On Friday, we were all so excited. My two teenagers were going on a weekend venturer scout camp. My four youngest were staying with my parents at the beach. And me and my husband? Why, we were going to have a romantic anniversary weekend away at the beach (but not the same beach as my parents, because running into your kids at the local shops can really kill the mood,) I was going to lie on the sand and read any number of books and not have to supervise ANYONE.
The only thing left for us to do was to take our RATs.
And one of us is positive.
Bleurgh. It would have been better if ALL of us had the spicy cough at the SAME TIME. Now we don’t know how long we will be in isolation. What if someone tests positive on Day 6? What if someone else tests positive on the FOLLOWING Day 6? There are a lot of us – what if this goes on forever?
The kids are great. After a few hours of loud raging in bitter disappointment, they’ve decided to Make The Best Of It. I really think this generation is better trained in dealing with disappointment. We’ve dusted off the Jar of Lockdown Fun and have been playing lots of board games and baking and eating way too much sugar and watching way too much Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir.
As for me, I walked three laps around the outside of the house this morning. There was a man in a big truck across the road, outside our renovating neighbour’s house. He was looking at his phone, but I’m sure he was secretly concerned at the woman who kept walking purposefully into the front yard of the house, stepping along the perimeter of the fence line and disappearing behind the house again.
Then I made a coffee and got inside my car with my phone and keyboard. And that’s where I am now. Nobody is awake yet. I might make this a regular thing. Except tomorrow, I will open the second garage door so I can watch the sunrise.
I had exciting things planned for next weekend. I’m guessing I won’t get to do them, but I don’t know FOR SURE. That is, by far, the worst part. I’d rather just know.
There are always joys, if you look for them. My sister sent us fancy donuts almost immediately after she heard the news. My son has started painting again. The Coles Online man called out “Get well soon!” as he stepped back into his delivery truck (I don’t know why I loved this so much, but I REALLY DID).
I can hear some waking up noises from inside the house. I’m not sure how much longer I can get away with this. This was going to be a socials update, but I think it needs to be a blog post. Think of me, on my special staycation!
So I’ve discovered that it is possible to stalk your favourite writers on social media. I never knew it could be so easy! Recently, Monica McInerney posted on Facebook that she would be doing a book signing near me. I’ve never been to a book signing before. Did you know that you can just turn up to these things? You don’t need to be a special sort of person or anything. You can just go. It’s allowed.
Of course, it would take a bit of family logistics. We would need to rush back from swimming lessons, I would need to sweet-talk Christopher to march straight back from school so he could babysit his siblings for me. I would need to clamber into my lucky alpaca-print dress and scribble on some last-minute make-up (at least I didn’t need lipstick). I would need to do battle with all things Chadstone. But then I would be there, standing in line clutching my copies of the pretty new book and listening to the people ahead of me tell their story. I didn’t want the queue to move too fast. Once my copy was signed, I wouldn’t have a reason to be there any more.
The lady ahead of me tells me she likes my earrings. As well as the new book, she’s holding a battered old copy of The Alphabet Sisters and a photo of her three daughters who have the initials A, B and C. One of the books on the shelf out the front is from Affirm Press, my wonderful shiny new publisher. Would I see my own book here next year?
The lady in front of me asks if I would take a photo of her when she meets Monica. I agree readily, then bite my lip.
“YOU MIGHT LIKE TO READ MY BOOK NEXT YEAR. IT’S BY KATE SOLLY BUT IT DOESN’T HAVE A TITLE YET.” I blurt out. The lady looks startled, but then it’s her turn with Monica McInerney.
There is something wonderful about the way Ms McInerney connects with each person in the line. For the time she is signing their book, it’s as if they are the only people in the room. Everybody has come with a story and Monica McInerney wants to hear every detail. I am enchanted. The people behind me seem to shift impatiently.
It’s my turn and the lady in front of me takes a photo. As she hands me back my phone she tells MM that I’ve written a book. I gulp and nod and breathlessly fill in the details, vaguely gesturing towards Christian White’s bestseller as I do.
I give the names of my three youngest children for the first book and MM carefully copies their names down. “And how are ‘Annie, Pippi, and Penny’ related to you?” MM asks.
My eyes bulge. I don’t know. I DON’T KNOW. “Oh! Um! They are my sisters. Wait! No! They are my daughters! Daughters!”
