Thursday, August 25, 2011

Too magic to miss

Not a day goes by when I don't wish I could freeze time. No matter how mundane the day is, at some point or another, one of my children will do or say something that I wish I could hold on to.

You can take all the photos and video footage in the world, but there are elements of babyhood and childhood that simply cannot be captured.

The sensation of your baby's skin caressing your own.

The clear depths of a newborn's eyes, staring at the new world.

The melodic burbling of a happy baby playing with their toes.

The sight of your three children, sitting together in a corner, quietly reading and showing each other the pictures.

My Mouse, dressed in a pinafore and red stripy onesie, blue bunny ears perched atop her blonde curls, playing with the doll's house and narrating with baby talk in a voice I could listen to all day.

Jack with his new goggles on, coupled with his school uniform and the proud grin of a boy who's just gone up a level at swimming.

Phoebe lying on her tummy on the floor, legs kicking in the air, colouring in her Charlie and Lola book and drawing butterfly wings over, and over.

I learned a long time ago that there needs to be a balance between attempting to crystallise these moments on film, and actually living the moment with your children. As magic as it is to watch your children's babyhood on camera again, and again, it is just as wonderful to sit and enjoy it, hearing their piping voices, feeling their soft chubby arms around your neck, being handed a dolly or a car to participate in the game.

The girls and I popped in to see Argie this morning. It was gorgeously sunny, and Phoebs and the Mouse were in fine form. Not long after we arrived, Miffy and her glorious bump (which has been dubbed 'George' for the duration of her pregnancy) knocked on the door to join us for a cuppa.

My beautiful younger sister is due in November, and she has blossomed into the epitome of glowing motherhood. I have terrible bump envy, since hers is round and firm and quite simply lovely. I could sit with my hands on Miffy's tummy all day, just waiting for George to kick.

While I was chatting to Argie, I saw something out of the corner of my eye. One of the magical moments of childhood that would never have translated on camera, but one that I could not bear to lose to the passages of time.

George must have been belting it's poor mother up a storm, because Miffy beckoned to Phoebalina and pointed to her jumping belly. Gingerly, Phoebe reached out her little hand and placed it on her unborn cousin. The enormous grin that spread across her face when the baby kicked her hand was incredible. With Miffy smiling and encouraging, Phoebe started talking to George, encouraging it to kick.

To watch my daughter experience the early movements of her first cousin in utero was amazing. She was clearly overawed by the idea there was a real, live baby inside Aunty Miffy's tummy, but also thrilled that she could feel it move. The Mouse has thrust her paws onto Miffy's belly for months now, exclaiming, "Bubba!" before making a quick exit. Perhaps for her, the memory has not yet faded?

Watching my sister and my biggest girl today, I started to think how precious these moments are. How, in years to come when both Phoebe and her unborn cousin are teenagers garbed in head-to-toe black, my sister and I will remember this day of delight and discovery.

I didn't have a video to save the memory. I didn't have a camera. And in a way, I'm glad. Because I was able to sit and savour the 30 seconds in time that this vignette took, and simply enjoy it. I knew I was seeing something very special. Not only because it was a unique moment in Phoebalina's life, but also in my sister's.

Motherhood was never a given for my little sister. Like so many women, she was told that she would most likely never carry a child of her own. That if she did ever conceive, it would most likely be via medical assistance. The fact that George is thriving in her belly is a dream come true, for so many people. That anybody ever gets pregnant is amazing, if you consider the obstacles the female body puts in place for the hapless sperm. When you are *ahem* 'reproductically challenged', the odds are even tinier.

All motherhood is a miracle, of that there is no doubt. Whether you became a mummy by conceiving easily, or after years of trying; whether you are a mummy via surrogacy, adoption, or fostering; or even if you are a wishful mother-in-waiting, sitting under the stars at night, holding your breath for the universe to bring you your baby.....all motherhood is a blessing. It does not matter if your held your baby inside your body, or held them for the first time when they were born, or when your baby was several months or years old. Regardless of how you become a mother, at the bottom line, the love is all one and the same.

I know this little niece or nephew of mine will be joining three very excited cousins in a few months. He or she is already very, very loved and very, very wanted. I know that my little sister will be so grateful and happy to become a mummy that she will most likely want to record every smile, every hiccup, every yawn of her firstborn. But I hope she will leave most of that to me, so that she can just enjoy the moment. It's too magic to miss.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Night prowling with Archie

I love walking at nighttime. Always have.

There's something therapeutic about walking after the sun goes down. In the dark, with the stars dotted in a velvety sky, it's peaceful.

My favourite nights for walking are in spring, and early summer. Cool but not cold, dark but not pitch black. It smells fresh and clean. Birds chirp sleepily in the dusk; dogs bark in the distance.

Sometimes, there's a wave of laughter and smoke and sausages if there's a summertime barbeque happening. Othertimes, you can walk through the wafting aroma of someone's winter dinner, emanating from a warm house.

I walked every night when pregnant with Jack, in a desperate attempt to alleviate my morning sickness (which was actually night sickness). Back then, Christian would walk with me and my growing bump because we didn't have anyone else to worry about. He would laugh at me, as I narrated the dinners people were cooking in each house as we walked. I would either inhale deeply and happily, or retch violently, depending on the aroma.

My night-walking has been intermittent since Phoebe was born, simply because the act of organising more than one baby in the dinner-bath-bed routine took more time and energy than I had. More often than not, when Jack and Phoebe were tiny and I was teaching, I had enough in the tank to get through the day with the bare minimum. Walking out the door by myself, for myself, was out of the question.

