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.

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Somebody’s Daughters.

Lately the news has been breaking my heart, my female heart.

It started with the rape and murder of Somebody’s Daughter in Melbourne. She worked for the ABC, so it received even more coverage than most; a good thing, as at the time, the perpetrator was still at large. The story was shocking and elicited widespread workplace and café conversations. So sad, Somebody’s Daughter out relaxing with friends, having a drink, going home to her husband, and then – nothing. Nothing, because she was stalked, targeted and preyed upon, murdered, hidden, lost. So sad.
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Yet the conversations I heard were often about Somebody’s Daughter being out on her own, walking home on her own, how “silly she was”, how “she might have been drunk”. Wait, wait – what? Many musings only barely stopped short of saying she was asking for it. Listening to these conversations I could have, and could still, scream.

It was later revealed in the media that the stalker, her attacker, was well-known to Police, had been charged many times with brutal assault and was out on parole when he raped and killed Somebody’s Daughter. He was a large, broad-shouldered, physically strong hunter of women with a known violent streak. Because of this, her husband now fights for more transparency and stronger controls around parole conditions for known offenders. The loss of Somebody’s Daughter will hopefully yield a meaningful legacy, a positive change.

But not soon enough for Somebody’s Mother who was killed in April this year. She was bashed to death with a cricket bat by a man who was on parole for violent rape. He had almost 100 prior convictions and has since pleaded guilty, and been charged with, murder. Unfortunately this doesn’t help the woman’s 4-year-old son, who found her body. As a mother of a 4-year-old myself, I find it overwhelmingly sad to contemplate what effect that will have on that little boy as he grows up.
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In July, another young Somebody’s Daughter was walking home after celebrating the birth of her then-two month old child. She had been in the city with friends and after being approached by, and refusing the attention of a lone man walking the same street, she was dragged into a laneway, punched, kicked and raped. It was a particularly brutal attack; one of the gashes on her face was so deep it required plastic surgery. She would likely be dead if not for neighbours running out of their homes upon hearing her desperate screams.

Then there was the kidnapping, ongoing assault, rape and brutalisation of three Somebody’s Daughters by a man, a school bus driver, over a period of years. These (now) women deserve a bloody medal, as does the (literal) man-on-the-street who “did something” upon hearing a plea for help from inside the man’s house. I have watched subsequent courtroom vision and listened in shock to the man’s denial of guilt, his words on a badly done by youth and an addict-like urge to harm, disrespect and demoralise. Whether real or play-acted self-delusion, it was a slap in the face to hear this soulless man attempt transferral of blame.

I thought about another man, the father of a daughter he kept as prisoner in his cellar for 24 years, who he sexually abused and who bore him seven children. With forethought and careful planning, he kept his Daughter and three of their children in the cellar for their entire lives whilst raising another three ‘upstairs’ in the house, as he and his wife’s own family. The seventh child had died shortly after birth and the man disposed of the body himself by burning it in a boiler. He hurt not just his Daughter, but his own children who now have an extraordinary challenge adjusting to life in the light of day.

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And finally, this: in Delhi last December, Somebody’s Daughter, 23, and her male friend boarded a bus. Not long after they had sat down a group of 6 men started harassing the pair, asking the friend what he was going to do to Somebody’s Daughter when he got home. The friend protested and the 6 other men hit him on the head with an iron rod. To try to save her friend, Somebody’s Daughter challenged the men. In response, the men gang-raped the girl and beat her with the same iron rod for 45 minutes. Then they threw Somebody’s Daughter and her friend out of the bus. In hospital they discovered the true extent of Somebody’s Daughter’s injuries; besides being raped and bashed, the iron rod had been inserted into Somebody’s Daughter and removed with such force it dragged her intestines with it.

On this last story – perhaps I should have warned you what you were going to read. It’s horrifying and beyond belief except that it actually DID happen to Somebody’s Daughter, on a bus, with her friend, at only 9pm at night. I’m getting upset again. It breaks my female heart.

And so I ask this: what is happening? When did all the Somebody’s Daughters become so targeted, so expendable, so devalued and worthless? And how did such violent, predatory, brutal behaviour become an almost-everyday news item? And why are we not making a bigger fuss about it all? There are pockets of action, stories of ill-feeling and a mood of sadness – but what are we actually doing? I’m no better than anyone else really, for here I am, only writing and lamenting. It is not enough.

