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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.”

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Summon Fail.

I was ready to go home now.  I’d had enough of the Birthday Party Factory.  Christopher Robin and nineteen other Grade Preps had been ushered from nine-pin kegel bowling, the name of which was a constant reminder to the mums to exercise their pelvic floor muscles; to arcade games, where the little boys got to shoot at things with guns; to the food table, where children were issued with regulation chips, nuggets and bright red frankfurters.  They had sung Happy Birthday cheerfully and eaten a spoonful each of their icecream cake before abandoning it to play in the enormous play room.  Meanwhile, the other parents and I had drunk our allocated lattes, nibbled at the bonus dip, and chattered politely about their home renovations and the various reasons why their husbands annoyed them.

I should probably take this opportunity to apologise for the opening sentence of this blog.  I know it’s not grammatically correct, but I can’t think of any other way to say it.   “I was ready to go home” doesn’t fully express what I’m trying to say and “I am ready to go home now” is all wrong because it happened last week and I’m just not in the mood for any present-tense, stylistic, place-the-reader-in-the-moment nonsense.

Anyway, I was ready to go home (now).  I had given Christopher Robin a ten-minute-warning twenty minutes earlier.  The playroom was filled with a large quantity of multi-coloured tubing twisted into a labyrinth of slides and tunnels and little helicopters.  Do you know the sort?  Just imagine your standard fast-food child-conditioning playground, but on steroids.  It was pretty bewildering.

I had gathered all my bags together and bid farewell to my fellow hostages.  All I had to do now was extract him from the baffling plastic jungle and we could go home.  I started out with a few rallying calls aimed up at various sections of the immense structure: “Time to go now!”, “C’mon Christopher Robin, the party’s finished!”, “Let’s go!  Hurry up!”, but these got me no response.

My next strategy was to stake out the slide exits, so that I might catch him before he was again swallowed up by the plastic monster, but, while many children came speeding down the slides, Christopher Robin was not among them.  He was too smart for that.  I noticed one of the helicopter rotors spinning defiantly high above my head.  Grrr.

I enlisted one of the other children to go in and find him for me.  The little boy nodded and disappeared.  Now I’d lost two boys!

It was time for some threats:  “It would be a shame if you missed out on a lolly bag because you took so long getting out”,  “Christopher Robin!  This has gone on too long!  You get out right now or you’ll get no screen time for a week!”,  “Christopher Robin, I’m going to give you a countdown.  If you’re not out of here by the time I get to one, you will have NO SCREEN TIME FOR A WEEK.  Five.  Four.  Three.  Do you really want no screen time for a week?  No computer!  No TV!  That’s what you’ll be getting.  No screen time for a week!  TWO.  I mean it!  TWO  Come on!  TWO  All right – ONE!  You’ve got NO SCREEN TIME FOR A WEEK.  I’m VERY DISAPPOINTED IN YOU!”

In the farthest section of the tangled monstrosity I could hear loud giggling.  My blood boiled.

Then the little boy I sent in to find Christopher Robin came sailing down one of the slides and approached me (he looked a little frightened).  “I couldn’t see Chris in there – I think he’s hiding”

How on earth was I going to extract my son from this many-coloured beast?  I really did not feel like wedging my thirty-two year old body through a series of tubes built for the under-tens.  I rolled up my sleeves and sighed (after yelling something more about “SO MUCH TROUBLE!”).  It was then that the pile of children’s shoes at my feet caught my attention.  There were lots of different shoes scattered across the floor, but there seemed to be a notable absence.  Where were Christopher Robin’s black sneakers?

Hmmm.

I backed slowly out of the door in my first murmur of self-doubt and cautiously glanced around the room I found myself in.  The other room.  There was the party table, all laden with melting cake; there was the air-hockey machine, with five children jostling for a turn; there were the kegel bowling lanes (snicker); and there, playing happily on a Daytona race car machine, well out of earshot of anything that might have been going on in the playroom, was Christopher Robin.

