What Advice Would You Give Your Daughter As She Transitions Into Womanhood?

Women supporting women.

When I was growing up, I wish someone had told me to bury the past, to keep my eyes focused firmly on the road ahead, and to embrace the company of women.

An out-of-the-blue email from an old girlfriend prompted me to write this post. The first true girlfriend of my adulthood – ie. after kids – we were the only two mums in our parenting class with babies that refused to commit to the stepping stones of perfection outlined in the parenting manuals. Shamed by a smarmy group of other first-time mums whose kids were nailing them, we got through the shit show on wine, whinging and WTFs.

It took me a long time to connect with women. Raised through my teens by a single and unconventional father, it wasn’t until my late twenties and the births of my own children, that I was thrust among the fairer sex. Before that, the majority of my friends had been men. Sharing their black and white space, that felt devoid of emotional complications – other than those unfortunate misunderstandings about the status of our relationship – I felt calmer.

Since then, of course, I’ve come to terms with the bollocks to be found in the majority of self-help books about the search for happiness and personal fulfillment. Experience has shown me that the streets aren’t paved with gold, that life can be grossly unfair, and that the only way to make any sense of life is to make the best of what you have. And this newfound wisdom has helped me understand more about the differences between men and women, and the reason why friendships with men used to appear more attractive/straightforward. It’s because they have fewer layers.

Sounds derogatory, I know. Although, not as insulting as the word “depth,” which is the one I really wanted to use. But hear me out, because my employment of the word is not meant to be a judgment about men’s personality flaws or their shoddy housework skills (this time), I use it to champion women and the female experience of life.

I believe, that because the role of women requires so much more emotional labor and intelligence than theirs, (which I spoke about here), and we experience greater physical and emotional trauma – eg. during menstruation, childbirth, and menopause – we experience a more visceral understanding of ourselves as humans and our place in this world. You only have to look at the women who have experienced near-death experiences in childbirth, or from rape, or those whose husbands left them on the poverty line, with nothing but the kids, for examples.

Whereas, men – and I’m generalizing here because this is not a discussion about the mental health of men or the stress some experience as sole earners of their family etc – seem more transparent, more easy-going, (dare I say) less judgemental than women. (Obviously, what I’d really like to say is “simple” – in the nicest possible way.) And while there are no doubt evolutionary and physiological explanations to why one gender carries the burden of more emotional baggage than the other, it is nevertheless impossible to ignore the societal influence of male privilege. Perhaps, that’s why, (on a social level), men seem less confrontational than women – who are judged throughout their lives, making them complicated creatures.

While I’ll admit that many of my closest female friends have always secretly terrified me, fortunately for women, kids are a glue that draws us together. The uncanny ability of our offspring to extract emotion from the most determinedly cold hearts, to frazzle nerves, to provoke self-doubt and tears, and to force us to question just about everything as they chip away relentlessly at our resilience and turn our brains to pulp, are the main reason the coffee morning was invented.

In spite of the suspicions of certain men, the purpose of the coffee morning is (generally) not to discuss the latest fashions, the most energy-efficient washing machine, or the last time we had an orgasm. Coffee mornings are about support, about building resilience and sharing experiences. Men should try it, sometime.

Women are there for women on those days the dam bursts. When all those tantrums in the supermarket have finally worn you down; when the barrage of abuse at dinner time (each time you force their kids to eat peas) becomes too much; when you lose your job; or when you burst into tears in the vegetable section of Coles because someone took the last ripe avocado.

Who better to rely upon in those situations than someone who has got the tee-shirt, on those days you’re sobbing into your phone, wine in one hand, and the scalp of your third child in the other? The truth is, your girlfriends are the only ones who can help you make sense of the new, terrifying vulnerability that comes from having your emotions and hormones put through a spiralizer.

Because THEY’VE BEEN THERE.

Personally, I’m a pretty rubbish girlfriend. Over the years, my attempts to feign the habits of a worthy friend have improved, but alas, for the main part they remain superficial. I try to be better than the sub-standard set of female instincts that nature provided me with – to remember birthdays, special events, cards etc – however, an unhealthy obsession to overthink, a possible case of early onset dementia, and a natural scattiness have determined that I will never be that thoughtful, perfect friend that some of us are lucky to have in our lives. I can only hope that those friends who always make the first call or send the first text understand that my silence is unrelated to their worth.

Sadly – and yes, here comes the excuse – some people travel through life with the baggage of their past stuck as firmly to their shoulders as a backpack. And it has been easy to blame my detachment issues on any number of things – and I do. I am what they call an Olympian “victim”. The divorce of my parents, the loss of my mother (and some things that even I’m not ready to share) have been assimilated (rather than dealt with), to protect myself – a self-defensive mechanism that has had some unfair repercussions for our kids, in particular, our daughter.

NC has recently entered a phase of self-reflection. Like her mother, she has struggled to open the box fully on her emotions, but as she matures she is becoming more aware of the dangers of that choice. A bystander to the emotional carnage caused by the death of my mother, and our struggles with Kurt, she has inherited my need for control when it comes to her emotions. The concept of a free fall terrifies her, but she can’t ignore the logic of her scientist’s brain: that putting up barriers will prevent her development and thwart any positive relationships in her life – what she needs to reach her full potential.

Hence, there are two pieces of advice I wish to share with my daughter: the first is to surround herself and nurture relationships with a group of strong, intelligent, and diverse women who will challenge her and blow the wind in her sails when she needs it. The second is to put her heart on the line and to dare to love and trust.

What would be yours?

How To Cope With An Internet Outage With Millennials

bruno-gomiero-94171-unsplashMy sympathies lie with the businesses that were affected by Telstra’s latest outage last week. My own family has been at their mercy for the past two weeks, effectively in lockdown.

Any parent will tell you that there is no greater pain than watching a child suffer, and that is exactly what we have been forced to endure during the outage. While for the old man and myself – hardcore Generation Xers who were brought up on The Famous Five, Cats Cradle, conkers, and – dare I mention – books, it has proven to be more of an irritation than a personal loss, our two young adults have experienced immeasurable grief.

