I need to find a new place to write. My glorious writer’s retreat, the empty house of my parents-in-law, is no more. They had the audacity to come back from Adelaide and actually want to live in their own house. Did you ever! Libraries aren’t open when I want them to be and I don’t want to take up a table for too long in a cafe that’s struggling to get back on its feet. And I can’t work at home. If I’m at home, everyone automatically assumes I’m in charge. And there’s no space. My eldest daughter sleeps in an ACTUAL CUPBOARD. Last week, I did some work on my novel in the car with a drive-thru coffee, parked next to the local community gardens. I prop my phone on the steering wheel and get it to talk to my bluetooth keyboard, on my lap.
There was this grey noisy miner that kept attacking my side mirror. It wanted to show that other bird in there who’s boss. It wouldn’t have done that if it were a raven or a magpie. Ravens and magpies are smart enough to recognise their own reflection. But noisy miners are stupid, stupid birds.
I tried to ignore it and work on my novel. I did a lot more frowning than I did typing. After a bit, a police car crawled slowly past me. When it got to the end of the street, it did a u-turn and crawled slowly back. Both policemen were watching me as they approached. I hastily pulled up my face-mask. Was I doing something illegal? I don’t need the four reasons to be out of the house anymore, do I?
The car pulled alongside mine and the driver motioned for me to wind down my window. He peered at me “Is everything OK?”
Everything was not OK. My manuscript was a mess and I was starting to doubt my ability to ever make it into a coherent whole. Every scene was missing beginnings or endings and peppered all over with [SHOUTY NOTES]. I was ridiculous for ever thinking I had the skills to take this on. A flock of kamikaze birds kept hurtling themselves into the mirror next to me, making me jump. And I needed to find a way to make Harper’s story work. How was I ever going to make Harper’s story work?
I nodded like a maniac and garbled something about writing. I waved my bluetooth keyboard at them, “I have kids at home!” I exclaimed.
The policeman frowned and drove off. I forgot to mention that my kids at home were being adequately supervised. Oh well.
Today I’m going deep water running with a friend. I have no idea what ‘deep water running’ is, but I’m doing it in person with a friend, so that’s all I really need to know. I’m in the carpark of the council pool right now. I’m an hour early on purpose. And here’s the thing: Nobody looks at you funny if you’re doing work in your car at a pool carpark. Everybody is doing work in their car at a pool carpark. I’m now googling the carparks of all of the local sporting complexes to compare their varying benefits as writer’s retreats. It’s very possible the rest of this novel will be written outside of a place with “SAC” somewhere in its name.
Watch this (car) space.
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So, lately I’ve been having meetings with my younger sister, Cindy, about my novel and how it’s getting along. It involves a lot of me moaning about how I’ll never get any of it to work and Cindy reassuring me that I’m almost there and can do it. This is what I was doing yesterday (Sunday) afternoon, after I’d set off a wash in the machine. It was towards the end of our chat, as I was putting together a shopping list of experts I’d like to talk to, if I can work up the nerve to ask them, when Penny burst into the room screaming.
Here’s what happened: Pippi, for reasons best known to herself, had tipped a bowl of (cold) tomato soup all over her twin sister. And Penny was FREAKING OUT. “My clothes are dirty! My clothes are dirty! I don’t like wearing clothes when they are dirty! Get them off! Get them offfff!!”
I told Penny to take her clothes off and put them in the laundry sink (also: find Daddy – Mummy is not on duty) and I sent Pippi to the naughty step (“but it was an accident!”).
As I finished my conversation with Cindy (I should point out that Cindy wasn’t actually in the room. We live in Melbourne, where everyone is under house arrest. We were talking on Zoom) I could hear my husband setting the timer for the naughty step and helping Penny with her clothes.
I emerged from the study maybe ten minutes later. Pippi had served her five-minute sentence and apologised to her sister. They were now both in the laundry. Pippi sat on the lid of the washing machine while Penny encouraged her from below. It took me a while to work out what was going on.
