Thursday, August 30, 2012
The first problem with Ikea is that the goods always look so great in the catalogue. Those stylists really know what they're doing. I find myself coveting every room. I really want to go there so that my life can start again.
So I loaded the kids in the car, picked Chris up early from work and headed over there. Rookie mistake number one: bringing the kids with us, and after 4pm too. Tired, hungry kids. Before we even get there. It's like we've never been to Ikea before. And some one dropped two small kids on us out of the blue. I mean really, here's where reader sympathy should cease. We brought this shit on ourselves.
We get there, and like an oasis in the desert there is the smaland play centre. Oh yeah, the kids can play happily (and hopefully forget that it's almost dinnertime) while we whip around and calmly agree on what to buy. After all, this is just going to be the table we will sit at several times a day for the next two years. No pressure. Without the kids hanging off us, it should be fine.
Hang on, the kids need socks to enter smaland. No socks, no play. We have no socks. Rookie mistake number 2. So, making decisions about furniture in an over-stimulated flood lit environment WITH two kids hanging off us. Starting to feel slightly less optimistic going in. But we're here now. Let's press on.
To cut a looooong story short, next thing you know Chris is leaning his full body weight on every table and when it buckles slightly muttering "This is shit quality! Look at this! Alex, get out of there! WHERE is Maya?" I don't say that the tables were not exactly designed to be pressed down upon by 6 foot 4 South Africans. I do say, " Remember that giant yellow sign that we walked in under? You know we're in Ikea right? What did you expect? Why did we come here?"
Then I found a cute white daybed for Maya and since she spends so little time in her own bed I thought the foam mattress would do. Plus it has heaps of storage and looks like a lounge. Chris looked mildly interested. Then he gave it the Engineers Quality Control Test - he lifted up the mattress and pointed at a broken slat, looking at me with eyes that were at once accusatory and also said "See! Shit quality!" Sheesh. It's not as if I broke the thing. And I'm pretty sure it won't exist in our house under the same conditions as in the Ikea store, with eleventy billion South African engineers coming in and leaning on it with their full body weight. We remembered that we were down a child and eventually found Maya curled up in one of the display beds while Alex destroyed a nearby kids bedroom with his man-child feet. Chris wondered aloud why all the other children were so well behaved. Although it may have come out something more like "Why don't you kids LISTEN TO ME? Can you see any other kids going on like this??" I reminded him that all the living breathing children were playing merrily in the smaland ball pit, with their socks smugly on their feet. The remaining children were robo-children planted by Ikea, designed to retain the feel of a family store.
We were getting nowhere so it was time to regroup with some meatballs and $1 bottomless cups of loganberry juice. I think the loganberry juice was laced with something just quietly.
The kids were over it and the pressure of trying to make a decision over mediocre furniture was too much. It became clear that we were not going home with multiple flatpacks strapped to our roof racks. But all was not lost. We still had the $2 toilet brushes to collect and if we managed that, the trip would be worth it. The weird thing about Ikea is that although yes, some of it is not the greatest quality, some of it is actually really fantastic value. It's just a bit random. You have to have your wits about you, which we most certainly did not.
The other thing about Ikea that I should have remembered, is that it never ends. You think you have pretty much almost reached the register but no. It just keeps going. We had another "shit quality!" outburst from Chris in the pots and pans section but I managed to get some place mats, a dinner set and plastic kids cutlery into the trolley. We finally made our way to the checkout, where (and this shouldn't have been a surprise, but was - rookie mistake number 321) - the total came to almost $200 despite the fact that we hadn't actually bought any furniture. Good times.
We may be sleeping on the floor for the next few weeks but goddamit, we have a kick-ass cheese grater.
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Baseball, hockey, soccer, skulls. Hearts, cats, rainbows, flowers.
Choose your weapon I've got sunshine
This is my costume Sweet life
Here to Win Tres Chic
J'aime mon chat
Ooh la la
Old Navy girls' tees: Old Navy boys' tees:
More sport, sharks. More hearts, more cats.
Class Clown Love Rules
Dark Knight Smile
If it's not broke don't worry I'll break it later Love peace laugh
I am who I am your approval is not needed BFFs are sweet
This is what awesome looks like I Heart U.