While Kurt’s body has completely lost the ability to function – withdrawal seeing him pace the house like a caged animal to metamorphose into a frightening hybrid of Gollum and the Hulk – NC has refused to come home or return my calls.

And yet, perhaps more terrifying than the sight of two young adults in a perpetual state of despair is the grey pallor and twitching of the parent that is responsible for fixing the problem.

Suffice it to say, the old man has been forced to use his home blood pressure monitor more than usual over this past two weeks. So, when a friend caught him chained to the fencing of the golf club, refusing to go home, and promised him that “cable is three times faster than anything else, mate,” desperation forced his hand and he made an uncharacteristically impulsive decision.

He ordered cable.

In hindsight, I will admit that our expectations were stupidly unrealistic, not helped by the events of the night before during which Kurt managed to use up five precious gigabytes of data within the space of an hour – apparently, that is a lot in data-speak, particularly in a house that prioritizes data over food. So it was with bated breath that we watched cable guy do his ten-minute reconnaissance of our joint and set to work, first in the lounge, and then up a pole on the other side of the street – which foolishly, I interpreted as a positive sign.

And when, finally, he placed the magic card in the old man’s hand with our new passcode – which, it is no exaggeration to say, was the equivalent of Charlie’s golden ticket, (so much so, the old man has since tattoed had the number tattooed his chest) – I can only compare the euphoria to seeing Buble perform his complete collection of Christmas songs live…and naked.

Obviously, being ever the practical one of the family, he held cable guy captive a little longer as he tested and ran through every nuance of the new technology with him, and cable guy was generous enough to humor him, even when he asked some (frankly) very stupid, Generation X type questions.

But I will admit that the sound of my husband’s whoop of joy upon his discovery that the new speed of our new internet thingy, (insert appropriate technological jargon here), far exceeded our expectations was a beautiful thing, comparable I would say to his reaction to the births of our children – although he didn’t do a celebratory lap around the block naked either of those times.

In fact, we remained high on life even when cable guy left our home to save some other poor family in similarly dire straits.

Until, the call from upstairs the wild, that no father wants to hear.

‘DAAAAAAAAAD! The Internet doesn’t work on my phone!’

We are back in lockdown. An immediate state of emergency has been called in which we have hourly meetings to discuss possible emergency action such as new routers, a different bedroom… perhaps even a new house?

I am confident that we will work through this difficult time, folks, but in the meantime, we would be grateful for your prayers.

*Reaches for wine.*

 

I Must Thank My Son For His Mental Illness

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The boy turned twenty-one last week, and while part of me wants to scream and holler with excitement, pride, and relief, the other part wants to sit in a corner, rocking and licking my wounds.

Many of you will be familiar with our journey with Kurt, our son. It was one of the reasons I began to write this blog, and I suspect that some of you follow it because you too have kids with mental health problems. You’ll also know that life with them is not what you signed up for, not by any parenting manual standard.

Some people say that parenting brings out the best in you and there have been times, particularly over the past six years, when I’ve wanted to rip that statement apart, over-analyze it with a few bottles of wine and then say “Fuck You!” because parenting is hard, and because there have been so many times when I have hated the person it has turned me into.

Before I had kids, I believed that being a parent was something I was born to do, and I made the assumption that I would be good at it. That naivety and arrogance have made the past twenty-one years feel like a very long and hard road at times, with its highs and lows, the steps forward and backward, the silent condemnation, and then more steps backward.

I’m not seeking pity or consolation. This is my honest acceptance of some responsibility for our journey, because perhaps if we’d done certain things differently, the outcomes might have changed. But we were amateurs at this parenting lark, carrying baggage from the past and the false expectations of others. And we’ve made it. We’re not out of the woods, but we can see the lights of the pub at the end of the road as we approach the start of the next phase of his life and the signs are that phase horribilis is drawing to a close.

My son is officially an adult, and as I draw the curtains on the past few years, I owe it to him to thank him.

I must thank him for shredding my heart strings and teaching me how vulnerable all of us can be – for which there’s nothing to be ashamed of – and for showing me how strong we can be when needed. This experience has opened my eyes. I have learned and grown from it more than from any other experience in my life and it has inspired me to write, develop compassion, get to know people before I judge them, and to form a concrete understanding of difference, unconditional love, and mental health that I will take with me into every other decision I make. 

This experience has shined a glaring light on what I see now was confusion in my younger years about what really matters.

Some God said that we are only given the stuff we can handle, and there have been times over the past decade when I was certain that I couldn’t handle being my son’s parent – or even why I should. You can lose sight of who you are when you have kids, and when you become the parent of a kid with special needs or a maverick, (or in our case ‘that kid’), there are times when you feel resentful about your needs being usurped by theirs. Instead of triumphs and awards, you get calls from school, the police, and the parents of other kids, and the pressure to keep pretending to be a professional at work (when your home life is falling apart) requires your finest thespian skills.

Not all of us are Mother Theresa types, with their long grey hair, premature lines, and a forgiveness in their heart for whatever shit life throws at them. Some of us lie in bed at night feeling broken, rallying against the unfairness of it all, thinking ‘why me?’

No one could have loved my son more than I have, and yet it’s hard not to think about how he might have fared with parents that were more liberal, or less anxious people than us; who might have come to the party with fewer middle-class expectations and ill-informed judgments. Poor kid. Although with fewer boundaries, who’s to say how he would have turned out.

As a parent, you can only follow your heart and do what you think is right.

At seven, I never thought my son would read and write; at twelve, I never thought he would have any friends; at sixteen, I thought he would kill himself; at eighteen, I thought he would end up in prison; and at twenty-one, I am still worrying – because what mother ever stops worrying about their kids?

But I am so proud of this young man. He has fought his own demons to stay here with us when others have given in, and with his fiery temper and big heart, his abounding energy and gentleness, his optimism in the face of constant rejection and his childish vulnerability, he has shaped me into who I am now – a better person.

