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Interview Fail

cassette tape recorder. Label on tape reads 'VERY IMPORTANT"


So I’ve been doing a bit of writing lately. Apart from my Very Own Column at Australian Catholics magazine, I’ve also started to write features, as a freelancer, for Melbourne Catholic magazine. I often get confused looks when I try to explain this to people (and I often try to explain this to people, even if we weren’t, in fact, talking about it). Melbourne Catholic is a separate magazine, despite the similar name. It comes from the Archdiocese, rather than the Jesuits.

Features writing is fun and interesting, but my great love will always be in trying to make people laugh (which is why that first paragraph is such a side-splitter).  I’m not the greatest at interviewing people (you actually have to stop and let them talk, I’m told), but I do like the feeling of having yet another Important Writing Job and more opportunities to talk loudly about expecting an email from MY EDITOR and looking around impressively whenever I’m in a crowded place.  I think the staff at Aldi are a little over it, to be honest.

So far, I’ve written a feature on crochet and another one on grief.  I’ll share them with you when they get published (the crochet feature is out, just not electronically yet).  The most recent one I’ve been writing has been about the refugees in Eltham.  It’s a topic I care about, but it’s been a real pain to write.  I’ve had to interview no fewer than eight people.  I don’t mind the talking-to-people part of interviewing; I can even do the listening-without-interrupting part if I concentrate hard enough.  It’s the finding-ten-minutes-of-peace-to-make-a-phone-call that I’ve struggled with the most.

Now there was a particular person I’d been especially keen to talk to.  Many of the other interviews had left me with important questions that this woman could answer for me.   But I’d had a bit of trouble, first with tracking her down, then with finding a time I could talk with her.   Many a time I’d put the TV on for the kids, locked myself in the bathroom with recording equipment all set up and made the all-important call, only to find that she was in a meeting or off-site.  Getting information wrong on a crochet article would be one thing.  I didn’t want to get it wrong on such an important topic.  The deadline was looming and still we hadn’t spoken.

On Mondays, the kids and I go to a homeschooling co-op, held in one of those amazing mega-churches.  It’s the best.  On this particular Monday, I was upstairs in the cafe, sitting at a table and trying to get this article written.  Christopher, Harry and Annie were in their various classes, run by the mums and dads.  Daisy and Poppy (who are now two-and-a-half-can-you-believe-it) were in a cute little play area with a pool fence around it.  I scratched my head as I looked at what I’d written so far.  If I didn’t speak to this woman, there would be a lot of holes in the article.

Then my phone rang.  It was her!  It was totally her!

I knew these weren’t ideal interview conditions.  The cafe was noisy and the twins were unpredictable.  But I also knew if I let it go to voicemail and tried to call back later, I would find she was off working hard doing her actual job and not at her desk.  This was my one window.  I answered the phone smoothly, set it to speaker and set my iPad to record.

“So tell me, what is the history of this project?”

Of course I knew the history of the project.  I’d done my homework.  But I wanted a neat little ‘expert’ quote from her to put at the start of the article.  It would frame things nicely.  Interview Lady launched into a description of the situation in Eltham, sounding a little perplexed at my apparent ignorance (she later would recommend a series of fact sheets she had written) just as Daisy started to shriek piteously.

I looked across to the play area.  Daisy stood wretchedly beside the toy oven as Poppy did a victory lap, holding several golden strands of her sister’s hair aloft as she strode along.  I bustled silently into the pen, admonished Poppy with only my eyebrows and a very pointy finger, scooped up the whimpering Daisy with the arm that wasn’t holding my phone and iPad and brought her back to the table with me.   “Mmm.” “Yes.”  “Really?”  I said calmly, taking the sugar and placing it on a different table.

Foiled in her sugar-eating attempt, Daisy picked up the pepper and began shaking it liberally onto the table.  I took it from her.  She let out an unearthly howl.  I put it back.  She continued in her redecorating.

“What would you say are the challenges facing refugees, given our current housing situation?” my voice didn’t waver.  I don’t think Interview Lady could tell I was trying to wrestle my iPad out of Daisy’s grasp.  But then that stupid free U2 song started playing at full volume.  She must have bumped something.

