On Friday, we were all so excited. My two teenagers were going on a weekend venturer scout camp. My four youngest were staying with my parents at the beach. And me and my husband? Why, we were going to have a romantic anniversary weekend away at the beach (but not the same beach as my parents, because running into your kids at the local shops can really kill the mood,) I was going to lie on the sand and read any number of books and not have to supervise ANYONE.
The only thing left for us to do was to take our RATs.
And one of us is positive.
Bleurgh. It would have been better if ALL of us had the spicy cough at the SAME TIME. Now we don’t know how long we will be in isolation. What if someone tests positive on Day 6? What if someone else tests positive on the FOLLOWING Day 6? There are a lot of us – what if this goes on forever?
The kids are great. After a few hours of loud raging in bitter disappointment, they’ve decided to Make The Best Of It. I really think this generation is better trained in dealing with disappointment. We’ve dusted off the Jar of Lockdown Fun and have been playing lots of board games and baking and eating way too much sugar and watching way too much Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir.
As for me, I walked three laps around the outside of the house this morning. There was a man in a big truck across the road, outside our renovating neighbour’s house. He was looking at his phone, but I’m sure he was secretly concerned at the woman who kept walking purposefully into the front yard of the house, stepping along the perimeter of the fence line and disappearing behind the house again.
Then I made a coffee and got inside my car with my phone and keyboard. And that’s where I am now. Nobody is awake yet. I might make this a regular thing. Except tomorrow, I will open the second garage door so I can watch the sunrise.
I had exciting things planned for next weekend. I’m guessing I won’t get to do them, but I don’t know FOR SURE. That is, by far, the worst part. I’d rather just know.
There are always joys, if you look for them. My sister sent us fancy donuts almost immediately after she heard the news. My son has started painting again. The Coles Online man called out “Get well soon!” as he stepped back into his delivery truck (I don’t know why I loved this so much, but I REALLY DID).
I can hear some waking up noises from inside the house. I’m not sure how much longer I can get away with this. This was going to be a socials update, but I think it needs to be a blog post. Think of me, on my special staycation!
So we’re in deep dark lockdown here in Melbourne again. We’re not allowed to leave the house, except for five reasons, we have a curfew at night, and the playgrounds are shut. This is our sixth lockdown. It’s hard.
Do you remember how I sometimes go into manic Pollyanna mode when stressed? That’s what happened this time when they tightened the restrictions and I realised things were going to get really miserable. Up until then, I’d kind of been mooching through lockdown, every day looking like the one before. But last week, it was time for me to get off the couch and put my big girl pants on. It was time to Mum Up.
Here’s what I did:
I brainstormed a bunch of fun activities that we could still do, even in the strictest of Locky Ds. Every morning, we draw one out of the jar and do it.
It sounds simple, I know, but I can’t tell you how much sunshine this jar has brought into our life. In the past, we’ve brainstormed on butcher’s paper, but I’m telling you: the jar makes all the difference. Here’s why:
You only have to do ONE fun thing a day.
You don’t have to make a DECISION ever.
The kids look forward to the lucky dip event even more than the actual activity.
As a bonus, the kids don’t drag their feet about getting ready in the morning. We don’t do the lucky dip until everyone is dressed and fed.
We no longer have to deal with a long stretch of days that all look the same.
I shared (rather smugly) this idea with some friends from parkrun. One of the women lives alone and has made herself a jar full of grown-up activities which she draws out once a week. Last week, she bought herself fresh flowers. I can’t wait to find out what she does next.
Here are some of the activities we have in the jar:
Pancakes and french toast
Decorate a birthday cake for no good reason
Fake-away night (make take-away style food)
Board game night
Free day off school (primary school only!)
Zoom kahoot quiz with friends
Video game tournament
Everyone gets to choose a treat for themself in the online grocery shop
Make caramel popcorn
Walk in the park to collect things for a flower mandala
I’m trying to remember to take photos. When we made the caramel popcorn, we put some in a bag to deliver to the family who lives behind us. BUT I FORGOT TO TAKE ANY PHOTOS. What is the the point of doing something impossibly wholesome if you don’t document it?
Pippi, my youngest, is now worried that lockdown will be over before we get to do all the fun things. I don’t think she needs to worry too much. This is Melbourne, after all. We’ll always have another lockdown to look forward to.
Here’s an article I wrote for The Majellan last year (I think it appeared in the Autumn 2020 issue). In case you’re wondering: yes. Majellan, Champion of the Family, is the same A5 magazine your mum used to read when you were five! If you’d like to subscribe, it’s quite reasonable. Let them know I sent you!
