Guest Post: Modern families

I am very grateful to the kind, generous, lovely and brave woman who has provided this guest post. As you can see it’s an anonymous post. Please respect the anonymity of this whānau. If you know them, please do not discuss this post on social media using the real names of those involved. I think this is a lovely post about the ways we love as a families, I’m very grateful to be able to host it on my site. If for some reason this post upsets you, you may like to shout into the wind instead of commenting. I’ll only be posting comments that are respectful to the whānau involved. If you have questions, you can post them and the author may or may not choose to reply. I am always keen to feature posts about different experiences in parenting so please email me if you’d like to write something for the site. Please excuse me if I take a while to reply, I am a bit slow this week due to lack of sleep!

Modern families

I’m extremely lucky – or just greedy, depending on how you look at it. I have a boyfriend and a girlfriend. They are married to each other and have been together for seven years.

I started off just dating my boyfriend. It took him a long time to convince me it was a good idea. I’m not “polyamorous.” They had an open marriage, which I didn’t approve of. I thought I was settling for being second best. It all sounded complicated and painful. But – I fell in love with him. I spent time with him and his daughter, Lily. She was three. I fell in love with her. And then I met his wife.

We are pretty open about our relationship. We’ve had varying reactions, particularly from our three sets of parents. They have their own opinions about us and about how we should raise Lily. We respect those opinions but we make our own parenting choices.

I don’t live with my partners right now, but it’s on the cards. I see them almost every day. We eat meals together, I help put Lily to bed, I read her stories. We say “I love you.”

One of the main criticisms we’ve had is: “What is this teaching Lily? She’s not going to have a normal family!”

We consider Lily in every single decision we make. She is always our first thought, and always will be. It makes no difference that we are three parents instead of one or two. She is our priority.

We absolutely dispute the idea that our relationship is damaging to her in any way. As I said, I have been around basically since she can remember. She is used to my presence, and to the relationship dynamic. As she grows up, she has more questions for us. “Why does Hannah stay the night all the time? Where does she sleep? Can’t she sleep with meeeee?” I imagine these will get more complex as time goes on, as she realises her family is different and what that means, and she may get questions from schoolmates or other families. We always answer with the truth.

What is our relationship teaching her? As far as we’re concerned, she’s learning that there is all kind of love in the world, and that there is a lot of it. Love isn’t a finite resource. You can love lots of different people, in lots of different ways, and all just as much as the other. I hardly see how that’s a bad thing.

And the “normal family” question – I do struggle not to laugh out loud at this one. What’s a normal family? It’s hard to tell if this sort of prejudice is driven by traditional views of marriage, homophobia, or genuine concern for our child.

And she is my child. For public understanding I usually refer to her as my stepdaughter, though unfortunately that isn’t legally true. Sometimes I say she is the daughter of my boyfriend and/or my girlfriend, though that doesn’t feel like it conveys what she means to me, and it’s not the whole truth. I love her. I parent her. She’s mine.

It can be an interesting dynamic having three parents, especially when two sort-of take higher authority as the bio-parents, though they rarely contradict me, nor I them. I know their parenting style and ensure there is consistency of care. We all have very similar codes of ethics so it’s no big chore. Occasionally there are times when I discover I am more strict than they are. I figure this is because I’ve had less time to be worn down haha.

For example – dinner time. I grew up in a household where you eat everything on your plate. If you didn’t, you didn’t leave the table and you didn’t get dessert. To me, that’s a harsh but good lesson. I learned to be grateful for the food that was made for me, and the dessert I was rewarded with for good behaviour. I learned discipline. I learned that I didn’t always get what I wanted, and I didn’t always like what I got. So I make her stay at the table and finish her vegetables. And when she’s done, she gets chocolate, which is the best thing in the world.

She’s getting sneakier as she gets older. She knows if mum and dad have said no… Hannah might say yes! So she tries the same question on all three of us. And she’s adorable, so saying no is hard!

I know that some people will disagree with me, but I think she’s lucky. I know I am. I’m so incredibly lucky to be part of her life, to watch her growing up, to be part of the team that will guide her. Yesterday she told me she loves me more than cats. That’s pretty huge.

She gets three parents. She gets three pairs of arms to hug her, three voices for bedtime stories, three choices of who to ask when she wants to know about birds and bees and outer space.

Most of all, she’s loved. And that’s just what any child deserves.

The Right Way

The other day it suddenly dawned on me that I hadn’t given my 12 week old (I actually think he’s about 14 or even 15 weeks old now but I’m too tired to actually figure it out) any tummy time. Oh tummy time – you annoying must-do torture for babies. Has there ever been a baby that enjoyed tummy time?

Eddie hated tummy time. He would scream and scream and arch his head back and act like I was slowly destroying his will to live while he actually destroyed my will to live. I kept doing it because I was told to. And I do what I’m told when I don’t know what I’m actually meant to be doing. And when it comes to parenting – I never know what I’m doing.

Each day I would dutifully put Eddie on his tummy for five minutes at a time at intervals of about three hours. I was very neurotic the first time around. I basically believed if I didn’t give him tummy time he would never walk. I imagined having to carry him to dates and then awkwardly turn my head while he pashed randoms (Kiwi speak for passionate kissed random people…ahem). He would need intense therapy and I would have to carry him to therapy and future therapy is very expensive in my head. He’d never drive because he wouldn’t be able to lift his neck. When it would be time to stick me in a nursing home he’d choose the worst one and say “this is because you never gave me tummy time enough as a baby”. I would lay in my bed and he would lay on the floor in the corner unable to move just hissing at me like an angry immobile lizardperson.

