3am Wake Up Call

The other night I was woken at 3am by a shadowy figure standing next to my bed.  Because I have watched WAY too many episodes of Criminal Minds, as soon as I opened my eyes I was overcome by a wave of terror.

(Side note: I have only ever watched Criminal Minds for the sexual chocolate that is Shemar Moore.  Due to the content of the show, rather than dreaming about him calling me “baby girl”, I instead have nightmares about the serial killers coming after me. Even though I no longer watch it – because sexual chocolate is not on the show anymore – I have obviously watched enough episodes to give myself PTSD from it).

Then, the shadowy figure spoke:

“Mum, I feel like I’m going to vomit”.

Instantly the wave of terror was gone.  It was replaced by a tsunami of terror. The one thing I fear more than serial killers, is gastro.  Vomiting, diarrhoea, any kind of unwanted expulsion of bodily fluids just Freaks. Me. Out.  It is a massive phobia of mine.

Frantically I started fumbling through my bedside drawer for a vomit bag: not there.  I asked the shadowy, 12 year old figure about to vomit why he hadn’t grabbed the vomit bag from his bedside table (couldn’t find it).

(Yes, we do keep vomit bags on our bedside tables in our family.  As I mentioned earlier: massive phobia.  And no, my 3am foggy brain did not think to ask him why he hadn’t gone directly to the toilet, or the bathroom sink, or to his dad: all of which he had to walk straight past to get to me!)

So I leapt out of bed in search of a vomit bag.  (Past experience has taught me not to use a large stainless steel bowl as the curved sides act as a ramp to propel the vomit up and out of the bowl in several directions simultaneously).   I thought perhaps there was one in the kitchen pantry, but I knew with 100% certainty there was one in the glovebox of my car.  No time to waste looking in the pantry, I rushed to grab my car keys, flung open the front door and raced outside to be confronted by……………………….two kangaroos.

Now, one of the perks of living in the foothills is our close proximity to the wildlife, particularly koalas and kangaroos.  But at 3am, standing half dressed on my front porch, it felt less like a perk and more like a potentially perilous situation.

Now I was in a predicament.  Possible projectile vomit vs possible mauling by a kangaroo.

It was a no brainer. 

Still in my undies, I pushed past the kangaroos, opened the car, and emerged victorious from the glove box, holding the “Chuckies” vomit bag aloft like a gold medallist, and raced back past the kangaroos, inside the house to my 12 year old who was………………………………. asleep.  In my bed.

Turns out he was just hot.

Driving Under The Influence Of Children

People say using mobile phones while driving is dangerous.  I agree 100%.  The statistics regarding accidents due to mobile phone distraction speak for themselves.

Drink driving?  Dangerous.

Drug driving?  Dangerous.

But I think there is something just as dangerous as all of these things:  having more than one child in your car, especially if they are siblings.

The bickering and arguing that goes on in my car drives me to distraction, literally.

Have you seen the National Lampoons Vacation movie (the newer one, not the old Chevy Chase classic) where the mum confiscates all electronic devices in the car, so the younger brother amuses himself by trying to suffocate the older one with a plastic bag?

I laughed way too hard at that.  Welcome to my life.

Recently, amid a somewhat heated argument between my two children, my youngest son launched himself without warning from the back seat to grab his older brother in a headlock in an effort to force him to apologise.  I nearly ran the car off the road.

See I told you: dangerous.

Ok, so that behaviour was extreme, but this has been going on for years.

Several years ago I got so fed up with the arguing in the car that I pulled into the carpark of the nearest police station, and threatened to take the boys in and leave them there.  This was particularly effective: not a peep from the backseat the whole way home. 

Unfortunately I made a rookie error: you can only play the police card once, and I fear I played it too early.  Now the boys simply look back and laugh about the time I pulled in to the cop shop and threatened to leave them there.

I have been feeling very defeated about the constant bickering until the other day when a good friend of mine told me a story that still makes me smile.

The story goes like this: my friend finished work, picked up her two children from school and had to stop at Rebel Sport on the way home to buy a gift for a child’s birthday party the next day.  Her kids nagged her relentlessly to buy them something (as kids do in Rebel Sport: I always end up losing my shit in that store.  Surely it’s not just me?).  So the birthday gift was purchased and each child walked out of the store with smiles on their faces and new jumpers in their arms.

