FULL TO THE BRIM

For Henry’s third birthday, we wanted to give him a memorable day full of his favourites; trains and farm animals. I booked an overnight stay in a quaint little cottage on a working farm, about two hours away in the country.

The plan was to explore the farm, have his favourite dinner (spaghetti bolognese with angel hair pasta) and birthday cake (see the photo of Lightning McQueen and Mack Truck – yes, I made them), and then go on a steam engine train ride the next morning.

Naturally, being a chronic over-packer, I tried cramming half the house into our car. We needed raincoats (it’s spring but what if it rains?), two sets of all clothes and underwear (because options are important), a heap of nappies and wipes (you can never have enough!), an assortment of breakfast and hot drink options (I have particular tastes), my kindle (for when I have a millisecond to read)… and the list goes on!

As I stood there, hand on hip, finger on the chin, unwilling to admit Jenga defeat, my husband oh-so-helpfully asked, “Do we really need all the pillows and the kid’s doonas?”

Wha?! Seriously? To me, that was a redundant question. It’s common knowledge that pillows in hotel/motel/inn/B&B/AirBnB are NEVER replaced. Drool is the least of your worries. My toilet seats are probably cleaner than those pillows! And isn’t it nicer to sleep on your own pillow – germ-free?  As for the doonas – well, I’m willing to sacrifice my body to bed mites but not my children’s! Am I a germaphobe? Maybe.

Before we could get on the road, we needed lunch so we stopped at Henry’s favourite eatery, which happened to be in a shopping centre. While there, I reasoned that gumboots were a necessity for all the farm poo that would undoubtedly be present. Knowing my extreme aversion to stepping on any form of faeces (it’s called coprophobia), the family begrudgingly agreed and followed me from store to store looking for them. Given that gumboots are for winter and not spring, there were none to be found. After Henry yelled out, “I told you there weren’t any gumboots in here Mummy, I told you!”, I was adequately chastised for my idiotic request.  

So off we drove, packed like sardines, to our farm stay. I was thankful that the cottage was clean and had minimal carpets. The host was welcoming and gracious, allowing us to see their week old piglets, chickens, sheep and working dogs. 

The only downside – or maybe it was an upside – was the lack of internet reception. I don’t think people truly realise how reliant (addicted) they are to their phones. My husband forgot to bring his charger, so his phone died shortly after reaching our destination. He was desperate enough to ask a waitress about phone charger availability, stating to me that there would be dire consequences if he didn’t find one. I thought he was worrying about work but it turns out he “needed” to log on his Clash of Clan’s account to twiddle with his people. This overnight trip was a good reminder of keeping priorities in check. 

The next morning, we went on the vintage steam engine train ride. We were seated in the Excursion Carriage of a preserved train from the late 1800s (cattle class as Henry didn’t meet the age restrictions for First Class). We got a signed guide book from the train conductor. We watched the townspeople dressed in their olden day clothing do a tap-dancing performance. We had delectable scones in a tea room. It was a fun day exploring small townships and experiencing an authentic steam train ride. 

That night at home, while I was tucking Henry into his bed, he came up with a doozy. 

“Mummy, I had lots of fun on the train today. I think I want to go to space on a rocket for my next birthday.” 

Do you think NASA hosts birthday parties or do you reckon I should get started on that astronaut training?

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WHY INTROVERTS ARE QUIET

A friend recently sent me an image of a pie chart with reasons why introverts are quiet. It had me giggling and nodding my head in agreement. There were two explanations that stood out for me.

‘I finally came up with the perfect reply but now you’re talking about something else.’

‘The words, I can’t do right when out loud they are spoken.’

Does anyone suffer from this? I over think my responses and take a ridiculous amount of time to perfect a reply. By the time I’ve mustered up the courage to actually contribute to the conversation, I’ve missed the train. And if I feel nervous speaking to the person, I just blurt out random junk in an incoherent manner – I believe the condition is called verbal diarrhoea. I’ve had it all my life – I don’t think there is a cure.

The image had me thinking, is this why I don’t have many close friends? I don’t make great first impressions and I’m not a skilled conversationalist, so are people likely to shy away from getting to know me?

I envy children. They make it look so simple. ‘Hey you wanna play?’ and BAM! a friendship is born. Ok, maybe not exactly like that but you get my drift. They don’t have the same emotional baggage and negative inner dialogues holding them back from connecting with others. They don’t see the same obstacles or barriers that an adult might see.