At this stage I am more perspiration than person. Then MM asks me what my book is about.
Here’s the thing. Even when someone ordinary asks me this question, I freeze. The elevator pitch! Quick! Roll out the elevator pitch! Ack! Why can’t you get this right? How can you condense 80,000 words and five years of your life into two sentences when a minute ago you couldn’t even remember you had kids?
I gaze back imploringly, give a little whimper then finally garble out something about “crochet!” and “refugees!” and “yarnbombing!” How does anyone talk when their mouth is so chock-full of tongue and teeth? It’s a physical impossibility.
MM gave me the warmest of smiles. “I can see why Affirm snapped it up,” she says, giving me a sound bite memory I will use to light myself up from the inside for years to come.
And THEN! Then she insisted I let her know when my book is coming out so she could put a ‘Happy Publication Day” post on her formidable socials. I’m not sure how I remained standing at this point.
When it was time to go, I wanted to tell her how much her books have meant to me. How before I read Those Faraday Girls I didn’t know that there were books out there that were chatty and humorous and had endearing characters and absorbing plots. How I had since read all of her books, even the novellas and short stories. How they brought me joy and comfort at a time when I had babies that wouldn’t go to sleep and a house that wouldn’t get built. How much I hope to emulate her.
Instead, I carefully manoeuvred my mouth around my oversized tongue and teeth and said “Thank you for writing!” Then I stumbled away in glee and triumph.
When I shared the photo on my family message thread, my sister (Cindy Brady) responded with this edit, highlighting the manic gleam in my eye. What are siblings for?
PS. It struck me that I should promote Monica McInerney’s new book to MY one hundred followers, so then it’s like the same as her promoting me to her 11,000 followers. Favour repaid in full. Monica’s latest book is The Godmothers. She has also written her first junior fiction novel Marcie Gill and the Caravan Park Cat. They are both lovely (Well The Godmothers is – I haven’t read Marcie yet but it looks delicious). Having said that, if you haven’t read anything of Monica’s (we’re on first-name terms now, you see, she’s my BFF) I would also recommend Those Faraday Girls and The Alphabet Sisters. Family Baggage is pure delight as well, even though I’m not sure how that family travel agency would work as a business model in real life.
It’s a lot. I still don’t feel ready to write about it.
But here’s the thing: I showed my manuscript to a publisher and they’ve offered me a book deal!
It’s going to be a book! It’s going to be in shops!
Nup. Still can’t get my head around it.
I was in the middle of a wedding rehearsal when I found out. It seemed wrong to shriek the news out across the church when I probably shouldn’t have been looking at my phone in the first place. When I got home, Christopher (who is now 14) had made a delicious lasagne, but had only just put it in the oven. He is an excellent cook, but sometimes struggles with the project-management side of things (it was 7:45pm). The younger children were hyper-hangry and fighting. I had a brief moment of joyful glee with my husband, before he had to sign in to two Zoom meetings at once (I don’t know how that works either).
It was only after I warmed up plates of lasagne for the kids, only after I got them ready for bed, only after I drove to McDonalds to pick up Matilda from her job, only after I gave her a driving lesson home, only after I got my own slice of lasagne from the oven and put it on a plate that I was able to grapple with the idea.
“Dammit.” I said, and dug around in the fridge drawer for a bottle of Prosecco that was on special at Liquorland the week before. I popped the cork and grimly poured myself a glass. Then I looked at the glass. It’s been almost five years. It’s been longer if you count the time writing for my blog. All of the snatched sessions writing in cafes and libraries and in the car (like I am right now). I try to summon up some kind of response. I’m going to be published.
Then my husband came out of his meetings and we watched an episode of Ted Lasso together.
The next day, I had a couple of people over and was berating myself as I company-cleaned for the first time in many months. I am not kind to myself in these situations. My internal monologue goes like this: “How did you let things get this bad?” “What is wrong with you?” “Look at that mess!” “You are a FAILURE!” But I stopped for a moment as I tipped out filthy mop water. I may be a domestic failure, but I DID just sell my novel!
Since then, I’ve managed to feel joy through other people’s reaction to the news. The idea of being published is like a small smiling thought, warming me from the inside. And now I’m telling you, and it feels like the biggest thing. Because you’re my reader community, my biggest supporters from the start. It’s too big. I don’t have words. I didn’t plan it, but it turns out today is my blog’s nine year anniversary! Thank you for everything. I would never have done it without your support.
