Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Session Four

Tonight was the fourth meeting of our local writers' group. I wrote about the most exciting aspects of my life, with special accord given to the toilet door, in preparation for the meeting. Was it fitting that I then forgot about it completely until I was sitting on the toilet hoping I could get the washing in before the children's bedtime? What a tragic remembering that was. A cheerful swish of toilet paper and I could announce with genuine urgency that I had to be somewhere else - fifteen minutes ago.

So I swished into town like a girl released from childcare and we shared our writing and we even made some plans to do public reading early next year. Then we went to the pub. hahahaha it's all about the pub. Have a nice Christmas.

That may be the last nice thing I say relating to Christmas. You have been warned.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Toilet doors

When I was at university, I did a course on post modern theory. It was about everything that being a mother is not. Signifiers and signifieds for a start. We were all young and fancied ourselves a tad clever. I think it was Roland Barthes who wrote about how the word 'ladies' on the page meant one thing and yet the word 'ladies' stuck on a door meant quite another. We discussed the ideas like they were really relevant to our lives, getting slightly less convinced when we had to do the one on dream sequences and our lecturer dreamt about mini cars and then explained how that really meant he was dreaming about having breakfast with his lover in France. Naturally, I was full of conviction at that stage that I would be living in Greymouth washing lots of dishes 16 years later.

Also at university but not actually at university, I discovered that toilet doors mostly don't work in pubs. I'm not sure if I've missed something really transformative, but I still have yet to experience the kind of state that makes me want to rip locks off toilet doors at the pub. Up adnd down the country there is evidence that I am, if not a minority, then at least not the sole blueprint for how to enjoy a night on the piss.

The rest of the time, pre children, toilet doors were quite unproblematic. Sometimes people had naff sayings on theirs and others had calendars, either from the local hardware shop or from their relative in Canada.

We have a picture of native ferns on ours. It's on the inside, so you can look at this serene image, cut from last years' calendar from my grandparents of course, and feel at peace with the world.

There are however, some things which may make serenity and peacefulness difficult. One is if you saw a mouse in the wash house which the toilet is inside, just the night before. Another is if you are sick and thus looking the other way and remembering at quite the wrong and far too late time that good persons clean their toilet frequently for a useful purpose.

The main reasons for lack of zen behind or even in front of the toilet door relate to small children. They object to being shut out, they object to not being able to tear toilet paper off for you, they object far too noisily to my refusal to let them wipe my bottom.

I don't know how skinny people manage to sluice dirty nappies without helpful hands getting far too close. When I have my frame blocking entrance to the toilet while I dispose of poo, it has to be one of the times I feel that fat to be really rather useful.

Other options include children arguing with each other outside the shut door to establish that indeed a few moments of basic bodily expulsion is more than a mother can expect to experience alone.

Possibly the prizewinner is the older child who needs a poo always and only when I am on the toilet. The moral order of the universe seems to be that as a child, he cannot wait and I must have superior bodily control to him. No I don't fit on the potty! Such is the beauty with which we start our days.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Yesterday the telephone rang. In the middle of The Tale of Ginger and Pickles, as I sat in the middle of my chidlren, the phone began to ring and I knew an adventure could beckon. My big boy ran for the telephone and as I attempted to sound like a lucid adult, the children clambered and giggled and whispered and sent messages to me in ever more urgent ways.

We want to be in on the fun! their bodies and hands and the rocking adges of Peter Rabbit's Giant Storybook said. I tried not to hiss and I tried to listen carefully and I stopped and I started and gave up on guessing. Eventually with much excuse mes and more excuse mes and the nicest kind of chiding of children I could muster, we established that Alice and her crew of immediate relatives would be visiting in just seven hours.

So the cleaning circus began. We vacuumed and swept and wiped and folded and tidied. We folded perhaps one thousand and seven items of clothing and marvelled that tonight, for the first time since the last entertaining adventure, people would sit on the couch. Directly on the cushions of the couch.

I could tell you the story of our church fair couch and the memory of our favourite friend Brian, but that would detract from the real story of the kitchen. Eggshells were being unearthed from beneath pots of Friday night's food project. Banana skins were resurrected from dangerous places where children think they should go and no one else agrees. Pots and pans and bowls were cleaned. Stickers representing where every banana, apple and orange came from and the capitalist giant who made all the profit were rehomed to the rubbish bin.

Throughout the house, shoes were collected from every corner and in the middle of many places as well. I would like to have had a Pied Piper to collect them by playing his flute. Alas he was not available and each shoe was moved by a grade one process of torture. Many many many many many many many sentences began "If you want Alice to come..."

One of us did not like this cleaning game. Not one little bit. She saw all the fun things retreat, get re-ordered and reviled. She witnessed the removal of the banana skins as the sign of parents gone overboard. But silently, stealthily, she worked out a plan. In the room of the toothbrush, the madness had yet to begin.

Brighid had ideas and saw in the soap, a final opportunity to play and to poke. She thought about hair knots and knew what to do. Hairbrushes would work so much better with the addition of soap.

Imagine the rage when Mum did not agree. The soap was evicted and so was the girl.

Bouyed by achievements throughout the house, I opted for cleaning my body as well. Just as I thought the project was complete, I heard the crunch of gravel on the driveway. Sppedier than a moving banana skin, I donned tops and bottoms in the right places and smiled at the door.

Alice is here and the carpet is bare and the fun and the games can begin.

