YOU’RE NOT, I assume, and neither will you ever consider booking a cruise ever again, I would take a guess (if you’re of sound mind).
In the spirit of Gloria Gaynor, I am surviving, although as you can imagine, this is not a great time for hypochondriacs. Reassuringly, very little has really changed in our house, aside from an escalation in the toilet seat debate and some highly competitive stockpiling of toilet rolls in our own bathrooms.
Fortunately – and that is a serious downplay of that word in an uncharacteristic attempt at sensitivity – we don’t have young kids at home, and having worked at home together for some time, we are used to avoiding each other as much as possible within the strict, self-imposed boundaries of our home. But it’s funny how much this crisis has improved communication – in general.
It has certainly increased mine. Anyone who knows me well will be aware that I would rather have a mammogram than make a phone call, and yet I’ve been Messengering and WhatsApping like a Millennial over the past week – mainly in my attempts to keep tabs on anarchist, older members of my family.
My stepmother has reported back that my father is adhering to the new restrictions, much to my surprise. Apparently, he has taken an uncharacteristically sensible approach to isolation in spite of his disgust at the government’s decision to open the supermarkets to his age group between 9 and 10am – when he rarely surfaces before 10. I think the word he used was “unrealistic” in his description of a decision he believes is based on unfair stereotyping about old people being early risers.
Evidently, he’s not too worried about catching the virus, because ‘It’s only going to get the really old buggers” he tried to reassure me as I counted the hairs in his nostrils during our weekly video chat. And that’s why he put his chances of survival his the hands of alcohol rather than government restrictions and has upped his whisky consumption – “Just to be safe.”
Mind you, Dad has always been a pragmatist. I’m pretty sure he mentioned the same “more chance of getting run over by a bus” analogy during our conversation that he used to terrify me with during my childhood, hence, although he has always blamed my mother for my issues with anxiety, I’m beginning to question his accountability.
Meanwhile, the other old man in my life has been burying his head in the sand – particularly in relation to our finances. Having agreed to curb our spending at our last finance meeting – instigated by him, I should add – I was somewhat surprised by his expenditure on golf over the past few weeks – since curtailed by the closure of all courses yesterday.
“Essential?” I queried as I trawled through the bank statement and watched him splutter some excuse about therapy for his mental health in these highly anxious times. So it’s anyone’s guess how he will fare as we move forward.
He hasn’t been quite as successful at concealing the delight on his face each time one of our social engagements is cancelled. I swear he rubs his hands with glee each time the government limits the number of people that can gather in a group, and any day now I expect him to bunker down with the dog in full isolation mode.
Anger was the main topic of conversation during my last visit to my therapist for the year. Anger about stuff I can’t control, mainly, but also anger about the world stuff I talked about here in my last post, as well as some anger issues about the usual personal frustrations.
In response, she drew that volcano on the board for me again, which is supposed to represent the three things that cause anger – fear, sadness, anxiety – but in truth, she could have added resentment, disappointment and envy as well.
Of course, anger is not an unusual emotion to experience at this time of the year, when there is so much anticipation, expectation, and erm family involvement. Which is why I have found myself pounding the pavements around my lake more often and more heavily than usual in the lead up to Christmas in an attempt to keep that woe is me vibe under control.
That’s why it was so good to be reminded that some things/people can’t be changed, and her analogy about not buying a cake from the butchers made perfect sense. And so, instead of dwelling on my frustrations about the last year in this final post before Christmas, I thought I’d give gratitude another go.
Here it is: my list of thank yous to the people and things that have contributed to my happy bits this year:
The agents who have rejected my book – not really – because they’ve forced me to look at my manuscript again and improve it. I refuse to give up on this story that I know millions of women and mothers that are coping with mental illness in their family will identify with.
My anti-depressants for my anxiety. Without them, there would have been many times I would have crumbled and given up. I continue to believe wholeheartedly that if you need medication for an illness, you take it, and no one should judge you for that choice.
The editors who have taken a chance on me and allowed me to express my humble opinions to a much larger audience than this blog.
My boss, for having faith in me, even though I keep questioning why.
Old friends and family from the UK, who occasionally drop me a line and fill my heart with love.
The Princess, who makes me look like a saint when it comes to unpredictable moods as she ages and who accepts me for who I am. In fact, thank you to all dogs who give so much unconditional love to their families and who provide so much entertainment on video.
Toasted sandwiches – I rediscovered these halfway through the year and they are one of my new favourite comfort foods.
Running – WTF!? I’m not going any further, any faster, or enjoying it any more than when I started this craziness, but it is one of the healthier ways to quash the anger.
My therapist – I clicked with her the first time we met and I’m gutted that she’s moving away to pastures new. Thank you for not sitting on the fence. Thank you for sympathizing when I have those woe is me moments, and thank you for knowing exactly the right time to tell me to put on my big girl panties.
My children – I want to thank NC for being my best friend, for always being straight with me, and for loving me in spite of my questionable nurturing skills. I know that her inheritance of the emotionally awkward gene makes it as hard for her to demonstrate her feelings, so let’s see just how bloody awkward Christmas can get when the two of us are forced to hug publicly again. Thank you Kurt for the many corners you have turned this year, for making me a proud mama even when you don’t think I am, for holding on, for holding out, for showing strength in the face of adversity, and for beating the old man at pool.
Family – Thank you to those who stay in touch in spite of the distance I have put between us; to those who have braved a visit to the other side of the world, and to those who keep alive the memory of those that we have lost, which is far too many. A special thank to my siblings who have been through a lot of the same shithouse stuff as me, whose wings have been broken time and time again, and yet who manage to stick them back on each year and maintain a sense of humor.
Wine – Thank you for getting me through many awkward social situations and personal crises, even if next year I am determined to put some distance between us. At the age of 54, I’m beginning to understand the ramifications of toxic relationships.
