Friday, November 25, 2011

Friday is writing day.

To misquote Thomas Mann*, "A parent is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people."

Friday is my designated writing day. It's my one day off work a week. Luka doesn't know that. There are lots of things he conveniently doesn't know, like how sometimes he goes to daycare in what are technically pyjamas, and that batteries can be replaced. The day that fucking Elmo guitar with no volume control wore out was one of the best days of my motherhood.

Anyway, on Friday mornings I resist the urge to potter about the house in my pyjamas while my son creates a small yet surprisingly adhesive trail of Rice Bubbles along the lounge room tiles.

Up! Shower! Pants! Relatively clean bra! Top! Shoes!

(that's me)

Nappy! Clothes that may or may not have been intended to be worn as pyjamas! Hair gel so you can see out from under that mop! When did I last clean your teeth! Oh well we'll do them tonight! Shoes! Rice Bubbles!

(that's Luka)

"I want you to do it."
"You want me to do what? You want me to feed you your Rice Bubbles?"
*blonde head nods*
"But you can do that yourself! I need to comb my hair out."
He gently rests his forehead on the edge of the table and pushes the Rice Bubbles away.
*sigh* "All right."

I shovel spoonfuls of breakfast confetti into my son with one hand while running a brush through my hair with the other. Occasionally my multi-tasking limbs get confused and I run a spoonful of warm milk through Luka's curls. He thinks this is hilarious.

Right. We're ready to head to daycare. Then writing day will commence.

"Mum, I've got a big poo."

I stop at the front door, keys and four thousand bags in hand. "Really?"

He stand on his toes and shuffles towards me in poo-stance. I smell him before he gets to me. Birthday cake has a lot to answer for. Bags down, into the bedroom.

"Righto, lie down. No, lie down here, I can't reach you there. You can play with Thomas when you get home from daycare. Lie down here. Luka. Now. We have to go catch the bus, come on, lie down. No, dummies are for sleeping, you know that. Luka. Lie. Down. Now."

10 minutes later the poo has been dealt with. Back to the front door.

"Luka, where have you put my keys?"
"I made a hide-and-seek! You count!"
"We haven't got time, can you find them for me?"
"You count!"
*pause* "I'll count and you see how fast you can find them, okay?"
"Okay!" (Another thing that Luka conveniently doesn't know are the technical points of hide-and-seek.)
"One, two, three, four, five - leave that jacket there we've got another one in your bag - six, seven - you're looking for the keys, remember? Eight..."

Another 10 minutes later and we are successfully on the other side of the door.

"I'm a bit sad," says Luka in a small voice. I squat down.
"Why are you a bit sad?" I ask.
"In my face," he answers. I put a hand to his face. It's pretty warm. I put my hand up under his t-shirt. His back is pretty warm too. I hesitate.
"Do you want some medicine before daycare?" I ask. Maybe Panadol will head things off at the pass.

Back inside.

"What do you weigh, Luka?" I study the dosing guide on the bottle of Panadol.
"Okay," he says.

One weigh-in, 9ml and another 10 minutes later, we have made it to the bottom of the stairs and Luka is clipped into the stroller.

"Right!" I am triumphant, we've made it out of the apartment and it's still only 9:30am.

"I want to hold my bag," says Luka.

I reach for his bag. I've left it in the apartment. I glance up and down the hall. There's no one around. "You just stay here, okay, I'll run up and get it?"

"No, I wanna go with you."
"I'll just be a minute, I'll just run upstairs and-"
"Noooooo I wannna go with yoooooou!" He starts to wail. I do some involuntary fist-clenching, followed by some voluntary quiet swearing.

"Fucking," says Luka. I glance around to see if anyone is proffering my Parent Of The Year award, but there are no gleaming statuettes in evidence.

With my teeth carefully pressed together, I unclip him from the stroller, unwind the complex pretzel of my handbag strap from the handles and hold his hand while he takes the stairs one step at an interminably slow time.

"Do you want to put your bag on your back?" I ask, once we're inside again.
"I've got a big poo."
"Can I have a look down your pants?"

Fifteen minutes and another nappy later, I am re-pretzeling my handbag strap around the stroller.

The next bit runs so smoothly that I am quite unnerved. We stagger up to the bus stop three minutes before the bus arrives, and I manage to wrestle my wagon-load of child, stroller and bags onto the bus while only gouging out a relatively small chunk of my calf.