Thunk, thunk, thunk. I hate this. I hate this so much. Thunk, thunk, thunk. Surely it’d be easier to shift a huge bag of potatoes. Thunk, thunk, thunk. I can’t breathe. I need to stop. Thunk, thunk, thunk. This is the worst. Thunk, thunk, thunk. OK. Just to the next tree.
I’m not sure how, but I’ve become a Person Who Runs. I mean, obviously it didn’t just happen. I got one of those Couch to 5k apps and obeyed the little robot voice that told me to “RUN-for-ONE-minute”; I obeyed when “ONE-minute” became “FIFteen-minutes”; and then, when I finally managed to run five kilometres without dying, I joined the local parkrun with my friend Jacinta.
Have you heard about parkrun? It’s a free timed 5k run that’s held every Saturday at parks all over Australia. The one near me is a real community event for people of all ages and abilities, plus their dogs and their babies. I’m a fan, even when I’m not enjoying the running part.
It’s weird that I’ve taken up running. I don’t look like a runner. If I’m honest, I look like a lady who has been pregnant so many times, her body has forgotten how to look not pregnant. And I don’t enjoy running, though I do enjoy the smug feelings that come at the end of it.
I’ve come a long way from when I first started out. For one thing, I figured out how to settle into a rhythm, and breathe so I’m not gasping like a fish all the time. I also worked out that I need to firmly strap down all of the parts of me that jiggle. This was a game-changer. When I get dressed for a run, I’m like a sailor preparing for a storm on a ship. A large, unwieldy, overly bouncy ship. Batten down the hatches, folks.
There’s a boy up ahead of me running with his mother. He’s over it. “This is stupid! I don’t want to do this! I want to stop! My legs hurt!” For a moment, I stare at him. It’s as if my subconscious has come out of my body and manifested itself as a small child. Has the voice in my head taken human form?
At primary school, I wasn’t one of the sporty kids. When the class needed to be divided into teams, the teacher would appoint two captains to take turns choosing classmates for their side. As their teams grew, their teammates would whisper suggestions. I can still remember the disappointed, reluctant shrug my captain would give at the end, when he realised every other child had been chosen and he would have to assign me to his team. I tripped over, dropped balls, and was oh-so-slow. I was a liability.
The thought of having to run scared me. Like, properly scared me. Behind my eyelids, I can still see my classmates waiting for me at the opposite end of the oval. They finished the cross-country course ages ago. They are bored. As I flounder along, they seem to get even further away. I am never going to get there. Those tiny specks at the end of the oval, they’re annoyed with my freakish incompetence. It’s never going to end. I will be stumbling across this oval for the rest of my life.
I don’t want to sound disturbed, but when I run, I need to fight a chorus of voices in my head. Along with my entire Grade Four PE class, I studiously ignore the judgey voices telling me that taking time out to run is selfish, that I’m a Bad Mother. And it would seem I’m not alone here. Many mums put their own health last when sorting out priorities. We would rather be unfit, than be seen as an unfit mother. It’s hard to convince myself that exercise will help me to be a better parent in the long term, but I know I must.
And so I plod on. I’m not going to be the fastest, or the strongest, and I’m definitely not going to be the one who looks cute in running clothes. My super power is that I turn up, no matter what. In winter, I splash through puddles, rain streaming down my face. In summer, I plough through the dust and the heat. Jacinta finishes a full fifteen minutes ahead of me and waits to cheer me on at the finish line.
There is something wonderful about running in a group of encouraging people. That man who always finishes in the top ten per cent doesn’t know it, but his gruff nod and “well done, keep it up” means the world to me. Somehow, acknowledgement from the fast runners gives me permission to be there.
Running is a great way for me to sort out the chatter in my head, and is well suited to prayer. When my friend’s baby was in the NICU, I managed to pray a full rosary while running. I counted decades on my fingers and huffed out prayers to fit the rhythm of my pace “Our FA-ther, who art in HEAV-en, hallowed be thy NAME…” I offered my pain up for the tiny little fighter all covered in tubes. It felt good to be actually doing something, instead of feeling powerless.
It can feel, sometimes, like taking time out to run is selfish, that I’m cheating my family by doing something for myself. I know this isn’t true. My kids need a healthy mum. Lately, my fourteen-year-old daughter has joined me on a Saturday morning. Matilda is a natural runner, very fast and completely unselfconscious. I love sharing this time with her, even if I’m running miles behind!
At the turn-around point, I’m really struggling. The anguish is written so plainly on my face, when I pass Complaining Boy, his mum points to me. “See, Timmy,” she says in an encouraging voice, “you’re not the only one who’s struggling!”. In my gasping and spluttering, I have become a Teachable Moment. Happy to help, lady.
