Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Child Care Lottery

Welcome to the child care lottery

The Mumdanity household has won the child care lottery!

Our name and number has been drawn from among thousands of other entries languishing in the mysterious child care application barrel, and we have been allocated two days a week in the nursery room of a local child care centre. 

The winning offer came unexpectedly, sliding onto my smartphone and into the rest of our lives as a straightforward plain text email.
There was no fuss, no fancy footing, no fanfare - just a short and simple email, offering a big and potentially heart wrenching family deal. 
The offer caught me completely off guard, partly because it was still early and I hadn't had time to inhale my morning coffee, but mostly because permanent child care positions are excruciatingly hard to come by in our
inner-outer, outer-inner Melbourne suburb.
Located on the cusp of the city fringe - where the suburbs hold hands with the central business district and the house prices are almost affordable - our suburb has recently experienced a rapid influx of pregnant couples and young families.

The local child care infrastructure has proved woefully inadequate in the face of the baby overflow, with the existing centres and providers barely able to touch the sides of the overwhelming baby boom demand.

Options abound, but the waiting lists are positively daunting: an average of two years for private centres, and an extraordinary average of three for the handful of council operated cooperatives and family day care providers.

In response to the crisis, my Parents Group has begun dedicating a large chunk of our weekly coffee catch up to child care acquisition strategies: centre tours taken, grovelling emails sent, desperate phone calls made, miraculous offers received, first preference wins whispered on the grapevine.

My husband and I have spent hours sitting around the dining table trying to crack the waiting list code -
we have thrashed out theories ranging from age to gender to parent profession to food allergy types to street locality to random selection by Twister game board - but have failed to come any closer to understanding the mystery. 

In light of the dastardly daring nature of the child care game, a win is right up there with coming across a full packet of Mint Slices hidden at the back of the breadbox or finding an unsquashed piece of banana beneath the high chair. Our
unprecedented lottery win knocked our collective non-cotton socks off, the brilliance encapsulated in the unpredictability of the draw and the magic wrapped up in the early January start date. 

Celebrations aside, though, you don't get anything for free - and much like every monetary lottery win comes with an unwanted tax, my child care lottery win comes with an unwanted cascade of emotional upheaval and mummy guilt.


Making the initial decision to enrol my baby girl in child care was a tough one - even just using the words 'enrol' and 'child care' in the same sentence as 'my baby' is still enough to make me want to have an impromptu litter of kittens.  

Like many parents and guardians who sign on the dotted child care line, my decision was based on a cacophony of inner voices and personal factors, and balanced precariously atop a wobbly stack of practicality, personalty, ideology and financial viability.  

While a big part of me feels hollow and panic-stricken at the thought of leaving my baby in care for ten hour blocks of time, I have come to accept over the last six months of soul searching and bad late night television that a key element of my mind is craving the balance and challenge of returning to work.

My professional self has been hidden in the cupboard with my pre-pregnancy jeans since I started maternity leave, and is clamoring to be allowed out for an airing. And my alliterating, argumentative, analytical self needs be rescued from the dish washing water before she bores the blogosphere to tears (sorry).

I have also come to accept that as much as I like the idea of living in my own private oasis and feeding off my (disheveled, wilting) vegie patch, utopia is just a sleep-deprivation-induced mirage and there is a financial imperative to go back to work on a part time basis - we are totally not in Kansas anymore, Toto!

Our little household is currently scraping by, but I would rather glide than scrape. I'd like to buy onesies with wild retail abandon, and pay bills ahead of schedule, and fatten up the abandoned piggy bank before I have to put him out to pasture.

Another scale-tipping factor is the belief that my daughter needs to play with other babies, and socialise outside our little family circle of three. My husband and I are familial strangers in this city, imports from another state without a network of family and cousins spread around us,
and we are the first among our friends to cross the parenthood bridge. We play games and sing songs and roll around on the floor, but there is only so much you can do before the baby works out you are not actually another baby at all.

She needs to learn to play with other little people, share her toys and not bite explorative fingers and passing elbows. She needs to learn to sleep in different environments, and pat bunny rabbits, and stack blocks with the other kids and drink from a big girl cup. She needs to be allowed to grow and explore, just like her mummy and daddy.

Rationally, I stand firm behind my decision. But the crushing reality of having to actually leave my daughter at a child care centre and just drive away - just drive away - is pushing down on my soul like a full-term baby's crown pushing against a tired cervix.

I've made the decision, I've won the child care lottery - but am I still gambling?

M x

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Monday, October 28, 2013

The Cheeseboard of Change

Last weekend, while I was rushing around an expensive hipster boutique trying to select a very, very last minute gift for a partyand trying not to break any overpriced china in the process, I bumped into a friend.

This unexpected bumping came as quite a shock - partly because I was preoccupied with trying to choose between a painfully elegant cheeseboard and a painfully elegant tea towel (for the record, I chose the cheeseboard) and partly because I was trying to pretend I wasn't blistering in shoes one size too small for my post-pregnancy plonkers.

My friend appeared equally shocked to see me, but not because I was holding a cheeseboard (although I'm guessing it wasn't quite what he had in mind when he left the house for his lackadaisical weekend coffee-and-browse.) Rather, he was shocked to see me because I was a mother, and I was out of the house.

Before you load up the outrage cannon and sharpen the spears, let me clarify that my friend was not being sexist. He was not suggesting I throw the cheeseboard up in the air in shame and scurry home, nor was he suggesting I should exchange my bridal shower frock for an apron and spatula post haste.

No, my poor friend was simply acting under the influence of clueless, non-parent syndrome: a common and curious affliction which runs rampant through our circle of friends.

The syndrome is characterized by a complete lack of understanding about the realities of parenting, coupled with a willingness to help out and offer support. The combination of the two leads to a series of misjudged but well intentioned acts and behaviours which leave everyone a little frustrated.

Their affliction is not their fault - they are a wonderful bunch of not-quite-thirty professionals, but they still have their feet firmly planted on the safe side of the parenting bridge and have no way of knowing what parenting is all about.

