Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Life stories from our unfashionable dining room table

I'm eating a late night snack with a choice of literature in front of me. There is Hairy Maclary's Caterwaul Caper, which isn't much fun without someone on my knee practising her new vocab.

There is the terms and conditions of banking published by kiwibank. I thought John Key might kill kiwibank but it seems that this year you just wait for banks to die all by themselves.

Also on the table, a Spot What? book, a rugby league mouthguard, a toy motorbike and a torch. You need all of these accesories to be interested in the Spot What? book.

Beyond the sudoku, the sunglasses, discarded tissues and the join-the-dots book, an old Guardian Weekly proclaims that "Middle age needn't be miserable for women." I've already read that. It's partly about hormones. Once is enough.

My own choices at the table are a magazine on garden herbs and a book on twentieth century New Zealand Art. I've hammered the herb book before and jab yet another mental note to myself about eating nasturtiums and making el cheapo pesto.

So, Towards Aotearoa. The art book. There is a painting on the front of lots of stones, a tractor and a mountain. Taranaki? I look inside to find out. It's Michael Smither. Of course it isn't of a particular place. How uneducated of me. I watched a tv programme on Michael Smither once, during a brief stint when we had a tv. He was in a cold hut in Central Otago with no money and lots of small children and when his wife got fed up and asked him to do the dishes or change a nappy or some other reasonable thing, he sat down and painted a picture of her looking grim.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Divine taste

Interior decoration.

A priority for the stylish. Not to be confused with exterior decoration, which mostly seems to be about dieting and jewellery and finding that the jeans you bought last year and never quite fitted can now be abandoned in the interests of the next new look. The next new black which mostly turns out still to be black.

So anyway, enough of fat and the jeans which other people take to St Vincent de Paul which fit my out of date image for years on end.

Interior decoration is not about drugs to realign your brain. I don't even need drugs for that. All I need to do is to parent alone for more than ten hours at a stretch.

Interior decoration is about taste in your home.

You can't even begin to qualify if you have fleas. Due to the infinite mercy and serious killer drugs of Piner the Pest man, I can indeed redirect my energies to the lounge. If I had divine taste, it wouldn't even be the lounge. Living area perhaps, like the real estate agents trumpet, or something else entirely if I was remortgaging two years ago and thought I'd tip the house upside down and backwards all in order to still eat, sleep and poo in the same house but facing different compass directions.

Anway, or lounge, as the word befits the era of our wallpaper, is in need of a refit. I have grand plans for this lounge. I've had them before. The plans all start and finish with not using it as a clean laundry station and eliminating 85 pieces of train track and 93 hot wheels cars. Since these grand designs started, fitfully and never with much traction beyond a week, we now have extra design challenges. Dolls. And their socks.

But no. There's more. This time I am binning the dinge. Literally. We stripped the wallpaper off, my delightful children who had been practising in the rest of the house against all injunctions for years and I, and we put it all in a big black sack for the big hole of consumer baggage out on the edge of our town.

So now we have a light filled room. The laundry looks sparkly in it.

I hear of women with divine taste in my town. Absolutely divine. As for me, I just need to persuade my family to join a nudist group come rain hail or shine and then we might paint the couch and the chairs. Or re-cover them. Or take them to the women's refuge or the sallies or back to the Anglican church fair where we first found them. Oh the step up they provided when we could start sitting on chairs instead of the floor.

Can't have done any washing that first day....

Saturday, March 14, 2009


There is a deadline, all of my own doing. No one made me join writers' group. No one made me have children or said I had to become a mass group youth torturer either. I struggle with deadlines for them all.

What shall I write on my get out clause, or excuse for not doing my homework slip? Sandra was unable to complete her homework as she was busy dealing with silverfish, headlice, fleas and mice. Hmmmm, boy do I wish that was a lie.

Sandra was unable to complete her homework because she was making assorted kinds of bread, none with a recipe and then wondering why they turned out less than perfect.

She was also unable to complete her homework because she was swanning around the environs of Fox Glacier, hauling her daughter up away from the actual glacier from time to time. That is an acceptable truth. On the palatability of experiencing it scale.

Sandra will be unable to complete her homework the night before writers' group because that will be St Patrick's Day and the beer coasters will be too wet to write on.

I do know I have to front up because this month I finally got organised and rang the nice lady from the West Coast Messenger. I usually meet Jo Keppel while I'm doing motherish things like toy library and sewing nappies. I've quit both of those things of course. So now people see me in the supermarket and tell me they saw about me in the paper. I usually smile and flee because the first time I did not, someone asked me what I wrote.


shopping lists.

Um, about domestic stuff.

Er. um. I wrote about my washing machine once.

Then I hit the warble button on my brain - I have several such buttons, all easily pushed. Well, you know, it seems an intrinsically good idea. To have a writers' group in Greymouth. We started it after the Kate do Goldi workshop. Where I had the flu. At least it gets me writing.

My questioner glazed and started to check her son's nappy.

Sandra needs a writers' group to make a shopping list. For the good of the community.