But here’s the funny thing. After eighteen months of lumbering along with no improvement, I’m starting to see some changes. While my body hasn’t yet remembered how to look not-pregnant, I’ve lost a lot of weight. These days, I rock more of a first-trimester physique. And my times are getting faster. I’ve almost caught up to Jacinta. Last Saturday, one of the parkrunners approached me.
“Hello,” she said, “I’m just a random stranger.”
“Hello, Random Stranger,” I said.
“I wanted to say I’ve noticed how much you’ve improved over the past month. You’re running so fast!”
As I smile, and thank the random lady, I catch Jacinta’s eye. My pragmatic, no-nonsense friend is crying. “I’m just so proud of you,” she sniffles.
Well, that’s the end for me. I didn’t mean to get emotional, but tears immediately spring to my eyes and Jacinta and I become a sobbing, hugging mess as Random Stranger carefully backs away. It’s silly. It’s just sport.
Except that it’s not. It’s friendship and community and health and discipline. It’s a clear head and a place to pray. It’s being a Good Mum. It’s self-care. It’s telling my Grade Four captain that I do deserve to be on his team. It’s refusing to be afraid. It’s the reason why, when I go on holidays, I look up the local Mass times and the local parkrun. It’s finally reaching the other end of that oval.
I wipe my face, smile and shrug. “See you next Saturday!”
I need to find a new place to write. My glorious writer’s retreat, the empty house of my parents-in-law, is no more. They had the audacity to come back from Adelaide and actually want to live in their own house. Did you ever! Libraries aren’t open when I want them to be and I don’t want to take up a table for too long in a cafe that’s struggling to get back on its feet. And I can’t work at home. If I’m at home, everyone automatically assumes I’m in charge. And there’s no space. My eldest daughter sleeps in an ACTUAL CUPBOARD. Last week, I did some work on my novel in the car with a drive-thru coffee, parked next to the local community gardens. I prop my phone on the steering wheel and get it to talk to my bluetooth keyboard, on my lap.
There was this grey noisy miner that kept attacking my side mirror. It wanted to show that other bird in there who’s boss. It wouldn’t have done that if it were a raven or a magpie. Ravens and magpies are smart enough to recognise their own reflection. But noisy miners are stupid, stupid birds.
I tried to ignore it and work on my novel. I did a lot more frowning than I did typing. After a bit, a police car crawled slowly past me. When it got to the end of the street, it did a u-turn and crawled slowly back. Both policemen were watching me as they approached. I hastily pulled up my face-mask. Was I doing something illegal? I don’t need the four reasons to be out of the house anymore, do I?
The car pulled alongside mine and the driver motioned for me to wind down my window. He peered at me “Is everything OK?”
Everything was not OK. My manuscript was a mess and I was starting to doubt my ability to ever make it into a coherent whole. Every scene was missing beginnings or endings and peppered all over with [SHOUTY NOTES]. I was ridiculous for ever thinking I had the skills to take this on. A flock of kamikaze birds kept hurtling themselves into the mirror next to me, making me jump. And I needed to find a way to make Harper’s story work. How was I ever going to make Harper’s story work?
I nodded like a maniac and garbled something about writing. I waved my bluetooth keyboard at them, “I have kids at home!” I exclaimed.
The policeman frowned and drove off. I forgot to mention that my kids at home were being adequately supervised. Oh well.
Today I’m going deep water running with a friend. I have no idea what ‘deep water running’ is, but I’m doing it in person with a friend, so that’s all I really need to know. I’m in the carpark of the council pool right now. I’m an hour early on purpose. And here’s the thing: Nobody looks at you funny if you’re doing work in your car at a pool carpark. Everybody is doing work in their car at a pool carpark. I’m now googling the carparks of all of the local sporting complexes to compare their varying benefits as writer’s retreats. It’s very possible the rest of this novel will be written outside of a place with “SAC” somewhere in its name.
So, lately I’ve been having meetings with my younger sister, Cindy, about my novel and how it’s getting along. It involves a lot of me moaning about how I’ll never get any of it to work and Cindy reassuring me that I’m almost there and can do it. This is what I was doing yesterday (Sunday) afternoon, after I’d set off a wash in the machine. It was towards the end of our chat, as I was putting together a shopping list of experts I’d like to talk to, if I can work up the nerve to ask them, when Penny burst into the room screaming.
Here’s what happened: Pippi, for reasons best known to herself, had tipped a bowl of (cold) tomato soup all over her twin sister. And Penny was FREAKING OUT. “My clothes are dirty! My clothes are dirty! I don’t like wearing clothes when they are dirty! Get them off! Get them offfff!!”
I told Penny to take her clothes off and put them in the laundry sink (also: find Daddy – Mummy is not on duty) and I sent Pippi to the naughty step (“but it was an accident!”).