And like every mother, I believe that he will go on to do great things – in his own time, (because Kurt has only ever done things in his own time). And I don’t mean GREAT things, necessarily,  I mean that he will do something extraordinary that is unlikely to fit squarely with society’s view of what is great; yet somehow, I have a feeling that it will be memorable.

 

Car Insurance, Teens, And Just How Far Parental Responsibility Extends

key-791390_960_720Insurance is one of those dirty words that you only have to deal with once you grow up – kind of like calories and tax – and as a serial procrastinator, I always found that it was best left well alone until I needed it. But from my perspective as a parent, it is an issue that gets entangled in the question of how much we continue to support our kids once they become adults – and a tricky one. For as much as we want to support their growing independence, in certain areas such as car and health insurance, the penalties for youth are unfavorably high and that decision may not necessarily be the right one, for any of the parties involved. 

Married to an accountant, I’ve never been given a free hand with the administration of our personal finances, (nor have I ever had very much money to spend), but we have taken a stereotypically gender-based view of who deals with which insurance. I tend to sort out the house stuff because I know exactly how much our eighteen-year-old Ikea furniture is worth (sobs), while he has adopted car and health insurance.

Insurance becomes super-complicated once your kids pass their driving test, as anyone with young adult drivers in the house will testify. Super-complicated, as in super-fucking-stupid-expensive, and while on the one side, you want to encourage their independence, (in the vain hope that they’ll move out quicker), on the other, you’re not sure why you have to remortgage the house for them to trash your car. 

If you looked too closely at the statistics of accidents caused by young, inexperienced drivers, you’d never let them get behind the wheel of a car (and certainly not your own). And while the statistics for young adults are terrifying, the statistics for young adults with ADHD are Roseanne Barr-on-Ambien-terrifying, hence the reason we refused to get in the car with Kurt for a very long time, in spite of him being a naturally fast adept driver as a result of his online twelve-year apprenticeship with Top Gear.

We have regretted that decision many times over the past year as each corner of the old man’s car has been reshaped, (although neither sibling has taken responsibility as of yet), and Kurt has accumulated more parking and speeding fines than earnings.  But fortunately, Australia is a nanny state that doesn’t take kindly to free spirits – quite rightly in this instance – and as such, it is unlikely that Kurt will remain in the driver seat for much longer. A fact that didn’t stop him this weekend from going out with a bang. Literally. A minor one, fortunately, thanks to the robustness of the undercarriage of the old man’s car and the softness of the terrain of the roundabout he chose to bypass on his midnight hunt for Coco Pops. However, one that will seriously dent the wallet with an excess on our insurance policy that equates to the cost of Meghan Markel’s wedding dress, meaning anniversary plans may have to be scrapped, and the old man has yet to utter a sentence without a liberal sprinkling of the F word.

Kurt will pay for the damage, over time – no doubt via interest-free installments over the next decade to the bank of mum and dad – and I know I should be grateful that he (or no one else) was hurt, but it has taken all of my strength this week not to call those parents in the US who sued their son to get him out of their home, for a lesson in just how far parenting responsibility extends.

The Awkward-Scale For Teenage Boys When Shopping With Mom

I went shopping with my teenage son yesterday, whereupon he bestowed upon me one of the greatest honors of my parenting life when he told me that I was (and I quote) ‘a nightmare to be seen in public with.’

 

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‘Oh, and these ten packs of condoms and tube of lube for my son over there, please.’

 

Job well done, I say; if not for the niggling suspicion that the nightmarish aspects of my company had rather more to do with my senility than my embarrassing-mom qualities.

 

Although many men people would have us believe that men and women are very different, in my opinion, the only time there is a palpable difference between the genders is when it comes to clothes shopping. Now, before all you male fashionistas jump down my throat, let me explain. I have based this opinion on the two socially-anxious males in my house, for whom malls are almost as terrifying as attending a feminist rally in a Trump tee-shirt – something I blame on my mother-in-law, who used to chain-smoke her way around shopping malls just to get through the torture. Oh, how she would have loved online shopping – although I suspect that she understood even less about technology than the dangers of passive smoking.

 

Anyway, as such, clothes shopping with my son is, shall we say politely, is something that I avoid at all costs.

 

Perhaps a little more elaboration is required here. For not only does Kurt have a deep-seated hatred for crowds, bright lights, the smell of German bread (!) and the overwhelming choices that shopping throws up as a result of his ADHD, he is also incredibly fussy about what he puts on his body from a sensory processing perspective and his side order of OCD.  His wardrobe is lean, and any clothing lucky to make the cut into its minimally perfect world has a very limited shelf life. In general terms, that generally means he has a single outfit on the go at any time, and he washes it daily.

 

However, recently re-employed, (thank you, God), yesterday he was forced to beg the Bank Of Mom to tide him over with some new work clothes, and while I worked out the interest rate on my loan, he got to grips with the idea of a mall trip with mum, her symptoms of early-onset dementia, lack of filter, embarrassing approaches to every female she thinks is potential daughter-in-law material, zero sense of direction (particularly in car parks) and her middle-aged intolerance to just about everything – but particularly poor service. In other words, the afternoon did not bode well.

 

Rest assured, we lived to tell the tale and for your entertainment, the following are invaluable lessons that I learned, based on an innovative scientific scale – the awkward-scale or AS – that I have invented for this exact purpose:

 

DO NOT go into a pharmacy with your teenage boy because (apparently) any hot shop assistant will think you’re buying him condoms – AS 8

 

DO NOT drag your son to the till to pay for his new undies, because there is some awkward (perhaps sexual – Ewww) connotation in that as well – AS 9

 

DO NOT complain about anything, ask for a different size or ask for assistance in any shape or form – AS 7

 

DO NOT attempt to accompany him into the changing room, even if he walks around naked at home – AS 9

 

DO NOT express your disgust loudly at your usual Mexican lunch outlet and then try flirting with the hot, young assistant (your son’s age) when he tells you that they have started charging $2 for the avocado topping – AS 10

 

Learn how to use the self-service checkout – AS 8

 

Never discuss any medical/biological/sexual topic over coffee, especially when you know your voice has the phonic capability of reaching the Northern Hemisphere when you get over-excited. NEVER use the word moist – AS 10

 

NEVER feel the end of your son’s new shoes to check for growing room, especially when the girl serving him is future daughter-in-law material – AS 210

 

But the crime of the century should probably go to either, a) my appalling parking skill in public, in front of hundreds of shoppers/witnesses, because it is difficult to maneuver a family-sized vehicle around a column with Kendrick blasting in one ear and your son screaming in the other, ‘learn to drive, will you!’ Or, b) losing the parking ticket and having a very loud conversation with the man in the machine at the barrier, while everyone queued behind us.