So what can I do? I still want to get to know people and make friends. While I like my own company, it’s nice not to answer my own questions on occasion. You know what I mean? And at some stage, my children will become teenagers and won’t have a bar of me, my husband will probably request to live solo on a deserted island and I’ll be OLD old. I’d like to think that I’ll have some old biddies to clink teacups with and chat about our latest romance reads. It’s nice to make connections and form friendships. Loneliness is literally a silent killer!

In efforts to rectify this situation, I had to do some self-analysis and admit to any shortcomings. I identified six areas of limitations that needed some serious overhaul to make a better first impression.

  1. Willingness: I prefer lurking in dark corners and hiding behind any excuse instead of being placed in an uncontrolled social setting. I would rather spork myself in the eye than talk to a stranger. I struggle with anxiety in most social situations.
  2. Small talk: I find small talk incredibly draining. It takes all my concentration and energy to listen and converse in a manner that is meaningful and attentive. I would say it’s the equivalent to a tough gym session but for the brain. I feel like a big bag of chips and a nap afterwards to recuperate from my efforts, I kid you not!
  3. Eye contact: I have an aversion to prolonged eye contact. I feel compelled to look away to relieve the discomfort.
  4. Smile: I hate my teeth, and I’m conscious of them. I tend to smile with my lips sealed tight so often I look like I’m grimacing. It probably gives me a certain RBF appearance.
  5. Body language: Unless I know the person well or I feel comfortable in their presence, I tend to cross my arms or hold a bag in front of me. It’s almost a protective or defensive stance.
  6. Inner dialogue: I have a tendency to be pessimistic and negative about my capabilities. I am hard on myself. I worry about my quirks and awkwardness.

It’s not a great stretch of the imagination to state that I don’t make the best first impressions. I can appear disinterested and arrogant when the opposite is true!

So I’ve decided to tackle one limitation at a time – first off the bat, willingness. I’m going to attempt to talk to someone who I wouldn’t normally talk to while doing school pick ups and drop offs. You never know, I might even make a friend or two who’ll find my quirkiness and awkwardness charming! Wish me luck folks.

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FAREWELL UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN

Stepping through the building’s revolving doors and swiping my work card for the last time, I felt overcome with nostalgia. My mind went for a trip down memory lane to the first time I stood in front of the security gates, desperately trying to get my visitors card to work so I that I could get to my job interview on time. I remember feeling self-conscious that I was holding up the flow of morning traffic as I did my awkward forward and backward shuffle trying to get the barriers to open. I remember rushing to the toilet to calm my nerves, flapping about trying to cool my sweaty body, and checking my armpits for embarrassing sweat stains.

I really wanted the job. At the time, this government role was what I deemed in my mind as the pinnacle of my career success in my profession. I believed that my self-worth was directly linked to my job title, and this role would be validation of that. It would satisfy my ego and dull that little insecure voice in my head telling me that my value and existence was defined by work and its accomplishments.

I remember taking extreme care in my appearance, rehearsing the lines that I would say, and trying to give myself the pep talk I needed to come across as a capable and confident person. I remember the elation I had felt at news of my success. I remember meeting my work colleagues and feeling nervous but eager to please. This job was pivotal to me feeling complete.

Over the years, I began feeling frustrated with the system, felt downtrodden with my inability to effect change, and resentment built to a point where I became an ineffectual team member. It was also around the time I was gifted with a second job title – mum – and my struggles with work-life balance, mother’s guilt and anxiety reared its ugly head.

Why did I stay, I hear you ask, if I was so unhappy?

I made excuses to myself: I needed a job, we needed the money, it was well-paid and secure, and I should have been thankful to have a job when so many others struggled to find one. In truth, I stayed for longer than I should have out of fear. I was fearful of the unknown. I didn’t believe in my own abilities or capabilities. What if I didn’t find anything better? Don’t they say the grass is always greener on the other side? My anxiety made sure to shred any remaining confidence.

And so, I stewed in my misery, negativity pouring from me like a poison, darkening my thoughts and affecting everyone around me. I was depressed and couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. People were moving forward, grabbing opportunities with gusto, and surviving within the murky waters of the workplace restructures. I didn’t feel like I belonged anymore and I certainly didn’t feel I deserved to be there, taking someone else’s spot. I was lost. I was a failure as a teammate and as a parent. I was in a very bad head space. For the sake of my mental health and my family, there was only one solution and that was to resign.