OH WAIT. It's the other way around. But you already knew that.
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
I boil the kettle, put a scoop of tea leaves into the pot (I have a pot with an internal mesh tea-holder that automatically strains the leaves to avoid any fuss at the other end*), pour the boiling water into the pot, and set the microwave timer to exactly four minutes.
Then I take the butter and jam out of the fridge, set up my tea cup with the right amount of sugar and milk, and wait.
When the timer buzzes, I pour the tea and put the toast or bagel into the toaster. When it pops, I leave it for a short while so that the butter doesn't melt too much and make it soggy, but not so long as to end up with cold toast. In the time it takes the toast to be ready, the tea has gotten to the perfect temperature to drink with the buttered, jammed toast.
It's annoying to drink lukewarm tea with a nice piece of toast. And it's just as annoying to have a nice hot cup of tea with cold toast. Hence my system.
I've noticed that I've become more particular about the things I can control as I get older, but concurrently, I'm trying to become more philosophical about the things I can't.
*'the other end' being the spout/teacup end!
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Alex was still sick and I worried about being in a new country without a car, with a sick child who seemed ok but could potentially get worse overnight. I didn't want to drag him and Maya to a doctors only to pay a fortune and wait an eternity and be told to just keep an eye on him. A kind tweep whose wife is a doctor offered to ask her for advice when she got home from work, and sent me his phone number. I wondered whether to take him to the walk-in clinic across the road. It was 5.45 and the clinic closed at 6. I didn't think we'd make it but Chris took him anyway. They arrived back half an hour later with anti-biotics. They'd walked in and been seen immediately. (Australians will understand how shocking that is!). It turned out he had an ear infection.
As I hadn't left the apartment in 48 hours (basically since we had arrived) Chris suggested I take a walk to the shops to have a look around. It's amazing what a bit of fresh air can do for a person (my grandfather was right!). Sure there were still the luxury cars driving down the freeway to the mall. But on foot I noticed there was also a park across the road from the high rise, and even at 8pm there were people walking their dogs, children riding bikes and playing. The sun was still shining.
At the shopping centre I found all the shops open until 9pm each weeknight (convenience!) and a giant bookstore/Starbucks. Heaven.
After a decidedly average first couple of days, things were looking up. I found an upside to the new.
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Since we moved out of our house, we have been in-between. Not here, not there. Four days in an apartment in Newcastle, suddenly tourists in the place we had called home for over five years. And now we're in a similar apartment halfway across the world. But the scenery outside has changed. Gone is the museum, Honeysuckle, the lighthouse, the beach. Instead we see highways and buildings, a strip of green and a sign announcing that Air Supply will be playing at the Markham Civic Theatre in September. Randomly I remember reading in some magazine that Air Supply were Princess Diana's favorite band.
Alex, who we thought had conquered jet lag quickest, has fallen into a feverish sleep at 2pm, despite insisting he was neither sick nor tired. He developed a cold just before we left which prompted a last-minute dash to the GP for emergency just-in-case prednisone. Luckily the prednisone turned out not to be needed (yet) but the cold dogs him still and appears to have developed into some kind of post-viral infection. For me, jet lag meant being crazy dizzy tired with weird dreams and a headache that took all day to clear.
Waking up the children to leave various hotel rooms and get off flights was like destroying a delicate spider web - you know it's not the end of the world but it seems such a shame. The children handled such rude awakenings with aplomb, obligingly riding their trunkis and standing in line with minimum fuss. Alex even pushed one of the trolleys loaded with suitcases - he could barely see over the top but rose to the task admirably.
Whilst living in Australia, watching American TV and movies, listening to American music, we took for granted the similarities between the two cultures. But an overnight stop in LA brought with it a new awareness of the differences. A sign in the hotel lobby reads: "WARNING: This facility contains chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm. A brochure with more information on specific exposures is available at the registration desk." I was keen to procure one of these brochures but Chris assured me that the sign was to avoid litigation and was more to do with Californian law than any specific danger. He said the chemicals referred to were regular cleaning chemicals used in most places. All of which, yes, are known carcinogens. (Perhaps a horrifying statement on modern life rather than that specific hotel!)
