Tag Archives: anecdote

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.

Red Hairring

So I figure I should probably write the sequel to my previous post. The only problem is, it’s not very interesting. So I’m going to just give it to you in point form. That way you can have a story which is not to interesting to begin with, plus the added bonus of lazy writing. Enjoy.

  • After I wrote my last post, many of you took the trouble to let me know you have a lovely friend/neighbour/sister-in-law who cuts hair in her garage/shed/living room and who is totally nice and easy to talk to.  No.  Just, no.  This would add a whole other layer of awkwardness to the situation.  What if they do a bad job and you want to break up with them but you can’t because they’re friends with your friend?  Ugh.  No.
    But thank you for thinking of me.
  • Still more people told me about some other super lady who comes to your house to cut your hair.  Noooooooooo!  No!  I would have to clean the house thoroughly or risk the hairdresser silently judging me.  Then if it all goes pear-shaped the hairdresser knows where I live.  No thank you.
  • Then, Lovely M suggested I get Pippi to cut my hair.  Apparently Pippi is quite handy with a pair of scissors, even though she isn’t a professional hairdresser.  But I had to say no.  It’s not that I didn’t trust Pippi’s ability, it’s just that I have an irrational fear that if I turn my friend into my hairdresser, all friendship will cease and I will henceforth only be able to have stilted conversations with her about a reality tv show I do not watch.  Plus I wanted to get it dyed too, and even though M was suggesting all manner of solutions to this problem involving a bottle of peroxide and a toothbrush, I ultimately decided to go with a professional.
  • So, as it turns out, my visit to the hairdresser was fairly uneventful.  I brought with me a small stack of Mollie Makes magazines which I borrowed from the library to save money (except that one of the magazines went missing, so now I have to pay a big library fine instead).  The hairdresser was older than me and happy to keep conversation to a companionable minimum.  It was kind of nice.
  • Here is the photo I showed her at the start of our session:

 

  • Cameron Diaz with nice hair

 

  • It was such a long time since I’d been to a salon that I was a little out of practice.  I was so grateful that somebody was finally doing my hair that I didn’t boss the hairdresser too much about what I wanted.  As a result, the dye job was a little odd and streaky and the colour was much more ashy than what I asked for.  And the layering didn’t frame my face well.  
  • After this, the hairdresser gave me a blow wave, which made me look like a late-night televangelist’s wife named Robyn.  Or Hope.  Or maybe Candice.
  • The next morning I scrutinised the colour in the full light of day.  Had she given me grey streaks?
  • So here is my ‘before’ photo.  Incidentally, I thought this was my ‘sexy’ face.  All these years, when I thought I was giving my husband a smouldering look, my face actually looked like this.   Ugh.   I think I need to practice raising my eyebrow suggestively at the mirror repeatedly until I get it right.

Kate with long hair looking dopey

  • I think I sprained my eyebrow.
  • And this is me now:
  • The mom from 'Seventh Heaven'
  • Just kidding, here I am:

 

  • Michael Landon (from 'Highway to Heaven')
  • I could do this all day:

Macgyver

  • So here I am, really:

My laptop selfie with new hair

It’s several weeks since I got my hair done and it’s settled in a lot better now.  I even had a go fixing the layers myself with a pair of nail scissors.  The next time I go to the hairdressers, I’ll be more specific about what I want.

The very thought is making me sweat icicles.

Hair Apparent

cousin itt

I really need a haircut. It’s becoming ridiculous.  This morning, when I was putting my jeans on, my pony tail got caught in the waistband.  And my hair keeps getting involved when I try to eat soup, it just sort of drapes itself into the bowl.  Plus it’s the wrong colour.  I’m supposed to be blonde, but my hair seems to ignore this fact.  Now the wrong-coloured roots have grown past my shoulders.  The wrong colour has taken over.  I try to tell people it’s ‘ombre’ or ‘balayage’, but really it’s the ‘avoiding salon’ effect.

