Category Archives: Fail.

Triduum Fail.

1950s church family

As you may know, if you’ve been reading my constant bragging, I’ve been doing a little work lately for Jesuit Publications (bear with me, I’m going somewhere here). One of the pieces I wrote a few months ago for Australian Catholics was a sort of how-to guide for taking children to Mass. Words can’t describe how smug I felt writing that article. I was the guru. I had all of the answers. I had finally made it and could now dispense wisdom for the masses (‘Masses’?).

I did not yet have twin toddlers.

Over the past several Sundays, my complacent words have been echoing in my ears as my husband and I have struggled to grapple with two rowdy little people who seem to have a liturgy allergy (sorry). They are so noisy. And they’re always making bids to escape. And they conspire against us.

Daisy and Poppy also have their own language that they’ve settled on between themselves. For example, they don’t call Christopher Robin by his actual name. Christopher spent so much time trying to get the girls to say ‘bum’, that they have decided that this is his name. We’re all kind of used to it. But when the altar servers process in to church and Daisy and Poppy see their brother solemnly carrying the candle, it gets a little awkward when they start shouting “BUM! BUM! BUUUUM!!”

Things were at their worst last Thursday. It was Holy Thursday Mass, which started at 7:30pm, which meant I had to get the children fed and dressed and into a crowded church at a time when everybody was tired and cranky, especially me. We were all squashed in together at a pew up the front, near the side door. The twins were fairly well behaved (though not completely silent) throughout the Blessing of the Holy Oils, and the Liturgy of the Word, and the special-edition homily, and the rather ponderous Washing of the Feet (since when was Holy Thursday Mass so LONG?). But when it got to the middle of the Eucharistic Prayer, Poppy decided she’d had enough. For a while now, Poppy had been making bids to escape and I had been stopping her. I knew from experience that if I let her go, she would dash out of the church, or go dancing around the aisles, or dart into the sacristy and emerge, beaming, from the side door out onto the altar, like some special guest on This is Your Life.  Poppy was making her indignation loudly known.  It was time for me to scoop her up and take her out.  As I stepped into the side room of the church, I noticed the neat, fortysomething man who had been sitting behind us at the beginning of Mass.  Had he moved here to escape us?  He did not return my rueful, apologetic smile.  As I remonstrated with Poppy, I could hear Daisy’s loud proclamations from inside the church.  I winced.

We managed to survive the rest of Mass, but it was a slog.  Daisy also had a turn in the room next door.  Neat Man was still there and still unsmiling.  By some miracle, my husband and I managed to keep our faces straight when Annie constructed DJ headphones from her Alice-band and two Project Compassion boxes and pretended to spin discs.  But it wasn’t until afterwards, that my husband filled me in on what happened when I was in the other room.

While I was having stern words with Poppy and sharing awkward space with Neat Man, Daisy was chattering loudly in her dad’s arms.  Neat Man’s wife (who is also very neat and who looks like Sarah Palin) tapped my husband on the shoulder.

“You will have to take her out.  I just can’t concentrate!”

My husband remained where he was.  He wasn’t going to leave the other children by themselves and he knew that the Consecration happened by virtue of the Holy Spirit and not Sarah Palin’s brain power.  Later, at the Sign of Peace, Sarah Palin turned her back abruptly on us and only shook the hands of the people behind her.

I must admit I felt a little heartbroken when I heard about this.  I didn’t know Sarah Palin that well, but I had always imagined she was my ally.  She was a mum, after all.  Didn’t she know how hard it was to raise children in the faith?  Did she think I brought my children to Mass on purpose just to mess with her?  All of a sudden, I didn’t feel welcome at the Lord’s table.  Perhaps Mass just wasn’t supposed to be for young families.  Or perhaps it was only for families that had it all together.  I decided in that moment that we wouldn’t go to the big Easter vigil Mass with the fire and the candles and the incense and the bells, but instead attend the more subdued Sunday morning Mass.  I didn’t want another run-in with Neat Man and his Alaskan wife.

1950s Church Family

I might also mention here that we got through the Good Friday service without too much trouble, because the twins slept through most of it.  The family behind us had small noisy children, however, and, while I felt deeply for them, I was also acutely aware that Neatman and Palin (who were sitting further away this time) probably assumed it was us making all that noise again.

Anyway, on Sunday morning, we tumbled into church, almost on time, though Poppy was still in her pyjamas.  I was working so hard at focussing on all the nice parishioners who smile and look dotingly at the twins that I didn’t notice that NeatPalin were standing rigidly at the other side of the church.  When Poppy let out a yelp towards the end of Mass, Neatman turned and looked right at us.  EEK!

Sarah Palin's Book:

I’m feeling better now for telling you about it, my blog friend.  And I’m pretty sure I’m the only one in the family who was really upset by it.  Mr Knightley takes all things in his stride.  Daisy and Poppy continue to run things their way.  Annie is stoked with her charity-box headphones.  And as for Matilda, Bum and Harry, they couldn’t be happier.  They’ve discovered a new recruit to work at the Barbara Feeney Shush Helpline!

