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Archive for November, 2009

Make-up is a little like sugar on cereal. The longer your kids don’t know about it, the better. And then of course when they do finally find out about it, they have a tendency to pile it on. 

And so it breaks my heart to say that The Pixie – at the ripe age of five and through no fault of her own – has discovered makeup in a Big Way. 

It’s all because I thought she should do dancing. You know, as a bit of exercise and as something to do that was entirely for her and had nothing to do with her brothers. The dance school I chose seemed so relaxed – kids did the class in their school uniforms and without proper shoes. It was cheap, it was local, she was happy, I was happy.

But then we hit The Concert Season and everything spun rapidly spun Out. Of. Control. 

Suddenly, I found myself faced with a list of make-up requirements that looked like it’d been issued by the wardrobe department of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. I was dishing out money at every turn for special stockings, flesh-coloured underwear, makeup, hairspray, bobby pins, concert DVDs and photos and discovering that the inclusion of the word “ballet” or “dance” in any item’s description had the same effect as the word “wedding” – it doubled the price instantly. 

Still, I had come this far and it was too late to pull out without letting anyone down (The Pixie most of all). And so I dutifully turned up at the theatre for the dress rehearsal at the appointed time with my child and all the requisite accoutrements. I had even managed to hang two (out of the four) costumes on hangers with a plastic shopping bag draped carefully over them.

I felt pretty damn good about myself – after all, it’s hard to find spare hangers in The House That Ate Paris. And the plastic bag showed that I was a mindful mother who didn’t want her child’s costumes to get unduly soiled (or at the very least the shoulders of the costumes, since that was all the plastic bag covered). Then I saw the other mothers arriving with zippered suit bags and fold-out hanging racks and suddenly I felt  like I may as well have screwed the costumes up in a wad and stuffed them at the bottom of a bag with a wet towel from swimming lessons, such was the level of “care” I’d obviously taken. 

It turns out that all this time I’d been smiling and waving and exchanging small-talk with other parents when I dropped The Pixie off at her lesson, there were all these Bona Fide Stage Mothers walking amongst us, who only revealed their true identities at Concert Time. These women took things very very seriously. They had check-lists. They had separate little zip-lock bags for each costume accessory. They “shusshhhhed” other children when they spoke above a whisper in the dressing room. 

It was enough to make an NDM turn to drink – except a little talk to the parents before the dress rehearsal from the Dance Teacher put an end to that particular avenue of relief. STRICTLY NO ALCOHOL BACK STAGE, was the clear message she delivered – while looking directly at me, no less.

I nudged The Fabulous Miss Jones sitting next to me.

“She’s looking at me! How does she know?” I whispered. And then I remembered the rather loud conversation Miss Jones and I had had in the theatre carpark about ten minutes beforehand which went something like this:

MISS JONES:  I wish I’d bought a hip flask … Only joking!

THE NDM:     I wish you’d bought a hip flask, too…. Only I’m not joking. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been more serious in my life.

Anyway, somewhat disheartened, we returned to our Stage Motherly duties where I watched the Miss Jones put makeup on her daughter, hoping I could learn something. For someone who is always so well-groomed herself, Miss Jones did such terrible job that I burst out laughing. My, how I laughed. But my laughter quickly dried up when I started doing my own daughter’s face, turning her from a naturally beautiful five-year-old into an extra from Michael Jackson’s Thriller in a matter of minutes. 

“Don’t take the black stuff off, Mama!” my little girl cried, when I tried to make amends. “It’s sooooo lovely!” 

“Yes, lovely for a Panda Bride, my love,” I replied. But the more I tried to fix things up, the worse I made it and it rapidly got to the point where it physically hurt me to look at my own child’s face.

