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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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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LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY REPEATING

What makes a parent embarrassing to a child? How do you know when you’ve entered lame territory? Are there signs, like increased rate of facepalms and eye rolls? Or do you just reach an age where you lose your sensibilities and become an ‘at risk’ embarrassing parent? I’d like to know because if my children requests that I walk three metres behind them, I’ll have failed. So far, I’m still in the ‘cool beans’ category, but only barely. I’m hanging on by a thread, but I have hope because I’m nowhere near as embarrassing as my folks. They have set the example for parental embarrassment.

My mother will:
– shamelessly haggle for a dollar discount (every dollar counts!)
– blatantly inspect and tastes unpaid fruit from stands (how else will she know if the fruit is sweet?)
– brazenly elbow and push to get in front of any line (as she waits for no-one)
– pay with a bag full of small coins, taking time to count each one (because all vendors need small change)
– refuse to put cooked rice or food in the fridge (why wouldn’t you want to save on fridge space and what’s Listeria?)
– show up unannounced and leave us a jug of her unwanted tangelos and oranges (there’s irrefutable evidence left, sticky counters and floors)

My dad will:
– forgo a shower for some wet toweling (you don’t ever want to accidentally use his towel!)
– multitask like a pro with eating and talking (just don’t sit directly in front of him)
– double park (because it’s the council’s fault that there aren’t more car parks)
– shout out ‘Hey’ and do an octopus wave to get a waiter’s attention (imagine how much extra flavouring his meals must get!)
– bring out his karaoke machine with any visitor (because everyone needs to hear those vocals!)
– FaceTime or WhatsApp his family members constantly (because obviously they’re interested in an update every half hour)

So you see, I know embarrassing. I understand what it means to have embarrassing parents. I mean, who else has had their dad talk about his penile problems to their future in-laws on the first meeting? Who’s had to make excuses so friends don’t come over because their dad has six fish tanks and sometimes walks around in his boxers that he mistakes as acceptable summer wear? Even the grandkids are saying how embarrassing they are!

***

Gary is attempting to move my mum’s car from our driveway. The deafening wail of car alarm can be heard.

“Oh that’s your dad’s car alarm. Tell Gary to press the car key button twice,” my mum dismisses.

I go outside to tell Gary her instructions. He looks frustrated and furiously punching both buttons. The alarm is so loud that I have to yell in his ear. The neighbours have started to come out to witness the commotion. We can’t get the alarm to stop. My mum shows up, and she starts pressing the buttons in the same way. Nothing. By now, we’re just standing there covering our ears. Eventually, my dad comes out with the kids. My dad smacks the car key against the door a few times and swears a ton before the alarm cuts off.

“Easy. That’s how you do it,” my dad exclaims with triumph. He leans into the car and rummages around.

“It happens every time I try to get in the car. It’s so annoying!” my mum complains.

I can only stare in wide-eyed amazement. Is he for real? He practically had to kick down the door. This aftermarket car alarm is probably going to explode. I take a step back. I peek around to see the neighbours shaking their heads and returning to their abodes.

My dad pulls out a black foam block and passes it over to me. “Here, I got you a foam cushion for your car seat so you can see over the steering wheel.”

“Dad, I do not need a cushion. My seats can be adjusted,” I tell him, rolling my eyes in the process.

“You want the back massager for your seat?” he offers, pointing to the monstrosity attached to his car seat.

“Uh no.” Seriously?! Who gets a back massage while driving?

“How about next time, we’ll come to visit you?” I mutter. “On second thought, how about we always come to visit you from now on.”

***

I wonder if history will repeat itself. Will I be my own brand of embarrassing to the kids when I’m older? Nah, no one can top my parents in the embarrassing department.
 

 

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CHASING THE GOLDEN ARCHES

“Hey Grandma, did you know that Mummy let’s us have McDonald’s all the time? For breakfasts, lunch AND dinners!”

One loaded statement made from a mischievous six-year-old has led to a sit-down family intervention and my consequential misery.

You see, I’ve been banned from being in close vicinity of any McDonald’s franchise. I cannot use UberEats, Deliveroo or get a taxi to deliver any food from said establishment for a WHOLE month. It seems a bit much. It’s not like I have a problem or anything. Just because I like to eat a Big Mac and fries on many an occasion, doesn’t mean I have an addiction, right?

So to prove to my unnecessarily overly concerned family members that I am not part of a McDonald’s customer loyalty program and I CAN stop, I agreed to their ridiculous terms.


JOURNAL ENTRIES

Day One: Precontemplation

I’m banned. A WHOLE month.

No delicious Big Mac sauce will smear my upper lip. No fulfilling carb-load of fries to warm my belly. No feeling of cold soft serve will tickle my taste buds.

It’s ridiculous, utterly ridiculous! We all have favourite foods. What’s the point of living if you can’t enjoy a Big Mac once in a while?!

I feel such a deep longing; a profound yearning for McDonald’s. I miss smelling, touching and eating it. I feel terribly unsatisfied. Is this normal?

