Mum’s the word.

Newcastle’s Saturday soundtrack is the buzz of lawn edgers and the throttling hum of mowers. It’s the first sunny weekend after the April storms, the massive east coast low that wreaked havoc on homes and communities. There’s a welcome breeze drying out waterlogged yards and blowing a cloud of sawdust across my clean washing; our fallen gum was finally chainsawed into oblivion two days ago. The air is filled with sweet grass smells and the expectation of a sunny weekend, a fine Mother’s Day.

And on this fine morning, I found myself reflecting on what it means to be a Mum, all those moments that bring joy and exasperation in equal measure. Last year I wrote a little ditty in honour of Mother’s Day, my response to some of the over-the-top sickly sweet reflections on motherhood that peppered social media in May last year (you can read it here). This year I’m rolling a little differently, exploring some of my most memorable mother moments and experiences of the last 12 months. Here’s my take on my mummy year-that-was.

Making the grade. Making the 2014 preschool end of year concert with my partner and Missy Moo’s grandparents and great-grandmother. Full family representation at preschool’s final day followed by an organised afternoon tea at a cafe. Missy Moo was delighted we were all there and it showed. As someone who works long hours and often travels too, this effort in logistics paid off generously via Missy Moo’s smiles. I was pretty proud of that one.

Failing the grade. The very next night I received a phone call at 6.45pm whilst at work asking if Missy Moo was still coming. Pardon? To what? I listened to the daycare teacher tell me that the Missy Moo’s ‘graduation’ from 4 and a half years of daycare was imminent; they could hold off the ceremony for another 10 minutes. I rang my parents who agreed to drive her there as quickly as possible whilst I sped down the highway cursing the previous day’s smugness. Roadwork delays turned me into a sobbing mess. I made it to daycare as other parents and children were leaving. Missy Moo’s first words were a sympathetic “It’s OK Mummy”. Hmm. Mother-guilt cemented for at least 6 months.

Joy to the world. Christmas, glorious Christmas. Could there be anything more fun than Christmas Morning with a 5-year-old? Novocastrian Backyard Summer2

Schools in. Missy Moo started school this year. Sheesh, where did the time go? Circumnavigating this new entity and all it brings whilst worrying that Missy Moo is making friends, spending time with nice kids, learning and coping. She’s still excited after Term 1 which is a good sign. Some minor traumatic moments but all in all she seems happy. And so we are too.Belle ist day 3

“You can go in now”. First meeting with the school principal. That feeling of trepidation when walking into a principal’s office doesn’t change with age. A tough conversation about school stuff-ups and a few tears and sniffles later I walk out reassured and hopeful that the problem will be fixed. Go Mummy-me!

Pass the pencils. Cafe colouring-in time with my girl. On increasingly rare ‘free’ days we search the web, source  and print off black and white mandalas, grab her textas and coloured pencils and head off to a cafe together. We chat, colour and compare our artworks. Love, love, love this time with her.

Pass the bucket. This one goes to Missy Moo’s courage and how proud it makes me feel. My little girl is wonderfully brave when she is sick, really sick. She is the best young “bomiter” I have ever met. No fuss, no hesitation. She’s scared when she knows it’s coming but she’ll grab that bucket and bow that head, even when feverish, tired and sad. What a little trooper.

The best medicine. The sound of my little girl’s laugh is infectious, giggly and has a touch of madness about it. It’s natural and sweet and always makes me smile and laugh too.

Dance baby dance. My daughter and I sing and dance together all the time. I’ve embraced singers that will never grace my preferred station of Triple J’s playlist: we shake it off to Taylor, shake our booty’s to Meghan and I shake my head at Charli XCX. Nevertheless, we do it together whilst singing and flinging our bodies around. Glorious!

Nighty night. Saying good night to Missy Moo every night. Kisses, cuddles, sometimes lying in bed reading a book together. It’s special and I know oh-so-short-lived. She will grow up in no time and these moments will pass. I treasure them.