The traffic is light. The bus stops right outside the daycare centre. This is going well.

"This is where we hang up your bag, this is Luka's hook."
"That's MY bag."

"Hi Luka! Our friend Luka is here, everyone!" Winnie waves to Luka and he waves back in that whole-body toddler fashion that threatens to take out any object within arm's length. Toddler arms are a bit like Labrador tails. Enthusiastic and fatal to heirloom china.

"That's a great top, Luka!" says Winnie.
"These are my monster pyjamas!" replies Luka.

Ah. Scratch one thing off the list of 'things Luka conveniently does not know'.

Forty minutes later I'm back at my apartment, cup of tea in hand, laptop on. I glance at the pile of breakfast dishes, but I don't let them distract me. I choose to believe that they will be taken care of at some point during the day by my invisible, domestic-hero boyfriend. He really is a dear, and always knows just the right time of evening to suggest I stop hanging up the washing, put my feet up and order pizza. (I have to order a large pizza, obviously, because there's two of us. Invisible boyfriends can really put away the slices.)

"Right," I say. I say 'right' a lot.

I open the story I have been working on to reacquaint myself with where I was up to, and wonder why my characters roll their eyes and nod so much. I think they need to say 'right' more often.

I've written four halting paragraphs when my mobile rings. I swear, press ALT-F-S (which can theoretically stand for File-Save or Fuck's-Sake) and pick up my phone. It's the daycare centre.

"Hello, is this Anna? This is Winnie, from the daycare. Ah, was Luka unwell this morning?"
"Um, he seemed pretty okay, a bit warm maybe."
"Yeah, he's seeming a bit unwell today, I think his temperature is about 39, and he just want to lie down on the floor and rest all the time?"

I look at my laptop screen. There's a nice little standoff between Guilt and Annoyance in my head. Guilt pokes Annoyance in the eyes and pulls her hair. Guilt fights dirty.

"I probably should come and get him, shouldn't I?"
"Yeah, I think it would be good. Thankyou Anna, see you soon!"

I gently shut my laptop and pick up my keys. The weather has heated up. When I finally get back to the daycare centre, I'm a sweaty mass of frustration and chafed thighs. I stride through to the toddler room, and each step echoes like a diminishing word count. Annoyance has obviously picked herself up off the ropes and bitten Guilt on the nose.

"Hey, Luka."
He turns his soft face up to mine. He's so pale he's almost translucent, and the rims of his little eyes are red.
"I'm a little bit sick," he says.
I pick him up and he leans against me, resting his head on my shoulder. He's very warm, and I can feel his little arms quivering.
"Can we go home and have a little sleep?" he asks in a small voice.

Guilt pulls an AK-47 from her pants and efficiently obliterates Annoyance.

"Course we can, buddy. I'm sorry you're a little bit sick. Do you want some Tiny Teddies when we get home?"

I cuddle his hot little body a bit closer.

There's a Friday every week.

*In case you're wondering, the original is: "A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people."

Friday, November 18, 2011

Mixed selections

"What does 'mixed selection' mean?"

"You don't want to know."

"No, really, what does it mean."

"It means - well, let's just say it's a good idea to keep a note of which meal was served on which day of the week."


"You don't want to know."


It's about my fourth week living at a Melbourne University residential college that shall remain nameless except to say it's not Trinity, Hilda's, JCH, Ridley, Whitley, Queens, Newman, St Mary's or Ormond.

All of us first-years have started to lose our country-stunned expressions and drift vaguely into groups. We're all just out of high school, so from the footy-heads to the musical theatre nuts to the science nerds to the constantly drunk medical students, the social groups are roughly the same as in high school. I've determined that all the male students are named Andrew or David, and all the female students are named Jenny or Kate. This saves a lot of time. I personally have decided to answer to Kate, as I am not blonde enough to be a Jenny ('microwave Jenny' or otherwise).

We've gotten past the stage where all we can think of to ask each other are the two first-year-student-from-the-country questions: "Where are you from?" and "What course are you doing?" (Warrnambool; Arts/Science), and have moved on to discovering that we both taped the same obscure 1970s Jacques Rivette film off the telly, and have well-loved copies of 'The Castle of Cats' in our bedrooms.

We've also moved on to the most important and long-running intellectual discussion of our residential years: college food.