Week One: Contemplation

Hmm… I wonder if there is any truth to this whole addiction thing. Maybe not addiction per se, maybe just a habit. Nope, that word doesn’t sit well with me. Maybe overindulgence. Yes, that’s the word I’m looking for, overindulgence. Is it such a bad word?

I guess I COULD be choosing healthier food options. I DO have the kids to consider. I SHOULD be modelling good eating behaviour. I am a parent and that does come with responsibilities.

Gosh, I still want to stuff my face with McDonald’s. Why do I do that? I don’t really know. Do I have a problem?

Week Two: Preparation

Okay! Okay! … I admit it. I have a problem. I have a McDonald’s affliction. I have a Big Mac and fries obsession. There, I said it. I bet everyone is pleased with themselves.

I have a plan. I will avoid triggers that bring me to my knees. I will uninstall UberEats app. I will bypass all roads that lead within sniffing range of a McDonald’s franchise. I shall choose healthier take-away options. I shall remember to think of the kids and their health every time I feel the desire for a drive-thru. I will eat kale and like it! Maybe.

I am committed. Well, at least for the moment. I don’t want to get ahead of myself here.

Week Three: Action

I’ve discovered that it’s damn near impossible to avoid a McDonald’s franchise. They are everywhere, like a fruit fly infestation! Practically every route has a road that leads to nirvana. I suspect Siri has got it in for me.

Every time we are in a food court, I find myself unconsciously drawn to the powerful smell and only awaken from my trance when one of the kids tugs at my arm.

Many salads have been the victim of my frenzied stabbing. I’m cranky and prone to snappiness.

I’m withdrawing HARD. Will it get easier?

Week Four: Maintenance and Recovery

Have I been successful in avoiding triggers and temptations? Yes.

Have I broken the habit? Not yet. I still feel the temptation to stuff my face until I pass out from carb overload.

I think I’ll need ongoing support from family and friends to remind me that ‘I CAN DO THIS!’

Apparently, joining a community support program to reinforce recovery goals can be helpful.

Maybe I’ll look into joining McDonald’s Anonymous. I can’t be the only one with a penchant for Big Macs.


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STRANGE BEDFELLOWS

What’s the convention for housing guests? I’ve always pondered this. Who gets which bathroom or toilet? How does the shower procession work? What if your house guests have routines that conflict with yours?

It’s like having new roommates and learning their nuances. It can be unsettling.

We have house guests. This means some bed hopping. Hold on, that doesn’t sound right! What I mean is that we give up our bed to our guests, and the four of us are crammed into Mandy and Henry’s shared room. It’s either that or glimpsing half undressed people sleeping in the lounge room with my morning tea and toast. No thanks! So a little sufferance is necessary.

Night One:

Mandy and I are on the inflatable queen bed, Henry is in his cot and Gary is in the single bed (smart man).

I shuffle my body to relieve the tingling sensation in my left arm. Henry has my hand in a python-like stranglehold. I painfully extract my hand without stirring the beast and turn to my side, hoping to get a few winks. The inflatable bed squeaks in protest at my movements. Mandy stirs and wraps her leg around my torso like a koala baby to its mum. I guess it’s better than enduring her kicks and flinging arms to the back. I wake up way too early, tired and a little irritable.

Gary is snoring.

Night Two:

Same bedding arrangement.

Henry has rolled off his cot and snuggled to my front. Instead of sleeping on her side of the bed, Mandy presses as close as possible to me. I’m squished between the kids and busting to go to the toilet. I manoeuvre under the blankets to get out of bed, relieve myself and come back to see Mandy sleeping horizontal. I end up sleeping at the foot of the bed. I wake up grumpy, cold and stiff as a board.

Gary is snoring.

Night Three:

I insist on Gary and I sleeping on the queen bed, Mandy is in the single bed and Henry is in his cot.

I spend a few minutes debating whether we should move the single bed next to the cot instead of having the inflatable in the middle. In the end, we’re too tired to action our plans.

Gary and I snuggle. It’s nice. We chat about the kids and their antics. We fall asleep.

I jolt awake to see that Mandy has rolled off the bed and fallen on top of Gary. I have to lift her off of Gary and move her heavy lug back to bed.

It takes me ages to fall back to sleep only to jerk awake at the sounds of Henry screaming. Somehow, he had fallen and lodged himself between the inflatable bed and his cot. I’m surprised neither Mandy or Gary have woken with the noise.

After consoling Henry, I lay there wide-eyed and restless. I feel my body sink into Gary’s side and my face eventually rests at his armpit. The stupid inflatable bed has popped.

With perfect timing, Henry begins to fuss again and wants to sleep with us. I get off the sinking bed and end up awake most of the night; balancing on the edge of Henry’s cot and trying to coax him back to sleep.

I return to the now deflated bed on the floor. I haven’t slept, and I feel like a zombie.

Gary remains snoring!

House guests go home and I decide that perhaps witnessing people in various states of undress isn’t that bad after all!

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