Last but not least. Each morning last week I was greeted with the number of days until Mothers Day, my own personal countdown . Sunday morning she had the same look on her face as Easter and Christmas Day, that gorgeous anticipation. I love the fact that she’s as excited by giving as receiving. It makes me hopeful for the type of person she will grow into and that is, without a doubt, the best Mothers Day present ever.

Belle birthday 4

 

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Rich & Glorious

Today’s blogpost is brought to you by life: rich and glorious. How quickly we can forget it.

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So far 2014 has been quite the challenge. Health issues (you can read about it here), work restructures, applying for jobs, the start of preschool – busy, stressful, chaotic.  In thinking about what to write in this blogpost I found myself looking at pictures instead. I take photos, lots of them, to remind me of beautiful moments and to catalogue the happy times. I can’t help it; I like to record things. And my most recent photos made me realise that for all the hurdles of the last 2 months, there’s been joyous times too. Little events that add up to some pretty funny and wonderful moments, captured in some of my favourite shots.

1. The Advent of Maxie

I’ll begin this story with a description of a wonderful, fluffy, old boy in our household, our kelpie-border collie cross Jasper. Jasper turns 17 (yes, that’s right – 17) in a couple of months. He’s a bit slow on his feet, a bit blind, a bit deaf, a bit wobbly. He sleeps for around 20 – 22 hours a day. He’s slowed down a great deal since we lost or other pup last year (you can read about Ripley the Unholy Terror here). He has doggy-dementia so every now and then relives his puppy years, bounding around the yard in springbok-like jumps that make our daughter Belle giggle with delight. We all love Jasper immensely – he’s the sook, the dog that always wants a cuddle, the Mummy’s Boy. He lives a quiet life of gentle snoozing on a soft cushion.

So imagine my surprise finding a scrappy cockatiel waddling about our deck, squawking belligerently in the face of poor old Jasper. To Jasper’s credit, despite being more than a little bewildered, he managed to haul himself up to sniff and stagger behind the indignant creature. I “rescued” the bird and put out some water and bread, hoping it would recuperate and fly home. Not to be. The bird seemed intent on harassing Jasper and/or flying straight onto my shoulder whenever I ventured outside. It was obviously someone’s pet, flown the coup. A little while later I saw a streak of yellow past the kitchen window and felt happy the bird was likely returning home. However, it was not long before I was again “rescuing” the vocal cockatiel from our front yard, the bird hugging the trunk of our gum tree with open wings, blinking against the southerly blowing up the street, bleeding and distressed (I don’t think the resident native birds took kindly to it at all).

Belle and Maxie week 2c

This bird, now well-ensconced in a home with food and water, proceeded to ‘woo’ my daughter, my partner and my step-son. I borrowed an old bird cage from my Grandmother (who was rubbing her hands with glee at disposing of the large, rusted-metal object, having lost her Galah years ago). We bought bird seed, had a notice put up at the local vet surgery, did a letter-box drop and rang numbers in the Lost and Found. We even had someone come ’round to our house – still the bird was unclaimed. My daughter gave it a name. We bought bird seed, bird treats and a new cage.

And so Maxie became the newest member of our little household.

Well played Maxie, well played.

2. The Deviation at Nobbys

I have the luxury of taking Sunday evening walks on Nobbys Breakwall. I have 2 hours off from domestic life and I walk. I take my phone, I capture shots, I think, I listen to music, I tread it out  – it’s my “me-time” (you can read about it here).

I hadn’t been for a while; surgery in January meant I was restricted for a few weeks. When the time finally came for me to resume my walks, I decided to do something different. I grabbed my partner and my daughter and took them with me. With the clouds threatening rain and windy conditions, we walked the breakwall. We threw stones in the water, we raced and chased each other, we played. We waited as the grey clouds grew close and the crowd thinned, then hightailed it back to the car. It was possibly one of the nicest Sunday walks I’ve had in a long time.

Nobbys family walk

Whilst I highly value my me-time, on this particular Sunday I just wanted my family with me. I deviated from the norm and it was worth it.

Sometimes it pays to break tradition.

