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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READING BETWEEN THE LINES

Parent teacher interviews are an important time when parents can find out more on their child’s progress at school. It’s a time when parents get an insight from someone with an objective view on their child’s academic, emotional and social development.

Why are parent teacher interviews necessary for me?

I know nothing. My child’s after school conversations starts with a grunt and ends with a monosyllabic word.
Me: “How was your day?”
Mandy: noncommittal grunt
Me: “What did you do?”
Mandy: “Stuff.”
End of conversation.

My child forgets to relay important messages about classroom changes.
Me: (eyeing the tumbleweeds blowing past in the wind) “Mandy, why are you the only kid lining up?”
Mandy: “I don’t know!”
Me: “Are you sure you’re supposed to line up here today?”
Mandy: “Oh yeah, we’re supposed to line up at the gym.”

I’m assuming (and you know what they say about assuming things) that my child hears and conveys messages accurately.
Me: “Where is your school reader?”
Mandy: “We don’t have to do them anymore.”
Me: “Did Ms France say that?”
Mandy: “Not exactly in words.”
Me: “What does that even mean?”
Mandy: “Mum, trust me. I know these things.”

Also, I’m an introvert and uncomfortable with ad hoc meetings unless it’s necessary. Plus, I don’t like discussing awkward or sensitive matters with other parents nearby. So these parent teacher interviews are imperative to finding out what and how my daughter is doing at school and for me to relay any important information to the teacher.

We all know that parents can be sensitive when it comes to any perceived criticisms of their progeny. It’s no surprise that teachers would try to be tactful with their choice of words when describing their pupils. No teacher will say ‘your child is a nightmare to deal with!’ instead they might say ‘your child is full of life, vivacious’. They aren’t going to say ‘your child drives me nuts with their endless stupid questions!’ but they might choose to say ‘your child has a curious mind’. They might really want to say ‘your kid is a chuckle head’ but to limit death threats, they resort to ‘your child has untapped potential’.

As parents we are too close to the subject, too invested, too attached, to see any flaws and might expect to hear positive feedback. I wonder how much of the spiel that teachers give about their students are individualised and not a regurgitation of the same old, just to keep the peace. And if it isn’t a blanket statement that they give all parents, are they really saying what they mean or is it code for something else?


I enter the classroom, excited to hear news of my daughter’s progress. We do the obligatory small talk before delving into proper discussions.

“Is there anything you want to know about Mandy’s progress?” asks Mandy’s grade one teacher, Ms France.

I only have one burning question on my mind, I want to know if my daughter has told porkies about wearing her new glasses for class.

“No. Mandy told me she didn’t have to wear them anymore!” informs Ms France. “Sometimes when I see her sitting at the back of the room with her friends, I’ll ask her if wants to come sit closer but she’ll refuse. She doesn’t seem to want to wear her glasses and sometimes, when I ask about them, she tells me it’s not in her bag.”

Translation: I tried a few times but really, it’s not in my job description.

I should have trusted my gut. My Princess Porkie Lies will be getting a stern talking to tonight.

“Her writing is good. She found a way of finish the tasks quicker by writing lists. So now, I prompt her to do more writing and get her to think of other ways she could write. Last time, she conceded with doing a letter,” says Ms France, hesitating between sentences.

Translation: Your daughter is a Shortcut Sally.

I nod in understanding. This sounds like the Mandy I know.

“Her math is good. They are learning about addition, subtraction, fractions and a bit of division. Maybe you could do additions at home and make it fun with money. Kids love money,” says Ms France.

Translation: She sucks at maths. She needs help otherwise she has no hope with the other concepts.

Again, I nod in understanding. Her dad has some work cut out for him!

“Her reading is good. Just to warn you in the report, her progression isn’t the same as last time as the reading material has gotten harder,”

Translation: I’m telling you this in case you’re a high achieving parent and expect your child’s trajectory to be linear.

“She’s doing well,” says Ms France, leaning back and pushing out her chair.

Translation: Your time allocation is over. Please don’t ask anymore questions. I’d like to finish on time to go home and eat dinner. I’m starving!

Mirroring her body language to leave, because it’s plain as the nose on one’s face, I bid farewell and go pick up my gem. I’ll need to pull up my sleeves, put in some elbow grease, and do a bit of polishing to make my prized treasure shine bright like a diamond!