Today, as I said my farewells to my friends, I felt strong emotions of grief and loss. These wonderful people had become my second family, unwavering in their support, encouraging with meaningful words and enriching my life with their presence. Today, I close this chapter of my life with fond memories that will forever be etched in my heart.

Where will my new adventures lead? What does the next chapter look like? What are my plans? I do not know.

The only thing I do know is that I am ready for the magic of new beginnings.

 


To my friends, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you.

FT – I will miss your hugs and infectious laughter.
MD – I will miss your jokes, even though I rarely got your punch lines.
QG – I will miss your D&Ms, you gave me strength through some of my darkest days.
WY – I will miss your tough love, no-nonsense attitude.
GS/MN – I will miss your generous and kind spirits.
MS – I will miss your inner strength and words of wisdom.
GP – I will miss your wildly inappropriate but funny comments. Don’t go changing.
JL – I will miss hearing of your small wins with coupons and freebies.
EB – I will miss your words of encouragement and support.
HS – I will miss your self-deprecating humour.

And to the rest of the branch, who are no less important to me, thank you for being a part of my life journey.


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MY FAULTY CHARACTER DESCRIPTIONS

I’ve started a creative writing class. Last week we were asked to write a short piece on a profound moment in our life. Here’s the link if you missed out – A Slice of Life. This week we were asked to write a character description of someone we know well. We were told not to give a ‘description list’ where the character’s physical attributes were simply listed. Our task was to try to use some or all the five senses (taste, smell, touch, hearing, sight) to help bring alive the character to the reader. The examples given to us for reading contained lots of similes, metaphors, actions and physical details for personality.

Interestingly, I discovered that I cannot write a good character description, and I tend to delve into storytelling using scenes and dialogue. My descriptions were unnecessarily wordy without the ability to give a clear vision of the portrayed character.

In my first attempt, I tried to describe a broken woman, but instead I wrote a short story. I used a different tack with my second to seventh attempts by using stereotypes, hoping that by doing this I could narrow my focus and not waffle. I wrote bullet points of stereotypical descriptions using google search and tried linking the sentences. I ended up with vague descriptions and a scene. It was frustrating not being able to understand my barriers. It felt a lot like having writer’s block. After much discussion with my significant other, we discerned that because I don’t like the idea of stereotypes and generalisations, I couldn’t draw inspiration from this method. I simply don’t see people in that way!

In the end, I wrote bullet points of short phrases to describe someone I knew well from my childhood. Being able to visualise the person in my mind’s eye helped. I should have done that in the first place as instructed by the teacher! I think the final product was the best character description from the lot. What do you think?


My first attempt:

Broken woman

Wiping the condensation from the mirror with her freshly manicured hand, she stepped back and stared at the woman before her. No longer was she the dependent, dutiful housewife at the beck and call of a demanding and abusive man. She had thrown that dead weight from her hunched shoulders, loosened the stranglehold, and scrubbed that disease from her body and soul. She had tucked the once cowering woman and her fragmented thoughts into the dark realms of her mind, forever to be left behind.

She pinched her cheeks in an effort to brighten her sallow complexion. She cursed under her breath, as she applied the foundation to cover the dark circles that had formed under her eyes from the sleepless nights. Carefully, with an unpracticed hand, she used her new makeup to contour her eyes and cheeks, smiling triumphantly at her efforts. It was like riding a bike.

Letting the fluffy pink towel drop to the floor, she admired her perky and fulsome breasts, the result of a ten thousand dollar loan from her brother and the aftermath from a bitter divorce. It would take her years to pay the amount, but it was worth every penny in rebuilding the confidence that was systematically stripped from her over the years.

Who was she now? How would she introduce herself? What would this man see? A thirty-year-old woman with three children under five, jobless, penniless, divorcee and in a world of hurt? Never in her wildest dreams would she have imagined these turns of events. She chastised herself for allowing morose thoughts to enter her mind. It would do her no good to dwell.

Tonight, she could be anyone. Tonight, she would be the strong, fun-loving, wild at heart woman she wanted desperately to be. Tonight, she would rebuild her life.

She pulled back her shoulders and took a deep fortifying breath. She had a date to meet and a new persona to slip on. She clutched the bright rouge lipstick and with a shaky hand smeared the lipstick on her plumped lips.