Daisy lay down on the ground in (thankfully) mute protest as I desperately jabbed at buttons to make Bono shut up.  “Tell me more about that,” I said (to Interview Lady, not Bono), as one of the security guards waved to get my attention.

I looked to where he was pointing.  Poppy had pushed the toy washing machine up against the side of the play pen and had used it to clamber onto the quite-high fence.  “Hi Mummy!” she cackled as I solemnly hoisted her onto my shoulder and brought her back to my table.  Interview Lady was on a roll, telling me all sorts of things without pausing for breath.  This allowed me to go into a silent panic without having to think up another question.  Daisy was gone.

“Is there anything about the Eltham project you would consider applying to future projects?” I pulled Daisy out from under the table.  She had run around the corner and was lying at the feet of some other cafe patron.  I now held a twin under each arm and was balancing my phone and iPad under – actually, I’ve no idea how I did it.  All I know is, when I put them down to try to organise myself, they ran for the stairs, shouting “SLIDE!”

I should explain.  This particular very-large-church has a tunnel slide that children can take downstairs to their well-resourced kids’ ministries because of-course-they-do.  I mean, I’ve tried suggesting to my parish that perhaps we could set up a small box of toys and a play rug for children to use after Mass when the grown ups are drinking (instant) coffee and it’s been all too hard to think about.  Noooope we wouldn’t want to encourage children to come to Mass or anything.  Heaven forbid.

What was I talking about?  Oh yes, the dratted slide.  A couple of little girls and their mums were  already having a play on this contraption.  One of the girls is a four-year-old I’m going to call Buttercup who is friends with the twins.

So Daisy makes a dash for the slide, pushes past Buttercup and dives straight down it.  “MRS KATE!  MRS KATE!  IT WASN’T HER TURN!  MRS KATE!”  I know Buttercup said this because it’s right there on the recording, drowning out whatever salient point Interview Lady was making.  I nodded expressively and sympathetically (and silently) at Buttercup and said “do go on” to Interview Lady.

“MRS KAAAAAAATE!”  Poppy was jubilantly sitting at the top of the slide.  This was her position of power.  If she sat at the top of the slide, without actually going anywhere, all the children around her would go berserk.  Poppy loved this.  Buttercup gave Poppy a shove.

“What do you see as your plans for the future?” Poppy made it halfway down the slide tunnel, stopped herself, and began climbing back up (“THAT’S NOT ALLOWED!  THAT’S NOT ALLOWED!!”).  Daisy, meanwhile, was climbing back up the stairs for another turn.  I gave the other mothers an apologetic smile.  I was that mother: nattering away on her mobile phone whilst her children cause havoc.

“Do you have any final thoughts?”

“I HAVE A STINKY NAPPY MUMMY!”  Daisy did have a stinky nappy.  A real eye waterer.  And Poppy had come out at the bottom of the slide and was not coming upstairs.  I walked down the stairs with Daisy (“NO!  NO!  SLIDE!  SLIDE!”) to fetch Poppy before she went running off down the corridor and out of sight.  The interview was wrapping up.  I thanked Interview Lady, saved the recording and emailed it to myself seven times.  Then I apologised to the other mums and trudged upstairs with the twins to clean the peppered table.

While I might have relived the trauma of the afternoon when i transcribed the interview later, it did provide me with some very useful information and quotes.  I’ve since written the article and am waiting to hear from MY EDITOR to see if she thinks its any good.  I expect to hear from MY EDITOR any minute now and am checking my phone rather agitatedly.  Of course, she’d need time to actually read it and then to formulate a response.  Plus MY EDITOR would have other articles to read as well.  I really mustn’t worry about it.  I really must stop.

At least, that’s what the assistant manager at Aldi tells me.


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.

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?”

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.


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.


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.

Book Week Fail: Part One.

Last week was Book Week (actually, by the time I post this, it might be a little longer, but let’s just pretend it was last week).  Here in Australia, at a certain time of the year, Facebook news feeds everywhere become choked with pictures of school-aged children in costumes.  They all carry the same two word caption: Book Week.  This is the week the Children’s Book of the Year is awarded and suburban libraries try to out-do each other in creative celebrations.  Book Week represents everything I should love, so why does the mere mention of the word fill me with a vague sense of nausea and dread?

