motherhood

Stop just a minute

Tea This is all happening too fast.

It's not just the growing, it's the developing, the knowing, the maturing. "Stop growing up, start growing down," I tell them, and they roar with laughter. "Again?" requests Ralph, "Will you tell me to grow down?" ("Grow down," I obligingly order him. "NO!" he yells in evident delight).

Ralph started toilet-training on the weekend. I have always said this wasn't the kind of parenting blog that would share the details of my children's challenges, and I'm not about to change that now, so I'll spare you the details of that particular story (although you can ask me in private if you want to: there is much hilarity for people who can appreciate or relate to that sort of thing). But I didn't need Ralph to keep reminding me "I'm a big boy now!" to reinforce the significance of this time. Nappies = babies. Undies = big kids. Once my last baby is out of nappies, that tender, sweet, all-encompassing stage in my life is gone forever.

Oh, it's such a boring cliché, I am bored even as I write it and you are probably yawning, if you're still here at all. Alert the media: Mother Mourns Passing of Time.

Ballet

Each little milestone, announced with such pride.

Scout: "Mummy, watch me. I can skip!"

Ralph: "Mummy look at me standing on one leg!"

Scout: "Is this how I write my name Mummy? I am very good at this."

Ralph: "Don't help. I can brush my own teeth."

And Scout (beaming with pride): "Maman, comment ça va?" ("Je vais bien, merci," I reply.) Scout (nodding her head approvingly, like a wise old lady): "Ah, bon."

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Here is another cliché that is true: every age is the most wonderful and the best.

Whether they are cloud-gazing or deciphering words, practising new skills or teaching one another, seeing the world through their eyes is a great privilege, a front row seat to the theatre of life as it unfolds, all over again. Just like it was for me when I was their age, I imagine, but I was too busy doing the growing to pay attention to the sheer wonder of it all.

Last night I lay them on the carpet side by side after their bath, to get them dressed. They turned to face each other, giggling and playing, each one using the other one's hand as a pillow, feigning sleep, cuddling, kissing.

Suddenly it all hit me.

I stopped trying (and failing) to get them dressed, and started paying attention, proper attention, to the moment. "Look at them!" I wanted to open a window and shout to the whole world. Why couldn't everyone else see what I was seeing, the absolute miracle of these two human beings?

(A mother's ego that everyone must naturally find her children as fascinating as she does.) (Nobody does.) (Plebs).

Time stopped and it didn't matter any more how big they were getting or how small they still were, the new skills they had mastered or their adorable mistakes, it was just them. These two amazing individuals, and their love for each other. Such a love that I have never seen between two people for each other. Ever.

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Later, we three snuggled together and read stories. I read to them from Amazing Babes, a book that celebrates women of courage, of conviction, of creativity, and of compassion. We had conversations about women's rights and war crimes, about equal opportunities, about the law. It wasn't easy to explain these things in ways that a four-year-old and a two-year-old could understand, but I loved them for trying. Those little furrowed brows: concentrating, questioning.

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Small fingers tracing over the dark skin of Mum Shirl. All the questions! About prisons and prisoners, about Indigenous people in prison, about the whole history of colonialisation. Those big grey eyes looking up at me, round as little stars. "What did the people from England do to them that was naughty?" I took a deep breath. "Well, they took away their homes, and they hurt them. They tried to be the bosses of them, and they were cruel to them."

Those eyes again. "Why?" Oh sure, let's just solve the entire problem of racism during a cosy bedtime-story chat. "Because they were different," I said at last. "They looked different, and believed different things, and spoke a different language, and lived a different way. Because they were different, the people from England though they were better than them."

Scout stroked the dark-skinned face of Mum Shirl again. "Shohana has dark skin like this," she said, thoughtfully, "and Bella," naming her best friend. I pressed the advantage. "Do you think any of our friends are better than others, because of the way they look or what they believe?" She shook her head solemnly. I could tell she still didn't understand: racism wasn't just wrong, it was genuinely incomprehensible.