During my pregnancy with the Mouse, time spent on my feet teaching and chasing after two toddlers meant that my pelvis objected, loudly. So I looked forward to resuming my night-walking after her arrival, especially since she was a summer baby.

Unfortunately, ten young men put paid to my perambulations after dark when they stormed our house and broke my family. February 21, 2010 was the day I learned to be frightened of my own shadow. I was unable to go out after dark by myself; would jump at loud noises, especially men shouting; and felt completely vulnerable even in the supermarket car park.

Six months ago, I nagged my husband into getting my beautiful Archie. Sir Archibald the Bouncy, my gorgeous black and white border collie, is definitely hard work. He runs like a mad thing. He pulls clothes off the line (occasionally, and only if they are flapping enticingly). He barks madly at the drops of rainwater that fall into his water bowl (apparently this is enough to drive him insane).

But I am immensely proud of him. We have just graduated from puppy school (with honours if I do say so myself!) after an intensive 12 week course. Archie can sit, stay, drop, come, give, and walk. He can jump through hoops (literally!! I made him do it last week), run through tunnels and leap over obstacles.

Most of all, Archie loves us. He especially loves me. And, being an energetic young border collie, he loves to walk.

So after 18 months of being afraid, I have finally got my night walks back, all thanks to Archie. When the children are relatively settled and the kitchen is tidy, Archie and I slip out the front door, leaving Daddy in charge. We only ever walk for half an hour, but it's enough to shake his sillies out and to find my mojo again.

When I'm walking with Arch, I feel safe. He might only be a pup, but he's a big boy. We walk (or rather, I walk and he bounces) the streets of our town, sticking to well-lit areas that we both know well. The local hoons serenade us with wheelies and burnouts, and the train boom gates send their melodic ding-ding-ding through the still night air. As we make a wide path to miss the local pub, the delicate sounds of yobbos having a ball at the TAB echo across the way. Dogs howl, brakes screech, the Woolworths sign glows like a neon god.

For now, this is my paradise. When our house is finally finished, Archie and I will have some lovely streets and parks to explore. I must admit, our soon-to-be new neighbourhood is very, very safe. But for the moment, I am happy to walk at night again in my noisy town with it's uneven footpaths and numerous Commodores. I am so very, very grateful for Archie. He has given me back my night prowling. With any luck, we will walk at night together for many years to come.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Smells like undies

My house has been full of sickies this week. Both the Mouse and my Ballerina have had terrible hacking coughs and unlimited supplies of snot. My beloved has been afflicted with the lurgy too, poor thing. Considering Jack had his bout of gastro last week, and I had the cough / throat / cold thing the fortnight before that, we're a bunch to avoid at the mo'.

It's unavoidable, really, when the three kidlets share a bedroom. I mean, one of them only has to cough, and the others immediately inhale the germs. In the same vein, usually as soon as one of them sneezes, I inhale the beasts, since usually the sneeze is emitted straight into my face. I'm not sure why, but for some reason I have always been the target for snot, dribble, vomit and wee. I'm sure it's got nothing to do with my personality.

The entire family is a bit battle-worn, actually, since I doubt anyone has had a full nights' sleep in at least a week. If we're not being disturbed by someone doing the emphysemic hurl, then it's the constant sniffing, or calling out for drinks of water for parched throats, or the dispensing of Panadol. Last night, they all slept relatively soundly (Christian commented this morning that he had slept much better than the previous few nights. He didn't need to tell me. I was awake...with Archie. Humph.) which made everybody a bit happier.

Anyhow, after a week of wiping runny noses, and sad baby-crying from the Mouse in her sleep, and enough coughing to extract a lung or three, it would seem my little brood are magicians. Because in the last 24 hours, despite being exhausted, despite the constant drip under their noses, they have made me laugh so hard, I swear I have laid more than one egg. I wouldn't argue with you in the slightest if you suggested there was an hysterical edge to my mirth...

We visited the doctor yesterday for Daddy and Maisie, to have their chests listened to and their ears checked. Daddy got some antibiotics; the Mouse was free to return to her regimen of Panadol and cuddles. The kindly doctor gently examined Maisie and then gave her back to me, commenting softly, "You're a good girl, aren't you?" "No!", exclaimed Miss Mouse, defiantly. I laughed, despite myself, especially when Maisie marched to the door, waved "Ai!" sweetly to the doctor, and tried to leave. Clearly, she wasn't waiting around for the free jellybean.

We went home for a quiet afternoon - Daddy had a little nap while the girls played. Upon seeing Phoebalina's fetching outfit of fairy wings,a singlet and a ballet skirt, Maisie disappeared and came back with fairy wings of her own. She insisted I put them on her, and marched about the place looking very pleased with herself.

Poor old Jack has been very patient with his sick sisters this week, especially the grumpy Mouse. He came home from school yesterday very pleased with himself, since he had behaved well enough to get three stars on the 'Star Learner' chart. He was so happy that, on the way home from school he made up a song about "Daddy's Fizzy Bottom". Yes, you read that correctly. And no, I am not going to elaborate, but I'm sure you can work it out!!!!

Obviously we are entering the stage of boyhood obsessed with smells and bottoms and dirty-yucky-stinky things, because Jack did something I found both disturbing and weirdly hilarious tonight (not sure if it says more about me than him, though) He was getting undressed after dinner, and gathered his school uniform up to put in the laundry hamper. He showed me his school trackie pants and asked if they were clean enough for tomorrow. They looked ok, so I asked him to hang them on the end of his bed. Instead, he stuck his whole head inside the pants, inhaled deeply and said solemnly, "Mmmm. Smells like undies."