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MY REMEDY FOR SCHOOL HOLIDAY BOREDOM

I promised myself that these school holidays, I would try really hard not to use Uncle TV to babysit my children. As much as the kids love him and I love that he is part of our lives and offers free babysitting at a drop of a hat, I wanted to give them experiences that didn’t involve technology or send me broke.

I had a plan to do loads of arts and crafts; rock painting, slime making, water painting, drawing, craft making with recycled materials. It was supposed to last a week. It kept them occupied for three days. During that time, the squabbling was kept to a minimum but without a backup plan for activities, they were at risk of boredom. We all know bored kids equals broken things, fighting and nagging.

So what did I do?

I took them for a big walk to a nearby oval and let them run off their leashes until they came back panting and tired. They enjoyed the fresh air and freedom. Two weary and satisfied children, one content parent and a good night’s sleep. Nine days left.

I created Project Weed Annihilation. The side court was chock-full of overgrown weeds, so I set them to work weeding. They thought it was fun (suckers!). Two tired and happy children, one grateful parent and a weed-free court. Eight days left.

I persuaded them to role-play ‘Cleaning Crew’. It involved cleaning the entire house and lasted several days. It was epic. They weren’t impressed with that game. Two grumpy children, one ecstatic parent and a cleaned house. Six days left.

I strongly encouraged them to play ‘Shopping at the Supermarket’. It involved making a grocery list and buying said groceries. This got me on the sh*tlist. Two angry children, one tired parent and groceries no one helped me carry. Five days left.

My husband took pity on our situation and suggested we do an overnight stay in a country town a couple of hours away. The catch? We would take public transport and walk EVERYWHERE. Anyone who knows me understands that I am ill-equipped for walking. Something about chaffing thighs, itchy sweating and sore feet just doesn’t appeal to me.

It took four bloody hours, three trains and a bus ride to get to our destination! We walked for hours on end! The only thing I was looking forward to was getting to the hotel and resting my tired feet. It was a pity that when I booked the place, I hadn’t realised it was a drive-in motel inn in the middle of bumfudge nowhere. We had to walk the Great Plains and trek Mount Everest to find solace in a hovel.

My germaphobe alert beacon was in full distress mode. The shower had black mould infestation, there was hair on the bathroom floor, towels had suspect stains, dust infiltrated all living spaces, and the beds left an itchy sensation. There was no way I was even bothering with their complimentary communal gym, sauna and spa. We couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

Highlights were an overpriced tram ride, eating from a kebab food truck for lunch and McDonald’s for dinner, and a walk through a beautiful park. The kids saw many interesting sights like a giant skeleton head, a British tram cafe, and statues. Two exhausted and satisfied children, two wiped out parents and experiences for the memory bank. We’re in the home stretch now.

It’s important to give children valuable experiences to create memories, provide learning experiences and develop an understanding of the world around them.

We asked Henry, the train/tram enthusiast, what his favourite part of the trip was.

His answer? The motel.


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REMEMBER TO BREATHE

Breathe in. Breathe out. Relax. No big deal. They are children. You’ve presented to adults before, and they are a tougher crowd. This is easy peasy.

I stop fiddling with the computer, take a deep breath and turn to face my audience. The chatter stops, a quiet descends on the room and a hundred curious eyes stare back at me.

Shit in a box. Why are there so many of them? And staring so intently? Oh man, it’s ‘Children of the Corn’ creepy.

My face heats with embarrassment. Sweat beads form on my brow. My heart thumps like a jack hammer against my ribs. My armpits feel damp. Giant waves of nausea rolls through me. I could puke. The power pose and the upbeat song did little to quell my nervousness.

I stand next to the teacher as she introduces me to the grade one year level but I quickly make use of the nearby stool upon realising that my legs don’t want to play ball. I babble about needing to drink water for my non-existent dry cough. I rub my sweaty palms along my thighs. I take another fortifying breath and try to calm my frayed nerves. I’m a jumbled mess inside. I feel exposed and naked, like my self-worth rests on this one presentation. It’s no wonder public speaking is feared more than death.

“Hi everyone, I’m really excited to be here,” I say, mustering all the enthusiasm that an anxiety ridden person with a humongous fear of public speaking can. I hear the tremble in my voice. I wonder if anyone else notices.

As I begin my presentation, a glance at one of the teachers makes me lose my train of thought. People say to make eye contact with the audience and to find a friendly face to build your confidence. So what do I do? My eyes scan and fall on the one person in the room wearing a frown.

Why is she scowling? She looks like she’s constipated. Maybe she’s concentrating. Yes, that’s gotta be it. No way is she judging me so early in the piece. Fudge, where was I?