She slipped into the black tube dress, the one she had pulled out from deep within her closest, the one she had worn back in the days before she met HIM. She silently thanked the heavens that it still fit like a glove, even after housing and vacating three beautiful children. Pushing up her cleavage and smoothing down her flat-ironed hair, she grabbed her stilettos and clutch, and headed out.

She stopped momentarily at her children’s doors, peering in to see if they were asleep. Upon seeing her youngest, twelve-month-old baby in his cot, she paused, doubting her decision to leave, but then her vision of HIM with HER solidifies her resolve.

Shaking off the mother’s guilt, she raised her head high and strutted her new and improved version towards the inevitable.


Using stereotypes:

Old woman

Her white caterpillars connected in a frown as her beady black eyes took in the rowdy grandchildren at her door. Sinking further into her corner chair, she pulled the woollen blanket towards her droopy jowls, keeping her thin and wiry frame warm from the accompanying blast of the icy chill. The coldness crept into her osteoporotic bones and made her dentures rattle in her mouth as she shivered. She pushed her thick rimmed glasses back on her upturned nose with a skeletal finger. Clang! Screech! The sudden noise of a slammed door startled her sensitive state. A heavy blanket is placed on her, and the warmth of it envelops and entices her weary body and anxious mind for a sleep.

Hippie

His friends called him ‘Love Flower’ but his parents named him Jeremy. His home was a large commune off the grid, where like-minded people fed off the land and gave back to Mother Nature. His place of work was wherever his bare feet would carry him. His work station was any surface his scrappy frayed jeans would settle upon. His craft involved the strum of an acoustic guitar. He relied upon the good graces of passing people to throw unwanted coins into his weather-worn guitar case, thereby funding his weed smoking habit. If he was lucky, an occasional person would stop to listen, unfazed by his unkempt appearance. His lean body would bounce energetically with the beat. His head of unwashed blonde dreadlocks would sway from side to side, as his grubby fingernails strummed the guitar strings. Sometimes people walking past would curl their lips in disgust at the faded OP Shop tied-dyed shirt, his overgrown beard that brushed his chest, and at the lingering smell of unwashed body odour that was emitted from his pores as he worked up a sweat. He didn’t notice or care. He was in his element, young and carefree, unburdened by societal expectations, rejecting conventional values, and pursuing a life of enlightenment.


Final attempt:

Grandma

Her wispy white hair would sometimes peek out from under her woollen beanie as she sat in her favourite corner chair. With a red woollen blanket draped over her legs, her beady black eyes would watch her visitors like the Big Bad Wolf eyeing its prey. She wore a fearsome mask: a side glance, the slight tilt of her chin, and a furrowed brow. It was a stony expression that invited no conversation unless she was inclined to grace her company with small talk. She was the matriarch, domineering and proud, sitting on her throne ready to cast her judgements. Her progeny would come bearing gifts and seeking validation. She would award a smile for those that brought news of success and a scowl for those she thought unworthy. Like chess pieces, she would maneuver them, favouring her rooks and bishops, and carelessly discarding her pawns. Little did she realise that her game, in the end, there would be no winners as they all fall.

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A SLICE OF LIFE

I started my creative writing course this week and the first task in class was to use exactly fourteen words to write a life summary. It was read out loud for the other four classmates and teacher to hear and critique. Gauging from responses and the requests for me to reread the piece, I would assume that I completely missed the brief. My husband suggested that it wasn’t ‘metadata’ that anyone could understand and that I was trying too hard (sigh).

Is it true? Tell me your thoughts (please take pity on me and be gentle, I’m still learning).

An ode to my children:

Two warm embraces,
two sloppy kisses,
causes walls to break,
darkness to fade,
love.

Anyhow, my homework is to write a piece depicting a profound moment in my life, one that I would like to share and have critiqued in next week’s class. For the next six weeks, I’ll be sharing my writing pieces with you to read and enjoy.


A SLICE OF LIFE

I wiped the sweat off my brow with the back of my hand before tugging at the silk pyjamas that stuck to my body like second skin, feeling self-conscious. I was uncomfortable at the thought of wearing pyjamas for day attire but that was how the locals were dressed, and it was imperative that we didn’t stand out in the crowd.

