iPad Mum

ipad loveAs each year of motherhood passes I find myself more grateful than ever that my non-denominational god has blessed me with a daughter (a girly girl, no less) who doesn’t like sport. I’d even go so far as to say she hates it.

And right now, as Victoria (where I live) is being deluged, my gratitude is verging on fervour. Wet is an understatement. Soaking is probably more appropriate a term for the kind of rain we are experiencing at the moment. And as I drive by miserable parents crowding under umbrellas, bracing the cold and knee deep in mud at local football fields, I can’t help but feel smug. I send up a non-denominational prayer to my non-denominational god for delivering to me a child who prefers more genteel activities that are generally conducted indoors.

At the beginning of her second year at school I asked my daughter what activities she’d like to do outside of school. ‘Nothing with balls, Mummy,’ was her response. To my great relief.

Balls and I have had a stand-offish relationship all my life. We have never really gotten along. After a series of awkward mishandlings, and by mutual agreement, we decided it best to leave each other alone when I reached puberty. So I was hardly torn apart by the news that Little Miss didn’t want to run about chasing them for fun.

There are a multitude of benefits to this arrangement. Aside from the obvious aid to my personal comfort, my washing machine doesn’t get clogged with mud, I don’t have to spend money on expensive uniforms and boots, and I get to relax on a chair indoors while Little Miss does drama or whatever and indulge in my favourite pastime.

My iPad.

Yes, shamefully I must admit, I am one of those despicable ‘device’ mum’s. You know the ones. Disinterested, self-absorbed. Occasionally glancing up to give Little Miss an encouraging nod and mouth ‘Yes, I’m watching’ before returning to my inane and pointless tweeting, facebooking and writing smug blog posts about how damned first world lucky I am.

In fact, now when selecting activities I unconsciously steer Little Miss toward activities that lend themselves to an indulgent hour of social media intercourse. Classes where talking between parents is prohibited as it distracts from the little ones concentration. Or even better (and here’s a discovery for you) classes that start after 5pm, because they are the ones dads are roped into and dads simply can’t be bothered wasting their time on friendly idle chit chat with strangers. They prefer to sit and stare at their shoes. Or walk around examining the walls for imperfections. (I’ve learned a lot about anti-social behaviour by watching dads).

All round, it’s a most suitable situation for a couple of ball-hating, sport averse females. The only down side is Little Miss’s somewhat tense relationship with her PE teacher. She can’t meet this sport fanatics expectations, no matter how hard she tries. At first it upset her (she is a goody two shoes like her mum was before her). She desperately wanted this lady’s approval. But more recently she’s become philosophical and got it into perspective.

‘I think when Mrs X sees a ball, she goes mad.’

Good point. She is a sports nut after all. And everyone knows mad people aren’t sane, right? So there’s no point trying to please them, because they’re just not rational, yes?  Yes. It’s a logic I have to applaud, especially when I’m benefiting so well from it.

7 Things I learned from my grandmother

Phyllis Ward – affectionately known in my family as ‘Mother’ – died on 22nd July 2012 aged 93. She was my much loved grandmother and the last of my grandparents to pass away.

Ninety three is old – especially when you consider what she’d seen in her lifetime. Aside from the obvious things there was toilet paper, paracetamol, vinyl, plastic bags, supermarkets, seasonal fashion, and long range weather forecasts. My grandmother lived in an era when people started work at 13 years of age, when houses were built without running water, bathrooms or toilets, when baked bread was considered a convenience food and young people died of pneumonia. She lived through nearly a century of rapid and profound social, economic and technological change, and given her long life experience, I want to share with you some of the wisdom I gleaned from her while she was alive.

Things I learned from my grandmother.

1. Sit up straight, put your shoulders back.

While this sounds like a piece of advice from Ms Havershams School of Deportment for Elegant Ladies, it means so much more than simply holding oneself erect. My grandmother believed in dignity, which was why watching her dissolve into dementia was so painful. She was always well turned out and taught me to take pride in myself and to always walk with my head held high.

2. Slippers are not for wearing outside.

I learned this golden gem when I was only 4 or 5 years old. She’d bought me a new pair of slippers with Mickey Mouse embroidered on the toes. I was mighty proud of those slippers and she growled at me when she found me playing in them outside in the empty chook shed.