You might think it sounds glamorous, but it’s not.  It was all very well when I was pregnant.  Double-pregnancy hormones made my hair all glossy and full of body (I was full of body everywhere, it would seem).  And, what’s more, I had a legitimate reason for not getting my hair done.  I was far too pregnant.  But once the twins were born, all my pregnancy hair fell out and gathered in tumbleweeds about the house.  My look was no longer “Pregnant Gisele Bundchen On Her Day Off” rather “Drab But Pious Homeschool Mother Sews Aprons For Her Sister Wives”.

I know I would feel better if my hair were shorter and back to its proper colour.  I know all I have to do is work out a time and pick up a phone and make an appointment and turn up, it’s just that…

Hairdressers make me nervous.   There.  I said it.

Most of the time I’m a confident, articulate person and a great conversationalist.  But something about a room full of blow dryers and the smell of Moisture-Lock Colour-Hold Super Salon Treatment Spray sends me spinning all the way back to Grade Five.   My tongue gets all thick.  I don’t know what I’m supposed to say.  

And I already felt like an odd and awkward sort of person when I went to the hairdressers before I had six children and decided to homeschool them.  Now I feel like a total freak.

I’m intimidated by the amount of power the hairdresser has over me.  A hairdresser has the ability to affect how you feel about yourself when you look in the mirror for the next six weeks (or, in my case, two years).  Just how much bleach is she putting in that mix?  What does she mean ‘caramel highlights’?  What if she interprets my request for ‘layered cut’ as ‘Warwick-Capper-Mullet’?

I tried to tell my friend M about my problem a couple of days ago, when she told me I needed a hair cut.

“Is it too expensive?”

“No.” (well, it is expensive, but that’s not the reason)

“Do you need babysitting?”

“No.” (except that I do, but that’s not the reason)

“Do you just want to keep your hair the way that it is?”

“No.” (it’s driving me crazy)

“Well, what’s the problem?  What?  What?  I can’t hear you.  Did you just say you’re frightened of the hairdresser?

Later that day, I got a text from Lovely M.  It was a link to a groupon for 75% off colour and cut at a salon not too far away.  M offered to come with me and I was struck with a lovely vision of the two of us side-by-side with our hair in rollers and our heads underneath those bonnet hair-dryers, discussing that new band from England and whether we preferred Paul or Ringo.  But after a few more texts, it dawned on me that M was not offering to get her hair done at the same time as me: she’d just been to the hairdressers, it’s what had sparked the conversation.  M was offering to come along to hold my hand (her words).

It was at this point I realised I might have a problem.

“I can do this”  I muttered to myself as I clicked my way through the sign-in process and keyed in my credit card details, “I am a GROWN UP.”  And, ignoring the bland stares of the other people in the library, I triumphantly purchased my ticket to several weeks worth of good-hair-days.

It was only when I googled the name of the salon to find out the opening hours that I began to feel some reservations.  The business had quite a lot of online reviews.  There were three gushing five star reviews; the same number of reviews, I imagine, as of staff who work there.  All the rest were scathing one-star reviews.  Reviews that said the hairdressers were ‘rude’ and ‘mean’.  I gulped.

I saw M again today.

“So anyway, I bought that groupon.” I announced, a little smugly.  My tone also said “See?  I’m totally capable.”

“When are you booked in?” she asked (a little knowingly, it must be said)

“Um, well, actually I haven’t booked it yet…”  I stammered.  The smugness was fast evaporating.

“Do you want me to call them for you?  I can do it right now.”

“NO!  No!  I can do it!”  I am capable, dammit!

“What’s their number?”

“No – I just need to check some things before I call them”

“What things?”

“Um, just some, um, things?”

I haven’t been yet.  My hair is still getting snagged on door knobs and looking far too brown.  But I will go.  I figure if it’s a bad experience, it will make a neat sequel to this blog post.  If it’s a good experience, I’ll have nice hair again.  It’s win-win.  So I’ll go.  I’m totally going to book it.  All I have to do is pick up the phone and arrange a time.  And I will, I totally will.

Maybe tomorrow.