There is a terrible and tragic thing happening, bigger than anything else and worse because its far-reaching consequences go beyond the violent and murderous madness of the stories above. It is about humanity. Within our own species, in our own kind, our own families – the stronger preying on the weaker, with intent to harm. I’m not an expert biologist, but truly – does any other species exhibit such destructive behaviour? And even if there was – why would we want to emulate it? Aren’t we supposed to be a higher-order, more aware, more morally conscious, more ethically driven species than any other? Aren’t we?
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I hate the fact that I am more frightened now than ever before. I am Somebody’s Daughter with my own gorgeous girl, who I want to have all the experiences life can bring without fear of being stalked, preyed upon or attacked because she went out with friends, or walked home, or rode a bus. There are no boundaries for this fear; it consumes me when I watch the news, when I’m walking alone in a dark car park, when I watch my daughter at a playground. I feel less empowered than ever before, less able to make something change and I’m sure this is part of it, this overwhelming fear. I’m ashamed to feel this way because I’m pretty sure it’s what predators and stalkers would want, my inaction, my horrifying and crippling fear.

So today, no answers, only these thoughts:

I quietly hope that talking about my fear for all the Somebody’s Daughters will affect a small change somewhere in the big, wide internet world. I wonder about the over-arching themes in these stories of predation and violence of men against women. Perhaps this is where we can start, with teaching our children respect for themselves and for others – because all those horrific acts described above have also been carried out by Somebody’s Sons.

I can’t think of anywhere else better to start than that.

A New(ie) perspective.

In my house there are unswept floors, unvacuumed carpets and untidy piles of unread magazines. I go to work early and promise myself I’ll leave at 4, then 5, then 6 o’clock. I plan to shop for groceries during lunch, after work, after I have collected my daughter. Late home, I face the spectre of cooking and serving an overdue evening meal to unbathed children while yesterday’s towels bunch wetly in the bathroom. There are dog-nose prints on glass sliding doors, finger-prints on the stairwell and a headful of unwritten blogposts. There are unmade phone calls, unmade beds, unrealised promises. I can’t stop thinking about things I should be doing and things I haven’t done. I want more time, more time, more time.

Lately it has been quite a struggle. And so I haven’t written for a while.

Today, with some precious writing time, I don’t want to dwell on the issues of madness and mess – suffice to say they exist and are unresolved. Instead I want to talk about something that’s saving my sanity and whose images are crowding my camera memory cards. It’s close and unexpected. It’s Newcastle, Newie, my home.

Nobbys 14   IMAG1194   Nobbys Beach, Newcastle.

Most weekends I manage an hour or so to go walking. Originally unplanned and now pleasant habit, I head to the breakwall in town near Nobbys Beach, always an hour or so before dusk. It’s a beautiful time of day, my favourite time of day. It’s when sidewalks are being swept clean of daylight-muck and preparing for night. It’s when shadows lengthen, stark skies become shaded-colour and people pack up and head home. There’s a sense of completion and a touch of anticipation at dusk. It’s day’s end, the sunset winking in night’s welcome.

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And the reason I’m walking here and not somewhere else is the landscape. I could walk anywhere; my gorgeous local park, my street, the bike track, anywhere. But I find myself driving into town, parking the car and treading the coastal breakwall with it’s beachy-backdrop, to its end and back again.

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While I walk I listen to music. It soothes me more than the crash of waves, the cry of seagulls or the chatter of fellow-walkers. You might question why I don’t let the rush of water-on-sand be my soundtrack. I think it’s because I see these walks as a bit of an escape, a chance to clear my head of The Crazy, and so I like to set the tone for this time myself. It’s one of the few times I get to listen to my choice of music, that I want to hear, that I like.

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Unexpectedly, these walks have changed my life. The solitary nature of them is soothing, and the exercise warranted, but it’s the stage show that’s taken my breath away. Incredibly, I’d forgotten about the power of it and how much better I am for it.

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The air is fresh, salty, bracing. The ocean can be angry grey-green, mildly turquoise or glassy, crystalline blue, rolling gently or spraying thunder against man-made rocks. Recently there have been dolphin pods, breaching whales, quick and cheeky seals. There are try-hard tugs ushering in overloaded ships, their cumbersome bulk swaying ponderously into the harbour. To the side, over-excited dogs populate Horseshoe Beach, fetching sticks amongst the off-shore foam. People, everywhere, all sorts – families, kids, tourists, surfers, cyclists, walkers, lovers, strangers, even robed monks. There is sand, salt, marshy smells and flowering plants. There are bleached timber keepsakes, pock-marked rocks and swooping kites.
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And then there’s the show. The horizon, the sunset, the end-of-day/beginning-of-night spectacle that demands its shaded-eye salute. The business end of the harbour looks delicately pretty in silhouette. The pink-tinged horizon urges you forward, faster, to beat the night-fall. Overcast days provide a gentler final act, a slower drop of the shadowed grey-on-grey curtain. Other times the harbour is angry and the only nod to the passing of time is the steely-blue boiling of the clouds as they roll into Newie.
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Every week this event reminds me that nature is fierce and wonderful. I feel lucky to witness it, to be in Newcastle where nature is so near that I can always, always find it closely, quickly. That I can feel better and happy because of it. That it can transform me from darkly overwhelmed to clear-headed and composed; there’s something about facing a sunset that makes you feel special, amazing and even beautiful.