Oh.

“Time to go!” I said, in a strangely strangled tone that was meant to approximate upbeat cheerfulness.

“OK, Mum”  Christopher Robin jumped down off the machine and walked dutifully beside me to say goodbye to the birthday boy and “thank you for having me” to his mother.

And as we rolled out of the Party Factory assembly line, I saw a new group preparing to go in.  Children excitedly clutching presents and parents smiling nervously in misguided optimism.  As I looked at them, I realised things weren’t so bad after all.

I could have been those people.

Label Fail – The Sequel

Label ribbon everywhere!

Harry did it again with the label maker today.  I keep the label maker unloaded now, as a precaution, but he got his hands on the cartridge and pulled the tape out like so much pretty ribbon.  I tried, I really did, but it wouldn’t wind back in.

In honour of this occasion, I thought I’d share this story with you:

I was chatting with a knot of school mums at some “Meet and Greet the Teacher” malarkey the other night.  This might sound silly, but I struggle sometimes with School Mums.  Normally, I’m a loudmouth extrovert, but with school mums I get all awkward and reserved.  I feel Different.

So one of the mums starts talking about her new label maker and how much she loves it and I blurt out, “You really should read my blog!”, thinking of my recent Label Fail post.

Of course, I realised all too late she didn’t know what I was talking about, that it would just sound like a spot of random blog promotion.  I eagerly and ineptly tried to explain myself and she politely suggested that she might have better things to do with her time than to read my blog.

One of the school mums (I’m going to call her M) is a close friend of mine and now that she’s a school mum, she is a Delightful Exception to the Rule.  At this point in the conversation M (God bless her) leapt to my defence. and faster than I could say “Stop talking.  Oh, please God, stop talking.”, she launched into the following:

“Oh no!  You don’t understand!  Kate’s blog is really good!  She’s a proper Writer!  Like one time her two-year-old burnt the roast except she calls him ‘Harry’ or something.  And she’s really, like, creative?  She crochets cool hats and stuff in her spare time and then writes about them on her blog!  You really should read it!”

The look of mild shock that had registered on Label Lady’s face earlier in the conversation, when she discovered I had four children, now was gracefully developing into a look of sheer horror.  Her husband (“Label Man”?) wasn’t too far behind her.

I would like to write that at this point a lovely deep hole conveniently opened up in the floor in front of me and I stepped lightly down into it and it swallowed me up.  But, sadly, this did not happen.  So instead, I cringed inwardly, gave a strangled laugh and tried to steer the conversation forwards (“so, tell me about this new label maker of yours” I attempt.  Label Lady replies “what are you?”)

So, for those of you who have blogs of your own, I’m curious: do you talk about your blog to people in real life or do you keep it a secret?  How do people react when you tell them you have a blog?  Does it sound really lame when you try to describe it?  Do you inadvertently inject random blog promotions into every conversation?

I can’t wait to hear what you think.  In the meantime, I’m off to buy some more label cartridges (still waiting on that endorsement deal – Dymo won’t return my calls…)

Cafe Fail.

Babycino

I’ve given up coffee for Lent.  Not sure why I do this to myself, but I figure it must do me some good. I’m going to put my coffee money in the Project Compassion box and feel all virtuous and smug for forty days.  I’m three days in and already I’ve had enough.  I already wrote this post out in my everything-notebook and now in my coffee-deprived state I’ve gone and lost it and I just know it won’t come out as good this time around.

Grrr

Anyway, cast your mind back to Tuesday.  It was Shrove Tuesday and my last chance to have a coffee before Lent.  Unfortunately it was also a school half-day, so I would have all four of my darlings to share this special time with.  But I’ve got this situation to work well in the past and, by gum, I would make three-children-and-a-baby-in-a-café work this time.  Surely they owe it to me?