Under the shadow of the clueless syndrome, they have been duped into thinking that parenting
is a nightmare that swoops in low, consumes you whole and saps your will to do anything but parent for the remainder of your natural life.

They mistakenly believe my husband and I have been chained to our house, where we must change nappies and sing lullabies and apply teething gel until such time as the universe implodes or the baby grows up and finishes school and gets her own apartment.

The poor gaggle stare at us wiping baby kiss spittle from our chins as though we are a smeary window into their unavoidable futures, then quickly peddle their fixie bicycles to the pub to quell their sweat with a cold pear cider and trio of dips.

They inexplicably assume we can't go out to dinner anymore, can't leave the house after dark in case we turn into pumpkins, and can't drink even the smallest quantity of alcohol lest we miraculously spirit the spirits on the baby.

And, of course, they assume that as a mother I cannot possibly just leave the house without the baby to do something by myself and for myself for a few hours - especially not to do something as frivolous and absurdly normal as umming and aahing over a cheeseboard in a shop on a Saturday morning.

There seems to be no point arguing with the syndrome or trying to free my friends from its blinding clutches; their time will come, and they will see the light with the same joy that a mum sees the bottom of the laundry basket.

In the meantime, I'll continue to sip vodka and cranberry drinks and take the baby to restaurants and buy cheeseboards willy nilly - and enjoy the fireworks while I wait for them to join me on the dark side.

M x

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* Mumsnet Bloggers Network 'Blog of the Day' October 29 2013 *

photo credit: Ewan-M via photopin cc

Friday, October 25, 2013

Little Rays: The Sunshine Award

The sun is brimming, the birds are singing and I am over the moon to have been nominated for the Sunshine Award by the delightful Lauren Markman of Sorry, Mum. I didn't listen - thank you Lauren! 

I won't lie, its awesome to know that an adventurous tendril of my little blog has reached out through the deep space of the interweb and found a real human reader. Mumdanity is a bit about me, a bit about the baby and a bit about all of you, so knowing my words are resonating with someone in the blogosphere is pretty cool.

The Sunshine Award Rules

  • Acknowledge the nominating blogger (thanks again, Lauren!)
  • Share 11 random facts about yourself. 
  • Answer 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you. 
  • List 11 bloggers.  They should be bloggers you believe deserve some recognition and a little blogging love!
  • Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they’ve been nominated. (You cannot nominate the blogger that nominated you.) 

11 random facts about me
  • I have two sets of wisdom teeth.
  • I can't remember how to ride a bicycle - I am the living and laughable proof that the saying 'it's just like riding a bike' is not a universal truth.
  • Sometimes, I like to eat spoonfuls of butter straight from the tub
  • My first pets were Buttonhead (a sheep) and Goat (a goat), they repeatedly escaped from my backyard until they were 'taken to the farm.'
  • I buy neapolitan icecream, but I don't eat the strawberry third.
  • I am a hopeless jeans addict. Shortly after my daughter was born, I had to go out and buy several pairs of tiny baby jeans because I couldn't work out how to coordinate baby outfits without denim pants.
  • I'd rather be outside in torrential rain than even the lightest wind.
  • The word 'cherry' grates on my soul. It just sounds plain awful.
  • I am a sucker for raffles and charity dips and chocolate wheels and all things chance; one day I will be the eccentric old woman walking around with a handbag of raffle ticket stubs and coupons shouting '27!' 
  • My eyelashes are different colours - one side is brown, the other blonde. 
  • I hate being 'spot wet' - the kind you get from water pistols, sprinklers, raindrops, and splashing. Either throw me in the swimming pool or just leave me be.

11 questions for me

  • What's your favorite book and why? 'Cloudstreet' by Tim Winton. The voice, the imagery, the style, the story are all captivating. The book tied a knot in my middle when I was first drawn into it as a teenager, and the knot is still there all these years later.
  • What time do you get up most mornings? In my dreams, noon. In reality, somewhere between 6:30am and 7:30am, all depending on when Buggy decides to wake up.
  • What's your favorite way to relax? When I can't get to a sun lounge on a tropical island, I go for the couch and a family sized block of chocolate.
  • If you could rename yourself anything, what name would you choose? Emily. No deep reason here, no special meaning, I just really like the name.
  • What do you most wish you could teach your child? To be calm within herself, no matter what storms are raging around her.
  • What is the last non-children's song you listened to? Gaslight Anthem's 'Diamond Church Street Choir'
  • Name the best family tradition you have. A toss up between making our own Easter eggs, and our annual Christmas light display hunt.
  • What is your biggest fear? Being arrested for something I didn't do!
  • What did you like most about being pregnant? Being able to assume the 'tired pregnant lady position' on the couch and stay there all day.
  • Should peanut butter be crunchy or smooth? Crunchy.
  • When was the last time you danced? This morning in the lounge room.

11 bloggers I believe deserve recognition

These eleven bloggers make me smile and keep me coming back for more. I hope you enjoy reading their posts and scrolling through their pages as much as I do, and I can't wait to read their answers to my questions. 

11 questions for my nominated bloggers

  • Tea or coffee?
  • Do you dawdle or rush?
  • Which season do you love and why?
  • Do you write then edit, or edit as you go?
  • What are your three favourite foods?
  • If you could go back in time, what is the one thing you would tell your teenage self? 
  • Which room in your house do you spend the most time in?
  • If you could go anywhere in the world today, anywhere at all, where would you go?
  • Are you an indoors or outdoors person?
  • What is the last movie you watched?
  • If you had to save just one item from your house, what would it be?

Thank you again for the sunshine, Lauren!

M x

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Waist-ed Days

My relationship with my body has changed quite considerably since I grew and birthed a watermelon. The differences between my body and brain have become so stark I'm not quite sure whether we should make up or break up. 

Before pregnancy, I was pretty comfortable in my own skin. Like most twenty-something women, I knew my perks and I knew my flaws, and I was well-versed in making the best and least of them all.

I knew how to rock a pair of skinny jeans, how to stand out in a cocktail dress and how short was probably a little bit too short for me unless there were shots of vodka on the cards. I understood my body shape and size and I could pick a flattering dress from three department stores away. 