Right. So it would appear that I am officially the mother of a boys' boy. One thing is for certain - I'm going to have to curtail my desire to laugh out loud every time Jack or the girls do something disgusting or cheeky. It doesn't bode well for my disciplinary skills, does it?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Daniel's legacy

I only teach two days a week. The rest of the time, I am immersed in life with my own kids.

But when I am with my grade, I love it. Most of the time, anyway.

Grade Five children are at that magical space between childhood and adolescence. In any one day, they can be sweet, innocent, funny, ridiculous, childish, purile, mature, knowing, supportive, selfish and blind. Some of them are already thinking about being teenagers...while others are firmly entrenched on the comforts of being little.

In the space of four weeks, I have come to love my group of kids. They're a mixed lot, there's no doubt. But at the end of my two days with them, I always find it hard to switch off. One of them asked me the other day why I "only" work two days a week (and I graciously refrained from pinging them on the issue of unpaid Mummy work). I replied that in a perfect world, I would be able to bring my two baby girls with me into the classroom. But if I worked any more than I did, I would miss Phoebe and Maisie too much. The little girl who had asked me the question nodded, and seemed satisfied with my answer.

Today was a particularly challenging day in the classroom. Not that there were behavioural issues that I couldn't handle, or too much work to cover. As normal, there were spats to sort out and social groups to negotiate in the playground; the challenging issue of keeping everybody working and happy regardless of ability level or concentration span; a threatening wet-day timetable. But every teacher worth their salt faces these situations every day. Every teacher I know is just as much a social worker and parent-figure as they are an educator.

No, the thing that played on my mind today was that these energetic little imps seated in front of me were only a few years younger than Daniel Morcombe when he disappeared. That his gentle smile in the now-too-familiar photographs mirrored those of the children in front of me. That just like him, they would be delighted with the notion of shopping for Christmas presents, all by themselves. The very idea of a bad man grabbing them and stealing them away in broad daylight would be ridiculous.

I thought of Daniel, and his parents many, many times today. I cannot fathom how staunch his parents have remained in the face of unimaginable grief. I am sure that you, like me, would give anything to lessen their pain, to dull the ache in their hearts from the loss of their boy. Unfortunately, we cannot.

What we can do, is treasure our children. Hold them tight; know where they are; tell them we love them every day. Teach them to listen to their instincts - to run from danger and scream loudly if they need to.

Most of all, I am going to remember that Daniel Morcombe's parents would give the world to have their son awake all night. They would absolutely love to be sent a note home, asking for late homework. They would do anything, to have pyjamas dropped on the floor; milk spilled on the bench; a fight between siblings to break up; to be late for school; to have to make lunch boxes at midnight; to find a forgotten, fruit-squished excursion notice in the bottom of a school bag; to endlessly pick up Duplo; to watch the Teletubbies for the 473rd time.

When I am complaining about these things, I will stop myself, and remember Daniel and his parents. And I will send them a silent prayer of love, and a promise that Daniel's legacy will not be forgotten.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Jack and Phoebe go to the footy

Are you a footy fan? Do you enjoy watching a match of a weekend? Does a night at the 'G sound like your ideal outing?

Before we go on, I must clarify - by 'footy', I am not referring to soccer. Or (heaven forbid) rugby. The only footy in my world, at any rate, is Aussie Rules. I appreciate the fact that soccer, or football, is the darling of Europe, and that apparently, rugby is very popular. I wouldn't know - I don't watch either of them. But I do love AFL.

I was raised by an excellent footy player and a committed footy widow. As my Dad was coaching (and playing for) Casterton when I was born, my birth was written into the footy report in the local newspaper. In actual fact, the fact that Casterton had won that week was the headline - my birth was included as a bonus for the coach! Nice.

Growing up, Dad played for many different clubs around Victoria, and coached several of them. I'll never forget running through the banner with my Dad and my brother before the Bellarine Peninsula Grand Final. I got a mouthful of crepe paper. And Anglesea, under my Dad's guidance, won the premiership.

My siblings and I spent years running around various ovals at country football games. And if we weren't actually at a game, Dad would be watching it at home, in between mowing the lawns and painting. I loved having a kick-to-kick with my mates at school - despite Dad's uber-patient coaching, I was atrocious at marking and bouncing the ball. However, I had a half-decent drop-punt which I could safely boot a fair distance, as long as I wasn't expected to catch it first.

Given that my Dad arrived at the hospital when Jack was born with a Bombers jumper he'd ordered specially (in Size 1!!), it was always inevitable that my kids would be involved in footy. They may have a considerable influence towards cycling from Daddy, but there is AFL written in the DNA they received from me.

Like most five year old boys living in Victoria, Jack has become increasingly footy-savvy since beginning school. He's always watched it on telly, especially when the Hawks are playing and we might spy Pa in his trainer's uniform, jogging around the screen in between goals. But recently, Jack has become more and more interested in barracking for the winning team, and the rules of the game, and the fact that the Bombers (his team) are going to beat "Colton" (his best mate's team).

Last night, we left the Mouse with Grandma and trekked into the city to watch the Bombers annihilate the Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium. Many people scoffed at our plans when they heard we were taking an almost-four-year-old and a five year old to the city, at night, to watch a very long footy match. Christian and I figured if we made it to half-time, we'd done well. We'd decided that it was worth a try, and that we'd happily leave when the kids had had enough.

I am not exaggerating when I tell you those kids sat up, wide-eyed in the food court at Crown, and ate their dinner without being prompted to hurry. They walked from Crown to Etihad on their own two feet, Bombers scarves and beanies worn jauntily and with pride. They told everyone who looked sideways at them, that they were going to watch the Bombers win. They sat for the entire game, watching, barracking, cheering, clapping, occasionally colouring in, but mostly enthralled by the spectacle before them. Even poor Phoebe, who developed an icky tummy early in the evening, bravely whooped for her team in between trips to the bathroom.

