Tag Archives: toddler

Triduum Fail.

1950s church family

As you may know, if you’ve been reading my constant bragging, I’ve been doing a little work lately for Jesuit Publications (bear with me, I’m going somewhere here). One of the pieces I wrote a few months ago for Australian Catholics was a sort of how-to guide for taking children to Mass. Words can’t describe how smug I felt writing that article. I was the guru. I had all of the answers. I had finally made it and could now dispense wisdom for the masses (‘Masses’?).

I did not yet have twin toddlers.

Over the past several Sundays, my complacent words have been echoing in my ears as my husband and I have struggled to grapple with two rowdy little people who seem to have a liturgy allergy (sorry). They are so noisy. And they’re always making bids to escape. And they conspire against us.

Daisy and Poppy also have their own language that they’ve settled on between themselves. For example, they don’t call Christopher Robin by his actual name. Christopher spent so much time trying to get the girls to say ‘bum’, that they have decided that this is his name. We’re all kind of used to it. But when the altar servers process in to church and Daisy and Poppy see their brother solemnly carrying the candle, it gets a little awkward when they start shouting “BUM! BUM! BUUUUM!!”

Things were at their worst last Thursday. It was Holy Thursday Mass, which started at 7:30pm, which meant I had to get the children fed and dressed and into a crowded church at a time when everybody was tired and cranky, especially me. We were all squashed in together at a pew up the front, near the side door. The twins were fairly well behaved (though not completely silent) throughout the Blessing of the Holy Oils, and the Liturgy of the Word, and the special-edition homily, and the rather ponderous Washing of the Feet (since when was Holy Thursday Mass so LONG?). But when it got to the middle of the Eucharistic Prayer, Poppy decided she’d had enough. For a while now, Poppy had been making bids to escape and I had been stopping her. I knew from experience that if I let her go, she would dash out of the church, or go dancing around the aisles, or dart into the sacristy and emerge, beaming, from the side door out onto the altar, like some special guest on This is Your Life.  Poppy was making her indignation loudly known.  It was time for me to scoop her up and take her out.  As I stepped into the side room of the church, I noticed the neat, fortysomething man who had been sitting behind us at the beginning of Mass.  Had he moved here to escape us?  He did not return my rueful, apologetic smile.  As I remonstrated with Poppy, I could hear Daisy’s loud proclamations from inside the church.  I winced.

We managed to survive the rest of Mass, but it was a slog.  Daisy also had a turn in the room next door.  Neat Man was still there and still unsmiling.  By some miracle, my husband and I managed to keep our faces straight when Annie constructed DJ headphones from her Alice-band and two Project Compassion boxes and pretended to spin discs.  But it wasn’t until afterwards, that my husband filled me in on what happened when I was in the other room.

While I was having stern words with Poppy and sharing awkward space with Neat Man, Daisy was chattering loudly in her dad’s arms.  Neat Man’s wife (who is also very neat and who looks like Sarah Palin) tapped my husband on the shoulder.

“You will have to take her out.  I just can’t concentrate!”

My husband remained where he was.  He wasn’t going to leave the other children by themselves and he knew that the Consecration happened by virtue of the Holy Spirit and not Sarah Palin’s brain power.  Later, at the Sign of Peace, Sarah Palin turned her back abruptly on us and only shook the hands of the people behind her.

I must admit I felt a little heartbroken when I heard about this.  I didn’t know Sarah Palin that well, but I had always imagined she was my ally.  She was a mum, after all.  Didn’t she know how hard it was to raise children in the faith?  Did she think I brought my children to Mass on purpose just to mess with her?  All of a sudden, I didn’t feel welcome at the Lord’s table.  Perhaps Mass just wasn’t supposed to be for young families.  Or perhaps it was only for families that had it all together.  I decided in that moment that we wouldn’t go to the big Easter vigil Mass with the fire and the candles and the incense and the bells, but instead attend the more subdued Sunday morning Mass.  I didn’t want another run-in with Neat Man and his Alaskan wife.

1950s Church Family

I might also mention here that we got through the Good Friday service without too much trouble, because the twins slept through most of it.  The family behind us had small noisy children, however, and, while I felt deeply for them, I was also acutely aware that Neatman and Palin (who were sitting further away this time) probably assumed it was us making all that noise again.

Anyway, on Sunday morning, we tumbled into church, almost on time, though Poppy was still in her pyjamas.  I was working so hard at focussing on all the nice parishioners who smile and look dotingly at the twins that I didn’t notice that NeatPalin were standing rigidly at the other side of the church.  When Poppy let out a yelp towards the end of Mass, Neatman turned and looked right at us.  EEK!

Sarah Palin's Book:

I’m feeling better now for telling you about it, my blog friend.  And I’m pretty sure I’m the only one in the family who was really upset by it.  Mr Knightley takes all things in his stride.  Daisy and Poppy continue to run things their way.  Annie is stoked with her charity-box headphones.  And as for Matilda, Bum and Harry, they couldn’t be happier.  They’ve discovered a new recruit to work at the Barbara Feeney Shush Helpline!