With baby number two I have much less time to allow my brain to wander and imagine fresh horrors that will ruin my children’s lives as they grow. When I realised I’d not done any tummy time I just thought “Oh well, I have had him in the carrier a lot so he’ll be holding his neck up for that”.

Then, later on that evening – instead of writing which I should have been doing – I began Google image searching men with no shirts on wearing kilts. Or was it jason mamoa holding kitten. Actually I think it was the rock wearing apron nothing else. Anyway, my mind began to wander and it wandered somewhere I didn’t want it to wander to. What if my little one didn’t crawl because I’d been so slack with tummy time? And what if one day he said to me ‘Eddie can walk because you parented properly the first time and with me you were too busy Googling guys with big muscles for weirdly specific fantasies when you should have been giving me tummy time’.

What would I say to my baby? And just as I was about to really get down to feeling guilty a wonderful thing happened:

I got an email that basically said my lazy parenting was actually The Right Way to parent.

Fuck yes.

I love it when that happens. The email outlined how tummy time is actually The Wrong Way to get your child moving. Instead you should just lay them on their backs and leave them to it. Now, I’d regularly been doing this. Baby gets cuddles, boob, then he is put on a quilt on the floor where I spend a bit of time regaling him with fantastic tales from my youth and then I give him some rings and leave him to his own devices to consider what a cool mum he has while I clean and deal with the toddler. Turns out – I’m an awesome parent because this email said that’s totally what I should be doing.

So here’s my advice when it comes to feeling shit about your parenting. Look for any advice that goes with what you’re already doing. Then you won’t feel shit. Because everyone has an idea of what The Right Way is and so chances are, some expert thinks what you’re doing is Right. Just find them and you’re sorted.

Then you can get back to Googling men who look like human transformers but are definitely really gentle lovers who never leave the empty toilet roll on top of the bin because omg who does that just open the Goddamn bin.

Rock lobster

Rock lobster

 

You’d never know

When I meet new people I often have to explain that my son is recovering from a serious respiratory condition. I briefly cover off the fact that he’s had a bunch of surgeries and has improved a great deal. I explain that I still need people to be careful around him when it comes to things like colds and flu and getting vaccinated to protect him.

The most common response I get is surprise that he has been through so much and is such a happy child. I am often told “You’d never know!” And I agree. There’s nothing about my rambunctious toddler that screams illness. You used to be able to hear every breath he took – awake or asleep. We had comments and stares wherever we went. I bloody hated elevators. After each surgery he would be temporarily better. And then the rasping, the dragging, would return.

In order to write this post I thought I’d look up to see when his last surgery was – it has been a year and I can’t believe it. I told someone the other day that it has been six months. I genuinely feel like it was yesterday.

And I can really see how people would think you’d never know he’d been so sick – He is the most resilient, strong, brave child. A complete stereotype. The Brave Sick Kid who takes everything thrown at them with a smile.

I wonder though how long I will know. Will I ever forget what we have been through as a family?

I’m often asked – when will you write about Eddie’s illness? I can understand that statement too. This is a blog about parenting after all and my first year and a half of being a parent was completely dominated by his illness. It is the elephant in the waiting room.

I’ve tried. I’ve tried to write about it. To tell his story in a start to (almost) finish kind of way. But I can’t. My brain only seems to open doors to little snap shots of memories. But then the door slams shut. I am wired for self care now. I cannot put that pain into any kind of order. I push myself out before I get in too deep.

Little snap shots.

Eddie at three months old in intensive care after surgery. I don’t know what time it is – I have turned my phone off to try to avoid calls where there is too much silence on the other end. I can’t meet the demands for updates. I’m out at sea. My husband is my lighthouse. Nobody can reach us. They are trying to get my baby to breathe on his own and when they tried to remove the tubes something happened and alarms went off and I was pushed out of the way. I thought about what would happen if I lost my baby. I thought about the buses that hurtle down the road outside the hospital. Right outside the hospital wouldn’t be ideal though. And it would not be fair on the bus driver.

On the phone to my sister. We had gone in to hospital because his breathing sounded particularly bad. They are rushing him in for surgery I tell her. Can she tell the rest of the family that he’s going in? I wonder why my arm hurts. I look at it and I have gripped it so tightly that it is now a deep, dark purple.

Is it months later? Or weeks? My husband and I are holding our little boy still. They are guiding a camera into his throat. He has had this procedure so many times. He is buckling and screaming. He goes limp. His skin is pale and clammy. Tears are streaming down my face. ‘It’s harder on the parents than the child’ someone says. I know that isn’t true.

I yawn at work. I have spent the night in hospital again. It is so noisy there that I can’t sleep. Eddie doesn’t sleep either. Someone says that the trick to getting your child to sleep through the night is to put them in another room with the door shut.

Sitting in the toilet at work sobbing. He needs more surgery. I can’t work out why I’m not getting better at handling this. I have a meeting in eight minutes. Why does it feel like it’s getting harder? I feel like I can’t breathe and I wonder if this is how he feels every day and that thought alone makes my jaw ache and my heart beat faster until I feel dizzy and cold.

I am exhausted. A woman in a café asks what’s “wrong” with my son. I say he has a respiratory condition. My body language is clear that I do not want to talk about it. “Should you have him out in this weather?” she asks. I say through gritted teeth that he’s fine. “Have you tried amber beads? My daughter swears by them for her son and he has asthma too”. I imagine pouring boiling water over her and the thought makes me smile. Another mother frowns at the rasping noises coming from the buggy she raises an eyebrow at her friend. My smile disappears.

