Tag Archives: humor

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.

Placenta of Attention


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

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

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

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

editor

 

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

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

“Yes, we think they might be”

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

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

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

“What do you mean ‘presented’?”

Erm.  They each had their own sac and placenta.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are they identical?”

“Yes.  Definitely”

“Are you sure?”

“Absolutely.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“How sure?”

“100 Placenta.”

The Holy Family

Icon of the Holy Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

Annie and Harry were putting their seatbelts on in the back of our van as Christopher and I organised the twins.  “Annie, are you wearing shoes?”  I call back whilst grappling with a four-month-old in a five-point-harness.  “Yes, Mummy”, Annie responds in her sweetest voice.

And we were on our way, but we were oh-so-late.

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

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

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

25-clarks-1

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

The Gospel reading had just finished as I sidled into Mass with my rag-tag posse of children and slid into the pew next to Mr Knightley.  Annie remained unshod.  If we kept a low profile, we might just get away with it.  In a quick series of whispers and a fair bit of sign language (I believe I employed the international sign for ‘I wish to strangle my child’), I brought Mr Knightley up to speed with the situation.  His response was devastating, his expression deadpan:

“We’re on Offertory.”

In theory, being invited to bring the gifts of bread and wine to the altar is a wonderful privilege, I really should have felt honoured that somebody had tapped my husband on the shoulder before Mass started and asked him to participate with his family in this special way.  Unfortunately, the idea of parading my dirty, barefoot, misbehaving children down the aisle for all to see was not altogether a tempting one.  The corner of my husband’s mouth was twitching ever so slightly.  But I didn’t punch him.  I had other problems.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I opened my mouth to respond, but was interrupted by a loud yowling.  Annie, it would seem, had stubbed her little toe on the kneeler.

And that, my friend, is why you should always wear shoes to church.

Stash Confessions

OK, so maybe I have a problem.

I’m not sure how it started, really. I’m sure it was innocent enough to begin with, but it’s now got to the point where I don’t even have a handle on how much things are getting out of control and I’m too scared to face up to reality.

My name is Kate Knightley and I own an excessive amount of yarn.

Drawer overflowing with yarn

I think it might be taking over my house. I’m pretty sure I can stand in any room and, if I look carefully enough, find evidence of my addiction. Plus there’s all of the stuff I have hidden away. I have two large bureau drawers dedicated to concealing my stash and I think I have the problem contained, but then sometimes I uncover random Lincraft bags chock-full of lambswool/alpaca blend.

It frightens me.

And worse than just the wool – the half finished projects.  Oh!  The shame!  They glare at me reproachfully from the various places I’ve tried to hide them.  They call to me:  Kate!  Kate!  Only three more rounds and I would have been complete!  Kate!  Don’t you love me?

I’ve tried to be good.  Really, I have.  So many of my recent projects have used up stash wool rather than new wool.  I’ve tried to be creative and figure out ways to work with what I’ve got.  But it doesn’t seem to help.  It’s like Strega Nona broke into my stash and stirred it up with her magic wooden spoon.  It’s like the Magic Pudding of stashes.  It doesn’t make a difference how much of it I consume.  It doesn’t get any smaller.

Illustration from Norman Lindsay's The Magic Pudding in which pudding has been replaced with a ball of yarn

Mr Knightley has his suspicions, but he doesn’t know how bad things really are.  I have been guilty of concealing my (necessary and perfectly legitimate) yarn purchases from him (“this old skein?  I’ve had this for ages”).

But now it’s time to face reality.  I’m going to get all the yarn I can find together and take a picture.  This might be a little disturbing:

embarrassing collection of yarn

Oh!  The shame!  It’s only in a heart shape because Christopher Robin helped me collate it all  (“You love your wool, really, Mum”)

And here are the dud projects:

graveyard of abandoned projects

Don’t look at me!  I’m hideous!

And here’s what makes it all much worse:  I want to buy more.  I want to buy so much more.

This weekend I went to Healesville with my husband of twelve years and we spent some blissful time exploring markets and second-hand shops sitting in lovely cafes all without the company of our children, who, delightful as they are, tend to have grabby hands and an electron-like capacity of being in many places they shouldn’t be all at once.

I got the chance to feast my eyes on some gorgeous hand-made baby clothes and it gave me a desperate case of the wanties.  My fingers started itching to create some adorable hats and jackets for the twins and none of the yarns I already own are quite what I am looking for.

I’m beginning to fantasise about gender-neutral pallettes in rich, unusual colours tempered with soft greys and creams all in finger-weight yarn.  Or large balls of thick, soft, natural-coloured wool.  Or the vivid, jewel-bright colours of Rowan DK or Debbie Bliss yarn (I’ve never actually owned these brands, but everybody on the internet seems to use them and the colours are to die for).

Did you know you can order yarn online and they deliver to your door?  Can you imagine what it would be like to open a parcel and find it full of delicious wool?  I was chatting about this with my husband on the weekend (we were eating lunch in a Healesville café and I’d just seen the inside of this amazing store).  His eyes were a little glazed over for most of the conversation (“granny square matinee jacket” / “New Zealand possum yarn” / “new method for edging blankets’), but he snapped back to reality when I mentioned purchasing yet more wool.

“What are the names of these websites?” he asked, with concern wrinkling his eyebrows, “perhaps I should put a block on them…” and then he went on, talking about “my own good” and “saving me from myself” and “seeking professional help”.   I’m not sure – I wasn’t really listening.  My mind was exploring colours and textures and exciting new projects.

