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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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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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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IT’S A JUNGLE OUT THERE

Mayhem. Manic. Madness. Mental. Monkeys.

So many M words to describe a play centre on a weekend.

To children it’s a happy place to run amok. A place where they can gorge on junk food. A place where they are given more freedom while still under the parental eye. Supposed relaxed parents sit around savouring good coffee nearby. It’s a safe and secure place. Idealistically a parent or carer’s refuge.

In reality, it looks more like a jungle of mayhem with children of all ages running in random directions, hyped up on sugar and a teardrop away from epic tantrums. Obnoxiously loud music reverberates around the cavernous room coupled with the cacophany of sounds from excited children. If you didn’t have a headache upon entering, you’re bound to leave with one.

Once you relinquish your child at the entrance of the gym, sighting them is as rare as a deep sea Oarfish in Japan. Unless of course, you have a toddler that needs your assistance then you must enter the jungle, fight your way through suffocating high and low terrains, breathe in the cloying smell of sweat and inevitable get stuck in some netting.

Not to mention the minefield of social etiquette for ‘playing nice’ and ‘taking turns’ because really, it’s a free-for-all when we’re dealing with young children.

So when I find myself crawling through an uncomfortably small tube after Henry, sweating like I’m dying in Bikram yoga, I momentarily imagine being stuck. I figure at least I might get a quick nap in while management tries to pry my ass out. My daydreaming is shortlived as I see Henry pushing another toddler over. I rush over and grab Henry’s hand from striking the poor kid again, who is wailing on the floor next to his mother.

“I am so sorry. Is your child ok? Henry doesn’t normally hit other kids. I’m not sure why he did that.” I ramble out an apology, make Henry say sorry and hightail away.

After the third victim of Henry’s outlash, I call it day. There is only so much glaring from parents (rightfully so) and apologising I can do.

I drag a screaming and kicking Henry away from the gym.

“Sorry mummy. Sorry, little boy!” Henry wails.

I sigh in defeat as I carry my mad monkey out of this jungle, envisaging a bunch of laughing chimpanzees throwing their poop at the back of my head for not predicting this tantrum.

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FUDGE

Swearing, cussing, cursing, using profanities…

Some say it’s a form of expression. Some say it’s great for social bonding. Some say it’s a democratic right. Some even say it offers stress and analgesic relief!

Most people would agree that it’s considered foul language and that it’s socially unacceptable to swear in front of children. I’ve spent a good number of years retraining myself to say “fudge” instead of “f#@k” and “sugar” instead of “sh*t” so that my kids can keep their virginal ears intact.

I’m not naive. I knew that one day Mandy would learn it from friends or from the schoolyard. I just wasn’t prepared for it to happen so soon.

“Mummy, I know the F word. Teagan told me today,” says Mandy excitedly, like she’s just unwrapped an LOL Surprise. I hate those things.

Astonished with Mandy’s revelation, I spin around to face her, “What F word?” I’m in total denial mode.

“The F word,” Mandy exclaims, using her fingers to air quote.

“Oh the F word,” I say, pretending to understand her meaning. “Yeah fudge is a pretty cool word.”

I turn back to the kitchen counter and absentmindedly prepare dinner. I silently pray for this discussion to end.

“That’s not the F word,” Mandy says with indignation. “Teagan has a sister in grade five, and she told her.”

Mandy pulls me down and whispers conspiratorially, “It’s friggin hell.”

She looks at me for confirmation. I release a huge sigh of relief, “Yes darling, that’s the F word.”

I give her my most serious looking expression. “You are a big girl now Mandy and you will hear bad words that adults sometimes use but it’s important that you don’t use them.”

“Why can adults use bad words but kids can’t?” asks Mandy.

My mind searches for the most appropriate answer but my mouth just blurts out, “Because you’ll get in trouble if the teachers hear you say them.”

Ah sh*t, did I just say that? That’s the best I could come up with? Too late now, I just have to run with it.

I momentarily hold my breath, waiting for a barrage of questions.

Mandy gives me a suspicious look but reluctantly agrees and saunters off.

Phew! Thank ‘fudge’ for small reprieves.

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LAME

Mornings. Every day is the same. The children clamber on top of my slumbered body and I fight a losing battle to stay in bed. I don’t need an alarm. They are overrated. I send my bright-eyed and bushy-tailed kids to the TV for a momentary reprieve. I need to get up but every single fibre of my being battles against my willpower. The warmth of the bed is ever so enticing. I’m not perky in the mornings. In fact, it’s like I wake up on the wrong side of the bed every single day. It’s part of the reason why morning school runs are so much harder for me.

I drag my weary self out of bed and trudge to the kitchen. I am grumpy. Being tired has that effect. I need coffee. The morning is getting on and I need to get Mandy ready for school and Henry ready for library time.

“Mandy! Henry! Breakfast!” I yell out. I hear the stomping of little people from the lounge room to the kitchen.

“Good morning,” I say as cheerfully as I can muster, giving each a kiss.

“Mum, I want noodles,” Mandy demands as she sits on the stool.

I shake my head, “Try again love.”

I plop Henry into his highchair and potter about getting his Weetbix and toast ready.

“Scrambled eggs?” Mandy asks.

“That’s a negative Chief,” I say spreading margarine on the toast.

