinnertime conversation. It seems that my mouth just clicks into autopilot, and starts trotting out the same old gems we were all lectured about as a child.  I’m not your servant you know.  I wasn’t put on this earth just to cook and clean up after you.  I see the kids’ eyes glaze over, and realise with horror how sensible and old I sound.

The frown lines I blame on my frequent utilisation of my ‘Are you kidding me? Do you I look like I was born yesterday? and Are you sure you want to go there?’ stares.  I enlist these expressions when I’ve run out of calm reasoning, or simply haven’t the energy to sum up another reprimand (which means that they’re pretty big in my repertoire these days).  I’ve also noticed that I subconsciously frown when vacuuming, typing, or washing the dishes. It makes for a rather unflattering reflection in the steamy kitchen window.

I know some swear by Botox, but I think I’d rather stave off those furrows in my brow by investing the money in a housekeeper.  That way I could take a rest from the vacuuming, but would still have the ability to pull out the ‘Do it again, and you’re dead meat‘ stare, when the need arose.  Yes.  I think I’d like one of those housekeepers who irons the shirts, mops the floors and thoughtfully leaves a frittata cooling on the kitchen bench…

….

{slaps self around the face}

What?  Where was I?..

The part of turning forty that I wouldn’t trade, even for a supernanny-gardener-housekeeper-cook dynamo, is watching my kids growing up to become real little people. Little people shaped by me, and for now, still a part of me.

As mind-bendingly monotonous and draining as some days can be, they are invariably interspersed by moments that stop me in my tracks, and turn my heart to jelly.   Simple things, like my daughter’s lean, strong little arms surprising me from behind, as she catches me at the school gate for one last hug.  I suck in that moment, while she buries her head and takes a big breath, before galloping off across the mod grass, back to the classroom.   Being floored by the frequent, spontaneous, unconstrained declarations of love from my four year old son: I think you’re the loveliest mummy in the whole world, and I’ll never stop loving you.  Not even when I’m a big daddy.  Gulp.

Somewhere between those heart-melting moments, and the dinner table lecturing, I decided I needed to have a party.  It didn’t feel right to let my birthday come and go last month, without an indulgent, glamorous, defiant night.

And so that’s how I came to find myself, ordering another daquiri at 1am, taking to the dance floor solo, and being at one with my tiki dress and maracas.  Trying to save my friend from a slow, hilarious, inevitable tumble as we hobbled over cobblestones to Supper Inn.  I was never going to be much help there.  Befriending fellow diners and ordering suckling pig with my husband at 3am.  On that night (in our minds at least) we were pretty cool for forty-somethings.  We even slept through breakfast the next morning, and right on until lunch.

A few weeks later, I’m counting up the ways I’ve celebrated turning forty.  There was the party.  There was the dinner.  There were lunches.  And this weekend, as the closing ceremony to my birthday festival, I was charioted away by my two best friends, for a surprise spot of theatre and a long, decadent dinner.   Very fitting, I felt, for someone of my age.

And now, blog entry included, I think I’ve milked turning forty just about as much as I can.  I best get busy.

That frittata isn’t just going to make itself, you know.

This is forty This is also forty