Meanwhile, I think I need to contact the Australian Catholics editor.  I want to add a footnote to my article: “Please note: if you have toddlers, none of these rules apply.  All you can do is pray for God’s sweet mercy and wait for the storm to pass.”

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Scraps and Pieces

Scrapyard cars

 

Hi everyone.

My husband’s taken the kids to Aldi, so I really should write something.  But I’m feeling the crush of perfectionism that comes when I’ve been away from the blog from too long.  I feel guilty for avoiding you.  Sometimes I forget that my blog isn’t actually a person, it really does feel that way sometimes.

I don’t have anything of great importance to share, but I thought I’d show you a few excerpts from messages I sent my family recently.  After all, this is how this blog began.  The original ‘fail’ posts were just group emails I sent out to my parents and brothers and sisters, many of whom were doing far more interesting things overseas.

Anyway, if you’re reading this and are related to me, please excuse the clip show.  I’m just trying to get back in the swing of things.

Also, if you have an idea of something you’d like me to write about, drop me a line in the comments.  I’m a bit ‘duh’ at the moment…

1. Goodmorning

“Hi everybody. Annie, in her quest for milk, managed to distribute half a litre on the kitchen floor, over the top of a stool, into Matilda’s shoes and all throughout the plate cupboard (both shelves). The worst part is, I was in the room the whole time, just didn’t realise what she was up to.

The cup in question somehow got a hole in the bottom. I can imagine Annie thinking “Why does this keep happening to me? Perhaps I should try pouring it over here instead?”

Everybody’s decided to join in the “I’m a nutter Knightley” chorus. Christopher is still in his pyjamas doing dishes at a rate of 1 dish per hour, Harry keeps trying to turn the TV on, Daisy wants to be fed nonstop and I had to confiscate Matilda’s iPhone after she kicked Christopher in a temper. No Background Briefing podcast for you today, Missy!

2.  Awkward

So I went out with a bunch of nice homeschool mums last night.  As we were walking to our cars I got a message from my husband: “ETA?”.  He was thinking of watching a movie and wanted to know if he should start it without me.  I surreptitiously communicated with my thumb:  “We’re in the carpark now, but that could still mean another hour or two.  These women do not know how to stop talking.”

Then my friend’s phone beeped.  A moment later she says “was this message meant for me, Kate?” and she read it out.  All at once I realised what I did.  I saw my husband’s text on the screen of my phone as it came in, but when I opened Messages to reply, it took me to the screen I had open from before, when I was texting my friend to let her know I was on my way.  I tried to gabble out an explanation, but it was a bit hard to talk because even my teeth were blushing.

I was home in time for the movie.

3. Ego a go go

I got an email from my editor yesterday. I was in the swimming pool cafe with Harry, Annie, Daisy and Poppy. I was a little noisy about it: “What’s this, children? An email from my EDITOR? I wonder what MY EDITOR would like me to write, me being a WRITER and all”

Then I looked impressively around the cafe. Harry said “I want chocolate.”

 

Field Trip Fail.

Ceremonial Mace

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while will know that my eldest daughter, Matilda, has a passion for politics.  Matilda’s favourite TV show is Behind the News and she would be happy to watch footage of Clive Palmer trying to get out of a sports car all day long.  A couple of years ago, when asked to write a story for Religious Education about two friends who had a big fight and then forgave each other, she wrote about Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.

When I first started to think about homeschooling Matilda, before I’d even started to think about curriculum, I knew I wanted to go on an excursion with her to Parliament House in the city.

At first, we had hoped to go on a ‘Role Play’ tour (where school kids get to dress up as the Speaker, the Serjeant-at-Arms etc), but I would have needed to organise a larger group.  I had also toyed with the idea of going to watch our local member give a long and boring speech on some local issue, but that proved a little tricky too (seeing as though I never did anything other than think “that’s a nice idea“).  In the end, I decided to keep things simple for our first visit and do an ‘off-the-street’ tour, which run on the half hour.

The day started pleasantly enough. We caught the tram in without any issues. Harry happily counted trams out of his window (he went nuts when we passed the depot), Matilda read her library book, Annie had a nice long nap and I was able to sneak in some crochet time. When we reached the city, we explored Fitzroy Gardens and had an early picnic lunch at Treasury Gardens (I didn’t want them to be hungry and cranky when we got there). We then wandered up to Parliament House to catch the 12pm tour. It was here we hit our first snag: tours did run on the half hour, but took a break from 11:30 – 1pm for lunch. No matter. I set my phone alarm for 12:45, and after running a few errands, we traipsed over to Treasury House next door to have a look.

The little museum at Treasury House was so interesting that Matilda asked if we could stay there a little longer and take the 1:30 tour instead. Accordingly, at 1:25pm, we stumbled up all the Parliament House steps, dragging the stroller behind us.