We took a taxi to Santa Monica Pier, it was more crowded than the Easter Show. We bought the kids ice cream cones, each single scoop seemed almost as big as their heads. The taxi driver had arrived from Iraq 40 years earlier, fleeing from Sadaam Hussein's regime. He had nothing but praise for America.
The service in America was so unfailingly helpful and polite that I couldn't help but be dazzled. It really shows up the Aussie laid-back attitude which often seems suspiciously like apathy.
Talking in his sleep that night in the LA hotel, Alex said, "When are we going to get there?" In the morning, breakfast was served on plastic plates, with plastic cups and cutlery. The choice of cereal was fruit loops, frosty o's and frosted flakes. Cinnamon scrolls and lemonade were also on offer. And, of course, 2 per cent milk. (wouldn't want any fat to sneak into the diet). I also noticed the mirror in the lobby was a "skinny mirror". We used to have them at the clothing shop I worked in while I was at uni: they stretch you slightly to give the impression you are slimmer than you are. Not as much as crazy mirrors at a fun fair, but along the same lines. Only in America!
We arrived in Canada after a five-hour flight from LA and had to wait at immigration for a while as they processed our visa application. We had to take two taxis to the apartment to fit all our luggage, costing us $150.
I know that this transition has been made smooth for us in countless ways, big and small, but that doesn't stop the shock of the new from jarring us, nor does it make the move completely seamless. We are moving to a country where we speak the language, with similar customs, where we have a job and temporary accommodation. Our furniture is on its way to us. We are grateful for all this. But we have left behind a life we loved, a familiar home, dear friends and family, and the emotional reverberations of this move are felt in myriad ways.
The light switches go up not down. The powerpoints don't have on/off switches. The water pressure in the shower can't be adjusted. The inside of the microwave resembles nothing so much as an aircraft hangar. Everything is wrapped in plastic three times then wrapped again for good measure.
And then there are the petty annoyances that inevitably come with travel. I skinned my knee at Santa Monica beach. A hole turned up inexplicably in my merino wool t shirt. I left my good face cleanser at the hotel. But these things really just served to remind me of how much worse it could have been.
Maya watched tv the entire first day before falling asleep on Chris' lap at 8pm and waking up at 11am this morning (even more amazing, she did not wet the bed!) and is now watching tv again. At this point, my approach is "whatever works." Chris and Alex took a bus to a mall yesterday. Alex came back and announced that "everything is better in Newcastle." His tone was more matter-of-fact than despondent.
I've taken care to use the local expressions such as "to go" instead of "take away", "no problem" not "no worries", "elevator" not " lift", "cell phone" not "mobile", "grocery store" not "supermarket".
We don't have a car, which makes it difficult to get our bearings and explore. (Jetlagged kids don't enjoy walking very far, especially down highways!) There is a dearth of good coffee. (Chris: "I would kill for a flat white!")
There are harder things in this world than what we're doing, for sure. I think of people fleeing their countries, in fear for their lives, making the hard choice to leave loved ones behind in search of a better future for their families, not knowing when or if they will see their homeland again. We've left a life we loved in order to have an adventure, but we are missing that life and we haven't found anything to replace it with yet, so we are sad. We're in a luxury apartment building where people drive in and out in their luxury cars and turn onto the freeway to get to the mall. We need to be in a home with a neighborhood, to walk to the shops and the park. We'll get there. We're just in-between.
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
I don't know what it is about the chicken that appeals to her funny bone. Maybe it's the ridiculousness of a giant chicken. Maybe it's the rolling eyes. Maybe it's the excitement she feels each time we approach her ballet class. Maybe it's just a Thing now and she can't remember why it was so funny to begin with. Maybe it's just the wonder of being four. But damn, I'm going to miss that crazy chicken.
We leave the country to make a new home overseas in just over five weeks. That chicken got me to thinking about all the little (and big) things that I will miss about Newcastle, so I decided to make a list. Self-indulgent? Possibly. But it's been on my mind so here it is.
- The Merewether Surfhouse corn fritters (oh and the amazing view) - I've only eaten them once but it was love at first bite. You know when you just KNOW.
