RSS Feed

A plane load of guilt

Since about September last year I have been suffering from mother’s guilt. Actually that isn’t strictly true. I have been suffering mother’s guilt since I first found out I was pregnant, so about seven years now.

Anyway, this last bout of mother’s guilt has been brought on by the decision to take M1 on a holiday to the other side of the world and to leave the cliché and M2 and F1 to their own devices (I took the iPad, so there aren’t many devices left behind). At the time of booking it seemed like a lovely romantic notion, to take my first born to one of the most fascinating and colourful cities on the planet. To introduce her to tango and the colours of Boca, and to show her dog walkers and colourful collectivos, seemed like the right thing to do…especially as the airline was offering reasonably priced tickets!

But then mother’s guilt showed his gnarly face and took hold. How could I pick one child over the others? How could I justify a big expense on our stretched budget? How could I ever leave the other two who would not be able to cope without me? How is leaving two children with their father for two weeks fair? Is this really all about me and my obsessive need for travel? It goes on…

I looked for reassurance at every turn, friends, other parents in the playground, random strangers in the street. And mostly I got it. But mother’s guilt is such such an insidious fiend and he hung on like chewy on my shoes, catching with every step.

You see, that’s how mother’s guilt works. You make a decision for your family/child and then you rethink that decision- well surely because parenting is an exact science. I mean look at all those angelic children out there. It’s called the ‘what ifs’. What if she catches a cold on the plane? What if I don’t give the other two a kiss before bed every night? What if I don’t pack the right clothes? What if I don’t cook enough dinners for all the nights I am away? What if Argentina has a revolution while I am there? What if Australia has one while I am away?

I think the real ‘what if’ is, what if this experience scars them for life!

But if isn’t only about this trip? My whole life is ‘what if’. What if I have given M1 peanut butter too early? And what if I had fed her more cucumber, avocado, tomato as a baby? Maybe she wouldn’t be so fussy now. What if have made the wrong decision to send M1 and M2 to the local public school? What if we don’t do the right extracurricular activities so we identify their talents? What if I have enrolled them in ethics but there really is a God? What if one of our kids is good at piano but I have enrolled them in gymnastics? What if Auskick isn’t the right way to spend a Sunday morning? (In truth this last one is not really a problem for me, Auskick should be compulsory for all children).

And so it goes, on and on and on….

As M1 and I headed through customs, I looked back at M2 and F1. They looked sad. I felt sad. What if I had been able to take them all?

Well the reality is then then I would still have the what ifs. What if F2 can’t sit in his seat for more than 10 minutes at a time? Will my holding him down forever scare him off planes? What if one of them gets the Argentinian equivalent to Bali belly? How do I find the right treatment, clinic, or doctor? What if they mess up the apartment we rent? Does their name go on an Airbnb blacklist for life? Or worse still, does mine?

You make decisions for your children, sometimes with great consideration and other times in a bit of a rush. Which ones are the best? Ask me in about 20 years. In the meanwhile I am going to keep looking for those travel bargains. And what if my children inherit my passion for travel?

My life in ruins

“You’re ruining my life,” M1 screams at me as once again I am sending her to her room for a bit of ‘time-out’.

It’s not really time-out for anyone because she’ll spend the next ten minutes banging and stamping her feet and yelling at me. However at least she is not in my direct zone and that is best for all of us. I know she will calm down…eventually, and be pleasant for a moment or two.

How I am ruining her life at age five and almost three quarters I am not sure. Maybe me telling her she can’t have another packet of tiny teddies will stop her saving the world from a meteor strike that might happen on 27 August 2027 because those very tiny teddies might have just been what she needed for brain development which leads her to create the antidote for stray meteors. Sorry world. I’m ruining your lives too.

Maybe I am ruining her life because her not swinging on the monkey bars after school for ‘just five more minutes pleeeeeeaaaaase mum’ means she won’t develop into an Olympic gymnast. Sorry AOC. Sorry all you people hanging for Australia to win gymnastic gold at the Olympics.

Potentially I am ruining her life because not letting her eat chocolate cake for breakfast means she will not get the sugar rush that will prepare her adequately for some addiction later in life! Sorry to those who have to hold back her hair.

Maybe me telling her not to sing in such a shrill fashion that I am forced to face scrunch (thus causing me wrinkles) is ruining her life because there is a career for her in opera singing and I am obviously not recognising it. Sorry Opera Australia.