Pippi, perhaps in an effort to fix things, took it upon herself to load the tomato soup clothes (both hers and her sisters’) into the washing machine with a slosh of laundry liquid and a scoop of napi-san for good measure. You might ask how she was able to access laundry liquid and napi-san. Don’t I keep these on a high shelf? Indeed, both of these are stored on a very high shelf, but Pippi is an adept climber. I caught her just as she was programming a cold wash.
Of course, this would be a good time for me to amend the washing machine situation, perhaps put the soupy clothes on to soak. But I had two five-year-olds shouting at me that they wanted a bath. And did I mention they were both stark naked?
“No bath!” I declared. See, here’s the thing. Pippi loves baths. Not the serene, lavender-scented, let’s-get-you-all-calm before bed kind. More like the water-everywhere, riotous, diving-practice-from-the-side-of-the-tub kind. And I can’t. I just can’t. Having twins is about efficiency. Showers all the way.
But Pippi is crafty. Lately, she has been finding ways to get especially muddy, or chocolatey, or otherwise sticky, “I’m too dirty for a shower, Mummy. I need a BATH! And so does Penny!” In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was her motivation for the soup “accident”.
So here I was, climbing the stairs as Pippi and Penny chanted “BATH! BATH! BATH!” in a sort of nude rally. I couldn’t give in. I tried to stand my ground. I couldn’t reward this behaviour. But any suggestion of shower was met with tortured shrieks.
All down the stairs, an old jigsaw puzzle had been spilled. I was struck with inspiration, “If you pick up these puzzle pieces for me, you may have a bath”
They picked the pieces up for me, and I kept saying, “You’re getting a bath because you’re helping Mummy, not because you shouted and poured soup on your sister” but I suspect the nuance was lost on them.
So anyway, it was getting to mid-afternoon when the twins were drying off. We had planned to visit the beach that day, just so we could look at it. We hadn’t had much chance to get out of our 5km bubble since the restrictions had been lifted. I still needed to hang that second load of washing out, the one I set off before my meeting with my sister, but Mr Knightley was all “let’s not worry about the washing. It’ll be sunny all week. Let’s just get going.” So we dashed off. I managed to hold two facts – the fact that I had a clean load of washing to hang out, and the fact that Pippi had placed tomato sauce-soaked clothes along with a good amount of laundry product into what I assumed was an empty machine – in my mind separately, without putting them both together and understanding the whole situation. You will remember, I never actually looked in the machine. Until I did, the washing machine contents were like Schrodinger’s Cat. Nobody knew for sure what was in there, so they were all things and nothing at once.
That was yesterday. What’s more: I am out today. I left the house early. On Mondays, I write while Mr Knightley is in charge at home. Mr Knightley won’t know what is happening in that machine. Christopher (who is thirteen now, can-you-believe-it?) gave me a call at 8am. He needed his mask for school (in Victoria, it’s against the law to leave the house without a fitted face mask). His mask, at least, the only mask of his that isn’t currently missing, was in that wet wash. He needed to dig through that sorry mix of wet and soup-stained napisan-encrusted laundry to fish his mask out and dry it with a hair dryer. I also told him where the hair dryer was. I am Mother, Finder of Things.
If you are a longtime reader of this blog and something about this seems familiar, you are right. One of my first-ever posts was about a pint-sized Chirstopher Robin setting off his own wash. My blog has come full circle. I had a darling theory when I first started writing. By documenting all my fails, I would learn and improve and eventually run out of material. Perhaps it’s a good thing for my writing career that I’ve not yet learnt a thing.
Good news! The Madonna has been saved – for now at least. Thank you so much, especially to those of you who subscribed to the magazine. The magazine is still in need of subscriptions, so if you’ve been meaning to subscribe, but haven’t got around to it yet, can I ask you a huge favour? Please tell them I sent you! I’d like to get some more gigs with this magazine, so it would be great if they knew that my writing is worth it. Also, I have an enormous ego that needs feeding.
For those of you who missed it on the socials, I’ve finished the first draft of my novel! Watch this space!
And now, here’s another taste of the sort of writing I do for Madonna magazine. This piece was first published in their Autumn edition, 2017.