My walking buddies – I never thought I would enjoy walking, come to hate noise, and see the point of plants. I like to think of the middle-aged stereotype I am turning into as maturing rather than growing old. Thank you to those friends with whom I have travelled kilometres, over-analysing our lives for their meaning. So many times I’ve returned from those journeys a changed woman. Our talks have made me understand how good life is when it is simple. Being at one with nature in the company of good friends is all an old girl really needs – except for no. 12, obviously.
The cunts – Thank you to those people whose ignorance, discrimination, and abuse of privilege has made me wiser and stronger. To those who are too blind and too arrogant to acknowledge the inequality between men and women, the plight of refugees, or the affects of climate change. To those who refuse to accept that certain types of humour are simply not appropriate and continue to put their needs above everyone else and judge a book by its cover. To those who refuse to accept that the world is evolving, and without their massive cuntery, those changes might be for the better.
To the fire fighters and other rescue services, thank you for your generosity, bravery and commitment to keeping us safe here in Australia.
To the men who have shown empathy for the women who have been abused and betrayed by their gender, who have supported rather than doubted or torn them down. To the men who are determined to change toxic masculinity for their own benefit as well as ours, who knock back sexist jokes, who cry, who show their sons love and who share the emotional and physical load at home.
To my readers and followers – thank you for putting up with my lack of filter, sweariness, biassed opinions and embarrassing need for attention. Thank you for validating my writing and making me feel more relevant.
To the people who have made me laugh this year – Benjamin Law, Ricky Gervais, Daniel Sloss, the writers of Guilty Feminist, Wil Anderson and his Wilosophy, Kathy Lette and Tim Minchin, to name a few.
To my health. Thank you to my body for putting up with the abuse I give it. Next year, I will not take it for granted as much and try to value each extra day that I am given.
To my husband who puts up with my shit on a daily basis. I don’t tell him often how much I love him and appreciate him 1) because we’re reached that stage where we take each other for granted, and 2) because a lot of the time he irritates the fuck out of me. But evidently, the fact that we can still laugh together and at each other is the glue that has bound us together for another year.
A very Happy Christmas and New Year to everyone xx
When I was growing up, I wish someone had told me to bury the past, to keep my eyes focused firmly on the road ahead, and to embrace the company of women.
An out-of-the-blue email from an old girlfriend prompted me to write this post. The first true girlfriend of my adulthood – ie. after kids – we were the only two mums in our parenting class with babies that refused to commit to the stepping stones of perfection outlined in the parenting manuals. Shamed by a smarmy group of other first-time mums whose kids were nailing them, we got through the shit show on wine, whinging and WTFs.
It took me a long time to connect with women. Raised through my teens by a single and unconventional father, it wasn’t until my late twenties and the births of my own children, that I was thrust among the fairer sex. Before that, the majority of my friends had been men. Sharing their black and white space, that felt devoid of emotional complications – other than those unfortunate misunderstandings about the status of our relationship – I felt calmer.
Since then, of course, I’ve come to terms with the bollocks to be found in the majority of self-help books about the search for happiness and personal fulfillment. Experience has shown me that the streets aren’t paved with gold, that life can be grossly unfair, and that the only way to make any sense of life is to make the best of what you have. And this newfound wisdom has helped me understand more about the differences between men and women, and the reason why friendships with men used to appear more attractive/straightforward. It’s because they have fewer layers.
Sounds derogatory, I know. Although, not as insulting as the word “depth,” which is the one I really wanted to use. But hear me out, because my employment of the word is not meant to be a judgment about men’s personality flaws or their shoddy housework skills (this time), I use it to champion women and the female experience of life.
I believe, that because the role of women requires so much more emotional labor and intelligence than theirs, (which I spoke about here), and we experience greater physical and emotional trauma – eg. during menstruation, childbirth, and menopause – we experience a more visceral understanding of ourselves as humans and our place in this world. You only have to look at the women who have experienced near-death experiences in childbirth, or from rape, or those whose husbands left them on the poverty line, with nothing but the kids, for examples.
Whereas, men – and I’m generalizing here because this is not a discussion about the mental health of men or the stress some experience as sole earners of their family etc – seem more transparent, more easy-going, (dare I say) less judgemental than women. (Obviously, what I’d really like to say is “simple” – in the nicest possible way.) And while there are no doubt evolutionary and physiological explanations to why one gender carries the burden of more emotional baggage than the other, it is nevertheless impossible to ignore the societal influence of male privilege. Perhaps, that’s why, (on a social level), men seem less confrontational than women – who are judged throughout their lives, making them complicated creatures.
While I’ll admit that many of my closest female friends have always secretly terrified me, fortunately for women, kids are a glue that draws us together. The uncanny ability of our offspring to extract emotion from the most determinedly cold hearts, to frazzle nerves, to provoke self-doubt and tears, and to force us to question just about everything as they chip away relentlessly at our resilience and turn our brains to pulp, are the main reason the coffee morning was invented.
In spite of the suspicions of certain men, the purpose of the coffee morning is (generally) not to discuss the latest fashions, the most energy-efficient washing machine, or the last time we had an orgasm. Coffee mornings are about support, about building resilience and sharing experiences. Men should try it, sometime.
Women are there for women on those days the dam bursts. When all those tantrums in the supermarket have finally worn you down; when the barrage of abuse at dinner time (each time you force their kids to eat peas) becomes too much; when you lose your job; or when you burst into tears in the vegetable section of Coles because someone took the last ripe avocado.
Who better to rely upon in those situations than someone who has got the tee-shirt, on those days you’re sobbing into your phone, wine in one hand, and the scalp of your third child in the other? The truth is, your girlfriends are the only ones who can help you make sense of the new, terrifying vulnerability that comes from having your emotions and hormones put through a spiralizer.