Roll me out the insane people please. They will be so much better to communicate with.

So if you see me in the supermarket and tell me you saw about the writers' group, please don't take it personally if I rush on past instead of encouraging you to join. It's just that I've clocked that the washing machine hasn't broken since the last piece of writing, I'm still too traumatised to talk about the fleas and now half of Greymouth thinks we have a proper writing group. Please look to your left (or right) for someone to give you more hope than Sandra.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

You are an object of someone else's devotion

I look at your arms and chest intently.
In their direction, that is.
I am admiring your jerseys.

A different one each time I see you.
Hand knitted, patterned, coloured.
Hours and hours of devotion.

You say,
your wife has no interest in your writing.
I think,
she is a talented woman.

Friday, January 16, 2009

alternative therapists

If your life is a rut, then you should go see an alternative therapist. They will make the rut more interesting. Maybe even give you some jumping juice to get out of the aforementioned rut.

This, as a service, has to be far more interesting than trying the GP. If you tell Dr Patel that you are fed up with your life, while a queue snakes around past the small box of broken toys and the stop smoking posters and the pharmaceutical company advertisements, he might not even bother answering you. Which would suggest he wasn't listening. Which is probably why your life is in a rut anyway, because no one listens to you.

It doesn't especially matter which alternative therapist you choose, most of them having something new to tell you and a good deal of them are good listeners. Yes, you have to pay for someone to listen to you at some points in your life.

I have preferences though. I like osteopaths, homeopaths, reiki, shiatsu, reflexologists, naturopaths and herbal therapists. I've never tried all of them at once or even more than one in a month, but if I was rich I would. For fun. How could I be in a rut with that many therapists?

I don't go in for counsellors. What's the point of them if my neck hurts and I haven't slept much lately? I'm well aware that I argued a pile with my mother - I'm visiting remarkably similar issues on my own offspring thank you.

My latest alternative therapist has psychic skills. I heard that along the grapevine, specifically when someone told me I should take my son to her to find out why he had eczema. Took me years and a bad bad headache on a deep rut day to get past that little piece of information.

So I've been twice now. Two dead people visited the room during the first session and that turned out not to be so freaky after all. Particularly as only the therapist could see them. Last week was session two. I warbled and wafted on and you know, someone was paid to listen to me being indulgent! I have to eat 75% fruit and vegetables and give up bread though. No such thing as a free moan. Even if you pay for the session.

Which is why there is a pomegranate on my kitchen bench. Even the children haven't tried to eat it yet.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

When I am finished

When I am finished being a solo parent, I shall go to the toilet alone. No child shall dangle a nectarine precariously above my knickers while they pull reams of toilet paper off and gesture towards wiping my bottom. While smiling. Don't tell me toddlers can't multi-task. No older child shall loiter in the door frame telling me how many hot wheels cars he wants, jabbering on while the nectarine which shouldn't be near the toilet anyway tortures me. Threats and shouts and bribery are all useless - I used them up before we even got to the toilet. We indeed, as it seems I am not allowed to defecate on my own. They know my limits. They know, both of them without discussion, that I will not waddle through the house with half delivered poo carrying either of them. They know that I really want to go swimming as well, so that is a non-threat that the mother should have given up two hours ago.

So I sit on the toilet, with my smiling assassins keeping guard, guarding against any independent move on my behalf.

It's a fun filled lark, being a solo parent. yes I know some people do it all the time. They get lambasted on the news regularly as though they should have the strength to bring their children up perfectly on five dollars per day and be there for them whenever they need it and when they don't as well and find paying work so they are not a burden to the state. In case you think like me that prostitution is probably the only thing with flexible hours, it turns out that that is bad for your children as well. Haven't those know it all types ever had sex with someone who turned out to be unsuitable? Oh let's not even answer that one.

That is all irrelevant, because I am only solo parenting for four nights and five days. So far I have done three nights and three and a half days. Through some incrdible quirk of wonderfulness, one is asleep and the other is entranced by Postman Pat on the CD. And I'm here writing because I can't face the kitchen.

I'm not that keen on the bedroom, because it has a lot less wallpaper than this morning. I fancied reading and Brighid fancied interior decoration. I'm not that keen on the dining room because it has the greater part of four pottles of yoghurt all over it. I made a cursory attempt to clean it earlier which prompted Brighid to tip three cups of water like a waterfall down herself, the high chair, the table and the carpet. Worse, she found the cleaning spray and came up to the bedroom where I had run and hid, wielding it like an axe. Those education types who talk about how good it is for your children to see their parents read - they never describe how it is for parents to try and read with an audience.

I'm not that keen on the lounge, because if I poke my head up there, Fionn might notice me and remember that I exist solely for torturing purposes. And for producing food.

But, the good news. I have done some nice mummy things this week. I took the children swimming. I drove forty kilometres to do so. I smile with ease at the teenagers swaggering in the streets of my small town. I say hello by name to the ones who have had the personal challenge of knowing me in the classroom. It is summer, and they can imagine with some relief that they might get a different teacher next year. But togs is a whole nother matter. I am not baring such expanses of flesh in front of people whom I last saw when I was making them remove bright pink jerseys in the name of being a school uniform nazi.