As I finished my conversation with Cindy (I should point out that Cindy wasn’t actually in the room. We live in Melbourne, where everyone is under house arrest. We were talking on Zoom) I could hear my husband setting the timer for the naughty step and helping Penny with her clothes.
I emerged from the study maybe ten minutes later. Pippi had served her five-minute sentence and apologised to her sister. They were now both in the laundry. Pippi sat on the lid of the washing machine while Penny encouraged her from below. It took me a while to work out what was going on.
Pippi, perhaps in an effort to fix things, took it upon herself to load the tomato soup clothes (both hers and her sisters’) into the washing machine with a slosh of laundry liquid and a scoop of napi-san for good measure. You might ask how she was able to access laundry liquid and napi-san. Don’t I keep these on a high shelf? Indeed, both of these are stored on a very high shelf, but Pippi is an adept climber. I caught her just as she was programming a cold wash.
Of course, this would be a good time for me to amend the washing machine situation, perhaps put the soupy clothes on to soak. But I had two five-year-olds shouting at me that they wanted a bath. And did I mention they were both stark naked?
“No bath!” I declared. See, here’s the thing. Pippi loves baths. Not the serene, lavender-scented, let’s-get-you-all-calm before bed kind. More like the water-everywhere, riotous, diving-practice-from-the-side-of-the-tub kind. And I can’t. I just can’t. Having twins is about efficiency. Showers all the way.
But Pippi is crafty. Lately, she has been finding ways to get especially muddy, or chocolatey, or otherwise sticky, “I’m too dirty for a shower, Mummy. I need a BATH! And so does Penny!” In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was her motivation for the soup “accident”.
So here I was, climbing the stairs as Pippi and Penny chanted “BATH! BATH! BATH!” in a sort of nude rally. I couldn’t give in. I tried to stand my ground. I couldn’t reward this behaviour. But any suggestion of shower was met with tortured shrieks.
All down the stairs, an old jigsaw puzzle had been spilled. I was struck with inspiration, “If you pick up these puzzle pieces for me, you may have a bath”
They picked the pieces up for me, and I kept saying, “You’re getting a bath because you’re helping Mummy, not because you shouted and poured soup on your sister” but I suspect the nuance was lost on them.
So anyway, it was getting to mid-afternoon when the twins were drying off. We had planned to visit the beach that day, just so we could look at it. We hadn’t had much chance to get out of our 5km bubble since the restrictions had been lifted. I still needed to hang that second load of washing out, the one I set off before my meeting with my sister, but Mr Knightley was all “let’s not worry about the washing. It’ll be sunny all week. Let’s just get going.” So we dashed off. I managed to hold two facts – the fact that I had a clean load of washing to hang out, and the fact that Pippi had placed tomato sauce-soaked clothes along with a good amount of laundry product into what I assumed was an empty machine – in my mind separately, without putting them both together and understanding the whole situation. You will remember, I never actually looked in the machine. Until I did, the washing machine contents were like Schrodinger’s Cat. Nobody knew for sure what was in there, so they were all things and nothing at once.
That was yesterday. What’s more: I am out today. I left the house early. On Mondays, I write while Mr Knightley is in charge at home. Mr Knightley won’t know what is happening in that machine. Christopher (who is thirteen now, can-you-believe-it?) gave me a call at 8am. He needed his mask for school (in Victoria, it’s against the law to leave the house without a fitted face mask). His mask, at least, the only mask of his that isn’t currently missing, was in that wet wash. He needed to dig through that sorry mix of wet and soup-stained napisan-encrusted laundry to fish his mask out and dry it with a hair dryer. I also told him where the hair dryer was. I am Mother, Finder of Things.
If you are a longtime reader of this blog and something about this seems familiar, you are right. One of my first-ever posts was about a pint-sized Chirstopher Robin setting off his own wash. My blog has come full circle. I had a darling theory when I first started writing. By documenting all my fails, I would learn and improve and eventually run out of material. Perhaps it’s a good thing for my writing career that I’ve not yet learnt a thing.
Good news! The Madonna has been saved – for now at least. Thank you so much, especially to those of you who subscribed to the magazine. The magazine is still in need of subscriptions, so if you’ve been meaning to subscribe, but haven’t got around to it yet, can I ask you a huge favour? Please tell them I sent you! I’d like to get some more gigs with this magazine, so it would be great if they knew that my writing is worth it. Also, I have an enormous ego that needs feeding.
For those of you who missed it on the socials, I’ve finished the first draft of my novel! Watch this space!
And now, here’s another taste of the sort of writing I do for Madonna magazine. This piece was first published in their Autumn edition, 2017.