So we’re in deep dark lockdown here in Melbourne again. We’re not allowed to leave the house, except for five reasons, we have a curfew at night, and the playgrounds are shut. This is our sixth lockdown. It’s hard.
Do you remember how I sometimes go into manic Pollyanna mode when stressed? That’s what happened this time when they tightened the restrictions and I realised things were going to get really miserable. Up until then, I’d kind of been mooching through lockdown, every day looking like the one before. But last week, it was time for me to get off the couch and put my big girl pants on. It was time to Mum Up.
Here’s what I did:
I brainstormed a bunch of fun activities that we could still do, even in the strictest of Locky Ds. Every morning, we draw one out of the jar and do it.
It sounds simple, I know, but I can’t tell you how much sunshine this jar has brought into our life. In the past, we’ve brainstormed on butcher’s paper, but I’m telling you: the jar makes all the difference. Here’s why:
You only have to do ONE fun thing a day.
You don’t have to make a DECISION ever.
The kids look forward to the lucky dip event even more than the actual activity.
As a bonus, the kids don’t drag their feet about getting ready in the morning. We don’t do the lucky dip until everyone is dressed and fed.
We no longer have to deal with a long stretch of days that all look the same.
I shared (rather smugly) this idea with some friends from parkrun. One of the women lives alone and has made herself a jar full of grown-up activities which she draws out once a week. Last week, she bought herself fresh flowers. I can’t wait to find out what she does next.
Here are some of the activities we have in the jar:
Pancakes and french toast
Decorate a birthday cake for no good reason
Fake-away night (make take-away style food)
Board game night
Free day off school (primary school only!)
Zoom kahoot quiz with friends
Video game tournament
Everyone gets to choose a treat for themself in the online grocery shop
Make caramel popcorn
Walk in the park to collect things for a flower mandala
I’m trying to remember to take photos. When we made the caramel popcorn, we put some in a bag to deliver to the family who lives behind us. BUT I FORGOT TO TAKE ANY PHOTOS. What is the the point of doing something impossibly wholesome if you don’t document it?
Pippi, my youngest, is now worried that lockdown will be over before we get to do all the fun things. I don’t think she needs to worry too much. This is Melbourne, after all. We’ll always have another lockdown to look forward to.
Here’s an article I wrote for The Majellan last year (I think it appeared in the Autumn 2020 issue). In case you’re wondering: yes. Majellan, Champion of the Family, is the same A5 magazine your mum used to read when you were five! If you’d like to subscribe, it’s quite reasonable. Let them know I sent you!
Thunk, thunk, thunk. I hate this. I hate this so much. Thunk, thunk, thunk. Surely it’d be easier to shift a huge bag of potatoes. Thunk, thunk, thunk. I can’t breathe. I need to stop. Thunk, thunk, thunk. This is the worst. Thunk, thunk, thunk. OK. Just to the next tree.
I’m not sure how, but I’ve become a Person Who Runs. I mean, obviously it didn’t just happen. I got one of those Couch to 5k apps and obeyed the little robot voice that told me to “RUN-for-ONE-minute”; I obeyed when “ONE-minute” became “FIFteen-minutes”; and then, when I finally managed to run five kilometres without dying, I joined the local parkrun with my friend Jacinta.
Have you heard about parkrun? It’s a free timed 5k run that’s held every Saturday at parks all over Australia. The one near me is a real community event for people of all ages and abilities, plus their dogs and their babies. I’m a fan, even when I’m not enjoying the running part.
It’s weird that I’ve taken up running. I don’t look like a runner. If I’m honest, I look like a lady who has been pregnant so many times, her body has forgotten how to look not pregnant. And I don’t enjoy running, though I do enjoy the smug feelings that come at the end of it.
I’ve come a long way from when I first started out. For one thing, I figured out how to settle into a rhythm, and breathe so I’m not gasping like a fish all the time. I also worked out that I need to firmly strap down all of the parts of me that jiggle. This was a game-changer. When I get dressed for a run, I’m like a sailor preparing for a storm on a ship. A large, unwieldy, overly bouncy ship. Batten down the hatches, folks.
There’s a boy up ahead of me running with his mother. He’s over it. “This is stupid! I don’t want to do this! I want to stop! My legs hurt!” For a moment, I stare at him. It’s as if my subconscious has come out of my body and manifested itself as a small child. Has the voice in my head taken human form?