"Vaishali looks like that," Ralph piped up all of a sudden. "Yeah and Rajetha!" Scout returned. "It is a little bit like Yulia," Ralph continued (he pronounced it "Loolia," be still my heart). They started naming everyone they knew and loved with skin that was any colour other than their own: friends and teachers from India, Iran, Pakistan, Singapore, Indonesia, China, Peru.

Cloud gazing

Last night I talked politics and race and feminism and creative expression with my two kind and compassionate children. Yes, they are growing up, and it is an honour to witness the growing.

Permit me a proud-Mama moment, cliché or not.

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Anticipation

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When you are nearly four, anticipation is palpable. Tangible.

It dominates your mealtimes. What will my cake look like? Will all my friends sing Happy Birthday? Can we have hot chocolate?

And your friendships. I am nearly four. Am I older than my other friends? Will my hair be longer than all my friends' hair now? Will my feet be bigger than all my friends'?

Cleaning the house before your party, you don't even mind hiding your toys to make room for the party games. You can put them away now, Mummy, I don't mind. You help your mother decorate the house with the posters and banners and streamers and balloons you chose from Big W; mix up polymer snow-powder; smooth out tiny, handmade, paper snowflakes in your little almost-four hands.

Anticipation permeates your dreams. Quick! I have to get ready for my party! you yell, still fathoms-deep in sleep. (I will come to your party, your brother drowsily replies, before sinking back into his own dreams.)

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I didn't want to host yet another party in my house, but Scout begged me to do it. She didn't want to celebrate her birthday anywhere else. It was a lot of work, as parties always are. But in the weeks and days beforehand, as the day grew near and nearer still, I came to understand the joy of anticipation through her eyes. Even the most mundane of tasks: tidying, vacuuming, grocery shopping; became acts of thrilling expectation, and gave her joy before the real joy of the party.

I guess we never stop learning from our children.

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Animal etiquette

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"No animal, according to the rules of animal-etiquette, is ever expected to do anything strenuous, or heroic, or even moderately active during the off-season of winter." - Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

We are recovering from Scout's fourth birthday party yesterday. As luck would have it, today is a public holiday, so I intend to be unheroic and inactive, all day. Back soon! xo

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Scout says, Ralph says

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"'If you knew how great is a mother's love,' Wendy told them triumphantly, 'you would have no fear.'" JM Barrie, Peter Pan

 

Ralph has taken to calling me "Big Mamma," which is not particularly flattering, but relates adorably to "Little Mamma," his sister.

During an argument... Ralph: I put you in the bin, Scout! Scout: Well, you're not my best friend. Ralph: I DO want to be your best friend! Scout: Then say I am not in the bin. Ralph: I put you OUT of the bin! Scout: Alright, what balloon would you like?

And more about misbehaviour... Me, to Ralph: Can you please be a good boy today? Ralph: No! I will be A. Naughty. Boy! Me: Please? Ralph: NOOOOOOO! Me: Oh dear. I feel sad when you are naughty. Ralph (cuddles me around the neck): Alright, I will be a good boy. Scout: I will be naughty!

Ralph: Mummy? Me: Yes? Ralph: I'm lovely to see you, Mummy.

Scout: Mummy, you are a queen and you will look the same when you are a little old lady.

Me: Scout, thank you for doing such a great job tidying up the play-dough. Scout: You might want to give me something for that.

Lunch time. Sandwiches apparently give the children magic powers, and Ralph is determined to do what he calls "naughty magic"... Me: Quick Scout! Eat some magic sandwiches so you can counter Ralph's magic spells! Scout (takes a big bite of her sandwich): One, two, three... (get it? COUNTer?)

Ralph: This is a lovely autumn day for a chocolate milkshake.

Music teacher is handing out maracas to all the children... Me: What do you say, Ralph? Ralph (brandishing maracas): Let's rock!

Scout hands me a fist full of coins... "This is for you because you never have any money. Now put it in your purse so you don't lose it."

Ralph: Do aeroplanes have bladders for their wee?

Kids have been arguing and yelling at each other all morning... Me: Hey guys, can anyone remember that I told you this was a No Fight Day? (long pause) Ralph: No, it IS a fight day! Scout: Yeah it IS a fight day! Both kids: Fight day! Fight day! Fight day! (united at last)

Scout: Mummy, I want to keep you.