When the Bombers celebrated a resounding win, our kids stood up in the stands, and danced and bellowed the team song like true footy veterans. By this point, I was expecting them to wilt - but they walked all the way back to Crown, chattering and skipping and smiling at the crowds. Weaving through the throngs at the casino, they grinned as people asked us who had won. Their pride at being a part of the Bombers family was so cute to watch.

They didn't fall asleep until we were halfway home. By this point it was after 11pm, and Christian and I had to tell them to close their eyes. For kids whose normal bedtime is 6:30, it was a fairly huge night. I was so proud of them and the way they behaved - it was simply a wonderful night (even with an intimate knowledge of the location of every ladies' bathroom in Etihad...)

And now, just as the kids were infected with cycling fever during le Tour, I fear my poor husband is going to have to endure a few feverish weeks until the AFL Grand Final is over. Jack and Phoebe were so excited by the Bombers' win last night, they want to go again. Jack wants to know "how big is big enough?" for him to play Auskick. And apparently Santa is going to be hit up for a Sherrin. ("A proper one, Mummy. For big boys.")

And me? Well, the win last night was brilliant. There's something quite thrilling about being at a twilight game on a clear, cold night, while the strains of the Bombers' theme song is belted out without harmony or rhythm. But the best part about last night was that is marked the beginning of an era. Football was such a happy element of my childhood, with enduring memories triggered by warm pies, muddy grass, the thump of leather on booted foot, and the smell of Deep Heat. I am so excited to be sharing this love of mine with my kids. I don't care if they play, or not - for me, the best part is caring enough to be passionate; being involved enough to get excited; loving the game enough to be happy just kicking the ball in your backyard. It's not really about playing the game, but it's about passion, pride, and sharing a common goal with friends. It doesn't matter who they barrack for. It doesn't matter if they can't kick for peanuts. It's footy, and we love it.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Grateful for time

Every Friday, the delightful Maxabella blogs about the things she is grateful for, and hosts an enormous linky to allow bloggers everywhere to share their gratefulness.

I am often grateful. I am occasionally ungrateful (or so my long-suffering husband tells me...) I rarely write a specific "grateful" blog to link up with Maxabella, but instead will pop along to join the crowd if my recent posts have in some way included a grateful or two. (If I'm being truthful, most Fridays I forget about the grateful linky, even though I am unashamedly grateful for the forthcoming weekend...!)

This morning, I realised that I was indeed, truly grateful. (Isn't it weird when you see a word written down continuously, and it starts to look strange? Check it out - Grateful. Grateful. Grateful. Grateful. Doesn't it look like a foreign word now? Or somehow spelled incorrectly? But the only other word I can think of to replace it, is 'thankful'...and after all, Maxabella's linky IS about being grateful.....)


Normal Friday morning routine: organised kids through dressing, breakfast, brushing teeth, into car. Listened to kids prattle away in the back seat all the way to school. Drove past the block to check progress (NB: whilst not doing anything to our house, they were constructing two frames and pouring a slab. Not bad, builder boys, not bad. But, as Phoebalina pointed out, "they're not quite fast enough, are they, Mummy?" No, Phoebs. They're not.)

Dropped Jack at school, went to post office. Visited hairdresser to make appointment for Phoebs, was offered haircut on the spot. Watched my big girl get her very first haircut, with the most enormous smile on her face (was all of three hairs snipped, but you would have thought she had just endured a complete hair makeover.) The Mouse jived on the salon floor as though she were the paid entertainment. Meandered through the toy shop, visited the bakery, bought Archie a bone (I swear it must be a dinosaur bone, it's gigantic) at the butcher's.

Chucked the girls back in the car to go and visit my Dad. Phoebe was bubbling with excitement to see Pa. The Mouse promptly fell asleep (which I was powerless to stop, meaning she would not sleep later at home. There are worse things in life...)

As I drove over to see my Dad, two takeaway coffees steaming up the car, sunshine being sunshiny and girlies singing in the back, I pottered around in my thoughts. "Only 36 sleeps until Phoebe's birthday. I wonder how Kirsty is getting on with Eliza? Who taught Maisie to pick her nose so expertly? Must buy tickets for the trivia night. I like sunny days. Should have put the washing out. But then Archie would have eaten it. Nice latte. Phoebe's hair actually looks very cute. I need to moisturise my hands."

I realise your head might not work like this. Actually, if you're at all normal, chances are your head looks nothing like mine. But I'm afraid that's the truth. And when I sat back to examine my thought processes (a dodgy practice if there ever was one), I realised that I was happy and relaxed, not only because it was a sunny day, but because I had TIME to be happy and relaxed.

It's always time that defeats me. I never have enough time to do anything - sleep, exercise, shop, cook, clean, fold washing, read stories, play games, walk the dogs, talk to my husband. I am always either stopping one task abruptly to begin another, or doing something quickly and poorly so that I can move on to the next.

Since beginning my teaching job four weeks ago, I have been forced to organise my week around my two-day absence from housewifery. The first week was terrible, but since then I have actually found a good system, which so far is working. And an unexpected bonus is that I have been more organised on my *ahem* "non-working" days, and also more inclined to stop and smell the roses, since my time with my wee girls has been slightly curtailed.

So today, I was grateful for time.

Time that allowed me to visit my Dad and share a quick coffee out the front of his shop, while the Ballerina ran around in her dress-ups and the Mouse snored in her carseat.