“We mustn’t look like tourists or Vietnamese foreigners. The people will gouge us for every dollar if they sniff us out,” my mother informed me before we left my grandma’s shack, the humble two-room clay house where we were staying.

I took a deep breath, the cloying pollution no longer causing my lungs to seize, prompting a frenzied pull of the Ventolin puffer for relief.

“Daughter, hurry up! Don’t fall behind!” my mother admonished, not bothering to look over her shoulders as she walked ahead with my aunts and cousins, people introduced to me not twenty-four hours ago.

I trudged along, taking in the sights with a mixture of curiosity and bewilderment. There were street vendors wearing conical hats, squatting on both sides of the narrow lane, their baskets filled with readied merchandise for the day’s sale, hoping to make an honest living. Colourful rows of wicker baskets full of rambutans, longans, custard apples, durian and other exotic fruit not commonly seen in an Australian supermarket, lined the path. I’m stopped every few steps by a person wanting to sell their goods, haggling at a pace that I struggled to keep up with, despite being fluent in the language. I simply shook my head and avoided eye contact as I pushed forward.

My feet slowed to a stop as I saw several ducks laying prone on bamboo mats, feet tied, beaks opening and closing, gasping for their lives. My vision continued to be assaulted by distressed chickens crammed into lattice wooden crates, motionless and eerily subdued. Not a single quack or cluck came from these animals. I glanced away, tears threatened to fall, my throat felt tight, and the contents of my stomach wanted to make a second debut. I understood that these animals were food, but it was inhumane the way they were being treated. It felt wrong.

I turned to gauge my mother’s feelings, expecting to see her as shaken as I was, but her eyes swept absently over the animals and moved on. I felt upset that my mother was unaffected by the disturbing sight. The idea that this was a normal, everyday occurrence wreaked havoc with my sensibilities.

Nervously, I peered ahead to see what other atrocities I might witness. My mother had wanted to visit this market to get some groceries for the big family reunion. I had assumed we were going to a supermarket, like back at home, but instead we were at an open market.

The smell hit my nostrils before my brain could register the makeshift slaughterhouses. I pinched my nose to avoid the pungent odour of raw meat as my hand caressed my churning stomach. Carcasses hung on huge hooks above tables filled to the brim with different cuts of meat and offal. Flies feasted on the bloodied remains that were thrown haphazardly in dirty bins nearby. My eyes bulged at the confronting sight of mutilated pig and cow heads placed proudly as centrepieces. Thankfully, their eyes were closed. I got jostled and pushed as people bumped into my still and stunned form. The impact of seeing death was profound.

“Cousin! Why are you standing there like a stunned ass! Haven’t you seen a dead animal before?!” said my cousin Nga, her high-pitched laugh jolted me from my shocked state of mind.

I closed my slacked-jaw, embarrassed to have been caught unawares and being teased by stranger, even if she was family. I didn’t reply and continued walking. This was supposed to be my culture, my people, my family, but it all felt overwhelmingly foreign to me.

I could see my mother’s laughing face and bright smile, beaming with happiness at reconnecting with her lost family; the family that she had left behind when she became a Vietnamese refugee, the family that she looked upon with fondness as she reminisced on tales of the old days. It’s been eighteen long years of saving money to make this journey back. I was ecstatic for my mother, she deserved this happiness after all of our hardships. She was with her kin, this was her culture, her sense of belonging, her community, her happiness.

I was supposed to feel something being here, stepping foot on this land, being among its people. I needed to feel it; a connection, an anchor, an understanding.

Instead, I was a jumbled and conflicted mess. I was caught between two cultures. I felt the weight of my parent’s pressure to mold me into their perfect Vietnamese daughter; dutiful, meek, softly-spoken, and intelligent. Someone they could see married to a Vietnamese boy from a respectable family, with an equally respectable career. Someone to pop out a few grandkids, live nearby and be dependent on them for guidance and advice. In essence, I felt the pressure of familial loyalty being raised with the strong values and beliefs of the Vietnamese culture. I constantly tried to seek their approval and wanted to make them proud, for they had struggled and given up their home to give me a better life.

I felt guilty for not feeling the same sense of attachment to my heritage and wanting to adopt mainstream Western culture and ideals. I yearned to be accepted by my peers, to be considered Australian. I felt displaced and I didn’t feel like I belonged in either community. I was a vagabond.

How does one find their place in the world if they don’t know who they are, what they represent, feel connected to their culture and heritage, or have a sense of belonging to a community?

