THIN LINES OF LOVE AND HATE

Cackling laughter erupts from afar
Loud, boisterous and carefree
Warming my soul and bringing a smile
I’m heartened by the sounds of child’s play
Not but a moment later
A woeful wail ensues
Stomp, thud and slam
A shrill cry pierces the air
My temporary peace shattered
Mummy! Mummy! Mum!
Sibling love and rivalry
Adds another wrinkle
To this worn mother’s frown

School holidays are a test for every parent’s patience. Let’s hope our sanity is kept intact long enough to send these squirts back to school!

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2019 BLOG REFLECTIONS

This blog went live on March 1st of this year. At the time, it was called ‘A Day In The Life Of KN J’, homage to the fact that I was publishing stories based on days of my life. It was towards the end of April that I realised the name was not a correct representation of my writing – and that it was boring as hell! I was writing about snippets of my day or tales of my life, and so the name ‘KN J Tales and Snippets’ was born. What does KN J mean? Initials for my name. Why the space? KNJ was taken by some dudes. Very few brain cells were wasted there!

In March, I posted five stories – 100 Rocks, The Water Bottle, Lame, Fudge and It’s a Jungle Out There. These stories were my very first attempts at writing. I should probably go back and reread them sometime and see whether there’s been any improvement in my writing. It could be cringe worthy, considering I’ve since learnt about comma placement (and still not using them correctly).

During this blog’s inception, I spruiked and spammed mainly to family and friends. By the end of the first month, I had a total of 69 visitors and averaged 15 views per post. I had two likes and four comments, all from one super supportive and fantastic friend. I had ten followers, again all friends.

In April, I decided it was important to be disciplined with my writing schedule. I was going to aim for a weekly blog post, but I couldn’t commit to a specific day or time – I still can’t! I posted four stories – Lunch, The Art of Packing, Namaste and Basket Case . It would be The Art of Packing that finally enticed an internet wanderer to comment, and it elicited eight likes!

In May, I discovered the importance of SEO and terms like categories and tags. I doubled back and fixed my previous posts, in turn doubling my stats. The Silver Lining of Being Awkward and Half-Priced Discount…Still Not Enough were the first posts to break ten likes! My favourite post was Accidental Railjob.

In June, I delved into strategies to market my brand and created a Facebook Page and Twitter account. Other than WordPress, Facebook is my second highest referrer. I’ve only recently seen some engagement with Twitter. It takes a hell of a lot of engagement on all platforms to generate traffic and in the end, I stopped actively seeking inorganic methods. I found myself down the rabbit hole of the net, constantly checking stats and trying to improve traffic. It was wreaking havoc with my mind. It wasn’t my initial intent but somehow it had become my ball and chain. I forced myself to re-evaluate the reasons why I started this blog and did an overhaul in my thinking – I write because I want to share my experiences, my audience will find it in due course.

I began opening up about my mental health issues. My Struggle With Small Talk revealed my social anxiety issues and Find Your Strength was the first time I admitted to not coping with depression and parenting. It was also the month that my readership grew, and people began commenting. I began to understand that my words were being heard and people did resonate with my experiences, in both parenting and with mental health.

In July, our household suffered through influenza and a range of illnesses. It was a tough time where I resorted to fast food and self-pity – Chasing the Golden Arches.

In August, I received my first retweets on Twitter! Slaving Over a Hot Stove and How to Survive Toddlerhood. The writing community on Twitter is amazing and supportive. I do feel like an imposter calling myself a writer because I haven’t published any books but as it’s been pointed out to me – I write, therefore I am a writer!

In September, I struggled with content and motivation to write, producing only three posts – Stranger Directions, Live Without a Net and Little Bit of History Repeating.

In October, I got two awards! Sunshine Blogger Award and The Liebster Award. I think the last time I was awarded for something was in high school. The underachiever in me was extremely happy.

My Remedy for School Holiday Boredom took out the highest likes for the year at 26! I quit my job at the end of October, unable to balance working and motherhood and battle with mental health issues – Farewell Until We Meet Again was my goodbye post to my fellow colleagues.

In November, I did a creative writing course and submitted my homework as blog posts along with my usual ramblings. Funnily enough, I discovered that I like poetry and writing it. A Mother’s Love was my first poem. One of my stories, Remember to Breathe, was published for the first time in the Your Child magazine. They published When It Rains, It Pours the following month. Another magazine MamaMag published The Art of Packing. Man, it was the best feeling!

In December, The Dreaded School Run took out the highest number of comments for the year! I participated in Hoppy Tales, a short story writing tag that was super fun and brought a whole new crowd to my blog!

So… now that I’ve spammed you with a bunch of back links, what have I really got to say about 2019?