And so, it was with a very heavy heart indeed that I sent my daughter off to the stage and slipped into my seat in the auditorium. Honestly, why the hell am I doing this? I thought to myself. I mean, there I was, literally haemorrhaging money so I could stick my five-year-old daughter on the stage looking like Christina Aguilera in “Lady Marmalade” and I couldn’t even get drunk while doing it

And then the auditorium lights dimmed and the curtains parted.  And I saw my little daughter gaze up in wonder at the stage lights overhead and be struck by that very same lightning bolt that once struck me many many years ago. And I cried. 

I cried because I still remembered that feeling of being on the stage for the first time after 33 years. I cried because I was so proud of my daughter, freak show make-up and all. And I cried because I knew it was entirely likely that I’d go out and buy ziplock bags the very next day and well and truly begin my descent into Stage Mother Hell…

Stay tuned for the second part of this exciting NDM adventure on Wednesday, entitled “Concert”… In the meantime, nobody tell my kids about sugar on cereal, okay? I don’t think I can take it right now. 

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I was faced with an etiquette dilemma a few months back when I received a text announcing the birth of a baby. Unfortunately, the number wasn’t stored in my phone and there were no details in the text itself that gave away the identity of the parents. 

I mean, what would you have done? At the risk of sounding like a quiz out of Dolly magazine, would you:

a) write back “Congratulations!” and hope you work out who the kid belongs to some time before their 18th birthday;
b) write back “Look, I’m really happy for you and all but who the fuck ARE you?”; OR 
c) do nothing in the hope the news will come via other channels, such as email, pamphlet drop or some kind of reality TV special.

In the end, I was so paralyzed by uncertainty I ended up going with c). And a few days later, I received an email from long-serving friend (and erstwhile reader of this blog) Madame Zap that revealed not only that she was the mysterious texter (and now newly-mother-of-three) but that the text had in fact been sent from the delivery bed. 

I felt terrible. And not just because her mobile number details had obviously dropped out of my phone’s address book in one of three recent phone changes. Mostly I felt terrible because if had been me texting from the delivery bed, I’d like to think people could be bothered texting back. It doesn’t take that much effort to punch out a few words on your phone, you know. Unlike, say, pushing something the size of a small planet, for example, through your watoosy. Just sayin’. 

Of course I immediately set about making amends and went out and bought a card and a present for the baby. Which then sat unsent on my desk for four long months. Etiquette failure number two.

And so, in the end, I had no choice but to drive across town to Madame Zap’s house with The Pixie and Tiddles McGee to hand-deliver both card and present. It was the only way to sort out this whole mess. 

Now, I should point out here that Madame Zap had moved to a rather ritzy suburb since we’d last met. I had some trepidation about going there because the last time I’d driven ’round those parts I’d been with the whole family in the Love Bus and it was a little like the Beverly Hill Billies rolling into town. I think some local residents actually had to wash out their eyes after seeing us driving down their immaculate hedge-lined streets and, had they known where their gardeners stored the pitchforks, they probably would have tried to chase us out.  

This time, however, I was driving the Star Wagon and therefore cloaked in the power of the Light Commercial Vehicle. Thus, I could easily pass myself off as a courier delivering a package. And since I was actually delivering a present or card, my story was water-tight – you know, just in case a member of the Local Citizen Action Group challenged me as I tried to enter the suburb. Which, somewhat disappointingly, they didn’t.  

Anyway, it was lovely to catch up with Madame Zap, to meet the latest addition to her family and to see her beautiful new house. And it was a blessed relief to finally hand over the card and present. 

And that might have been the happy end to this story, EXCEPT for some further breaches of etiquette I committed while there that have been weighing on my mind ever since, including:

1) managing to stretch a morning-tea invitation til well past lunchtime (not acceptable when there is a small baby in the house);
2) bringing a teenage mutant ninja turtle figure into a house previously untouched by the TMNT franchise and then leaving it there; and
3) changing Tiddles McGee’s shit-packed nappy in the back of the Star Wagon and in full view of the neighbourhood. 

Lord knows how you even start making amends for that lot. Any suggestions? Anyone?