Maybe me telling her not to push her brother is ruining her life because without building upper body strength he won’t get the skills to become a key midfielder for the Sydney Swans and she won’t get to sit in a corporate box at a home game to watch him play in the 2033 season. Sorry Swans fans.

Perhaps I am ruining her life because I don’t let her have canteen money every day which means she wont have any concept of how to spend in the December sales. This of course will lead to a down turn in the Australian economy and imminent depression from around 2024. Sorry Australian economy and taxpayers.

I know I am ruining her life when we walk down the Barbie aisle saying ‘no, no, no, no…’ because she may not develop body issues with limited exposure to the plastic goddess, and well we all need those issues so we have something to blame our mothers for.

However, it’s Barbie who is in part responsible for all of this – or at least Barbie as she appears in Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus. I discovered this lovely role model – in the guise of a teenage ice skater called Annika – tells her parents they are ‘ruining her life’ when they ask her not to leave the castle – for good reason I might add – they have already had another daughter turned into a flying mythical horse by an evil wizard.

So for fear of my daughter being ‘winged’ I expect I will keep ruining her life. Bring on those teenage years…

About a boi

A few weeks ago, fed up with the constant heat, I decided to get a short haircut. ‘It’s brilliant,’ thought I as I looked in the mirror. A little bit of gel and I am ready to face the world. And I loved myself with my tightly cropped locks.

That is until someone suggested I had a ‘butch’ cut.

I was horrified. A butch cut….NOOOOO! It’s elfin, cute, neat, easy…..

I have always asserted that I am non-judgmental about the way people dress and how they wear their hair, and yet on hearing that my new haircut is ‘butch’ I am immediately dismayed? Am I so shallow?

After I had calmed down a little I began to wonder, why have I become so upset about a single word? As usual I headed to my trusty dictionary (The Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary (1992, p146) for this definition:

  • Butch / adj. & n. sl. –adj. masculine; tough looking. -n. 1 (often attrib.) a a mannish woman. b a mannish lesbian. 2 a tough, usu. Muscular, youth or man [perh. Abbr. of BUTCHER]

Next I tackled my thesaurus, a Roget’s (1992, p.49):

  • <mannish female> amazon, virago, androgyne; lesbian, butch, and dyke <both nonformal>; tomboy, hoyden, romp

The takeaway message from these two sources is that butch is heavily associated with lesbian or Masculine of Centre[1] people.

I did some more digging around to get to the bottom of the butch issue and it’s a fascinating one. I never knew that the opposite of being butch is being femme (or maybe it isn’t, depends who you read). The use of these terms has been developed to organise gender and the sexual self. It’s often considered to be the way in which lesbian relationships are arranged, but this ignores femme – femme and butch – butch partnerships that arise.

Importantly the notion that butch and femme are conventional roles that are taken on in a relationship is hotly debated and there is some discussion that these are separate genders[2].

The word butch apparently became to mean what it did in the 1940s, however ‘being butch’ may have been around for a lot longer but such women would have been forced to live this life in secret.

And there is so much more. The argument that a femme woman challenges the dominant culture’s construct of femininity more than a butch woman does is another wonderful element of this enthralling subject.

And it’s good. It’s fascinating to read the history and context of this component of our world and to get an understanding of it. It’s great to get my brain working, reading the arguments from scholars and scientists, discussing feminism and sociology.

And here’s what I have learned. The next time I am told I have a ‘butch’ haircut (if there is ever one, and there might be because I plan to keep my hair short), I am going to say, “thank you”. Oh and also, “did you know that the word butch means tough kid, and butch dress codes date back to the beginning of the 20th century, oh and the younger version of butch is boi?”

So maybe I had a boi’s haircut?

Or maybe that’s just flattering myself.

[1]Term coined by the Brown Boi Project
[2] Nestle, Joan. “The Femme Question.” Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality. ed. Carole S. Vance. Boston: Routledge, 1984.
The Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary, 2nd Edition, 1992, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne, Australia.
Roget’s International Thesaurus Fifth Edition, 1992, Ed R.L. Chapman, Harper Collins, New York, New York.

What price serenity?

For Mother’s Day (back in May) this year I received a gift voucher for a facial. And a few weeks ago I got to use it. I can’t tell you how much I was looking forward to this hour and a half of peace and as the treatment was titled, ‘serenity’.

Off I drove to the suburban salon, part of a chain, but I had been there before and had quite enjoyed it. I got a park right outside the door and was greeted by a lovely young person who told me she was my ‘therapist’ and I would be able to go straight in – 15 minutes early. Things were looking good.