Parliament House

Source: Wikimedia Commons

We walked through the metal detectors, got our bags scanned and were emblazoned with security stickers. As we approached the main door, I noticed the tour guide was glaring at us and gesturing that we hurry. We were late! I checked the time. No. We weren’t.

We had to leave all our bags at the front desk, along with the stroller. My heart sank and I panicked a little at the thought of a free-range Annie. This was going to be harder than I’d planned.

We were soon joined by a small group of tourists and an attractive young woman who looked like she might be studying for her PhD (based on no evidence at all. My brain just decides these things for me). She was fascinated by the Parliament and seemed like a grown-up version of Matilda.

The tour guide peered down at Annie and Harry the same way a nurse might study an infected wound. “Will they be able to cope with this tour?”, she demanded in a tone that left no question of her severe doubts.

I flashed my most charming smile, “I’m sure we’ll manage,” I cooed, in a display of radiant confidence. The voice in my head disagreed loudly.

We walked into the Queen’s Hall. Annie and Harry skipped joyfully around the large space, which we had to ourselves, whilst Matilda listened politely to the rules. The tour guide stopped mid-sentence, “you really mustn’t let these children stray too far from the group.”, she snapped at me (her tone said: “you really are the worst mother I’ve ever seen”). In scarlet confusion, I scooped Annie up and grabbed hold of Harry’s hand. Annie began to grumble. I shushed her.

The tour guide was now telling us some facts about Australia’s levels of government. It would seem she was less confident of her material when she wasn’t talking about the rules. As she floundered through State and Federal jurisdictions, an evil thought entered my head: perhaps she might ask Matilda for help? Tilly knew all this stuff back-to-front. The tour guide abruptly yanked me out of my reverie. “I’m sorry, I can’t do this!” she exclaimed, “that is really disturbing me. I cannot do my job while he is doing that”, I looked to where she was pointing. Harry was quietly twirling on the spot, arms outstretched. She glared at me as I ushered Harry and Annie to a step at the side of the room. “This really isn’t a tour for children. They just don’t have the attention span!”. My scalp prickled with shame.

Annie, sensing my stress, was becoming more and more agitated. She made booming announcements for everybody’s benefit. “Let me GO, Mummy! I want to WALK!”, “Don’t say ‘SHUSH’, Mummy!”, “I don’t LIKE this!”, “LET ME GO!”. I let her sit on the step next to me and she calmed down a little bit. In my bag were toy cars, crayons, dinosaurs and finger puppets.  Unfortunately, my bag was locked in a cupboard at the front desk.

I was feeling a little bad for the tour guide. I remember what it was like to be a nervous student teacher. Maybe this was her first day or something. If she wasn’t confident of the material she was presenting, or was not a confident public speaker, distractions could be torture. At the same time, I wasn’t sure what I could do about it. The rules were very strict: once you joined a tour, there was no leaving the group (otherwise, the terrorists win).

Queen Victoria in Queen's Hall

But by now I had bigger problems. Annie had worked out that the step we were sitting on was, in fact, a small stage. She stood up. I looked at her. “NO.” I stated firmly. She looked directly back at me.  A wicked grin spread over her features. She had already made her decision.

The next minute saw me desperately trying to hush and catch Annie as she sang and danced on the stage, just out of reach. If the tour guide saw her within ten feet of the lectern microphone, she would lose her na na.

I don’t know how I managed to get Annie off the stage without the tour guide seeing, but I do know that the moment I did it, Annie dissolved into ferocious howls. Harry clambered on top of us in an attempt to comfort his sister, and it was in this tangle that the tour guide approached us. “We are moving into the Legislative Assembly now. You can stay in the room next door until you have them under control.”

Thus I found myself in a small room with a few carved benches, a phone and a grandfather clock. Annie soon calmed down (the clock helped) and so we crept into the Lower House of Parliament. As I attempted to climb into the second row of seats, the tour guide stopped me. “You can’t sit there!” she exclaimed in exasperation, “front row only!”. I blushed and fumbled my way to the front row seat. As I sank down onto the chair next to Matilda (I would have preferred to sink through the floor), Annie climbed off my lap into the spare one next to me, muttering something about “my own seat”. Unfortunately, Annie’s legs are not long enough to extend over the edge of chairs designed for members of parliament. “There can be no shoes on the seat”, the tour guide barked. I quickly started working on the buckles of Annie’s Mary Janes. Suddenly my coat was far too warm for me and my eyes felt hot. “No! No! They are MY SHOES” Annie shouted in consternation, and promptly burst into tears. I tried very hard not to do the same.

“This just isn’t working at all. You need to get out.” The tour guide pointed at the door. Dragging Annie and Harry, I was already halfway there.