The pub lady

I am in the world of adults. Men and women adults. I am there as an illegal indulgence, tiny and less tiny children running around just slowly enough that no one yet asks us to leave.

The pub is my own little bribe to help me through the after school hours of a not-really-proper-working day Friday.

We go to swimming lessons first thing after school and I take great care not to stop at the pub afterwards. At just 4.15, there are too few ticks on my report card.

We've just started swimming lessons recently. They are what proper parents do. Extra-curricular activity. Kind mothers and fathers explain about the necessity of swimming lessons. For safety apparently. I straighten my frown out. Too late, I've already blurted our less cautious truth. Fionn has asked for swimming lessons every week since the infamous, inaugural swim week back in February, which is well over two hundred days ago. We are here for fun.

I organised swimming lessons with a contact from one of my proper mother friends. All of my mother friends are proper mothers with busy after school schedules. Now we have schedule thing too.The child with no tv, no playstation and apparently considerably fewer toy cars than any other child in the entire world, gets to frolic in a wetsuit.

Post swimming lessons we get home without recourse to the ice cream shop or the pub. Two ticks for the mother. While the children play bike races alternately with destroying my garden, I behave quite nicely. Dinner, chooks, washing, nappies and you can go to the pub at six. Dinner-chooks-washing-nappies-six o'clock finish.

At 5.15 I've done dinner and the children must be happy because they haven't grizzled for their father. Technically I haven't grizzled for their father but in practice I can tell you that in forty-four minutes I'll be sharing the load and it won't involve looking at the dishes bench which is never, ever empty.

My mummy friends don't drag their children to the pub. None of their children announce "I pinched the principal's bottom at the pub." They're all at jujitsu or gymnastics.

So six o'clock rolls around and I find shoes for us all. I'm not without some aspirations to respectability. Kindly Dad buys us drinks and chips and I make a note to myself to switch back to beer next time. Gin and tonic looks very much like the children's lemonades.

The Sally Army lady is on her pub crawl. I know this Sally lady and this is the beginning of my undoing. The lovely Muriel has stepped between my worlds and exposed my facade. Muriel is a great friend of my beloved elderly cousin. At Cousin Mary's, I am a good girl. I visit often, the children behave there, I even remember birthdays and special occasions.

Muriel brings her box round our table. Once again, I only have my money card and that suddenly seems not innocuous but bad. The children interrupt and I hiss at them. I see it all from the good lady's eyes. Children needing a bath and a bedtime story and instead the mother hisses at them over gin when they dare to ask for some attention.

So then it turns custardy and the un-nappied child needs to poo and the kindly Dad is outside burning his lungs. The three of us traipse to the ladies and girl dances on the landing while the boy is on the toilet and I figure we should go home but I have one more drink and so does the smoker and before we know it the chidlren are running wild which we said they couldn't and oh cripes we really had better go home.

So like the final recessional hymn but with more hissing, we bundle out the door and Kent is home to put the children to bed which was a good half of my plan anyway.

Adult conversations? I think I had three. Evidence that I have the stamina for parenting properly past five o'clock Friday? Not much.

Women's Christian Tempreance Ladies, is this what you envisaged when you fought for universal suffrage in the run up to 1893?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

We're all class in this house

It's Sunday night. After the fiftieth airing of that particularly endearing question: "What shall we do now?", it occurred to me that I could get my eldest precious darling to do some homework. This is a novelty activity in our house. I suppose it means he won't get ahead or hold down a good job or maybe he'll become a drug dealer. Don't assume his voice has broken yet or even that he has a set of adult teeth. Homework starts early in these ambitious and insecure times. I suppose it started back in the Industrial Revolution, or the Reformation, or whenever it was that people decided that a satisfying life involved something other than growing food and eating it. Among his peers, I don't think they talk about homework. Among my parenting peers down at the school pick-up, our family is way behind. Or in the parlance of my some-time drug dealer, "lazy-as".

So homework involved finding words ending in -s. We got ten words, including Guinness but not including poos as the five year old vetoed his own idea. Mrs Doocey has class - you don't sully anything she has to read. And of course if you grow up in our household, then you have no idea that most five year olds don't routinely chat about Guinness.

We went to a sixth birthday party in the afternoon. Children's birthday parties are mostly ghastly. Mothers and fathers spend a lot of time and money encouraging children to be badly behaved. Without any help from Guinness. But at birthday parties, if you are really unfortunate, you can learn what other children are doing at school. Winning principals' awards which were stolen from under the child's nose. The child who wrote a story with 21 sentences in it. Twenty One! I jolted forward on the third repeat, suddenly clicking as to what was expected of me. "Wow! That is clever." I'm a bit thick like that, not realising when to make appropriate admiring noises. It comes from having admired 85 pieces of sand already that day. Often I don't bother to look. That brings it's own problems when I eventually notice that it wasn't a sandpit concoction at all but the now destroyed contents of my seedling tray of brassicas.

On the subject of admiring things, I am wondering if I should get a citizens' referendum going against stickers on fruit. What was wrong with having one Dole Sticker on an entire bunch of bananas? When did people get so thick about food things that every single apple had to be labelled with it's variety? You might come up with some compelling reasons for this ridiculous practice, but before you do, I want to know how many of them you have extracted from a toddler's nose this week. If the answer is less than seven, then I won't consider your ideas to carry any weight.