What Does International Women’s Day Mean To You?

Firstly, in preparation for that highly original question that is lobbed at me every year around this time – ‘when is International Men’s Day?’ – allow me to remind you fuckers, that it’s every day.

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But it is indeed International Women’s Day today, a day to celebrate women’s achievements and because, understandably, many of you may be starting to think that pretty much every day is women’s day on this blog – and what’s wrong with that? – I apologize in advance – kind of. But if for no other reason than you agree that we’re fucking owed today, I hope you read on.

 

Today also happens to come hot on the heels of my further radicalization at the All About Women conference last Sunday, another reason I couldn’t possibly ignore it, not even for the few whose boxers get in a twist each time I mention the F-word. So, sorry (not sorry) – next week I promise to return to dissing my husband, comparing laundry powders and an exciting, in-depth discussion about how quickly Kylie K has lost her baby weight.

 

And talking about exciting, in today’s post I’ve mixed it up by employing NC to provide some input. Well, I say employed, but what with this little blog being on the tight budget of nada, and the implications of the pay gap, she is happy to be remunerated in wine. So, in celebration of recent toddler steps to improve women’s rights, we’ve decided to compare our own perspectives of how we feel as women, in 2018; as a fifty-something recent convert to feminism and the hairy, bra-burning, twenty-something Millennial version.

ME

I have always been a Feminist, I just didn’t know it. I only formally aligned myself with the movement – and I will call it a ‘movement because that’s what it has to be to effect change – when I started writing seriously five years ago. I’ve always been a bit salty (note: a new Millennial word that means prickly) when it comes to inequality, whether it relates to racism and immigration, sexual orientation or equal rights for the disabled – the reason I cite for the loss of many potential new friends at dinner parties. Back in the conservative hubs in which we dwelled in the UK, I was often ridiculed for my feeble defense of basic human rights, yet with the wisdom of age (and because I have both a son and daughter, (therefore an equal concern for the future of both genders), and because I am a victim of sexual abuse myself, I have developed a passion for change in society’s treatment of women.

 

I am proud to use my voice at this later stage of my life, even at the expense of certain Facebook friends. I want the world to value what women do, both professionally and on the home front. I want the sexist jokes and the slights about our contribution to stop. I want to change the patriarchal view of women as second-class citizens. I want us to have the same opportunities as men and not be saddled with the guilt, limitations and sole responsibility because we are the baby-oven. I want women from all cultures across the globe to enjoy the rights I have as a white, western woman with privilege. I want to regain the equal pay and sexual discrimination rights in the workplace that were taken from us, and never have to worry about them being removed again because men hold the power. I want my daughter to have the right over her own body. I want my son to respect women. I want men to accept that they have had privilege, and not bully women when we stand up to them.

 

I am also aware that men are victims of a society that (professionally speaking) puts pressure on them, but for the main part, I want them to understand and acknowledge how the system works in their favor. I also know that many men call themselves feminists, and I expect more than a name badge. I expect them to voice that loyalty and turn up. I see the dangers of toxic masculinity and the need for change in how we educate our boys and I expect men to listen and think before they call me a liar or a man-hater. I want all women and all men to identify as feminists with the mutual understanding that doesn’t mean they hate men – it means they believe in equal rights.

 

Finally, when I say that I don’t hate men, I expect to be believed.

 

My daughter, on the other hand…

 

I’m not sure if I hate men.

I hate misogyny and sexism, which are primarily perpetrated by men.

I hate that most men I meet are at best apathetic towards feminism. They’ll readily deny being sexist, and then thoughtlessly defend the patriarchal constructs that oppress women.

I hate that traditionally feminine pursuits are considered mindless and vapid. And when women don’t like these hobbies, men applaud us. As if we should be proud to be less female.

I hate that rape and domestic violence are seen as women’s issues. In Australia, one woman a week is killed by their partner, and yet women’s refugees are being defunded. I have a one in six chance of being raped at some point in my life – it will probably be by someone I know and they probably won’t be charged.

Most of all, I hate that on International Women’s Day we are still talking about goddamn men.

As a climate scientist, I’ve been taught that to make people change you have to show them positivity. It’s easy to ignore warnings like “if we don’t divest from fossil fuels, millions of people will die.” Rather, we are taught to paint a picture of a hopeful future, a utopia of cleaner air, renewable energy, and human ingenuity. So let’s not talk about the failings of men, but rather the strength of women.

I love that during the first wave of feminism, women fought not only for their own rights but also for the abolishment of child labor.

I love that women, despite being excluded from universities until around 1920, have been on the thresholds of scientific innovation and discovery for decades. By 1920, Marie Curie had two Nobel prizes.

I love that Jacinda Ardern is pregnant during her first term as the New Zealand PM, and that Serena Williams won the Australian Open while pregnant. There is no reason for success and motherhood to be mutually exclusive.

I love and I know the innate power of all women. We don’t need to make women any stronger, we just need to learn how to recognize that strength.

On the subject of incredible women, I recently finished a biography of Mary Wollstonecraft, a famous early feminist writer, and her daughter Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein. Wollstonecraft famously said, “I do not wish women to have power over men, but over themselves.” So I do not hate men. However, I am rather uninterested in those that do not care about the oppression of women, and I will oppose those that cause it.

I suppose Shelley said it best. “Beware: for I am fearless and therefore, powerful.”