Then came the ride home.

Almost immediately they started arguing and squabbling.  Unable to get them to stop with verbal pleas, then verbal threats, then physical efforts (in her frustration this mum grabbed an umbrella but couldn’t lift it high enough to whack them properly because the roof of the car was too low).  Nothing worked.

So she pulled out the big guns.  She chucked a u-ey, drove back to Rebel and returned the new jumpers.  The best part is that she explained to the shop assistant exactly why she had to return them and they refunded her money: no problem.

That my friends, is parenting goals.

I love this story so much because it reassures me I am not alone.

I often see mums en route to drop off or driving home from school gesticulating wildly at their kids in the car.  Now I realise they are probably losing their shit, like me.  I feel like we need a wave of acknowledgement, one that says: “Yep, I see you.  Same shit, different car over here”. 

We could call it the solidarity salute.

What do you think?  Please tell me I’m not alone.  We all have these stories, right?

Father F*#%ing Christmas

With Christmas fast approaching, I decided to take the boys to the Magic Cave to see Santa.  We chose last Friday, as not all schools had finished for the year so we thought it would not be as busy.  Earlier in the week I had even tried to book a time online, but the online form kept telling me there were no times left.  Confused, I rang David Jones and was told that every time slot had indeed been fully booked until Christmas, and had been for some time.  However, we could still walk in, give our phone number to the elf and she would text when Santa was available.  I was assured that the wait was not normally too long, and we could explore the Magic Cave while we waited.

So Friday morning off we went to the Magic Cave, gave our phone number to the elf who informed us the wait time was currently 3 hours.  3 hours?!  Nope, not happening.  Oh well, at least we could explore the Magic Cave.  If by explore you mean walk from one end to the other in 10 steps, gazing at a few puppets in windows leading to the obligatory Nipper and Nimble, and a couple of crazy mirrors.

In the interests of full disclosure: 20 or so years ago I was an elf in the Magic Cave.  The John Martins Magic Cave. That place was truly magical.  It was huge, full of mystical joy and wonder, not hidden away in a tiny corner of the store like an afterthought.

There, the children would eagerly wait in line to see one of our Santas.  Would it be Santa Lyle with the smooth baritone voice, perfectly suited to his other day job as a wedding celebrant?  Or Santa Roger, who always had a tale to tell about the Reindeer?  It could be Santa John, who insisted on emphasising the reason for the season, and ensuring the children kept Christ in Christmas.  Or possibly the other Santa John, who only had 3 ½ fingers on one hand.  His digits were carefully hidden by his white gloves, but gleefully displayed if children were misbehaving in the cave.  It shocked almost all of them into submission.

Regardless of which Santa the children would see, we moved them through like a well oiled machine.  We even had an express lane for those who did not want photos.  Nobody complained about the wait because there was so much to look at while in the line, and the queues were always moving steadily.

Boy, how things have changed.

Not to be deterred on our mission to see the man in red, we left the Magic Cave in search of redemption at Myer’s “Santaland”.  On our way out of David Jones the boys were intrigued by the large bronze sculpture of a rabbit and a dog sitting having a cup of tea.  Imagine their glee when they discovered the sculptures were not only human like, but even anatomically correct!  The rabbit was obviously female and the dog very, very obviously male.  This bizarre piece of art and accompanying appendage kept them amused all the way to Santaland.

At Santaland, we were told the wait was approximately 45 minutes.  Prepared to wait that long, we lined up next to the large pretend train.  Now I assume it is meant to be the Polar Express, headed to the North Pole, but realistically it was more like the Ghan at a station somewhere on the Birdsville Track given how hot it was in that line.

Nevertheless, we waited.

After 20 minutes the sweat had started dripping and forming pools at our feet but the line had not moved an inch.

Still, we waited.

Our descent into dehydration was broken up by the spectacle of watching a couple stroll casually to the rope at the front of the queue, smug in the knowledge they had pre-booked.  (To be honest, if I had managed to get my shit together back in March and pre-booked to see Santa at precisely 12.15pm on December 15, I would stroll around like a smug bastard too).  Perhaps they should have spent the 6 months since booking their appointment preparing their daughter for the meet and greet because she wasn’t having a bar of it.  She planted her Mary Janes firmly on the ground at the front of the line and started screaming.  She would not budge.  Sadly, neither did the queue.