Because THEY’VE BEEN THERE.
Personally, I’m a pretty rubbish girlfriend. Over the years, my attempts to feign the habits of a worthy friend have improved, but alas, for the main part they remain superficial. I try to be better than the sub-standard set of female instincts that nature provided me with – to remember birthdays, special events, cards etc – however, an unhealthy obsession to overthink, a possible case of early onset dementia, and a natural scattiness have determined that I will never be that thoughtful, perfect friend that some of us are lucky to have in our lives. I can only hope that those friends who always make the first call or send the first text understand that my silence is unrelated to their worth.
Sadly – and yes, here comes the excuse – some people travel through life with the baggage of their past stuck as firmly to their shoulders as a backpack. And it has been easy to blame my detachment issues on any number of things – and I do. I am what they call an Olympian “victim”. The divorce of my parents, the loss of my mother (and some things that even I’m not ready to share) have been assimilated (rather than dealt with), to protect myself – a self-defensive mechanism that has had some unfair repercussions for our kids, in particular, our daughter.
NC has recently entered a phase of self-reflection. Like her mother, she has struggled to open the box fully on her emotions, but as she matures she is becoming more aware of the dangers of that choice. A bystander to the emotional carnage caused by the death of my mother, and our struggles with Kurt, she has inherited my need for control when it comes to her emotions. The concept of a free fall terrifies her, but she can’t ignore the logic of her scientist’s brain: that putting up barriers will prevent her development and thwart any positive relationships in her life – what she needs to reach her full potential.
Hence, there are two pieces of advice I wish to share with my daughter: the first is to surround herself and nurture relationships with a group of strong, intelligent, and diverse women who will challenge her and blow the wind in her sails when she needs it. The second is to put her heart on the line and to dare to love and trust.
The red cabbage is out of the oven to the somewhat predictable retching noises from NC – proof that she is a rubbish vegetarian. The presents are wrapped and under the tree – apart from mine, which I have no doubt will be remembered sometime between the closing credits of Elf and bedtime. And the Princess thinks that I haven’t noticed the number of gingerbread biscuits she has snuck from our mouths.
I’m freaking that the turkey won’t be defrosted in time or that I’ve forgotten something major from the list of what I am contributing tomorrow – even though it feels like I’ve done a supermarket sweep of the Coles’ shelves every day of this month. I’m worried that Kurt will forget that tomorrow is the big day and that I need my vacuum back, or that the Princess won’t fit into her outfit.
But we are as ready as we will ever be, or need to be. For we will be in the company of good friends – our surrogate family in Oz – who will forgive me if my turkey gives them listeria or if the pavlova cascades off the plate like a volcano because I didn’t want to put my glass down long enough to whip the cream to soft peaks.
We are lucky, but some are not.
A good friend from the UK posted this on her Facebook timeline a few days ago:
This time of year is not great for everyone, so my house is a safe zone. Coffee or tea can be on in minutes. Wine can be brought out as well. My table is non-judgmental. Any family or friend who needs to chat, eat or drink is welcome. We can talk, share a laugh, a cry, or just listen. If you’re hungry, I’ll feed you. I will always do my best to be available… you are always welcome!! This is an old-school value that has been lost to technology…a text, Facetime, gif or emoji is NOT the equivalent. I’m hoping that at least one friend copies this and posts it if you feel the same. I just did from another friend. Merry Christmas!
Likewise, there’s always room at our table should you find yourself alone on Christmas Day on the Northern Beaches of Sydney.
I’ll save the New Year’s reflections and aspirations for 2019 for once the Christmas craziness has died down and I’ve reduced my medication back to its normal dosage. It will give me something to do in that scary vacuum of too much over-thinking time between Christmas and New Year.
But until then, thanks for reading, and a Happy Christmas to everyone!
BTW: How do you defrost a turkey quickly? Asking for a friend.
‘But you enjoy it,’ the old man retorts defensively when I moan about him not chipping in with the organization of social events, the ongoing responsibilities of our adult children, and – dare I mention it – Christmas.
You might have read in the news this week about the disparity between the practical and “emotional labor” experienced by women versus men at Christmas – as in, (for the most part, it seems), men do fuck all. Even Caitlin Moran had a moan in The Times about being the only member of her family to turn on the table lamps in her house – a gripe I can sympathize with as the only member of ours who gives a fuck about creating a relaxing ambiance.
And yet, I have a confession to make. I am one of those women who is guilty of enabling that disparity. I take ownership of pretty much every Christmas chore, from present-shopping and wrapping to the organization of the food, (most of which, admittedly, we probably don’t need – Turkish Delight, anyone?), and dressing the tree.
Similarly, Laura Bates highlighted the “third shift” of responsibility that women take on in her article in The Guardian last weekend:
“There is a third shift, which is less often acknowledged. This is the mental load of planning social engagements, remembering thank-you notes and praising kind teachers, keeping track of nativity plays and Christmas pantomimes and organising the logistics of travel and sleeping arrangements.”
And before any of you men turn on me with some petty argument that women do these things because they don’t work or are working part-time – I say, BULLSHIT! – I know plenty of women that organize Christmas, do the bulk of raising the kids, and work full-time.
However, in our case, the disparity between myself and the old man has arisen as a result of our disproportionate levels of interest when it comes to the season. I love Christmas and I have certain unhealthy expectations about how we celebrate it. I would go so far as to admit that I have an inexplicable need to celebrate the tradition in a crass ‘go big or go home kind of way’ that I hold my mother responsible for – in spite of my lack of faith.
But the old man hates it. To describe him as a “humbug” or Grinch would be doing a disservice to both, but having been raised by a mother who abhorred the celebration for personal reasons, and with an inherent dislike of spending money “unnecessarily,” Christmas is an annual decadence he could easily live without.