A friend brings over their child. They have a snotty nose. It’s just allergies she says. I spend the next week sleeping no more than two or three hours a night. I am convinced he will get sick and end up in hospital again.

We are hopeful. We are daring to think he might be better after nearly three months of silent breathing. Then in the morning we hear him gasping. Overnight his breathing returns to the familiar dragging. We know that this means more surgery.

In a Facebook group a woman rants about how pamol is poison. She treats her son’s teething problems with cuddles she says. He’s never been vaccinated and that’s why he doesn’t get sick. Whooping cough is just a cough she says. No children have died of whooping cough and if they did it’s a form of natural selection. I am grateful that my husband handles all of Eddie’s medications. There is only one where he needs to be held down so we can give it to him. The rest he has gotten used to taking. I lie awake at night thinking about how I can keep him safe. I can feel his breath on my chest as he snuggles into me. I kiss his forehead and know I will do anything to protect him but how can I protect him from people like that?

I am pregnant. “Are you worried the baby will be like Eddie” somebody asks.

All of these little snapshots don’t begin to tell the story. He is getting better. He is better. Is he better?

Sometimes I feel like every little bit of this particular pain has attached to my bones. It is a weight that I carry around always and I wonder when it will be lifted. When will enough time have passed for it to pass? I feel like all of the time we fought for him to breathe – it was a war. We have returned from the front shellshocked. What is the length of time you need to be home for it to go away?

I think parents who go through this have some kind of sick kid post traumatic stress disorder. The people around you get sick kid fatigue. They have enough sympathy for the first few surgeries but your child is meant to just get better or…well…Limbo is a strange thing.

And when they do get better – you’re supposed to be free from it all too. Your child is better! That’s it. That’s the end of that story. Please begin talking about the lessons you’ve learned. Preferably have some Hallmark card quotes ready. Everyone loves a happy ending.

But it isn’t over even when it’s meant to be over. The fear is always there. Particularly when it’s a chronic illness or a condition that isn’t well understood. Remission or recovery doesn’t erase the past.

Last week he built an adventure in our lounge. You have to leap from the couch onto the pillows. Jump them like a monkey. Climb onto the recliner and leap on to the carpet which is the sea. Watch out for the shark! You’re a pirate now. Walk the plank then begin again. He does this ten times.

I hear a ragged edge to his breathing.

I feel that familiar ache in my shoulders. The dull pain in my neck. The heat on my face. My eyes prickle.

My heart jumps.

Will I always know?

 

***

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A Blessing

Any day now, three of my dear friends will be bringing babies into the world. I wanted to write them, and all mums, a blessing.

I have many hopes for you. Many wishes.

I wish that when your journey toward meeting your beautiful baby begins you’re excited as well as scared, because of course it’s normal and right to be a little scared. It’s a powerful thing we get to do. Isn’t it amazing?

I hope you have support and love surrounding you from that first “is this labour?” thought to that first sharp intake of breath when you really know This Is It, and on to your midwife or surgeon telling you it’s time. I wish for you that you feel safe from beginning to beginning.

I hope your labour makes you feel powerful or it is just forgettable. That in a week you will gaze at your baby and think “I could probably do this again” Look at that beautiful baby you brought into the world. You did it!

When you feed you little one: I wish for every duct to remain unblocked, that you never have to send your partner down the road for cabbage, that your pump is always working. I pray not a drop of your expressed milk is ever spilled. Not one crack in not one nipple! That’s what I hope for you. I hope your supply is just perfect – not too little, not too much. And if it doesn’t work out, and somehow the universe doesn’t read this post – I hope bottles are guzzled with gusto, that milk is on special every time you go to buy it, that your snuggles are extra snuggly as your baby looks up at you their beloved mama.

I hope you don’t accidentally kill someone on Day Three. I wish your hormones to be completely under control. And if they’re not, I hope it all goes wrong in a hilariously harmless way that you can tell your coffee group about. I hope it’s such a funny story that they laugh with tears in their eyes and tell you that you should be a comedian. And in that moment I hope you feel overwhelmed – not by out of control estrogen, but by love from your fellow mamas. I wish you to always have a shoulder to cry on, someone to laugh with, someone to make you tea, and someone to gaze at your baby and say as their eyes fill with tears “you did so good!”

I hope you never have to clean your house. For at least nine weeks.

I wish that every cry can be easily hushed with a gentle pat. That there are long sleeps and good feeds. That car rides are easy, public transport always comes on time, visitors never overstay their welcome. I wish for you chocolate and cider, and sleeping on your tummy, and comfortable pants and good TV. I hope for visits from friends who have trays of lasagne for you. I hope for moments where you say “it’s honestly easier than I thought it would be”.

May you have unobtrusive but excited grandparents. Helpful family. Thoughtful and kind visits. May your buggy breaks never jam, your carrier always work the first time, no poo explosions in white clothes, and no vomit on your good clothes.

Some things I don’t have to wish or hope for – I know you will burn with love for your baby, I know those who love you will look at you with eyes shining because they’re so proud of you and so in awe of your strength. And I know you’re nervous about your first baby and how they’ll cope but I know they’ll fall more and more in love with your little one every single day. Just like you will (because I promise the second time around is just as earth-shattering).

And I also know if none of these things happen, if these wishes don’t come true, if these hopes aren’t fulfilled – I’ll be here for you. And you’ll do so well anyway – I just know it.

**

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I love children

Every now and then someone will breathlessly say to me “I hate kids but I just adore Eddie!” I watch them smugly wait for me to fall over myself with gratitude as if this is some kind of compliment to me and my son.