The future is female. Time’s up.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

 

Why Every Parent Needs To Watch Lady Bird

Described by Empire as ‘A coming-of-age story like no other, Lady Bird is smart, emotional, funny and completely original. Rarely has a directorial debut been so assured, so singular and so heartwarmingly affecting,’ the movie Lady Bird has been critically acclaimed worldwide, and as a sucker for any movie that offers the secret to parenting, it was a must-see for me.

The best part about Lady Bird is the lightbulb moment as you leave the cinema that there aren’t really any secrets to parenting. The truth is, every parent and every child comes from the lucky dip of genealogy and we all end up just doing the best we can.

Every parent of teenagers needs to go straight to the movies to watch this movie. I’m not saying it’s the best film I’ve seen this year, but if you are in denial about what really goes on in the head of your soon-to-be adult child, it offers a formidable apprenticeship.

Every parent should watch Lady Bird to learn the truth that love isn’t always enough – not without communication or being able to put yourself in each other’s shoes.

Every parent should watch Lady Bird to better understand the limitations of the young, under-developed brain, packed full of dreams and hope and so often at war with the older, bitter brains acquired through life’s experiences. It’s not rocket science, but perhaps our kids aren’t always being intentionally difficult; maybe they’re simply looking at life through their own lens. 

Every parent should watch Lady Bird to understand that however hard they make our lives, it is wrong to destroy the dreams of our children; we mustn’t infect them with the poison of our own lives and our anxieties, and nor should we push our own expectations on to them, borne of our own failures.

As a child psychologist once told me: Be consultant, rather than judge.

Every parent should watch Lady Bird to appreciate the struggles young people face today – the pressures of social media, mental illness, shootings, hazing – stuff that we didn’t have to deal with, that may contribute to that entitled or narcissistic label. Their goals aren’t the same as ours – and that is progress. The world is different to the one we grew up in, and if their challenges are important to them, we need to take them seriously.

Everyone should watch Lady Bird because it may not have the artistic depth of a film such as Call Me By My Name – my favorite film this year, with one of the most emotive father/son scenes I’ve ever sobbed my way through – but it is an authentic and honest portrayal of real lives that will resonate with most parents. Spoiler: Any of you of a blubbing disposition will need tissues for the scene where the mum drives away from the airport.

Fact:

Sometimes we say terrible, abusive things to our kids because we’re tired, hormonal or under stresses that they know nothing about; nor should they know about.

Sometimes we swear at them.

Often, we cry over them.

Parenting can be a mind-fuck that pushes the limitations of even those patron saints of parenting among us. It can be heart and gut-wrenching. The clever way it exposes our vulnerabilities is terrifying. Who hasn’t raged at a toddler? Who hasn’t threatened to kick their child out of home? Lady Bird highlights those tough parts – the unemployment, depression, and relationship stress that we all have to manage as we raise our children. But it also shines a light on the really good bits, borne of those tough parts.

When Your Kids Think They Can Tell You How To Drive

The old man and I are going on a five-day mini break this week. He will drive, because he always drives when we are in the car together and I am having my lips surgically sewn together, temporarily, to avoid any mistimed comments about his driving.

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I gave up the driver’s seat a while ago because the old man’s constructive criticism in regard to my own abilities nearly caused our deaths, several times. Not that the odd comment in relation to his skills doesn’t escape my mouth, but these days I use other, less incendiary actions to demonstrate my fear, such as engaging my foot with the passenger seat carpet, grabbing at my seat belt like we’re going down in the Titanic or simply gasping dramatically each time he aims for a cyclist.

 

We tend to get a bit more anxious about safety when mortality is staring us in the face and the reality hits home that it’s all just a numbers game. I can’t stand being in the car with either of my kids when they drive, either – because one is a lunatic and the other is the best female example of road rage I’ve ever prayed to a god I don’t believe in, to spare me.

 

I hasten to add, that the feeling is mutual. And while I am proud that my children have developed intelligent, questioning minds and vociferous opinions, their right to comment about my driving remains questionable.

 

Neither of them passed their tests until recently, yet both believe they are better drivers than me. You see, I am a Steady Eddy behind the wheel – aka SAFE – a result of my last job where one of my responsibilities was to drive clients around, often with small children, their lives in my hands. So I don’t exceed the speed limit, I stop on the orange light, I welcome everyone in front of me in my lane – even the ass-hole who has snuck up the inside to avoid the queue – and I never cut anyone up. I am the driving version of Mother Theresa, and being typical Millennials with their burning need for instant gratification and to reach their destination asap, Mum’s scenic route and the enjoyment of sitting at traffic lights to watch the world go by is downright annoying to the kids.

 

Kurt can’t keep his commentary on my driving to himself. This is the boy who got his license less than a year ago, his first fine two hours after his test, as well as a suspension – not for dangerous driving, I hasten to add – yet he believes that he is a more natural driver than I am, with thirty years experience behind me.

 

‘Don’t go! Don’t go!’ he shouts sarcastically, pushing his foot down on his own invisible brake pad as I wait for the road to clear completely, like Jesus parting the sea, before I attempt to cross it.

 

Or…

 

‘Let’s just sit at these lights and watch the pretty colors change again, shall we, Mum?

 

And…

 

‘Steady on, Speedy, we’re in a sixty zone and you just hit forty.’

 

Ha…bloody…ha!

 

He seems to have forgotten that WE taught HIM to drive, at great cost to both our wallet and our sanity, and that even after our anxiety reached a level that only Diazapan could handle and the night sweats about roundabouts and right of way kicked in, we remained calm and carried on. He appears to have forgotten that I have been driving since before I picked his father, indeed a very long time before he was even a twinkle in the eye of that sperm on a mission that night. He doesn’t know that I have driven across Europe by myself, crossed borders and frontiers and that I passed my test first time. He doesn’t appreciate, that apart from an unexplainable draw to columns in car parks and a tendency to drive straight through drive-thrus without stopping,  I am a woman and an excellent driver. 