Meanwhile, I think I need to contact the Australian Catholics editor.  I want to add a footnote to my article: “Please note: if you have toddlers, none of these rules apply.  All you can do is pray for God’s sweet mercy and wait for the storm to pass.”

Grown Up Writer Fail

One of the reasons I haven’t been posting so often on this blog as I would like is because I got myself a paid job as a columnist for a really-truly magazine. It still thrills me to get an email from My Editor, describing the requirements and deadline for the next column; it gives me such a buzz to have an Important Reason to go off to the cafe to write and edit; and it sends me through the roof to send off the finished copy to be published.

Because everything is done via email and from home, it almost doesn’t seem real. If my life were a movie, there could easily be a twist halfway through in which the audience discovers that the important Editor Kate has been corresponding with and writing so feverishly for is, in fact, a mere psychological construct, a delusion, built to fulfil Kate’s desperate desire to have her writing taken seriously. What we have been witnessing has in fact been a young mother’s school-lunch-and-laundry-fuelled descent into madness. Gripping viewing.

pop art crying girl

But there is one day in all the year that reassures me that it’s not all made up and I am, in fact, a writer. An after-work Christmas Drinks at the offices of Jesuit Publications. A place to meet other writers and have proper adult conversations. I couldn’t wait.

You might remember me talking about this epic event last year, when I brought the twins with me. This year, I would be child-free. A proper, grown-up writer. And even though Wednesday was a crazy day with everything on, I was going to make it work if it killed me. I even put together a timeline to make sense of it all. It looked like this:

1. (9:00am) Mum takes Annie to kinder, morning jobs and schoolwork done

2. (11:00am) Early lunch

3. (12:00pm) Drop Harry at his atrium session.

4. (12:10pm) Go to the shops to buy ingredients for the salad the children would be bringing to the scout barbecue that evening. Also get birthday present for Matilda’s friend.

5. (1:30pm) Pick up Harry.

6. (1:40pm) Get dressed up. Make salad. Prep swimming gear.

7. (3:00pm) Pick Annie up.

8. (4:00pm) Swimming lessons

9. (5:00pm) Drive to husband’s work

10. (5:15pm) Swap cars with husband. Husband drives to scout BBQ. I drive to city.

11. (6:00pm) Arrive at party. Acquire glass of champagne and fashionably bored facial expression.

It all went pretty smoothly until Step 6 (get dressed up / make salad / prep swim gear). I had put Matilda in charge of the salad preparation. I needed to put a lot of work into getting ready. I was going for ‘Sophisticated Writer to be Taken Seriously’, not ‘Dowdy Matron’. I even went to the trouble of putting shimmery bronzing cream on my arms and (shaved!) legs. The stuff was hard to open as I haven’t used it in over a year. I was as I was wrestling myself into a pair of magic underpants, designed to stop people from congratulating me and asking when the baby is due, that Matilda called up the stairs.

“Mum . . . I think you might need to take a look at this”

The salad stuff we bought was pretty straightforward – cherry tomatoes, olives, avocado and a large bag of pre-washed ready-to-go lettuce mix. It would only take a few minutes to assemble. But we had hit a roadblock. The un-opened bag of pre-washed lettuce contained a very large, live insect.

bug in salad bag

bug in salad bag!

Can you see it? Down, down, standards are down!

I sighed, tossed the salad bag into the car and proceeded to step 7 (pick Annie up). The kinder assistant was curious to know why I wasn’t in my usual uniform of jeans, sneakers and banana-spattered science-fiction t-shirt. I swelled up and told her about my grown-up writer event. The assistant looked genuinely impressed. This woman has seen me bring four of my children through the kinder and has been privy to all of my organisational fails – turning up late, forgetting forms and money, failing to provide family photos, failing at book week. I don’t often feel like a grown up when I come to kinder. But today was different.

It was with a jaunty swagger that I hurtled towards step 7.1 (return defective salad). I got myself a salad upgrade and a refund. I ignored the uneasy feeling that I was merely replacing the salad with more from the same poorly washed batch – I had no time!

I applied my make up at the red lights on the way to swimming lessons and managed to achieve a convincing ‘smoky eye’ over the course of three backed-up intersections. Whilst the children were in the pool, I put together one page of ideas on how I could revolutionise the magazine, just in case the conversation tended in that direction.

After handing the car, children and salad over to my husband, I drove off to battle the traffic. The Google Maps lady kept cheerfully directing me through bewildering shortcuts. One time she asked me to turn right from a side street onto a busy road with no traffic lights. Then she made me cross three lanes of thick traffic in 500 metres. I got the sense she was enjoying herself.

As I waited in a stagnant river of cars and painted my nails, I realised in dismay that I’d forgotten to do my homework. I’d planned to bone up on back issues of the magazine and its sister publications.   I’d wanted the work of the writers I’d be meeting to be fresh in my mind so I could pay them the compliment of being familiar with their work. Alas! I would have to wing it.