It took me a long time to understand the value of this advice. Everything has its purpose (including indoor footwear) and to ruin things by using them inappropriately is not only wasteful, it’s disrespectful of the object itself. If you want something to last take care of it, use it properly and appropriately. Needless to say I still can’t wear my slippers outside.

3. Be careful to whom you address the following question: How are you?

My grandmother was so very right about this one. The world is full of tyre kickers and time wasters who are just waiting for an opportunity to fill your ears with their pointless whining. What you should do is smile politely (because manners are important too), say hello and keep pushing that walker away from them as quickly as possible. If the very same question is directed at you, you are not obliged to answer. Just tell them to mind their own business – which my grandmother did – often.

4. You can’t expect to always get along with your life partner.

While this seems like a no brainer, it’s the one truth most people forget when they’re making their starry eyed marriage vows. There is a no nonsense honesty about this advice I have always valued. It reminds me, especially at those times when I have to restrain myself from poking someone I love in the eye, that I’m not perfect and I’m probably lucky to still have my own eyesight.

Personally I think her list is a bit short. She should have included daughters and sons, dogs, other random family members, work colleagues, friends and cats.

5. History is important.

My grandmother and grandfather spent a lot of time and money researching their respective family histories. Thanks to my grandmother I can claim to be partly descended from the Huguenots, French blue blood no less, which would have to balance out all that wild Scottish/Irish  temper – surely?

But it’s not just about genealogy and all those confusing circles and squares in a family tree. It’s about tribe. My grandmother taught me that I belong, that I am part of something larger than myself – it’s called family.

6. Laughter is a form of forgiveness – and saying sorry.

Whenever my grandmother was angry with me, she’d soothe my hurt or irritated feelings with a joke, mostly at her own expense. Try it. If you’re annoyed with someone, if you’re arguing over something petty, if there’s tension in the air, take a look at yourself and how ridiculous you’re being and laugh. It’s a great tension breaker – especially with kids.

7. You don’t need to wear underwear to bed because it’s good to give your bottom a rest at night.

For some reason this bizarre and meaningless piece of advice, offered to me when I was very young, fresh out of the bath and ready to climb into my bloomers and pyjamas, has stayed with me. So much so I offered it to my own daughter a few years ago and she recently repeated it to a friend during a sleepover. This is where superstitions begin. I’m powerless to stop it now. No doubt my descendents 50 years from now will be refusing to wear underwear to bed because Mother said so. I’m not sure how happy she’d be that this will be her lasting legacy, but I reckon she’d get a bloody good laugh out of it. And given the enormous value of her other pieces of advice, I think she’s allowed one real dud.

I am relieved that my grandmother is free of the vast indignities and discomforts of old age. Her spirit, and her strange advice, will live on through her children, grandchildren and great grand children.

Farewell, Mother, grandmother of mine.

I love you, I miss you, rest well, in peace.

Mother of all debates

An early photograph of an Ifugao mother and he...

An early photograph of an Ifugao mother and her son. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have a question. Why is there so much crap published in Western world about bloody motherhood? It seems politicians, media commentators, feminists, maternal lobby groups and people in general feel compelled to continually debate the role of women as mothers in the home vs women as mothers in the workplace – with plenty of hand wringing about what is the right balance.

Yes, getting the balance right is difficult. There is no one size fits all answer. People make choices on staying at home or working or both depending on their personal circumstances and preferences. Working might be a matter of have to. Same with staying home. The truth is how women chose to live their lives as mothers and/or employees is really nobody’s damned business but their own! And yet, the cycle of public debate about what women choose to ‘do with their lives’ after children continues unabated.

I conducted a very simple survey to find out just how overused the term ‘motherhood’ is. Put ‘Motherhood’ into Mrs Google and she yields a whopping 33,500,000 hits. How many do you reckon you get when you do the same for ‘Fatherhood’? Go on, have a guess. I’ll give you a hint. It’s a LOT less. 24 million hits less, to be exact.

This obsession with motherhood is partly driven by women’s ongoing battle to assert their inherent human value as mothers and their right to work if they choose. But what about the significantly lower numbers for fatherhood? Do they mean men are less concerned about their role as a father, or do they indicate that we as a society think fatherhood is less important than motherhood?