So, while it’s all well and good during the build-up of my December rage to feel like he’s taking me for granted, I am aware that my real reason for disempowering him has more to do with my fear that Christmas lunch will turn out to be nothing more special than our normal Sunday roast.
And I won’t do that to myself the kids.
I suppose he has a point when he ridicules my insistence that we continue to buy pressies for relatives we hardly ever see and nephews and nieces who earn more than us – but in my defense, the dog loves her Christmas stocking!
It’s not like I truly believe that we have to buy our kids’ love (much). And yet, Christmas is one of the few occasions during the year that pulls us together as a family – particularly now that the kids have left home – and if I did pull the plug on our KMart Christmas, I’m not certain we would ever see them again!
The occasion is also an excuse to reconnect with extended family since we moved to Australia, especially now that the years seem to be slipping by so quickly.
But far be it for me to belittle the emotional labor involved and the pressure such holidays cause in the (often) vain attempt to cater to different personalities, food tolerances, and diaries. And although we have yet to reach the stage where our children are forced to choose between which family to spend the day with, when that day comes, I know that I will be devastated.
As it is, this year Kurt is working on Christmas Day, and it has taken every ounce of my willpower not to march up to his boss and tell him how personally responsible he is for wrecking our family Christmas – even though the shift is an invaluable step in Kurt’s journey to independence and I couldn’t be prouder of him for doing it.
So, as I open my pressie from the old man this year – and disguise my bitterness that it was (no doubt) me who chose it and wrapped it in the dregs of the Christmas paper – I know that I will only have myself to blame. The truth is that the old man would share the load if I asked him. Begrudgingly, perhaps, and with the kind of unforgivable rookie mistakes that it would take the remainder of our marriage for me to forgive him for the request of a detailed manual and specification of exactly what to do and where to go.
But the simple fact of the matter is, that Christmas just wouldn’t be the same.
My sympathies lie with the businesses that were affected by Telstra’s latest outage last week. My own family has been at their mercy for the past two weeks, effectively in lockdown.
Any parent will tell you that there is no greater pain than watching a child suffer, and that is exactly what we have been forced to endure during the outage. While for the old man and myself – hardcore Generation Xers who were brought up on The Famous Five, Cats Cradle, conkers, and – dare I mention – books, it has proven to be more of an irritation than a personal loss, our two young adults have experienced immeasurable grief.
While Kurt’s body has completely lost the ability to function – withdrawal seeing him pace the house like a caged animal to metamorphose into a frightening hybrid of Gollum and the Hulk – NC has refused to come home or return my calls.
And yet, perhaps more terrifying than the sight of two young adults in a perpetual state of despair is the grey pallor and twitching of the parent that is responsible for fixing the problem.
Suffice it to say, the old man has been forced to use his home blood pressure monitor more than usual over this past two weeks. So, when a friend caught him chained to the fencing of the golf club, refusing to go home, and promised him that “cable is three times faster than anything else, mate,” desperation forced his hand and he made an uncharacteristically impulsive decision.
He ordered cable.
In hindsight, I will admit that our expectations were stupidly unrealistic, not helped by the events of the night before during which Kurt managed to use up five precious gigabytes of data within the space of an hour – apparently, that is a lot in data-speak, particularly in a house that prioritizes data over food. So it was with bated breath that we watched cable guy do his ten-minute reconnaissance of our joint and set to work, first in the lounge, and then up a pole on the other side of the street – which foolishly, I interpreted as a positive sign.
And when, finally, he placed the magic card in the old man’s hand with our new passcode – which, it is no exaggeration to say, was the equivalent of Charlie’s golden ticket, (so much so, the old man has since tattoed had the number tattooed his chest) – I can only compare the euphoria to seeing Buble perform his complete collection of Christmas songs live…and naked.
Obviously, being ever the practical one of the family, he held cable guy captive a little longer as he tested and ran through every nuance of the new technology with him, and cable guy was generous enough to humor him, even when he asked some (frankly) very stupid, Generation X type questions.
But I will admit that the sound of my husband’s whoop of joy upon his discovery that the new speed of our new internet thingy, (insert appropriatetechnological jargon here), far exceeded our expectations was a beautiful thing, comparable I would say to his reaction to the births of our children – although he didn’t do a celebratory lap around the block naked either of those times.
In fact, we remained high on life even when cable guy left our home to save some other poor family in similarly dire straits.
Until, the call from upstairs the wild, that no father wants to hear.
‘DAAAAAAAAAD! The Internet doesn’t work on my phone!’
We are back in lockdown. An immediate state of emergency has been called in which we have hourly meetings to discuss possible emergency action such as new routers, a different bedroom… perhaps even a new house?
I am confident that we will work through this difficult time, folks, but in the meantime, we would be grateful for your prayers.
It was that time of year again last weekend. The family holiday 2018 had spun back around with all the promise of a mammogram.
Admittedly, the word “holiday” is somewhat of an exaggeration.
The kids will attest to the fact that the word “holiday” is something of an exaggeration. This year – at the old man’s suggestion – our family fun was curtailed to a long weekend, with budget, time off work (he works for himself, from home) and our sanity, cited as his main reasons behind the decision. I imagine, however, that he may also have based the decision on the greater mathematical probability of the four of us walking away from this trip unscathed with only a 48hr window of dysfunction.
A distraction would keep us from straying into dangerous territories.
It was decided that an active holiday would be a better fit this year. We agreed that a distraction would keep us from straying into the dangerous territories of searching questions and judgments – the common ones being, how we ruined the kids’ childhood, which of them is our favorite, were they adopted, and how much we intend to leave them in the will? So, we booked a hotel in The Hunter Valley – a wine-tasting region, about two and a half hours from Sydney which was close enough to evacuate at short notice and removed any possibility of Kurt projectile vomiting on a flight full of unsuspecting travelers, as per Bali ’09.