- The simplicity and elegance of the Fernleigh Track - a disused rail corridor that runs for 17km through people's backyards and bushland. I'll miss riding my bike under (mostly) shade while listening to podcasts of This American Life. Even the ride back uphill isn't that steep - if a cargo train can make it, you know you can do it on a bike. The nod of recognition from fellow cyclists even though most of them have passed me, have turned around and are now on their way back. I'll miss the long walks and talks on the track that I've done with my dear friend Jayne - discussing everything from the mysteries of the universe to the problem with apostrophe situations (which may well be one and the same thing). Newcastle Council really got something right with the Fernleigh.
- Movies at the most dilapidated cinema in town - I'd wager in the country actually. The seats are the original seats from when it opened in the early 70s. You sit back and the whole row lurches. The bins are covered in rust. The roof leaks. The whole place has seen better days. But there is an inexplicably large powder room before you go into the main (brown-tiled) bathroom. And it has a licensed bar. And it shows the only arthouse movies in town. I'll miss my Tuesday-night $11 tickets with Curly and Curly. (I'm the third Curly, we're like the three stooges only we're all called Curly).
- The proliferation of Portlandia-like "put a bird on it" boutiques that have sprung up around the tattoo parlours and brothels in town. You go hipsters.
- The fact that three wedding shops next to each other are called the "wedding precinct." It's even written in the banners flying outside the shops. How cute is that?
- My little patch of backyard, my little 90-year-old house, with it's original fireplaces and ornate ceilings.
- Walking my son across the road to school every day, being able to hear the first bell go and yell "Come on! The bell's gone!" and still make it for the second bell. Being able to do the reverse in the afternoons.
- Being two blocks from the little local shops - banks, post office, the best bakery in Newcastle, newsagent, hairdressers, supermarket, butcher, fruit shop. Knowing the shopkeepers. Being able to run to the shops while my husband is cooking beef stroganoff and be back in time to add the mushrooms I've just bought.
- Living five minutes drive from a world-class hospital - even though I hope we won't need it as much as we have over the past five years - yes, I will miss that.
- The theatre. Local productions - being in them, seeing them, every one I know knowing at least one person in the cast.
- Winning stuff on the radio - it's easier in rural locations! You can actually get through sometimes! I've been on a Hunter Valley Feast (lunch) through a competition won by Newy twitter friends, won tickets to Elmo (although possibly the lines were clear that day because no one else wanted to impersonate Elmo live on air!); and won tickets to the (aforementioned) cinema.
- Talking on the radio - I interviewed my son on his first day of school and they played it on air, I debated Bettina Arndt about her views - both on local abc radio. Not to mention the number of times I've called in just to have a chat/espouse my view on this or that.
- ABC Newcastle - it deserves its own dot points - just being so connected to the local community through the radio, it's something I've never experienced before. They know what they're doing over there.
- Having all my friends within a 10 (15 max) minute drive.
- The beaches - oh, the beaches! And I am not a beach person. The canoe pool at dusk, the baths (Merewether and Newcastle), the vistas. The art deco beach houses. The fact that you can get a park within easy walking distance (sometimes even right in front!) and it doesn't cost you an arm and a leg.
- Lambton pool. Even when it's packed and I am trying not to think about the number of kids weeing in it and how many molecules of bacteria there would be per square millimetre. The kids love it so much.
- The parks - Lambton park, Gregson with its gigantic trees so you are always in shade, Centennial - my kids grew up playing in these parks.
- The cafes - Goldbergs is the reason my husband wanted to move to Newcastle! - Darby St, Honeysuckle, Peaberrys, Sprout, Estebar, there's no shortage of good food.
- The culture - the fab museum, the art gallery, the libraries. All free, all easy to take kids to, all welcoming.
- The fact that I can still go to great events like Tedx because some one in Newcastle (Siobhan Curran to be exact) has had the vision and the heart to stage it in Newy.
- The community - the two degrees of separation that Newcastle seems to operate from.
- The Hunter Valley Gardens at Christmas.
- The vibe of the place.
- And of course that damn crazy chicken.