When I finally pulled into the carpark at Jesuit Publications, I took a few moments to recover. I pulled my hair out of its ponytail-knot. I had washed my hair in the morning and tied it up when it was still damp. If my plan worked, it would be all tumbling waves when I took it out. But it wouldn’t last long, which is why I waited until just now. I looked at myself in the rearview mirror. My hair looked AMAZING. I can’t remember the last time my hair looked that good. I wanted to take a selfie. I finally understood why people TOOK selfies. But no time! Must go be a grown up writer and impress people. I tucked my one page of revolutionary ideas into my bag.  Just in case.

I must have been one of the first people to arrive, despite my fears of being late. There weren’t many cars about and the balcony seemed rather quiet. I slowed my step. I didn’t want to be too keen. I tried to open the door. It was locked. Strange. Slowly, very slowly, I pulled out my phone to check the date on the invitation.

Oh. What is WRONG with me?

You see, I had been telling everyone it was on Wednesday, I had made preparations for Wednesday, I had even emailed my editor and signed off with ‘see you Wednesday!’, I just hadn’t properly checked the date on the invitation. My “Wednesday” claim was not backed by solid evidence.

The drinks were scheduled for Thursday.

Tomorrow, my hair would be lank, my nail polish chipped and my dress would smell of day-old car sweat. I was never going to look as grown up and fabulous as I did in that moment, and there was nobody there to see it. I dragged my feet back to the car. If my life were a film, this would be the climax when the protagonist realises that there is no ‘Jesuit Publications’. She would rub her eyes and realise the office she was trying to access, was, in fact, an accountancy firm and the magazine had been a mere figment of her tortured mind.

I sat in the car, feeling rather bereft. I needed to find a bright side. In the end, I found four:

  1. I hadn’t missed the event. At least it wasn’t scheduled for yesterday.
  2. I had just experienced an outing without children.
  3.  It actually wasn’t my fault. I said ‘see you Wednesday’ to the editor and he didn’t contradict me. He’s an editor. It’s his job to pick up on writer’s mistakes.
  4. I would have time to read up on the other writer’s work, after all.

I felt a bit better as I drove back through all the traffic. When I got to the scout hall, I discovered another bright side:

5. I was totally the best-dressed mum at the scout BBQ!

Things weren’t so bad.  I was still a grown-up writer.  And if the kinder assistant asked me how things went, I could always lie through my teeth.  She doesn’t need to know.

I smiled smugly and fixed myself a plate of insect salad.

The Holy Family

Icon of the Holy Family

Although it might be later by the time I actually publish this post, as I write, today is the Feast of the Holy Family.  I always find going to Mass on this Sunday a bit of a rude shock.  I mean, we only just went to Mass on Chrismas Eve, three days ago.  I can clearly remember acting as a human straitjacket for my five-year-old in a stifling heat that no number of ceiling fans would dispel.  The time that followed was filled with sugar and excitement and late nights and tears and tantrums, and, what’s more, the children have been misbehaving too.

It felt like a bit of a stretch to get everyone out of bed this morning to go to Mass.  I know it’s wrong to feel that way.  I do love Mass more than anything, deep down.  Really, I do.  I just don’t enjoy putting clothes on children and saying ‘shush’ for forty minutes.

I know some of you will be thinking “Why are you so strict on yourself?  Surely God will understand if you don’t go just this once?”.  This is a good question with a long answer, so perhaps it’s a conversation for another day.  The short answer is that I know myself well enough to realise that the moment I start making excuses for not making the effort, it becomes a whole lot easier to not make the effort the next time and the next until I find I’ve stopped going to church altogether.  I’m the same way with exercise.  Plus, the children are watching (that sounds like a good title for a horror movie, don’t you think?  The Children Are Watching…)  and it’s important that they know that going to Mass is a part of who we are.

I just wish I could have called these noble principles to mind this morning as I tried to prise my reluctant three-year-old out of bed and convince my eight-year-old that ‘glacial’ is not the best speed-setting for his morning weetbix consumption.  Mr Knightley had taken Matilda to 9am Mass early so that she could 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, his methodical nature is a godsend on mornings like this.  I was even willing to overlook the fact that his outfit was the same  one he’d been wearing obstinately for the past three days.  Christopher Robin, as I mentioned, was performing some sort of tai-chi inspired slow dance with his bowl and spoon, but was dressed at least.  Annie was barefoot in her pyjamas staring blankly at her breakfast like it was the last clue in the cryptic crossword.  The twins were asleep in their cot.  And it was five-to-nine.

So I started my sheep-dog routine, gathering bags and babies, rounding everyone up into the car.  I had already decided that the pyjamas Annie had been wearing (a plain pink t-shirt and black Star Wars shorts)  looked enough like regular clothes to get away with.  There was no time.  It was only later I noticed that she’d somehow managed to get vegemite stains down the front of it.

I read a lot of blog posts about the importance of dressing your best for Sunday Mass.  I’ve written before about this desire of my heart.   My children were not looking well turned-out this morning.  Even the babies’ jumpsuits seemed grubby.  Nothing about their clothing expressed respect for this blessed institution.  But there was no time; there was no time.

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.

As I was pulling into the church car park, I made some quick decisions.  Unloading the pram and strapping the babies into it would take too much time.  Christopher and I could carry a baby each.  Let’s go, let’s go!