Mandy huffs and crosses her arms, “What can I have then?!”

I spoon Weetbix into Henry’s mouth and look at Mandy, “We’re running late so you can have a toast or Weetbix.”

Mandy groans dramatically and puts her head onto her arms and slouches on the kitchen countertop. She mumbles something.

“What’s that?” I ask.

“Toast!” Mandy grouses.

“I’m sorry I thought I heard toast but I didn’t hear a please!” I reply, frowning at her lack of manners.

“Please!” Mandy retorts, knowing I wouldn’t give up until she relented.

I make her toast and get myself a cup of coffee. Grant left for work early today. It’s a shame he’s not here to help with breakfast. An ally comes in handy with tough negotiations.

We’re ready and out of the door in record time. It’s a miracle given how slow Mandy eats and the time it takes me to catch Henry for a nappy change. I reverse out of the driveway, make it down to the end of the street when Mandy yells for me to stop. I turn to face her, worried by the distress in her voice.

“We forgot my book for book week!” Mandy exclaims.

I silently curse. We have exactly twelve minutes until the bell rings and it takes us five minutes to get a park and five minutes to walk to class. We were cutting it mighty fine.

“Can we not worry about it?” I ask, praying she’ll agree.

“No Mum! We need to go back to get it!” Mandy argues heatedly.

I groan in frustration. I am at the end of the street, facing a busy main street. It would take ages to turn around in this traffic. I decide to reverse and do a three point turn, silently hoping that cars wouldn’t come in either direction and give me the stink eye. We get back to the house without incident. I park, open the door and get Mandy to run in to find the book.

She runs back in a fluster, “Where is it? I left it on the counter.”

“I think it’s on the dining table,” I suggest.

She runs out again, “It’s not there!”

I do a mental head slap. Of course it’s not there. It’s in her school bag. Exactly where I put it this morning. Dammit.

“Sorry I remember now. I put it in your bag this morning,” I tell her, embarrassed by my forgetfulness.

“Mum, seriously! You’re so lame!” Mandy says and gets into the car.

When the heck had she learnt this word? And when did I become a lame? I sigh inwardly. I didn’t even get a chance to drink my coffee. Now that’s lame.

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THE WATER BOTTLE

The morning school run is the bane of my existence and the after school assault is akin to corporal punishment, especially if you take into account the dreaded “tantrums”. Bring home an exhausted prep child from school, add in some “hanger”, plus some poorly received words from just about anyone and you have yourself the formula to a ready-made explosion waiting to be unleashed onto some poor fool. Namely, Mum.

Mandy is always on the precipice of a meltdown after school, so I tend to tiptoe a little in order to keep some peace. More importantly, to cling onto any shred of sanity I may have left for the day.

“Darling, would you like a piece of fruit as a snack before dinner?” I ask sweetly, hoping for the first time she relents and takes the healthier option.

“Can I have chips?” she asks, expectantly.


Henry hears the word chips and sidles up to his big sister, hand reaching out expectantly.

“No sweetheart. How about some Vegemite cheese sandwiches?” I counter offer, praying that I haven’t set off the bomb. I’ve still got to prepare dinner, get their lunches ready for tomorrow, bathe the troublesome two and help with school readers. A gigantic tantrum would be a setback. One that I could do without.

Mandy’s face starts to collapse in untold pain at my sheer audacity to refuse her the one thing she ever wanted in her life. Tears start streaming down her flushed cheeks. The wailing begins. Henry looks at her in confusion. He’s not sure why she’s crying, but he’s become worried. He mirrors her behaviour and starts crying himself.

I look to the heavens above and ask why? For the love of my sanity, why?!

I look down at my crying offspring and debate the merits of relenting with a few chips versus my sanity.

Giving in will mean I’m reinforcing bad behaviour. Bad saturated fats and salts aren’t good for growing bodies and minds. It’s almost dinner and it will ruin their dinner.

A slew of thoughts crosses my mind in a frantic disorderly manner.

The wailing becomes louder. There’s screaming involved now. Slamming of doors is probably not far off. I don’t think our doors can handle another beating. Ah heck! I don’t want to deal with this. I need a wine, possibly a long tropical island vacation, away from any wailing.

“Fine!! Only a handful. I mean it,” I say with as much conviction as I can muster.


“Yeah right. I’m such a bloody pushover.” I think to myself.

“Please watch your brother for a minute, so I can get dinner ready and your lunch organised for tomorrow,” I plead with Mandy.

“Yes Mum,” Mandy replies, walking away with her brother and the chips. The tears stopping as quickly as they began.

I turn around and potter about in the kitchen for a few moments. I’m about to wash Mandy’s school water bottle. It’s a silly expensive Smiggle bottle that she insisted she needed otherwise she couldn’t possibly go to school. This bottle had a flimsy soft body that was collapsible. The darn thing was hard to open and clean.

As I am about to lift the lid, I see in the corner of my vision Henry pushing his high chair towards the counter. As quick as a flash, he uses it to climb up onto the counter top. I squeeze that damn bottle upon reflex as I race over to grab Henry before he falls off the counter and hurts himself. Water ends up everywhere. I look at my cheeky giggling child and the watery mess on the floor.

Blast that stupid water bottle.

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