I went to the supermarket with them first and Harry and I played the game where Harry hands me random items which he considers essential and I systematically restore them to the shelves.  My sister called me at one point, but as the entirety of our conversation consisted of me yelling directions at my children, I told her I’d call her back at a better time.  Other than this, it all went pretty well until the last aisle, when I (rather stupidly) said aloud “and now all we need to get are the eggs!”.  Christopher Robin and Harry both exclaimed “I’ll get it!” and raced to the end of the (long) aisle.  I moved, as quickly as a person pushing a shopping-laden stroller can, through trolleys and old people, to the egg section.  There, amid a small circle of spectators, Christopher Robin and Harry were wrestling over a carton of extra-large, free-range eggs (“I’m helping Mummy!”, “No! I’M HELPING MUMMY!”)

Somehow, I managed to confiscate the eggs and administer some lame reprimands to the boys.  Miraculously, the eggs managed to escape their ordeal unscathed and so, seeing this as a good omen, I set off to our favourite child-friendly coffee haunt.

As this was to be the last coffee I was to have before Easter (or at least St Patrick’s Day), I was going to make it count, so I ordered I larger size than my usual small cappuccino and added extra fancy flavours (deluxe).  The barista chatted pleasantly to Matilda, Christopher Robin and Harry as he put together their custom-made free babycinos and my children, cheerfully and all of one accord, failed to say ‘please’ or ‘thank you’.

I sipped and savoured and spoon-fed Annie with chocolate-dusted milk foam when it occurred to me that now would be a good time to call my sister back.  It would seem I was having an abundance of stupid ideas on this day.  But I love my sister and she lives far away so we don’t get to talk as much as I would like.  I didn’t want to become the Boring Older Sister who is so wrapped up in her children that she can’t possibly take an interest in anyone else’s life.  This was ‘Jan’, by the way, not ‘Cindy’, so it’s not like I’d scored sister-points by recently making her a hat either…

Accordingly, I contrived to continue chattering merrily whilst the following occurred:

  1. My three ambulatory children promptly absconded from the table and climbed onto an evil coin-operated Spiderman helicopter at the entrance of the café
  2. The weight of shopping bags caused the stroller to overturn, taking my remaining, rather startled, child with it.
  3. Matilda managed to climb her way to the top of the evil Spiderman helicopter and perched triumphantly on the rotor blades.
  4. Annie began to howl and I remembered that she needed to be fed (plus she’d just been for a ride in an unstable stroller…)
  5. Matilda started to clamber down again as I gave her the evil eye (as evil as one can give when one’s arms are full of fallen grocery bags)
  6. Matilda got stuck halfway down and then rescued by some random man
  7. I felt everybody’s eyes on me and realized with dismay that I had become That Woman, who talks on her mobile phone whilst her children misbehave.

I had to end the conversation when

8.  I couldn’t see Harry anywhere.

But then I could (he was climbing all over the cake fridge and Christopher Robin quite happily joined him in this endeavour.)

After shouting random threats and gathering up groceries and offspring, I stalked off to the car.  Once everyone was strapped into place and I sat in the driver’s seat.  I launched into a tearful and incoherent rant about “coffee” and “your aunty” and “just for once in your life”.

Matilda piped up in a  small voice, “you can listen to what you like on the radio on the way home, Mummy, and we won’t complain at all”

“That’s COLD COMFORT!” I snapped.  But I put the radio on anyway.

I felt better by the time I got home.  At least I could get a blog post out of this experience.  And it was probably a good thing we weren’t going back to that café until after Easter.  I sent the children upstairs to clean their rooms and started unpacking the groceries.

Hmmm.

It would appear the eggs did not survive their adventure in the stroller.

 

When I told my mum this story, she suggested I find an all-natural organic substitute for coffee: “like, you know – whiskey”

So if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to have an Irish coffee without the coffee.  Because I’m being good.

Health Nurse Fail.