I pulled back the middle seats to let Annie and Harry out.  Annie grinned broadly, “Actually, I forgot my shoes!”, she announced triumphantly, like it was the punchline to some wonderful joke.

I’m not sure I can properly describe the full extent of shouting and searching that followed.  Annie alone remained calm and unruffled.  We found one shoe hidden in the car.  There was only one.  I think this was a million times worse than if there had been no shoes at all.

25-clarks-1

I had two options.  I could rush home to get shoes for Annie.  This would make us abysmally late for Mass.  We would achieve nothing more than a Drive-Thru Communion Service, if that.  Or, in another failed attempt at ‘Natural Consequences’, Annie could attend the Holy Mass barefoot.

The Gospel reading had just finished as I sidled into Mass with my rag-tag posse of children and slid into the pew next to Mr Knightley.  Annie remained unshod.  If we kept a low profile, we might just get away with it.  In a quick series of whispers and a fair bit of sign language (I believe I employed the international sign for ‘I wish to strangle my child’), I brought Mr Knightley 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 of bread and wine to the altar is a wonderful privilege, I really should have felt honoured that somebody had tapped my husband on the shoulder before Mass started and asked him 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.  The corner of my husband’s mouth was twitching ever so slightly.  But I didn’t punch him.  I had other problems.

When I took the babies out of the car, I forgot to grab their bunny rugs or wipes.   I was a little distracted, you see.  Now Daisy was in my arms, forcing her fingers into her mouth wrist-deep and bringing up little pockets of spew, like some deranged supermodel (I’m sorry.  That joke is inappropriate, I know.  But it’s been a long day for me).  I only had a couple of tissues to work with and those tissues had to work very hard.  I could sense the people in the pew behind me silently promising themselves not to shake my hand when it came time for the Sign of Peace and I didn’t blame them one bit.

When it came time for the Offertory Procession, I assumed a confident expression.  Perhaps, if I smiled bravely and walked tall, people might not notice that my three-year-old was sans footwear.  That aisle seemed a lot longer than usual.  Father Jacob, flanked by Matilda and another altar server were miles away.  After traipsing barefoot through the gauntlet of parishioners, Annie imperiously insisted on delivering her bowl of communion wafers to Matilda and not the priest.  Father Jacob seemed to be struggling to suppress a snort of laughter.  I didn’t punch him either.

The rest of Mass passed smoothly enough apart from the following:

  1. Annie and Harry had a rowdy disagreement as to who got to complete the maze on the parish notices helping the Wise Men to find Baby Jesus.
  2. Daisy got bored of trying to swallow her knuckles and decided to wail enthusiastically instead.
  3. Annie announced, for the benefit of all parishioners: “I’m hungry!  I haven’t had any breakfast!”
  4. Poppy, well, Poppy made use of her nappy.  She was, well, she was very thorough in this endeavour.

The final hymn was Joy to the World.  I joined in lustily.  As we prepared ourselves for a swift exit, I felt somebody grasp my elbow.  It was Mrs Price Who’s Ever So Nice.

“I just wanted to let you know how much joy it gave my heart to see your beautiful family bringing up the gifts,”  she said with genuine warmth.  My heart melted a little bit.  Mrs Price is almost old enough to be my grandmother.  She has raised six children herself and is still grieving her beloved husband who passed away last year.  Mrs Price chose not to see the unwashed clothes or exposed feet or complete lack of liturgical style.  She saw a family trying their best despite all their imperfections, and loved us.  In that moment, Mrs Price 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 friend, is why you should always wear shoes to church.

Photograph Fail.

The dreaded form

I think I might be a special-needs parent. I don’t mean to say I have kids with specific problems, though they do have quirks enough between them, I mean I am a parent who has special needs. 

It would seem that the most simple tasks are far beyond my capacity.  At Harry’s kinder, we were supposed to fill out this “All About Me” sheet – you know the kind:  “my favourite colour”, “my favourite toy”, etc. etc.  That part was simple enough, but we also had to include a family photo.  A quick scroll through my phone told me that such a picture simply did not exist.  Any proper whole-family photos were taken before Annie was conceived.  After that, all our pictures were missing somebody – because one of us was always taking the picture.  No matter.  I had a plan of attack:

1.  The next time we were all together and in the company of somebody extra who had opposable thumbs, we could all bunch together and ask them to take a photo for us.

2.  Then I could put the picture on a USB stick.

3.  Then I could run down to the shops and get the photos printed

4.  Then I could stick the photo to the bit of paper with all the answers on it

5.  Then I could put the bit of paper on the shelf by the front door where I wouldn’t forget it,

6.  Then I could take the completed form to kinder to be stuck on the wall with everyone else’s.

It was a good plan.

Unfortunately, I never accomplished Step One.

Whenever we were out with friends and family, there were always so many interesting and exciting things going on that I never managed to remember to have a photo taken.  But I did become very good at remembering to do it at three o’clock in the morning afterwards.

And I haven’t even told you the most embarrassing part yet.

I was supposed to do this at the start of the year.

Throughout the first few weeks of Term One, everyone else’s All About Me forms were plastered all over the wall in the Home Corner, complete with cheerful, glossy photos.  That wall haunted me.  After several weeks of trying and failing to procure a photo, I finally decided I’d missed the boat and getting the form in now would just be embarrassing.