Acclimatizing your kids to the “wine cures all problems” philosophy of life is one holiday choice.
I should point out that in acclimatizing our kids to the “wine cures all problems” philosophy of life, I am not looking for a Parent of the Year award anytime soon. I should also mention that our kids are 21 and 24, respectively.
I had been elected to share a room with Kurt to give the four of us a better chance of sleep – because I snore and he never sleeps anyway – but within two minutes of us downing weapons for the night, he had migrated to the sofa bed and the old man was begging to come back into my bed. Apparently, NC was noisily updating a climate model in her sleep.
The priority of any holiday has to be the hotel breakfast.
Truth be told, the real priority of the two days had less to do with wine and much more to do with the hotel breakfast. The three of us have been on best behavior over the past few weeks, out of fear that the old man might pull the plug on such an extravagance and eating strategy had to be discussed furtively. However, it was discussed at length, down to the final detail of who would secrete the miniature croissants and Vegemite pots back into the room. Needless to say, Kurt was elected for this task, on the basis of his natural talent for testing the law. And apart from cold bacon – the downside of strolling into breakfast five minutes before the buffet closed – breakfast was a resounding success.
Kurt was elected to steal extra croissants from the breakfast room, on the basis of his criminal record.
Indeed, we ate and drank well, which is what holidays are all about, even though dinners turned out to be almost as interesting as musical bedrooms what with NC being a vegetarian, my attempt at dairy-free (this week), the old man’s passion for burgers, and Kurt’s metabolism, which relies on a minimum of three bowls of Aldi’s Chocolate Pillows per day or it shuts down.
We have developed a newfound maturity as a family.
It turns out that we are developing a newfound maturity as a family, and a compromise was found. ie. we ignored the fact that NC is a vegetarian.
The old man and I went on a mini-break to a farmstead in the south of Sydney a few weeks ago. Due to the risks posed by Australian wildlife – wallabies, wild horses, spiders and no doubt brown snakes, waiting for me in every corner – we left The Princess at home with close friends.
I packed her case – her favorite food, her blankie, a couple of toys, some treats – and then in a moment of separation anxiety, I texted our friends a few pointers about her habits in case she had any problems vocalizing them.
Doesn’t play nicely with other dogs
Zero road sense
Needs lots of water
Scared of men
One of the friends we went to the homestead with is a celebrant, who conducts weddings all over Sydney. One morning – in our search of the best hot chocolate in what was apparently a town – we bumped into a fellow celebrant, and the two of them got into a lengthy discussion about funerals and the underlying pressure they feel to write the perfect eulogy. The other celebrant admitted to us, that in view of the terrible eulogies she had witnessed, she has already written her own.
At the mention of speeches, I am always transported back to the scarring memory of the old man’s speech at my fiftieth birthday. Although my therapist has told me to bury it in the past and move forward, each time I go to a friend’s birthday and I have to listen to their husbands’ loving, glowing speeches about their wives, it is like a dagger straight through my heart. As a result of my PTSD, planning my own cremation and writing my own eulogy is something I have had to consider quite seriously if I don’t want a very sad affair with a minimal amount of planning and thought, and which only my husband and two children are likely to know anything about. Because my idea of a funeral is like the one at the beginning of Love Actually or a Viking sea burial, or at the very least a group of gospel singers. And rather than risk a Target two-for-one special, I have given the responsibility of making sure I get a worm-proof coffin to Kurt, who understands anxiety.
BTW, kids, there are “death of parent” playlists on Pinterest.
However, after giving it some thought, I have decided that retribution will be served best by leaving everything to the old man. After all, surely a eulogy is something other people need to make up about your achievements and not even he can ignore my achievements with cheese and wine? But if I should need to provide the man that I have known for most of my adult life and the father to my children and The Princess with a few pointers, it turns out that my eulogy would look a lot like the list I gave to our friends, who were looking after our dog:
A friend asked me the other day about how I felt about Mothers Day, and I knew that the question was loaded – you see, I haven’t had a mother for a long time. And for the first time, it struck me that I don’t view the celebration from the perspective of my own mother. I lost her too young to remember her as a real person, so my only association with the day is as a mother to my own kids.
There are times when I would love to be able to recount stories of our time together. And in those fourteen years, we did make stories – on family days out, cheap holidays, when we grew vegetables together at the end of the garden or searched for our runaway tortoise – and yet most of those memories are clouded by her struggles as a single mother, her battle to keep working to provide for three small children, to keep the car running, to keep the smile on her face.
Perhaps, that’s why I’ve never allowed myself to fully commit to Mothers Day, with no mother to spoil, to take out to dinner, or to have a monthly spat with – which I understand is very common. And perhaps that’s why I can be somewhat cynical about these ‘special’ days, which can throw up all sorts of pain for those that are excluded or feel isolated – mothers that have lost children, children that have lost mothers, adopted children, mothers that have lost connection with their children. And Mother Day, in particular, sugarcoats a biological responsibility that is not necessarily ‘the best thing’ EVERY woman has ever done. The day can highlight shame and failure for some, as well as the smug gratitude of those women lucky enough to have cultivated perfect relationships with their children – if they do, in fact, exist.
Relationships between parents and their children are not always Waltons or Brady-esque. Sometimes, they are not straightforward, as Nikki Gemmell exposes in her book, ‘After,’ which I picked up recently as research for my manuscript. Nikki’s story covers the ways she handled grief after the death of her mother, and yet for me, the greatest comfort I took from the book is her honesty about her tricky relationship with her mother, because it forced me to recognize similarities between her mother’s behavior and my own.