Multiple Choice

I wrote this piece for my local multiple-birth magazine, Duplication:

Pretty notepad with pen, tea and chocolate

This is some kind of miracle.  I sit at the Bunnings Warehouse Cafe table with my notebook out.  Steaming cappuccino to my left, two sleeping babies to my right.  My other children are happily entangling themselves on the playground next door.  This is really happening.  I am going to get some writing done.

Let me just savour this moment.

Wait.  Oh no.  Oh dear Lord, no.

I sensed her hovering before I saw her.  My twins have an admirer.  Don’t make eye-contact.  Don’t make –

“Hello!”

“Erm, hello.”  dammit!

“What lovely babies!  Are they twins?”

Really?  What kind of question is that?  Singleton babies aren’t issued in pairs, as a general rule.  I consider the following responses:

  1. “No.  They were having a ‘Buy one, get one free’ sale at Babies R Us.”
  2. “Nope.  That one’s a decoy.”
  3. “No.  This is what the new Baby Bonus looks like.  You get a bonus baby now.”
  4. “No!  Triplets!  Good Lord!  Where’d the other one go?”
  5. “I think you might need glasses.  That’s one baby.

But then I bite my tongue.  She is a kindly looking lady after all.  I remember when my eldest was born.  None of my friends had children and I was new to the area.  It would get pretty lonely during the day.  I would go out walking with the pram wearing my brightest smile and hope that somebody, anybody might offer me a small morsel of adult conversation.  Nobody ever did.  I think they could smell my desperation.  

It’s different with twins.  Whenever strangers set eyes on my baby girls, I can actually see them drop their guards.  Their features relax and they become all chatty.  It’s a beautiful thing.  I really should be more grateful that this well-meaning woman is interrupting the one pocket of me-time I’m likely to get this week.  I summon up a grin and prepare to say something encouraging.  But now the multiple-birth fangirl is reaching out to tickle my sleeping twins.  Twins who are only asleep because of the four long laps we walked of this bewildering hardware superstore.  I can feel the warm smile slide right off my face.

“You touch that foot and you die, lady!”

Frogo and the Quest for Attention

I don’t know if you’ve worked it out by now, but I’m a bit of a crochet nut.  And I’m at my nuttiest when making gifts for friends and family.  There is a part of me that will not rest until every person I care about owns something that I made for them.  I think it might be something primal.  Like I’m marking my territory or something.  When I get it right and the gift is well-received, it is exhilarating.   But when I get it wrong, it is mortifying.

Anyway, for a long while now I’ve been wanting to make a frog for my friend Strider.  Strider has been my friend for around eighteen years now, and along with his obsession with all things Tolkein, he is also deeply interested in conservation and other environmental issues and has a great love of green tree frogs.

Recently (no, not recently, this post has been in my drafts pile for a few months now, but let’s pretend), Strider had a small birthday party, a strictly ‘no presents’ affair.  I like when friends have ‘no presents’ parties.  It means I can give something hand-made without any pressure for it to be good.

So anyway, I made this:

small crocheted frog

I couldn’t find a pattern I really liked (I have no time to be sewing bits together or faffing about with pipecleaners), so I designed one myself.  It took a bit of experimentation, but I got there in the end.  I must give credit, however, to Lucy Ravenscar:  I was very much inspired by the techniques she used with her bazaar animals in putting this together.  I couldn’t help but feel rather chuffed with how it worked out.

When I got to Strider’s house (‘Gondor’?) , I waited until I had come inside and our respective children had finished exclaiming over each other, before presenting my gift.  Strider smiled and thanked me politely.  He did not, however do any of the following:

  1.  Jump up and down making high-pitched squeally noises;
  2. Accost everybody who arrives at the party brandishing said frog and exclaiming, “look what Kate made!”
  3. Ask for a full report on what yarn I used, what size hook, stitches, pattern – wait, what?  You mean to say THIS IS AN ORIGINAL DESIGN?
  4. Ask how it came to pass that his friend Kate got to be so brilliant as to design her own frog;
  5. Place the frog in a prominent position, where guests can use it as a conversation piece and talk all about me and my epic skills.

crocheted frog - side view

In fact, he put the frog away, where nobody could see it.  How was I supposed to show off now?