“So, children, today’s Gospel is about prayer. When do you pray to Jesus?” “When we say Grace?” “Very good, Therese! What’s another time we pray?” “My Daddy has a shed and it has a lawnmower in it.” “That’s interesting, Patrick, but we’re talking about…” “We have a lawnmower in our garage!” “Thank you, Annie. Now, back to…” “On TV, there’s a lawnmower and his name is Larry.” “OK, thanks Harry. Can anybody tell me when they pray?” “Yes,” “Harry, is this about lawnmowers?” “No” “Is this about prayer?” “Yes: you can pray on the TOILET!”
I’m on Children’s Liturgy today. Twice a term, I take a group of kids to the church gathering area and try to teach them about God. It’s a fearsome task. The deepest desire of my heart is for my children to carry their faith into their adult lives. But at the moment, it’s hard just to get them to Mass on Sunday.
I would love to just sail into church with four children and two babies all clean and combed and beautifully turned out in their Sunday bests. Most of the time, I seem to turn up late with a rag-tag posse of tangle-haired urchins, some still wearing articles of sleepwear and others with evidence of breakfast on their faces. I do my best, quickly fashioning a messy ‘up do’ for my daughter with a hair-tie I found on the car floor, or buttoning a clean coat over pyjamas. One Sunday, I managed to corner my youngest son halfway through Mass and surreptitiously cleaned his face. Accordingly, the quiet solemnity of the Eucharist was punctuated by a loud shout: “No! That’s MY VEGEMITE, Mummy!”
There are times when I draw on all the power of my teachers’ college theology. Once I took it upon myself to explain the nature of the Easter Triduum to my then-five-year-old daughter, Matilda.
“So Good Friday is not a Mass, you see, even though we have Communion, because there is no Consecration. The Communion we have on Good Friday was consecrated at Holy Thursday Mass.”
I raise my eyebrows impressively at my daughter. I used to get ‘A’s in theology. Matilda wrinkles her small forehead.
“So you’re getting leftovers?”
Still, there are times when you know you’re doing something right. When my eldest boy Christopher was a toddler, he was fascinated with our church’s statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The statue itself is fairly standard-issue. Plaster Jesus stands in floor-length robes looking glum with his hands outstretched. Christopher pointed at Jesus’ arms. “Jesus wants a cuddle, Mummy?”
On another occasion, my mum mentioned that the wooden baby Jesus was missing from their nativity set. Indeed, the young Messiah went AWOL directly after our last visit and Christopher had been playing with the figurines. You can do without a shepherd, perhaps, but a nativity scene really doesn’t work without Jesus. He is one of the key players. Perhaps Christopher might know of his whereabouts?
Accordingly, after Christopher came in from playing in the backyard, Grandma asks “Christopher, do you know where baby Jesus is?” Christopher says “yes” tremulously. Everyone catches their breath. “Where’s Jesus, Christopher?” Christopher pats his breast solemnly, “In my heart, Grandma”
Christopher and Matilda are older now. Both have made their First Communion and are proud altar servers. Once a month, I take them individually to an early weekday Mass (6:45am!) and then we have a cafe breakfast together. It’s a bit sneaky really. I want them to associate warm feelings and special attention from Mum with going to Mass. Isn’t that some form of classical conditioning? But surely nothing but goodness can come from bacon.
It’s time for my Children’s Liturgy group to form the Offertory Procession. There’s whispered squabbling at the back of the church over who gets to carry the cruets and then we’re off. I follow like a mother hen as the children traipse down the aisle, the choir sings “Hosea”, and the children deliver gifts to Father. It is as they are bowing to the altar (one sideways, one backwards and one of them fell over), that it struck me: this is what it’s all about.
In the end, for all my strategies and theologising and indoctrination by bacon, I don’t have the power to bestow faith on these children. That’s not my job. I am but walking beside them at the beginning of their faith life. All I can do is guide them to the altar and try not to get in the way as they meet Jesus. The rest is His job. And perhaps if I am humble enough, I might learn something. After all, someone very wise once taught me, Jesus is waiting for a hug.
So tomorrow’s our first day of full-Corona-Lockdown. Matilda and Christopher will be on break from high school, Harry and Annie will be home as usual, but unlikely to want to do any lessons when their siblings are on holidays, and there’ll be no kinder for Daisy and Poppy.
Somehow, this whole Corona crisis has thrown me into a sort of adrenaline-fuelled Pollyanna persona. Why, this is a blessing in disguise! Clear schedules! Family togetherness! Let’s go make some wonderful memories!