It was in the moments of witnessing my mother’s unadulterated happiness being among her community in her home country, that I forced myself to make a decision; be a drifter among both communities, forever feeling displaced or risk disappointing my parents and seeking my truth.

My own happiness was at stake.



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STRANGER DIRECTIONS

Ever had to tuck away the pride, steal some courage, and ask a random stranger for directions? Only to find yourself lost because you didn’t ask enough questions before dashing off, worried about inconveniencing and interrupting someone? Or the person giving the directions gave you general descriptions like ‘turn left at that store with the red door’ or ‘two lefts and a right’, and you were too embarrassed to admit you needed more information?

I suffered from this very same problem while at a shopping food court. Sometimes you gotta push aside those feelings of disquiet, and ask more than one question to get your answer.


The woman takes a bite from her fried chicken parcel. She closes her eyes momentarily as though she’s savouring the taste sensation that’s exploding in her mouth. There is a look of satisfaction on her face as she picks up a napkin to swipe at the crumbs that peppers her lips. I can only imagine the gratifying crunch as she takes the next mouthful. I’m frozen, mid fork to mouth, captivated by the food porn playing in front of me. She looks like she’s having a foodgasm. I want one! Heck, I want two!

I look down at my pitiful meal. Six lumpy, doughy and dry gyozas sit on some wilted lettuce. Not even a soy sauce drowning can rescue these mediocre dumplings. Food envy. That’s what I’m feeling. How can I eat these now? I throw down my fork in disgust. Maybe if I hadn’t witness the ecstasy flitting across the woman’s face, these concrete blocks would be churning my insides now.

A moment later, I find myself standing in front of the woman, propelled forward in a trance-like state, chicken on the mind. Like a weirdo, I say nothing for a good few seconds before pointing at the oversized fried chicken fillet in the blue cardboard packet in her hands.

The woman stops eating, swallows her food and looks at me with a mixture of confusion and curiosity. “Can I help you?”

Nodding like a dashboard toy, I breathe out, “Can you tell me where you got that please?”

She stares at me, not sure what to make of my strange behaviour. “Um, it’s at the entrance as you walk in. Near the newsagent.”

“Uh huh. Front entrance. Got it,” I reply, nodding in understanding.

Armed with one tiny morsel of information, I drag the family in search of the entrance that would lead to scrumptious chicken delight. We traverse through the weekend crowd and reach our destination, only to find a boutique toy store instead.

“Which entrance did she say?” queries Gary. “Did you get the name of the store?”

“Mum! I’m tired. I wanna go home!” whinges Mandy, leaning on Henry’s pram like a limp rag doll.

“Uh, I think it was something like… Hot Chicken? Hot Spice?” I reply. I can’t believe I didn’t even get the name! I can’t believe I didn’t ask which entrance! Why didn’t I ask more questions? I should have gotten a map! Why was I so stupefied?

After twenty minutes of circling around, I’m sweaty, frustrated and hangry. The kids and Gary are giving me death glares, and I keep promising to leave soon. Eventually, a Henry tantrum forces me to give up, admit defeat and turn for home.

It’s been a few weeks since I first glanced at the holy grail of the almighty chicken. Occasionally, I find myself wondering about that elusive crumbed goodness. It could have been the best thing since sliced bread, but I’ll never know.


Note: The above post was written a while ago. After some Magellan-type exploration, searching high and low, I eventually discovered the true location of my deepest desire.

The verdict? Let’s just say that some things are better left to your imagination because the reality is far less impressive.


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LIVE WITHOUT A NET

I am a control freak. It’s a coping mechanism, a safety behaviour, an intolerance of the uncertainty, that makes me want to take charge of all situations to ease my anxiety over not having control of the unknown. These vicious cogs of anxiety have me worrying over hypothetical situations, ruminating and overanalyzing interactions, and avoiding any circumstances that may induce negative feelings. Unchecked over the years, my brain has learnt that to eliminate the symptoms of anxiety, I must either avoid anxiety-producing situations or have complete control. You can imagine how tiring being me is, can’t you?

Part of my personal growth has been working on breaking the negative internal dialogue through graded exposure; small steps to challenge my fears. With that in mind, I left the organising of my father’s birthday dinner to my younger brother. I had relayed my wishes for an early dinner for the kids, and he already knew of Gary’s dietary restrictions, so it was simply a matter of booking a restaurant. There was no need for the control freak to loom her ugly head. What could go wrong?