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The sun sets and I walk a little taller, smiling. I drive home, sad for the moment just ended but grateful – grateful for nature’s show, for reminding me what truly matters, grateful I know how easy it is to feel better, and how unimportant an unkempt house really is.

I go home, kick aside the widely-strewn toys and hug my daughter.

Reality Mum.

I’m enjoying Mothers Day…really, I am. I had a sleep-in, which I love, and was given the gift of noise-isolating headphones for my mp3 player (they’re actually fantastic but, oh, the irony!). My daughter has been hugging me all morning, wishing me ‘Happy Mothers Day’ whilst also asking me when it will be finished. She put on her thickly-tread gumboots to play outside after lunch and promptly walked through poo left on the deck by our geriatric dog who can’t quite make the lawn anymore. Wouldn’t be so bad except she had walked it all over the decking boards before I noticed the smell, having just sat down to read a magazine that I’ve scanned the same page of for the last 3 days. I burnt caramel in the saucepan and had to send out the troops for more condensed milk whilst I dealt with my teary ineptitude. I’m going away for work tomorrow and haven’t packed or organised anything related to meetings or the daycare run. All in all – a pretty typical day as me, and as a Mum.

In stark contrast to this – I’ve been reading a lot of facebook posts today about mothers, from friends to their Mum, grandmother or daughter. Lots of flowery well-wishes, chrysanthemum-kisses and pale pink-dusted memories. Some of the messages infer motherhood is one long cupcake baking session. Stark contrast to my day so far. Where’s the ‘thanks for wiping my bottom’ or ‘thanks for tolerating my belligerently toned teenage years’? It got me thinking about being a Mum, and the tremendous highs and lows that come with the experience – for all involved. There’s no denying that sometimes I look at my daughter, my gorgeous girl, and am overwhelmed with love to the point of weeping. Other times…well, I’m being honest – I’m sure she’s as unhappy with my behaviour as I am with hers.

Which brings me to today’s post. A little unrefined, but warranted. A more balanced view of a mother’s days, not just the May-dated one. For Belle. Enjoy.

Motherhood.

You want it cold,
you want it hot,
you want it warm,
You want it ‘NOT’.

You whinge to me
Of hair astray,
And blame me, too,
For missing play.
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I write your name,
For you to trace.
You roll your eyes
And pull that face.

I bathe your limbs,
I wash your clothes;
You paint the walls
And pick your nose.
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You stamp your foot
And cry in rage,
And all I did
Was turn the page.

I touch your face
To make you smile.
You frown at me
and run a mile.
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I paint your nails
The colour pink.
You chew it off
And flood the sink.

You want a say
In clothes and shoes,
Then moan and cry
When I say ‘choose’.
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You drive me mad
And age me fast.
I had you late;
I hope I last.

And whilst oft’ said,
it’s more than true;
You’ll never know
How much I do.

Yet in the blur
Of daily grind
Such joy and warmth
In you I find.
Mothers Day 2013
Your frowning smiles,
Your happy tears,
Your lovely face
I hold so dear.

Snail town
So in this deal,
I think I win.
Your hand in mine,
Your cheeky grin.

For here I am,
And you are too.
I am your Mum.
Thank God for you.
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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.

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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.

Older.

It’s not Sunday, but I feel compelled to blog. Here ’tis folk – (sits a little straighter) – I’m an “older” Mum.

What does that mean? That means I’m around 10 years older than all the other Mums sitting patiently around the edges of the scout hall watching their tiny-tutu’d daughters prance about after demonstrating ‘first position’. It means I’ve been asked if I’m my daughter’s grandmother (I mean, really? Get a clue people!). It means that whilst other Mums are talking about planning for and/or managing their second, third or even fourth babies, I’m planning for and/or managing my second, third or fourth hot flush for the day, usually by choosing seats near windows or air-conditioners.

And my daughter? She doesn’t know any differently. I’m just Mum. And that, my friends, is what often saves this little black duck from feeling very low. In the words of Maurice Chevalier (albeit a little creepy in this day and age) – thank heaven for little girls.

And no – I wasn’t born when that song was written. Just saying.