College food has a reputation. It starts off okay, I'm told, to lull the first-years (and their nervous parents) into a false sense of security. Then there is an almost imperceptible slide into a kind of tolerable yet soul-destroying mediocrity you can only otherwise experience by listening to Coldplay on the headphones that came with your iPod in a Hoyts cinema foyer while eating supermarket potato salad.

The first thing to note about college food is the smell. It doesn't matter what's for dinner, it still makes the dining hall smell sweet and meaty, a bit like the smell of a McDonalds hamburger bun. It's the kind of smell where for a minute you can't tell whether it's something nice or something rotting.

"What's for tea?"

"Armenian lamb, apparently."



There are many varieties of stew served at college. They go by such names as Armenian Lamb, Mongolian Beef, Indian Lamb, Mediterranean Beef, Moroccan Lamb and they all look and taste exactly the same: they are basically brown meat in a pot. The BMPs that are supposed to be curry-flavoured are often served with enormous amounts of pale, not-quite-deep-fried-enough pappadums which have been dumped into large metal bowls without being drained properly, so by the time we get them they have cooled, and developed little pockets of solidified fat in their undulations.

It doesn't pay to be vegetarian at college, either. The vegetarians are faced with a seemingly endless procession of 'slice': lentil slice, zucchini slice, and several others that go by different names but are essentially lentil slice and/or zucchini slice. I find this baffling: it is so easy to make tasty vegetarian food, even in slice format. The vegetarians at college go through a lot of tomato sauce.

Friday is the holy grail of college mealtimes. We all come back to college for dinner on Fridays, following some kind of deep, primal instinct that leads us to the dining hall like cartoon mice drifting nose-first after an illustrated ribbon of cheese-scent.

Friday at college is fish 'n' chips and ice-cream night.

*cue heraldic trumpets*

True, the fried-solid planks of fish-like substance are affectionately referred to as 'surfboards', but there's CHIPS and there's ICE-CREAM and there's shitloads of toppings and nuts (which you may also put on your chips if you wish, it's your call. We've all dipped McDonalds fries into a chocolate fudge sundae, so no one's judging). Those of us who return multiple times to the industrial-sized bottles of topping develop a kind of fiddler-crab-esque, overly muscular right arm from pumping the sauce.

I'm a bit funny about food at the best of times, so - Fridays aside - college food fills me with a combination of revulsion and amazement. I attend dinner like I'm performing some kind of experiment:

How many different sorts of soup can possibly just taste like thickened cornflour broth with salt? (Twelve.)

How thin can meat be sliced so as to feed as many students as possible? (0.3mm.)

How many servings of chocolate ripple cake can one footy-head balance up in a single bowl? (Five, but it isn't pretty.)

What is that? (It's carrots. Really. It's actually carrots.)

I try to work out why this sort of food unnerves me so much. I find the volume of it, the sheer enormity of a curry for 160 people, quite repulsive. There's so little detail in that amount of food, it reminds me of feeding the pigs on my friend’s farm. I know it sounds melodramatic, but there's something dis-empowering about being served up 3 mass-produced meals a day. I'm not an individual to this food; I'm an 18-year-old Jenny-or-Kate from the country who needs x amount of nutrients in order to get to three 8am Biochemistry lectures a week. In a way, this is true. So why does it make me feel like I should start learning synchronised gymnastics routines and move to North Korea?


“What does ‘mixed selection’ mean?”

“You don’t want to know.”

I’m standing in front of the daily black-board menu next to Sean.

"No, really, what does it mean."

"It means - well, let's just say it's a good idea to keep a note of which meal was served on which day of the week."


"You don't want to know."

I find out what ‘mixed selection’ means that evening. At my college, ‘mixed selection’ refers to the entire week’s leftovers, re-heated and served up in the bain-marie. You choose your poison. The trick is to try to remember if the dried-out Beef Wellington (another form of BMP – brown meat in pastry) was first served closer to Saturday or Thursday.

Sean, Laura and I survey the gently steaming array of food on offer.

“What’s that?” I ask.

“I think that’s Tuesday’s rissoles mixed with Thursday’s risotto,” says Sean.

“Why are there chips in with the croissants?” I ask.

“Oh,” says Laura. “I think I’ve worked it out. They’re serving things alphabetically.”