As soon as I was back in the naughty room, I unzipped my thick coat and removed the five kilos of liquid explosives I had sewn into the lining. I then leisurely constructed a large bomb which I placed in the grandfather clock, set to explode the next parliamentary sitting day.  Then, left to my own devices, I went on my own tour of all the restricted areas with my plastic rocket-launcher.

No I didn’t.

But I could have, for all their security pageantry.

Instead, I’m sorry to say, I had a little cry. We had come all this way. We had been planning this excursion for weeks. I had called ahead and the man had recommended this tour. I said I was bringing toddlers and he said it would be okay. It meant so much to Matilda. I dried my eyes and managed to get a grip, but I had broken the seal. For the rest of the day it was going to be hard to stop the tears from bubbling up again.

I didn’t know what was happening in the room after I left, but Matilda filled me in later. Apparently, as soon as I was out of ear-shot, the tour guide exclaimed, “Honestly! I don’t know what that lady was thinking! I would never have brought children on a tour like this!” and continued on a miniature rant to everyone. Matilda was boiling with indignant fury. There was so much she wanted to say. She felt the wretched powerlessness of being the only child in a room full of adults. And then, she tells me, something wonderful happened.

“How dare you?”

The young PhD woman had stood up and was glaring at the tour guide. “You were so rude to that woman. Her children have a right to be here. They did not deserve to be treated like that.” Matilda told me that this woman (my hero!) went on to say all of the things Matilda had so desperately wanted to say herself. From that point on, Matilda spent her time shooting grateful smiles at the PhD woman and practicing her Julie-Bishop-Death-Stare on the tour guide.

When the group emerged from the Lower House, the tour guide approached me.

(get a grip, Kate, get a grip)

“I’ve been told off in there: they seem to think I was rude. I hope I didn’t upset you.”

I nodded briefly at this apology-of-sorts (don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry) and we moved on to the Upper House.

For the rest of the tour, the tour guide behaved towards us with a mixture of overdone politeness and stifled resentment. Thankfully, the kids behaved themselves. At one point, when describing carvings on the wall which symbolised the importance of the Next Generation, the tour guide made a simpering gesture to Matilda. Unfortunately, Matilda was still persistently and stonily channelling our Foreign Affairs Minister, so it was all a little awkward.

Julie Bishop

Source: Wikimedia Commons

At the end of the tour, the tour guide approached me again. Poor woman, she must have felt bad.

“I really do hope I didn’t offend you earlier,” she began, (don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry) “That woman stood up in front of everyone after you left the room and told me off. I can’t afford for that to happen in my job. This really isn’t acceptable.” (wait a minute – was she scolding me?).

I drew a deep breath:

“…planning this excursion for a long time…” (don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry)

“…when I spoke to the tour office…” (don’tcrydon’tcrydon’tcry)

“…Matilda is fascinated by Parliament and democracy…” (DON’T CRY DON’T CRY)

The tour guide seemed mollified and moved into a frenzy of over-compensation. As a result, we got an awesome showbag from the school tours office and, rather than having to struggle down the steps with the stroller, we were escorted all the way through the remarkably inaccessible and poorly-signed accessibility exit.

We stumbled into Spring Street and blinked in the daylight. That tour took far longer than I’d anticipated. I drew a ragged breath. I wanted to find a child-friendly cafe to collapse in. Then I checked the time.

We were late! We were late! We were never going to make it on time to pick Christopher Robin up from school!

I thought fast. The tram would take forever in school traffic. We’d be better off taking a train for at least part of the journey. We rushed to the nearest entrance to Parliament (underground) Station. Which was stupid. We should have rushed to the entrance with the LIFT. After I almost died carrying the stroller (with Annie in it) down a large flight of stairs and stumbled through the turnstile after swiping all the tickets, we were faced with the challenge of descending a double-length escalator at double-speed. That thing’s scary at the best of times! But we were fuelled by adrenaline and stupidity. Matilda dragged the collapsed stroller and held Harry’s hand (champion) and I carried Annie on my hip. Ugh. But we got to the platform in time to catch a crowded triple-express (and then a BUS) so that we weren’t as horrendously late as we feared. Two school boys immediately gave us their seats as we got on the train (don’t fall sobbing on his shoulder, don’t fall sobbing on his shoulder) and the otherwise surly bus driver was really helpful in getting us to our stop.

Parliament Station Escalators

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Safe at home, we flopped, all five of us, catatonic, on the couch.  Matilda spoke up.

“I just worked out what I should have said.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, when we were in the Legislative Assembly and that woman was telling the tour guide off, I should have stood up after her and said ‘I second that motion!'”

That’s my girl.