Earlier this week I was struck with a sudden panic: the last time I made an appointment with the Maternal and Child Health Nurse, I didn’t write the appointment in my diary.  And it was a double appointment for Annie and Harry!  And these appointments are really hard to make!!  What if the appointment is today? What if I’ve already missed it??

As soon as I got home I dug out the green book and checked the appointment time: not till Wednesday!  Phew!  I checked the book again yesterday – 1:30pm – easy!

Mr Knightley gave Annie a thorough bath last night and I made sure she was dressed in her most respectable clothes this morning.  I gave the boys an early lunch and then coaxed Harry out of the mud and into the bath for a righteous scrubbing.  Once I put Harry into his least raggedy clothes and locked the back door so he couldn’t get muddy again, I bundled the three of them into the car (after first sending Christopher Robin back to change his favourite (broken) sandals into respectable shoes with matching socks).  I figured I’d get there early so they could have a play at the park next door beforehand.

You can imagine my immense sense of smugness as I sauntered into the health centre at precisely 1:25pm.  I had forgotten nothing: both health books, bunny rug, change of jumpsuit, nappies, crochet workbag, phone, tissues, keys, three children, wipes – all there.

One of the health nurses approached me with a concerned look on her face.  Who was I there to see?  Everyone was out.  I faltered for a moment – I’d only seen this new health nurse once before and couldn’t remember her name.  She prompted me – was it Jenny?  Yes! Jenny!  Jenny was out.

The first few seeds of doubt started to edge their way into my consciousness.  Oh! But! I said with renewed confidence, I AM a little early (oh yeah!)…but perhaps I’ll just double check the appointment in my book.

So I pull out my book and take forever to find the stupid page.  And I take a proper look at the date for the first time. Oh no! I say, I’m a week early!

The nurse points again at the date with a kind smile:  I was also a month early.

WHAT is WRONG with my BRAIN??!!

The receptionist, who by now had joined the conversation, along with another health nurse, said I could come in and have a sit while the boys had a play anyway.  It would give me a chance to ‘collect my thoughts’.  They were all very kind (and, I suspect, quietly concerned).

MY BRAIN!  What is wrong with my BRAIN??

I sat down with my diary and worked at being organised for about ten minutes. Then we went home.

I can’t even explain how I can manage to bring daft-ness to a whole new level.   I made a cake once we got home just to give my confidence a boost (with a side-product of comfort food)

Hmmm.

Kate is Special

Just thought I’d share:

In the ‘recently deceased’ section of the parish notices last week, I read that longstanding parishioner Karen Appleby had died and there was a big funeral for her this week.  I didn’t know Karen at all but I knew Bill Appleby to be a tall, older fellow who I’d often see about the place.  I would nod at him and say “Bill.”  and he would nod back rather aloofly and this was the full extent of our relationship.

When I spoke to another parishioner about Karen and Bill, she said that they had lost a child many years ago and did a lot of ministry for parents who had lost children.  My heart went out to Bill and I realised why he sometimes seemed rather distant.

At Mass this morning, I saw him.  I always feel awkward in this kind of situation, but I know Mum’s always said it’s better to say something than to avoid the person and make them feel even worse.  I also knew from experience that it’s better to say something sooner rather than later because it will only get more awkward.

At the morning tea after Mass I found myself side by side with the man in question so I seized my opportunity.  I turned to him, gave him a little hug and said “Bill, I’m so sorry about Karen”

In the moments that followed, I discovered the following useful facts:

  • Karen wasn’t actually his wife
  • His wife is still alive and at home at the moment
  • This man was not Bill Appleby
  • This man’s name was Brian

I also discovered:

  • There may be another reason why this man was so unresponsive when I called him ‘Bill’ all these years
  • Sometimes ‘sooner rather than later’ does not avoid an awkward situation if soon is too soon to confirm a positive ID

He was really quite gentle and lovely about it.  It was like he wished he could be Bill for my sake but he could not escape the fact that he was in fact Brian and he did indeed have a live wife.

Whatever.  Just tell Bill I said hi.