It’s weird, really. I should be suffering more. My extrovert heart should be crushed from social deprivation. My Catholic soul should ache with hunger for the Eucharist. My writer’s mind should itch for a chance to work on my novel (note to all you Facebook writers who are raving about how many words you’re going to get down while you’re under house arrest. I’m happy for you. Really I am. Meanwhile, I do all my writing in cafes and libraries, so…)
But I’m not suffering. Pollyanna mode won’t let me feel these things. At least, not yet. Did you know we have two birthdays at home this week? Tomorrow, Annie turns eight (!), then on Thursday it’s my husband’s birthday. I was talking to my sister Jan about this today, going on about cake decorating and presents and bonfires and glow sticks and s’mores and party games. She got a hefty dose of my Pollyanna spirit.
”You’re right,” she said, “It’s important to keep your spirits up. Did you know there are some people who don’t call it ‘self isolation’, they call it ‘self retreat’?”
”Oh yeah?” I said, “Perhaps they should try sharing a house with two relentlessly hyperactive four-year-olds. Happy fucking retreat, guys!”
OK, so it was a brief lapse, but it wasn’t long before Pollyanna was back in full force. I sat down with my kids and a packet of textas and we wrote down as many fun things as we could think of that we could still do while in lockdown.
I’m trying really hard to ignore the fact that most of these things are not so much fun for ME.
Here’s what MY fun list would look like
1. Endless Jane Austen screen adaptations featuring dishy men with smouldering scowls.
2. A quiet room with NOBODY TOUCHING ME.
I’ll keep you all updated. Please let me apologise for swearing. I haven’t used bad language on the blog before and I don’t plan to do it again, but I think we can all agree, we are living in strange and unusual times which warrant an errant f-bomb.
This column was first published in Australian Catholics Easter 2016
I long to see the day where I sail into 9am Mass with six children all clean and combed in their Sunday bests. I’ve always yearned for people to describe my children as ‘well turned out’. Especially church people.
Today was not that day. My husband had taken Matilda early so that she couldn’t 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. Unfortunately, his outfit was the same one he’d been wearing obstinately for the past three days. Christopher was performing a slow tai-chi dance with his breakfast, but was dressed at least. Annie was barefoot in her pyjamas staring blankly at her toast like it was the last clue in the cryptic crossword. The twins were fast asleep. And it was five-to-nine.
So I started gathering bags and babies, shepherding everyone into the car. The pyjamas Annie had been wearing looked enough like regular clothes to get away with. It was only later I noticed the vegemite stains all down the front.
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.
We arrived. Annie grinned broadly, “Actually, I forgot my shoes!”, she announced triumphantly, like the punchline to some wonderful joke.
In all of the shouting and searching that followed, Annie alone was calm and unruffled. We found one shoe. There was only one. I think this was a million times worse than if there’d been no shoes at all.
The homily had just started as I sidled into Mass with my rag-tag posse of children. Annie remained unshod. If we kept a low profile, we might get away with it. In a quick exchange of sign language (I believe I employed the international sign for ‘I wish to strangle my child’), I brought my husband 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 to the altar is a wonderful privilege, I should have felt honoured that my husband was asked 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.
When it came time for the Offertory Procession, I assumed a confident expression. Perhaps, if I smiled bravely and walked tall, nobody would notice my three-year-old was sans footwear. That aisle seemed much longer than usual. Father Jacob, flanked by Matilda and another server were miles away. After traipsing barefoot through the gauntlet of parishioners, Annie imperiously insisted on delivering her bowl to Matilda and not the priest. Father Jacob swallowed a snort of laughter.
I spent the remainder of Mass alternatively blushing and shushing. As we prepared for a swift exit, a lady grasped my elbow.
“It gave my heart so much joy to see your family bringing up the gifts,” she said with genuine warmth. My heart melted a bit. Mrs Thomas is almost old enough to be my grandmother. She has raised six children herself and was recently widowed. Mrs Thomas chose not to see the unwashed clothes or exposed feet or complete lack of liturgical style. She saw a family trying their best despite their imperfections, and loved us. In that moment, Mrs Thomas 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 dear, is why you should always wear shoes to church.
So I haven’t got around to telling you yet (unless I know you in real life, in which case I’ve probably told you far too many times!), but I won an AWARD. My editor at Australian Catholics entered one of my columns in the Australasian Religious Press Association awards and it won GOLD for ‘Best Humorous Article’. I’m so super stoked! Apparently, the other entrants weren’t particularly humorous, so I wasn’t so much the funniest as the only funny one, but I’m still going to see this as a win. It was AUSTRALASIAN, not just Australian, and it was RELIGIOUS, not just Catholic. I’m mega smug.
So I’m going to reprint the winning article here. Enjoy!
What a Girl Wants
If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s anxious research. Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I read. Information soothes me.