But I was not defeated.  I turned a few strategies over in my mind.  Strider’s sister-in-law is nice and loud.  Perhaps I could get her to broadcast the news of my triumph?  So I sought her out and gave my orders.

“You must ask your brother-in-law to show you what I made him!”

So Strider’s sister-in-law (“Galadriel”?  I don’t know…) dutifully sought out the host of the party and asked to see the frog.  She got a look at it, but didn’t take it out of its hiding place.  Then she came back to tell me how great she thought it was.  Nobody overheard.  The frog remained hidden.

But now, I knew the where the frog was hidden.  It was in the kitchen.  I decided it was time to get myself a drink.   Then I decided the frog was exactly where I wanted to put the bottle of mineral water.  so I moved it to the other side of the bench, where it would be out of my way and, incidentally, more visible to anyone who happened by.  Then I stationed myself next to the bench so I could answer any questions (“Whence came this miraculous creation?”).

crocheted frog - from above

But nobody asked any.  And then I had to go home.

I had almost got over it a couple of days later when I met up with Strider’s family again for a church group picnic.  “Now, Kate,”  I told myself sternly, “you made that frog as a present to your friend, not to your ego.  You really must get over this need to be in the centre of attention at all times!”.  I arrived at the picnic determined to listen to others and not dominate and give other people the opportunity to get a word in edgewise.  It was as I was listening (with all my might) to a new friend as she told me about her work designing jewellery and selling it online, that Strider broke in.

“You should sell your work online too, Kate.  That frog you made me is just brilliant.  Tell us all about it”

Oh, well.  I suppose I could manage that.  If I must.

Placenta of Attention


A few weeks ago, Jesuit Publications invited me to their end-of-year Christmas drinks.  The amount of joy and excitement I felt about standing around with a group of strangers drinking wine out of a disposable cup was perhaps a little out of proportion.  I was writhing with anticipation.  It didn’t matter that I was breastfeeding newborn twins.  It didn’t matter that I was holidaying an hour’s drive away.  I would be there.  I would make this happen.  This was more than just a Christmas party.  This single event would transform a series of emails and corresponding bank transfers into a proper and legitimate job as a writer.

My husband, bless him, took charge of  the older children and didn’t question my desperate zeal for a minute.  My only hurdle was to try to contain my excitement enough to pass as a sophisticated writer and not a tragic keeno.   Armoured in my best industrial-grade shapewear and a stylish black dress (not the one in which I was caught impersonating a pregnant woman), I tried to maintain a nonchalant expression as I heaved the double stroller up a narrow flight of stairs (yes, I know – I should have gone up and asked someone for help, but I didn’t know anyone there and I was feeling awkward enough as it was.)

As soon as I stumbled into the party, I drove my stroller into the nearest group of strangers and introduced myself.  We immediately started talking about Daisy and Poppy, who were both awake and making eyes at their new friends.  Having your own set of twins can be a useful icebreaker in these situations.  In this instance, we embarked upon Standard-Issue Twin Conversation #5: “Do Twins Run In Your Family?”, and this kept us going for a good ten minutes.

Pretty soon my brother Bobby arrived.  By a funny coincidence, Bobby also freelances for Australian Catholics, and for its sister publications, Eureka Street, Madonna and PrayerBlog (those links are to articles he wrote.  No, don’t click on them yet, wait till you’ve finished reading my post.).  We had thought nobody would know that we were related because we had different last names, but they had figured it out.  I also met my editor for the first time.  I was a little disappointed that he looked and sounded nothing at all like JK Simmons (“Bring me Spiderman!”), but I’m going to christen him ‘J. Jonah Jameson’ anyway.

editor

 

I already knew the magazine’s photographer (Peter Parker), because he had also been the photographer for my wedding.  I greeted him and he initiated Standard-Issue Twin Conversation #3: “Are They Identical?”