Sunday, May 27, 2012
Maya gets attention pretty much wherever we go. Most outings include one or two or sometimes several instances of well-meaning friends or passers-by telling her how cute, beautiful, gorgeous she is, specifically in relation to her hair, eyes, eyelashes, skin. She's over it. My son, who's six, used to get similar comments up until around the age of 4, but they were never as frequent. Now that he's a bit older and his hair is not as curly and not as blonde, he escapes the running commentary. My fear for my daughter is that she will never escape it. Well, maybe when she's about 40 it will start to drop off. At which point hopefully she will feel liberated rather than disappointed that her social currency is waning.
Saturday, May 19, 2012
Monday, May 14, 2012
Men find it difficult to succeed in the workplace, because they are forever taking credit for work that's not theirs, making people redundant, overlooking others for promotions, and all manner of unkind behaviour.
They are aggressive, taking their frustrations out on other men with their fists, and if they're not physically fighting then they're backstabbing their mates by sleeping with their partners. They don't call their mates on their birthdays, they don't organise get-togethers, and the competition on the sporting field is not friendly. Is it any wonder they struggle? Men are their own worst enemies.
In the gym, if a guy sees another guy fitter than him he will suck in his gut and think bad thoughts about his rival. He will never congratulate another guy on a job well done. He will leave a bro for dead if he sees a woman they both like in a nightclub. They mock each other all the time, making jokes at other guys' expense. Case in point: any bucks night - ritual humiliation at its best. Why are men so hell bent on destroying each other?
Politics, that male-dominated sphere, is full of backstabbers, liars and egomaniacs. Men spend the first third of their lives competing in the playground only to tear each other down in the public arena too.
Sure, men are occasionally able to enjoy a beer together or even lend a supportive ear, but pubs and football fields should come with a warning that not every one plays nicely.
Do women brawl with each other after too much to drink? No. Do women call each other charming names like "pussy-whipped" when their friends are willing to compromise with their partners? No. Do women fart in each other's general direction and then laugh? No.
The macho posturing, the aggressive threats, the dick-swinging competitions, the merciless mocking, the disloyalty - dudes, the dogfighting has got to stop. You've got to band together, or you've only got yourselves to blame for your problems.
* In case you didn't pick it up, the above is a satire based on this post that trots out the old chestnut that women are our own worst enemies. I'd love to see a considered piece on internalised misogyny and how when we blame an entire gender for things that both genders do and are responsible for, we are reinforcing that misogyny. Instead, I wrote this piece.
Sunday, February 26, 2012
This piece was originally published in Sunny Days magazine and it never gets old. I thought it was time to talk about it again.
Controlled crying. For many parents, these two words will conjure up a variety of thoughts and emotions. As with other parenting-related issues, the topic can be a minefield from the definition through to the practice and every conversation in between. There are so many articles and blogs devoted to the efficacy and/or cruelty of the practice, it's clear this issue can be divisive.
When my children were babies I hated the idea of letting them cry, for any length of time, for any reason. With my first child, there was a point at which I attempted to wrap, pat, leave the room, wait it out, then go back in and start the whole process again. But for me it didn’t work. My heart was not in it, and if anything the attempt to 'train' him only made him more distressed. So I went back to my original plan of settling him by rocking, patting, feeding and cuddling. I believe that going with my gut instinct helped me be a more relaxed mother and helped nourish the bond between me and my baby.
Many parents say that the benefits of controlled crying outweigh the negatives. Sure, no one likes to listen to their baby crying, but in the interests of teaching them to sleep independently - and hopefully having a happier, better-rested baby in the morning - it's a price that many argue has to be paid, albeit reluctantly.
Modern-day sleep 'gurus' such as Gina Ford and Tizzie Hall advocate variations on a routine-based childcare technique that includes the use of controlled crying to help baby 'settle'. These two popular authors have no formal qualifications or scientific research to back up their claims; instead they rely on their years of experience and a 'commonsense' approach that delivers the results many parents want. Their ideas can be traced back to Dr Truby King, a physician with an interest in child development who founded the Karitane mothercraft hospitals and established the Australian Mothercraft Society. American paediatrician Dr Richard Ferber also popularised a similar technique in the 1980s.