When my eldest daughter was born, I devoured every book I could get my hands on, from What to Expect When You Expect to be Expecting, to Embryo Einsteins, to Have a New Newborn by Friday. Imagine my dismay when I discovered that simple toys could reinforce oppressive gender stereotypes and cripple the cognitive development of my wee girl-child. So, from the very start, I endorsed train sets, puzzles and every variety of Danish plastic construction system. Now, at almost twelve, Matilda is assertive and articulate and wants to be a mechanical engineer when she grows up (when she’s not busy being the Prime Minister of Australia). This, of course, is all due to my wise parenting methods. So I knew exactly which approach to take when my next daughter was born.
Annie, however, in all her four years of life, has politely declined Thomas and His Friends in favour of all things pink, sparkly and monarchical.
“Mummy, I want to be a princess!”
“That’s a good idea, Annie. Did you know that princesses are wise rulers and important decision makers? Let’s pretend your kingdom is a constitutional monarchy and implement free and fair elections for all of your subjects!”
“Do I get to wear a shiny dress?”
The real challenge came for me last Christmas. Annie’s wish list had only one item on it. Her large brown eyes shone and she spoke in hushed tones of finally owning . . . a Barbie doll.
I know the marketing executives would tell me that this tiny mannequin is actually an empowering role model, a true feminist. Didn’t I know there is even a Doctor Barbie? Girls can be doctors too! I try to swallow this, but it sticks in my throat. Barbie is, above all things, pretty. Literally, she is an object to be dressed and admired. I want more than this for my daughter.
“What else do you want for Christmas, Annie?”
“Just Barbie. If I tell Santa something else, he might not get me the Barbie.”
“What would you do if you got a Barbie?”
“OK. But you know Barbie’s not all that great. What does she do? Wear clothes? Sit around her dream house bemoaning the lack of space her vital organs have to function within that tiny tiny waist? There are better toys than Barbie!”
“Oh, I know you don’t like Barbie, Mummy,” Annie says composedly.
“Yes. That’s why I’m asking Santa to get me one”
But for all that, Santa, in all his wisdom, did not get Annie a Barbie doll. I imagine he couldn’t bring himself to turn into the lurid pink aisle at the toy section of Target and fork out thirty dollars for an 11-and-a-half-inch eating disorder just waiting to happen. I’m sure he tried. I’m sure he went back again and looked and scratched his beard and called one of his best elves for advice. But it was not to be. On Christmas morning, Annie ran downstairs and opened her pillowcase to discover a Lego set for a pink princess castle, complete with flowers, princess and pony. I held my breath. Annie looked up at me – and beamed.
“Look, Mummy! Look what Santa got me! It’s just what I wanted! It’s just what I asked him for!”
Wait, what? Had she completely forgotten our conversation? And how could she have asked Santa for this Lego set? She’d never seen one before!
Shut up, Kate! Just shut up! You’ve almost got away with it! Smile! Nod!
“Oh, yes, Annie. Gosh, Santa is very clever. You know, I think he’s even smart enough to be a princess!”
I got a voicemail from the office of our local member of parliament. Now it just so happens that our local MP is friends with my husband. I mean, they’re not BFFs, but they get along well together. In the voicemail, Brad-the-Staffer said that our MP was going to be at a media event tomorrow and wanted to make sure he had enough people there to protest the closing of a police station. My first thought was “Thanks, but no thanks!”. But then I considered the following:
It would be nice to help our local MP out. He was a good egg and this was an issue he really cared about. What’s more, he’d been really helpful in the past at championing issues that we cared about.
It would be on a Friday morning. We’d pretty much done all of our school work for the week already. And this could count as “Political Science” or “Media Studies” or something.
I actually did want to protest the closing of the police station.
The kids would get a real kick out of getting their faces on the evening news.
I had one argument in opposition:
My face was covered in pimples. Literally. I don’t know if it was hormones or blocked pores or a very localised pestilence, but they traversed my face like a bright red constellation. It was not a pretty sight. It was not TV material.
But I could get around that one point. My makeup bag had been missing for a bit, but I’d recently found it at the bottom of the coat rack by the front door. Inside that makeup bag would be a tube of foundation. I didn’t often wear foundation, but I knew a light coating would do wonders to disguise my spots. I was all set.
The next morning (the day of the Media Event), after sorting out all the usual morning things (nappies, breakfast, clothes, nappies, coffee, dishes and nappies). I set to work. I tried to find something to wear that looked both “stylish and sophisticated” and “everyday casual”. Then I fished out my newfound makeup bag from its hiding spot and opened it up to get my foundation.
Except it wasn’t there.
I went on a crazy search rampage all over the house and the floor of the car making frantic strangled noises as I did so. But it was no good and I was out of time. I loaded the children into the car and headed off. I would stand near the back, preferably behind somebody in a large hat. I would help make up numbers. I would avoid all cameras.