Anyway, we get to Hokitika pool and we all swim and for an hour it seems that I might be doing okay at this parenting lark. Not only are the alive and doing legally appropriate things but we are all having fun and I'm not skiving off into the garden. Some of the other mothers and grandmothers are a bit fat as well which is nice. It's never nice to be the only fat person at a pool. Back in the changing rooms, a skinny mum's child is having a tantrum. Not all roses that skinny thing. I try and ignore my children's interest in the tantrum. If my child composes a lovely story, or song or picture, it is wonderful. If they watch another child tantrum and then share their own personal version or duet versions have been known, with me, it is not wonderful.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Viscous courage

Viscous liquids are thick but nevertheless run down hill don't they?

I've been thinking about all the things I have quit. I thought about calling it an anti-CV. A backwards cv is a VC though and in New Zealand that is linked to being very good and earning the Victoria Cross for extreme bravery in war. When I was eleven, the deputy principal read us a book about Charles Upham who received the Victoria Cross for escaping from prisoner of war camps - twice I think. Twice for the escapes and probably for the reading of the book by the deputy principal. The same man who once advised me to count to ten before opening my mouth. Ten!

Anway I settled on the idea of viscuous courage, a VC which is a sort of slow downhill descent of good intentions into a run, an escape.

I was brought up properly. Clean teeth, lots of church, mashed spud, cabbage and sausages every week with carrots cooked for 45 minutes as well some times. Quitting was not discussed. Occasionally I attempted to quit my responsibilities by losing things. A beige jersey once and then on another occasion I managed to lose all twenty-something punishment sheets meted out for me to copy as a punishment for talking too much. Losing things was not an effective way of quitting though. Not with vigilance and a proper upbringing. I could try and mete out the same stuff to my children, but my son has observed more than once that I am hopeless at remembering things. Maybe they will escape propriety.

When I was at intermediate, an odd term for being 11 or 12 and at school in New Zealand, my piano teacher forgot to enter me into the theory examination. Hmmph. We all knew he only took lessons for the money. What carelessness. Anyway he rang and apologised to my mother, a feat of some strength in itself, and offered to pay himself for me to sit the examination at the next opportunity.

Ladies and gentlemen, I was given the opportunity to further myself, to advance the credentials on this vital document known as my CV and talked about even when I was eleven, and I declined. The rot had set in, fermented by wild yeasts from outside of my proper home.

From then on and for ages, memories of quitting are a bit blurry. Frankly I should have quit a few more things, like unsuitable boyfriends.

But since we moved to smallwettown, I have taken up quitting with renewed enthusiasm. First, some things to quit. Playcentre was first up. I fancied myself as a bit of an earth mother and all that consensus sharing and loving for the benefit of our little darlings might be right up my alley. Might. Might indeed. In just a few months, I managed to quit not one but two playcentres. Consensus my foot. A wavering wandering waddle of women who vaguely want to do something good for their children lead by women who should have been in the army. I hear Jenny Shipley started out her entry into public life and organisation through playcentre. I can well believe it.

So I got out of playcentre. But there was more to get out of. Gymnastics was easy. I sneezed through the entire first session and cried for the lovely one in London where us mums sat and yakked while we watched the children. This kiwi version involved walking round with your child constantly and there was no music. No second time for us.

Next up Parents Centre. Who needs church when earnestness is available elsewhere? I guess the truly good like a bit of earnestness and then a bit more. After the meeting where someone groomed and ever so nice from Wellington carefully explained how to set up a charter of rules for the meeting before we even had the meeting, I knew I was dead in the water. How could I possibly find the drive to leave the house and go to another parents centre meeting ever again?

I went back to work again after a while but that was easy to quit because I was about to have a baby. Babies are permission to quit a few things.

I stuck it out at kindy, mostly because I found that if I played around being librarian, then I could avoid wielding a broom at the end of sessions and not lose points on viurtuosity. There is a lot I'll do to avoid a broom.

I know these things are supposedly all about the child, not the mother. Well for the good mother, they are all about the child. That is not what you are reading about. Go find a plunket book if you want goodness.

I have another thing to quit. Book group. A very rude man I know told me that book group was a bourgouis activity last year. Naturally I told him he was wrong. Unnaturally, it turned out that he was possibly right. We used to have it at the pub. Wine, gin, chippies, peanuts, beer. A bit of talk about the book and rather a lot of talk about everything else. This year, we are to have it at our homes and provide nibbles. Sweet and savoury. The etiquette of providing drink has been discussed, decided upon.

Do you know what this means?

It means cleaning. Behind doors and including the chair in the lounge where everything goes during the other big cleanups we have. Cleaning the entire house as there are ten women in the book group and the odds of none of them needing the toilet is rather high. The toilet is at the other end of the house to the lounge. This is beyond my realm of ability. Book group ladies, it was lovely and now I must depart.

My first little opportunity