I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself on Book Week dress-up day.  When you’re a stay-at-home mum, you don’t often get the chance to prove yourself.  There are no clear-cut KPIs and no performance reviews in my line of work.  It all pretty much boils down to two tests:  visits to the Maternal and Child Health Nurse and Book Week.  As you may know, my previous performances at MCH visits have been underwhelming to say the least.  Book Week, therefore, would have to be Kate’s Time To Shine.

In the past, I’ve been disorganized and turned up late with costumes that didn’t quite work, like the time Matilda arrived half-way through the parade with tangled hair in a generic fairy dress as ‘Silky’, a last-minute substitute after I discovered that a five-year-old couldn’t manage the sheer weight of a Saucepan Man costume when it was made up of proper stainless steel saucepans.  We were both gutted.  I had planned to bask in the glow of good-costume-approval and Matilda had devised plans to pretend to be comically deaf all day (maybe she still did: she’s not easily deterred).

Hand drawn cartoon.  A wild-haired Kate is holding a saucepan and looking disconcerted:  her five-year-old daughter has collapsed under the weight of her saucepan costume.  Caption reads

Can you tell there’s a squashed child under all those saucepans? Can you even tell they’re meant to be saucepans??

This year was going to be different.  A week before the day and I was already thinking it over.  There could be no phoning it in.  No Shrek.  No Spiderman.  No Buzz Lightyear.  My children and their costumes would represent the richness and diversity of well-written children’s books.  The school librarian would nod approvingly and nudge the literacy co-ordinator.  “Do you see those children?  They will go far in life.  Their mother is doing an excellent job.”

I needed to think.  I majored in Literature in University.  I adore children’s literature.   This was a unique opportunity to exhibit my Sublime Literary Taste.  People would see me as a real-life Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan’s character in You’ve Got Mail: how could you not know that?).

“What are you doing for Book Week?”  I interrogated Lovely M.

“Ugh!  Book Week!  Peter says he wants to bring his scooter.  Do you know any literary characters who ride scooters?” I shook my head doubtfully.  M sighed.

“Things would be so much easier if I had a little girl with red hair,” I mused, “think about it:  Anne of Green Gables, L’il Orphan Annie, Pippi Longstocking, Sunny Ducrow, Madeleine”

Nancy Drew,” added M, “Millie that red crayon girl”

“Do you think I can convince Christopher Robin to wear a red wig and a dress?” I asked wistfully.  M shook her head.  I sighed.  Lovely M started googling scooter-themed books.

Harry’s costume, at least, would be easy enough.  At some point since our failed Saucepan Man attempt, we had managed to acquire a set of lightweight toy saucepans (I promise we didn’t get them just for Book Week.  At least, that’s what I keep telling myself).  Harry would be an adorable little Saucepan Man; I just needed to think up a decent costume for Christopher Robin.

I ran the idea past my siblings at Family Night.  They’re young and creative and don’t have kids.  This sort of thing is actually fun for them.   We were deep in discussion of proper construction methods of a giant peach and Cindy had just run off to fetch a teapot that looked a little like Aladdin’s lamp when Greg (or Peter) struck gold (they both are taking credit for having the idea first. I’m not getting involved)

“What about George’s Marvellous Medicine?”

The idea had real promise.  Christopher Robin could wear regular clothes and just carry a tray with ‘medicine’ ingredients on it.  Given that we were having this conversation the night before costume day, this plan had great appeal.

As soon as I got home from my parent’s house, I got to work stringing together toy saucepans and gathering household items to put on George’s tray.  I also filled up a bottle with water, put food dye in it and labelled it “Marvellous Medicine”, just to drive the point home.  When I went to bed that night, I was feeling rather smug.  My boys would look adorable.  My Facebook boast would get so many likes. For the first time ever, I was going to get it right on Book Week day.

At least, that’s what I thought.

Fangirl Fail.

It was 4:30pm when I saw it.