I hesitated.  This topic of conversation is more awkward than it might sound.  It starts innocuously enough:

“Yes, we think they might be”

I always try to hurry the conversation on to a new topic from here, but it never works:

“What do you mean?  Don’t you know for sure?”

And this is where it gets tricky.  You see, Daisy and Poppy look almost exactly alike and there is a chance they could be identical.  But in the womb, they presented as fraternal twins.

“What do you mean ‘presented’?”

Erm.  They each had their own sac and placenta.

It happens every time.  As soon as I say the word ‘placenta’, things get awkward.  I can see the colour drain from Peter’s face.  His eyes fill with panic.  I feebly continue explaining about “the stage in gestation at which the egg splits”, but everything about his body language screams “I don’t care!  I don’t care!  I need to get out of here!”

Hand drawn cartoon depicts wild-haired Kate conversing with photographer in front of baby twins in stroller. Kate's speech bubble contains diagram of 3 varieties of identical twins (single sac and placenta, two sacs, single placenta, two sacs, two placentas). Photographer has wide eyes and a frown. His thought bubble contains a picture of an exit sign. Caption reads "Standard-Issue Twin Conversation #3".

I’ve talked about this before.  There’s no getting around it.  There’s no way of answering the question without using the word ‘placenta’.  I’ve tried euphemisms, like ‘food source’ or ‘environment’, but people just ask me what I’m talking about and then I have to say it and they instantly regret talking to me.  I’ve even tried word substitution,  but “Play centre”, “Plus sender”, and “Please enter” all produce the same effect

As Peter ran away to refresh his drink, I gave Bobby a confidential nudge,

“It happened again!  I had to say ‘placenta’!”

Bobby’s eyes filled with confusion and panic.  I have talked about this before.  Just not, it would seem, with Bobby.

Pretty soon I was talking to another one of Daisy and Poppy’s admirers.  This nice lady initiated Standard-Issue Twin Conversation #1: “Oooooh!  Twins!”.  Bobby, meanwhile was talking to J. Jonah and a couple of other people about writing.  I was able to eavesdrop whilst still talking to the nice lady as I have the responses to “Oooh Twins!” pretty thoroughly rehearsed.  I was beginning to suffer from a major case of Conversation Envy.  This is when I tried my trick.

As my conversation with Nice Lady finished up, I took two large steps away from the pusher, and then sidestepped my way into Bobby’s conversation.  I was now close enough to see my beautiful twins, but not so close that people would want to talk to me about them.  As well as J. Jonah (who, incidentally, was just as nice as his emails, possibly even nicer), Bobby was also talking to  theologian, writer, mentor, comic and all-round-good-guy Fr Albus.   I already knew Albus from my work in youth ministry ten years ago, but I didn’t expect him to remember me.  He knew who I was, however, and had even read my writing (!!!).  Albus described my style as ‘like a domestic bushranger’.  I have no idea what that meant, but I didn’t care.  I was having a major fangirl moment.

A small crowd was forming  around pusher where Daisy and Poppy were cooing and smiling.  People were having Standard-Issue Twin Conversations with each other.  I heaved a satisfied sigh, confessed my relief to Bobby, J. Jonah and Albus and prepared for more intelligent, grown-up writer conversation.

But it wasn’t long before a member of this small fan club broke away and migrated to our conversation.

“Are you the mother of those adorable twins?” he gushed,

“Yes she is,” said Albus in a firm tone of voice, “but Kate was just saying how she would like to talk about something other than babies.”

“Oh.  Right.”  said the doting Twinsketeer, and he immediately re-arranged his facial features from infatuated to informative.  It turns out that this gentleman was also a veteran journalist from one of the major newspapers.  What followed was a conversation so epic, the memory of it has sustained me through much supermarket small-talk in the weeks that followed.

As for Standard Issue Twin Conversation #3, I recently tried a new, if rather dishonest, strategy:

“Are they identical?”

“Yes.  Definitely”

“Are you sure?”

“Absolutely.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“How sure?”

“100 Placenta.”

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.