We arrived late and out of breath. It looked like I was the only one who brought kids, so it was a good thing I had such an abundant supply. Somebody handed us posters to hold and I did my best to look unobtrusive and nondescript. I was a background artist. The more background the better.
Then the blandly handsome Man from the Network spoke to us. He looked vaguely familiar. As he talked us through the logistics of this media event, a few things became more clear to me:
This was not a spot on the evening news. This was an article for the network’s current affairs program, best known for its advertorials, reality tv star interviews and exposès entitled “Is This Australia’s Shiftiest Tradesman?”
Given that I was pushing a stroller containing two adorable little girls, I was required to stand at the front and towards the centre of our small crowd. Urk.
I could feel the spots on my face growing larger in size. Really, I could.
I worked out where I’d seen the Man from the Network with the game-show-host charm. I’m fairly certain I’d seen him asking accusing questions through the screen door of Australia’s Most Shameless Con Woman.
Once we were arranged into our positions, it was time for us to be filmed. The Man from the Network asked us to chant “WE WON’T COP THIS” and “WHAT A COP OUT” loudly and without cringing. And we stood there and we shouted the words because The Man from the Network had some strange hypnotic charm that we were powerless to resist.
After our impassioned slogan chanting, it was time for The Man from the Network to film individual interviews with concerned residents. To my great relief, plenty of people were willing to go on camera and have their say. While this was happening, I monitored my children as they balanced on the police station’s brick fence and chatted to the Shadow Minister for Police, whom I discovered is an absolutely lovely man, who also has a young family.
It was just as I was thinking “I could probably leave now and nobody would notice” that I turned and saw Guy Smiley and his film crew standing right in front of me. “We would really like to hear from you,” he intoned. I shook my head and apologised and made polite excuses, but then he smiled. And he had SO MANY TEETH. And they were so white. I found myself nodding helplessly and the camera started rolling.
Now, as I was getting ready that morning, my mind did explore what I might say in the event I was interviewed. Let me tell you, the Kate in my mind was so eloquent, so articulate, so intelligent. The Kate in my mind spoke of “knock on effects”, “unintended consequences”, and “furthermore, what compounds this problem…”. Naturally, it follows that once the camera was on me and the Network Man twinkled sympathetically and asked “As a mother, do you feel fearful for your children’s future in a world without police?”, I responded glibly “Errr… duh… police are…goooood…”
And it only got worse from there. A goodly portion of my fifteen minutes of fame will be expended looking like a measles patient and blathering on like a bewildered four-year-old. Oh help.
As I stumbled away in the wake of the interview, I once again met with the Shadow Minister (incidentally, I think somebody should write a series of graphic novels about “Shadow Minister”. Legislator by day – vigilante by night!). I was still feeling a little dazed. “I had some really smart things to say on this issue, but once the camera was rolling, they all flew out of my head and I couldn’t think of what to say!”
The Shadow grinned ruefully, “Welcome to my life!” he said.
Later that day, I purchased foundation, BB cream, tinted moisturiser, and two types of concealer. I also discovered the missing foundation in my husband’s car. I’ve been watching the current affairs show every evening. On Monday night, there was a special event that took up most of the episode. One of the survivors of the 2006 Beaconsfield Mine Disaster’s marriage had failed. The current affairs show in question had managed to secure rights to interview this man and his soon-to-be-ex wife. This also gave them the opportunity to get more mileage out of the exclusive interviews of the miners they purchased eleven years ago.
On Tuesday night, there was an exposè, entitled “Butter Price SCANDAL”. “SCANDAL” was in red letters, stamped diagonally across the title. But, still, no “cop out” story.
Wednesday and Thursday were still bereft of slogan chanting locals concerned about law and order, but all was not lost. I did find out that one of the actors from a hospital drama in the 90s is going to jail. Half the article was spent explaining who exactly this man is, which was very helpful.
“Maybe it’s taking so long because they need a lot of time to photoshop the spots off your face,” was Christopher Robin’s helpful suggestion.
I’m nervous. All my friends are going to watch my debut television performance, because even though I meant to keep it a secret, I also can’t resist telling a funny story. I’m going to receive a lot of teasing over this.
But I’ll just have to cop it.
PS. It did air. On Friday. I’m barely in it at all! If you squint, you can see me in one of the group shots, but mostly it’s Kate-free. I can only assume they tried to photoshop the pimples away, but as I was more spot than woman, they erased me completely. You will be relieved to hear, however, that both slogans made the cut. If I were inventing this story, I wouldn’t have written it this way, but the real life version is a bit of an anticlimax!