“That doesn’t explain why the lasagne is next to the zucchini slice,” I say.

Sean and Laura reply in unison: “That’s lentil slice.”

We make our choices. My choice is to move out of college with Laura at the end of the year, into a terrace house in Carlton that has a rosemary bush which threatens to take over the backyard every couple of months, and neighbours who regularly seem set things on fire:

“Who lit the fucken bin?”

“Don’t call the fire brigade Belinda, the car’s on fire but I’m puttin water on it!”

“Look Belinda, I’m a fireman, I’m a fireman!”

On the first night in our little house, I fry an up an onion with garlic, a tin of kidney beans and a tin of tomatoes. In case you can’t tell, I really don’t know how to cook yet. Laura is kind enough not to comment. I ladle the weird concoction into two crazed white bowls that my parents have had since the 70s, and we sit down in the tiny kitchen.

The onion is undercooked and crunchy, the whole thing is crying out for salt, and I didn’t rinse the kidney beans well enough.

It’s one meal, made for two people, to be eaten on one night.

I eat my whole bowlful. It’s the best thing I’ve ever tasted.

Monday, November 14, 2011

We have rendered the impossible into life

We have rendered the impossible into life.
Upended our lives on three words
and found the best things underneath.
We thought ourselves empty flower pots
face-down over earwigs and the skeletons of flowers.
We lifted our terra-cotta helmets
and when the sun hit the dirt
it was full of tiny seeds
curling up toward daylight.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

You may as well start now.

“Do I have to write down a birth plan?” I ask. I’m seven months pregnant.

“Well,” says my obstetrician, “You can write down that you plan to give birth, if you like. That one’s a definite. But you can make up the rest as you go along. Unless there’s anything specific you want, of course. I had a woman once who was adamant that she needed this giant red oil painting in the delivery room to focus on and channel energy through.”

“Did it work?” I ask.

He frowns a little and gazes up at the ceiling. “I think by the time she entered transition, her energy was more focused on another channel.”


After scouring the pregnancy forums, I pick my OB because the words that come up the most are ‘laid-back’ and ‘non-alarmist’. Also the fact that he doesn’t do internal examinations ‘unless medically indicated’. I’m not a fan of internals. A few months later when I am in labour, I will kick a midwife halfway across the room as she quite roughly performs one on me. She will raise her voice: ‘Come on, be a good girl, it’s not as bad as the contractions is it.’ I will growl ‘YES IT FUCKING IS’ but be in too much pain to point out that given I am currently giving birth, I am obviously no longer a ‘girl’ and probably haven’t been a ‘girl’ for quite a while, thank-you very fucking much you patronising medical professional. Five hours later when I am attempting to push out a baby, I will accidentally shit on this midwife and not mind at all.

I’m getting off track here. Back to just-pregnant.

I phone up to make my first appointment somewhat apprehensively, as my OB’s receptionist has A Reputation For Being A Little Bit Difficult. “Um, I’ve got a referral to see [redacted name of OB]?”

“How far along are you?” comes the terse reply.

“Three and a half weeks,” I say.

“So you haven’t missed your period yet.” She sounds really annoyed.

“Um, no,” I say. I’m standing outside my GP’s office in the wind, and I’m a bit frazzled at all of this. I hate making phone calls at the best of times.

“Then how do you know you’re pregnant?” she accuses.

“I have a positive pregnancy test,” I say. I nearly add ‘it’s a bit of a tip-off,’ but I’m too intimidated to rise to my usual level of smart-arsery.

She sighs. “Hold on I’ve got another call.” I wait for the usual waft of on-hold music and am slightly perplexed to find I’ve been hung up on. I ring back.

“I was just talking to you and we got cut off - ”

“You’re the three-and-a-half weeks?” she says.

“Uh. Yeah.”

“24th May at 2pm?”

“Uh. Ok.”

“See you then.” She hangs up, and I burst into illogical tears. But hey, I’m pregnant, I now have special dispensation to burst into illogical tears whenever the fuck I want. Also I get to swear as much as I like because once I have a two-year-old with a talent for repetition, I’m going to have to try to behave myself. I may or may not prove to be very successful at this, and my two-year-old may or may not prove to be very good at clearly announcing ‘fucking computer!’ at inopportune moments.

