Category: People

Flailing at parenting; an open letter

To the Good Samaritan I met at the playground today,

Thank you for reminding me that I’m failing at parenting.

I’m not sure what happened, I just plain forgot to turn on my alarm today – the one that reminds me at least hourly that I could do better, should do better, MUST do better. That I’m spending too little quality time with the most precious and perfect things I’ve ever created and too much time yelling at and bribing them.

It usually pings me with impeccable regularity. Not with the gentle tolling of wind chimes, but a bellowing horn that yells – “YOU’RE SUCKING AT THIS TODAY!”

Before I had the pleasure of meeting you, I can count at least half a dozen occasions before midday when this usually reliable alarm would have tolled. There’s:

  • The Weetbix I forgot to clean off the table this morning before coming to find you that’s now set like concrete. Just between you and me, it’ll probably still be there at dinner time, too (it was).
  • The load of washing that’s sat in the machine for a day now and is likely creating a microbiota all of its own.
  • The laundry that’s been on the line for two days and has nowhere to go because my not one, but TWO, laundry baskets are already full.
  • The food and dirt you would’ve noticed on my kids’ faces at the playground because, God forbid, getting grubby is more fun than looking presentable.
  • The television I caved into when we got home from seeing you without even a skerrick of resistance.
  • The stinky nappy I only discovered after we got home.

You wouldn’t know this, but I’ve been so busy failing at parenting that I’m also excelling at failing at marriage too. I genuinely can’t recall the last time my husband and I sat down to relax on the couch together without waking up at midnight in awkward semi-upright positions needing chiropractic intervention.

The thing is, I didn’t know my alarm was on the blink until I met you. Because, I thought I was actually doing OK (I know, funny, right!). I’d got three kids under five – including a fairly fresh baby – fed and dressed in clothes that were actually ironed. I got us all out of the house and happily playing outdoors by 9:30am. I had a cooler bag full of healthy food for them and I’d even managed to put on enough make-up to (hopefully) not frighten the other children.

So, I feel lucky really. Lucky that there are well-meaning members of the community, like your good self, to remind me just how sub-par my efforts are. For days like today, when I forget. People who have no idea how many hundreds of times I squeeze my kids each day to tell them I love them. People who have no idea how many times I’m up at night calming tearful cries. You looked fresh as a daisy, by the way, sitting on the park bench looking at your phone whilst minding a kid that – judging by your age – you get to give back at the end of your shift.

Thank you for being there today. If it hadn’t been for you, I would’ve forgotten to let myself off the hook occasionally. Because there’s always someone well-meaning around to put you right back on it.

I usually like to sign off letters with cheers or kind regards or love always, but I feel there’s really only one appropriate valediction here.

Up yours,

me.

Should James Bond have his driver’s licence suspended?

It must be time for James Bond to start needing annual eye tests to have his driver’s licence renewed.

As the most recent Brit with the skills to disarm and seriously wound dozens of men at a time without tearing a stitch of his expensive suit, Daniel Craig has done a sensational job of pulling off being a youthful 37 year-old who happens to be born in 1953…

That includes being one of the most successful Bonds of all time, with at least two (Skyfall and Spectre) of the top five highest grossing films in the franchise, depending on which online source you consult. By the by, isn’t it comforting knowing even James Bond lies about his age.

But, even those with a licence to kill must admit, at some point, that age is sneaking up on them. Actually, I would’ve thought it would make you more sensitive to any dulling of the senses – no one wants to see someone with arthritic knuckles, swollen like beads on an abacus, waving around a Walther PPK. It’s dangerous for everybody.

So, why the suspicion over Mr Bond’s driving ability? Quite simply, the man trashes cars the way the rest of us put out the trash – all the damn time, it seems.

On a quiet Saturday night recently, I bunkered down with a block of chocolate and hot cuppa, ready to enjoy the weekly screening of Bond offered on rotation by the local TV stations. Within minutes of the title credits of Quantum of Solace wrapping up I was wincing in physical pain at the sight of Bond convincingly destroying his beautiful Aston Martin DBS in a few furious minutes.

Honestly, it was heartbreaking. Right up there with when the War Horse got tangled in barbed wire on the Western Front.

In his most recent death-defying endeavour, Spectre, Mr Bond is reported to have trashed no less than seven Aston Martins at a cost of around US$37 million. Excuse me for a moment while I dab the tears from my eyes. AND, not just any Aston Martin, but a DB10 designed and lovingly built especially for the movie.

Beautiful, isn’t it.

Surely, Bond’s Chief Gadget Man, Q, has realised by now that his R&D budget would be far better preserved if he just suped up a Skoda in future and let Bond go to town in that?

The fine folk at Aston Martin must also be starting to despair at all those wasted hours of painstakingly hand-crafted deliciousness going to waste with barely a growl from a V12 engine. Especially when it takes around 200 hours to build just one Aston Martin in their swanky factory in Gaydon, Warwickshire (UK) – fifty of which are spent on the paint job alone.

Yes, I wonder if it’s time Mr Bond considers taking the bus.