One of my favourite social commentators was visiting Melbourne (for one night only) to deliver a talk at a prestigious girls’ college in Melbourne.  I follow her on Facebook, and this is where I saw the last-minute invitation to come along and see her.  It was at 7pm that night.

I had been following this writer and commentator for a while now.  In a clumsy way, I have always felt strong concerns about our hyper-sexualised culture and the effects this has on young people, especially girls.  I want my daughters to be valued for their brains and their souls and not for how they look.  I want my sons to have healthy attitudes towards women and girls.  I don’t want my children to ever view another person as a means to an end.  I want them to build healthy relationships and have friends without creepy benefits.  I don’t think our culture supports me in the way I want to raise my kids.  So often, I feel like I’m alone in thinking this.  It’s not that I’m prudish, or anti-sex.  Sex is truly one of my favourite rainy-day activities.  But a pornified culture is toxic (and, in my opinion, anti-sex).  I’m just not that good at talking about it.

That’s why it’s a relief to find a social commentator who is good at talking about it.  In my tradition of giving pseudonyms, I will refer to her as Athena, not because it’s any great secret who she is, but because I’m rather prone to exaggeration in my writing (I would much rather be entertaining than accurate) and thought it would be a little unfair to use her real name because of this.  If you’re curious and want a clue, her organisation’s website is here.

So I called up Mr Knightley and breathlessly filled him in.

“I think you should go.”  he said firmly.  His calm, decisive nature is one of the many reasons I’m glad I married him.  “We have nothing else on tonight.  I’ll make sure I’m home on time.  If we have a quick dinner, you can just make it there by seven.”

Thus began my frenzy to get ready.

I hate to admit it, but there was a small but very vocal part of me that felt a bit intimidated at the thought of spending an evening at an exclusive private school with wealthy people (I can hear my mother’s voice scolding me for even thinking this.  If I were to be invited to dine with the Royal Family, my mum would exclaim over how lucky Her Majesty The Queen would be to meet me).  My vanity was working overtime.  What was I going to wear?  What was I going to wear?

The jeans-and-shirt combo I had on didn’t look too bad, but it felt a little worn and shabby. Pippi always complimented me on this particular top, “Charcoal suits you”, she would enthuse. The only problem was, the top used to be black.

I needed something nicer than my usual school-gate gear, but nothing that made me look like I dressed up for the occasion.  It took a lot of time to find something that looked suitably effortless.  Dress.  Tights.  Jewellery.  Make up.  Sensible Shoes (essential for feminist discussions).

As soon as my husband got home, I served up dinner and attempted to speed-feed myself whilst scrutinising a map of South Yarra on my phone screen.  Then I kissed everybody and fled the house.  I was barely going to make it on time.

As I battled a confusion of trams and inner-city traffic in the rain, I imagined how it was going to be.  I would nod and smile and look intelligent throughout the presentation.  When it came time for questions and comments I would astound everybody with my pithy observations.  Athena would approach me afterwards, keen to continue the discussion, and I would be all articulate and witty.  I might even casually mention my blog and Athena would clamour to whip out her notebook and pen to scribble down the address.

“We really should collaborate,” Athena would confide with a warm smile, “we need a brain like yours on our team!”, and she would nod and I would blush and she would braid my hair and I would paint her nails an empowering shade of pink.

I was twenty minutes (TWENTY MINUTES!) late when I tentatively pushed open the door to the conference room.  This was after I accidentally pulled in to the wrong campus of the school, then executed a wonky parallel park on the street and traipsed through a dark and bewildering labyrinth of buildings to reach the secret seminar room.  I was too scared to ask directions.  I didn’t want anyone to know I didn’t belong there.

There were no obvious seats for me to slink into un-noticed.  Everybody seemed to be sitting next to the door and the only way for me to reach a vacant seat was by climbing over a whole row of people.  Thankfully, the kindly man near me who was operating the slide-show pulled a chair from beneath his laptop table and beckoned me over.  Burning red, I shot him a grateful look and stumbled into my seat.

Athena spoke well, but even so, the talk was hard to listen to.  It was very hard-hitting and by the end of it I was reeling a little and feeling a bit depressed by the state of the world and the state of our advertising industry.