At primary school, I wasn’t one of the sporty kids. When the class needed to be divided into teams, the teacher would appoint two captains to take turns choosing classmates for their side. As their teams grew, their teammates would whisper suggestions. I can still remember the disappointed, reluctant shrug my captain would give at the end, when he realised every other child had been chosen and he would have to assign me to his team. I tripped over, dropped balls, and was oh-so-slow. I was a liability.
The thought of having to run scared me. Like, properly scared me. Behind my eyelids, I can still see my classmates waiting for me at the opposite end of the oval. They finished the cross-country course ages ago. They are bored. As I flounder along, they seem to get even further away. I am never going to get there. Those tiny specks at the end of the oval, they’re annoyed with my freakish incompetence. It’s never going to end. I will be stumbling across this oval for the rest of my life.
I don’t want to sound disturbed, but when I run, I need to fight a chorus of voices in my head. Along with my entire Grade Four PE class, I studiously ignore the judgey voices telling me that taking time out to run is selfish, that I’m a Bad Mother. And it would seem I’m not alone here. Many mums put their own health last when sorting out priorities. We would rather be unfit, than be seen as an unfit mother. It’s hard to convince myself that exercise will help me to be a better parent in the long term, but I know I must.
And so I plod on. I’m not going to be the fastest, or the strongest, and I’m definitely not going to be the one who looks cute in running clothes. My super power is that I turn up, no matter what. In winter, I splash through puddles, rain streaming down my face. In summer, I plough through the dust and the heat. Jacinta finishes a full fifteen minutes ahead of me and waits to cheer me on at the finish line.
There is something wonderful about running in a group of encouraging people. That man who always finishes in the top ten per cent doesn’t know it, but his gruff nod and “well done, keep it up” means the world to me. Somehow, acknowledgement from the fast runners gives me permission to be there.
Running is a great way for me to sort out the chatter in my head, and is well suited to prayer. When my friend’s baby was in the NICU, I managed to pray a full rosary while running. I counted decades on my fingers and huffed out prayers to fit the rhythm of my pace “Our FA-ther, who art in HEAV-en, hallowed be thy NAME…” I offered my pain up for the tiny little fighter all covered in tubes. It felt good to be actually doing something, instead of feeling powerless.
It can feel, sometimes, like taking time out to run is selfish, that I’m cheating my family by doing something for myself. I know this isn’t true. My kids need a healthy mum. Lately, my fourteen-year-old daughter has joined me on a Saturday morning. Matilda is a natural runner, very fast and completely unselfconscious. I love sharing this time with her, even if I’m running miles behind!
At the turn-around point, I’m really struggling. The anguish is written so plainly on my face, when I pass Complaining Boy, his mum points to me. “See, Timmy,” she says in an encouraging voice, “you’re not the only one who’s struggling!”. In my gasping and spluttering, I have become a Teachable Moment. Happy to help, lady.
But here’s the funny thing. After eighteen months of lumbering along with no improvement, I’m starting to see some changes. While my body hasn’t yet remembered how to look not-pregnant, I’ve lost a lot of weight. These days, I rock more of a first-trimester physique. And my times are getting faster. I’ve almost caught up to Jacinta. Last Saturday, one of the parkrunners approached me.
“Hello,” she said, “I’m just a random stranger.”
“Hello, Random Stranger,” I said.
“I wanted to say I’ve noticed how much you’ve improved over the past month. You’re running so fast!”
As I smile, and thank the random lady, I catch Jacinta’s eye. My pragmatic, no-nonsense friend is crying. “I’m just so proud of you,” she sniffles.
Well, that’s the end for me. I didn’t mean to get emotional, but tears immediately spring to my eyes and Jacinta and I become a sobbing, hugging mess as Random Stranger carefully backs away. It’s silly. It’s just sport.
Except that it’s not. It’s friendship and community and health and discipline. It’s a clear head and a place to pray. It’s being a Good Mum. It’s self-care. It’s telling my Grade Four captain that I do deserve to be on his team. It’s refusing to be afraid. It’s the reason why, when I go on holidays, I look up the local Mass times and the local parkrun. It’s finally reaching the other end of that oval.
I wipe my face, smile and shrug. “See you next Saturday!”
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.
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?” “Yes,” “Harry, is this about lawnmowers?” “No” “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.
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.
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.