I was wrong.

A few months later, a second All About Me form came home, complete with a blank rectangle for the family photo and a little pink post-it note asking me to fill it out and bring it to kinder.  In a guilt-fuelled frenzy I took action and quickly set about forgetting to get the photo taken all over again.

Then, in Term Two, Annie turned three and started kinder in the younger group.  Annie was also given an All About Me form, with a blank rectangle for the family photo.  I now possessed two All About Me forms (three if you count the original) and zero family photos.

And my ability to perform a series of straightforward and simple tasks did not seem to be improving.

But things were looking up.  When Christopher Robin made his First Communion, we had a family photo taken, all in our Sunday Bests and by a proper photographer (well, he was one of the dads, and he was doing it for free, but it was a way of making up for not being allowed to take pictures during the ceremony and he did have some pretty impressive equipment).  At last, we would have a proper whole-family photo and my nightmare of shame would be over.

And not a moment too soon.  When I went to kinder for the parent-teacher interview, Annie’s kinder teacher made a polite enquiry after the much-overdue family photo.  She was really kind about it actually.  To spare my feelings, she made it sound like this was a new request and not something they had been wanting for the past six months or so.  Here’s the thing: it turns out all of the family photos, no longer on Kate’s Wall of Disgrace, were now mounted on bits of cardboard and compiled into a special book, sitting in the library corner.  The teacher showed it to me.  All of the children loved to look at this book and find the page with their very own family.  Plus it achieved all sorts of developmental outcomes about Belonging and Sense Of Self and something about Affective Cognitive something-something Relationship.

I’m pretty sure my two children were the only orphans with no special photo page.

But it was OK.  I reassured the kinder teacher that said photo had now come into being and all I had to do was get my hands on it and print it out.  She said I could even email her a digital copy and the kinder would print it off (how bad did that make me feel?  Like most kinders, ours is a struggling not-for-profit with little in the budget for coloured ink or photo paper).

Also, Matilda’s and Christopher Robin’s homeschool co-op had put in a request for family photos to be emailed around, just so we could match everyone together and see which kids belonged to which parents.  It was a great idea.  I was so glad to have that photo at last.

Except I didn’t actually have it yet.  After a few weeks of waiting, I worked out I was actually supposed to bring a USB to the co-ordinator of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (the group Christopher made his First Communion with), so I could download the photos from her computer.  Which would have worked, except Catechesis was now on break and I wouldn’t be seeing the co-ordinator for a few weeks.  But it was OK, because kinder was also on holidays.  By the time kinder started, I would be able to return Annie’s and Harry’s portfolios complete with the family photos, if not the All About Me forms (they were all a little worse-for-wear with food stains and torn edges and, in one case, a small footprint).

I sent the co-ordinator a message and asked if she could perhaps find the one whole-family photo and email it to me.  She responded promptly and said she would look it up and send it to me right away.  Which was great, except I sent that email over a week ago and I still haven’t heard back from her.

There is a whiteboard in the foyer at kinder with a list of the names of families who are overdue in returning their portfolios.  All of the other names are gradually disappearing, but ours remains.  I probably should chase up the Catechesis co-ordinator for her email, but I can’t bear the thought of making another person feel bad for forgetting to send in a photo.  I also thought about taking a family selfie in the bathroom mirror, but that would require cleaning the bathroom and that thought just depresses me.

Tonight, though, things are going to change.  We’re all going to my mum and dad’s for dinner and I’m not going to get sidetracked this time.  I’ve put several alarms in my phone and I will ask everyone there to not let me leave without a family photo in my phone.  We will finally have a proper picture of the whole family we can use for all our kindergarten and co-op needs.

At least for the next two weeks before the twins are born and it immediately becomes obsolete.

Handbag Fail.

Kate's Handbag

I think I might have double pregnant brain.

Last week was Matilda’s birthday.  One of the presents I wanted to get her was a guitar case from Aldi (only $9.99!).  The only problem was, it didn’t go on sale until the actual day of her birthday.  Matilda, however, is a pragmatist like her father.  She assured me it didn’t bother her in the least if one of her presents was a note that said “I will buy you a guitar case today”, rather than the case itself.  We formulated a plan (one of the perks of homeschooling is that you get to take the day off for your birthday).

  • In the morning, Matilda would have breakfast in bed, followed by presents.
  • After we dropped Harry at the church for his Catechesis of the Good Shepherd session, we would whizz to Aldi to grab the guitar case and then whizz back to pick him up at the end of the session.
  • Then we’d head over to Ikea and have lunch with Daddy (who works nearby).
  • After soaking up the sights and sounds of this Scandinavian wonderland, we would drop by the library to pick up the book Matilda had reserved and was itching to read.
  • Then netball practice
  • Then home.  Matilda would get to choose what we had for dinner.

It was as we traipsed through the local shopping centre on our way to Aldi that we met our first roadblock.  But it was a delightful roadblock.  I ran into Lovely M and Pippi outside the café, where a gaggle of nice school mums were sitting.  How could I resist?