I really wanted to talk to Athena afterwards, but so, it seemed, did everyone.  So I did that thing where you hover expectantly.  I stood there with an eager look on my face that said I’m waiting to talk to Athena.  Unfortunately, I didn’t perform this ritual within Athena’s line of sight, so after the man who butted in ahead of me had finished talking, Athena swept away without noticing me.  I was left standing by myself in the middle of a room, the pleasantly expectant expression slowly fading from my face whilst Athena busied herself in a suitcase of equipment behind a screen.

What was I going to do?  What was the correct etiquette here?  Athena had placed herself in a confined space.  I didn’t really want to go in there and climb on top of her and gush everywhere when I quietly suspected she had positioned herself strategically to get away from people.  Meanwhile, I was starting to feel more and more awkward.  When Athena had been visible in the room, I could stand by myself without looking strange because I was obviously waiting to talk to her.  Now that Athena had disappeared from sight, I was just some lost person in the middle of the room.  Would she never emerge?

I tried to hover by the book stand and feign interest despite the fact that I already owned half the books for sale there already and had no interest in purchasing the other half.  Unfortunately, there is a limit to the amount of time you can hover at a book stand without actually making a purchase, and, once you do, there’s no longer a reason to hover.  What on earth was she doing back there?

I suppose I could have wandered over to the food table (they served wine), but I felt I’d already done enough freeloading by turning up to another school’s information night without nicking their food as well.  I was becoming increasingly aware of my interloper status.  Why would she not come out?

So I struck up a conversation with the nice man who had been operating the laptop.  He was taking photos as well.  I figured he must be part of Athena’s entourage and. like a naïve groupie, I thought that conversation with him might lead to conversation with my elusive idol.  I was pretty sure by now she was avoiding me on purpose.

It was with horror that I realised that this man was not with Athena but with the school.  I shamefacedly confessed that I was a gatecrasher to this event and he gallantly exclaimed “Good!  You are most welcome!”.  We chatted about Athena’s talk for a bit until Athena herself finally emerged and I launched myself upon her.

But my tongue had swollen to twice its size in my mouth.  It would seem I used up all my clever conversation on the kindly camera man.  I realised I wasn’t going to astound Athena with my intellect, which must have gone down for a nanna-nap, so I decided instead to try for a gold-star-for-effort.

“I’m so happy to be here!  I force-fed my family fish fingers and rushed right over!”  Oh cringe.  Why did I have to go for the alliterative and – you know – honest description of events?  I could have said I fed them ethically-sourced, free-range quinoa in an organic kale jus – how would she have known the difference?

Athena distractedly handed me a brochure for her organisation.  I handed it back and breathlessly assured her that I was already a member.  I am one of your people, I wanted to shriek,  I am your disciple.

I could smell my own nervous sweat.

As I jabbered on, and Athena nodded politely (I heard myself exclaiming “I homeschool my daughter!”  and “I boycott Spotlight because of you!”), a small thought cloud appeared above her head.  Inside it, I could see a cup of tea and a soft, warm bed.  Athena tried hard not to look longingly at her thought cloud, but I could tell it was a heroic struggle.  Instead, she smiled and thanked me and went to talk to the lady selling the books.  It was over.

It was only after I had left the building and was driving home that my brain decided to wake up and helpfully started providing me with suggestions of what I should have said.  I told my brain that it was too late now, but it would seem that once it had started, it couldn’t stop, so I continued to be regaled by these suggestions the whole way home.

Cartoon - "Kate's Big Chance"

Here is a picture to commemorate this event.  Note the tights and the three-dimensional bed.  That’s as impressive as my drawing skills get.

When I logged onto Facebook yesterday, there was an update from Athena.  She was sharing a video from an American speaker whom she greatly admired.  Athena commented that she’d had the privilege of hearing this woman speak when she (the speaker) visited Australia a few years ago and that she (Athena) “was like one of those pathetic groupie girls who makes fools of themselves”.

My heart gave a little dance in my chest.  Even Athena had fangirl moments.  It’s true: I was awkward and eager and gushing.  But at least I was in good company.