Time that meant I was not rushing off to be somewhere, or do something.

Time that let me come home and actually play with Phoebe. Just play. Not with one eye on school work. Not with one hand stirring a pot. Not while I folded washing (It's still there...) Just time with Phoebe. She laughed, a lot.

Time to notice that the Mouse has, in one short week, learned the word, "no!"; how to clean her nostrils without the aid of a tissue; how to jump on the back of the couch until Mummy notices; how to say, "moon"; and how to break my heart by cradling her newly adopted teddy / love interest (the one which must accompany her everywhere, including to bed, the supermarket and to collect Jack at school), Woo-Woo. Woo-Woo is named thus because he is a fluffy puppy dog teddy, and that is the sound he makes, apparently. Like all dogs. She does love him with all her baby heart, and holds him around the neck with both arms. It is too, too adorable.

Time to reflect on the fact that Jack has his very first wobbly tooth. If my son has an impending visit from the tooth fairy, that must mean I am getting old. Which can only be a good thing.

I am grateful for having some of my time being consumed by my new job, because it has forced me to value my time at home even more. I am grateful for having the time to spend with my family. I am grateful for having the time to get older with my husband.

In short....I am grateful. As strange as that word looks.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Weeping for England

Like most people, over the last few days I have been absolutely flabbergasted at the news coming at us from the riots in Britain. In fact, I would go as far as to say that my vocabulary is completely inadequate. I am unable to appropriately express my dismay, my upset, my astonishment at the photographs, videos and journalists' reports coming from the United Kingdom.

For me, London was always a magical place. Home to legendary kings and queens; place of ancient castles and cobbled roads; birthplace of punk. It was one of the places I aspired to visit when I grew up. When I at last touched down at Heathrow after six months in America, it felt distinctly like coming home. The people had the same sense of humour as Australians, there were familiar names on streets and pubs, and I suppose simply the fact that so much of Australia stems from a British heritage, it felt like a place from a memory I'd lost.

I loved every minute of living in London (even the urine-drenched public phone boxes with the very rude pictures of available girlies plastered everywhere - whenever I phoned home I had to close both my nostrils and my eyes!!) The London I lived in, aged 23, was quite simply wonderful. A place I hoped to visit again with my husband and children, to share the amazing history, glorious gardens and ye olde leaning buildings.

In the past few days, I have seen things that make my heart bleed. Police cars on fire. Centuries-old buildings, burning into the night sky. Angry teenagers shouting into the darkness. A country gone completely mad.

I have some very dear friends living in London, and I have worried about their safety all week. Nev, my wonderful mate from the Cleveland Arms in Paddington; Renee, Phoebe's nursery teacher now nannying in London; Michael, a friend from many, many years ago (who, by the way, has been sending photographs and video footage to the BBC, the Telegraph and Channel 10 - for goodness sake, Mike, get out of the way of trouble!!). Even Fancy, who I love to death through her bloggy life is over there - how do I know she and the Minis are safe???

Watching these seething mobs riot against the law is completely frightening (Thank you, Captain Obvious.) Why don't these people have any respect for the law? For human kindness? For basic decency? At what point did the youth of Britain throw respect for others out the window and declare manners to be passe?

I know that the numbers of poor, unemployed youths are at an all-time high in the UK. I'll admit, I have had a very fortunate upbringing. I have a husband who works exceptionally hard to keep the kids and I fed, clothed and housed. However, I do understand what it feels like to struggle to put food on the table. I empathise with those who have been searching for work for months, even years, when there are no jobs to be had. It is soul-destroying. Every day, the black cloud over your head gets heavier.

But I also know, in an gut-wrenching, desperate way, what it feels like to fight for your life with no protection whatsoever from the police. To have to rely on yourself to survive, knowing that no one is going to come to help you. To know that, even though you have asked the police for help, none will be forthcoming.

The terror in my home lasted only a few hours. This insane street-fighting has been going on for five days. How long can the kind, gentle, decent people of England endure the tyranny of a mob gone mad? How long can they wait before the police regain some semblance of law and order? I understand that the British police have been given the authority to use rubber bullets and water cannons to control the rioting.

In the short term, this may quell the ringleaders enough to stop most of the trouble. However, it won't fix the reason it began in the first place. The people responsible for this outrageous behaviour are angry at authority. They are not at all afraid of justice, or feel any sense of decency. They feel vindicated in "taking back what is theirs". And what is that? An angry society completely bereft of manners, kindness and respect for others?

I am so afraid for England, that this is only the beginning. That next time, the rubber bullets and water cannons will simply be brought out earlier. That more innocent people will be hurt, or killed, or lose their homes and livelihoods.

I am also afraid for Australia. If this could happen, in 2011, in "multicultural" England, well. How long will it be before our youths are so bored and angry that they follow suit? How can we predict what would trigger such an outbreak of violence? And more to the point, what are we going to do to prevent it?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Gastro Boy

What goes up, must come down, right?? Basic physics and all that.

After my fantabulous day touring the wineries on the Mornington Peninsula, I floated home. And before you start pointing an alcoholic finger at me, no, it was not because I had consumed too much of the good stuff.

Yes, I enjoyed tastings at three wineries. Yes, I had a lovely lunch at the Pig and Whistle on Arthurs Seat. Yes, I carried two rather delectable bottles of wine back home to consume at a later date.

Far and away, the best part of the day was the company. As well as my gorgeous Mrs.Wilson, I met some really fun women who, by the end of the day, I was sad to leave.