Since giving birth, I haven't quite been able to get a mental grip on my body. My body just doesn't seem like my body any more, and the oddness runs far deeper than feeling unfamiliar with the stretch marks and increased bust line.

Although I've returned to my pre-pregnancy weight, it's pretty safe to say the paparazzi won't be mistaking me for
'Fit Mom' or Kate Middleton any time soon.

There has been so much stretching and sagging and shifting over the past sixteen months that I am now permanently two dress sizes (and one shoe size) larger than I used to be. My hips have expanded outwards, my ribcage has pushed upwards and my beloved hourglass-shaped waist has been replaced with a distinctive new tree trunk model.

Unfortunately, change is not my strong point. I've been floundering for months now, looking for a hook on which to hang my mixed bag of body perceptions, and the separate segments of my inner self have put down stakes and entrenched themselves in a battle of perspectives.

The sensible, grown-up, educated woman  inside me is the most balanced voice in the battle. She is pretty accepting of what she sees in the mirror: grippable hips, acceptable post baby belly pouch, practical thighs, logical stretch marks, alright arms, slender ankles, quite nice shoulders.

She's a pretty logical woman, this internal one; she understands that life is as life does, and that our personal memory book is far more important than the tone of the thighs on which we walk.

She recognises that this body has travelled nearly thirty years across the surface of life and has the lumps and bumps and patches of dry skin to prove it. She is aware that I have failed my body in terms of exercise, lavished it with smelly potions instead of organic lotions, and fed it adequately but not particularly well.

She also knows this body has sprained joints and fractured bones, birthed a watermelon and repeatedly worn high heels instead of the prescribed orthotic inserts. And she is the first to acknowledge -  though certainly not the first to admit - that this body
has consumed too much white wine, inhaled too many cigarettes and spent too many summer days gallivanting on the beach with too little bikini and too little sunscreen.

This sensible woman stands somewhat further along the spectrum of perception than my inner motherly self (although they do share some common ground, especially when it comes to cellulite and bumpy bits.) The pair manage to coexist peacefully most of the time, although they have certainly been spotted having some feisty arguments over some bottles of red and a cheese platter. 

The crucial difference between the two is that where the sensible woman views having birthed a child as a good practical application of my body's capabilities, my inner mum unabashedly boggles at the incredible, life-giving, life-changing, person-making feat my body took on and conquered.

The mum part of me views t
he relocated hip bones as a permanent reminder of womanly excellence and achievement, and the spider marks as a sprawling badge of honour. She finds it truly amazing that my body could carry, birth and feed a baby and then return (predominantly) to its normal functioning state.

If she was allowed to run free, she would swing from the Melbourne rooftops, and hold the baby up to the sun like that that scene from the Lion King, and whoop and holler at the top of her voice
'yo mama, you rock those tiger stripes'.

My inner woman and inner mum are collectively hounded and harassed by a third and frightening segment of my self that I have tried exceedingly hard to repress: the ghost of my inner teenager.

This thin-thighed, energetic ghost is devastated by my physical state. Her days are spent hounding and harping at me to put down the chocolate, get out of my pajamas, exercise more often, work harder to get back in a bikini and the rest of my wardrobe.

She simply cannot understand how my body has deteriorated to this point, or how the elasticity seeped out of my skin. The body she sees me wearing is not the body she can fathom having in fifteen years time, and the worry is palpable in both of us.

Her confusing perfume of brash self-confidence and acute self-doubt take me back to hot summer days and very small pairs of shorts that would no longer fit over a single thigh. She reminds me of everything I was going to be, and how different those things were to the physical and lifestyle reality laid out before me today. Her very presence gets me deep in the guts: could she, maybe, possibly, be right?

Thankfully, my inner woman and inner mum know my teenage ghost is wrong. Being older and wiser (and rounder) they simply drown her out by pouring another glass of wine and getting on with it. 

Over the past six months, I have grown to appreciate the views and wine drinking habits of both my inner woman and my inner mum. I have also come to accept my teenage ghost as part of the post-pregnancy mental furniture, although I live in hope that she might move out of home soon.

I'm still flummoxed by my body and how to feel comfortable living in it again, though - perhaps this self-doubt is just my new black, and I should learn to rock it like I used to rock the skinny jeans I will never squeeze into again?

Are you still on speaking terms with your post-pregnancy body? 

M x

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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Six Early Parenting Truths

Six months of parenting: six early parenting truths

My daughter has gurgled and cried her way to six months old, and I have achieved my first parenting goal of getting my baby to this half anniversary milestone with my sanity and hairline (mostly) still intact.

Having been tied up entertaining the Teething Monster, and watching late night reruns of reruns, I have abysmally failed my first celebratory mummy test. There is no half birthday cake, no colourful cardboard hat, and no carefully crafted Instagram snapshot to capture the moment for posterity.

I have, however, made a list of the six parenting truths that my daughter has taught me (and wailed deafeningly at me) in her first wonderful and cheeky six months on planet earth.

It's not quite a burnt cake and a special occasion teething ring, but here goes ...

  1. Parents Group was invented to make you shower
    Part and parcel of life with a baby in my neck of the woods is some configuration or another of a New Parents Group. My first experience of parents group was pretty standard: rushed, discombobulated and blurry.

    The two hour session left me flustered.
    I lost my name tag in the baby carrier. I failed to focus on the instructional videos. I accidentally sat on the new parent handouts. I hung like a voiceless stunned mullet as some of the other mums tried to stir up small talk. I panicked when faced with an explosive nappy and a communal change table located in plain view of the group. I also dropped half a biscuit on the baby's head and irrationally concluded I was the most inept new mother in the group, and possibly the known universe as well.

    But from among the fluster and the insecurity, I had unearthed an exceptionally important early parenting truth: the magic of parents group is its ability to make you get through the shower, into your recovery shorts and out the front door when nothing else will. Pure early parenting gold.

  2. 'Sleeping through the night' is false advertising
    Another truth learned in the clean and comforting circle of Parents Group.