I mentally shifted my Aldi errand to later in the day, ordered a special hot chocolate for Matilda and recklessly abandoned myself to a feast of marvelous gossip.

I guess the next road block I came across was when we got to Ikea.  I must admit, I have a bit of a weakness for the Grand Nordic Palace of Domestic Loveliness, and it’s possible I might have passed this obsession predilection on to my eldest daughter.  We spent rather too long drinking free coffee, sniffing at candles and gasping in rapture at the insides of drawers and cupboards.  After a while, it became too much of a good thing (get DOWN off that pile of rugs, Harry!).

I had been a hostage in that baffling Swedish prison for so long, I was starting to identify with my captors.

"Knights of the Ikea Table"  King Arthur and his knights grapple with Allen keys

By the time we had extricated ourselves, it was already time to take Matilda to netball training.   I longed to go home to rest my aching bones, but then I remembered I still had to go to Aldi.  So I swallowed a sigh and pressed on.

As soon as we trudged through the automatic doors,  Annie announced triumphantly that she needed to go to the toilet.  Getting about with a toddler who is toilet training is a bit like carrying a grenade with the pin drawn.  You have to keep your wits about you.

I ushered us into the nearest Ladies toilet (Christopher Robin insisted on waiting outside) and heaved Annie onto the seat.  Realising that this might be a two-hand operation, I slung my handbag onto the hook behind the open cubicle door and stood in a half crouch, poised for action.

As it turned out, not much action was required.  (“I was just having a try”).  Annie, it would seem, is a connoisseur of public bathrooms, and outside Aldi’s was one she hadn’t sampled yet.

We were SO efficient when we got inside Aldi.  We just swept through there, grabbing everything we needed.  Thankfully, there were still plenty of guitar cases in stock (What if they’d sold out?  What if Matilda missed out completely because her mother was an irresponsible extrovert?).  It wasn’t until we sailed up to the checkout that I realized something was amiss.

“Ummmm,”  I said nervously to the man at the register, “I appear to be missing my handbag.  Might I go back and retrace my steps through the store?”

The man blinked at me and began to shift my groceries off the counter.  I dashed around the store twice, but to no avail.  I went back to my Register Man.

“Ummmm,”  I said, “it’s not there.  I might go check if I left it in the car…”

Register Man nodded blandly.

It was as I approached the automatic doors that it hit me.  The hook.  The toilet door.  I dashed to the Ladies’ toilet and darted into the cubicle.

It wasn’t there.

My mind started racing.  Perhaps some kindly stranger had handed it in?  Perhaps some lady with a gambling problem saw it as an answer to her prayers?  The toilet was next door to a TAB after all.  Perhaps some woman was plonking my handbag on the counter this very minute saying “Put it all on horse number twelve”?

I went back to Register Man, even though he was in the Zone, swiping groceries through the bleeper at top speed.

“Ummmm,”  I said,  “Has anyone handed in a handbag?”

Register Man shook his head.

“What should I do?”  I said

Register Man didn’t know.  Perhaps I could ask at the other shops?

I joined the queue at the Post Office.  The children wouldn’t stop pulling PostShop merchandise off shelves.

Post Office Lady suggested I go talk to Centre Management.  Centre Management was located at the very far end of the shopping centre.  I heaved a big sigh.

As I dragged my poor pregnant bones and my bored and grumpy children across the shopping centre and up a very long flight of stairs (Annie insisted on counting every step.  There were 43.), I reflected upon what I had lost.  I loved that handbag.  It was really something special.  My sister-in-law bought it for me in New York, and I always thought it the Last Word in handbags.  And all the things I had in it.  My wallet.  My phone.  My keys.  Oh Lord – MY KEYS!  How was I going to get home?  How was I going to pick Matilda up from netball??  How was I going to call her coach???

It was a very white-faced Kate who sidled into the Centre Management Office at the Other End of the Shopping Centre.  I rang the bell and waited.

“I’ve lost my handbag,”  I stammered to the lady who appeared behind the desk.

“Can you describe it for me?”  Desk Lady enquired, not unsympathetically.

“Um, it’s soft red leather, with the loveliest stripy lining in really nice colours…”

Desk Lady triumphantly produced my handbag and then patted my back awkwardly as I fell weeping on her shoulder.  I trekked back to Aldi, still reeling from post-traumatic shock (handbag) and the after-effects of Stockholm syndrome (Ikea).  I approached Register Man.

“Ummmm … I found it!”

Register Man looked uncomfortable.  They had already put most of my groceries back on the shelves.

I stumbled around Aldi for about the fifth time that day, blindly grabbing at groceries and forgetting about half of them (but not, thankfully, the guitar case!).  As I finally completed the transaction I began with Register Man half a lifetime ago, I had a look at my watch.

I was going to be late picking Matilda up from netball.

I handed each child an armful of groceries (we’d forgotten the bags) and we raced towards the car.  Go!  Go!  Go!  Everybody tumbled in and we played Escape from Aldi Carpark.  I don’t think we got a high score.  By the time we pulled up to practice we were twelve minutes late.  I apologized profusely to the coach and to my Birthday Girl.  Matilda smiled brightly at me as she clambered into the car.