After 40 minutes, having not moved any closer to the front of the line, and bordering on heat exhaustion, my boys finally broke and agreed not to wait any longer.

Determined not to have their hearts completely broken as well as their spirits, I whisked them off to Harris Scarfe in search of any old Santa.

Strike three.  Harris Scarfe don’t even have a Santa anymore.

No fucking Santa.

At this point there were tears (mine).  Silently sobbing my way down the escalator, I cried for the memories I cannot share with my boys.  For the time when the Magic Cave was truly magical, not a bit of polystyrene tacked onto the end of the toy department.  For the time when the Myer Centre not only had Santaland, but also had Dazzleland, with a real rollercoaster.  For the time when Harris Scarfe was a proper department store, not some strange mish mash of material goods in random order, and when they cared enough to find an old fat guy with a white beard, put him in a red suit and wish some kids a Merry Christmas.

I also felt like crying when I had to validate my carpark ticket, feeding enough money into the ticket machine that could probably have fed a small third world country.

By the end of the day we had made memories, just not the ones I intended.  We did not see Santa, but we did see a bizarre human looking dog with a large bronze shlong. You can bet the boys will remind me of that every year at Christmas time.

Next year, I think we might just write Santa a letter. 

My Mother In Law

This is a photo of my mother in law.  Her name is Esterina.  I know all of the jokes: that if you rearrange the letters in mother in law you spell “Woman Hitler”, and “behind every successful man stands a surprised mother in law”, and the ever popular: “I really miss my mother in law, I just wish I could remember where I buried her”. 

I did bury my mother in law.  Twelve and a half years ago, I stood next to my husband and watched his heart shatter as he lowered his mum’s coffin into the ground.  I have missed her every day since.

In the newspaper we wrote: “she simply lived for those she loved, and those she loved, remember”.  This was Esterina in a nutshell.  She was a woman who loved her children fiercely and without apology.  We may not have always agreed on things, but I was never in any doubt of her love for me. 

How I wish her days in this world were not limited to a mere 54 years of life.

There are so many things I wish.

I wish she had been able to hold her grandchildren.  I was pregnant with my eldest son when she died.  Her goal was to live long enough to see his arrival into this world.   The bastard thief that is Ovarian Cancer stole that dream from her.  I always tell my boys how if their Nonna had been able to hug them they would have felt her unconditional love in every cell of their being.  I have told them she is hugging them from Heaven.

I wish I had listened more.  She had so much to say and I was so young when she died.   Having migrated here from Italy in her early twenties, her English was not always perfect.  Often she made words up, and we would laugh together.  So many people didn’t listen to her.  Her last words were “love each other, stick together”.  We listened to this.  Mum:  your son, your daughter, your son in law and daughter in law: we love each other.  We have stuck together. We will not forget your wishes.

I wish she were here to shield us from the storm.  Now that her husband has died and left a devastating mess for his children to deal with, we feel her loss even more keenly.  If she were here, the mess wouldn’t have been made in the first place.  If she were here, she would not allow other members of the family to treat her children in such a cruel, spiteful way.  If she were here, her grandchildren would only know the pure joy their very presence can evoke in a grandparent, not the confusion of being ignored, disregarded, and made to feel they don’t matter.

So, this is my mother in law.  Her name is Esterina.

 She existed. 

She mattered. 

She matters. 

She will always matter. 

Oh mum, how we miss you.

Book Week

This week I received an invitation to the book week parade at the boys’ school.

As a kid, I LOVED book week.  There was honestly nothing better than getting all dressed up and strutting my stuff around the perimeter of the netball court for the book week parade.  I loved that parade nearly as much as I loved the one day a term I was given money to buy a hexi pie or pasty from the canteen.

You see, I had a creative mum.  She would happily sew sequins or ribbons, dye fabric or even iron on transfers to create magical costumes for me and my sister. She still gets out the puffy pens and hot glue gun when the occasion calls for it.

Unfortunately, the creative gene seems to have skipped a generation.

It’s ok, I have come to terms with my complete lack of crafty, creative skill.  And so it seems, have my children.