‘Can I use the bathroom before we start,’ I ask. I can’t think of anything worse than trying to enjoy my facial with my bladder singing at me. ‘Oh we don’t have one here.’ Therapist directed me to the public toilet (sans mother-friendly signs I noticed, which was okay because I was sans children). And here was the first sign things were about to change. I now know why they call it a water closet.

On returning to the salon I was directed to a darkened room, dominated by the beautifully made massage bed complete with a medium-sized basket containing a burning candle (medium being about 25cm square and about 20cm deep for those who need help with visualisation – I know this would help me). ‘You can place your handbag in the basket,’ Therapist instructed me. I hesitated. ‘Um, what should I do with the candle,’ I asked. I quite like the handbag I was using and am pretty sure it isn’t flame retardant.

‘Just put it on top,’ she replied.

‘Um,’ I said.

You know the reaction you might give to a child who isn’t really listening to you so you just end up doing it yourself in a huffy way? She reached over, grabbed the candle, turned it upside and flicked off a switch.

‘It’s plastic, you dumbass,’ Therapist said. Okay so she didn’t really say dumbass but she might as well have. ‘Oh, what a great idea.’ I didn’t really think it was a good idea – I quite like traditional candles – but I didn’t know what else to say.

Therapist told me to take a seat and she proceeded to wash my feet which felt a bit weird as I really wasn’t sure where to put them. I know how my children feel now when I try to dress them or put their shoes on without telling them what I am doing.

Therapist then left me to undress and hop under the doona, coming back after a few minutes to start the serene treatment. Yippee, I could close my eyes and relax. Almost…after an eyebrow wax and eyelash tint.

‘So you have pretty good skin,’ Therapist told me after examining me with a prison strength spotlight. ‘It’s a bit dry but it’s very good.’ I should do given I cleanse, tone and moisturise twice a day and have done since I was thirteen (even at an altitude of 5000 metres in Bolivia with no running water).

So now I could relax and enjoy. Ah…

Rustle, rustle, rustle, the less than soothing sounds of Therapist preparing lotions behind my head. Sure there was the lullaby of pan pipes coming through the sound system but these were drowned by the rattle and clash of metal against metal nearer my ears. And then, ohhhh the lovely feeling of care being applied to me face…sighs. ‘I’ll do your head and neck massage while that’s working,’ Therapist said. And she started, with gloves! Is this how they do massages now? It has been a while since I have had one and sadly it was dreadful. The noise, the rubberised sensation, the lack of human touch.

Therapist went back to working on my face. ‘We have some options that could help with your dry spots. Our collagen treatment would be best for you. I can do it now.’

‘Sure,’ I responded. ‘Is it an extra cost?’

‘There is a small cost but it will really improve your skin.’

But you just told me I have great skin, I thought. But like a babbling fool I again asked the cost.

‘Only $69,’ she said. Any tension that may have left me neck came back. Doesn’t it seem a bit strange when you are there using a gift certificate someone has generously given you to be then asked to be handed over a somewhat substantial sum of money (even though your skin is okay)?

Fortunately that very week I had heard a segment on James Valentine’s radio program (ABC 702 Afternoons) about the best lines you can use to get out of things. Further proof there shouldn’t be any more cuts to the ABC.

‘Oh we are on a single wage at the moment so I can’t fit it into my budget,’ I said.

‘Oh….okay…,’ Therapist said. Phew!

‘But this treatment would be really good for your skin. You would really feel the difference.’

‘Um…ah…’ I flounder. How can I explain to Therapist that I am not here for the up sell but for the pleasure of using a gift.

‘I just can’t put any more pressure on my budget at the moment.’ I am cringing on the inside…Hell, I am cringing on the outside. ‘Maybe when I go back to work next year….?’

Therapist’s disappointment is palpable and I feel like I have let her down. She puts more lotions on my face, clanging and crashing as she goes.

‘So that needs to dry on your face for 15 minutes,’ Therapist says. ‘Can I massage your hands or feet while we wait?’

I am too scared to ask how much it costs and even more frightened of disappointing her so I indicate my hands. On come the gloves for another uncomfortable massage.

Soon enough my facial is complete and I am left to get dressed, comb my hair and rejoin the world.

‘So,’ said Therapist as I entered the bright lobby. ‘Here are some products I think you should be using.’

‘Oh okay,’ I hesitate. ‘How much are they?’ My knees are shaking.

‘This one is for your eyes….’ I have stopped listening until she says, ‘….$95, $55 and $45, but we have a deal that if you buy two, you get the third for free’.