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Unplugged (again)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The day was bookended by the feeding of the ducks. Those ducks really love that we have come to stay in this cabin. All seven gazillion of them. My favourite is Stumpy. She was the first to find us, and appears, from the limp, as though she could do with a bit of Cornflake lovin'. My kids give her plenty.

"Over here Mrs Duck!" the children call. "Mrs Duck" is any duck and every duck, except Stumpy. My children do not like to discriminate.

A sunrise walk, a visit to the petting farm, a bumpy hay-bale ride behind a tractor… When we do tourist, we really do Tourist.

Mid-morning, Mr B drives back to Melbourne for a work event he can't escape, while we stay and holiday. And so when the children nap after lunch, the reality of "unplugged" truly sinks in, and I am confronted with… me.

All me.

No Internet, no 'phone, no book to read, no magazine, just me. I can't go for a walk, because my children are sleeping in the room behind me. There is no work to do, no garden to tend, no housework to tackle, no meals to prepare. (We are eating mac 'n cheese out of the box tonight).

I sit, I stand, I gaze outside, I make a cup of tea. This would be a perfect time to write letters, I think to myself, and that's when I realise that in addition to failing to bring a book, I also failed to bring any writing paper. The backs of all our maps and tourist brochures are covered with 'terms and conditions' and, just as I am about to give up, I clap eyes on the cereal boxes.

First, I tear apart the box of Cornflakes we had bought for the ducks. Take my tea outside to the balcony, and start to write. When the Cornflakes box is completely covered, it is time to bust apart the holiday Coco Pops. I am just eyeing the mac 'n cheese box when the kids wake up.

We spend the next three hours playing. I mean, really playing. I have nothing else to do, worry about, look at, think about, but my kids. I had thought that quitting Facebook and Twitter and a life generally free from social media (apart from the odd Instagram photograph) helped me be more present while my kids were playing. But the absence of housework or paid work or emails or text messages or phone calls or book-notes to make or letters to write or books or blogs or magazines or letters to read takes things to a whole other level.

Today, I am Fun Mum. We are explorers, seeking ancient ruins in the sand pit. We are all manner of emergency services, putting out fires and rescuing the injured and attending accidents. I am a burglar, being chased by tiny police in those tiny toddler-cars that you pedal with your feet, like the Flintstones. I am a baby, who simply refuses to behave.

At the end of our games, as we wander hand in hand back to our cabin, Ralph announces "I'm tired Mummy, I want to go to sleep." This is unprecedented. The poor kid is barely upright. At the cabin, he rallies long enough to feed the ducks and consume a barely mouthful of his dinner, and then it is time for bed. Scout is right behind him.

It is 6pm and all's quiet. I am alone with my thoughts again. I turn to the empty mac 'n cheese box and pick up a pen…

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Mother's Day

coffeeThere are two pairs of tiny, mud-covered wellies in the hallway by our front door. And if you are aged two or three, you will know that that is a sign of a day well spent: muddy wellies suggest explorations, rain-soaked adventures, (Ralph's curls gone wild), and, of course, the time-honoured joy of jumping up and down in muddy puddles.

Yesterday was Mother's Day and, do you know what? Call me Hallmark but I felt the love. It started with both children on our bed in the morning, Ralph asking "Can you let the cat in?" and Scout squeezing me around the neck, saying, "Ahh my Mummy. I love you more than me." You could have stopped the day right there and it would have been complete for me.

We had brunch with a friend at Bebida on Smith Street and, alongside the best eggs I've had in a longggg time, they also managed to give me the best Mother's Day brunch that money could buy, being a really great (grown-up!) atmosphere, without any member of staff skipping a beat that we had brought two small children with us. They were super friendly, super helpful, super cool and the food was super good. This, combined with the fact that both children were preternaturally well-behaved, made it a stress free and thoroughly enjoyable meal. We followed up with a scoop each at Gelato Messina, and the kids didn't even make a mess of their clothes. Because, Mother's Day magic!