We’re ten minutes late.

“Ugh, they’re late,” I groan as we enter the Korean BBQ restaurant. It’s a helluva lot warmer than standing outside in the cold.

“You have a booking Ma’am?” asks the waiter, standing at the entrance.

“Yes, it’s under Andy,” I reply, stamping my frozen feet to elicit some warmth.

“I can’t see anything under that name Ma’am,” informs the waiter. “Are you sure you have a booking?”

I call my brother and let him sort it out. The waiter walks to his podium, checks his book and shakes his head. He returns and hands back my phone. “Sorry Ma’am.”

I stare at him in confusion as I put the phone to my ear. “Hey Sis, sorry they got the date wrong. I’ll find another place and text you the details.”

So I bundle the family back into the car and wait for his text. Breathe. No big deal. Happens to all of us (not me). It’s still early, and the kids have yet to show signs of the dreaded hangry. Hungry and overtired kids make any outing a nightmare.

“Why didn’t I bring snacks?” I wonder. “This is exactly why I should always have snacks on me, like a vending machine.”

I’m only mildly anxious at this point. At least we are warm in the car.

Meet at Japanese Teppanyaki.

We head to the new restaurant and luckily it’s only ten minutes away. The detour has delayed dinner by a smidgen. It’s raining cats and dogs by the time we’re parked. We make a dash for the front door. The wind is fierce and icily cold. I get to the entrance of the restaurant, Henry weighing heavy in my arms, to find the doors unmoving. I peer into the restaurant to find the lights off and not a single employee in sight.

“Why did you leave the car? It’s freezing,” Andy stutters, shivering from the cold as he reaches the door.

“What are you talking about? Why is this place closed?!” I yell, frustrated at the turn of events.

We rush over to the nearby gazebo and take cover from the unrelenting rain. Gary has been tasked with the job of getting our jackets, an umbrella, the kid’s water bottles and Henry’s baby bag. I’m in anxious terrain now.

“It’s not open until six p.m. I thought I told you,” Andy replies, looking sheepish. “Sorry about the booking.”

“No you did not tell me, otherwise we would be in the car!”

“Relax,” Gary returns with our things and tries to calm me as I continue my rant, “we only have to wait ten minutes until it’s open.”

Eventually, we’re inside and dinner ensues. The cook is wearing a red toque and samurai-print robe, his belt fitted with several knives, and pepper and salt grinders. He performs a myriad of cooking tricks. Instead of looking entralled with his performance, Mandy just looks bored. She doesn’t even bat an eyelid when the salt grinder is flicked into the cook’s torque hat.

“Want to see fire?” the cook asks, looking at everyone for their approval. He lights the oil with some water and a whoosh of fire shoots up into the air.

Henry jerks back in fear before crying uncontrollably and screaming out “I’m scared! I don’t want the fire!”

For the remainder of the meal, Henry clings to me like a koala baby to its mum, while I desperately try to coax him into eating some overpriced meat. Mandy is slumped over her meal, tired and uninterested. It’s like she’s seven going on fifteen-years-old.

“Who wants to catch some egg?” the cook asks, holding some omelette on his spatula.

My brother and his girlfriend catch their egg on the first attempt. They make it look easy. I decide to step out of my comfort zone and agree to participate.

The first attempt has the egg flying past my face and landing on the floor. Ok, so if at first you don’t succeed, you try again. The second shot lands next to my mouth and falls off. I am so close that the cook insists on another go. The third bounces off my left eye and drops unceremoniously onto my plate. The cook gives up. He’s probably never had anyone as unco as me. In all honesty, I think it’s in my best interest to stop. I only have two eyes and my left eye is tearing up, ready to shut up shop. I gave it a go (three, to be precise) and that’s all that matters.

We end the night with a bill of over five hundred dollars and a drive-thru to KFC for a top up.


What did I learn from this experience? While there were some anxiety-producing moments, I think I coped rather well. The outcome of unforeseen events wasn’t catastrophic; we found another place (although more expensive), the kids were fed (eventually) and went to bed a little later than usual, and no one was worse off for standing in the cold. I climbed a step towards my goal of breaking the cycle of anxiety. Overall, a good achievement for me.

Does that mean I’ll let my brother book another family function? Of course not.

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