    Before embarking on the dodgem car derby of parenthood, I was just another one of the deluded millions who thought 'sleeping through the night' meant 'sleeping through the night.'

    This delusion was firmly shattered by the Maternal Health Nurse during the first fifteen minutes of the first meeting of our Parents Group: in many quarters of baby land, 'sleeping through the night' does not mean sleeping through the night at all. It means sleeping for five hours in a row, with top and tail feeds and maybe, if you're really lucky, a short parental nap in the middle. It is also a concept that most babies will not even consider trying to master for several long, hungry, squirmy, months.

    This early parenting truth taught me two very important things: never, ever assume you know anything about parenting, and never, ever ask questions at Parents Group without taking a big cup of concrete first.

  3. Onesies don't need to be changed as often as you think
    In the opening weeks of the parenting play, I changed the baby's singlets and blankets and onesies and socks almost as often as I changed her wet and dirty nappies.

    Spit ups, milk vomits, badly aimed medication, drool, excessive tears and unexplained damp spots all provoked immediate outfit changes. I quickly developed an aversion to press studs, and started avoiding the overflowing laundry baskets like a pregnant lady avoids the bathroom scales during the third trimester.

    Over the weeks it took to achieve 'sleeping through the night' I gradually let go of my fanatical onesie changing tendencies and started to assess each spill and overflow on a case-by-case basis. The baby isn't quite as clean as she used to be, the washing basket isn't as full as it used to be, and we are all surviving just fine.

  4. Babies know when the toast is ready 
    It only took a week of mummyhood to learn what so many experienced parents know so well: even when sleeping, babies have a sixth sense for detecting when your toast has popped, when your kettle has boiled and when your head has touched the pillow.

    They also know when you are about to take your first sip from a glass of expensive bubbly, when you really need to concentrate on something important without interruption and when you are about to ... practice making additional babies.

    Sadly, this is a universal truth with no universal remedy, although I have found learning to appreciate cold toast and finding a willing babysitter to be helpful band-aid solutions.

  5. Crutches are priceless
    New parents make many investments. Prams, slings, rattles, teething toys, white noise machines, musical mobiles, portable cots, car seats, parenting books, nappy bags, cloth wipes, floor mats, blackout curtains, bottle warmers, sleeping bags, mittens, breast pumps, comfortable tracksuit pants.

    Over the past few months, I have realised that these investments are entirely useless without calm parents to cart, unwrap and administer them. Packaged baby stuff is just packaged baby stuff unless it is applied to the baby in a meaningful and constructive way.

    The best way to ensure you use the packaged baby stuff well is to buy some packaged adult stuff for yourself along the way. Invest in your own house-bound, sleep-deprived sanity: buy a crutch.

    Buy a gaming console, buy a sewing machine, buy the boxed collection of The Simpsons, buy the 1974 postage stamp collection, buy a never ending packet of Tim Tams. Buy your crutch, lean on it relentlessly until you can stand up on your own two feet again and then unwrap the packaged baby stuff and get on with it.

  6. When it doesn't make sense, hug the baby
    The early days of parenting don't make a lot of sense. It's pretty easy to get lost in the fug of sleepless nights, dirty nappies, overzealous onesie changes, Angry Bird battles and conflicting snippets of parenting advice.

    No matter your personality or your background, somewhere along the line you will probably cry and you will probably swear and you will probably yell at your significant other. There will be confusion and uncertainty and grumpiness, and a desire to either rip your remaining hairs out one by one or trek barefoot through the Himalayas until the baby starts school.

    And while there are certain merits to dusting off the backpack and the boots, just take a few minutes to hug the baby and you won't want to go anywhere ever again.

    That's the most truthful early parenting truth of them all.

M x

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Image courtesy of Stockperfect via Brilliant blog posts on

Saturday, October 19, 2013

These are teething times

The Teething Monster is back, and making plenty of noise about it. 

After a brief but necessary holiday away from this rambling house - perhaps to Tahiti, or the Great Barrier reef, or somewhere else suitably unfair - he unexpectedly lobbed up on our doorstep on Tuesday afternoon with a fresh enthusiasm for pain and a suitcase full of new teething twists. 

He took us unawares, even though we should have known better. After all, we were due to meet teeth three and four, and the Teething Monster is renowned for being one of the sneakiest little devils in the entire mummy universe. 

Much like his good friends Separation Anxiety and Unexplained Wakefulness, he evaporates moments before you can wring his neck and then reappears when you least expect him to - midway through a bowl of sweet potato puree, up from the depths of the bath tub, through the door at the ungodly hour of 3:27 am.  

Since his unwelcome return, the Teething Monster has been doing his part to keep the cogs of the mummy universe turning. He has been keeping our little family of three up all night, with the odd surprise nap mixed in here and there to test our reflexes and our sanity. He has also been keeping us down most of the day, leaving us stumbling around in a tetchy teething tether. 

In a move reminiscent of his second cousin, the Cookie Monster, he has been effortlessly spreading crumbs and mess throughout our lives. The lounge room is an obstacle course of teething rings and cold face washers, and the kitchen bench has transformed into a comprehensively (and expensively) well-stocked pharmacy.

On top of the obstacles and the drugs, the house has been attacked with a liberal spread of banana teething rusk mush. This highly adhesive glue of wheat and flavouring has adamantly adhered to the furniture and the fixtures and the forlorn parents in a sticky tribute to the Teething Monster and his unfortunate powers. 

Despite his persistent presence and grumbling, the Teething Monster has yet to deliver any new teeth so his visit looks set to continue through the weekend and well into next week. 

I just hope there is enough patience and grace in the mummy universe (and enough wine in the cupboard) to get me through. 

Has the Teething Monster visited your house recently? 

M x 

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Giant Concrete Puddle

Ahh, swimming.

There is no steadfast shape to the art of swimming. From the traditional beach swim, to the romantic splash, to the quick afternoon paddle and the lazy river float, there is a style of swimming to suit every aquatically-included individual.

