THE MAGIC WAND

Have you watched ‘Bluey’? It’s our favourite animated children’s Australian TV series.

The main characters are Bluey, a six-year-old Blue Heeler puppy and her sister Bingo, a four-year-old Red Heeler puppy. Together, they go on adventures through their imaginative role-playing. The parents, Chilli and Bandit, often engage the pups in their games, supporting and encouraging their curiosity at the world surrounding them.

The show focuses on the importance of play-based learning, constructive positive parenting and emotional validation. It realistically depicts the modern-day nuclear family, with both parents working, sharing the housework and child rearing. There is no gender typecasting or parenting role stereotyping. The father is emotionally intelligent and portrayed as a positive father figure.

There is a great deal of resembalance between Bandit and my husband – in character not appearance! He is Bandit minus the Australian twang and goofiness. He has patience in spades, dives into role-playing with ease, and has the right balance of discipline and love. He’s funny, smart and a very hands on co-parent. He’s a great dad.

Bluey gives my children, Mandy (7 y.o.) and Henry (3 y.o.) lots of ideas to incorporate into their own imaginative role-plays. One episode in particular, called The Magic Xylophone, involving a xylophone that has the ability to freeze the dad, was inspiration for an ongoing game in our house.

Like the magic xylophone, the children have a special magic ‘wand’ that can freeze people. Saying the word ‘magic’ has the power to freeze and unfreeze. My husband takes his role-playing very seriously, never ever breaking from character… under any circumstances. It’s funny to a point. And then, it gets incredibly annoying. Especially, if the children refuse to unfreeze him and only they have the ability to wield this magic wand.

I could be talking to him about an important matter and the minute he is frozen, not even the seriousness of the conversation will make him respond. I could be needing a fresh towel and be stuck cold in the bathroom, and he would not break character to save me from catching pneumonia. Absolutely NOTHING will break him from character unless it’s the magic wand. It has gotten so annoying, that now I hide the wand and pretend it’s lost. Until the children find my hiding spot, wreak a bit of wand havoc and then it’s conveniently lost again.

Recently, I was on the phone with a medical receptionist, trying to organise the family’s influenza vaccinations. I had been quite anxious about getting an appointment and organising our injections to be performed in the medical clinic’s car park to avoid COVID-19 exposure. With the phone to my ear, I glanced over to my husband and asked if the available appointment worked with his schedule. To my horror, my three-year-old had located the wand. With a wave of his hand, an excited squeal, Henry uttered the five-letter word that I’ve come to despise. MAGIC! In a jiffy, my husband was frozen.

“Henry, unmagic your dad.”

Giggles. Giggles. More giggles. Two unrelenting kids. A frozen dad. No answer to my VERY important question.

“HENRY! Unmagic your dad.”

“Gary! Can you make the appointment or not? GARY!!”

All the while, the medical receptionist was huffing and puffing in my ear. She was talking of stock shortages, lack of appointments and pressured me to make a decision. If you can, imagine me with steam coming from my ears and nose. I lost my cool.

For the first time, my husband broke character and responded. I got my answer and made the appointment but at what cost? I broke the magic. I diluted the power of the wand. I destroyed their game of make-believe. The kids were mighty upset with me.

This was a game that brought two fighting siblings together, nurtured creativity and imagination, helped them share and co-operate and supported their emotional and social development. The magic wand was a powerful tool of learning. I had to fix the problem that I had created. I thought to myself “What would Chilli do?”

The next day, as I was sweeping the floor, Henry walked past with his magic wand. He pointed the wand in my direction and said MAGIC! I froze and to my delight, Henry yelled out to his sister “Mandy! Mandy, come quick! I froze Mummy.” Something that has never happened before. We ended up playing Magic Wand until we couldn’t keep the laughter in anymore.

“The magic is back!” I heard my three-year-old whisper to his sister.

I finished sweeping with a huge smile on my face. Who knew I’d be happy to hear that word again?!

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SUMMER SLEEP CYCLE

Every summer school holiday (six weeks – a week before Christmas to the end of January), I dream of sitting on a secluded island, surrounded by waitstaff topping up my fruity mimosas and hand feeding me grapes. I laze around a pool (no sand), food belly (not just my fat belly) protruding from underneath my tankini and reading steamy historical romances on my kindle (stop judging!). Not a care in the world. Not a soul (besides the discreet staff) to see me at my worst.

In reality, I am the full-time carer of two wayward children that constantly bicker over nonsense and defer to violence at the drop of a hat. My husband likes to comment that if he was the stay-at-home parent, he would treat parenting like a job. He would have a schedule. He would have activities. He would go for walks to nearby parks. He would have the kids preoccupied, therefore reducing the chances of fighting. The implication here is that he would have these children under some semblance of control. Insert a loud sigh. I really hope my poor deluded husband gets to test his theory one of these days – and soon.