10 Short Takes … on Annie

10ShortTakes”

  1. Annie is my youngest daughter.  She is a sturdy two-year-old with hair like corn silk and deep brown eyes fringed with long dark lashes.
  2. I named Annie after Anne of Green Gables because she is utterly charming.  In real life, Annie is named after Mr Knightley’s Nan (do you remember me mentioning her buttons?) who was also utterly charming.
  3. Annie is the self-appointed Boss of the Family.  When she enters a room, she flings her arms wide and announces “I’m HERE ev’rybuddy!”
  4. Annie’s couture of choice is a tattered fairy dress paired with gumboots.  Today we’re going out to see friends. I dressed Annie in a sweet embroidered denim dress with a red top and tights underneath (every now and then I like to play dress-up dolls).  Annie protested stoutly as I dressed her up, but I kept distracting her and we got through it.  But just now, Annie’s come out of her room wearing only the red top and tights and brandishing one of her fairy dresses.  “I want to dress like a PRINCESS, Mummy!”.  I asked her what happened to the cute little denim number: “It in da wash.”  Sigh.
    fairy dresses on washing line
  5. Sometimes I try to apply some Mighty Girl philosophy to Annie’s regal aspirations.  “Princesses are wise leaders who make important decisions for their country”, I state solemly as I pull yet another tulle confection over her head.  “I so pitty!”  Annie replies with equal solemnity.
  6. As well as a junior monarch, Annie loves to be a ballerina, a mermaid, a rock star, a Wiggle and a superhero of her own devising, unaccountably called “Super Love Heart”.  Matilda will rig her up with a small blanket pegged around her shoulders and Annie will jump around the place and announce “SU-per Wubbart IN da rescue!”
  7. Sometimes, Annie and Harry play a game together called “Jack and Jill”.  I can’t quite understand the game itself, it seems to only involve them calling each other “Jack” and “Jill” and treating each other with exaggerated politeness.  There’s no bucket or anything.  I love this game.
  8. Yesterday, at breakfast time, a cranky Annie had a go at Christopher Robin: “want the milk, you idiot!” she proclaimed with gusto. “We don’t call each other ‘idiot’ in this family” I admonished.  “But they are idiots!”  Annie protested, with a stubborn toss of her golden head.
  9. When Harry has been naughty and is in trouble, he will go to Annie for consolation.  Annie will always stop what she is doing to give him a cuddle.  It’s very hard to stay cross at him when this happens…
  10. Annie’s favourite game is when she pretends she is Mummy and I am Annie.  Harry, however, finds this altered reality highly disturbing and will climb into my lap and insist on calling me “Mummy” despite his sister’s protests.  Cute.  Very cute.

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Homeschool – Week One (and a bit)

Oh, blog!  How I have missed you!

I have been homeschooling Matilda for a week now, and, while I’m sure we are still in our honeymoon period, it has been rather blissful.  My darling girl seems so much more relaxed these days, like a weight has been lifted from her small shoulders.  Annie and Harry have been easy to manage as well, and happy to potter about during school time.  We’ve had a few minor disasters, like Annie consuming an entire tub of butter and finding Matilda’s precious fruit-scented highlighters and doing this to Matilda’s Maths book:

scribbles on maths book

but this is no more than usual.  Matilda shrugged when she saw Annie’s handiwork and said philosophically, “At least it smells nice now!”.  Harry stuck blu-tack up his nose last week too, but that happened outside of school hours so it doesn’t count.

Lunch tends to be a relaxed affair.  We work really hard in the morning to get everything done, with a little break at 10 for morning tea.  Matilda loves to set up picnics for her brother and sister.

piccnic basket

Twenty minutes worth of peace for me to eat my own lunch was an unexpected bonus of this scheme…
picnic

For the first week, I’ve been sticking to the core curriculum (Maths, English and Inquiry Unit) and keeping it simple and achievable.  I’ve also done some assessment to work out what areas I’ll need to focus on most.  I keep a PDF of the Grade Four curriculum standards in my phone and I take sneaky peeks of it at times to make sure I’m keeping on track.  As we get more settled, I’ll introduce Art and Music, Religious Education, Japanese and Phys Ed, plus maybe some additional Science and Technology (some will be covered in the Inquiry Unit).

Which brings me to the most important thing: our Inquiry Unit for this term involves Matilda setting up her very own blog!  It’s connected to my account, I hold the password and will have to manually approve all of the comments before Matilda sees them, so I think I’ve covered my bases as far as cyber-safety goes.  Matilda’s much more motivated to write for me when there is a distinct purpose and real audience to write for.  I can’t imagine she would put the effort in if it were just a report for me to correct.

Matilda's First Post

Here is the link:

http://matildasgapyear.wordpress.com

Matilda’s very happy to adopt the pseudonym I assigned her in my blog, Roald Dahl’s Matilda is one of her favourite books, after all.  If you get the chance, pop over there and leave an encouraging word or a ‘like’.  Comments give her such pure glee (so, she’s just like the rest of us, I guess)

So, all in all, it’s been pretty smooth sailing this past week.  Yesterday, Tilly was tired and reluctant to do her Maths.  I gotta admit, it was deathly boring stuff.  But inspiration struck and I pulled out the toy abacus and we did the problems that way.  Later, when Matilda was suffering from brain fog when trying to write a plan for her next blog post, I showed her a trick.    She wrote out any ideas she wanted to include as dot points in random order, then we got out the scissors and cut out strips with a dot point on each.  We shuffled the strips until we got them into an order that made sense, then stuck them back on the page.  Plan done.  Magic!