It’s not a compliment. I’m not sure how I am meant to respond to it either. Ummm I’m glad you find my son aesthetically pleasing? I’m glad the stories about the cute things he does entertain you? I’m pleased that he has performed in such a way in front of you that you don’t hate him just because he’s a child? I mean really. The only thing you do when you say shit like that to me (or rant on Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr about how you hate kids) is make me put you on a list of people who I never want my kids to be around.

Saying you hate kids is hateful. It’s not edgy. It’s not cool. And if I ever, ever, ever made you think I’m “one of you” then my God I lost something in translation.

Too often I see people who think it’s cool to joke about “breeders” and how “gross” kids are. They just hate kids! But not yours…of course. I will never understand this horrible attitude. But I’m always especially surprised when I hear these comments from activists, and those in social justice circles, and from people who consider themselves feminists or allies. Because – you do know that nothing keeps women more isolated than feeling like they can never take their children anywhere right? And as a social group children are abused in huge numbers. They’re also silenced by those who are meant to protect them (from parents to politicians) and also by the fact that under a certain age they can’t talk at all or people think it’s cute to pretend not to understand what they’re saying. They’re also excluded from so many places already. And I mean – there are literally people who march in the street for the right to physically hit them. But umm you’re the oppressed one because you can’t enjoy your long black because a child is existing in your presence?

Anyway, this blog started as a rant about how grossed out I am by people who bitch and moan about children being in public spaces but then I thought – why give them more airtime?

So instead I’m going to go positive (but being on brand I’m also going to be a bit snarky) and thank some people for loving children in small ways. Because loving kids in public spaces means loving their parents. Loving women who are mostly the primary caregivers of most children. And generally just making the world a better fucking place for everyone.

So the biggie – thanks for not being an asshole in a cafe or restaurant! Thank YOU! Yes, you – that waiter who is run off her feet but still let’s my son practice his language by letting him order his own smoothie. You’re a fucking awesome person. Thank you to the dude at the table next to us who says ‘what a cool fire engine!’ to my son. Thanks for acknowledging his existence! You made him super happy because he fucking loves his fire engine. Thanks to the couple who mouth “it’s OK” and smile when I apologise for my little one crying. I don’t know why he’s crying and he’ll stop soon. So thanks for not making me feel awful about it when I’m trying everything I can to calm him down. Thanks to the clearly hungover group of students who smile and high five my son when he runs over to them to introduce himself. I’m sorry – he’s extroverted and you’re a big group of loud people and he loves big groups of loud people. Thanks to everyone who doesn’t scowl at us when we walk in and loudly claim “here we go. Why are there so many kids around here?” or laugh and say “ughhh breeders” as if I can’t hear them. While you click your fingers at waiters and then make them wait while you take photos of your eggs and tweet “I so hate kids #eggs” and leave all your messy dishes on the table in a pile and put cigarette butts out on your toast and sit for hours at your table instead of letting someone else use it and leave your newspapers in a pile on your food – I’ll smile at the waiter for you and we will comment about how you’re a bunch of turds.

Thanks for not being a jerk on flights. How much do flights suck? Isn’t it weird how parents also need to fly with their children? It’s like so arrogant for parents to want to fly with their kids. It’s almost like they want to see family or have a holiday like normal people do. Thanks for not audibly groaning when I sit next to you with my two kids. Thanks for playing peekaboo with my toddler through the seats while I breastfeed. I have been dreading this flight and your kindness makes me want to cry. Thanks for showing my son photos of your cat on your phone. He loves cats! You’re a fucking awesome person! Thanks so much for helping me with my bag. My back hurts so much and I am trying not to hold anyone up because I don’t want to be the reason why someone goes on Facebook and says kids are awful on flights. Thank you for not sighing and loudly complaining about my crying baby. I’m really overwhelmed right now. I wish I hadn’t booked a night flight but it was the cheapest option and I thought he’d sleep. I’m scared he’s in pain. I can see you rolling your eyes and grabbing your phone ready to tell everyone how useless I am – how useless all mothers who dare to travel with kids are. I’ve had a huge week and I just want to get to my dad’s place and have a bit of a break because I’m so exhausted. I’m sorry we’re both existing on the same flight as you. I am sure you’re tired too but being nasty probably won’t miraculously cure that? Thank you to the person in the aisle next to us for saying “It’s OK – my baby always cried on planes” or for gently patting my shoulder through the seat gap and saying “Not long to go”. You’re awesome. Your small kindness makes a massive difference.

Thanks for letting me be with my children in a public place. Thanks for not being an asshole about my buggy. I know it’s massive. I hate it. It’s like a monster truck – but this is the model that was given to us and it works because I have to walk everywhere so I need something sturdy. I know I am taking up space. I know I just knocked something over but I’ve picked it up and I need to get this medication and I can’t leave the buggy outside the chemist because it might get stolen. I am sorry for taking a buggy on a bus – but I can’t fold it down when I am carrying a weeks old baby. Thank you for helping me on and off. I get so embarrassed trying to do it on my own when I’m not really strong enough. Thanks for making room for me. Thanks for smiling instead of growling at me. I can’t afford two cars and my son loves his buggy. If you look into it he’s waving at you!

Thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt that I’m not intentionally trying to piss you off by being near you with a child. Thanks for treating my son like a human being. He’s a great little person. All kids are. They have ups and downs just like anybody else. They feel overwhelmed easily and sometimes it’s hard to make them do what you want them to do because they’re people! Thanks for not getting angry when a child cries. I cried in a pie shop the other day and I’m an adult. If I’m allowed to without being scowled at by other adults surely a child is allowed to?