“Uh… so… um… you take a plane to get there?” I stutter as I point my shaky finger towards the map on the screen.

Fudge, I have no idea where I am.

People say to rehearse but not memorise because it will give you a false sense of security and can hasten brain freeze if you forget a phrase or sentence or are thrown off track. The increase in stress hormones causes a shut down of the frontal lobe making retrieval of memories harder. You can guess what I chose to do, can’t you? The distraction causes my stress levels to erupt to catastrophic levels and my mind decides that it has had enough. It erects a sign, ‘Gone Fishing’ and blanks. I cut my losses with this slide. One down, seven to go.

“Let’s move on to the next slide,” I mumble, turning back to the computer to press the arrow key. Nothing happens. The screen goes dark.

Shit. Train wreck! Can I have a meltdown now? I don’t need this. Fudge, carry on fool, carry on!

A teacher fixes the PowerPoint presentation. I turn to face the children, who are waiting expectantly. People say to take elongated pauses, to take deep calming breaths and to shift your attention to the next point. I take a moment to remember why I am here. I look at Mandy and gather my strength to continue.

Remember to breathe. Calm the farm. I CAN DO THIS!

I decide to forget my talk and go with the flow. I take pauses between slides and pick a couple of important points that are interesting for a seven-year-old. I interact with the crowd by asking impromptu questions. I remember to smile and eventually I relax. The children are eager with their questions and that encourages me to soldier on. There are smiles and giggles. Seeing their excitement and interest makes me feel less anxious about my performance.

Enjoy this. Live in the moment. No one is judging you.

I see a child fervently waving his hand to get my attention, so I stop to let him ask a question.

“My dad’s a lawyer,” he states proudly.

Ugh, OK. Cool story dude.

“Wow, that’s… awesome,” I reply. Children really do say the most random shit.

I plow through my presentation and I’m relieved to feel relaxed and confident delivering my last slide. The bell goes and the children ready to go home. There is a small group that stay back to tell me how much they enjoyed my presentation. One of the boys brings me a page of his artwork as a gift for my efforts. A girl tells me that she thinks I look pretty in my dress. The teachers tell me I did a great job. I’m just glad it’s over.

As I leave hand in hand with my daughter, she glances up at me, eyes full of admiration and says, “You did a really good job Mum.” My heart swells with love for my child. Her words of praise make every minute of my discomfort and anxiety worthwhile. Plus, it really wasn’t that bad.

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DON’T TAKE THOSE FREEBIES!

I love freebies. It’s like winning the lottery, only with better odds. It doesn’t matter if it’s a free sample of haemorrhoid cream that I’ll never use or a brochure that will end up in my recycle bin. If it’s free, I’m attracted to it like a fly on a turd. It’s revolting, shameless and somewhat disturbing.

So as a professional freebie collection agent, I’ve learnt a few valuable lessons that I can impart.


Bananas, Nutella, Eggs, Weetbix, Milo, Vanish

I recite the words over in my head.

Coles Little Shop. The current bane of my existence. How has my life become so consumed by this madness?

I curse the marketing gurus at Coles for their ingenious campaign. Damn these super addictive gimmicks! It certainly hooked, lined, and sinkered the crapola out of me. I’m the perfect gullible marketer’s wet dream.

I went from casually getting a few collectables with the weekly groceries to religiously scrolling advertisements on Gumtree for trades and cheap buys. Never in my life have I dreamed of meeting a total stranger; another grown-ass adult, to trade or buy promotional toys. Yet, that’s exactly what I do, under the pretense of getting the whole collection for my five-year-old daughter.

I’ve secured a transaction with someone called MeiMei. She claims to have all six of my… ahem, I mean my daughter’s missing items at a steal. Is it too good to be true? Possibly.

As I park out front of the address MeiMei texted me and stare up at the massive apartment building, I reconsider the rationality of my actions. I have the kids in the car. No one knows I’m here, not even my husband. MeiMei could be an axe murderer.

I quickly rectify the situation by texting my bestie.

“Hey, I’m at x address. If I don’t text you in fifteen minutes, call the cops.”

There. Problem solved.

“Mummy, why are we just sitting here?” asks Mandy.

“I’m just thinking,” I reply. I text MeiMei to let her know that I’m outside her building.

My phone dings. ‘Meet me at Room 42, Level 2.’

The theme song to Jaws starts to play in my mind as I conjure up a whole host of bloody and graphic scenarios of my death. I get a cold sweat; my hands are shaking. I can’t do this! It’s crazy. There’s no way I can escape with two kids dragging me down!