Some of the answer to these questions lie in the first 10 hits in the fatherhood search, which yields links to foundations, research and support networks for fathers – probably because fatherhood is serious business not to be argued about or taken lightly. Motherhood, on the other hand, yields links to maternity online shopping, a movie, a musical, a book, and a tribute site so you can construct your very own sentimental tribute to your mother. Support groups are there too, but further down the list. It seems that ‘Motherhood’ is an open slather subject for public and commercial interest. Sadly, ‘Motherhood’ has become a term loaded with sales pitches, sentimentality, expectation, judgement, criticism and, worst of all, ill-informed and (dare I say it) irrelevant public comment.

In the last couple of weeks there has been a lot of bullshit (sorry about the French but there really is no other word for it) written in the media about ‘mummy wars’. Apparently women are pitting themselves against each other in a desperate attempt to justify the choices they’ve made about staying at home (SAHM) or working once they have children. Women are propagating their own myths about the value of a woman who stays at home (assumed to be low) compared to one who chooses to work (cue guilt ridden sacrifice for the betterment of society). And they are at each other’s throats in an effort to prove their personal choice is the best one.

Really? Come on ladies, we are so much better than that!

If fatherhood copped the same kind of public debate, what do you reckon it would sound like? I’ll hazard a guess for you. It would be full of blokes blowing their own trumpets, telling the world how great they are at managing the demands of their inflexible bosses while squeezing in quality time with their kids and still managing to run a household like clockwork – all at the same time, clever dicks that they are! The only complaint would be they don’t get paid enough for home duties – because there would have to be some kind of remuneration for all that WORK at home wouldn’t there? I guarantee there wouldn’t be a bloody hint of guilt or judgement. There’d just be a lot of self-congratulatory back slapping and nominations for Father of the Year.

Today I spoke with a friend who has three kids, the youngest about to turn 2, and she is being pressured by her workplace (and her husband) to return to work. This is in spite of the fact that what she will earn in 2 days of admin work will be swallowed up by train fares and childcare fees. This is also in spite of the fact that she has only 2 days in the week when her children don’t have after school commitments, and only one of those days suits her employer.  And because her husband is contracted to a fairly high-powered job, she is the one expected to organise kids, drop them off to childcare and before school care, get herself to work (an hour away) on time, then pick everyone up again at the end of the day and go home to organise dinner. And she only gets paid, and then not very much, for the stuff she does while she’s sitting at a desk. (I have to note here that our Mr. Abbot thinks women should be supported to do this because we should be considered ‘economic assets’ as well as ‘social asset’s’. Thanks for your reductionist views, Sir, I feel so much more empowered and valued now.)

The truth is we women are doing the best we can with what we’ve got. We work because we choose to or because we have to. For many of us our work choices are limited not only by our family circumstances but by the blinkered way employers think. Part time job opportunities that take our skills seriously and pay us well for our time are as rare as a bloke who cleans the shower recess. Believe me, I’ve been looking for an alternative part time job that will use my impressive list of skills for over 12 months without luck and I’m not alone. Employers just don’t want to know about part time workers, no matter how skilled they are and how much they have to offer. They are simply not interested in using a little flexibility to employ ‘mothers’, given their priorities lay elsewhere (with their kids) and obviously not with their job.

Frankly I’m sick to death of having my role as mother, the choices I make as a woman responsible for my life and family, constantly open to public comment. I do what I do because it’s best for me and my family – not because some journalist, academic, feminist, public policy maker or anyone else tells me it’s what I should do. None of my peers judge me for working. And I applaud those who opt to stay at home (which I personally believe is the harder option). ‘Mummy wars’ are an invention of patriarchal and patronising thinking, women’s insecurity about themselves and attention grabbing media beat up. Lay off, I say, and give some support to enable mums to do what they do best – caring for their families.

The Family Holiday

Holiday – def. a day or period of leisure taken off or set aside for leisure and enjoyment as a break from work or usual activity.

Once upon a time, when I was single, fleet-footed and free, a ‘holiday’ was an experience filled with surprises. It usually involved interminable bus rides across three states in a tin can driven by a pot-bellied, grey moustached driver whose wife had left him two months ago and told sexually inappropriate jokes. Destinations along the way were a combination of guess work, selected at random from tourist maps, or recommended by some sunburnt English nurse with a gigantic cold sore on her upper lip.