3. Nobody puts baby in the corner (dance, baby, dance).

February birthday celebrations for friends found me at a  girly ‘High Tea and Tarot’ afternoon at Mayfield. Libby and Erica, friends and work colleagues, decided to combine their February birthday celebrations into one event. And so I arrived at Teresa and Erica’s home with cake and champagne in hand, ready for polite conversation and bubbles. The table was set, the eskies were packed and the fortune-teller/tarot car reader was ready and waiting.

I had a fabulous time. I knew very few of the 50 or more women but still I found myself chatting, bonding, laughing and having a bloody great afternoon. The tarot reading was quiet respite from the party happenings, although sharing the session with 4 other women ensured that any seriousness was kept appropriately at bay.

The party continued into the night: a drag show, dancing, more drinks, more dancing. As always, I had my camera with me so I captured the fun, frivolity and joy of an arvo’ high tea gone rogue.

My favourite shot? This one, which I think imparts the essence of the afternoon. It screams happiness, fun and joy as the birthday girls (in red and blue) shimmy and laugh their way around the lounge-room. Life is too short not to eat, drink and be merry.

Pic 26

I didn’t think much had happened in my life in the month of February, nothing worth writing about anyway. Yet these images tell a different story. Seems, happily, I could not have been more wrong.

Lavender and Aliens

When I first met her she was only a few weeks old. So small and gorgeous, eating and sleeping her way through the days. She cried and cried, sniffled and sighed her way into my heart. White with tan spots, she was a tiny Jack Russell, my first dog.

I’d had dogs drift in and out of my life as a child; we lived opposite a bush reserve which seemed to be a regular dumping ground for people’s refuse and unwanted animals, so I’d had a few puppy-pets in my primary school years. Each stayed for just days at a time before we ultimately delivered them into an uncertain future at the local RSPCA. I always tried to keep them, the undesired and unloved – their status endeared them to me even more. But it was not to be, and I promised myself I’d have the much-longed-for and four-legged friend as soon as I was grown-up and out on my own.
1997 2
So here we were. My new gorgeous girl’s name was Lavender, the first of a run of formal names given to her by the breeder, written hurriedly on the top of her vaccination card. She didn’t seem like a ‘Lavender’ to me – she was all spitfire and boisterousness, leaping and pawing her way through our yard. She was demanding; her need for attention was boundless and her perseverance in seeking the same was impressive. She would literally cry and wail for hours and hours, with no respite, whilst simultaneously chewing her way through the base of the laundry door. She was strong-willed and fierce. She was a pocket-rocket-sized chick with attitude. I thought long and hard about her name and decided on Ripley – not for the ‘believe or not’ connotation, but after Ellen Ripley, the lead female character in the movie ‘Alien’. They shared so many characteristics, fortitude, guts and determination, it seemed appropriate.