I have no doubt it won’t be the $95 product that is free.

With no shame left I trot out my ‘budget’ line again.

I leave, offering reassurances I will be back once I am working again for creams, lotions and collagen. We both know it’s a lie.

I am still tense. I am also saddened that a lovely word like ‘serenity’ is butchered. In all of this I can’t help but think – even when beauty is a gift we are still asked to pay for it.

Mother f… what?

Recently I was at one of my favourite Sydney shopping centres, best-loved because it’s easy to park, easy to negotiate with a pram, you can get good milkshakes, it has a great indoor kids playground, and on this recent visit, I noticed it had a ‘mother-friendly toilet’. ‘What a fabulous idea,’ I thought as I passed (it was one of those rare occasions when I was blessed with going on my own). This cubicle was a vast open space with two toilets – one normal sized for regular sized bottoms (whatever they are) and one small-sized for little bottoms – and a sink. How useful!

However, as usual, it got me thinking. I began asking myself what a genuine mother-friendly toilet would really look like. I’ve come up with a few ideas:

  • A toilet that pulls down underpants, wipes bottoms and pulls the underpants back up.
  • A toilet which does all the above, washes and dries hands, has an automatically opening door and then self flushes as you leave the cubicle.
  • A voice-over which sternly tells your child off when they are about to touch the ‘dirty things’ in the cubicle space, for example, the disposal system, the floor, the sink, the door lock, the taps, the drier…
  • A toilet that cheers when you child hasn’t wee-weed¹ on themselves.
  • A toilet that is sound proofed so all conversations about vaginas and poos cannot be overheard by everyone else in the bathroom.
  • A toilet which has Peppa Pig, or scenes from Frozen playing while you are in there. It may not be the speediest visit but at least it will be a quiet one.
  • A nanny who comes in and toilets your children for you.
  • A nanny who toilets your children for you and then looks after them while you do the shopping.
  • A nanny who toilets your children, feeds them and entertains them while you visit the day spa.
  • A toilet that comes around to your home and does your housework while you are out shopping.
  • A toilet that comes around to your home, after doing your shopping, puts away said shopping, does your housework and makes dinner while you are at the day spa, and while the nanny looks after your kids.
  • A toilet that comes around to your home after doing your shopping, puts it away, does the housework, makes dinner, does your taxes and pays all your bills while you are at a resort in Thailand, and while the toilet nanny looks after your kids.

Now that would be a real ‘mother-friendly toilet’!

But this also got me thinking. I wonder if they have a ‘father friendly toilet’ in the men’s room?


¹I have spent some time (probably too much) trying to determine the correct way to write this. Wee’d just doesn’t look right and according to Dr Google is definitely wrong! Maybe I should have said pee’d?

The set up

Recently I read an enlightening article by Bianca Wordley, which deals with the ‘things people say’, and in her case it’s those comments which suggest having three young children of the same sex – girls – somehow makes life easier. You can read this very funny article here.

It got me thinking about more of the things I have been told with three young children. Anyone who had read my blog in the past knows I like to analyse these pearls of wisdom. One thing in particular really stands out. Unlike Bianca I have two girls and a boy so I don’t get the life must be easier comment, but my favourite has been, ‘you must be happy now because you have the full set’. This got me thinking about what constitutes a set.

According to my trusty dictionary¹ there are at least 68 definitions for set. Let’s examine just a few of them.

Put or lay a thing in a certain place. Unless you’re not keen on finding it again the certain place needs to be over five feet high and no where near any thing that may be used as a climbing device (which for children can be any reasonably solid object).

Set or adjust an alarm clock to sound at a certain time. I ask, with three young children, who needs an alarm clock?

Fix, arrange or mount. Fix – either that or you end up throwing it out (okay so they don’t mean that kind of ‘fix’ but when you have kids all you seem to do is fix things – hence my confusion), arrange – don’t mistake this for tidy up, and mount – refer to definition above re five feet high.

Set a table. Just make sure all your cutlery and crockery match unless you want to start the ‘I wanted the pink plate’ war.

Insert a jewel into a ring. Except that now you can’t afford jewels and the only ring you have comes with the telephone.

Arrange hair while damp so it dries in a required style. Does pulling it into a ponytail count?

Set things in motion or set a fire. With the adventurous nature of my children there is a pretty good chance something will be set on fire. And we are always in motion, always…

To harden or solidify. Can it get any harder? And solidify? You mean like play dough (my least favourite toy) that’s been left out of its container?