This year has been successful on so many fronts. It’s been a crazy journey of self-discovery and healing. Sitting down and penning my thoughts has taught me that I am capable of self-discipline, of reflecting on my feelings and actions, and more importantly, making the necessary changes to gain a happier me and experience a more fulfilling and purposeful life.

I’ve met wonderful and supportive people in the blogging and writing community. I’ve read some poignant, beautiful, inspiring and heartbreaking posts. I’ve laughed at funny gifs and admired Instagram-worthy photos. I’ve formed social connections I never dreamed could happen. Thank you to everyone who reads, comments or likes my posts – it means so much to me that you take the time out of your busy day to read my ramblings.

For 2020, I wish to continue my journey to create inspiring, empowering and humorous written pieces. I hope that my words can bring comfort, laughter and be relatable to those who read them.

I’ll be on a break for a few weeks so there won’t be any posts from me. I’m aiming for time away from social media so I won’t be online – much.

Happy holidays everyone! See you in the New Year! Keep safe. Love more. Hate less. Eat more greens.

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THE DREADED SCHOOL RUN

When my daughter started primary school, I had a master plan. Despite suffering from crippling social anxiety, I was going to shove my insecurities deep down where the sun doesn’t shine, pull up my big girl pants, and be sociable. I was going to make an effort to introduce myself to other mums because I understood that I was the gateway to my daughter’s social life, and I wanted her to have positive experiences. I didn’t want people to see me as the awkward and antisocial person that seldom spoke and therefore, unfairly judge my daughter.

So in the first year of school, I tried getting to know people. I soon realised that there were many cliques and not all were welcoming, not everyone was friendly and some would outright ignore me. It surprised me to see strangers becoming fast friends within such a short space of time. People were enjoying family holidays together, picking up each other’s children and organising play dates.

All the while, I was struggling to get an invite to the end of term park gatherings and classroom parent dinners. Most of the time, I was invited as an afterthought or at least, that was my perception. I couldn’t even secure play dates successfully, bar one mum who took me under her wing.

I would watch with envy and disappointment as groups of mums would leave for coffee dates after the school runs. Why didn’t they invite me? These situations would evoke powerful emotional childhood memories of insecurities and inadequacies, making me feel like that outcast once more. Suffice to say, I spent a lot of those early days hidden in the car until the very last minute.

Fortunately, I did make a few good friends that year, and I’ve clung on to them since (You know who you are – thank you!). School runs can be intimidating, especially for someone who suffers from social anxiety. On days where I don’t find a friendly face, I feel anxious waiting around. Small talk is a mammoth task for me, especially with people I’m not comfortable with or know well.

My husband doesn’t understand my irrational fears with the dreaded school runs. How could he though? He doesn’t have social anxiety. He wasn’t an outcast as a child in school. He is confident in his own skin and has his tight-knit group of childhood friends. He has no problem with small talk or meeting new people, even though he is an introvert by nature.

I, however, allow this debilitating mental illness to dictate almost every social interaction that I have. It has become a stranglehold that keeps me from meeting new people, forming friendships and sometimes even keeping friendships. I’m plagued by insecurities and anxiety over forming connections but at the same time, I doubt why anyone would want to be my friend. I’m not interesting, I don’t have hobbies, I’m not well-travelled, and I’m not worldly or cultured.

My husband made an observation that gave me pause. “Why is it that you think so little of yourself? Why wouldn’t people want to be your friend? Why don’t you ask to join them for coffee?”

Upon reflection, I surmised that I am simply scared. I’m scared to put myself out there, to allow myself to be vulnerable and be judged. What if I’m found to be wanting? What if people don’t like me? What if I let myself hope for friendship and be sorely disappointed? What if I’m rejected for being me?

Recently, I met a wonderful and kind school mum, by chance, at one of my daughter’s friend’s birthday party. It was only upon getting to know her that I realised that I am not alone in my feelings, that perhaps there are many of us that have our own doubts and insecurities. She made me understand that having meaningful social connections and friendships are important, and that it is worth pursuing, particularly for people who suffer from social anxiety.

This year, I haven’t hidden in my car or pretended to be on the phone as much and I’ve continued to work on my small talk and forming connections with other people. I would like to think that my social anxiety has lessened in intensity and that my communication skills have improved.

But as we creep towards a new school year, where undoubtedly there will be new faces to meet and new connections to make, I know my anxiety levels will rise and there will be an overwhelming urge to hide in the car.

Does it get easier? Can someone overcome social anxiety? I really hope so because I don’t like the idea of hiding in the car for the next decade.

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PROJECT HEALTHY EATING

People deal with stress in all manner of ways; meditation, nature immersion, exercise, getting support through conversation, spending time with family and friends, writing, KFC. Each to their own and hopefully, in non-destructive ways. My coping mechanism involves keeping busy to prevent my mind from rumination. Left to my own devices, I tend to wallow in self-pity and catastrophic thoughts.