And so Ripley continued to exasperate and delight us in equal measure. In retrospect, having a Jack Russell as my first dog probably wasn’t the smartest move – I had no idea how to train any dog, let alone a breed that needed strong direction. Jack Russells are just too damn smart and I was ill-prepared for the pre-emptive and complex nature of their thought process. Ripley easily assumed the title of ‘pack leader’ and lead us a merry dance for several years.
1997 1
There was the time my grandmother ‘baby-sat’ Ripley at her house. Ripley was very young, still had puppy-teeth, and managed to corral my grandmother into the corner of her kitchen, nipping her heels whenever she tried to escape. She was still there when I returned a few hours later. Then there were the numerous times Ripley tried to escape – any gate, open for a millisecond, was an opportunity to flee. Her best effort was the afternoon before my 30th birthday party. She bolted through legs, out the gate, onto the road and straight under a moving car; I noted the tyre marks on her tummy as she was whisked away to the vet. I was so distraught, I wanted to cancel everything and yet – she was absolutely fine, back to engineering escape tactics within a week. And then there were the times when she simply needed to burn a little energy. She’d tuck her tail neatly under her bottom, pull her head in low-line with her back and shoot off like a bullet, lapping the yard. She’d run and leap into nothingness, off retaining walls and over hedges. One day, one overly-eager leap too far snapped her cruciate ligament – a footballer’s injury. The operation cost in the thousands; she chewed her stitches out twice.
Ripley younger 1
Things changed for Ripley when we acquired dog number 2 – beautiful, gentle Jasper. He was more than twice her size and three times her weight. He was a rescued dog from the RSPCA. He developed pneumonia 3 days after we brought him home, and so disappeared again for 2 weeks back to the veterinary hospital. Ripley clearly thought she’d won; she never liked sharing and now believed she had somehow sent this new dog packing. She seemed….satisfied. Not so. Jasper returned, and with a case of nose-severely-out-of-joint, Ripley initiated a series of arguments, nasty ones. For a while we thought we couldn’t keep Jasper. Then, eventually, things were resolved when Jasper assumed his role as bottom of the heap, the last in the pack. Poor Jasper – such a kindly old soul, he was never a match for Ripley’s mischievous maneuverings. And so, finally, our dogs settled into life together.
Beautiful puppies
I remember being (unnecessarily) worried about Ripley’s reaction to our expanding family. One New Year’s Eve, only just pregnant and still nursing the secret, I spent the night on our back deck with friends and family. I was tired – Ripley sensed my lethargy and jumped onto my lap for gentle pats and rubs. She nudged my belly more than once and eventually fell asleep curled into my warmth. I swear she was making the most of the now-dwindling opportunities for some alone time with me.

Life rolled on, and so we hit 2013. Both Ripley and Jasper were 15, turning 16. Incredibly old and happily ensconced in sunshine-y days of overstuffed cushions and soft brushes. Our dogs had lost the chase, and so now companionably shared water bowls and grassy lawn with pigeons and doves. Life became slower – filled with afternoon naps and sleepy tail-wags.
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Which brings me to now. My best mate Ripley, my little terrorist, has gone. We had to make the terrible decision to put her down. She was so mightily old, and lost her dignity one morning in such a mess that her milky eyes bade me turn away. Her back legs lay loose and unwilling to move. I tearfully rang the vet and said “it’s time”. I held her face and stroked her head as she went. It was heartbreaking.

That was Saturday. The next day, Sunday, was a day of celebration. My grandmother, the one so richly rounded-up by my little Jack Russell, was turning 90. Quite a milestone. She still lives on her own, shops for herself and walks every morning to get the newspaper. She’s funny and smart and can source a sarcastic comment when needed. Our relatives were coming from north and south the be part of the afternoon. It was a lovely few hours of shared memories, champagne and laughter. I let myself enjoy the event and tried not to think about Ripley.
Ba and Belle with cake 1
Then my grandmother began opening her presents. I was assigned the role of scribe, writing down the gifts on the corresponding card so my grandmother would now who-to-thank-for-what. Our gift was a photo book, around 150 pages of images of my grandmother from birth to now, and with family and with friends. I’d included 2 photos, one of each of our dogs. The caption under Ripley read “Moira’s nemesis”, a nod to the ongoing love/hate relationship they shared. It made me smile to think that even the day after she died, Ripley was still being remembered in all her rambunctious and domineering glory.

And so it came to be that within the space of 2 days I celebrated one long life and began grieving the end of another. Beginnings and endings. Life, overwhelming.

Old Girl 1
Remembered always and so very missed.
Ripley Faulkner.
1997 – 2013.

Thankful.

This week the universe decided to remind me of what I have, and be bloody thankful for it. It was a week of surprising and sad developments, in large unpredictability. Here’s what I took away from life’s casualty room.