It’s a pretty radical act to just not join in when people start bitching about kids. To call them on it and say – hey, why don’t you help a mama out instead of bagging her? Why not smile at a kid – that might stop them crying! It’s easy to say “yeah, kids are the WORST” because like all human beings kids can be annoying. Believe me, parents know this better than anyone. But do the test – would you feel comfortable saying you hate women? Because you went to a shop and a woman was crying and it irritated you? Nah. Probs not aye?

Anyway, in short – thank you. Thanks for recognising a child’s right to be in a public place. Thanks for recognising that parents aren’t evil breeders out to destroy your #eggs and #longblack.

 

***

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I cried in a pie shop

Today was not a good day.

The day started at 2.30am. It’s never a good idea to start your day at 2.30am.

The littliest one screamed in my ear. I was in a deep sleep. I was dreaming about Idris Elba. I did not want the things that were happening in that dream to end.

I put the baby on my boob and succumbed to the pain. It’s always painful on that side. Sometimes I think my right breast is possessed. That’s probably a sign that I’m not getting enough sleep.

Mercifully it is a quick feed. I can’t be bothered putting the baby back in his cot. He somehow wasn’t even in his cot anyway so I figure it’s ok for him to keep snuggling into me. I haven’t seen my husband in many, many years. I assume he is in the spare room bed with our toddler.

I groggily stumble into the toilet and see a snake. It is huge. I lunge for the towel rail because I need to stop myself falling backward. I break the towel rail.

The snake is a towel. We do not have snakes in New Zealand.

The baby wakes up.

I resettle the baby. My heart is racing. I’ll check Facebook to calm myself. The first photo in my feed is a fucking snake eating a fucking croc.

My breast hurts so much I can’t sleep anyway. So I just lay there imagining snakes. I try to turn them into fun snakes wearing top hats and getting upset because they don’t have arms and their top hats keep falling down. It doesn’t work.

Panadol doesn’t take my boob pain away.

It’s now 5am. I write a blog post about how much I hate breast feeding.

The baby wakes up. I feed the baby. It’s now 6am. I close my eyes.

At 7am my oldest comes in crying. He won’t tell me what’s wrong. My husband is looking for his work pants. He turns the shower on. I turn on Playschool. The baby cries again. It must be a growth spurt.

We are all late. Husband says he has to go. He’s sorry but he needs to get to this job. He cannot take our first born to crèche because our first born isn’t dressed because he’s watching Playschool. I force myself into the shower. The oldest jabs my stomach. “BABY INERE MAMA BABY INERE PUKU”. I scowl at him. He laughs. “Whasdat mama?” he says pointing to my stretch marks. The baby begins to cry.

I put on a bra and immediately leak through it. I get another bra. I hear the bus. I am not on the bus. I am looking for underwear.

The oldest boy has smeared my moisturiser all over the mirror in his room. I ignore it. I make a coffee and hear the bus. I am not on it.

My oldest son begins his crèche half day at 8.30am. It’s 9.30am. I cannot find the baby carrier.

I cannot find my oldest son. I look out the window and see our gate is closed so I just sit down and feed the baby. I read the blog post I wrote about breast feeding. It’s shit. I look for my oldest. He is filling a bucket with dirt and he has a hose in the bucket. He is filthy. I change him. The baby cries. I change my wet bra. We finally leave.

It’s 10.30am. I walk out just in time to see the bus leave without me on it. I begin to walk to crèche. It is so windy that I can barely hear my oldest screaming at me to STOP THE WIND MAMA. It’s quite pleasant.

The baby cries. Could it be teeth?

I see another bus. I tear across the road waving one hand while trying to steer the buggy with the other. The baby is laughing as he is bounced around in the carrier. My oldest yells “FASTER MAMA! FASTER!” from the buggy. The bus driver smiles at me and gets out of the bus to help me. “Lovely kids you’ve got there,” he says. Eddie says “HI I’M EDDIE!”

I struggle to get the buggy breaks on. A young girl offers me her seat. I wave her away. She coos at my baby. “What a cutie you are!” she says to him. He beams. Eddie says “HI I’M EDDIE!”

The bus driver gets up to help me off the bus. Before he can an elderly woman leaps up and helps me with the nappy bag which has fallen out of the buggy and spilled shit everywhere.

The bus driver, the nanna, and the young girl wave and smile at me from the window as the bus leaves.

Baby actually spills shit all over me. I walk into the crèche and Eddie leaps out of the buggy. “HI! I’M EDDIE” he yells. His kaiako cheerily greet me. They help me with my bags. They pull up a chair for my boy. They pass me a glass of water. They pull out his lunchbox. I realise it’s almost lunchtime. I say I need to go and they say “no worries! It’s all good.” I rush out to the sounds of my son crying. I bite back tears as my other son begins to cry. I watch the bus go past without me on it.

His kaiako rings me on my cell phone “I just thought you should know he stopped crying straight away. He’s playing in the sandpit. Everything is OK”.

I walk home. It takes an hour and 15 minutes. I am sweaty and covered in baby poo. I get home and put the baby in the sink. I put the carrier in the washing machine. After feeding the baby I realise I need to leave again to pick up the toddler. My husband comes home. He says he needed to get one of his tools. He drives me to crèche.

I stand at the door at crèche watching my son who hasn’t seen me yet. He is pretending to be a shark. He is screaming with laughter with the other children and their kaiako. He is covered in sand. He tells me he had SO MUCH FUN. I begin packing up his gear. The other mums smile kindly at me. “Full on day aye?”

I grimace awkwardly at them.

The baby cries. I have squeezed him into a sling and he hates it. My sister rings and I accidentally hang up on her. My oldest screams at me to stop the wind. I miss the bus. My sister calls again. I complain at her. I don’t even ask how she is. She asks for the boys sizes so she can buy some clothes for them.