“Did you get my library book?”

Physique Fail.

Hand-drawn Cartoon: An elderly lady stands in conversation with wild-hair Kate.  The old lady is pointing at Kate's stomach.  Kate is wearing a black dress and pearls.  The old lady's speech bubble contains a picture of a baby and a question mark.  Kate's speech bubble contains a picture of McDonald's fries and a full stop.  Caption reads: "Awkward..."

I have a problem.

Everybody thinks I’m pregnant.

I have started to keep a bitter tally of the well-meaning parish ladies, hapless school dads and soon-to-be-mortified kinder mums who have leaned in conspiratorially whilst casting affectionate glances at my belly and asked when the baby was due.  That’s my lunch you’re looking at, folks.

Food babies: I can’t seem to eat a meal without entering a phantom gestational stage.  If the meal were to contain wheat or onion or – God forbid – beans, it’s enough to send me well into my second trimester.  And my weakness for liquorice jubes doesn’t help matters.

You might remember my attempts at running.  I had great hopes that my weekly lolloping through the park might eventually result in a non-pregnant physique.  Running gave me lovely, slender arms and legs, all muscular and lithe, which only helped to accentuate my completely unaffected designer bump.

So I got this DVD – Pilates for Dummies – and I think I might be too dumb for it.  This impossibly cheerful American lady in a leotard contorts herself into myriad positions whilst reminding me to “pull my navel to my spine” and “maintain the ‘C’ shape”.  By the time I’ve convinced my body to bend into a lame counterfeit of leotard lady’s, the children are all out of bed and decide it’s “jump on Mummy” time.

Then I thought about Shape Wear.  Those magic underpants and skirts and things that try to compress your stomach and all your vital organs into a shape approximating that of a photoshopped model.  Last week, I went on a special date with my husband.  It took me twenty minutes to successfully climb into my brand-new Miracle Pants and another ten to stop bits of flab from poking out in strange places.

It was as we were dropping off the children at my parents’ (all dolled up in my LBD and expensive lipstick) that I ran into the school secretary from my old primary school.

“What lovely children you have!  And are you…?” she beamed, nodding at my midriff.

I shook my head apologetically.  Her eyes filled with panic, but her smile stayed valiantly in place.

“Well, what I mean to say is, you always look so lovely…”, she finished lamely and we quickly ran away from each other.

Now I’ve decided the problem is not me, it’s OTHER PEOPLE.  Surely there should be some rule: Don’t Ask a Woman if She Is Pregnant.  Simple, straightforward, easy to follow.  If a woman approaches you with a prominent bump, panting, and says “Please call me an ambulance – my contractions are two minutes apart!”, you should blink and say “but, whatever for?”

People are stupid and they have no social skills.  This righteous anger has carried me all through the week.  Yesterday, I was chatting to one of the kinder mums about school holidays.  “Having both of them at home full-time is too much for me,” she said, “I don’t know how I’m going to cope when the next one comes”

“Oh, I didn’t realize,” I say, frowning at her stomach, “are you expecting?”

Her face fell.  “When the next school holiday comes,” she said in a small voice, “because, um, it’s longer…”

I felt horror-struck.  There was nothing I could do.  I knew from experience that any backpedalling I might attempt would only make things worse.  I could already see that she had retreated inside herself, and that her head was helpfully playing a reel of Stars Who Lost Their Baby Fat Whilst Still in the Delivery Ward and Thigh Gap and Disney Princesses Whose Waists are as Narrow as their Necks.

The pause that followed was very pregnant.  I had become my own worst nightmare.  I reached into my pocket.

“Erm … would you like a liquorice jube?”

Book Week Fail: Part Two.

Before I start, I just want to say I am mortified at the amount of time it has taken me to write the sequel to this post.  I’ve been knocked about with a nasty dose of the flu and my laptop has been misbehaving a little as well.  The problem is, the longer the break since my last post, the more I avoid writing the next one.  I didn’t mean to build up this much suspense!  You’re going to find Part Two a bit of a let down after such a long wait!  Oh well, here goes…

I woke up super-early on the morning of the Book Week Parade.  Partly because I had plans to get everything organised and to arrive at school with time to spare (I was determined to get it right this year), but also because I had an early morning Skype-date with my sister, Jan.  I don’t say ‘conversation’, because these sessions are more likely to involve my children climbing all over me and shouting at the computer as they jostle for prime position.  They love their Aunty.  And the camera.

As bed-time in Britain was fast approaching, we bid farewell to Jan and I felt the familiar pang of distance.  I miss my sister so much.  But now it was time for weetbix and toast and uniform and matching socks and The Bunny Spoon (no other spoon will do for Annie’s breakfast).  I needed to get cracking on my own breakfast, too.  I’m one of those types who needs a proper high-protein breakfast to function on any level.  On a good day, I will have eaten breakfast and hung a load of whites on the line before the kids wake up.  I enjoy this semi-annual event, I really do.  Today, I was running a bit behind, but no matter.  I was able to beat eggs and shout at my children simultaneously (thankfully I didn’t get confused and shout at the eggs whilst beating my children).