But, for all my boasting, it’s been keeping me humble as well.  When the Student Wellbeing Teacher from Christopher Robin’s school asked Matilda what she had been doing at school, Matilda shrugged and said “nothing much!”.  And when Matilda’s nanna asked what Harry and Annie do while school is on, Matilda announced “they just watch TV!” (OK, so they watch Play School while we do Maths, but they’ve always watched Play School in the morning.  It won’t kill them…)

I’m still learning, so if any of you know of any handy blogs or online resources I should check out, please let me know!

Nativity Fail.

nativity set

Every year, just before Christmas Eve Mass, my parish puts on a little children’s nativity play.  And this year, Harry was old enough to join in.  I watched him with pride at the rehearsal as he sat on the altar steps next to his big brother, solemnly clutching his assigned wooden sheep and singing carols very dutifully.  I could already see how it was going to be.  On Christmas Eve, all the otherwise stern-faced parishioners would be nodding at each other indulgently and pointing to the altar.  There sat the quiet and obedient little three-year-old with the mop of golden hair and enormous brown eyes as he performed Away in a Manger in Australian Sign Language.  “That boy has come good,” they would mutter to each other, “he used to turn up to Mass late and without shoes on and shriek abuse at Father during the consecration, but no more!  Just look at him sitting so still!  I call that fine parenting!”.  My heart swelled.

The rehearsal was a long one.  Annie was getting tired of being strapped in her pusher.  When I unclipped her, she promptly trotted over to the altar steps and sat down amongst the other children.  It was all very cute and she looked very proud of herself.   I let her stay there for a little while, but I soon began to sense her presence was making the co-ordinator rather anxious, so I coaxed her back to my seat with toy cars and kept her there.  I could tell from the smile of approval and relief the co-ordinator sent my way that I’d done the right thing.  It’s true: I do value other people’s approval far more than I ought.  Annie, realising she’d been duped, began to howl piteously.

When the rehearsal ended, it was time to fit the children for their costumes.  Being one of the smallest, Harry was last to be fitted.  As we approached, I could hear him murmuring to himself: “but I don’t need a clothes.  I don’t want one.  I just don’t need a clothes”.  The kindly parish lady held up a small brown robe.  Harry’s eyes widened:  “No.  No.  No, I don’t need it.  No!  No!  Take it off!  Take it off!”.  I didn’t want to make a big thing of it or – for that matter – tear a hole in the lovingly handmade costume.  Harry can have a bit of a thing where clothing is involved.   In the end, we held the robe against Harry’s wriggling form to measure it.  “Never mind,” said the kindly parish lady as she pinned a label with Harry’s name on the costume’s coat hanger, “it’s been a long morning.  He’ll be fine on the night.”

Christmas Eve was a day that went by in a bit of a desperate whirl.  A couple of days earlier, my mum and I decided we would move the family Christmas to my house (Mum and Dad are getting their kitchen renovated and, whilst the builder had given them many reassurances that the kitchen would be ready by Christmas, it would seem he had not specified which Christmas).   I was feeling quietly jubilant by this prospect.  I still feel the novelty of having a home of my own and now I would have the chance to get it all dressed up for Christmas.  Surely this was some sort of housewives’ rite of passage?  My head spun with the possibilities.  What about this?

hand made ornaments

Image credit: Mollie Makes, http://www.molliemakes.com

Or this?

decorated jar

Image credit: Craft & Creativity, http://craftandcreativity.com

Or this?

little wreaths

Image credit: http://www.welke.nl

My home would be so beautiful and charming.  Everybody would exclaim over all of the sweet details and thoughtful touches.  But before I could let loose with the decorations, I needed to tidy up.  After all, an artist must always begin with a clean canvas!

By the time Christmas Eve rolled around, I had modified my expectations a little.  OK, so I probably wasn’t going to get a chance to make beautiful, bespoke decorations and create a Pinterest wonderland here on earth, but at least I could focus on making it fresh and tidy and welcoming.  So I wrote a list a mile long and got lost in a frenzy of sweeping and dusting and endless picking-up-and-putting-away (or picking-up-and-scratching-head-over-random-objects-that-seem-beyond-classification).

It soon got to the point where I realised I wasn’t going to get the house tidy in time for Christmas.  My delightful children were expertly manufacturing mess at a faster rate than I could possibly dispel it.  I decided on a new goal – I would make the kitchen functional.  My family had suffered weeks in a house without a working kitchen, it would be a relief for them to work in a shiny-clean and clutter-free space.  I might even clean the oven (hey: there’s a first time for everything!).