 

 

 

The Prodigal Daughter Is Not Coming Home For Australia Day, She’s Coming To See Us

The prodigal daughter returns this weekend for the first time since she left the nest. While she assures me that she won’t be celebrating Australia Day for political reasons, I’ll believe that when she turns down the special bottle of Champers I’ve bought for tomorrow. 

girl-2480361_1920Although I only saw her a few days ago, it will be good to get some girl power back in the house. I use the word ‘prodigal’, but obviously, we won’t be cooking up a fatted calf in celebration, NC being a strict vegetarian who only eats fish if it doesn’t have a face and when she’s pissed. Anyway, a few cans of cider and a whole Camembert is much more my daughter’s style, because she’s classy like her mother.

I’ve changed her bedsheets, filled the fridge with tofu and warned Kurt to curb his excitement about her imminent arrival, because when I reminded him, he asked me why she had to come, and an ill-disguised look of pain crossed his face.

Siblings, huh!

‘Because it’s her home and we’re her parents and she wants to see us,’ I replied, convincing myself at the same time, because we all know what trips back home are really about after you land your first job and you’re still living hand to mouth – they’re about the all-inclusive hotel perks of home cooking, hot water, unlimited booze and access to your parents’ wallet.

I remember when we used to visit my in-laws when NC was a baby, how we’d walk through the front door, dump her straight into Grandma’s arms and then like Vikings, raid their home, their fridge, their wine cask, and even their wallet so that we could eat out that night. I don’t remember feeling any sense of shame about our behavior – we’d done our part, carried on the family line, and now we needed someone to parent us again for a short time.

We only saw NC when we had to during those glorious weekends, and I encouraged that dangerous grandma/grandchild connection. Frankly, I sold my motherhood soul while I was there – I didn’t give a toss about how many lollies she blackmailed my child with as long as she got up to her in the night, and I ignored all her unsubtle hints about my parenting skills not being quite like hers for those two precious lay-ins; forty-eight hours when I could pretend to be me again, the person I used to be before birthing this tiny monster that had sucked the lifeblood out of me.

Secretly, I’m excited to have the chance to spoil my little girl (I would say ‘again’ but I know she’ll dispute that). I know we’ll be arguing about the glasses in her room, the foundation streaks in the bathroom sink and the endless cans of lentils she opens and never finishes, probably by tomorrow morning, but for the moment I’ve filed my daughter’s annoying habits to the back of my mind.

He feigns not to be, but it is obvious that the old man is even more excited than me. He hasn’t seen NC for a month – because that would involve leaving the safety zone and embarking upon a treacherous, high-risk journey to the big smoke, an hour away. However, he has been suspiciously quieter than usual this week; no doubt sharpening his wit and revising his views on feminism, climate change and vegetarianism, to ensure an evening of typically light-hearted debate with his eldest child. He has also filled the fridge with cider.

Teaching Your Kids The Value Of Money, Hard Work And How Boring It Is To Adult

My father returned to Sydney for the Ashes and took the whole family out to dinner the other night – as in, he paid for all of us, naively telling us that he was going to BEFORE we had ordered from the menu.

 

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Like kids in a candy store

 

My kids aren’t used to a free-for-all mentality when it comes to restaurant menus – expensive off-piste specials included. With an accountant for a father, there are family rules when we eat out, and Kurt and NC have been strictly brought up to ignore appetizers, starters and cocktails and take a shortcut to the mains. Even steak – unless it’s contaminated by Mad Cow Disease (hence on special) – must be overlooked in favor of more sustainably financial choices, such as burgers, pasta or fish n’chips.

 

They understand that dessert will be an ice cream from the Seven-Eleven on the way home, if they’re lucky.

 

Which was why I couldn’t help feeling a little betrayed by the open mouths and first-day-of-the-Target-sales-look on both their faces when my father told them they could pick anything. Indeed, he might have been speaking a foreign language to them.

 

‘What?’ spluttered Kurt in disbelief, his eyes searching mine, imploring me to confirm this dream come true. ‘Even… a starter?’ At which point I had to kick him under the table.

 

NC is rather more mercenary and the minute the idea of oysters was bandied about, her hand went up – a fair-weather vegetarian, my daughter somehow managed to justify her inclusion in the fish starter via an emergency consultation with Google. It turns out that oysters are sustainable, do not have a nervous system or a face… apparently…hence they are fair game.

 

Anyone would think my kids had been brought up on the poverty line from the ill-disguised delight on their faces when a side order of bread suddenly appeared on the table – it was like a miracle had occurred, like Christmas after Christmas, as each of them regressed back to being kids in a candy store with a penny in their hands. And although I had worried about how Kurt would fare with the evening – eating out not being his favorite pastime –  I have never seen him adapt to a new situation as quickly.

 

And while I sat there pretending that cheese before dessert represents normal life in our household, I realized that my father’s generosity was a good lesson for my son – it was good for him to witness the pleasure to be gained from working hard. In his half-price Pierre Cardin trousers– two sizes too big, (but PC nonetheless), and one of Kurt’s first impulse buys from his hard-earned cash, he is learning the value of money quickly.

 

So I decided to ignore NC’s sneaky order of a Baileys at the end of the evening and the crass, all-you-can-eat-the-buffet-bar mentality of our family as a whole. Our behavior was not a sign of avarice, rather an appreciation and an extension of our kids education in the value of money – something that my son is slowly beginning to comprehend as he begins his working life, because impulsive, compulsive and with a worrying grasp of consequences, he has yet to have more than a cent left in his bank account  24 hours after payday, since he started to work.

 

Thank fuck, he is paid weekly.

 

This week, his father drags him into the next stage of how boring it is to be an adult money management when he starts making him pay for his own travel expenses, while I will adding a pair of strong walking shoes and a new bike to his birthday present list.

Christmas Day And Vodka Shots, Aussie-Style

It appears that all of those conversations I had with the kids before Christmas about WHAT NOT TO DO when Grandad is here, fell on deaf ears. They didn’t mention The Ashes, but when the middle-aged tribe is heavily outnumbered by Millennials, things don’t always go to plan – and just saying kids, Vodka is not an appropriate Secret Santa gift.

