Have a look at a piece I wrote for Pray.com.au on the Nativity. It got me reflecting on what it felt like to be a new mother. Did Mary feel this way too?
Have a look at a piece I wrote for Pray.com.au on the Nativity. It got me reflecting on what it felt like to be a new mother. Did Mary feel this way too?
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!”
You’ll never guess what just happened.
So I’ve been trying to drum up a bit more business writing freelance. I feel like I could probably take on one more monthly gig while still managing to keep track of which of my children is which (the non-identical ones, at least). And then the Archdiocese of Melbourne went and got itself a new Archbishop, which meant a special edition for the magazine I write for, which meant they wouldn’t be needing ME to write for them this month, which left me feeling a little bereft and unwanted and resentful of the Archbishop elect (how DARE he?), especially when an extra bill came in for exactly the amount I would have been paid if it had been business as usual.
So, I had some time to sell myself to editors. But I didn’t really know how to go about it. I hunted around on websites, but couldn’t find any email addresses. Then I made myself a profile on LinkedIn, but it seemed all the editors had private accounts. When I told people about my hunt, they invariably would tell me about a newsletter of magazine they knew about that was “always looking for writers”, but which only offered the joy of seeing your name in print as payment. Thank you: no thank you.
Lovely M had some contacts, so I armed her with some material to chase them up with. But I haven’t heard back, and I didn’t want to bug her. Plus I didn’t want to face up to the idea that my writing was NO GOOD and not worth a second look. I’m going to my high-school reunion in a month and all of the publications I write for have the word ‘Catholic’ in the title somewhere. This needs to change. So I pressed on.
Then, as I was digging about on LinkedIn (“you have almost reached your browsing limit”), I found the details of the editor of the Woman’s Weekly! Perfect!
So I spent a whole day crafting a breezy-chatty-yet-professional introductory letter and chose three of my best pieces to share. I wrote about how I’d grown up reading the Weekly and how it’s still close to my heart. I showed it to my family and asked their advice. I pitched ideas for future articles that I said I was already working on. I fantasised about being Pat McDermott’s understudy (she writes “Patter” – perhaps I could write “Scatter”?). And then I waited.
Here was my plan: I figured the editor would most likely begin her day by going through her emails. She would start early – Maybe 8? Maybe 8:30? – because she might have a meeting at 9. So if I sent my masterpiece at, say, 8:45am, it would come floating in to the top of the pile right when she’s in email-reading mode. I was all set. The PDFs were attached and all of the publications I mentioned were also hyperlinks to articles I had written for said publications. Any minute now and I would press send.
But that’s not really a true picture of events. It wasn’t like I was sitting there with my finger hovering over the send button, watching the clock. I had set the laptop open with everything cued up on the kitchen table, that is true. And I got in perhaps thirty seconds worth of finger-hovering. But then Annie needed help making porridge and Poppy wanted milk poured and Christopher needed me to shout at him to stop teasing Harry, and Daisy wanted me to find the Thomas the Tank Engine spoon. And then the doorbell rang and it was my mum and I hadn’t seen her in WEEKS and she’d brought food over and we needed to talk lots as we reorganised the fridge to fit it.
Mum looked across to the kitchen table. “Uh-oh. Daisy’s on your laptop.”
“Oh, isn’t that cute!” I said. It was cute. Daisy was working away with the same intensity she must have seen her mother display countless times before. Then I froze. “Get off Mummy’s laptop, Daisy!” I exclaimed, and rushed to the table. My email page was open, as it had been before. Now, however, a line of bold text ran across the top of the screen “Your email has been sent”. Wait: what?
But surely this wasn’t such a bad thing. I was going to send the email anyway – maybe Daisy had done me a favour dispatching it in such a timely manner? It was like she was my adorable little personal assistant. I frantically scanned the sent message. It was such a bad thing.
There, in the middle of one the opening sentences, Daisy had added her own input: a string of random letters and punctuation marks. In a mad panic, I dashed off the following message:
“Oh my goodness!
With regards to my previous email, my two-year-old jumped on my laptop as I was answering the door. She made her own amendments and sent the email off before I was ready! With the exception of “wor/.,.,,,,,,,mbfczsk”, the email is what I meant to send. Please excuse young Daisy’s input and be assured that I am usually a scrupulous proofreader and never short of anecdotal material!
If you’ll excuse me, I’ll go crawl into a nice dark hole now…
Except I used Daisy’s actual name, not her blog pseudonym, because I figured I should be honest and it’s a nice name, which shows good judgement on my part.
So that was yesterday. The time in between has been spent clicking the ‘refresh’ button on my email and jumping at loud noises. But she hasn’t written back. She hasn’t written back AT ALL. I’ve taken to wringing my hands together and muttering at strangers.
I blame the new Archbishop.
PS. I just went back to look at the email I sent and discovered, on top of everything else, I wrote the name of the magazine wrong. I wrote “Women’s Weekly” – not “Woman’s Weekly”. And I did it MORE THAN ONCE. What is WRONG with me?? No wonder she hasn’t written back! She probably didn’t even read as far as “wor/.,.,,,,,,,mbfczsk”, she probably threw her computer aside in disgust when she saw I didn’t even bother getting the name of her publication right.
I need to go mutter at some strangers (“Comensoli…ComenSOLI!”)
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.
OK, so here’s what happened.
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:
I had one argument in opposition:
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:
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!
There are two baskets of clean washing on my living room floor.
In my bedroom, there are two full baskets and three more are sitting outside my bedroom door (“tripping hazard!” says Mr Knightley). One of these baskets is full of unmatched children shoes, the rest have more clean washing.
I also discovered a basket of clean washing under the desk in the schoolroom/nursery/study and another in the boys’ room. There is a basket with dirty washing in the girls’ room, but I suspect it began life as a basket of clean washing, which got buried.
I figure I really should do something about this. So I tipped one of the bedroom baskets into the other one. Now I only have one basket of clean washing on my bedroom floor.
It feels good.
Oh, blog! How I’ve missed you! I’m sorry it’s been so long since I wrote to you. I’ve been very busy not putting washing away.
So I figure I should probably write the sequel to my previous post. The only problem is, it’s not very interesting. So I’m going to just give it to you in point form. That way you can have a story which is not to interesting to begin with, plus the added bonus of lazy writing. Enjoy.
It’s several weeks since I got my hair done and it’s settled in a lot better now. I even had a go fixing the layers myself with a pair of nail scissors. The next time I go to the hairdressers, I’ll be more specific about what I want.
The very thought is making me sweat icicles.