“So, children, today’s Gospel is about prayer. When do you pray to Jesus?”
“When we say Grace?”
“Very good, Therese! What’s another time we pray?”
“My Daddy has a shed and it has a lawnmower in it.”
“That’s interesting, Patrick, but we’re talking about…”
“We have a lawnmower in our garage!”
“Thank you, Annie. Now, back to…”
“On TV, there’s a lawnmower and his name is Larry.”
“OK, thanks Harry. Can anybody tell me when they pray?”
“Harry, is this about lawnmowers?”
“Is this about prayer?”
“Yes: you can pray on the TOILET!”
I’m on Children’s Liturgy today. Twice a term, I take a group of kids to the church gathering area and try to teach them about God. It’s a fearsome task. The deepest desire of my heart is for my children to carry their faith into their adult lives. But at the moment, it’s hard just to get them to Mass on Sunday.
I would love to just sail into church with four children and two babies all clean and combed and beautifully turned out in their Sunday bests. Most of the time, I seem to turn up late with a rag-tag posse of tangle-haired urchins, some still wearing articles of sleepwear and others with evidence of breakfast on their faces. I do my best, quickly fashioning a messy ‘up do’ for my daughter with a hair-tie I found on the car floor, or buttoning a clean coat over pyjamas. One Sunday, I managed to corner my youngest son halfway through Mass and surreptitiously cleaned his face. Accordingly, the quiet solemnity of the Eucharist was punctuated by a loud shout: “No! That’s MY VEGEMITE, Mummy!”
There are times when I draw on all the power of my teachers’ college theology. Once I took it upon myself to explain the nature of the Easter Triduum to my then-five-year-old daughter, Matilda.
“So Good Friday is not a Mass, you see, even though we have Communion, because there is no Consecration. The Communion we have on Good Friday was consecrated at Holy Thursday Mass.”
I raise my eyebrows impressively at my daughter. I used to get ‘A’s in theology. Matilda wrinkles her small forehead.
“So you’re getting leftovers?”
Still, there are times when you know you’re doing something right. When my eldest boy Christopher was a toddler, he was fascinated with our church’s statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The statue itself is fairly standard-issue. Plaster Jesus stands in floor-length robes looking glum with his hands outstretched. Christopher pointed at Jesus’ arms. “Jesus wants a cuddle, Mummy?”
On another occasion, my mum mentioned that the wooden baby Jesus was missing from their nativity set. Indeed, the young Messiah went AWOL directly after our last visit and Christopher had been playing with the figurines. You can do without a shepherd, perhaps, but a nativity scene really doesn’t work without Jesus. He is one of the key players. Perhaps Christopher might know of his whereabouts?
Accordingly, after Christopher came in from playing in the backyard, Grandma asks “Christopher, do you know where baby Jesus is?”
Christopher says “yes” tremulously. Everyone catches their breath.
“Where’s Jesus, Christopher?”
Christopher pats his breast solemnly, “In my heart, Grandma”
Christopher and Matilda are older now. Both have made their First Communion and are proud altar servers. Once a month, I take them individually to an early weekday Mass (6:45am!) and then we have a cafe breakfast together. It’s a bit sneaky really. I want them to associate warm feelings and special attention from Mum with going to Mass. Isn’t that some form of classical conditioning? But surely nothing but goodness can come from bacon.
It’s time for my Children’s Liturgy group to form the Offertory Procession. There’s whispered squabbling at the back of the church over who gets to carry the cruets and then we’re off. I follow like a mother hen as the children traipse down the aisle, the choir sings “Hosea”, and the children deliver gifts to Father. It is as they are bowing to the altar (one sideways, one backwards and one of them fell over), that it struck me: this is what it’s all about.
In the end, for all my strategies and theologising and indoctrination by bacon, I don’t have the power to bestow faith on these children. That’s not my job. I am but walking beside them at the beginning of their faith life. All I can do is guide them to the altar and try not to get in the way as they meet Jesus. The rest is His job. And perhaps if I am humble enough, I might learn something. After all, someone very wise once taught me, Jesus is waiting for a hug.