Sadly, only after years of distance between them was Nikki finally able to make peace with her mother, only to be shattered a few years later by her mother’s suicide – perhaps, her final act of revenge, in Nikki’s eyes. Personally, I can’t imagine the guilt attached to losing your mother to suicide. Can you imagine the questions you would be forced to ask yourself, even if you knew that chronic pain was at the root of her reasoning? Can you imagine the sense of betrayal? That the person that gave birth to you should choose to leave you in such a way?
I’ve said this many times before, and I’ll say it again: relationships are complicated – particularly family relationships, where the blood connection can force us to continue with toxic, destructive alliances. Anyone who has produced a child that went against the grain will recognize the sense of shock and the grief for the child you expected to have.
The death of my own mother, along with the distant relationship I have experienced with my father at various periods of my life has affected my relationships with my children. Not necessarily for the worst. At times, my insecurity has made me cling too hard and suffocate them; at others, my aloofness, lack of empathy and lack of a filter have left them feeling confused and unloved. I am not a perfect mother; and yet I am the only mother they have. And in the end, when they describe to my grandchildren the ways I fucked up their lives, they won’t be able to say that I didn’t love them. Just like I can’t about my own mother.
Anyone who is responsible for cooking the evening meal knows what a mindfuck it is. It takes a lot of preparation – you have to remember to defrost, to check you have all the ingredients and that there will be enough food to go around, and if you have kids like mine, one of the fuckers will tell you at the last minute that they are going out.
Worse, if you’re a pushover like me you end up cooking an assortment of customized variations of the same meal to keep everyone happy. Add to that the issue of staying abreast of current dietary recommendations – which seem to change as quickly as Facebook privacy regulations – and it can make the responsibility an exhausting process.
I like to think I cook healthily and creatively but there are some food trends that not even I can contemplate. Take the green smoothie. As Generation Xer, hence brought up on bacon and eggs for breakfast, I am afraid that green sludge is that step too far for me. I maintain the cynicism of my toddler years when it comes to anything green, which is that it is not to be trusted.
Last weekend, I went on a girls weekend to celebrate my sister’s fortieth birthday, for which we hired a lovely apartment for two nights. As we planned to eat out in the evenings and self-cater for breakfast and lunch, our first stop on the weekend’s agenda was to the local supermarket for a communal shop for necessities.
In hindsight, four mums on a food shop had the potential to end the weekend prematurely. As each of us manages our own homes and have, understandably, our own ideas when it comes to food, our interpretation of what constitutes ‘healthy’ was surprisingly different. My sister and the other two mums are still in the young children zone of parenting and as such are used to checking the ingredients and small print on all packaging with a fine toothcomb, hence we spent half an hour in the green juice section. While each of them Googled which was the grossest healthiest juice, I waited patiently and prayed that the one with the odd kiwi or apple thrown in for good measure would be enough to pass their rigorous checks. Eventually, as it was my sister’s birthday, we let her choose the pond green juice, which contained something called Spirulina and smelled of poo.
If you believe everything you read, Spirulina is a blue-green alga and a super-food with loads of inspiring for health benefits, particularly for more senior folks like me because it can help lower our cholesterol, prevent cancer, increase weight loss and reduce blood pressure without even trying. Which means, I suppose, that if my health anxiety gets a say, I will end up eating something that tastes like shit for the rest of my life.
Because, when it comes to the taste of this superfood – look online, where there are more articles about how to make it taste good than articles about its value to our body’s microbiome – it really does taste of shit. I imagine that it might be edible in a Vindaloo or Jungle Curry, but the general recommendation is that the best way to take it is in powder form – I suggest, up your nose.
Anyway, the following morning, I put on a brave face as I peered into our communal fridge in spite of the hangover from hell, silently cursing whoever ate the last piece of cheese and secretly praying that KFC had dropped a food parcel or something vaguely unhealthy to quell nausea and an unsettled stomach from the foot long Kransky sausage with all the trimmings that we devoured like animals the evening before, when our dietary concerns were compromised by alcohol.
Surprisingly, Spirulina did not meet my need-for-immediate-comfort brief, nor had it quenched the thirsts of my housemates if the line of green around the sink was anything to go by.
Healthy eating is not as straightforward as it looks when you cohabit with other people and I know this because I live with a couple of die-hard, meat-and-two-veg men. I am continually having to compromise my idealism when it comes to nutrition, and although I had thought that I had changed the three-year-old mentality of the old man when it comes to food, the other day he asked me when I was going to cook something nice after I had presented him with a plate of fresh, pan-fried Barramundi and roasted sweet potatoes in a Balsamic glaze.
I realize that the fight about how much red meat we have in our diets, or indeed what we eat, is an embarrassing first world problem to have, yet I fear it is a battle I am losing at home. Although dieticians have proved again and again that red meat is the devil’s food, I know that my son and husband would die happily (and quickly) if I rotated spag bol, Chilli Con Carne, and Shepherd’s pie through the week, and as a natural carnivore, my own willpower disappears as soon as those red juices begin to call to me from the pan. It appears that I can only keep my cavewoman/canine impulses that see me drooling in the face of a rare steak in check, as long as I don’t have to cook it or watch someone eat it in front of me.
So, do I?
Give in, and continue to clog their arteries slowly for a quiet life?
Endure the looks of disappointment and criticism leveled at me that forced me to add secret ingredients of Spirulina and dog food to the Chilli last Thursday?
The Princess Spoodle’s birthday didn’t start well today. While the old man was out playing tennis, she had one of those unfortunate incidents of a sticky dingleberry stuck to her nether regions – a mortifying turn of events to a dog of her breeding with associated sensitivities. It’s one of those situations that any parent of a longhaired breed will understand, and in retrospect, completely my fault for procrastinating about booking her in at the salon for a groom. Dingleberry removal is one of those chores that no one wants to deal with.