I remember I have a guest coming at 4pm. It’s 3pm. The next bus is in half an hour. I go to the pie shop. I order a coffee. The lady offers to toast me a sandwich and gives me a warm smile. “It’s OK,” she says.

I think I didn’t thank my sister on the phone. Did I thank the bus driver? That girl? The nana? My husband? The kaiako? The other mums? Every person who spoke to me today has treated me kindly.

My baby snores softly on my chest.  My toddler sleeps in his buggy – exhausted from his exciting day. My husband calls.

“See you soon hon. What a shitter of a day aye?”

I nod. Hang up. And start to cry

I cried in a pie shop. Because I’m thankful to everyone who is nice to mums who always miss buses.

 

***

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Give me the Moon

My son’s current obsession is the Moon. Each night he insists that we take him on to the deck to look at the Moon. If he can’t see it he implores us to “geddit” for him. I’m not sure if this is a diversionary tactic ahead of bedtime. Either way, he’s all about the Moon right now.

So I’m looking forward to Capital E’s National Theatre for Children production of Kiwi Moon for obvious reasons. The good folks at Capital E contacted me after I wrote about their National Arts Festival. They offered me tickets to see another show during the festival – Orchestra of Spheres: The Sound & Light Exploration Society.

I don’t really know how to describe The Orchestra of Spheres. They have home made instruments. They dress in awesome outfits – kind of like drunk hipsters at the Sevens but without the hideous cultural appropriation. And their show is a weird orgasm of sound and light (fitting I know). I mean it sounds pretty messed up to say orgasm when referring to kid entertainment but they’re not really kid entertainment. For starters – you don’t want to smash your skull into the nearest piece of concrete when you listen to them, so that’s a sure sign that they’re not a made-for-kids band. They also seem to avoid mind-numbing kid lyrics (you know what I mean by kid lyrics – yesterday, on Play School they had a song that included the lines: “they’re egg-shaped because they’re eggs”) Don’t get me wrong – the kids LOVED the show. My little E and and his bestie were dancing in the aisles, as were most of the other kids at the show. But they are a band that could and do play pubs and clubs, and you can see why. It really was joyous music. Weird, funky, psychedelic, jamming art that had plenty of sass.

Orchestra of Spheres. Credit: Capital E.

Orchestra of Spheres. Credit: Capital E.

It’s a shame that at the show I went to the crowd really only got into it for the last two songs. I think that was possibly due to it being a matinee performance. We had the kids on our laps and they were pretty desperate to get on their feet, but it wasn’t until the front-person-tree-jellyfish told everyone to stand up that we felt we had permission to let the youth go wild.

Eddie said his highlights were: The World Moon (a giant white balloon that they projected images of the world on to, it did look like the Moon) and The Tree Man (for the last song the front person-triangle was dressed like, you guessed it, a tree). We had a great time and surprisingly the 50 minute show felt short. There was some kind of theme to it – a trip through the universe. The theme did kind of remind me of some of the experimentation I did in my youth but we won’t go into that. I’d definitely see them again.

But I’m really looking forward to Kiwi Moon which opens tomorrow. The season runs until the 18th of April. It will be my lad’s first theatre show. I’ll post a review once I’ve taken him along. Here’s what it’s all about:

 A little white kiwi thinks the moon might be his mother because it is white and bright and round like him. Prepare to snuffle and shuffle through the forest floor, hula with the huhu grubs, watch out for the wekas, and calypso with the handsome kakapo in this charming tale of one little white kiwi’s quest to find his place in an often strange and sometimes dangerous world.

That sounds pretty damn cute to me. Maybe if I ask super nicely Capital E will flick me a family pass for me to give away to any Welly parents reading this. Keep an eye on my Facebook page or check back here for updates. And if you see Kiwi Moon please let me know what you think of it. I think it’s great to support kids theatre. I’m doing my best to make sure my bogan kids get some culture in ’em.

Have you taken your kids to a show before? Did they like it?

Book tickets to Kiwi Moon here.

  • Dates Sat 4 – 18 April
  • Where Hannah Playhouse, 12 Cambridge Terrace, Wellington
  • Times 11am, Mon-Sat (2pm performance on Sat 4 April)
  • Age 2-7 year olds
  • Price $12.50 per person; $44 for groups of 4; $10 per person for groups of 10 or more; under twos go free

Thomas the colonialist tank engine and Sodor the capitalist nightmare

I hate Thomas the Tank Engine. I hate it. I think Thomas is a naïve arrogant asshole who sacrifices other trains to further his career and suck up to the Fat Controller. Sodor is quite frankly a capitalist nightmare. Trains are sent to the scrapyard if they’re not Useful. And we all know what that means – it means they’re executed. They execute workers who don’t work hard enough! Anyone who isn’t Very Useful is goneburger. There are no unions in Sodor that’s for sure. And that’s not even the most fucked thing about Sodor either. Don’t get me started on how lacking the representation of women is on the show. The women trains are actually girl carriages. You don’t need to have a masters in gender studies to read between the lines on that one. Either they have no personality (Daisy) or they spend all their time giggling and chasing after Thomas and the other dudebro engines nagging them (Annie and Clarabelle). I feel like there’s a weird subtext about lady trains and that time of the month as well but I’m very tired and certainly not very useful right now.