These wild jaunts saw me hitch hiking to isolated beaches with hippies and slumming it in smelly, noisy rooms crammed with six or more back packers from countries of no fixed address. Drinking games, limbo under the stars, sleazy tour guides, condoms, book swaps, deeply intimate lifelong friendships formed in four hours (with people whose names I have since forgotten) over too many crappy happy hour cocktails and shared bowls of fries.

Roll on the years, the marriage, the kid and watch the nature of my holiday change– irrevocably – to become the much over rated Family Holiday.

The Family Holiday is an entity all of its own, which is why they have separate advertising campaigns for them, showing beaming kids and parents sharing fun times together and building a lifetime’s worth of fuzzy focus memories. The reality could not be further from these saccharine soaked ads.

Family Holiday’s are designed specifically to make us glad we have a boring job to go back to when we return home. There is nothing like whiny, homesick kids, two over-worked partners desperate for some time out, and a deaf Nana, to transform the once glittering ‘holiday’ into parody. Forget spontaneous adventure, eating porridge for dinner, snogging with a stranger after drinking a gallon of cheap Moselle and good travelling music. The Family Holiday is a nether world – a place of nagging, arguments, and embarrassing tantrums (and that’s just the grown-ups).

The torture usually starts in the car with the standard arguments about what to listen to on the way – Wiggles? Dean Martin? Nirvana? This holiday I got to listen to exactly 2.5 Violent Femmes songs before the tape deck is commandeered and I’m forced to listen to Disney Classics, Frank Sinatra show tunes and the soundtrack to High Society. (What a swellegant, elegant car trip this is!)

The real highlight of this year’s FH (Viva Lakes Entrance) was the discovery of a Bowls Club (within walking distance of course) that offered kids a ‘2-course-all-the-trans-fats-and-sugar-you-can-eat-buffet’ for $6.50 (Yeah, $6.50! We couldn’t believe it either!). This was an absolute BOON for my greedy partner who adores a smorgasbord and was not in the least put off by the fact it was a kids-only-food-fest. He ordered his entrée and main and then, like a pimp, got our daughter to return to the bain-marie three times so he could be supplied with mini dim sims.

The next best thing was the discovery of the 137 flavour ice-cream parlour around the corner. (‘Can we try them all?’- ‘Sure – if you want to look like that family of fatties eating the four flavours in a bucket and oozing over their seats.’) And, for our endless convenience, right across the road from our accommodation, a supermarket, video library, police station (just in case someone stole our 15 year old sun tent with the broken zip) and an all hours chemist – what more could intrepid travellers seeking something new and exotic ask for?

All the Danish drinking games, the cheap mini-bus tours, the short lived and endlessly satisfying romances of my earlier holiday’s fade in comparison to this meca of delight that is the Family Holiday. Who wouldn’t rather spend the morning roaming $2 shops looking for the cheapest plastic bucket and spade than lounging about swapping travel stories with a stoned Danish fire fighter? What sort of idiot wouldn’t prefer the constant negotiation, cajoling, pouting and bribery with a spoilt seven year old to a cheap bunk bed and a whole day opening up before you like an unread best seller?

Family Holiday’s are a misnomer. By definition they don’t really mean ‘holiday’. You take all your usual household responsibilities with you. You cook, get woken early, wash dishes and clothes sticky with soft drink and icy poles and sweep an entire beach of sand out of the bathroom or tent every day. You must remember to hang out the bathers and towels so they’re dry for the next day at the beach or be prepared to cop the worst kind of family abuse about having to wear claggy bathers.

Necessities include: accessible beaches, nearby public toilets, buckets of sunscreen and calamine lotion, and innumerable trips to the chemist (we totalled five – magnifying reading glasses, paracetamol, Zinc cream, a prescription and aloe vera gel). All those and an Oscar winning ability to grit your teeth and grin into the camera like you’re actually enjoying yourself.

It was so much fun this year we’ve booked in again for next year. At the same place of course. Same unit. Same time of year. Best not to leave anything to chance. Oh, and we’ve added an extra couple of days, so we don’t miss the paddle boats – like we did this year!