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I am reluctant to call myself a “Writer”. I feel it’s a bit disingenuous to hang my whole identity on an activity I do less than 5% of the time – if that. I mean, I spend 33.3% of my time sleeping (or trying to sleep) and I don’t go around calling myself a Sleeper or even (more accurately) an Aspiring Sleeper.

Of course, one might argue that so much of what I do with the rest of my time informs my writing and I’m always thinking about it – thinking, thinking, thinking… But then, one might also argue that so much of what I eat informs my bowel output. ‘Nuff said.

My husband – who is currently working on his own Top Secret writing project – and I often accuse each other of writerly behaviour. 

“Oh, you’re such a Writer!” we say to each other.

When my husband complains about something trivial, I toss a casual “Go write me a sob story, Writer Boy!” his way.

And when I say I need to take some time out for my blog, his retort might be something along the lines of: “Well, you’d better grab your beret and go find yourself a fucking street cafe.”

Of course, the time he said that to me, we were staying in Blinkton at my mother’s house, which is at least 50 km from the nearest street cafe – unless a cup of instant coffee in a polystyrene cup drunk while squatting outside the local truck stop counts. Is that behaviour befitting a Writer? I can’t remember Nicole Kidman doing it during her turn as Virginia Wolf in “The Hours” so I’d say not. (Note to self: must buy prosthetic nose). 

Anyway, it must be said my husband goes a bit strange when we’re in the country, and not just because he often does a lot of goddamn writing there. For one thing, he fancies himself as a bit of a Country Boy and starts offering to write “Spirit Of The Man On The Land” guest posts for my blog.

For another thing, he makes grand statements like “I understand The Land. Unlike you city writers. You’re like Vincent von Gogh staggering drunk around my sunflower plantation. OF COURSE the sunflowers are going to look all squiggly when you’ve drunk that much absynthe.”

And I’d say he has a good point if he wasn’t being such a goddamn writer about it. 

Anyway, if you’re wondering what has sparked all this writer talk, I’ll give you the lowdown.  I just got one step closer to being able (but perhaps not yet willing) to legitimately call myself a Writer. As of yesterday, I became a guest blogger on kidspot.com.au . There’s a retro-NDM piece up there now but there may be some freshly-baked posts up there one day soon. 

Oooh, look at me! I’m a guest blogger on a major Australian parenting site! La-di-dah!

(What a Writer.)

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There must be something very calming about the final 50 metre stretch to my front door. As babies and toddlers, my children would remain stoically awake (i.e. screaming) for the entire journey – whether it be 3 minutes or 3 hours long – until those last 50 metres, when their eyelids would grow suddenly heavy and sleep would pull them in…

Of course, the minute I turned off the engine or (more daring still) kept the engine running and tried to do “The Transfer” into the house, their eyes would spring right open as if to say “Just forget about it! Let’s pretend the whole damn thing never happened!” And then their mood would be even less charming than before the micro-sleep (i.e. more screaming) and they would somehow use those 2 minutes of sleep as leverage to stay up at least one hour later than usual (still screaming). 

Tiddles McGee is the worst of them all. Even now, he can fall asleep in the car in the 1km between the school and home. I’ve tried repeatedly shouting “STAY AWAKE!”, singing show tunes at the top of my voice and getting the other children to poke him. When it’s just him and me, I’ve even taken to throwing balled-up tissues at him from the driver’s seat. He just shouts “I’m not sleeping. I’m RESTING!” and then somehow still manages to fall asleep.

It always reminds me of this game show I once saw in Japan where a group of people were strapped into a bus without sides or a roof and driven through walls of fire and swarms of wasps. And all the time they were expected to try to complete a complicated maths problem on these little blackboards. Oh, and the host was dressed up as a bottle of sake.

Now, obviously nobody is dressed up as a bottle of sake in Tiddles’ situation. Well, not yet anyway. My point is that Tiddles McGee could be a passenger on that Bus of Weird and still fall asleep.

So, inventive soul that I am, I came up with a game to play when I don’t want him to fall asleep in the car.