We all just need to learn to hug back.
One of the magazines I write for is an 120-year-old publication called Madonna. It’s a magazine about spirituality in everyday life for lay Catholics. It’s always a great read and the short reflections on the readings of the day are always full of insight. Especially the ones on the seventh of the month, because I write them. Unfortunately, things are looking pretty dire for Madonna. If they can’t get their subscription numbers up, they’re going to have to close down.
So I need you to have a think. Are you looking for something to enrich your prayer life? Do you have a friend or parent or aunty who might benefit from a gift subscription? Would you like to get your Christmas shopping done early? This is where you need to go:
In the meantime, I thought I’d share an article I wrote for Madonna last year. It feels rather poignant now, for us Melburnians, when we can’t have anyone at our house. If you buy the upcoming Spring edition, you can read my thoughts on being quarantined at home with six children. There is no swearing this time, I promise!
I want to be a hospitable person. I really do. I fantasise about friends and neighbours dropping in at any time and feeling nurtured by my home. Can you picture it? My house wafts with the smell of baking cinnamon teacake, there are fresh-picked flowers on the table, my kitchen is immaculate, and I somehow have a perfect hour-glass figure, which makes my handmade apron look really cute. Then I set out a casually effortless meal so delicious and lovely that my friends scrabble to take Instagram pictures (#impromptucatchup #friendlyf #sospoiled) whilst I smile and shrug and look relaxed.
I have six children. That was part of the plan, you see. I’ve always wanted the vibrancy and hospitality of a large family. But, while I’ve acquired the children, I haven’t quite got the hang of the hospitality.
Here’s where I get stuck: my house is in a state of constant disarray, and that’s putting it politely. I’m looking at the book-case at the moment. It has bath toys in it. Why? And there are swimming goggles on the kitchen bench. A tower of clean washing glares at me from the couch: why won’t you fold me? And in every, every corner and crevice are marbles, lego pieces, random play money, and Coles Mini Shop collectables. I’ll invite people over when the house is tidy. It’s bound to happen one of these days.
In the meantime, hospitality remains a vague ideal that I do nothing about. I’m ashamed to admit this, but the idea of inviting my parish priest over for dinner – to an oppressively messy house and chaos cooking – so paralysed me that our last PP finished his term and moved away without ever receiving an invitation. I’m determined to make amends with our new PP, but I worry: what if word gets back to my old PP that I’m having dinner with the new PP even though I never invited the old PP in his entire 7-year term? He’ll think I secretly hated him the whole time. These thoughts keep me awake at night.
When I hear the story of Jesus telling Martha, who was stressed-out with hosting, that she should sit down and be present, like Mary, part of me wants to roll my eyes and say “Typical man! He doesn’t recognise the work that needs doing!” But then I realise this means I think I know more than God, so I tone it down. Perhaps I do need to take Jesus’s message on board: it’s not important whether the house is perfect or the food impressive. Let’s just be together among the mess!
So what if I find the idea of dinner intimidating? There are plenty of other ways to be hospitable without hosting dinner parties. I’m getting pretty good at the post-school-run morning tea that sometimes becomes also a cheese-toastie lunch. Lately, I’ve been playing with the idea of setting a fire in the backyard firepit and inviting friends over for some roast chestnuts and experimental damper. Or maybe I could make a trip to the playground with another mum a bit more special by bringing hot chocolate and biscuits. A friend of mine did this for me once and ever since I’ve considered it an Ultimate Life Goal. Meanwhile, I don’t own a thermos. Or maybe I could host a potluck? Come over for dinner – except I need you to bring the dinner!
In the meantime, as I wipe crumbs and mop spills (I maintain that it’s actually OK to cry over spilt milk, if it’s the fifth spill that morning), I can remember that what I am doing is not mere drudgery. It’s a form of ministry. I am making my home fresh and welcoming for guests. And if guests arrive after the fifteen minute window in which my house remains tidy, I’ll invite them in anyway. Because that’s what hospitality is about.