Appear to move towards the earth’s horizon. I call this falling into bed at the end of another crazy day.

Represent (to set the scene) as happening in a certain time or place. It all seems to be happening in my kitchen, under my feet.

Start doing something (set things in motion). But just don’t expect to finish it.

Set a task. Ha! See point above.

Set the pace, take the lead in. We always seem to be doing things at pace but I never feel I am in the lead.

Establish a record. I think I have the world record for the most yelling one person can do.

Set bones. Oh please I hope not!

Assume a hard expression. I often try this. It never really works, except to enhance my wrinkles.

A collection of implements. Implements used for torture? Wooden spoons perhaps?

The way a machine or device is adjusted. Just don’t come back any time in the future and expect it to be adjusted the way it was.

A television. If only I had watched more television….

A sequence of songs. Let it go, for the first time in forever, do you want to build a snowman, in summer… Yes, the deranged ranting of a sleep-deprived woman forced to listen to the Frozen soundtrack over and over and over….

A set in tennis. Who has time for tennis? Fortunately I am pretty rubbish at it anyway. Maybe I can push my children in to playing it, they can become world champions and I can be their coach. We all know how good parent-coaches are.

Prescribed or determined in advance. With three children there is no other way to be. It’s not like I can turn to the Cliché and say, “honey, how about we fly to Buenos Aires next week,” any more.

A setting. Picture this: a winter evening, front door opens, children enter and all that can be heard are cries of “I wanted to come up the steps first”, “I’m hungry”, “I want to watch Peppa”, “well I want to watch Frozen”, “that’s my seat”, “I was there first”, “mum, we need to take jewellery for show and tell”…

A number of things or persons that belong together. That’s us.

In retrospect maybe I do have the full set.


¹ The Australian Concise Oxford dictionary (8th Edition), Oxford University Press, 1993

The weight of a word

‘Oh you had another baby,’ the woman who runs my local bakery said to me recently as I went in to buy bread rolls.

‘Yes,’ I responded enthusiastically pointing at the precious bundle I was carrying in a sling across my body and waiting for her praise.

‘I just thought you were getting fat,’ she responded with a beaming smile. ‘Like me,’ she added, patting her stomach.

And there it was, the qualifier. It was okay if I was getting fat because she was too.

Why is it that we are okay with some people telling us that they think we are putting on weight and not so okay with others? Is there a level of comfort when the person telling us we are a fatty is happy to share their fat experience with us?

A few months ago I read an article by fashionable fitness aficionado Michelle Bridges which suggested it is okay to have ‘a word’ with a family member if you are worried about their weight¹. But here is the qualifier – you would be telling the family member because you are concerned about a ‘looming health issue’. In fact, suggests Michelle, you have a ‘responsibility to show concern for the health of loved ones’.

The good conscience qualifier wins out every time. Because how will you feel if something fat related happens to your ‘chunky’ cousin, brother, mother or daughter and you haven’t said something? How will you live with yourself? Obviously you are responsible so get in there and speak your mind – just remember to do it ‘thoughtfully, not in front of others’. And remind them if they exercise and eat right and they will soon be back on the ‘skinny’ path.

It is that simple right?

I can honestly say there is nothing I enjoy less than when a close family member mentions my weight. I have a particular relative who comments on my weight whenever there is an opportunity. It’s always in subtle terms. However, knowing this person (as you tend to know family and their hang-ups) I know what ‘you should always wear that colour – its perfect on you’ really means.

Over the years, this family member’s comments have created an interesting effect, for only recently when they told me how slim I looked I sarcastically replied, ‘Well I have just had a baby’. Is it because this person is always having a little ‘word’ with me about my weight that I am unable to accept what may have been a compliment?

Having a discreet word with your fat relative is not the problem. The problem is you have no idea how many others are having a similar word to them. You have no idea how they are saying it. You have no idea how often they are hearing remarks about their weight.

So Michelle, having a word to a loved one about their weight is not okay – not unless they give you the signal they want to discuss it with you. If you have concerns about their weight, they are your concerns. Go and talk with your therapist or your local clergy or whoever else can cleanse you of your worry. Besides what will you do if your fat relative continues to put on weight? How worried can you get for them? Get on with your own thin life.

As for my baker, should I be upset with her? I don’t think so. She probably has relatives reminding her of her weight gain. Besides she makes great bread, lamingtons, cupcakes, sausage rolls, muffins, donuts……

¹ Sunday Life, Sydney Morning Herald, 16 June 2013.