This is how you play it:

When you go around a corner, you go “Ooooooooooo!”
When you drive under a bridge, you shout “Wa-HEY!!”
When you go over a speed-bump, you say “Bee-Boh!”
When you see a truck, you shout “Trucky-ucky-uck!”
When you see a red car, you call out “Boom-boom-boom!”
When you have to stop at a traffic light, you go “Aw, mannnnnn!”
When you go ’round a roundabout, you sing “You spin me right round, baby, right round, like a record, baby, right round round round”. 

Just to give you a few examples.

TIddles loves it. He stays awake just to go “Ooooooo!” as we pull into our driveway. Result.

Of course, I hadn’t taken into account the long-haul car trip and my children’s staying power when I came up with this particular game. On a recent trip to my mother’s, we hadn’t even hit the outskirts of the city and my husband was beginning to twitch uncontrollably from the constant stream of “Boom-boom-booms!” and “Trucky-ucky-ucky-ucks!!”.

I just sat quietly in my seat, shrugging my shoulders and rolling my eyes slightly, as if to say “Kids! Who’d have ‘em!”, like I had Nothing Whatsoever to do with all this hullabaloo. But when one of the kids asked me what they should say when they saw a bus and I let out a rapid-fire “Bussity-Bussity-Bussity-Bussiteeeeeeee!”, he turned to me with the kind of look that let me know in uncertain terms I had ruined his life.

Luckily for my marriage, the further you drive into the country, the less there is of everything and eventually the children fell silent. And Tiddles McGee? Well, he fell asleep about five kilometres from my mother’s door, which is the country-equivalent of 50 city metres, and then bounced off the walls until 10:30pm. Which, in my humble opinion, is far worse than a car-full of kids shouting “UTILLA THE HUN!” every time they see a ute. But then, that’s just me.

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It just so happens that we have a friend who shares the same name as Mr Justice – let us call this friend Poetic Justice (or PJ for short).

You  might think this is coincidental but in fact we knew PJ long before Mr Justice burst into our world and he actually helped us settle on [Justice] as the name for our firstborn son. You see, when I was heavily pregnant, my husband rang PJ to ask his opinion. For not only was PJ funny, handsome and clever and like some kind of walking advertisement for the name of [Justice], he had also tried and tested it in the schoolyards of Western Australia. 

I think the telephone conversation started off with my husband saying something like “We’re not stalking you, but…” and PJ was able to tell him, with great confidence, “I have never had a problem with my name!” shortly before taking out a restraining order on us and/or moving to Amsterdam. Can’t remember which. 

A few years later, there came a time when PJ and his wife lived in the same city as us and they would come over on Saturday nights and teach us how to play Texas Hold ‘Em poker. It was around this time that I earnt my fearsome reputation ’round the card table as “The Serpent Queen” and they moved interstate, although they said that the two events weren’t related. They said. 

Anyway, the Pixie thinks PJ is very handsome. I know this because she told me so.

“He’s very handsome!” she announced brightly one day, after a brief interstate visit from PJ. Then she added, somewhat dreamily: “He has King Hair!” 

King Hair? I was intrigued. Even more so when she made another King Hair pronouncement about an older boy she’d been following around at a party, all wide-eyed and doting, no doubt basking in the glow of his King Hair. The boy’s hair wasn’t anything like PJ’s… but then I thought maybe, just maybe, it’s not about the actual hair. Maybe it’s about the quality of the man behind the hair. Maybe my daughter is already an astute judge of character at the ripe old age of five. 

Of course my husband couldn’t resist asking her if he himself was blessed with “King Hair” and she said “Yes”, but in that way that made it clear she was only saying “Yes” because she knew he wanted her to say yes.

But when I asked The Pixie later in private, she confirmed his King Hair status. And she explained herself further: for hair to be considered king-like, it had to be “smooth”.  By which I think she meant “straight” or maybe even just “combed”. There went my “quality of the man” theory… although, there’s a lot to be said for a man who maintains personal grooming standards.