It’s sweet that he cares about me, but he really doesn’t need to be concerned.  It’s fine.  I can stop at any time.

Plus I bet I can get a discount for ordering in bulk.

 

Do you have a wool or craft stash that is getting out of control?  Please photograph and/or write about it and we can enable link to each other.  This is a safe place.  There is no judgement here.

Handbag Fail.

Kate's Handbag

I think I might have double pregnant brain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Register Man nodded blandly.

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

It wasn’t there.

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

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

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

Register Man shook his head.

“What should I do?”  I said

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ummmm … I found it!”

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

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

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

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

“Did you get my library book?”

Physique Fail.

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

I have a problem.

Everybody thinks I’m pregnant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Erm … would you like a liquorice jube?”

Dentist Fail.

dentist mirror

So, um, here’s the thing.  My three year old has a hole in his tooth.  I don’t know if it was one of the many party-bag lollies I irresponsibly let him eat or one of the many times I forgot to make him clean his teeth, but somewhere along the way, my extreme maternal neglect resulted in a tiny hole in his tiny tooth.  And he’s scared of the dentist.  And I think that might be my fault too.

A couple of weeks ago, I took him and his brother and sisters to the dentist for a check up and clean.  Harry didn’t want to sit on the special chair, didn’t want to wear the special glasses and only opened his mouth for long enough for the friendly young dentist to ascertain that we would need to make another appointment and that, in the meantime, I would need to feed him lots of pro-dentist propaganda (and, um, no lollies).

Which brings us to yesterday.  I had worked as hard as I could to engender pro-dentist sentiment in the heart and mind of my son.  Harry sat solemnly on my lap as I showed him this bizarre youtube educational video the dentist had recommended.  I chatted happily about friendly dentists and their special chairs and did you know the dentist can put a tiny little train in your mouth that can run over your teeth?  Just like Percy!  And best of all: little boys who open their mouths for the dentists get to have McDonalds for lunch!

I gotta tell you, I was feeling a little conflicted about this.  I know this fast-food giant pours billions of dollars each year into the targeted marketing of children.  I know there’s a clear strategy in their meals with toys and play equipment and children’s birthday parties and red stripey clowns.  And I know the very reason I was turning to this multinational corporation to provide a treat for my little boy is because of the subliminal messages their glamourous ads and marketing placed in my brain when I was a little girl.  In providing fast food as a “special reward treat” to Harry, I am programming him to become a lifelong consumer of this nutritionally bereft product.  I am doing just what their billion-dollar marketing department wants me to do.  But desperate times call for desperate measures.

As we walked into the waiting room, I exclaimed in joy with Harry over the colourful fish in the little aquarium.  “This place has got everything!  I love going to the dentist!”  I tried my best to exude upbeat, cheerful anticipation with an undercurrent of calm, reassuring all-is-well.  I think I might have strained something.

It wasn’t long before we were called into the little dentist’s room.  No, I think that should be “dentist’s little room”.  The dentist herself was of average size.  Our first job was to convince Harry to sit in the special chair.  But Harry wasn’t buying it.  “It’s a fun chair, like a rocket!” and “Just like the girl in the video!” had no effect.  Harry crawled nervously on to my lap and suggested that Annie sit in the chair instead.  In the end, I sat on the chair and Harry sat on my lap.  But I could tell he didn’t like it.

As the dentist handed Harry his “special, cool sunglasses” and tilted the chair backwards, I talked to Harry of the wonderful Happy Meal he would earn when he opened his mouth for the dentist.  Did he want nuggets or a burger?

“I would like a burger!”  Harry exclaimed with characteristic enthusiasm, “and Annie wants some nuggets.  And you can have a chip, Mummy.”

“OK, now, Harry.  It’s time to open your mouth.  Why don’t you pretend you’re about to take a big bite of your hamburger?”, chirped the dentist.

Harry pressed his lips tightly together.

“Come on, Harry” I said, “if you open your mouth, I will even buy you an ice cream at McDonalds!”

“I love an ice cream!” Harry whispered excitedly.  But he still wouldn’t open his mouth.

I think it was at this point that the nurse chipped in with promises of stickers.  She needn’t have bothered.  If Harry wasn’t budging for a happy-meal-all-to-himself, no adhesive picture of a Looney Tunes character grasping a toothbrush was going to change his mind.

It was time to pull out the big guns.  “Harry,” I said solemnly, “if you don’t open your mouth for the dentist, you’ll get no McDonalds and have a plain sandwich for lunch instead.”

“I want a sandwich!”  Harry interrupted suddenly.

“No, you don’t understand, you -”

“WHERE’S MY SANDWICH?!”  Harry flung off his special sunglasses. “I need to get out of here!”

“Come on, Harry,”  the dentist coaxed, “just let me put this special mirror in your mouth…”

Then she stopped and scratched her head.  Harry had pulled his t-shirt over his face.  “I want to go home.”  a muffled voice said stubbornly.

In the end, after I’d promised every item on the McDonalds menu and a few shiny new toys, all to no avail, the dentist and I had to concede defeat.  As the dentist printed off a referral letter to a paediatric dentist in the expensive part of town, Harry stealthily located the aforementioned plain sandwiches and, after giving one to his appreciative baby sister, sat munching it contentedly in an orgy of crumbs on the otherwise spotless floor.

Ten minutes later, I stalked out of the dentist, making a long mental list of all of the things I could have bought with the thirty dollars I’d just paid.  What am I going to do?  How on earth am I going to brainwash my son into thinking the dentist is his friend?

If only I could hire a McDonalds marketing consultant…