But as we hurtled towards the end of the day, I realised forlornly that I was not going to accomplish any of my goals and now had to focus on force-feeding dinner to my children before getting them to the church by 6:15-no-later.  I had sort of hoped to coax Mr Knightley into taking the children so that I might have some child-free time to get some stuff done and – hang on! – get dressed for church.  But, as Mr Knightley ruefully pointed out, he had been working in the garden all afternoon and was covered in dirt and grass clippings.  He would need the time to have a shower.

We were already late.  There was no time to discuss matters.  It was possible that I fumed a little as I strapped Annie into her car seat (she was looking very sweet in a bright green fairy dress Matilda had found for her) and muttered to myself about my husband’s tendency to find urgent things to do in the safety of the garden whenever I go into stressed-out-cleaning-banshee-mode, but this is not the place to document such grumblings.

As we raced towards the room with all the costumes, I took note of the pretty dresses and floaty blouses all the other mums were wearing.  The earrings and the makeup and the high-heeled shoes.  I was wearing a faded peasant top that makes me look a little pregnant and my jeans with the frayed bit at the bottom.  The co-ordinator (looking spectacular in a black lacy number with red lipstick) made an elaborate display of relief when we burst in the door (eleven minutes late) and ushered us to the dressing room where the kindly parish ladies were waiting.  I shared a brief look of solidarity with the KPLs and gamely girded my underdressed loins.  Harry had already started to shake his head.

As I cheerfully approached him with the robe all gathered up and ready to pull over his head, Harry shot one look of disgust and pure loathing at the proffered garment and bolted.  I somehow managed to rugby-tackle the miniature maelstrom as he ran laps of the room shouting “No-no-no-no-no-no!  Help!  HELP MEEE!” and began to wrestle arms and legs and heads into sleeves and neckholes and skirts.  It was just as I stopped applying the costume and picked up the tea towel headdress that Harry managed to fling the small brown cloak off in one swift movement and resumed his protest march around the room.

By now, everyone else had departed for photos-on-the-basketball-court.  So, with one arm dragging Harry and the other pushing the stroller (which contained both Annie and the wretched costume), I proceeded outside to resume negotiations.

Harry and I sat facing each other on the asphalt.  I had managed to poke Harry’s head through the costume, but that was as far as I’d got.  I gestured helplessly at the other little shepherd boys as they posed together for a photo.

“Look, Harry,”  I coaxed, “all the big boys are wearing their costumes.  Don’t you want to be like a big boy?”

Harry glared at me mutinously.  I tried again.

“Do you want to sit with me and Annie like a baby?”

“No!”

“Then you must wear your costume”

“No!”

“Then you won’t be able to be in the play”

“No!”

“Are you a big boy or a baby?”

“No!”

“Just try it”

“No!”

And he ran away.

I sat, bereft, on the bitumen.  Two of the dads were regarding me from on high (they were tall and standing up, I mean).

“Nobody would say you didn’t give it a good go.” said one consolingly.

“There’s always next year,” said the other.

I sighed and climbed to my feet.  Mr Knightley appeared by my elbow.  “There’s still time if you want to run home and get dressed up.” he said, “Go now! Hurry!”

So I raced home, pulled my favourite summer dress off the line, flung it over my head, poked my feet into some pretty sandals and raced back to the church.

I fell in the door just moments after the play had started.  As I stumbled to my seat, I took in the scene before me.  Christopher Robin and Harry sat beside each other.  And Harry was in full costume, with only one arm poking defiantly out of his neck hole.

It was a Christmas miracle.

I looked across to the angels.  There sat Matilda, a halo of silver tinsel on her dark hair, singing her eight-year-old heart out.  And there, sitting amongst the Heavenly Host all in white, was a small green fairy.  Annie shot me a warning look that said don’t ruin this for me, Mother.  Mr Knightley smiled indulgently.  The co-ordinator smiled nervously.

I flopped down into my seat.  Meh.  Three out of four ain’t bad.

Soul Diet

So I’ve been thinking.

I’ve been having a lot of conversations with people lately about food.  It seems everyone is on a special diet to help them feel better.  So we go gluten free, low FODMAP, cut out milk, limit caffeine, cut out processed food, go organic free range, eat brown-not-white, and avoid flavour enhancer 621 (it makes me hyper).

I suppose it’s all about looking at what we put into our bodies and how it affects our wellbeing.  As far as conversations go, it can be a deathly boring subject, but it got me thinking – what kind of diet is my soul on?  What do I watch and read and do that is healthy for my soul?  What do I watch and read and do that is toxic?

pizza

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a Catholic.  One of the – I don’t know – “membership requirements”? – that we have is that we go to Mass once a week on a Sunday unless we’re really sick or something.  Please wait a minute whilst I shudder inwardly at the abysmal grammatical mess I just created.  I don’t even know where to begin fixing that sentence.  Please forgive me.