I’m on a podcast!
The Majellan is one of the magazines I write for. I can’t share the articles here because it’s only print and app-based (but do feel free to subscribe and tell them I sent you!)
I wonder if you can hear the gentle struggle as I try unsuccessfully to steer the conversation towards “Kate Moriarty: Serious Writer” when it instead barrels along the path of “Kate Moriarty: Professional Mother”.
I shouldn’t nitpick. We did spend an entire half-hour on the glorious topic of ME, after all!
You may notice, I’ve updated the aliases I’ve given my kids (is this even allowed?) I never really liked “Daisy and Poppy”. Now that I know my twins better, I call my little girl who loves Batman and has her hair cut with a fringe “Penny” (after Penny Pollard) and my girl who is full of energy and a miniature megalomaniac “Pippi” (after Pippi Longstocking). I sputter this out in a garbled mess at the beginning. I was a little nervous.
Have a listen:
So tomorrow’s our first day of full-Corona-Lockdown. Matilda and Christopher will be on break from high school, Harry and Annie will be home as usual, but unlikely to want to do any lessons when their siblings are on holidays, and there’ll be no kinder for Daisy and Poppy.
Somehow, this whole Corona crisis has thrown me into a sort of adrenaline-fuelled Pollyanna persona. Why, this is a blessing in disguise! Clear schedules! Family togetherness! Let’s go make some wonderful memories!
It’s weird, really. I should be suffering more. My extrovert heart should be crushed from social deprivation. My Catholic soul should ache with hunger for the Eucharist. My writer’s mind should itch for a chance to work on my novel (note to all you Facebook writers who are raving about how many words you’re going to get down while you’re under house arrest. I’m happy for you. Really I am. Meanwhile, I do all my writing in cafes and libraries, so…)
But I’m not suffering. Pollyanna mode won’t let me feel these things. At least, not yet. Did you know we have two birthdays at home this week? Tomorrow, Annie turns eight (!), then on Thursday it’s my husband’s birthday. I was talking to my sister Jan about this today, going on about cake decorating and presents and bonfires and glow sticks and s’mores and party games. She got a hefty dose of my Pollyanna spirit.
”You’re right,” she said, “It’s important to keep your spirits up. Did you know there are some people who don’t call it ‘self isolation’, they call it ‘self retreat’?”
”Oh yeah?” I said, “Perhaps they should try sharing a house with two relentlessly hyperactive four-year-olds. Happy fucking retreat, guys!”
With many apologies:
OK, so it was a brief lapse, but it wasn’t long before Pollyanna was back in full force. I sat down with my kids and a packet of textas and we wrote down as many fun things as we could think of that we could still do while in lockdown.
I’m trying really hard to ignore the fact that most of these things are not so much fun for ME.
Here’s what MY fun list would look like
1. Endless Jane Austen screen adaptations featuring dishy men with smouldering scowls.
2. A quiet room with NOBODY TOUCHING ME.
I’ll keep you all updated. Please let me apologise for swearing. I haven’t used bad language on the blog before and I don’t plan to do it again, but I think we can all agree, we are living in strange and unusual times which warrant an errant f-bomb.
Jan says “I love pandemic Kate!”
Time for my March blog post! What should we talk about? This month, I worked on the romantic subplot in my novel. It wasn’t easy, but I finally convinced my lovers to kiss each other. Then I went back in time and made them fight. I don’t think romance is my strong suit.
I’ve started writing for The Majellan magazine. My latest article has been published, but the only way you can read it is by buying the magazine (boo!).
The twins are going to kinder this year. You’d think I’d have got the hang of it by now, but kinder mornings are a mess! It takes so much brainpower to get two often uncooperative young ladies fed, cleaned, dressed, shod, and out the door, with an appropriately stocked lunchbox and hair neatly tied back and a water bottle each and the show-and-tell bag and that form we were supposed to fill out and return last Friday. And a sun hat and a rain jacket, because Melbourne. I’m that mum who sidles in fifteen minutes late after the doors are locked.