“Mummy! Are we getting the Little Shop!” demands Mandy, exasperated with my procrastination.

I text MeiMei to meet us downstairs instead. It seems like the most sensible thing to do.

“Ok. I want you to lock the doors when I leave and call this number if anything happens,” I tell Mandy.

Mandy looks worried so I try to placate her. “It’s ok. Nothing will happen. I’m just being extra cautious.”

I mentally facepalm myself for putting us through this unnecessary danger and stress. I’m certainly not in the running for the Mother-Of-The-Year Award.

I gape at the person who just exited the doors. The Asian woman is wearing a pair of six-inch black platform pumps, bright pink bike shorts and a pink feathered crop top.

Woah. She can’t possibly chase me down in those heels. I’m probably safe.

“Here, you check,” MeiMei says. No introduction. No pleasantries. Straight to business.

I feel like I’m in a scene of Breaking Bad. I glance about nervously, hand over the cash and grab the goods before rushing back to the car. I forget to say goodbye; I’m that skittish.

I chuck the goods over my shoulder to my daughter and laugh at the absurdity of the situation.

Two weeks later…

I grab my foot and wince in agony. I look down at the offending object. Stupid Little Shop miniatures are strewn all over the carpet like landmines waiting to exact maximum damage.

Life lesson: What began as a freebie ended in unnecessary anxiety and a miniature Dettol bottle embedded into the sole of my foot. Nothing is truly free.

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INNOCENT WHITE LIES

When is a lie acceptable? Are there degrees of lying? It is less of a lie if it’s a “white lie”? Or is lying just plain old lying?

What about telling your children that Santa exists? Or the Easter Bunny? Or the Tooth Fairy?

And if you choose to do so, when do you tell them the truth? That you have indeed, lied to them.

My parents didn’t give me fairy tales or half-truths. We were poor. If I got a present, they made damn sure I knew that they had scraped and saved every dollar to get me that ONE present. That one item would be a necessity; no frivolous toy; no gift wrapping; no card. There was no illusion of some old jovial fat dude climbing down a chimney in the middle of the night to place a beautifully wrapped gift under a Christmas tree. No Easter Bunny was pooping chocolate eggs on our lawns. And the Tooth Fairy? I was lucky to see the dentist.

Maybe that’s why I overcompensate as a parent. I want to give them the magic and fun that I didn’t get as a child. I want them to look back fondly at their childhood memories.

I’ll admit that a small part of me wants to conform to society norms. I don’t want my child to blurt out, “It’s a lie! Your parents are lying to you! There’s no such thing as Santa.”

I can ponder away the day trying to find reason and rhyme for my parenting choices. Inevitably, I will have to come clean with my lies.

We place the baby tooth into a plastic bag and put it under Mandy’s pillow.

“So the Tooth Fairy will come, take my tooth and give me a coin?” Mandy queries.

I can’t seem to look her in the eyes. “Yes, so I’m told.”

“What does she look like? How does she get my tooth if I’m lying on the pillow? How much money will I get? What happens with the teeth?”

Oh boy.

My brain scrambles for answers. I don’t recall seeing a “How to lie effectively to your child” section in the parenting manual I received from the maternal health nurse.

“Uh, no-one has seen the Tooth Fairy, so we don’t know the mechanics or logistics,” I reply. “Also, you get ONE gold coin per tooth. That’s all I know.”

Mandy contemplates my answers for a moment.

“Mummy, do you give me presents as well as Santa or are you pretending to be Santa?”

I pause. She’s at an age where her friends are probably discussing the rumours. This is the perfect opportunity to come clean, but then she’s likely to ruin it for her little brother.

“No, Mummy and Daddy give you presents as well as Santa,” I reluctantly reply.

“What about the Easter Bunny? Are you putting the eggs in the lawn for us to find?”

I feel the weight of her accusing stare. I shift uncomfortably. Mandy could become an excellent cross-examiner one day.

“Me?” I exclaim in feigned shock, “I don’t have time for that!”

“Hmm.” Mandy responds. She’s onto me. The jig is probably up.

“If you have any further questions, ask your dad. He’s the expert,” I deflect. “Hey, let’s read a book.”

I am the Master of Deflection and Timely Distractions.

“I think I’ll ask Ally tomorrow if she thinks the Tooth Fairy is real,” Mandy casually says. “She knows everything.”

I shudder at the thought of what’s to come.

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