Opponents of controlled crying have concerns about the impact of the practice on a child's emotional security and brain development. The Australian Association for Infant Mental Health (AAIMHI) states that, “the widely practiced technique of controlled crying is not consistent with what infants need for their optimal emotional and psychological health, and may have unintended negative consequences.” They go on to say that, “infants are more likely to form secure attachments when their distress is responded to promptly, consistently and appropriately.”
Neurobiologist Dr Bruce Perry says that, “touch and comfort is as essential a nutrient for infant brain development and healthy growth as mother’s milk.” He acknowledges that parents who practice controlled crying are attempting to help a child build self-regulation skills but argues that, “this technique is not going to lead to the desired result.”
Paediatrician Dr William Sears also argues that by training a baby to sleep without crying, you are producing a learned helplessness, the baby has 'given up' on crying out for help.
Popular childcare authors, American Elizabeth Pantley and Australian Pinky McKay, have written books about how to help your child sleep without the use of controlled crying.
Dr Perry is quick to avoid any alarmist tendencies. “I’m not saying that if you’ve done controlled crying your child is going to have profound dysregulation (poor or inappropriate emotional response) or have brain damage. But if the goal is to have a child who is able to self-regulate and be curious and less anxious in new situations then that’s not the best way of getting to that point.” And this is where I think he makes the most sense. We shouldn’t feel guilty about our parenting choices if they have been made taking the overall picture of a family’s health into account. It seems the ‘outcome’ that controlled crying sometimes produces, that is, a baby who sleeps independently, comes at a neurological, and possibly developmental and emotional cost to a child. But a stressed, anxious and potentially depressed parent exact a cost too.
Dr Perry agrees that if the desired outcome is for babies to stop crying, controlled crying does ‘work’. “Absolutely, babies will stop crying,” he says. However he also says that the more you respond to a crying baby when they’re young, the less they’ll cry when they get older, the less demanding they will be, the more curious and the more open to exploring new situations.
Personally I have found the cries of my babies (and children, as they have grown older) like the mythical sirens' call – I am unable to resist responding as quickly as I can, particularly when it comes to helping them sleep well. I have found that hopping into bed with them when they wake is the best way to maximise their levels of security - and my time asleep. I have always reasoned that we help our children do most things during the day - you would not expect a two-year-old to make themselves a meal, for instance, without asking for help or expecting a level of supervision - so why do we demand more of them at night? And to me, it’s such a short time in our lives - they’ll be grown and independent before we know it - I want it to be as harmonious a time as possible.
What it comes down to for me is the old 'cost vs benefits' analysis, which varies for each family. Armed with as much factual information, resources and support as possible, no one can expect us to do more than our best.
What is controlled crying? The Australian Association for Infant Mental Health (AAIMHI) describes controlled crying as a technique that involves leaving the infant or child to cry for increasingly longer periods of time before
providing comfort. The intention of controlled crying is to let babies put themselves to sleep and to stop them from crying or calling out during the night.
How is this different to 'controlled comforting', 'self-settling' or ‘crying it out’? There is some confusion as to the exact definitions of each phrase as they are used widely in different contexts by different groups. There are variations between these techniques but, ultimately, they have the same aim. Some involve waiting a specific number of minutes before going back in to re-settle baby, others involve focussing more specifically on the type of cry (ie whether distressed or grizzly, etc).
Saturday, February 11, 2012
Arndt has thought of this and later on insists that "Of course there is no excuse for sexual violence or for men to paw or harrass women" and then starts the next sentence with "but..." and goes on to criticise women who over-expose their bodies. To me this is akin to saying "I'm not racist, but... [insert racist comment here]." Issuing a disclaimer prior to an offensive statement does not make it any less offensive.
The next cab off the rank claims that "provocative female attire is an assault against men" - best he moves to Saudi Arabia then so he can feel less assaulted. Makes me feel for all those beta males running home from the newsagents to be oppressed by their copies of Maxim magazine.
And what of all the 'beta females' out there, are there no women who are stung by rejection? What happens when they look too closely for too long at a man who will have nothing to do with them? Do the men lap up the attention and respond graciously or do they label them stalkers, desperate, and all manner of unattractive adjectives?