While quite impartial to both a warm spring soak, and an ocean wave dive, my personal favourite has to be ye ole swimming pool swimming.

Now, Merriam Webster defines a swimming pool to be: 'a pool suitable for swimming; especially :  a tank (as of concrete or plastic) made for swimming.'

Here down under, The Macquarie Dictionary takes a simpler approach, defining the swimming pool to be: '
an artificial pool for swimming in.'

While these definitions are functional, they are colder than an outdoor pool in the middle of winter and drier than than the kid who forgot to pack their togs for the school swimming carnival. 

A concrete or plastic tank? Yes. Made for swimming? Of course. An artificial pool for swimming in? Undoubtedly. But what about the rest? What transforms a swimming pool from being a giant concrete puddle to an enjoyable chlorinated playground?

For me, there's something intriguing about the cool blue rectangle of a swimming pool that drags me in and under and up and down, lap after rhythmic lap. I think it's a cumulative effect, built up on the flowing solidity of the lane markers and the silent metronome of the lap clock and the burbly, gurgly silence of immersion. 

My love for the swimming pool is well entrenched, and that's a pretty good thing considering I live in Australia - because cooling off at the local swimming pool is part and parcel of every Australian summer. And spring, and autumn, and even winter, depending on your level of grit and fishy tendencies.

Like the Tim to the Tam, the Iced to the Vovo and the sausage to the roll, the swimming pool is an iconic and colourful thread running through the great Australian cultural towel.

Many Australian childhood memories have started, and will continue to start, at the bottom of the local swimming pool. My memories are populated with sizzling hot concrete, short-clipped lawns, faded beach towels, the unmistakable stink of sunscreen running with sweat and lemonade ice-block.

Long days running through cavernous change blocks and slipping down slides, eating meat pies and sopping bags
of mix and match lollies - cobbers, pineapples, coke bottles, teeth and jelly snakes. Quivering climbs up to the top diving board, getting sandpaper feet on the blocks and spitting in goggles to stop the dreaded fog. 

The cast is plentiful: girls in bikinis soaking up the sun when they shouldn't, men wearing budgie smugglers (also when they probably shouldn't) and Mums chasing toddlers with handfuls of hats and sandwiches and water wings. Lap swimmers avoiding the teenage dive bombing squad avoiding the kids fighting each other with kick boards and beach balls. All directed by the stern pool manager: loud-hailer keeper, filter fixer, fence protector. 

Over the course of my lifetime, I have seen plenty of poolside changes. Zinc has fallen by the wayside, replaced by super-sized pump packs of SPF 30+ and protective rash vests. Beach balls have been replaced with foam pool noodles, water pistols have been banned and height restriction signs have been attached to the diving board ladders.

That said, swimming pools are still inherently the same. The water still splashes, the lap-swimmers still churn and the towels still fade. Bikinis are still on women and budgie smugglers are still on men, and jelly snakes still sell like cut-price-shapewear in a room of new mothers. 

Last year, I adopted an indoor pool as my 'artificial tank' of choice. There is a little more steam and a lot more echo than the outdoor variety, but it's a worthy trade-off for protection against the temperamental Melbourne weather. 

It is this indoor pool that will serve as the foundation of my daughter's lifelong relationship with the swimming pool and the water - a relationship that started yesterday, when we took our daughter to the pool for her very first swim.

(As a side note, the indoor part of the equation proved its salt when Melbourne decided to hurl an onslaught of diagonal hail from the sky without warning. Thanks for that, Melbourne, you're consistent weather inconsistency is impressively infallible.)

Our baby has been fascinated by water from her first top-and-tail, and as expected, she proved herself to be a true little fish in the pool. There was the obligatory two minutes of stunned-mullet staring (whoa, Mum, when did the bath get so big?) followed by thirteen minutes of kicking, splashing, smiling, water-gulping wonderment.

From the parental point of view, the experience also went swimmingly (pun entirely intended) - there was smiling where there could have been crying, giggling where there could have been screaming, and the cute purple swim nappy stayed cute and purple. We didn't drop the slippery baby (bonus points) and we now have one peg wedged in the large but essential water-safety board.

Of course, our daughter won't remember that first swim. She is too little and the world is too big for her to make sense of yet. So, as her parents, we will snap up our minds and remember it for her, until she is old enough to blow bubbles and inhale jelly snakes from the kiosk and swim her own memories up and down the pool. 

Ahh, swimming.

M x

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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Six things I should have done

Hindsight is a beautiful thing

Becoming a mother has been an incredibly topsy turvy experience, and has felt much like having my shoelace stuck in a fast moving travelator in a crowded shopping centre while balancing several bags of groceries, a handbag and a half eaten panini bread.

In my new universe, there are very few opportunities to drop the groceries and pull the shoelace free. But on Sunday mornings, when my husband is home and the world is quiet, I usually manage to jump off the travelator for a short while and sink into some comfy couch and reflection time. 

In the space where I used to nurse hangovers and long recovery breakfasts, I now nurse the baby and a swirl of thoughts about why no one told me breastfeeding was like taking a new career as a human milk bar and how I can get possibly get ingrained asparagus stains out of onesies ... and what I should have done before I had a baby.

Six things I should have done before I had a baby

  1. Thailand
    When we decided to go ahead and do the whole baby thing, my husband and I were booked to go on a trip to Thailand. Private swimming pool, cocktails on the beach, hot rock massages. Bliss. In an effort to be sensible parental type people, we immediately cancelled, citing cost and heatstroke and a cornucopia of unnamed risks and tropical illnesses.

    Although I am certain my all-day morning sickness would have made me miserable and the cocktails would have been downgraded to mocktails and I would have spent most of my time passed out under a wet sheet and a fan - we absolutely, unequivocally, emphatically should have gone.
    I would much rather have thrown up under a beach umbrella than in a garbage bin on an underground train platform. Sensible can be stupid sometimes.

  2. Breakfast
    All day, every day, long day, Sunday, breakfasts. Big breakfasts, pancake specials, breakfast burritos, haloumi fritters. Lattes, freshly squeezed juices, broadsheet newspapers, pink salt, raw sugar, almond croissants.  Breakfast just isn't the same with sticky hands down your bra and the inability to use a knife and a fork at the same time.