Still, as a turn of phrase,”King Hair” conjured up such visions of romance in my mind that I felt a little unnerved. Surely my little girl shouldn’t be thinking about romance until she was old enough to read those Sweet Valley High books? (That’s apparently somewhere around third grade). 

But then I remembered how, when I myself was five, I used to draw pictures of princes and princesses holding hands together on the inside cover of my colouring-in books. I remember the flush of excitement I’d get imagining myself holding hands with such a prince, who always had dark hair and dark eyes (my own “King Hair” equivalent). Of course, it took me years and years (and years!) of heart-ache before a certain red-headed blue-eyed man met me at Bristol Temple Meads Station and took my hand, and then went on to marry me (although not at Bristol Temple Meads Station, I hasten to add).

So I know that the path ahead of The Pixie is long and hard and probably filled with ignoble wolves hiding behind their carefully combed hair. But my hope is that she will get there in the end and find what her little heart yearns for, “King Hair” or no.

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You’d think preschool children who hung out with each other a lot would synchronise their toilet-trips in much the same manner women synchronise menstral cycles. But, no.

Just the other day, I ventured to the science museum with five children, all under the age of six. And look, before you say anything, I thought it was a good idea. I truly did. And really, it mostly did turn out to be a good idea except, well…

It’s just that when you’re on your own with that many children under six for over two hours, you pretty much can count on doing at least one toilet trip per child. And because you have to take everyone with you each time, you spend another big chunk of time persuading the non-toilet-needing children why it’s a good thing to leave the fun museum stuff and do yet another tour of the toilet facilities. 

It’s therefore fair to say you’re going to spend at least half of your allotted time either in – or traveling to or from – the toilet. 

Luckily for me, this particular museum had “family facilities” which are multi-gendered places with plenty of wide spaces for prams, water-play and tantrums.

Would that it were so in all public venues. Now that Mr Justice is seven and more prone to catching “girls’ germs”, he refuses point blank to go into the women’s toilets. And legally, I’m not sure of his status in there anyway. So I often find myself wedging the female toilet door open so that I may observe the toileting activities of The Pixie and still keep an eye on Mr Justice outside, while Tiddles McGee merrily runs back and forth between the two.

Happier still are those times I’ve had to lurk right outside the men’s toilets shouting out “Are you okay?” every five seconds, whilst explaining to other toilet patrons and passersby that “My son’s in there!” and “I don’t normally make a habit of this. No, really.” 

Is it little wonder I prefer to use the disabled toilets when out and about on my own with the kids? Of course, I do it with a heavy conscience and only after scouting out for people who look like they might need it more than us first. I remember someone once said to me “Why shouldn’t disabled people have to wait for the toilet like the rest of us?” causing me to mutter something along the lines of “Um, because the rest of us are having a much easier time of things, really” and terminate my friendship with said person on the spot.  

Anyway, back at the museum, we’d just done toilet trip #4 and were back looking at actual exhibits (as opposed to tap fittings), when Master J made a surprise announcement.

“Uh, [NDM]?” he said, oh-so-casually. “I’ve just done poo in my pants.”

I shouldn’t have been surprised – after all, this is the child from past posts such as “Poo-tential” and “All The World’s A Toilet” – but I was surprised. Mostly because toilet stop #4 had actually been for Master J. 

“How did this happen???” I asked Master J, as I rounded up everyone for the fifth time.

“My bottom opened up and I pushed the poo through,” was his measured response – which admittedly answered my question, albeit in a way that made me want to plunge my mind in bleach. 

As we trekked back to the toilet (some of us more comfortably than others), I felt a wave of despair wash over me. Not only did I have to deal with the Unknown Horror in Master J’s pants, but the fact I had no spare clothes meant I’d have to bring the museum trip to an untimely end and find some way of getting the disappointed five-under-six safely out to the car against their will. 

Luckily for us all, it ended up being the smallest amount. I quickly scrubbed the undies and hung them on the pram handle to dry (I’m both resourceful and classy) and Master J happily went commando for the rest of what turned out to be a pleasant afternoon. Disaster averted. 