No. Scratch that. I was That Mum last week, but this week will be different. This week I’ll be on top of mornings. Well, not counting Monday. That was a practice day.
My sister is doing a course in life coaching and I’ve volunteered as a coachable guinea pig. This means I talk regularly with one of the student life coaches (not my sister, but her lovely classmate) and work on strategies to make my life easier. This week, I’m going after mornings. Here are my plans:
1. Prepare everything the night before. Clothes, shoes, lunches, bags, drink bottles. Yes, know I always say I’m going to do this, but this time I mean it!
2. No checking Facebook before morning-tea time, after the kinder run.
3. Tell myself that kinder starts at 8:50am, not 9:00am.
4. Remember my iron and zinc tablets. This has nothing at all to do with the kinder run, but I figure I might as well do this if I’m remembering things.
Maybe if I get really good at this life coaching, I’ll become Super Capable. This could be the end of my endless blog post material! Or perhaps I could start a new, Aspirational Lifestyle Blog. Be like me! From Blooper to Gooper! I could design my own skincare range and everything.
Watch this space.
Post Script: So I took that wonderfully stylised picture at 9:05 this morning (don’t judge). We got to kinder late, and after I stood in the rain giving the twins hasty up-dos with hair-ties scavenged from the floor of the car, I realised in dismay that we had only one of the required two backpacks. The Star Wars backpack was neatly packed, with lunchbox, drink bottle, and a change of clothes. The only problem was, it was still inside my house. By the time we’d settled the twins, smiled apologetically at the kinder teacher, driven home, grabbed the errant bag, delivered it to kinder, and driven back home, it was 9:45am. I promise I’m not making this up.
I might have to wait until next week to be Super Capable. In the meantime, I need to take my iron tablet. I forgot yesterday.
Hi everyone. It’s 2020 and I’m full of all the optimism a new year brings. On every day of my summer holiday, I got up early and ran to the cafe to write. It was kind of blissful. Here’s what I’ve decided: 2020 is The Year of the Novel. I’m going to limit the number of magazine jobs I take on and instead focus on writing my book. By December, hopefully earlier, I plan to have a full manuscript to badger my friends with. I realise, this is one of those things that’s much more exciting for me than it is for the rest of the world, but it’s still VERY EXCITING. I’ve also decided to dust off my poor, neglected blog and write posts once a month. Publishers like it if you have an active online presence. A platform. See? I know all the industry-speak.
Please ask me how I’m going with this throughout the year. I need your help to keep me accountable!
So I wrote a piece for Eureka Street in response to Leunig’s latest mummy-shaming cartoon. Have you read it yet?
I’ve had a few requests to share the comments I ended up deleting because they were too snarky. Here are the sweepings from the cutting room floor. I don’t take much convincing – they were my favourite bits!
Here we go:
1. “I was using the phone to get work done. Although, from what I know about you, being a working mum is another thing to be sneered at. I know you think I shouldn’t be working. But we don’t get to relax on a single income. As a generation, we have to hustle. I know you’re a Boomer and it was different for you, well done. Just so you know, #metoo isn’t a conversation about which one of your friends has bought another investment property.”
2. (this one just has an extra bit at the end) “It would be easier, perhaps, to put my baby into childcare for one day a week. Then I could get some rest, get my freelance work done. But I don’t dare to. I’m still haunted by those cartoons you did when I was a teenager. The baby in creche, all alone, staring at the ceiling, wondering why Mummy doesn’t love him (“Call her a cruel, ignorant, selfish bitch if you like, but I will defend her”). Do you remember? You did them in the 90s, back when you were still relevant.”
3. “I’m guessing you were that man in his seventies. I saw you in the cafe I passed, reading the paper with your avocado toast, before sauntering home to dash off your latest judgey cartoon.
That cartoon. My brain picks at it like a dried scab. I can’t help myself. I spent the best part of this week in the exclusive company of a small person whose conversational qualities are limited to say the least. My brain needs something to work on. I can hear your defenders inside my head: “Somebody’s sensitive! Guilty conscience?” But it’s not that. Well, it’s not just that.