    I should have hauled my hungover ass out of bed, donned some big black sunglasses and gone out for breakfast every Saturday and every Sunday until my waters broke.

  3. Childcare Applications
    As a young working professional, I knew very little about childcare. My thoughts on the matter were warm and fuzzy, featuring finger painting and sand pits and Snow White dress ups and trays of cute salad sandwiches - I had no idea obtaining a daycare position was a fiercely competitive sport with a high entry cost and even higher rejection rate.

    If I had my time over, I would apply for childcare like you should apply sunscreen in the middle of summer: liberally, all over, early and often.

  4. Husband Time
    After circling in each others orbits for several years, it's easy for your partner and your relationship to become part of your mutually-purchased-though-not-necessarily-agreed furniture.

    Time is non-refundable. I should have spent fewer hours watching the telly, less time complaining about beer bottle lids being left on the counter and the cover left off the barbecue, and more time playing putt putt golf and drinking wine with my husband. Putt putt golf just isn't the same with a pram, or when you're sober.

  5. Motorcycling
    Yeah, you read that right. I've always had a thing for motorcycles, and I've ridden pillion both on and off the road, but I never found the balls (figuratively and literally) to learn to ride solo. The same goes for hang gliding, hockey, pole dancing lessons, go-carting and cross country skiing.

    Now, a little bit older and required to be a lot more responsible, I am too afraid to try in case I break an arm or lose my remaining shreds of dignity or inspire an expensive desire in my daughter to climb aboard a 50cc bike.

  6. Sleep
    This is universal. If you require an explanation, you do not have children. 

If you could go back in time, what would you do before you became a parent?

M x

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Image courtesty of Gabriella Fabbri via

Saturday, October 12, 2013


Suburban lemons
We live in the outer-inner suburbs - or the inner-outer suburbs, depending on your perspective - of Melbourne. Close enough to the big smoke to have a continual babble of city white noise bubbling in the background, and far enough out into the 'burbs to live in a largish house on a largish block.

Our house is of the old and crumbling variety, a Victorianesque terrace built with poor quality post-war cement mix and hodgepodged together with random blocks of timber and silicone glue. It is a
hefty double brick and bluestone construction, that will withstand almost any force except itself and time. 

It's bulk is a blessing, capturing sunlight and heat during the gloomy winter months and barricading out the main bite of the Australian summer scorchers. And while it is large in space and girth, it is poky in proportions, creating the feeling that you are in an open plan rabbit warren where you can't hide but can be all alone, all the same time.

It is a house of conundrums and errors and really-should-fixes. The kitchen is an old new kitchen job installed in an old house in an attempt to make it new, and is built from the kind of white laminate that won't really stay white for very long, even with a bucket of sugar soap and a sledgehammer of determination. The bench top leans in to the wall at an acute angle, causing jars to roll and plates to slide. 

Windows rattle in the wind, the mortar falls out from between the bricks and the polycarbonate pergola bangs about in perpetual disagreement with the framework. The taps leak, the plumbing backs up, the front door only closes if you slam it and sometimes, if the weather is bad, it even rains in the hallway. 

Despite and because of it's faults, this ramshackle establishment makes you feel unconditionally welcome. The front gate squeaks hello and goodbye like joyous punctuation marks at the beginning and end of each day. Decades of scuff marks tell stories on the wide polished timber floor boards and include you in their history. The cheap purple tap fittings attached to the colonial style bath remind you that this is a home, not just a house with light fittings and matching accessories.

The most welcoming room of the house, though, is the backyard. Living on the city verge, we are free from the restraint of the lifeless brick walled courtyard and instead blessed with a poorly maintained but well-loved backyard. We have enough space to spread out a substantial shed, a vegie patch, a compost pile, a dilapidated lattice trellis, a serious barbecue (this is Australia, after all, folks), a sun-scarred outdoor dining setting, a large dog kennel for an equally large dog, a functional clothesline, several thirsty pot plants and a chunk of suitably unruly lawn. 

The heart of this outdoor room is the lemon tree. Old, gnarly and knotted, it stands in the middle of the backyard with branches crossed and boughs aloft. A monster among lemon trees, it shows above the fence line and across the train tracks and torments the inner-outer-inner city citrus population. It provides shade and shelter and a delicious scent, and kindly blocks the neighbours prying eyes from peeking through our lounge room window. 

Lemon, anyone?
Our tree fruits like it is required to feed an army of citrus-hungry warriors, harbouring and then unceremoniously dropping lemon after lemon after lemon after lemon to the ground. We pick them up, we bundle them in polystyrene boxes and plastic bags, we use them to clean the microwave and the bath tub and the chopping board, we squeeze them over pieces of steamed fish and into cups of tea.

But there are only so many things you can do with lemons, and you can only do those things so often. When we have exceeded our personal lemon quota, we try to offload them. We offer lemons to our visitors, and we offer lemons to the fellow dog-walkers in the park. We take lemons to social occasions, and we encourage our friends to experiment with lemon-based recipes wherever possible. (Yes, we've become that couple, boring our infinitely cooler friends with stories about our lemons and our baby, and our baby and our lemons.)

We hope the neighbours reach over the fence when we aren't looking and steal more than they need. We throw lemons for the dog, we stockpile lemon butter and lemon cake recipes, and we sadly deposit some unlucky lemons into the green waste bin each fortnight. I'm contemplating putting a big box of lemons on the pavement out the front of our house with a 'Please Take Me' sign and just letting them scatter across the neighbourhood, one lonely lemon at a time. 

The lemon tree is like a salve for the soul, a permanent dose of lemon-aid. It keeps the city at bay, somehow dampening the sound of the trains and the trams and the throng. It keeps the country close at hand, reminding us that fruit comes from trees and trees come from the ground and somewhere, there is blue sky and endless space. It will keep the baby sheltered from the sun, and endlessly amused and intrigued. And it will keep dropping hundreds and thousands of lemons, that I will never quite know what to do with.