Death is a strange thing.
When a life ends, we grieve the loss ceremoniously. We gather with people who we might not ordinarily see, save for such ‘events’. We spend time talking with friends who we’ve not caught up with in a while. Death brings people and families together. Funny, then, that it also often creates the tensions that tear them apart. And there is something heart-breakingly sad about watching families deal with a loved one’s death.
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Relationships are strange things.
They are the source of our greatest joy and our worst heartache. And whilst love is built on trust, shared desires, hopes, beliefs and understandings between two people – the fact of the matter is that people change. It’s the nature of things. Relationships that last are the ones that embrace growth and change together. It is overwhelmingly sad when a relationship ends because that didn’t happen.
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Grief is a process.
It can be a death; it can be a relationship. Either way, the grief that follows is a process that can’t be avoided. It’s amazing to me that more time isn’t spent on arming people to deal with grief, as it’s inevitable that we all face it at sometime in our lives. Grief has recognisable stages, and learning this helped me greatly when I waded through its murk a few years ago. Sometimes long, sometime short, but always – hard.
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Three year olds make everything better.
After a few days of watching friends worlds turn upside down, witnessing their pain and feeling quite helpless…there’s this: my daughter, lying on her tummy on the floor, singing her own songs, writing a letter to Santa because she wants to “make sure he knows I love him”. Her voice is melodic and tuneful, her feet swaying in the air, her letter a zig-zag of lines. She’s so happy. Watching her makes me happy too. I catch my partner’s eye and we share the moment with small smiles. Like everything in this life, she will change and grow, and it is my fondest wish to see it all and be part of it – just as I am right at that moment.
Belle Autumn 1-7
Suddenly I realise exactly what I have, how lucky I am to have it – and I am bloody thankful for it.

All by myself.

I have a confession to make.

I really, really love time alone. Time with my thoughts. Time with a great book. Time with just me.

I had some of that precious time late last Saturday afternoon. I really needed it – my gorgeous three-year-old daughter had filed down my psyche with hours of incessant ‘why?’, thoughts of work were intruding, urging me to click on the computer and get it done, and I was tired, bone tired.

So I was given a leave pass. I threw on some comfy clothes, grabbed my headphones and music and drove to a nearby favoured beach-walking destination. I felt very free and excited about the prospect of a good, long walk with just my thoughts for company. I marvelled at the ‘want’ for this – as someone who sees exercise as a necessity rather than an enjoyable past-time, I was pretty amazed by my desire to pound the pavement. I walked hard for about an hour, took the occasional photograph on the walk back, and generally left feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the madness of kids and home again.
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But now – today – it’s a different story. It’s early morning and I’m sitting in the kitchen listening to my daughter sing. She’s singing about made-up things, fairy wings and Barbie dolls, pink happiness. It is so honest and beautiful it’s making me weep. How could I have wished time away from this little angel and wanted more for myself? How could I ever intentionally miss these special and innocent moments, the same ones I often wish I could save, bottle and trickle out over time like drops of expensive perfume – tantalising and so wonderfully connected to memory. It will all be gone too soon; I feel ashamed for ever wanting to actually ‘get away’ – this makes me weep more.

Belle Autumn 2

 
There are a few relevant points to this story. They’re nothing new, but worth reiteration.

Point 1: Everyone needs time to recharge their batteries. People in a ‘happy place’ are usually more tolerant, patient and able to cope with life’s little challenges. And if you’re a Mum – by looking after yourself you become more equipped and better at looking after others. Note: this last point is supported by medical advice. Yes, it’s true – my doctor told me to take a little time out for myself, everyday, to (and I quote) “ensure you don’t officially lose-it”. Point taken.

Point 2: Wanting to be on your own, with your own thoughts, doesn’t make you a bad or selfish person – it makes you human.

Point 3: Motherhood is simultaneously the best and the scariest roller-coaster ride you’ll ever be on. Here’s why this analogy works – you just hang on and try and enjoy the ride; it’s impossible to ensure the safety of all your passengers but you can try; you’ll always worry about whether the wheels are on the track; there are highs, there are lows, either way, it’s a memorable ride; it’s dangerous, thrilling and unpredictable – need I go on?

What have I learned? I try not to feel guilty for wanting time alone. Instead, I remind myself to be thankful for all the time I’m not.

Little ditty.

Last weekend was Easter. We had a couple of days where we bounced from one event to another. A busy, full and generally happy weekend – but I didn’t make my Sunday blog deadline.