Urban meditation

Meditation. The act of being poised in peaceful solitude, with your thoughts silenced and the rhythmic tide of your breath refueling your zest for life and patience with idiots.

Is that how it works?

I wouldn’t know, because every time I’ve been led in meditation I’ve managed to “focus on my breathing” for all of, oh, two breaths before a very clear and persistent chant enters my head accompanied by my in-house mariachi band. It goes like this:

FOCUS ON YOUR BREATHING!

FOCUS ON YOUR BREATHING!

KEEP YOUR EYES CLOSED!

FOCUS ON YOUR BREATHING!

Then there’s two more breaths before my eyes start opening like the Sphinxes’ Gate in the movie, Never Ending Story. And, we all know how badly that can end.

From that moment on it’s all over – any attempt to marshal my mind back into some form of idyllic hypnosis is doomed. Instead, my eyes zip around the room looking for other naughty children, or waiting to be glared at by my committed teacher. But, of course, my teacher wouldn’t glare, because they’re focused on the task at hand – wandering through the Utopian garden of bliss they’ve created in their mind. Or not, because their mind is clear, still…peaceful.

See! It’s not easy figuring out this zen master stuff.

Based on my experiences so far, I can confidently hypothesise that, even if I was alone in a plain white room, with perfect climate control, wearing virtually weightless clothes offering supreme comfort, I’d still manage to distract myself from the practice of meditation. Probably with a really fascinating internal dialogue about the whiteness of the room.

So, naturally, I have a huge amount of admiration for people who manage to still the world’s chaos for even a few moments and disappear into an internal wonderland of peace and serenity.

Imagine my awe, then, when I stumbled upon a man in quiet cross-legged reflection (you were right to picture him wearing multi-coloured tie-dyed harem pants) on the steps of a busy outdoor bar in Sydney’s CBD during Friday peak hour.

In front of him hundreds of harried little minions scurried about trying get as far away from Point A (work) as possible and cross the finish line at Point B (somewhere serving alcohol, most likely) in a record time that would astonish their FitBit. Honestly, we should all be made to don sweatbands and stopwatches at 5:00pm on a Friday. But, I digress…

Behind him, hundreds of over-achievers who’d already arrived at Point B were raucously draining their wine and beer glasses and erasing the memory of any missed deadlines or politically incorrect comments made to their boss.

Yet, here was this man, persisting in his quiet contemplation at the isthmus between a crowded bar and heaving pavement. The only person who came even vaguely close to his level of stillness was this bloke sitting nearby reading the paper…

image

Was he taunting us by silently singing, “ner, ner, na, ner, ner! I can control my thoughts better than you.”

No, surely not. His mind is too pure of thought for childish mockery.

But then, as I paused to watch him (for a millisecond – I had a train to catch, after all), I realised he might not be meditating at all.

In his hand he was gently cradling a lighter. At first I thought he probably just grabbed whatever he had close by to help centre his thoughts as he chanted his AUMs.

Maybe it wasn’t that.

Maybe he was quietly sitting there all this time trying to remember where he left his smokes.

Theatrical commuting

A commuter train is not the first place I’d choose for a spot of people watching. All those weary worker bees, heads seemingly dipped in prayer, looking at whatever device will take their mind off the stained upholstery they’re sitting on; it rarely makes for an interesting spectator sport. Unless it’s the day your carriage becomes the theatrical equivalent of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, and you’re holding a golden ticket.

This week, I had VIP seats to some of the most glorious displays of human behaviour I’ve ever seen.

Like many people, I suspect (hope), I often make a quick visual sweep of the platform before I board the train, just to get a sense of the characters that are sharing my ride. This day was no different.

On my right stood a young girl in jeans and a flannel shirt I’d bet cost a lot of money to look that ‘worn’. On my left stood a man I’d describe as a lot older than me, but only because the birthday alerts keep getting sent to my memory’s junk mail folder; it still thinks I’m in my twenties (bless).

Together, we got on the train and sat in the vestibule area by the doors. I didn’t realise my trendy little flannel friend was on the phone until we sat down. She was talking so quietly I doubt an audio engineer skilled at recording praying mantis mating could hear her. But that soon changed.

I believe it was her rhythmically aggressive tone and furious gaze that tipped me off to the fracas she was embroiled in. Suddenly it wasn’t just her shirt that was distressed. A quick scan in my peripheral vision confirmed that the commuters on either side of me had twigged to the tiff brewing across from us as well.

Delighted to have picked the carriage screening the latest Netflix drama, I silently squealed, “grab your popcorn, folks, it’s ON!”

After a minute or so of different variations of Flannel Girl asking, “why didn’t you answer your phone?”, I couldn’t help but feel deflated at the predictable plot line. But, just as I was about to switch off and join my fellow worker bees at Swipe Club, in swept a whole lotta crazy from the next carriage. A twist so unexpected and dramatic that Flannel Girl suddenly lost the leading role and became a cameo (at best).