As I carried Ralph back along Smith Street, I whispered into his curls, "I love you." "Can you say it louder?" he asked. "I love you!" I announced, in my big voice. "I love you Mummy," said Ralph. "I love you I love you I LOVE YOU!" A lump formed in my throat. (And then he continued, "I love that red car, I love that light, I love that wall." But I will take my wins where I find them).

Scout woke first from her afternoon nap, so she and I went out together to CERES (more jumping up and down in muddy puddles) to buy some plants for our garden, as well as a particularly lovely monstera deliciosa for inside the house. Because apparently, on Mother's Day you actually TURN INTO your mother. I swear I could feel my mother approving of my choice of Mother's Day present, even all the way from Poland, where she and my father are adventuring right now. (I miss my mum! Happy Mother's Day, Mum!) Scout carefully selected a fair-trade Bolga Basket woven out of elephant grass by mothers in Ghana, which will serve as a 'pot' for the monstera in my bedroom.

When we got home, the children and I spent an hour playing "babies." This is a great game to play when you're tired because, as a baby, you get to lie down on the floor and not do particularly much. In this iteration of the game, both Ralph and I were the babies, and Scout was our mother. It was bedtime, and she gave us toys to cuddle in bed. But we were (upon instruction) 'naughty,' and insisted on playing instead of sleeping. If you are a particularly wily mother (ahem), you can learn to work the system of this game. For example, crying "Wah, wah! Mummy this baby can't sleep because she needs a foot massage!"

Let's just say that Scout is a very attentive mummy.

At dinner Mr B and I decanted a lovely bottle of red wine and lit candles in the dining room, with a bad/hilarious/great record from the 1960s on the old Blaupunkt, featuring popular classical pieces from Mozart and Beethoven and other similar composers, set alongside some wonderfully tacky drum beats and guitar 'fillers'.

And that brings us up to my right now (your last night). I am sitting on the couch, watching some renovation show or other on the TV. Both children and Mr B are upstairs, probably snoring. Our cat Ruby is beside me on the couch, purring and also keeping my feet warm. Soon she and I will join everyone else in the family in slumber. Mother's Day 2016, over and out.

ps. Me and my mum, a very long time ago...

Image credit: Sarah Boyle, licensed for unlimited use under Creative Commons

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Scout says Ralph says

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Scout (rubbing her belly): These pancakes are delicious. My tummy says yum-my.

Ralph (rubbing his belly): My yellow t-shirt says YUMMY too.

 

At bed time...

Scout: I love you to the aliens' planet, and a million.

Ralph: I love you to my rocket ship and I also love the aliens' planet.

 

At another bedtime, when their father was overseas...

"I love you past the aliens' planet and all the way to Daddy!"

 

During a book photoshoot...

Me: This photo is supposed to tell a story. It is cold and rainy outside. But inside, the person is all cosy and warm, snuggled into blankets on the couch, drinking tea and reading a letter from a friend. Maybe they have just gotten up to make some toast...

Scout: Can I be that person? (pause) And can you make me some toast?

 

Scout (cuddling her dolly): Do you wish you were as good at Mummying as me?

Me: Yes!

Scout: It's ok, don't cry. You did TEACH me how to do it.

 

Scout: Ring ring! Hello moon? Moon? Can you come down please?

 

At bed time...

Me: Thank you for a really good day.

Scout: Thank you for being a really good Mummy.

Ralph: Can I bounce a ball on your head?

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And so this was Christmas

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So this was our Christmas. I hope yours was beautiful. And now it's time to say, see you next year! Can you even believe that?

Love, Naomi xo

ps. I've been on an unexpected blog-and-Internet break due to the sad demise of my modem (which I didn't discover for two days until I was suddenly out of data on my phone - grr!). All things considered, it was the perfect time of year to take time off. I'll be back in the New Year feeling refreshed, and very much looking forward to all the year will bring for us.

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Pre-dawn

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I had already been awake for at least an hour.

The hotel bed was one of those lumpy ones that felt like it was bruising my spine, no matter how I twisted and turned. The room was hot and stuffy, even with the AC on as high as it could go, possibly because it was 35 degrees outside and the seal around the windows wasn't great (as evidenced by the fact that the closed blinds had flapped and rattled against the sills all night, waking me out of uneasy slumber with every gust of summer wind).