Even though I had gone on the tour sporting a sizeable sore throat, head cold and threatening chesty cough, I had a ball (I had even considered staying at home in bed...for a few minutes). So it was my own fault that by Saturday night, I had no voice. I wasn't really that fussed to be truthful. I thought that a decent sleep and a hot cup of tea would have me sorted by Sunday morning.

Unfortunately, by the time I woke on Sunday, my throat had closed over completely. My nose was blocked, my eyes were puffy - overnight I had strayed into definite paperbag territory. To top it all off, I had a thumper of a headache. Now, this I would not have minded so much if I'd actually overindulged at the wineries....but I have witnesses who can vouch for me when I tell you I didn't even come within cooee of tipsy. More's the pity.

To give me a bit of peace and quiet, Christian took the big kids to swimming and left the Mouse and I at home. I was under strict instructions to rest, so I did. I only cleaned up a little bit to make things easier for Monday morning. Like washing the dishes. And vacuuming. And mopping the floor, cleaning the bathroom and toilet, putting the folded washing away, picking up the toys on the floor, and beginning to tackle the mess that is our bedroom. It was while vacuuming the kids' room that I found it. The beginning of the end.

One of the cats (Bella, we presume) must have been locked out of the laundry at some time or another....and had been so desperate to relieve herself that she had pooed under Phoebe's bed. Which meant that there was a cat poo waaaaaaaaay up the back, underneath a bottom bunk bed only a short distance off the floor.

So Sunday afternoon saw me, armed with PineOCleen, gloves, paper towel and a plastic bag, commando-ing under Phoebalina's bed to scrub cat poo off the carpet. My darling husband thought it was an appropriate time to tickle my bum. Let's just say he was not my favourite person at that point in time.

Thankfully, it did not take this claustrophobic mumma very long to clean up the offending mess and wriggle backwards out from under the bed.

Unfortunately, I was not to know this was only the beginning of our adventures with poo.

Like clockwork, Bella first deposited another steamer in the litter tray....followed only minutes later by the Mouse exclaiming that there was a "Doo!" in her nappy. Our poor little (and I do mean little!) unit was filled with far too many savoury aromas.

We had paused the Masterchef finale to settle Maisie into bed. By the time we were both sitting on the couch, the telly had done something weird and we'd missed most of the first hour. Not phased too much, Christian and I decided to do what needed to be done around the house before watching the second hour properly.

And then poor Jack discovered he had gastro.

Unfortunately, Jack's problem surfaced around 8:25pm, which meant that we once again paused the telly, cleaned him up, settled him on the couch under a blanket, and hit 'play'. We saw forty minutes of the second hour. No joke, just as Kate's scores were about to be read out, the telly froze. And it turned out, instead of pausing the show, we had recorded it...and the timer stopped recording at 9:30 on the knocker.

So I had plenty of time to wonder what had happened, while Christian and I cleaned poor little Jack up again, and again. He eventually nodded off on a mattress on our bedroom floor about 1am. All the Glen20 in the world wouldn't have helped our house last night.

And so it was that this morning, I stayed at home to look after my sick boy. Phoebs went off to kinder to escape the germs in the house. The Mouse stayed with me too, since she was not looking crash-hot either (might have had something to do with the two-hour screaming jag she had between 2am and 4am?) And I tried valiantly to rid the house of the ingrained stink.

I am absolutely, 100% sure that someone (God? Buddha? Some dead comedian?) is making me pay for the fun I had on Saturday. And do you know what?? I'm going to tempt fate and say that no amount of poo could make me feel guilty about having such a great time. It was worth every minute, and I'm so glad I went. And now - I'd like all of you to cross your fingers, squinch your eyes tightly closed, and pray frantically repeat after me, "No one will poo tonight. No one will poo tonight. No one will poo tonight....."

Thank you.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Welcome to the world, Eliza Grace

To my beautiful friend, Kirsty

Welcome to motherhood, my darling.

Today is the beginning of the most wonderful, most exhilarating, most challenging thing you will ever do, as long as you live. I can clearly remember the night you phoned me to say there was a tiny little heartbeat in your belly. We were both giddy with excitement.

Throughout your pregnancy, you glowed. From external appearances, being pregnant agreed with you - I had never seen you so grounded, so calm, so content in your own skin.

At your twenty week scan, you discovered that the little 'minnow' swimming around in your womb was a girl. From that day on, the excitement to meet your baby just grew and grew. It never mattered what gender your baby was, but watching you bond with your unborn daughter was incredible. This was a baby doctors told you was nigh on impossible to conceive. This was the baby you were destined to have.

For twenty years, you have been an amazing friend - loyal, honest and true. Since my own children were born, you have been a favourite 'aunty'. Jack, Phoebalina and the Mouse absolutely adore their funny Aunty Kirst, who never forgets a birthday and smothers them in attention and love. You have been a wonderful aunty, and now you are about embark on the role you were born for - an amazing mama.

Yesterday morning I received a very calm text message informing me that your waters had broken. You were staying at home, reading the papers, and waiting to see what happened next. When I phoned you at 5pm, you were walking around the local shops in the pouring rain, having only had two contractions in two hours. At that point, you sounded as though you were going into the zone. So I was not at all surprised to hear that the contractions were coming hard and fast at 9pm.

You arrived at the hospital just after 10pm. At 10.55pm, on Saturday, August 6th, 2011, Eliza Grace came into the world and made you a mama. She weighed a perfect 7 pounds, 5 ounces, with blue eyes and blonde hair. I am so, so pleased for you that your labour was relatively short (and when I say I have labour-and-birth envy, obviously I know all labours and births are hard work - I am just so glad it all went so much more smoothly than my own!!)