MickJaggerIf I had to guess his stage name, it would have to be Man Under the Influence of Suspicious Substances* Who’s Passionately Interested in the Gaza Strip Conflict. Why? Because in the three loops he did onto the top level of our carriage and back underneath, he was having an enthralling conversation on the phone about that very issue – all punctuated with a series of spectacular lunges reminiscent of the inimitable (until now) Mick Jagger. His performance was electric, I was both spellbound and nervously trying to avoid eye contact.

He exited the carriage as flamboyantly as he arrived but the memory of his dramatic exploits stayed with me for the rest of the ride home.

Honestly, it’s the only way to travel.

*Not something I’d condone or recommend.

 

Hound-ward bound

I’ve stumbled on a parallel universe. A place where you tend to know people only by the name of their companion and a trip to the supermarket involves shopping for an array of toys and treats promising loyalty and obedience.

The best friend a family could have
The best friend a family could have

It’s the world of dog ownership and it’s a bit like Hotel California; once you cross the threshold you’ll almost certainly never leave.

I remember the moment we knew we’d bought our one-way ticket perfectly. It was our newly adopted friend’s first day out of the clink; the RSPCA’s pet shelter. We were walking down a grassy knoll in Sydney’s Centennial Park, leaving footprints in the dew because we’d been up since daybreak tending to the little fella’s every need. Not that he’d noticed, I might add.

Ahead of us was a crowd of people and pooches all looking like they belonged. The people came well prepared in their Hunter wellington boots, leaving me silently cursing my already damp Converse for revealing me to be the novice I so clearly was. The hounds strutted around like it was their own backyard, casually sniffing bottoms and chasing balls with gusto. Or, in our little man’s case, total indifference.

We walked tentatively around the edge of the park, conscious there was nothing keeping our pooch from scarpering if we got too cocky and let him off the lead. That is, he was yet to realise we were his meal ticket, and there was certainly none of that loyalty and obedience we’d tried to buy at Petbarn. So, to be on the safe side, we kept him on the lead and spent the morning feeling quietly chuffed with ourselves as we got into the swing of exchanging pleasantries with the other dog owners we passed on our jolly stroll around the park.

It’s possibly the best way to start a Saturday morning I can think of.

** Note – it’s been a few months since I first started writing this post. I’m pleased to report that our little friend has settled in perfectly and delights us every day with his shenanigans. Thank you to all the staff and volunteers at the RSPCA who held onto him for seven months, just so we could find him.

The festival and the mighty town of Dungog

God, it’s exciting descending on a town you’ve never been to before full of pre-festival jitters. It’s been so long since my last one, I’d forgotten what it’s like; walking up to the gates surrounded by people in lots of weird and wacky get-up, all itching to let the fun begin.

There was something just a little different about this musical spectacular, though. We were in Dungog for Mumford & Sons’ Gentlemen of the Road festival and it just so happened to coincide with an absolute scorcher of a day. Not a cloud in the sky, nor a drop of moisture in the earth and a balmy 38 degrees celsius all around.

Instead of walking into an arena full of bearded hipsters jostling for poll position in front of the stage they were all huddled quietly under trees. It was all very unexpected and very odd.

A sort of mollified silence had descended on the festival as people battled it out for what little shade there was. In a flash I was taken back to my days growing up on the farm, when I’d drive past a dusty paddock on a stinking hot day and see a cotton wool ball of sheep gathered under a eucalyptus.

Then, slowly, as the sun became less ferocious, the festival spirit started to wake from its slumber. The chatter became louder, the dancing more spirited and then, at the end of the day, this happened…

Mumford & Sons, going OFF!

The beach and its disciples

I’m only relatively new to the area, but already I can see Bondi’s humourous side. It’s like it’s issued a moratorium on looking down your nose at all the wild and wacky stuff going on, and everyone happily abides by it.

Whatever it is that makes it so persuasive at enticing people to shrug off their inhibitions as they venture to the shoreline for their daily communion, I like it.

This morning on the beach there was one particular lady whose bashfulness was obviously snuggled up at home in bed. Not her, though. She was standing on the southern end of the beach, with her toes dipping into the moist sand as the surf waltzed gently – forward and back, forward and back – onto the shore.

At first I thought she was indulging in her morning “practice” (yoga, don’t you know) as she drank in the glow of another bright and gorgeous sunrise, but then her arms started flailing around in a move I’ve not seen from even the most skilled of zen masters. Shortly afterwards her legs followed suit.

If she’d been in the water pulling these moves, people would’ve been diving in after her with the Baywatch theme song ringing loudly in their ears.

I was so stunned and perplexed by her energetic genuflecting that I was momentarily bought to a standstill myself in an effort to understand exactly what kind of worship she was partaking in.

It wasn’t long before it all became clear, thanks to a couple of passers-by who’d obviously seen it all before, “clearly not a professional dancer, though, is she.”

Not content to keep her smooth moves on the dance floor, this sparkling little lady was busting them out all over Bondi’s sandy beach for all the world to see. I don’t care who you are, that’s the kind of view that brings a smile to everyone’s face.