What about Hiro? Poor Hiro was taken as a slave. He dreams of his homeland. But when he’s too old to work anymore, after a lifetime of service, do you think his “owners” will let him go home? Hell no! Coz this is Sodor and life on Sodor is an endless grind of working until you die. You’re Helpful or you create Confusion and Delay and you’re dead. Hiro ends up wasting away in the damn forest! But this is a better fate than being slaughtered by Topham Industries AKA The Government. Thomas finds him and of course Thomas dobs him in to “help” him get back to his home. Thomas signed Hiro’s death warrant and he didn’t even realise because he can’t see beyond his white privilege. He doesn’t know that one day he won’t be useful anymore. And ain’t nobody going to save him then.

I especially hate Thomas the Tank Engine because my son loves it because somebody bought him one train and that was it. It’s like an addiction. It’s toddler crack. And he can’t say “Thomas the Tank Engine” he says “Thomas the Asian” and when we are out IN PUBLIC he yells at me to get him an Asian. Or he yells “WE-AHS MY ASIAN MUMA” and I have to really loudly yell “I don’t know where your ENGINE is. Maybe your ENGINE is in the car. No I won’t buy you another ENGINE”. And someone one day will buy your child a Thomas train and that train won’t fit on the tracks you have. And the tracks you have won’t go with the other tracks someone will buy you. And you will have eight different tracks that don’t go together and you will need a second mortgage to actually build just one figure eight track and have the trains to go with it.

AND I THINK I’M JUST GONNA DOUBLE DOWN ON THIS RANT:

I hate Jeff from the Wiggles. Fuck you Jeff. Why are you always sleeping. You don’t do anything. Do you know how much I want to sleep Jeff? But if I just go to sleep instead of looking after my kid I’ll be reported to the authorities. Do your job Jeff.

I hate Elmo. My husband keeps telling me that Elmo is three and a half and I have unrealistic expectations about his behaviour. But fuck that. Elmo is an entitled little prick. And Abby – I hate Abby. Why do the adults on Sesame Street never stop Abby from doing her “magic” when they know she will fuck it up? Why is there so little adult supervision on that street? They all pop in for a song but then they just piss off after rattling off a few numbers or some dictionary definition. Maybe hang around and actually stop Abby. She’s out of control. And stop whining Big Bird. How old are you anyway?

What is up with Mr Noodle. Just no. Why does an adult man need to be taught how to throw a ball. And why does he live in the closet of a three-and-a-half year-old’s house?!?!

AND IT’S NOT JUST TV! BOOKS *flails* BOOKS:

Maisy, you are illogical. Why would a mouse be friends with a chicken? Why is everyone always shaming Eddie for not fitting into places. He’s a fucking elephant. What did you expect?

Rock on Scuffy the Tug Boat. Don’t let the man bring you down. They might be telling you not to chase waterfalls and to please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to but that’s because they’re classist. You have just as much right to hang out with the barges as any other boat. Keep on keeping on Scuffy.

And the worst: Love You Forever. Damn woman! Leave your kid alone. Let him sleep! When he turned nine you should have been assessing your health. It’s just not good news when you’re that fixated on your child not growing up. Getting on a bus at night and breaking into his house so you can sniff him when he’s a grown ass man? That’s NOT RIGHT. And if you had to call him to tell him you’re sick, you clearly don’t have a great relationship – and that’s probably because YOU ARE BREAKING INTO HIS HOUSE AT NIGHT AND TOUCHING HIM WHILE HE SLEEPS! And dude, I know your childhood was hardcore what with your mum creeping on you every night and not respecting your boundaries, but you need to break the cycle!

So I guess it’s just Jay’s Jungle, Play School, and Margaret Mahy books in this house.

Jay, you’re great. You just keep being a lovely, singing, handsome man. While I think it’s mildly narcissistic that the island you live on is shaped like a J, and it’s weird that your “friend” is a talking lighthouse I’m willing to let that slide because of your soft, sensuous singing voice. You keep being you Jay.

Justine and Jay - I ship them.

Justine and Jay – I ship them.

This post is dedicated to my sister who is the best person to rant to about Thomas. I love you Jo.

If this makes you angry and you want to comment all angry-like: Relax, it’s a joke, it’s meant to be a laugh…

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Accepting help

I once received some excellent advice from two wonderful women who at the time were holding a tray of fish pie.

“Take help when it’s offered,” they said.

Why is it so hard for us to accept help? When you’ve just expelled a human from your body, and you’re exhausted, sore, and overwhelmed, it should be easy to say “yes, thank you, I’d love that”. But it’s not, at least for me it’s not. And I’m sure other mums feel the same.

In the days after my second son was born I had quite a few offers from friends and I turned quite a few down. For no reason! I thought, oh I don’t want to be a pain, oh I’m not that hard up right now, oh that would be good but I don’t want to seem needy. It’s so bizarre!

Someone offered to make me fudge and I said no. I said no to fudge. What the fuck was wrong with me?

My friends with the fish pie gave good advice. And I listened to them because they’re very wise. They’ve got two gorgeous boys and they’re mum inspirations (you’re thankful I didn’t say mumspirations right? Who the fuck even says that?) Anyway, I admire them and think they’re very clever and I want my boys to grow up and be as loved and spirited and supported as their boys are. So I started saying: Yes, thank you heaps! Instead of: No, I’m fine.

And it was great. I got chocolate and peanut butter brownie which I scoffed down as my son cluster fed. That same friend who is literally The Nicest Person I Know brought us a bag of goodies from the supermarket – my husband was in awe. There were ice creams in there. Fancy ones. She’s continued to be a huge support to me eight weeks on.

Our closest friends brought round KFC! The bogan food of the Gods. I thought my husband might cry with joy. They gave us hugs as well as the baby, it was wonderful. We sat there with stupid grins on our faces gorging on fried chicken and thinking “shit, we are lucky”.