Maybe a new paragraph will help.  A lot of people I know take issue with this obligation and think my church is a cranky parent who likes to make rules and boss people around, as if the church itself is somehow separate from the people that form it.  These people say things like “it doesn’t really matter if you go to church or not, so long as you are a good person” (because it’s one or the other – take your pick) and “you don’t have to go every week – it’s too hard.  Just go when you can – God will understand” (because parties, sport and wandering around Bunnings should always take priority over your spiritual health).

The thing is, Sunday Mass is supposed to be the minimum I do to look after myself and my community spiritually, and if I commit to it regularly, it becomes a part of who I am.  It makes me think of something my friend did the other week.

I had some friends over at my house to watch the Grand Final / gossip and eat food whilst the Grand Final was playing.  My friend, whom I will call Lydia, turned up with bags and bags of fruit (and a cask of delicious vodka cranberry, which counts as a fruit), which she then proceeded to transform into healthy fruit platters.  As we munched strawberry and pineapple and felt very virtuous (and drank vodka cranberry and felt rather tipsy), we praised Lydia and her healthy generosity.   It was at this point that Lydia made a sheepish confession: she had eaten KFC for lunch and the fruit was part of a rueful attempt to get back on track.

I feed my soul a lot of junk food.  Every day I feel like I battle an onslaught of Buy-Now-Pay-Later, Post-Baby-Bikini-Body, Give-Your-Little-Precious-a-Head-Start-in-Advanced-Calculus, Kim Kardashian, First-World-Problem-Facebook-Rant, What-Does-Your-Loo-Say-About-You, Miley Cyrus, She-Bought-a-Jeep, Seven-Signs-of-Ageing, What’s-Hot-and-What’s-Not, Who-Wore-it-Best, Adultery-Dot-Com.

One hour a week feeding my soul fruit in the form of Sunday Mass doesn’t seem like a big ask.  I need to be challenged on the way I treat those around me.  I need to be reminded that what I buy really isn’t that important, it’s who I am that counts.  I need to love the Lord my God with all my heart and all my soul and all my strength and love my neighbour as I love myself and all that.  And it’s the minimum, it really is.  And sometimes I only do the minimum.  Far too often I turn up at Mass only to realise that the last time I spent in prayer was a week ago in Mass, whilst holding a wriggling baby and saying “Shush”.  I need more wholefoods in my spiritual diet.  And I need to cut down on the junk.

fruit

So what does this mean?  Here are some things I need to work on:

  • I’m cutting out the sort of radio where the announcers make a career out of being cruel and then cut to a song extolling the virtues of anonymous sex before half-an-hour of blaring ads.  Light FM might be a little daggy, but it’s got my vote.
  • I’m not ready to cut out TV completely, but I want to cut right back – especially the sort where I’m just staring at the screen for the sake of it, to ‘relax’.
  • If I were to spend as much time catching up with those friends who give me joy as I do fiddling about on social media, I would be a much happier person.
  • I need to stop reading the sort of magazines that teach me to hate my body and feel depressed and wrinkled and fat.
  • I need to spend more time with God in prayer.

I had a plan for that last point this morning.  I set the alarm for six o’clock and snuck downstairs for some quiet prayer time and maybe a sneaky bit of blog time as well before the rest of the family got up.  I started digging around in search of the nifty devotional I’d recently purchased when I heard the distinct clomp-clomp-clomp of a small person making his way down the stairs.  There stood Harry, tousle-haired and bleary-eyed, wearing only his night-nappy (he’d thrown a tantrum the night before and refused all pyjamas that didn’t have Batman on them.  His Batman pyjamas were in the washing machine.).

“I want a cuddle, Mum.”

I tried to patiently explain to Harry that it was “still night time” and that he could “go back to bed had have a bit more sleep”.  Harry shook his head.

“I just want a cuddle, Mum.” and settled himself on the couch.  I sighed and continued my search for the devotional.  Harry giggled, “I’m right here, Mummy!”. He thought I was looking for him.

And so I made my prayer whilst holding my three-year-old third child, feeling his small heart beat in his narrow chest and smelling his golden hair.  I gave thanks for him and his healthy, sturdy little body.  In a few short years, he won’t want to be held like this.  Last night I was short-tempered with him.  He kept climbing on me in a bid to win my attention.  I’d had enough of being a Mummy for the day and I just wanted five minutes with NOBODY TOUCHING ME.   So I prayed that God’s grace might enter my life, that His light might shine through all the cracks of my shortcomings and imperfections.  Most of all I prayed that I might remember to pray when I needed to most.  It was beautiful and profound, it really was.

Then Harry dirtied his nappy and woke his baby sister and poured cornflakes all over the floor.

But I picked up the broom with a serene smile (after changing two nappies and fixing two breakfasts).  I felt peaceful and recharged.

It’s amazing what a healthy diet can do for you.

PS: After I was halfway through writing this, I discovered The Simple Italians at Simple Living ABC’s had written an excellent post on this very topic.  You might think I copied their idea, but I didn’t, I promise.   And it’s definitely worth a read.