It was so hot that both children slept only in nappies. Their bare little bodies made time roll backwards: they seemed impossibly young and vulnerable, still my babies for this night, at least.

When at long last the dark weakened under those flapping, banging blinds and the pre-dawn sneaked into the hotel room in stripes of grey, watery light, I took in a giant breath of relief.

To my right, tucked tightly into a ball on his belly, I could see my little boy asleep with his thumb in his mouth and his curly hair wild on the pillow.

Two today.

How am I even a mother? And I started that self-indulgent thing that mothers like to do, thinking to myself: this time last year... this time two years ago... now...

The way he giggles when I tickle him: big, throaty, hearty chuckles. His current obsession with everything vehicular, our days punctuated with "chug" and "zoom" and "broom" and "beep beep beep." Chasing his sister, arm raised, and when I say "No hitting!" he responds "Just kissing, Mummy," and resumes the chase, baby-lips pursed. How he still sucks his thumb and curls his hair when he's tired. How everything new is "lovely" and "beautiful" and "I lub it!" At night when I tuck him in he sits straight back up and tries to make me laugh. "Lie down Ralph," I say, hiding my smile behind my hand. But when I leave the room he calls out, repetitively until I respond. "I lub you Mummy! I lub you more! Lub you por eba!"

The wind rattled again and on the other side of the room, Scout opened her eyes and looked straight at me. I crooked my finger at her and she leaped out of bed and tip-toed as fast as she could over to ours. I lifted her into the lumpy bed, in between me and a still-sleeping Mr B, and she wrapped her arms around my neck and kissed my cheek.

Then I heard a thump. Ralph had climbed out of his own bed, and thudded over to ours, all puffy-eyed and wild-haired, and I helped him climb into bed, too.

"What doing Mummy?" he asked, voice croaky with sleep.

"Shh," I said, "lie down."

So he simply lay down, half on the bed and half snuggled on top of me, thumb back in mouth. Scout lay down next to him and reached her little hand out to his curls, softly stroking them.

"Is that lovely Ralph?" she asked softly.

He let his thumb out of his mouth for only a second. "Yes," he whispered. And then, "Do my ear?"

So Scout tickled his ear, then his back, and then his hair again.

"It lovely," he breathed.

Then Mr B woke up and rolled over. "Happy birthday Ralph!" he announced, and both children sat up.  Ralph pulled his thumb out of his mouth and said "Yeah!" and the birthday began.

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Home delivery coffee

coffee Dear entrepreneurs and cafe-owners of Melbourne, here is a business idea. Consider it a gift from me to you.

Home delivery coffee.

Allow me to put my case.

Imagine, if you will, the thousands upon thousands of parents, grandparents, friends and nannies in Melbourne right now who have spent all day chasing after babies and toddlers. Anyone who has done this knows how BEHOND EXHAUSTING it is to do. And now imagine this occurring on the back of a night of little or at best broken sleep. Make that THREE AND A HALF YEARS of little or at best broken sleep, night after night.

And now imagine that at around two o’clock in the afternoon, by some happy confluence of hard work, planning, and sheer dumb luck, those babies and toddlers actually fall asleep for a nap. In their own beds. At the same time.

And so all those thousands upon thousands of parents, grandparents, friends and nannies who have spent all day chasing after all those babies and toddlers FINALLY get a chance to sit down. They know they should be cleaning, or working, or folding washing, or calling their mothers. But they are just so mind-numbingly exhausted that all they can do is sit and stare at that stain on the lounge-room rug left over from the Great Banana Mush Incident of ’13.

Do you know what they would love right now? Coffee. They would really, really love a nap-time coffee. Some might even kill for it, and most would probably pay through the nose for it.

But - and here’s the kicker - even if they had the energy to walk, they couldn't leave the house to buy it. The babies and toddlers are asleep, remember?

Now if someone was to develop an app via which all those people could ORDER a coffee, and have a barista with a coffee cart rock up at their home a few minutes later... Well, that person may well be in line to make their first million.

Just a suggestion.

Image credit: Lesly Juarez, licensed for unlimited use under Creative Commons

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