This realisation punched me in the face yesterday when the ten year old came home from school excitedly talking about this year’s book week theme: “Find Your Treasure”.  Apparently his class were talking about it in their library lessons, brainstorming ideas about possible costumes.  Predictably, there was a lot of talk about pirates.

While he was relaying the story I was mentally figuring out a pirate costume.  I was sure I have the remnants of a Captain Feathersword outfit shoved in a cupboard somewhere, and no doubt the $2 shop sells eye patches, right?

I was brought back to reality by him patting my arm and saying:

“It’s ok mum.  I told my teacher that you are not very creative so I asked if I could just come as Wimpy Kid”.

Most mothers would probably feel saddened by this, followed by a truckload of mum guilt.

Me?  Nah.

I was busily trying to remember where I put the Wimpy Kid t-shirt after my eldest son finished wearing it to last year’s book week parade (not to mention the 3 consecutive years before that).

You might call that shit parenting.  Or laziness.

I call it both.

But I also call it: “Building Resilience”.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love looking at the amazingly creative costumes that other people’s children parade around in on book week.  So do my kids.  In fact, I think they live vicariously through them.

“Mum, do you remember that kid’s Grug costume last year?  That was so detailed.  It was awesome!!”

“Yes, my son.  Yes it was.  We could add detail to your outfit by you wearing your backpack with your Wimpy Kid t-shirt if you like?”

Knowing that some of you absolutely love the book week parade while others of you share my sentiments, I would love for you to share in the comments your costume ideas for the parade, a photo of a creative costume you have put together in the past, or a costume fail (yes, please).  I will post the first pic in the comments of one of the costumes my mum created for me and my sister.  Enjoy!!

School Holiday Fun

Recently I booked the boys into a session at the Planetarium, followed by a workshop making their own plant terrarium.  The 12 year old was predictably incensed at my insistence on finding and scheduling “learning activities” during the holidays. 

“Holidays are for relaxing, mum!”

“Yes, mate. Because it’s so relaxing hearing you and your brother argue over the Playstation controls and who landed in ‘Tilted Towers’ when they should have landed in ‘Snobby Shores’ or ‘Salted Springs’”.  Makes me want to run screaming into ‘Wailing Woods’ or my personal favourite ‘Moisty Mire’……

So off we went.  After the workshop on the planets and the stars which both boys begrudgingly agreed was pretty interesting (did you know Uranus is a gassy planet), we moved into the next room to create our own terrarium.

Our instructor – Rebecca – was passionate about plants.  I loved her enthusiasm and the way she was trying to transfer her love of gardening to the kids.  But poor Rebecca was really pushing shit uphill: as she was giving the instructions, the parents in the room were busily ignoring her while they helped their little darlings into their rubber gloves, were claiming their glass jars and encouraging their kids to choose the best plants from the end table.

I stood there scratching my head wondering if it is just a lack of manners or a very real case of FOMO, when Rebecca finished her instructions and told the kids to begin.

My boys went to pick up the glass jars on the table directly in front of them when one of the mums, like a stealth ninja from a Bruce Lee film, ran at the table and snatched both jars away.  It is quite possible she followed it up with a commando roll as she gleefully presented the jars to her two kids.

Meanwhile, my boys looked at the empty table in front of them, and then back at me, their mouths hanging open in disbelief. I kid you not, if this were Ninja Warrior, that mum would have been over the bridge of blades and up the warped wall while we were still stuck at the quintuple steps, wondering what just happened.

Knowing I only had seconds to respond before the three most commonly spoken words out of my mouth came out of the mouths of my boys (hint: the letters spell WTF), I calmly moved them away from the table and we asked Rebecca if she had any more glass jars.

Of course she did! This was a workshop we booked and paid for.  Nobody was ever going to miss out.  I just don’t think Ninja Mum received that memo.

So the boys potted their plants, made their terrariums, and we all went on our way.

Except.

I couldn’t stop thinking about Ninja Mum. 

Wondering why she was so desperate to ensure her children had the perfect experience?  Ensuring they had all of the equipment they needed in order to make a perfect product.  Why was she so consumed by making sure her children did not experience disappointment?  So unwilling to make them wait an extra minute to acquire the materials they needed?  I mean, we are talking about a glass jar, some pebbles, some dirt and a plant.  We were not creating the Mona Lisa.