What would you do with a never-ending supply of lemons? 

M x

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Magic Blue Cup: bottling the baby

The little bottles that couldn't
Yesterday, I escaped. 

I ditched the pajama pants, handed the baby to my husband, and ran away to the hairdressing salon for the first time in nearly seven months for a rescue haircut with the works.

An entree of chit chat and gossip mags and coffee. A generous main course  cut and colour, moisture treatment, and a divine curly blow wave. A dessert plate of eyebrow wax and shaping in the beauty room, and a handful of lollipops to go. Delish.

The adventure was as restorative for the soul as it was for the split ends, and washed away the lingering remnants of banana smoosh and several months of frump and frizz and fuzz. 

I've been hanging out to go the hairdressers since Buggy was born. Despite having missed the fashion gene (and the makeup gene, and the cooking gene, and the ironing gene ...) I fell hard for the girly universe of the hairdressing salon long ago. There's something about the combination of spritzed hairspray, trash mags and the roar of the hairdryer that works for my particular soul.

Over the past five and a half months I have spent several of my nine spare minutes staring despondently at my decaying and fraying mane in the mirror, dreaming of breaking out of the laundry and eloping to the salon. 

But for almost all of those five and a half months, there has been a significant road block firmly planted (and growing roots) between my house and the hairdressers: the baby's obstinate refusal to take a bottle.

This roadblock has been intensely frustrating, for all the usual reasons, and because it came on the back of Buggy's initial obstinate refusal to breastfeed

After finally conquering her newborn breastfeeding demons, Bug became an impressive and thirsty little breastfeeder who would feed anywhere, anyhow, anytime. I even fed her with great success standing up in a packed family pub during the Sunday afternoon band session.

Thinking we had finally cracked the elusive code and worked out the feeding caper, I allowed myself to relax into breastfeeding. I stopped timing feeds like an Olympic hopeful during a morning train session, and started to tune in more to the baby herself. 

It was going swimmingly, until - and isn't there always an until moment floating around in the mummy universe - I decided to express some milk and give her a bottle so I could go out for an hour or two. Nope, no, totally not happening. There was writhing and squirming and spitting, but not even the remotest flicker of a suck. 

Holding the full bottle in bewilderment, the truth dawned hard and fast on this weary mummy: as Buggy's familiarity with breastfeeding had grown, her interest in drinking from the bottle had completely diminished.

Now, don't get me wrong. I think breastfeeding is great. My daughter and I worked damn hard to make breastfeeding work, and getting to a stage where we could feed comfortably was one of the biggest and boldest achievements of my personal life to date. Breastfeeding is healthy and cost effective and comforting, and delivers a mother-daughter bond I never even imagined possible.

That said, though, breastfeeding does not allow you to pop out for a counter lunch or go to town for a romantic anniversary dinner with heels and a few sauvignon blancs. It does not allow you to get shitfaced at a rock concert, or drink copious mugs of coffee, or take a necessary course of antibiotics without instigating a serious university level research project and smothering yourself in yoghurt. Or go the hairdressers sans baby. 

I know there are millions of women across the world and across the ages who have, and do, and will, exclusively breastfeed. Some through necessity, some through want, and many through a combination of both. These women are strong and incredible and awesomely awe-inspiring, and they possess more superpowers than Spiderman, Catwoman, Inspector Gadget, Dr Who and Astroboy combined (and for this child of the 80's, that is the ultimate accolade!)

I wish I had those superpowers, I really do. But I just don't. In order to preserve my sanity, I need to be able to take a break from breastfeeding every so often. I need to be able to sleep in once every now and then, be able to go out to grown-up places with grown-up people and have grown-up conversations, and be able to take a few hours here and there to just be myself and do some 'me' things while Buggy hangs out with her Dad.

There is also this mummy sense buried inside me that needs to know that there is backup, so that if worst comes to worst and I get tangled up with disaster or illness or serious misfortune, my baby will be able to pick up a bottle or a sippy cup and keep on going and growing without me.

So, you can see, Buggy's cool disengagement with the bottle had quite an abrupt impact on my mumdays. In the space of just that one failed bottle, I realised that my backup had fallen out the window and 'me' time had retreated to the corner to lick its wounds and feel sorry for itself.

And so began Operation Bottle the Baby, an intensive and mummy-draining fight against bottle apathy. We have purchased enough bottles to build and float our own family-sized raft, but we still ain't floating anywhere on the bottle sea.

The array is quite mind boggling: large and petite, short and tall, angled and curved, latex and silicone, slow and fast, expensive and economical, long teat and wide teat, clear and frosted, coloured and plain, anti-colic and standard.

Then there are the sippy cups: handles and sans handles, soft spout and hard spout, spill and non-spill, valve and free-flow, small and super-sized, single spout and three-sixty degree valves, round mouthpiece and rectangular mouthpiece, upright and angled hold, generic and branded.

We've also tangoed with open cups, big and small and a Babushka style line up in-between. We have had a smidgen of cup success, but it's slow going and there are only so many times a day you can wipe down the baby and change her outfit before you realise you're on a road to nowhere. 

We've tried using a spoon/food device traditionally used for baby mush to pour milk into her mouth (which was funny but not necessarily fun) and we've tried using a straw cup designed for toddlers.  We've tried plastic food pouches with hard plastic spouts, and even bowls in place of cups. 

After nearly four months of banging our heads against the proverbial wall, my husband and I reached a point last week where we were very close to giving up on the baby ever taking anything but the boob. Then, while we were teetering on the cusp of giving up and reappropriating the bottle collection into a fort on the lounge room floor, we chanced upon the magic blue cup. 

This magical drinking device looks like most other plastic sippy cups in my kitchen draw and available on the contemporary market (and trust me, I should know!) Cylindrical body, chunky handles, screw top lid, hard plastic spout. Your usual, run of the mill, milk-carting-and-hopefully-sipping container. 