Last I remember, having a job meant getting paid real money, enjoying hot coffees, eating uninterrupted lunch with both hands, clocking on and off, and not rushing through potty time to break up arguments. You actually have a moment to yourself. To breathe. To think. To relax.

The debate of who has it harder – the stay-at-home parent or the full-time parent – sometimes surfaces during school holidays. We are different in many ways; parenting styles, approaches to discipline and play, personal strengths and weaknesses. But regardless of our differences, we understand and respect the other person’s contribution to the family unit.

The summer school holiday just past was brutal, more so than usual. Due to the ongoing bushfires raging in many parts of Victoria (Australia), there were days where the air quality was hazardous, and we were stuck indoors. There were days of extreme hot weather, leading to three perspiring bodies laying prone in front of an overworked and underfiltered air-conditioner. The emergence of Coronavirus meant I was wary of taking the children to public places like shopping or play centres. Uncle TV came out to watch the kids now and then but the side effects of square eyes and delayed meltdown was not a worthwhile trade-off, so I avoided using this form of babysitting where possible. And there was only so much art and crafts that we could handle.

Ultimately, we suffered from cabin fever from being inside, sleep deprivation from the heat and the dreaded boredom. We were all a bit tetchy by the end of school break.

Like Tom Jones says “It’s not unusual.” It happens EVERY year. It’s nothing new. You would think I’d have my act together by now. You would think I’d have action plans in place. But every year there are add-ons, creating new challenges that throw out any expectations.

This year’s add-ons included late nights from visitors, daylight savings, transitioning our three-year-old from cot to bed, and overnight potty training. There were midnight requests “Mummy, can you do me a favour and hold my hand?” “Mummy, can you cuddle me? I’m scared.” There were early morning visits to the loo and problems with resettling. There were many potty accidents (the carpets will never be the same). These add-ons further impacted on everyone’s quality of sleep and made the summer school holidays infinitely harder.

Recently, a friend commented on how she loves school holidays and spending time with her son, and that she misses him when he goes back to school (how sweet!). I could only nod in parental unity and mask my face with understanding. But in all honesty, after sending my children back to school, I did my jazzy happy dance, waved my arms in the air like I just didn’t care and screamed… I’m freeeeee!!!!

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SANDY VAGINA

I am not a fan of the beach. I don’t like crowds. I don’t like feeling self-conscious in my bathers. I don’t like stepping on hot sand. I don’t like finding sand in places where sand should not be. I don’t like getting hot and bothered under the glaring sun. I don’t like sweating. I don’t like getting sunburn. I don’t swim. I think you probably get my drift.

I would never go to the beach willingly or suggest a beach holiday destination. So when my dad suggested that we should spend a day at the beach with the kids on New Year’s Day, my immediate response was ‘Hell No!’. Unfortunately, the children and my dad banded together and whined until they broke my resolve and I relented.

We met at my parent’s house so that we could follow each other down to the beach. It was a poor start to the day when I eyed my dad carrying four camera tripods and four rain umbrellas to his boot. I got snappy when my mum attempted to toast bread as a kiddie snack for the short car trip. Already feeling annoyed, I herded my crazy parents out of the house and drove twenty minutes to the nearest beach.

It’s been an age since I’ve been to the beach and I hadn’t realised that in place of ticket meters, you have to download a parking app or call a hotline to pay for tickets. How advance is that? I guess not many people carry coins or cash anymore. Makes sense. Anyway, after fumbling around and organising that, we trekked down to the beach.

When my dad told me he had sunshade under control, I wasn’t expecting him to use cable ties to connect handheld rain umbrellas to camera tripods. He set up four tripod-umbrella creations that offered little sunshade during high noon. Then he brought out his brand-new drone, a device he didn’t know how to set up or fly and had to get my husband to fix.

Meanwhile, my mum was unloading an array of sweet biscuits and cakes for the kids to eat and get high off.

Luckily, the children were eager to slather on sunscreen and make their way down to the water. Our three-year-old and I waded in the shallow waters and built sand castles while my husband and our seven-year-old ventured out further.

My suggestion of setting up closer to the water was dismissed in favour of being near the bushes for extra shade. This meant that anyone who returned wet was immediately covered in sand. There was sand everywhere! I had sand in all crevices and suffered a nasty case of inner thigh chafing.

On the way home, while I was complaining about the sand, my daughter yelled out “Mummy, why are you so grumpy? Have you got a sandy vagina?!” and cackled like a crazy hyena.

I was grumpy and being a sandy vagina. As for sand in the vagina, that was quite possible too.

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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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