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As per its marketing, Vodka does ensure absolute insanity, which was somewhat at odds with the original concept in my head of a sophisticated Australian Christmas that my father might even compare one day to the Harrods-style Christmas he is accustomed to in Chelsea.

 

The day started out with all the promise of a resounding success. The weather was grey – good news when you have a table laid for sixteen on a garden deck that reaches the temperature of Mars the minute the thermometer exceeds twenty-four degrees; we managed to locate batteries for every cheap and nasty gadget that we didn’t realise required batteries; every new item of clothing fitted; the old man got over the fact that I had put away his Christmas polo shirt in his collarless-shirt pile and – Thank you, God – Kurt’s Google Home actually worked, saving it from the fate of his PS2 a few years back, which was thrown unceremoniously through the window with a ‘this is crap!’

 

Hell, I even remembered to pick up the turkey from Coles, and the dress I bought for the day – which I couldn’t bear to look at again until I’d squeezed my who-ate-all-the-mince-pies body into it five minutes before kick-off – looked okay.

 

Even the bacon on my Ikea pigs-in-blankets – home-assembled this year because some selfish bitch wiped out all stocks at our local Coles – remained intact after the old man forgot he’d already put them on the bbq.

 

Needless to say, there were a few minor casualties. I did discover the cherries frozen to the back of the fridge once everyone had left, and after an intensive first two courses with a seating plan as flammable as Christmas lunch with Trump and Obama, we gave up on formal dining and ate dessert and cheese off our laps, more camper-style than Chelsea-style.

 

And then the Millennials decided that Charades and Monopoly are a bit Britney Spears and opened the Vodka, after which, I felt the need to avert my eyes each time my father looked in my direction. 

 

Let’s just say that neither Michael Buble nor any other Christmas festivity in the street could compete with the verbal Olympics of our ten twenty-something spawn egging each other on with ‘Down! Down! Down!’ at the end of the garden, as their parents looked on proudly.

 

And the Vodka shots were superseded by a highly disorganized bout of garden wrestling, which, although I tried to convince my father was an Aussie Christmas tradition, I don’t think he believed. Fortunately, the girl-on-girl wrestling got the quickly fading middle-aged male wrinklies out of their chairs – because there was no cricket to watch, apparently.

 

We lit the pudding without causing a bushfire, had just enough wine to sate the needs of fifteen alcoholics and I even remembered the coffee and chocolates in my drunken haze. By 10pm, aforementioned Millennials had been blackmailed into sleeping it off in front of Love Actually – OR ELSE! – while we, their sloshed, perfect role-models, put the world to rights.

 

A Christmas Day as it should be.

How To Dress The Christmas Tree Without Losing Your Sanity First

One piece of advice I will be eternally grateful to my mother for is ‘don’t take life too seriously,’ and I have been forced to live by this approach each year as I dress the Christmas Tree. 23915791_1546298868783446_2538083681710659730_n

 

Because…kids.

 

And it has very nearly killed me.

 

Every year I think that this will be the year we grow up as a family and I will be allowed to create those trees you see in home magazines, where they don’t have kids or animals and they do have loads of money,  and every year it’s the same. Either: a) I’m disappointed with the result, because it looks boring rather than sophisticated and so and I start to slap all the crappy ornaments and tinsel back onto it, or b) Kurt redesigns he thinks I’m not looking.

 

I know that Christmas is about bringing joy to the family and it’s probably about time that I accepted that my family likes a bit of kitsch at Christmas, but…

 

This year I decided to grasp my first opportunity to decorate the tree myself – although the kids don’t know that yet. I’d meticulously planned the day for a while – it’s called taking advantage while the kids are out earning money (not for rent, I hasten to add, but for their weekly supply of avocado on toast and party drugs). ‘It just happened that way,’ I’m going to say when their disappointed faces walk through the door later this evening and they realize that they can’t destroy my Christmas tree, nay my Christmas, for the first time in, like, forever.

 

And I have made some style improvements this year. I have decided that as the kids still live at home on the basis of our goodwill, I get to say what goes on MY fucking tree. Which means I’ve erased all memory of those dreadful kindy homemade decorations which for the past fifteen years I’ve stuck around the back of the tree and the minute I turn my back, Kurt replaces at the front; and I’ve also attempted a color theme, so any ornament that hasn’t met the stringent demands of my design brief has copped it.

 

In light of my new experience today, here are my tips for a perfect tree:

 

Do not let the children anywhere near it.

A bottle of festive wine will be required before attempting to unravel the lights/tinsel/fake snowballs on a string because some selfish fucker just shoved them in the box last year. This is a mindfuck of a test in the early stages of the process that (if you’re not careful/drunk enough) can completely ruin your festive cheer before you’ve really started.

Use a dodgy adapter for the lights so that any children that do touch the tree will be shocked into not touching it again.

Lather the branches in as much tinsel as they will hold for superior kitschiness.

The more naff animal ornaments, the naffer your tree will be.

Destroy any baubles that do not tie in with your color theme – don’t get all emotional about the fugly bauble that your grandmother left you – your creativity is under public scrutiny here, and the glass ball wrapped in a doily could fuck that up. It is with sadness that I must report that the pink bauble that NC made in her first year at school (barf!) didn’t coordinate with the organic effect that I hoped to achieve with my white/red/aqua/tropical/Hamptons/beach themed tree – as such, it has been laid to rest this year.

Theming is difficult with OCD. Try to remind yourself that the tree is a natural thing (mine happens to be artificially natural) and therefore not perfect. If that doesn’t work, take everything off and start again.

Book cats into the cattery for the duration of the holidays or use as an alternative to turkey for Christmas lunch.

 

What Do You Do When Your Daughter Rejects The Most Sacrosanct Of Family Christmas Traditions?

There has been a rollercoaster of changes in our house recently, all of which are interfering with the slow and steady build up to Christmas and my preparations that I pride myself on each year. That’s the thing about this stage of parenting – one minute you’re stumbling along in a fug of wet-towel-on-the-floor acceptance, and the next thing you know, their entitled asses are off without as much as a wave goodbye.  