But for some inexplicable reason, this little cup works for our exasperated little family. The baby not only likes to pick it up and play with it, but she also likes to drink from it - in that regard, it's miraculous! Buggy obviously sees something that we mere adults don't, but she's not giving away the secret just yet. And while I would dearly love to know what she sees, I'm just happy that she does. 

Of course, magic doesn't necessarily equal instantaneous perfection. We have some fine-tuning to do, and there is still a great deal of stylistic drinking flair and hand-to-mouth aiming to be acquired. Plus there are still moments when Buggy mistakes the spout for a teething toy and chews, chews, chews like her life depends on it. 

Perfection can come later. I'm just happy that the baby can drink from a cup some of the time, my husband can feed his daughter, and I can get a blow wave and some lollipops every six to eight weeks again. That's magic. 

M x

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Thursday, October 3, 2013

20 weeks: an open letter to my pregnant friend

Cake is not the enemy
Hurrah! You did it! You are twenty weeks pregnant! 

Congratulations on reaching this important milestone on your first ride on the pregnancy roller coaster. You have just ricocheted out of the loopy and bendy bits of the ride and embarked upon the long, steep climb before the sheer vertical drop. 

Having suffered through the early stages of pregnancy, you are now qualified to experience the joys of the midway juncture: finding out whether your watermelon is a blue or a pink one, fighting with the elderly to get the priority seat on the packed morning commuter train, agonising over what nursery accessories to order on eBay.

You are also about to unceremoniously pop, much like a piece of microwave popcorn. You might also start to swell, puff, huff, stretch, sweat and take on a new skin tone - think reds, pinks and splotches - and be forced to stop shaving your legs and clipping your toenails. Choice. 

As your belly continues to increase, so too will the level of unsolicited pregnancy advice you receive. From your friends, from your mother, from your colleagues, and from complete strangers (and yes, you will want to strangle them, and yes, that is normal). 
A pastiche of meddlers will tell you to wear compression stockings, avoid bean sprouts, take a babymoon, give up on fashion and buy mumu dresses, and cut out dried fruit before your gestational diabetes test. Nod, shrug, tell them to shut up and sod off, stick the proverbial where the sun don't shine, then waddle off on your own and eat some cake. 

Before the unsolicited onslaught begins, I would like to offer five little snippets of advice of my own, then step aside and encourage you to choose your own adventure (although I fear you may already know how the ending will play out!)

Regardless of whether you choose to be the captain of a tight ship with an even tighter birth plan, or a pirate with a platoon of chocolate biscuits and a tattered treasure map, I will support both your method and your madness. 

Considering it's already on the table, let's start with cake. During the second half of your pregnancy there will be lots of cake.  Or biscuits, or sour cream, or hot dogs, or blocks of cheese, or hamburgers, or sour gummy worms, or bagels, or a whole family sized bag of random cravings. 

When you are staring down the barrel of yet another block of dark chocolate with sea salt, and you feel conflicted (hello little voices) please don't be too hard on yourself. Much like shells gain crabs and cream carpets gain red wine, pregnant women gain weight. 

Try as you might, you will not stay thin, you will not be happy with how you look, and you will never be content with the amount of weight you did (or perhaps, unusually, did not) put on during your ten month stint as a pregnant lady. So provided you keep a modicum of perspective and self-control, give in to some of the cravings and eat yourself to a little bit of happiness. 
To accommodate the growing baby, and the growing consumption of cake, your body will be forced to expand. Sometimes this expansion will be proportional, and sometimes it will preference particular sections of your anatomy. Regardless of expansion type, you will expand around the middle, leaving your beloved reg grundies rather too tight for comfort.

To avoid standing in the checkout queue at the supermarket with a pair of cheap cotton undies wedged between your bum cheeks, or spending most of your work day mentally trying to stop your underwear sliding down your leg, please go out this weekend and invest in a new and larger set of underwear. 

Pregnant tantrums happen. They are much like regular tantrums, but with added fuel and excess sugar. Despite being a professional woman with thirty-odd years of life experience and lessons safely in the makeup bag, the odds are high that you will succumb to the pregnant tantrum.

Your tantrum could be about anything, and it could strike at any moment. The only thing for certain is that your tantrum will be entirely irrational and illogical, but only in hindsight. The tantrum will rattle your partner - and possibly the neighbours, sorry about that - before suddenly dissipating into the atmosphere and leaving you demanding more cake. 

Accept it. Eat some cake. Eat the rest of the cake. Move on. 

So this is the state of play - you are twenty weeks pregnant, you have a reasonable bump on your front which makes things a bit weird in the bedroom, and you are so shattered from making a cup of tea and doing the laundry that you would like to curl up with your pregnancy pillow and just watch reruns of Dawsons Creek until the baby shows up. 

Sure, sounds reasonable enough, but I assure you - now is the time to have sex.  You have not yet endured labour, you have not yet acquired a sleepless baby and you have not (quite) become Violet Beauregarde and been rolled to the juicing room. There is an acutely limited window of opportunity right in front of you, which will slam shut and not be pried open again for quite some time. 

You have been warned.

Over the coming weeks, which will pass in a blur yet take an entire lifetime all at once, you will move from being a bit pregnant to being totally, painfully, awkwardly, unmistakeably, completely, pregnant. 

When you finish work on a Friday night, you will want to go home and hibernate instead of going to the pub. You will laugh at those people who invite you out to dinner at 9pm, and curse at the (same) people who invite you out to dinner at restaurants that have stairs or serve seafood or have noisy concrete walls.

You will start to derive a strange joy from washing and folding bassinet linen and stockpiling impossibly tiny socks. No doubt, you will be ropeable
when your husband goes to the cricket for the weekend and leaves you on the couch with a promising kick boxer in your stomach, ice packs on your swollen feet and an unopened flat pack cot. 

You will mostly enjoy flumping in solitude, and napping before dinner, and wearing nothing but pajamas from Friday night until Monday morning. Sometimes though, you will get lonely, and feel like the pregnant lady that time and your friends forgot. When this happens, just pick up the phone and call me. Any time of day, any time of night - I'm always here, and I'll probably be awake breastfeeding anyway.

M x 

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