But Ninja Mum is not alone.  Ninja Mum has her own posse.  I have seen her everywhere.  At any event involving children, Ninja Mum is always there.

Free school holiday event at the library? Ninja Mum is there, scooping up the most colourful pipe cleaners and ice cream containers so her child can make the best bird feeder ever.

Workshop at the art gallery? Ninja Mum is there, darting from table to table, ensuring her little darling has every colour in their paint palette because you can’t possibly paint a rainbow without the colour aubergine, or magenta, can you?

Christmas Pageant?  Well, every mum becomes a ninja mum at the Pageant.  This is actually completely understandable, it is Santa after all.

Which makes me wonder.  Regardless of why usually sane, rational women transform into Ninja Mum (a fear of our kids failing? Guilt at a lack of quantity of time spent together so time must therefore be quality time? Wanting to give our kids absolutely everything?), what if we all just calmed the fuck down?  What would happen if we backed off, loosened the reins a little and let our kids fly?  Or fall?  Or just be kids?  Because I don’t know about you, but I don’t need a perfectly planted terrarium to make my life complete.  I don’t even need a crappily planted terrarium, which is why both were lovingly gifted to grandma.

Perhaps then we wouldn’t be so exhausted, and we would have the energy to be ninja mums when our kids really need us: when they are hurt, or scared, or in danger.

Oh, and of course at the Christmas Pageant.  Because, Santa.

First World Problems

Like many of you I have been following the news about the soccer team, trapped in the underground cave in Thailand. Watching, hoping, praying, until finally after nine days receiving the fantastic news that they have been discovered alive.

Yesterday after school I talked about it with my boys.  They even humoured me long enough to look up from their respective You Tube videos to watch the footage of the rescuers discovering the boys.  They were surprised to learn that it could now take months to get them out of the cave, the extended time frame partly due to the fact the boys cannot swim.

Never one to miss a teaching moment, I told my boys I was going to remind them of these children the next time they complained about having to go to swimming lessons. 

“This is why you need to know how to swim.  What if you are ever trapped in a flooded cave”

We discussed it again as a family, at dinner.  I was proud of the empathy my kids displayed, agreeing that the boys on that soccer team must be very scared, that in a situation like that it is important never to give up hope.  That you must stick together and support each other.

I went to bed feeling happy that I am raising two empathetic, caring boys who won’t take their privileged first world lives for granted.

That smug feeling lasted until exactly 7.05am this morning, when urgent screams of “MUM” emanated from the bathroom.  The screams shook me out of my blissful reverie while making the school lunches (isn’t everyone in a state of blissful reverie while making the lunches? #everyfuckingday) and I ran to the bathroom.  I expected to find a creature from the deep had burst out of the showerhead and was violently strangling my son, such was the urgency conveyed by his screams.

What I discovered was the disgusted face of my dripping wet 12 year old, who indignantly stated: “There is no hot water”. 

I tried the taps and he was right.  However, given my husband’s occupation I was fairly nonplussed, knowing he would diagnose and most likely fix the issue by the end of the day.

Not so the 12 year old.  It was immediately obvious to him that this was all my fault! I had used all of the hot water last night!  My shower was too long!  I had the audacity to wash my hair!  I knew that I was robbing him of his hot water……

My response?

“There are 12 kids stuck underground in a cave who haven’t had a shower in 9 days!”

When my darling resilient, empathetic, glass half full young man emerged from the bathroom, he announced: “I’m cold.  And hungry.”

My response?

“There are 12 kids trapped in that cave who haven’t eaten for nine days!”

(I kid you not, I even said it with a straight face).

Never one to let an issue rest, on the drive to school I talked with the boys about how the parents of the trapped children have been holding a vigil at the cave entrance, praying for a sign their children are alive.  That the children hadn’t been able to speak to their parents, or let them know they were ok. 

“Imagine being one of those children.  Their parents haven’t been able to speak to them for over a week.  Wouldn’t that be terrible?”

The ten year old nodded in enthusiastic agreement from the back seat, while Mr ‘no hot water’ sat silently next to me, obviously ruminating over our conversation. 

At drop off I hugged my boys and wished them a wonderful day.  At this point the 12 year old casually looked over his shoulder and asked:

“How much does it cost to get to Thailand?”