 

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Meet “Sacrifice”

 

Friends of ours recently arrived home from a long trip overseas to discover that their youngest had left the nest while they were away and I could tell by the emptiness in my friend’s eyes that she is still adjusting to the echoes in the house.

 

And just before Christmas. Very cruel.

 

At least NC has given us some time to acclimatize to the news that she is leaving us to manage her brother by ourselves for pastures new, but this bold new independence has empowered her in other ways as well. She now believes she can call the shots in terms of change in other long-held bastions of family tradition as well – and as you know, change is something neither my husband nor my son does well.

 

This Christmas, she has dared to request that instead of the cheap tat that Santa normally delivers to her Christmas stocking, that she has fewer, more useful gifts than the one-dollar bath bombs, multi packs of hairbands and five-for-one knickers with the days of the week emblazoned on the front of them, from Target.

 

Now, it’s one thing to get my head around her leaving us alone with her brother just before Christmas –  but quite another when she decides to alter Santa’s responsibilities. As it is, I’ve had to accept that my mince pie is now vegan and veggie sausages have been added to the food mountain list for the past two Christmas’. Before I know it, she’ll be demanding sustainable gifts, or worse, suggest donating my personal gift budget to some donkey or goat in Africa – an act of questionable generosity that a friend of mine swears she does each year in place of our Christmas cards.

 

I like to think I am progressive and I certainly believe in change for the better, but you don’t mess with Christmas and customs that (albeit, may have scant regard for the religious connotations of the festival), yet continue to remain sacrosanct to our traditional family values.

 

There is a joy to tradition. It’s like having a holiday home and knowing that your own wine glass is there waiting for you each time you go. In the same way that there were certain things you could count on as a child – you would be eating your lunch for dinner if you didn’t finish it, there was absolutely no leeway for negotiation over bedtimes, you had to have one bath once a week, and there was always that comforting certainty of a giant tube of Smarties, an orange and a net of stale chocolate coins in your Christmas stocking.

 

I know that other families’ approach the gift-thing in different ways, but in our house, the stocking has always come from Santa and the more expensive gifts come from family, are wrapped and placed under the tree. As marketed by the retailers who import the tat from Asia, what Santa puts in stockings are “fillers”, and as such, not gifts that really serve a purpose. It is the crap that sits in your room once all the chocolate has gone, until the realization that it is useless tat sinks in – usually somewhere around New year. It is first-world materialism, and nothing to be proud of, so perhaps NC has a point and I should stop supporting child labor, play Hare Krishna instead of Buble as I dress the tree this year, and name my donkey “sacrifice.”

The Link Between Insomnia In Middle Age And The Boomerang Generation

img_6828Biologically-speaking, there is a proven link between sleep problems, peri-menopause, and menopause. It has something to do with the dying noises created by your ovaries, dreams, and looks as they wither, and a lot to do with how much you hate the person sleeping next to you.

However, my own research lists other contributing factors, such as dogs in the bed, snoring and wind issues, anxiety about any fucking noise in the house or street and the nighttime habits of the young adults living in the house.

After a prolonged period of “self-discovery”, Kurt has succumbed to one of the realities of living in a western culture – that cigarettes cost money – and has got himself a job.

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! H.a.l.l.e.l.u.j.a!

He is working in the type of music-themed bar, with its eye-blistering pink neon lights, thumping music and an entire menu dedicated to the evolution of the French fry, that you’d expect – in other words, it is the perfect fit for someone with ADHD.

However, he continues to live at home with us in AbouToDie-ville and so by the time he gets off the bus after his shift, it is often 2 or 3 am, a time of the night that correlates nicely with the first twitches of my bladder, the first dog snores, whelps and kicks and the time of the night the old man has usually reached the end of his patience and is planning my murder due to my own snoring issues.

So, the new routine has taken some adjusting to, the light sleepers that we are, still scarred by a really fun night spent at the ER with aforementioned son only last weekend – a story for another time – and the night only two days later when he nearly burnt down the house with the toaster and couldn’t stop the fire alarm.

Last night, he phoned at 2am to say that he had missed the last bus home and needed to get a cab – in other words, would we sub him until payday? It does worry me that Kurt seems to think that the money tree is paying his wages and that there is an endless supply of cash. After an argument back and forth between myself and the old man in bed (he is having his own sleep issues at the moment), we decided to put sleep ahead of good parenting and consistency and gave Kurt the go-ahead. Any parent knows how rational you are at 3am in the morning, although the old man’s new name for me of “Weak McWeak” seems a little harsh.

I have never looked good in the morning, even after a full night’s sleep. I am not one of those women that look naturally beautiful with no makeup. I have never been a morning person and I am certainly not a 3am person. Added to which, my hair is going through its own menopausal, existential crisis at the moment and so after seven hours of tossing and turning it looks like I have been electrocuted at high voltage. I resemble one of those troll dolls we used to have as children, that have probably been discontinued now for their political incorrectness to people with dry hair.

I am also currently trialing a new product for snoring (at the request of the old man), who has threatened me with divorce if I cannot find a remedy – best-case scenario – or he will finally lose control and stab me in the middle of the night in a re-enactment of the shower scene in Psycho. The product is called “Mute”, and is a small plastic contraption that looks rather like an IUD. You fit it into your nostrils and it opens them out to encourage breathing through your nose rather than your mouth. Once in position, it is fairly inconspicuous apart from the fact that your nostrils are unnaturally flared and there is a plastic ring that hangs down – in other words, you look rather like a bull and particularly unattractive, even by my nighttime standards. “Mute” is guaranteed to lessen your snoring as well as the number of times you have sex. So, a win all around.

And so, in my haste to get back to bed asap and complete the four hours of sleep I had calculated in my anxiety that I had left last night – best case scenario – it was somewhat unfortunate for the taxi driver that my deviant hair and plastic nose-ring completely slipped my mind as the lights of his cab lit up my bedroom window and I went down to pay him.