Given that I’m currently experiencing stress at peak levels, I needed some “projects” to me busy. When I received an email from Henry’s childcare stating that parents could to do small jobs in lieu of the contribution levy, I put my name forth. The wrapping of Christmas presents was my first choice, but that was snatched up within two minutes of the email being sent. So the next best option was the sewing of sheets for the children’s bedding. This seemed easy enough, how hard could mending a few sheets be?

Little did I know when I accepted the job that I would be making the sheets from scratch! One of the parents had come up with a brilliant plan to use queen sized sheets, cut up into parts to make the children’s bedding. From one queen sized sheet, three sheets with a cover could be made. I was given enough materials to make eighteen sheets. To have the levy refunded, the parent only needed to volunteer two hours of their time.

Three parts of a queen sized sheet. Most sides needed double fold hemming.

I am no seamstress. I’m an amateur at best! It took me roughly an hour to make one sheet and cover! Being the person that I am, I couldn’t return the unfinished sheets and so I’m making all eighteen. It helps Henry’s childcare, the children have new bedding for the upcoming year and it keeps me busy. A win for everyone. Hopefully, the stitching lasts one cycle in the wash!

Lots of inside out, outside in stitching and hemming.
Final product.

In addition to this, I decided an overhaul of the family meals was in order. I banned all take-away, eating out and processed meats. I changed everything to low-fat (except for the kids), high fibre white bread to wholemeal and white rice to brown. I reduced the red meat intake to once weekly, added more fibre, fruit and vegetables to the meals, and cut out all junk snacks. Extreme? Probably, but I don’t do things by halves and this keeps me preoccupied.

I think the family have accepted some of the changes rather well, despite the reactions and comments that I have received so far. Initially, I was dealing with this:

Henry (3 y.o.), gagging with each mouthful of veggies.
“I’m not eating that! No way!”
“This makes me want to vomit!”
“Where’s the meat?”
“No vegetables. Yuck!”

Mandy (7 y.o.), eating only after negotiating TV deals.
“This is disgusting!”
“Do I have to eat it all?”
“How many more spoonfuls?”
“If I eat this, can I watch TV?”

Gary (hubby), eating only after I gave him my death glares.
“This is so bland!”
“I’ve lost two kilos!”
“We can’t go from high calorie meals to this!”
“This isn’t a race. It’s a marathon!”
“Make smaller changes and make it stick!”

Now, I claim victory with these wins:
1. The kids think All Bran cereal tastes like chips (poor sods).
2. The kids haven’t noticed the change to wholemeal bread.
3. The lack of available snacks has meant everyone is reaching for fruit, seaweed, nuts and Greek yoghurt instead.
4. The kids are picking at the salads whereas before they wouldn’t touch it.
5. Everyone loves the homemade air-fried potato fries.

In light of the success thus far, I was thinking of branching out and trying new things. Like organic produce and introducing different mushrooms and tofu. Maybe even trial kale?

Could this push us into the realm of too fast too soon? I do wonder if I can keep up this diet or whether my body will just chuck a fit and force my mouth to feast on all those forbidden foods.

Maybe this time, I won’t have to come clean about my secret stash of Cheesels and Aero Mints or explain why they’re hidden in my underwear tub. Only time will tell.

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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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ONE-ACT PLAYWRITING

One-act plays was the topic for this week’s creative writing class. We read works by different playwrights and completed a task where we created an alternate ending to a play called ‘Read About It’ by Jean Blasier. I learnt that one-act plays have one act, have one or two scenes, are typically thirty minutes long, focuses on one main problem or action and generally have less than four characters. 

Prior to this class, I had little understanding or appreciation for the amount of work and creativity that was involved in producing a play. Sure I had been to plays (yawn!) and musicals (snore!) but I’m not really into them (yes, I am an uncultured spud). After attempting it for myself, I realise and respect the skills a playwright must have to create an engaging and creative story. Interesting dialogue is not easy to write!  

Here was my attempt (a tiny fraction of a one-act play).


Setting: Dinner table

Characters: Henry (3yo), Kathy (mum)

Scene: Family dinner

Henry – What’s for dinner Mummy?

Kathy (smiles) – Mini sausages, Mummy’s famous potatoes and veggies.

Henry (frowns) – These aren’t potatoes, they’re chips!

Kathy – Aren’t chips made of potatoes?

Henry – No! You’re so forgetful Mummy.

Kathy – Are they maybe potato chips?

Henry (pauses and nods) – Yes, they are potato chips. These are yummy!

(Henry eats everything except his greens)

Kathy (points at a broccoli) – You want to eat some of your veggies?

Henry (shakes head) – No way man! I’m not eating that.

Kathy – You have to eat your greens.

Henry – Mummy, I can help in emergencies.