From this day forward, you will never be the same. Your body is changed forever, since it has completed the most amazing job it will ever do. Your mind will never return to the way it was, because you now have a brand new life to learn. Your heart is now beating in the hands of a tiny little girl, who will hold it forever. And your soul is now etched with the face of your daughter.

In a few days or so, you may begin to wonder if anything will ever be the same. If you will ever feel completely rested. If you will ever know all of the answers in this parenting caper. If you will ever tire of gazing at your perfect new daughter.

If you are the like the majority of mothers, the answer is, no. The arrival of your daughter heralds sleepless nights, unanswered questions, messes beyond your wildest dreams....and endless, endless love.

This little girl, your baby daughter, has chosen you to be her mother. She has grown in your belly, thriving on the goodness from your body. She has listened to your voice. She knows your scent in an instant. Her eyes will follow you around the room for months to come.

For this tiny baby, you are not the centre of the universe - you ARE the universe. Nobody is more important to her, than you. She already loves you beyond comprehension. Being your first child, she has already taught you more about love than anybody else you have ever met. And all in her first day of life.

So welcome, my beautiful friend, to the world of mothering. Nothing can prepare you for it. Nothing will ever surpass it. And you will wonder, every day, what you ever did without her.

Love always and forever,

Aunty Sal xxx

Friday, August 5, 2011

Excited? Moi?

Tomorrow I'm going on a winery tour.

My beautiful friend Mrs.Wilson, formerly of York, now of Poowong, invited me along. It's been a while since she and I hit the tiles together. When we worked together at summer camp in the States, it was on a weekly basis...Millenium Eve in York was an outstanding night that amazingly enough, I do remember...and the couple of months we shared a house in Rye saw quite a few bevvies imbibed.

But now that we have four children between us, it's been a while between drinks. I'm fairly sure Mrs.Wilson's social life is quite similar to mine, so when she sent me a message the other day asking if I was interested in joining a busload of women for a celebratory winery tour...well, I didn't have to think for too long. Just quietly, if Mrs.Wilson is excited, then I am bouncing off the walls in anticipation.

There will be a lovely lunch, a lot of yummy-scrummy wine tastings, and some new friends. Since I am actually going as Rent-A-Crowd, I will begin the excursion knowing only one person...but I am sure after two or three vineyards, I will have several new best friends.

I have absolutely no idea which vineyards we will be visiting, nor do I know what time I will be home. Those details matter little to me.

Did I mention I am going on a winery tour tomorrow?

The following elements will be missing from my day:
* washing
* vacuuming
* folding washing
* preparing "snacks" that are left uneaten
* washing
* answering questions such as, "Mummy, when am I ten?", and "Mummy, why wasn't Maisie a brother?", and "Mummy, why did you cook this for dinner?"
* washing
* being handed a real live slug from my youngest child whilst washing the dishes (where did she get the slug??? Where????)
* doing dishes
* wiping bottoms
* wiping noses (other than my own)
* washing
* stopping the youngest child from brushing Archie's teeth with her toothbrush
* stopping the youngest child from standing on the Fisher Price trike with her arms out wide and nothing at all to break her fall

My lovely hubby will be at the helm. And when he takes Archibald to puppy school in the afternoon, my wonderful mum will take over for a couple of hours. Thank goodness for both of them. Did I mention I'm going on a winery tour? Tomorrow?

I will admit that I am mildly concerned about how I will pull up on Sunday. As you probably already know, swimming lessons wait for no one. I'm sure there will be a sizeable headache, even if I only have a small amount. Since having babies, I've become a bit of a Cadbury's chick. When I was 20, I could have had two or three nights of 3am finishes back to back, no worries. Now that I am halfway between 30 and 40, I am aware that this one day of frivolity will likely finish me off for the week. I know on Sunday morning, I will be tired and more than a bit sore, with a house to prepare for the working week, groceries to buy, and meals to cook. But I'm not concerned enough to stay at home.

I'm going on a winery tour tomorrow!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Dominant Girly Gene

When Phoebalina Ballerina was born nearly four years ago, I was a tiny weeny bit stunned. Quite apart from the gob-smacking adoration I felt for my new little daughter, I was amazed at the complex genetics that had clearly been involved. You see, Christian and I are both fair-skinned (to the point of getting sunburnt simply by reading the word 'sun'), with light-coloured (read 'mouse' for me, and mouse with increasingly amounts of silver for him) hair, and blue/green eyes.

Our scrinched-up bundle of screaming joy had jet-black hair, dark eyes and olive skin. I remember gazing at her in the little fishbowl bassinet, wondering if there had somehow been a mix-up in the microsecond between my baby being lifted out of my belly, and being held up for me to see. The thing is, Jack was whisked away from me after his birth for a few hours, because I was quite a while in recovery. Maisie was taken immediately to the special care nursery for oxygen therapy, and wasn't given to me until the next day. But both of them were blonde and blue-eyed from their first gasp, and there was absolutely no mistaking whose babies they were.

Phoebalina was the only one of my babes to have the umbilical cord clamped and cut, and to be placed directly in Christian's arms, before finding her sleeping spot on my chest. She was the only one to never leave our sight from the moment of her birth. And she was the only one that looked like another woman's baby, to the point where I grew a bit tired of being asked what the postman's name was.

Being a science nerd teacher, I have always loved genetics. It was always my favourite component of the curriculum, and I relished every minute of teaching it. Although Phoebe quickly became a blonde, blue-eyed chubster just like her brother, it always fascinated me that she had been born looking so different. To add to this, people would comment on a daily basis that Phoebe did not really resemble anybody in the family. "Who does Phoebe look like?", they would inquire, peering at our beautiful girl. "She looks like Phoebe", Christian would reply, deadpan.