Over-excited about her big day, the three of us remained blissfully unaware of her condition this morning until she dragged her bottom across my bed and left a massive skid mark across my clean sheets – evidence of what an irresponsible parent I am. And I have never seen Kurt or NC disappear as quickly.
The problem with pets is that you can’t blackmail them or make them understand that they’re supposed to know what to do in the toileting department. And although they are your child, their poo doesn’t hold the same magic power as that of your newborn’s, for instance, when you exult in the magnificence of every part of what you’ve created, even when they squirt one in your face.
Somewhat inevitably, the first thought that crossed my mind as I retched the first time was why the fuck the old man is never here in those few minutes of the week when we actually need him. These include:
Emptying the bin and recycling
Putting out the bins for collection day
Removal of any living thing that belongs to the animal kingdom yet is not human
Mowing the lawn
In other words, for all the really fought-after tasks that involve muck in the house –so getting shit off the dog’s ass definitely falls into his camp of responsibilities.
Which left me with two options: To wait for his return and in the meantime lock the Princess in a cupboard where she could do minimal damage – a suggestion that my vegetarian daughter decided was animal cruelty – or clean the offending ass myself.
So I gagged, checked the time and realized that the old man wouldn’t be back for a couple of hours, and then I gagged again as I carried Shitty Ass at arm’s length to the bathroom, questioning why I ever thought having a pet was a good idea.
‘Bet you thought you were done with cleaning dirty bottoms,’ Kurt said on our way to the bathroom – an attempt to inject some humor into the heinous task.
‘Ha ha!’ I agreed, not cruel enough to remind him of the last time he was drunk with gastro.
It was only as I dropped placed the Princess gently into the bath that we saw the cockroach in its last throes of death waiting for us near the plughole, and Kurt, (who had been pretending to be my assistant up until this time, without actually venturing anywhere close to the dog’s asshole), leapt into the air with a squeal, backed himself into a corner of the bathroom, and rocked there for the next ten minutes.
It’s going to be an interesting negotiation when he and his future wife divide up the domestic chores.
And I recognized my situation for what it was. This was a test, to prove that I am indeed what I pertain to be – equal to man – to see if I really can cope with over-sized insects that scuttle noisily and threateningly to disempower women, as well as shitty, matted bottoms with the potential of a weapon of mass destruction.
I think the Princess quite enjoyed her time in the cupboard. Hide and seek is her new favorite game. The groomer is booked for Friday.
The prodigal daughter returns this weekend for the first time since she left the nest. While she assures me that she won’t be celebrating Australia Day for political reasons, I’ll believe that when she turns down the special bottle of Champers I’ve bought for tomorrow.
Although I only saw her a few days ago, it will be good to get some girl power back in the house. I use the word ‘prodigal’, but obviously, we won’t be cooking up a fatted calf in celebration, NC being a strict vegetarian who only eats fish if it doesn’t have a face and when she’s pissed. Anyway, a few cans of cider and a whole Camembert is much more my daughter’s style, because she’s classy like her mother.
I’ve changed her bedsheets, filled the fridge with tofu and warned Kurt to curb his excitement about her imminent arrival, because when I reminded him, he asked me why she had to come, and an ill-disguised look of pain crossed his face.
‘Because it’s her home and we’re her parents and she wants to see us,’ I replied, convincing myself at the same time, because we all know what trips back home are really about after you land your first job and you’re still living hand to mouth – they’re about the all-inclusive hotel perks of home cooking, hot water, unlimited booze and access to your parents’ wallet.
I remember when we used to visit my in-laws when NC was a baby, how we’d walk through the front door, dump her straight into Grandma’s arms and then like Vikings, raid their home, their fridge, their wine cask, and even their wallet so that we could eat out that night. I don’t remember feeling any sense of shame about our behavior – we’d done our part, carried on the family line, and now we needed someone to parent us again for a short time.
We only saw NC when we had to during those glorious weekends, and I encouraged that dangerous grandma/grandchild connection. Frankly, I sold my motherhood soul while I was there – I didn’t give a toss about how many lollies she blackmailed my child with as long as she got up to her in the night, and I ignored all her unsubtle hints about my parenting skills not being quite like hers for those two precious lay-ins; forty-eight hours when I could pretend to be me again, the person I used to be before birthing this tiny monster that had sucked the lifeblood out of me.
Secretly, I’m excited to have the chance to spoil my little girl (I would say ‘again’ but I know she’ll dispute that). I know we’ll be arguing about the glasses in her room, the foundation streaks in the bathroom sink and the endless cans of lentils she opens and never finishes, probably by tomorrow morning, but for the moment I’ve filed my daughter’s annoying habits to the back of my mind.
He feigns not to be, but it is obvious that the old man is even more excited than me. He hasn’t seen NC for a month – because that would involve leaving the safety zone and embarking upon a treacherous, high-risk journey to the big smoke, an hour away. However, he has been suspiciously quieter than usual this week; no doubt sharpening his wit and revising his views on feminism, climate change and vegetarianism, to ensure an evening of typically light-hearted debate with his eldest child. He has also filled the fridge with cider.
It appears that all of those conversations I had with the kids before Christmas about WHAT NOT TO DO when Grandad is here, fell on deaf ears. They didn’t mention The Ashes, but when the middle-aged tribe is heavily outnumbered by Millennials, things don’t always go to plan – and just saying kids, Vodka is not an appropriate Secret Santa gift.
As per its marketing, Vodka does ensure absolute insanity, which was somewhat at odds with the original concept in my head of a sophisticated Australian Christmas that my father might even compare one day to the Harrods-style Christmas he is accustomed to in Chelsea.