Kathy – Okay… eat your greens please.

Henry – Like fire emergencies. To put out fire.

Kathy – Awesome Henry, please eat your broccoli.

Henry – Mummy, I love you.

Kathy – I love you too Henry. Hey, lets eat a broccoli?

Henry (grabs leg) – My leg hurts Mummy!

Kathy (lets out a big gigantic sigh) – Maybe eating a broccoli will fix your leg. Broccoli is a super vegetable.

Henry – I need to go poo!

(Henry goes to the toilet)

Henry – Mummy, I need to take my time.

Kathy – Hurry up Henry! Are you done yet?

Henry – No, I’m taking my time. You can’t rush me Mummy.

(Twenty minutes later, Henry and Kathy return to the dinner table)

Kathy – Ok, your veggies are now cold but you still have to eat them.

Henry – I want apple juice!

Kathy – We don’t have any. Here’s your water.

Henry – But I need juice or I’ll vomit.

Kathy – Henry, I am getting fed up with your procrastinating. Eat your veggies or you can go to bed right this minute!

Henry (reluctantly picks up a broccoli) – How much?

Kathy – All of it.

Henry (whimpers) – I only want the top. And I don’t like carrots or beans.

Kathy – Eat it!

Henry (takes a bite and pretends to dry retch) – It’s yucky. I don’t like it.

Kathy (glares) – One.

Henry (whimpers and puts broccoli to mouth) – You’re not my best friend. You’re rude to me.

Kathy – Two.

Henry (puts into his mouth)

Kathy – Swallow it…

Henry (swallows one bite of broccoli) – Finish! I’m a good boy Mummy.

Kathy (sighs) – Only another three broccoli tops, three carrots and two beans to go.


Links to the previous homework tasks: Week One – A Slice of Life, Week Two – My Faulty Character Descriptions, Week Three – Short Short Stories.

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MONKEY SEE, MONKEY DO

It’s a common understanding that part of good parenting involves modelling good behaviours. Children are imitators, so you can’t tell them to do something but not do it yourself. The mentality of “do as I say, not as I do” is simply unacceptable. You have to lead by example because your children look to you as their role models, they learn how to behave, act and deal with life situations by watching you. If you want your kids to have good manners, show them by saying YOUR pleases and thank-yous. If you don’t want your kids swearing, don’t curse in front of them, even if a moron cuts in front of you and nearly side swipes your car. Your children are a reflection of you, in the emotional and behavioural sense. Effectively, you are on public display, open for view and imitation twenty-four-seven.

In writing all that, I can admit that I am not a great role model. I act on whims, with logical and rational reasoning often taking a backseat. I can be a sarcastic, pessimistic, undisciplined, glass-half-empty, stubborn type of person. My epitaph would probably read “Consistent in her inconsistencies”.

So I can’t really complain when my seven-year-old throws her wet towel on the floor or grumble when I have to unravel underwear from her inside out pants while sorting laundry. I can’t call her a slob because I would essentially be calling myself one, seeing I can’t adhere to my own rules.

I’m constantly nagging my kids to drink more water but I happily drink coffee and tea instead. Talk about being a hypocrite!

How can I scold my daughter for being a hoarder, tucking away her possessions and never being able to find anything when she is a by-product of my habits? My father in-law just the other day asked where the old relic of a juicing machine he gave me was, and seriously, it could have been misplaced in the linen closet for all I knew!

And when my toddler started to point his tiny finger at me and say, “I want you to do it right this minute young lady!”, who do I have to blame for that?

Like most parents, I make sure my children feel loved and supported, are well-fed, dressed in clean clothes, help with school readers, try to volunteer where I can, take them to social events and extra-curricula activities.

I know that I’m not a terrible mother, but I struggle to focus and I find it exhausting being mindful as a parent. Despite it all, I continue to try.

This week when I found myself with homework that tested my patience and ability, I was quick to chuck a self-pity party and throw in the towel. I had spat the dummy and thrown an embarrassing toddler tantrum. My daughter started homework that same week and when prompted, her responses fell between “I don’t want to do it” and “it’s too hard”. Coincidence much?

I had to dig deep and do some self-reflection. What was I teaching my kids? What effects were my actions having on them? Am I being the role model that I want to be? How am I shaping my children for the future?

If I want my daughter to face challenges with aplomb, to learn from mistakes and not be afraid of trying, to be resilient and persevere, I had to pull my finger out and set the example.

So I sat down, batted away the self-doubt and attempted to do my homework. I tried and failed multiple times. I practiced and practiced until I produced a piece that I felt content with. I had done my homework to the best of my ability. I gave it a go.

Not surprisingly, my daughter also decided to give her homework a go.

The results got me thinking… maybe I’ll become a vegetarian. Do you reckon my children will want to eat their veggies then?

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