Now that she is almost four years old, Phoebs is very clearly an O'Toole. She has the same colouring as her baby sister; the same eyes as her Daddy; the same grin as her brother; and the same sweet, stubborn-as-a-mule nature as her Aunty Miffy. But the thing that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that she is my daughter (apart from the stretchmarks and caesar scar that she caused) is the girly gene that becomes more evident in her phenotype every day.

My mum will attest that I was the girliest girl in the world. When I was little, it was all about pink, frills, ballet, pink, flounces, lace, pink, prettiness and pink. (And if you know me IRL, you're probably thinking that not much has changed. And you'd be right.) I even made up a new name for myself, which included most of the names of the Von Trapp sisters and a few flowers thrown in. I am still a girly girl, just not in a scary Brynne Edelsten way. I love anything pink and pretty. I unashamedly dress my baby daughters in pink (simply because the goth phase will come eventually and I need to have enough cute photos to sustain me through that difficult time). But that's ok. I draw the line at dressing Jack in pink - he doesn't need more therapy.

The older Phoebe becomes, the girlier she is. Can you tell how delighted I am?? The girly gene is so strong in my biggest girl that she literally skips for joy when I lay out a skirt for her to wear as opposed to pants. As the weather has been so warm these last few days, Phoebs has been in skirt-wearing heaven. This morning, she tripped into the bathroom wearing her denim skirt and leggings, and chirped, "Mummy, thank you for my skirt! Girls wear skirts because they are girls, right? We don't want to wear those long leg fings. Just skirts and dresses, because we are girls, not boys. Not boys." And she twirled around and skipped away, happy as a lark.

Before you set Germaine Greer on me, remember this - my daughter wears pants (or long leg fings) and shorts most of the time, simply because it is more practical for playing. And she tolerates this with a sigh, most of the time. But when I allow my girl to wear a pretty dress or a skirt, she is so, so happy. Who am I to tell her that wearing dresses is wrong? Dresses feel swishy and floaty and nice. There is nothing nicer on a warm day than feeling the breeze on your bare legs, under a skirt that makes you feel good. Rather than worrying about creating an anti-feminist, I'm glad my girl knows what she likes.

At nearly four years old, my daughter is the queen of all things pretty and sparkly. She adores flowers and fairies, princesses and tiaras. Any colour is fine, as long as it is pink. (She will also tolerate purple and white, as long as they are teamed with the ubiquitous pink). She is happiest when her hair is tied up (just like Mum's), there are necklaces and bracelets around her neck and wrists, fairy wings are attached to her back, and there is a tiara (or "bitara") atop her blonde fluff. On our walk with the dogs today, she pranced along behind the pram in her silver party shoes, doing "fairy skips". Anything to get her to move more quickly.

After a week of baby beauty pageant madness in the media, I can state categorically that I do not, and never will, agree that dressing little girls up as Vegas showgirls is a good idea. Prancing a spray-tanned, made-up, Botoxed child across a stage is one thing; allowing your inner girly girl to shine is another. I am proud to say that my baby girl possesses a dominant girly gene. But no makeup in the world could make her more beautiful than she already is; no flouncy dresses could enhance her natural charm; no silly song and dance routines could render her more delightful. In her natural, bare-faced, wispy-haired, dress-ups-from-the-actual-dress-up-box costumes, my Phoebalina is the most beautiful girly girl all without trying. I loves every bit of her. And I am so, so glad that it's my girly DNA that runs through her veins. Because when she hits the everything-is-black goth phase, I will remind myself that, like her mother, she will grow out of it, and return to all things pink. Eventually.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Fairy dust

If you ever needed proof that fairy dust is real, and magic exists, then you need look no further than Melbourne today. The evidence is astounding to say the least...

Jack wore a t-shirt to school today.
Christian ran out the door without a jumper...also in a short-sleeved shirt.
All of the windows in the house were open. All day. And even now, late at night, they remain brazenly flung open to the breeze.
My washing was hung out at lunchtime, and came in a few hours later bone dry.
The girls and I took the dogs for a walk after lunch. Maisie wore bare feet and a baby t, and duck-fluff hair. Phoebs sported a jaunty ensemble consisting of a short skirt, leggings, a t-shirt and party shoes.
After our walk, I felt way too toasty to be wearing jeans. And I was sure the sun had a bit of a sting in it, because my arms had a little colour...
The gentle wind caressing the house is, even now, soft and warm. I took Archibald around the block one more time not long ago, and came back roasting in my hoodie.
The kids are asleep in summer jarmies.
The cats and dogs are sprawled out across the floor, tongues lolling.

And why, I hear you mutter, is this nutjob woman talking about warm breezes and fairy dust?? Has she finally cracked??

Well, possibly. No, scratch that - probably.

But that's besides the point. The thing is, today would have been a beautiful, gentle, warm summer's day in Melbourne...if it wasn't winter. You heard me - today, Melburnians enjoyed the unseasonable warmth of a perfect 23 degree day in the heart of winter. Since Melbourne is famous for being, shall we say, rather chilly in winter, you could be forgiven for thinking that someone had been tampering with the weather fairy.

Whatever it was - fairy dust, magic, plain old jiggery-pokery - I don't care. I enjoyed every minute of the magnificent weather today (even if a little bit of me is wondering what Zeus is going to pull out of his hat to make us pay for it...). Even better than that, apparently it's going to be warm again tomorrow....that fairy dust is awesome stuff!!! I might see if I can get my hands on some, and sprinkle it up my nose. Who knows? It might even motivate me to clean the house properly...