But back to the early days, when my future swearing blonde moppet is little more than a tiny prawn made of snot floating around somewhere a lot lower down than I imagine my uterus to be. Should have concentrated harder when the Life Ed van came round to my primary school.

I like my OB even before I meet him. This is mainly because he has a Playmobil operating theatre and hospital room set up on his office book shelf. I’m easily wooed by the presence of these little German pieces of plastic. When he does enter the room and begin to speak, I’m soothed by his soft voice. He’s kind of like a really nice dad. He’s probably in his mid-fifties, has inoffensive grey hair and wears chinos.

“I have heaps of Playmobil,” I say. “I asked for it for every birthday and Christmas present from age 4 up until I was way too old to still be asking for it.”

It’s probably not the usual first thing he hears from a new patient, but I’m not going to be a usual patient. I am going to be weirdly low-maintenance for a first pregnancy. I’ll have hardly any questions or worries (that’s what the internet is for), I’ll never call him after hours, or even during hours, I’ll never page him and I won’t have a single medical problem even when I go 10 days overdue.

“Do I really have to follow all those food rules?” I ask. “There’s like a million of them. And I really like soft cheese.”

He leans forward and steeples his fingers. “Look, you can be as cautious as you like about these things, really. I would say: don’t eat undercooked meat if you’re in France, don’t eat anything that’s off, other than that just eat whatever you’re comfortable with.”

I must look pleased. “Oh,” he says, “And you’re going to need to drink to get through your second pregnancy, so you may as well start now. A small glass of wine each day isn’t going to do any harm at all.”

It’s official: I am in love with my OB.

I’d like to say the next 9 months fly by, but they don’t. Increasingly, they waddle. I outgrow every bra size ever invented. I stare in confusion at ‘hospital bag’ suggestion lists that insist I pack thank-you cards so I can write my thank-yous while I’m still in hospital. Why don’t I just write a novel and find a cure for cancer while I’m learning to breastfeed?

I manage never to have heartburn or need to wee more often than usual (even when I’m 9 months gone I don’t ever have to get up at night to take a piss. I try not to mention this to pregnant friends or friends with new babies, because their eyes take on a certain murderous gleam that I vaguely think I’ve seen once before and I think it was during ‘The Hand that Rocks the Cradle’).

Pregnancy is weird. Everyone is suddenly interested in me, and a bit grabby (which oddly enough, I find I quite like). I do consider having a set of business-sized cards made up that say “January. Boy. My first.” in order to save answering the same three fucking questions from every single person on the planet.

I also note one weird pregnancy thing that no one ever told me about: when you’re really, really pregnant and your baby moves around while you’re having a poo, it feels like your poo is alive. True.

And suddenly I’m 10 days overdue, lying on the couch moaning about how I’m going to be pregnant forever. Then something…squirts. I don’t usually spontaneously piss myself, I think. I leap off the couch and in ridiculously stereotypical Hollywood style, my waters break spectacularly all over the floor. It goes everywhere. I get the giggles. “Labour doesn’t start like this in real life!” I exclaim, “I’m an episode of Friends!”

I’ll spare you the labour. It’s actually quite boring, for the most part. It hurts, it takes fucking forever, I get really tired, I kick a midwife, I have an epidural. Epidurals are awesome. Everyone should have one, maybe once a week.

Then suddenly it’s time to have a go at actually giving birth, and I can’t manage to push properly (apart from the aforementioned shitting upon the patronising midwife). My OB, who has arrived with his hair tousled from sleep, says kindly: “I think I might need to give you a hand. You have one more go, I’ll get the salad servers ready.” I assume he means forceps because I don’t recall ordering a salad.


I’ve meandered all over this blog post, not knowing quite how to end it. I can only think of one way how it ends, and when I mention it to @matchtrick, he replies: “Then that’s how it ends. You get very few chances to tell a story that ends that way.” He’s right.


I admire my stripy Juno-style socks as my numb legs hang in the air, propped up by stirrup thingies. I can’t feel a thing, but my OB appears to be tossing the salad. (This is not intended to be a euphemism, but I suspect it already is.)

A few moments later a curled up creature is slopped onto my chest, apparently covered in tinned tomatoes and cottage cheese. It’s not a bag of kittens after all.

One of his fists clutches around the strap of my nightie. He’s all shiny and gross and a lot bigger than I expected and completely amazing.

I burst into logical tears.

It ends with baby.