The day started out with all the promise of a resounding success. The weather was grey – good news when you have a table laid for sixteen on a garden deck that reaches the temperature of Mars the minute the thermometer exceeds twenty-four degrees; we managed to locate batteries for every cheap and nasty gadget that we didn’t realise required batteries; every new item of clothing fitted; the old man got over the fact that I had put away his Christmas polo shirt in his collarless-shirt pile and – Thank you, God – Kurt’s Google Home actually worked, saving it from the fate of his PS2 a few years back, which was thrown unceremoniously through the window with a ‘this is crap!’
Hell, I even remembered to pick up the turkey from Coles, and the dress I bought for the day – which I couldn’t bear to look at again until I’d squeezed my who-ate-all-the-mince-pies body into it five minutes before kick-off – looked okay.
Even the bacon on my Ikea pigs-in-blankets – home-assembled this year because some selfish bitch wiped out all stocks at our local Coles – remained intact after the old man forgot he’d already put them on the bbq.
Needless to say, there were a few minor casualties. I did discover the cherries frozen to the back of the fridge once everyone had left, and after an intensive first two courses with a seating plan as flammable as Christmas lunch with Trump and Obama, we gave up on formal dining and ate dessert and cheese off our laps, more camper-style than Chelsea-style.
And then the Millennials decided that Charades and Monopoly are a bit Britney Spears and opened the Vodka, after which, I felt the need to avert my eyes each time my father looked in my direction.
Let’s just say that neither Michael Buble nor any other Christmas festivity in the street could compete with the verbal Olympics of our ten twenty-something spawn egging each other on with ‘Down! Down! Down!’ at the end of the garden, as their parents looked on proudly.
And the Vodka shots were superseded by a highly disorganized bout of garden wrestling, which, although I tried to convince my father was an Aussie Christmas tradition, I don’t think he believed. Fortunately, the girl-on-girl wrestling got the quickly fading middle-aged male wrinklies out of their chairs – because there was no cricket to watch, apparently.
We lit the pudding without causing a bushfire, had just enough wine to sate the needs of fifteen alcoholics and I even remembered the coffee and chocolates in my drunken haze. By 10pm, aforementioned Millennials had been blackmailed into sleeping it off in front of Love Actually – OR ELSE! – while we, their sloshed, perfect role-models, put the world to rights.
With forty-eight hours and thirty minutes to go, no, I’m not the teeniest bit nervous about the arrival of the rellies for Christmas. While one half of me can’t wait to wrap myself up in dad’s arms again and beg him to take me home to let me be a child again, the other half keeps reminding me about all the stuff he’s going to notice; the stuff he didn’t do that way, in his day.
Because, as parents, that daily calling to judge and criticize our adult kids for not doing things the way we did, is hard to ignore. I found myself guilty of it when NC proffered any suggestions about the interior decoration of her new studio, the other day.
‘Don’t be silly,’ I heard myself say. In other words, Mum will always know best. For her sake, let’s hope she sticks to her word and decides against grandkids.
My conscience, in terms of the cleanliness of my house, has been eased somewhat by the knowledge that Dad has a cleaner – in both houses – so I’m not sure why I’ve spent the past few weeks zapping the moths from the pantry, checking every food storage jar for weevils and catching every speck of dust in the air before it lands on the furniture. But admittedly, when I bragged about the fucks I don’t give this year in my last post, I think I must have blanked out my father’s visit.
I’ve even weeded the garden, a massive job, because the house we recently rented seems to cultivate weeds rather than plants, and weeding is not a job for the faint-hearted in Australia. My dad doesn’t have a garden in Chelsea, and when I look back now to those years of pretty English gardens with their delicate flowers, chirping birds and stinging nettles, the main predator, it is with a fondness. I laugh now when I remember how I used to do the spider dance each time an earthworm poked its head out of the soil, and the time we discovered a slow worm under the swing set and called the RSPCA.
Beetles, daddy-long-legs and even maggots are childsplay once you’ve danced with death in your Australian garden. There was a warning in the media recently about how there are more snakes around this year than normal – as in deadly snakes, the type that kill you, and feel zero compassion for the fact that you’re really British.
You mean IN THE ZOOS? I was tempted to ask, before I remembered that I didn’t really need or want to know the answer.
Gardening, is apparently one of those strange activities, like lawn bowls and scowling at young people, that some older people develop a passion for. Not me. With a dodgy lower back, an irrational fear of skin melanomas and the more minor problem, that I don’t actually know one end of a plant from another – and certainly not one end of a native Australian plant from the other – it is something I strenuously avoid, and was one of the best bits about living in the city with its tiny balconies and pokey courtyards. Unfortunately, however, when we rented this house, the only way to negotiate the rent to a sum that correlated vaguely with the old man’s spreadsheet, (created circa 1950), was to take ownership of the garden.
Secretly, I suppose, I had hoped that the old man would punch his chest in an ape-like gesture of dominance and add weeding to his short list of man-jobs – but unfortunately, he’s as terrified of creatures that can kill you as I am. Here, snakes lurk in the flower beds, hide under your deck and have even been known to take a shower with you. In one video I saw, one of the sneaky buggers crawled out of a light fitting and the family continued to live in the house.
I haven’t decided if the Princess is just happy to share her territory with me when I’m in the garden, or secretly delights in scaring the bejeebers out of me by clambering stealthily through the bushes and rattling leaves each time I’m on my hands and knees in what is clearly a position of submission.
Put it this way, there’s rarely the temptation to dig too deeply here with the Funnel Web – a common garden spider. Although, in fairness to one of the world’s deadliest spiders, it is generous by poisonous spider standards because it gives you a good thirty minutes or so to die your heinous death.
Dad might be wise not to mention the thick layer of dust on the skirting.