However I did spend some time thinking about what I might write. I realised that lately I’ve been surrounded by ditties: short, simple, catchy, tuneful. The sort that persist in your head. My daughter Belle’s favourite books, all cadence and rhythm, suited to a three year-old’s sensibilities – we read them over and over. Belle’s teenage cousin’s facebook post, a youtube video with a boppy song about keeping all your fingers whilst you knock out the beat with a knife (don’t ask!). The Easter Bunny’s gift to Belle in exchange for her baby-dummys: a toy pony that walks, talks and repeatedly sings ‘Are you excited, are you, are you? Are you excited, are you, are you?’.

I thought about something I once wrote, my own little ditty for Belle. I came up with a four beat rhyming verse (tetrameter?) to accompany a photo of my daughter’s shampooed hair. It was short and punchy – a good companion for the photo – and she loved it. I decided to complete it for this week’s post, so here ’tis. Inspired by, and with thanks to the works of Dr. Seuss.

Belle’s hair.
A ditty for my daughter.

Belle likes her hair,
She likes it lots.
She likes it straight,
Not tied in knots.

She likes it clean,
She likes it shiny.
She keeps it well,
For one so tiny.
Belle's hair
She wears it high,
She wears it low.
She’ll change it twice
Before she goes.

And when she runs,
Her hair does bounce
From left to right,
Like frill or flounce.
Belle running 1
On days when rain
The clouds unfurl,
It makes it frizz,
It makes it curl.

But in the end,
Belle still does smile.
She likes her hair,
In any style.

And I must say,
I like it too!
But ‘why?’ you ask,
‘What works for you?’

And so my friends,
I must then tell –
I like it lots,
Because it’s Belles.
Belle posing

Being found.

This week’s post is short. It’s been one of those weeks where I’ve bounced from one task to the next, on the periphery – just doing, not thinking. Having said that, I had 5 hours of happy-highway-trails today, heading north for work. I’m here now, but it’s late and the fuzziness is creeping in. So…short it is.

I’ve been thinking about relationships, life-partnerships. It’s worth saying upfront that I don’t subscribe to the theory that there is literally only one perfect match for us, one soul mate. The scientist in me screams numbers and proportions – an entire world population and one lil’ ol’ me. The odds are in my favour. Statistically speaking, there must be more than one who would speak to my heart.

What’s important though is that it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how many or few people there are that hold a potential spiritual connection for you. What matters is finding someone who you love, who loves you back. What matters is the process of being found.

Let me note here that I have a wonderful, loving partner. Our story is one of missed moments, shared school buses, common workplaces and mutual friends. Seems we were dancing around each other for a good 20 years, we just didn’t know it. We both have the benefit of life experience – each having been married before – and we know that gives us a unique perspective on our relationship. We treasure what we have even more, because we know that things can change. We know that sometimes, despite your best efforts, things don’t last. We feel incredibly lucky to have finally found each other.

In truth, I think he found me. I had such a demoralising end to my marriage, a self-esteem-sapping separation, that I think I had forgotten what it was like to be wanted. To be sought after, to be found. He had to spell it out for me. Thank goodness he took notice and lucky me on being found.

Last night we went out with 2 other couples. One just celebrated 17 years of marriage the other will be married later this year. I don’t know their stories – previous relationships, how they met – but both couples are clearly happy to have found each other. As far as I know they aren’t looking elsewhere. They are both committed couples, people just enjoying being together.

So in pondering relationships, I think that most people generally just want to be found. We all want to be sought-after, discovered, held close and dear, treasured, precious. It really is sheer luck being found by, or finding someone who is right for you, who “fits”. Despite my theory about there being more than one in the world suited to us, being truly found is still a rare and wonderful thing.

The final word on this subject goes to my three-year old daughter. We play hide and seek – she hides out of sight and then, rather than remain quiet while I prowl my way around the house, she talks me through where to find her. She wants to be found, despite the fact that the purpose of the game is to remain hidden.

She’s a smart girl – she knows that being found is far more fun.