That night, when I recounted my toilet adventures to my husband over a glass (or three) of Recovery Wine, he said “I know you’re like some kind of Super Mum, but next time you find yourself in charge of five-under-six, maybe it’d be best to stay at home”. 

Shee-itt, I ain’t no Super Mum, I thought to myself. Not even close.

But let me tell you all now: if I were, I’d definitely be one of those really smart superheroes that has a sidekick to delegate all those toilet trips to. That’s. For. Sure.

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You can imagine my initial panic when Mr Justice lost his first tooth and promptly swallowed it along with a mouthful of dinner. I had this sudden vision of the kind of retrieval process I’d have to undertake to get the tooth back and thus was extremely quick to persuade him that the gap in his mouth was all the supporting evidence the Tooth Fairy needed for his compensation claim. 

That night, my three children banded together to submit that claim to the Tooth Fairy – in the form of a elaborate offering including food, drink and a hand-woven blanket made of grass. Mr Justice even carefully wrote a letter using the Official Fairy Alphabet, as laid out in “The Big Book About Fairies”, which made me secretly smile because it made the word “this” looked like “pis”. Gotta love the Official Fairy Alphabet. 

Anyway, this was a Big Moment in my seven year-old’s life – especially since it had already been many months since he had been proclaimed the only kid in his class yet to lose a tooth. 

“I am so very proud of myself,” Mr Justice said to me, all happy-gappy grins, as I tucked him in that night. He then added: “This is better than wonderful!” And then: “I can’t wait to get that twenty bucks.”

Twenty bucks? It was my second flash of panic that evening. Was that really the going rate for babyteeth these days? Why, that’s 20 teeth x $20 x 3 kids… a whopping $1200 in Tooth Fairy fees and, indeed, the kind of pricing structure that my oral surgeon would be proud to call his own. Zoinks!

I quickly jumped onto twitter, where I was relieved to find out that most people were paying out a more modest $2 per tooth. But how to get Mr Justice to readjust his rather unrealistic expectations?

It turns out that his expectations weren’t exactly that unrealistic: one of his best friends had recently received $20 for a single tooth. Which happened to be the same friend who got a Nintendo Wii from Santa the Christmas Mr Justice got a Matchbox car and an orange. Which also happens to be the very reason why I think there should be some kind of Parenting Charter that sets things like maximum spending amounts for Gifts From Santa and caps tooth fairy rates so that you’re never put in a position where you have to explain to your son why it seems The Tooth Fairy likes Johnny Down The Road more than him.

Anyway, the fact of the matter was that Mr Justice was quietly confident the morning would see him $20 richer. Luckily for me and my bank account, however, I remembered that he was still of an age where a handful of coins looks like much more money than a single plastic note. And so, when he woke the next day to find all the Fairy food and drink all gone and his once-empty glass overflowing with five cent pieces, he was satisfied.

“I hid under my sheet and stayed awake until 2 o’clock in the morning!” he told me, his eyes shining brightly, not knowing I’d found him propped up with three pillows and snoring at 10pm. “I even heard the Tooth Fairy drinking the water! She made a lot of noise and drank for a very very long time.” Which was probably just his father “making space” in the fridge. 

And that morning, a wave of fairy-fever washed over all three of my children, who busied themselves making a little house for the fairies who lived in the garden and searched the house for further evidence of fairy visitations in the night. When an empty Milo tin moved across the (wet) kitchen table, pushed by forces unseen, Mr Justice was beside himself with excitement.

“I can’t wait to tell the lads at school!” he exclaimed. And I thought to myself how I hoped the light in his eyes never went out.

And then I thought: how precious and fleeting these Tooth Fairy and Santa years are.

And then I thought: I should definitely draw up that Parenting Charter before a) the next tooth falls and b) Mr Justice begins to comprehend the buying power of the Australian dollar compared to that of the Australian five cent coin. Yes, definitely. 

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