Look, I have notes. Firstly, I liked how you rhymed ‘pram’ with ‘Instagram’. That’s the cartoon’s main strength. The poem’s meter is a little off. Plus, it would have been funnier if the baby were given a name, don’t you think? (“poor little Hunter” reads better than “beautiful bubby”). Also, next time, try making the cartoon two years ago, before the topic has become overworked and trite. I just think that if you’re going to insult me, you should do a better job of it. Be edgy, you know?”
Thank you for letting me get that off my chest. I feel like I’ve just been to confession. As you can see, I have a wise editor who protects me from myself!
Hi everyone! I’ve decided to republish some of my old Home Truths columns here. I’ve set up a Facebook page for “Kate Moriarty – Writer” and I’m trying to gather all my writing to the one place.
This column was first published in Australian Catholics Easter 2016
I long to see the day where I sail into 9am Mass with six children all clean and combed in their Sunday bests. I’ve always yearned for people to describe my children as ‘well turned out’. Especially church people.
Today was not that day. My husband had taken Matilda early so that she couldn’t be an altar server, and it was up to me to get the remaining children clothed and in the car and to Mass on time. Harry was dressed and ready like a champion. Unfortunately, his outfit was the same one he’d been wearing obstinately for the past three days. Christopher was performing a slow tai-chi dance with his breakfast, but was dressed at least. Annie was barefoot in her pyjamas staring blankly at her toast like it was the last clue in the cryptic crossword. The twins were fast asleep. And it was five-to-nine.
So I started gathering bags and babies, shepherding everyone into the car. The pyjamas Annie had been wearing looked enough like regular clothes to get away with. It was only later I noticed the vegemite stains all down the front.
Annie and Harry were putting their seatbelts on in the back of our van as Christopher and I organised the twins. “Annie, are you wearing shoes?” I call back whilst grappling with a four-month-old in a five-point-harness. “Yes, Mummy”, Annie responds in her sweetest voice.
And we were on our way, but we were oh-so-late.
We arrived. Annie grinned broadly, “Actually, I forgot my shoes!”, she announced triumphantly, like the punchline to some wonderful joke.
In all of the shouting and searching that followed, Annie alone was calm and unruffled. We found one shoe. There was only one. I think this was a million times worse than if there’d been no shoes at all.
The homily had just started as I sidled into Mass with my rag-tag posse of children. Annie remained unshod. If we kept a low profile, we might get away with it. In a quick exchange of sign language (I believe I employed the international sign for ‘I wish to strangle my child’), I brought my husband up to speed with the situation. His response was devastating, his expression deadpan:
“We’re on Offertory.”
In theory, being invited to bring the gifts to the altar is a wonderful privilege, I should have felt honoured that my husband was asked to participate with his family in this special way. Unfortunately, the idea of parading my dirty, barefoot, misbehaving children down the aisle for all to see was not altogether a tempting one.
When it came time for the Offertory Procession, I assumed a confident expression. Perhaps, if I smiled bravely and walked tall, nobody would notice my three-year-old was sans footwear. That aisle seemed much longer than usual. Father Jacob, flanked by Matilda and another server were miles away. After traipsing barefoot through the gauntlet of parishioners, Annie imperiously insisted on delivering her bowl to Matilda and not the priest. Father Jacob swallowed a snort of laughter.
I spent the remainder of Mass alternatively blushing and shushing. As we prepared for a swift exit, a lady grasped my elbow.
“It gave my heart so much joy to see your family bringing up the gifts,” she said with genuine warmth. My heart melted a bit. Mrs Thomas is almost old enough to be my grandmother. She has raised six children herself and was recently widowed. Mrs Thomas chose not to see the unwashed clothes or exposed feet or complete lack of liturgical style. She saw a family trying their best despite their imperfections, and loved us. In that moment, Mrs Thomas was God to me.
I opened my mouth to respond, but was interrupted by a loud yowling. Annie, it would seem, had stubbed her little toe on the kneeler.
And that, my dear, is why you should always wear shoes to church.