I got the most incredibly huge amazing lasagne there ever was from another friend who will one day be the most excellent mother. Damn, her future kid will be lucky to have her. I got a damn cheesecake! A cheesecake! The cheesecake was from a friend who is the most selfless, kindest person. She too is going to be a such an awesome mum one day I just know it.

I basically lived on the lactation cookies another super busy friend made me. I will probably look back on those days in years to come and still think about how great those cookies were. 

Another totally badass and awesome friend who I so admire for her bravery and strength bought me medication for a blocked duct within hours of me having a cry about the pain I was in. She wouldn’t take money from me to pay for it. 

I could literally list so many lovely people who kept me company and dropped gifts off in those first three weeks. Also, a lot of them were friends on Twitter (one day I will write about how Twitter is your best internet home for support as a parent).

I now know that accepting help is so important. When I started accepting help (or at least trying to) I stopped feeling so overwhelmed. I stopped feeling so isolated. I stopped feeling so scared. So alone. It’s really, really hard to ask for help. Harder than it is to accept I reckon. So when it’s offered – take it, even if it feels weird.

And if you’re in a position to help a new mum, maybe just give her stuff (especially if it’s food) even if she doesn’t expressly ask for it. It can be hard to get past that “I don’t want to be a pain” reflex that a lot of women have. Women are taught to always be the provider, to always help instead of being helped. It can be really hard to overcome all that social conditioning to allow someone else to look after you. I’m grateful to my friends who just said “I’ve made you some dinner, when can I bring it over?” 

So thank you! Seriously, thank you so much. To all the people out there who make cheesecakes for new mums. The ones who make lactation cookies. The people who drop off  fancy ice creams or expensive tit medicine. The people who drop off lasagne and are the perfect guests because they only stay 15 minutes and wash their hands before they hold the baby. You’re all actually saints. You’re angels. You’re wonderful, awesome people. You’re making life easier for new parents – that’s huge. Thank you.

And mums: say THANKYOU and YES PLEASE. Trust me on this. You’re not being a pain.

Also, always listen to lesbians brandishing fish pie. They know their shit. Trust me.

 ***

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Pinterest Fail Mum

Sometimes when I want to feel bad about myself I go on Pinterest and look at what mums who have their shit together are doing.

I look at their miraculous messy play ideas at 3am and resolve to do them the next day with my toddler. My broken sleep is dominated by dreams of my son and I deliriously happy playing with home made rainbow snow and glittery gloop and glow in the dark playdough.

And then I wake up and reality hits.

“Shall we make some playdough?”

“No. No. I don want dat playbo”

“Come and make playdough with mama! It’ll be soooo much fun,” I say with forced cheeriness.

“No fun. No. Cars”

I lovingly make the playdough while my son plays with his cars. He ignores my perky, sing-song commentary. He’s probably thinking “who replaced my mum with this Stepford Wife?”

I put glitter in the playdough. I follow the recipe to the letter but the playdough is slimey. I add more flour. Now it is crumbly. I add more water. The glitter clumps together. It’s both slimey and crumbly now. The recipe says it’s fool-proof.

My son looks at the playdough then at me.

“I don like dat”

I don’t know who he’s referring to. I chuck the playdough into the bin. I used an entire packet of flour.


I will make gloop. It has three ingredients. Surely I can’t fuck this up.

I crush coloured chalk to make four bowls of gloop. All are different colours. My son is absolutely delighted. It has taken me all morning to make the gloop and get it to be the right consistency.

“I like dat!”

I am ecstatic. Such praise! I run to grab the camera. It takes me three seconds.

I return to find the bowls of coloured goop on the concrete by the front door.

“Finish mama. I finish da goop”


I will make snow. The recipe says “Easiest clean play recipe”.

I have decided that after spending two hours cleaning up after the eight second gloop messy play I want to have clean play.

Three cups of baking soda. One cup of water.

It looks like snow. The toddler is excited. He begins to play with it and I think “good, I can empty the dishwasher”. I take one cup from the dishwasher and the toddler appears.

“Where’s your snow?”

“I throwed dat snow away Mama”

He has tipped the bowl of snow from the deck onto the roof of the neighbour’s house.


That night I don’t dream of being a Pinterest mum. I look at the photos of the Pinterest mums and imagine them sneaking Valium and hiding vodka in their tea. Nobody can be that perfect.

In the morning a little voice says to me.

“Paint mine face mama? Eddie paint mine mama’s face?”

I look up “home made face paint”. I scan the recipe. I go to the shop and buy face paint instead. I know my abilities now. I know my shortcomings.

I put the different colours into a muffin tray. I google “face paint designs”. I look at the first website and read the instructions for “butterfly”. I roll my eyes. Yeah right. I turn off the computer.

I hand my son a paintbrush. “Make mama a butterfly,” I say.

He screeches with laughter as he paints my face. We get out a mirror and I paint his face as a “butterfly” letting him instruct me on how to do it just right.

Afterwards we both look utterly ridiculous. We look into the mirror and he says “we beuful budderfies mama!”

image

Because we’re on a roll, I grab the corn starch and pull the hose out. We grab a bucket and he grabs clumps of corn starch and chucks whole pieces of chalk into the bucket with the corn starch and then puts the hose in.

It makes an unholy mess and my little baker declares he is making GLOOP PIES! He then throws the gloop in the air because now he’s making GLOOP PANCAKES!

We look like a Pinterest nightmare. And it’s the most fun I’ve had in ages. His screams of laughter reverberate around the neighbourhood. And we play for two hours.

Perfection is overrated.

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