Mr Knightley emerged wearing some hideous running clothes.  He was leaving early to drop the car off for a service (and would run to work from the mechanics).  I reminded myself that nobody would actually see his olive-green windcheater as he always kept a clean shirt and pants in his office and bit back any fashion advice I might have been tempted to share.

It was as I was saying goodbye to my husband that Harry somehow managed to tip an entire bowl of soggy weetbix onto his lap.  Ack!  I got busy with paper towels and the laundry sink and found him a clean set of clothes (“I hate the stripy t-shirt!”).  Things were starting to get a little hectic.  My FODMAP-friendly omelette was ready, but nobody seemed to be wearing shoes and I still had to make the lunches (too busy constructing costumes to remember to do it the night before…).

That’s when the phone rang.

It was my husband.

Here’s the general gist of our conversation:

  1. Before Mr Knightley left the house, we swapped keys.  He was taking the family car to the mechanics, I would drive the car he usually drives to work (on loan from my sister).
  2. The keys to his office were in my hand bag.
  3. He had an important meeting at 9am.
  4. He was wearing a truly dreadful sweatshirt.

I gaped.   I almost cried out “But you don’t understand – it’s BOOK WEEK!” before realising that things that are desperately important in Mummy Land bear no relevance in the rest of the world.  This did give me a moment of existential angst, I must say.  But then I took a deep breath,  allowed myself one look at the truly delicious omelette and steaming cup of tea before turning the stove off, clamping a lid over the pan and swinging into action.

I slapped sandwiches together whilst shouting “Shoes!  Mail Bag!  Put that down!  Time to go!”.  Then I scooped up the costume bits and ushered everyone into the car (after retrieving Christopher Robin’s shoes from under the trampoline).  We managed to get to Mr Knightley’s work by 9:05.  He’d already had a shower, so wouldn’t be too late for the meeting.  Then we raced back to school.

Saucepans

We were late, we were so late.  We had to park miles away and walk through the school carrying  the costumes and back packs and Annie (she wasn’t wearing any shoes).  When we got there, the parade had already started.  The kinder kids were already on the stage.  I wheeled around to face Harry. “Let’s get your costume on!” I said, in what I hoped was a cheerful voice.

Harry shook his head.

“Come on!”  I trilled, trying not to sound too maniacal.  “look at all your friends!  Won’t it be fun?”  I was already trying to dress him.  Harry started to panic.  “No!  No!”  he wailed, “I hate this!  I hate the Saucepan Man!  I want to be Woody!”

We don’t own a Woody costume, nor is Woody a character from a proper book (not counting spin-off merchandise), but I don’t think either of these arguments were going to convince Harry in this moment.  “Just the hat?”  I cajoled,

But Harry was shaking and in tears.

I should have known by now, Harry doesn’t do costumes (remember Christmas Eve?).  In fact, I really should have been grateful he was wearing clothes at all.  I heaved a big sigh, folded him up in my arms and found a place to sit.  His tears and snot were warm against my neck.

Christopher Robin had already gathered up his tray of Marvellous Medicine and hurried off to sit with his class.  I realised, too late, that I had never weight-tested the tray with all of its contents.  It was really heavy.  Christopher’s arms wobbled as he held the tray and his voice sounded a little strained as he told the school he was “George and the Marvellous Medicine”.  But he got through it like a champion.

Marvellous Medicine

This was the point where I was planning to sneak off home, but Harry was still sitting on my lap, his face firmly buried in my neck.  I had asked him coaxingly a few times if he’d like to sit with his class, pointing out all his little friends, but he just shook his head, without actually removing it from my neck.  I was going to have to watch the whole darn thing.

It was around the time the Grade Fives were on the stage that Harry looked up from my neck.  “My tummy’s rumbling,”  he announced, “I haven’t had any breakfast!”

I realised, with horror, that the only weetbix Harry had encountered before I bundled him into the car was the bowl he’d tipped on his lap.  His tummy growled.  Mine growled back.

“I haven’t had any breakfast, Mummy!”  Harry repeated loudly and insistently.  Several teachers and parents turned to look.  I smiled brightly and tried to reassure Harry under my breath.  This was the day I was going to convince everyone that I had it all together and homeschool was working out just fine, thank you very much.  Would the Book Parade never end?

At last it was time to gather everything together and walk Harry to kinder.  But the student wellbeing teacher was honing in on me.   She looked at me with a glance that took in my face, barren of make-up, my bored-looking nine year-old, my dirty-faced, pyjama-clad two-year-old, and the quivering four-year-old firmly attached to my leg.  She gave me a trademark warm smile that seemed tinged with concern.  I smiled bravely back.

I think she was trying to talk to me about Matilda’s ‘transition’ back to school, but her face had somehow morphed into a hot cheese-chicken-and-spinach omelette with a fresh pot of tea on the side.  I nodded hungrily.

Omelette

At Harry’s kinder, his teacher was taking photos of all the children in their costumes before they took them off to play.  At some point, I will receive a book week photo of Harry, dressed as  Harry, baring his teeth disconsolately for the camera.

I think I’ll put it in a frame.