Reflections on being Benedict’s mama

Friday – this week I am grateful for … being by myself

Today, for the very first time, I left my child with strangers. Dropped him off and walked out. Read More

Friday – this week I am grateful for a plan that comes together

Those who know me well, really really well, will know I love a good plan. Better yet, I love it when a plan comes together; just like Mr T. It has been difficult, during my first year of motherhood, to adjust to the reality that my plans are no longer entirely in my control. Read More

The Ballets Russes – National Gallery Australia

Today our mothers’ group met at NGA. We had a cup of coffee while the kids wreaked havoc in the cafe then we were off to the Ballets Russes exhibit. The best part of this is that there is a Family Play Room inside the exhibition. It’s all ages, with arty themed activities – staffed by child friendly staff. The big kids were guided by staff in drawing with lovely pencils on beautiful black stock paper and sticking coloured tape on the walls to make pictures. The little kids rumbled with the fabric covered foam blocks. There are shape sorters and magnetic shapes in all sizes and colours to stick on the walls.

After our kids had had enough of being trapped in their strollers, we parked in the Family Room. One of my best mama friends and I took turns to watch kids while the other gazed in amazement at the costumes – stunningly beautiful. The kids enjoyed it, the mamas enjoyed it.


The highlight for Benedict, was the newly completed fountain out the front. It has a cascade of water down the face of black granite. The face edge is exactly one year old boy armpit high. As soon as Benedict was freed from his stroller, he walked straight to the water and plunged both arms into the fountain. He was instantly soaked to the skin. I took off his shoes, his outer layer of clothes and he alternated between splashing in the fountain and playing with the gravel to the amusement of the cafe patrons and staff. Well most of them. Some people gave disapproving looks. Several arty old chaps thought it was the funniest thing they had seen in a while. I just smiled and drank my coffee.

Bloggy blog blog blog

I have advanced linguistic skills. I can converse with the best of them. I’ve made conversation with the Deputy Prime Minister of Namibia (true), as well as many other people. At the moment though, on any given day, if you listened to me speak, you would think I had some sort of disorder or at least a vocal tic. This is because I spend the best part of 12 hours a day with a small child. So we don’t have lunch we have ‘lunch lunch lunch’, we don’t wear a nappy we wear a ‘nap nap nappy’ and we don’t sleep we have a ‘snoozy snooze snooze snooze’.
I don’t subscribe to the ‘baby talk’ concept. And yet I can be found in the supermarket asking the baby if he thinks ‘daddy would like muesli’. As if the baby cares what his father eats for breakfast!

I have tried, once I caught myself at it, to just talk in a normal way to Benedict. I am however, like the DVD that has a ‘pause’ when changing layers. By 7pm I am not always ‘speaking normally’ and continuing with the story. Sometimes, for a long time after 7pm, I am babbling incomprehensibly because I have been doing that all afternoon.

Do you see they cars? The black ones? The grey ones? Do you see them?

Of course he bloody sees them. He knows what a car is, and a cat and a dog and a bird. Tell me something I don’t know mama, the baby thinks as I go on about them! The experts tell you to tell the child what you are doing – describe your actions they say. This leads me to deliriously tell Robert how I am now putting the pasta into the pot; ‘see how it is boiling’ ‘see the steam’, and now I am going to stir the sauce ‘let’s get a spoon!’  And look! mama is now going to get really demented! She’s about to go outside and water the plant plant plants with a glass of wine, before she really loses her mind completely!

Three years and counting – open letter to my child about his father

Three years and counting

Dear Benedict,

Soon it will be the three year anniversary of the day I met your father. I started my new job on 5th November 2007. Remember remember the fifth of November, I thought, well if I don’t like the ACT Government, I can always blow it up.

I met your daddy for the first time on my second day of work. It was a Wednesday. The Tuesday was a public holiday – no one told me that. I started on Monday in an almost entirely empty office with most people, including your daddy, taking the Monday off. So after an exhausting and emotionally draining first day in my new job, I had a day off to recover. Then on Wednesday when everyone actually came to work, I spend the morning being introduced to people; whose names I immediately forgot. I was quite freaked out. I then rounded out the morning with an absolutely appalling sandwich for lunch because I didn’t know where to go.

In the afternoon I was sitting quietly at my new desk, reading a cheery card from your lovely Mamie who was a bit worried and had sent me a card and some lip balm (it’s windy in Canberra in the spring, she thought). Suddenly, there was a crashing sound close by. The sound of sheet metal being hit with something. I jumped out of my chair with surprise to see your daddy standing next to my empty filing cabinet. His foot had collided with the cabinet in his enthusiasm to cross the space between me and the rest of the office.

Hello, he said, I’m Robert. After a few pleasantries he wandered off again to his little windowless glass box about 5 metres away. As they say that was the beginning of the end.

Shortly after this day, he asked me out for coffee to interrogate me about what I knew about industrial relations. I think I passed – I seemed to be able to answer his questions ok. I didn’t know at the time, but he had done his research (smart man your daddy). He knew who I was – while I was still quite in the dark about him! He seemed to like me. So I started giving him a hard time.

I cracked some jokes at his expense. He asked me out for drink after work. Soon I was seeing him everyday. I didn’t want there to be another single day when I didn’t see him.

My darling boy, your daddy is a wonderful, kind, witty and generous man. He knows a lot of things – like where everything is in the whole world, the names of all the Australian Prime Ministers in order to Federation. He knows lots about books and has read a huge number of them. He knows all about how government works. He can cook – really delicious food, and his lemon tart is enough to make you grow out of your egg allergy quick smart.

Most importantly Benedict, your daddy knows what really matters in life. Love, laughter, fun and joy. He is loving. He has loved you since you were just an idea and not yet a boy. He is the best daddy a boy could have. I weep with happiness at having met your daddy.

Your mama x

The ninth month … the joy of finger food

Benedict is now nine months old. He has five teeth, weighs 9kgs and is a happy furniture cruiser. He is developing a wicked sense of humour. He sleeps. He eats. It is easier.

He likes to feed himself. It is an appalling messy business. He has started to enjoy cruskits and banana – sometimes together. He’ll eat avocado, banana, rice crackers, fennel and cat food. (That last one was an accident but he wasn’t about to spit it out once he got it in his mouth!)

He is still learning how much to put in his mouth at any one time. Large pieces of pear disappear in with surprising results. His face contorts as he tries to work out how to chew it to make it more manageable. I am at ease with the mess now, it gives him such joy.

I do think I can do everything … but I can’t

I am at home this morning waiting for my newly engaged cleaner to arrive. We are, unfortunately, still renting. For reasons too complicated and distressing to go into here, this situation has been going on longer than I would have liked. The house is old. It is hard to keep clean. Paint flakes. Carpet fluffs. Lino cracks. Things rust, leak and sag. Dust eddies. I have been struggling. I am banned by my GP from doing housework to alleviate my tendonitis and carpel tunnel (since when did I have so many things wrong with me?) I regularly ignore the advice and scrub away. It has however been a struggle. It is frustrating.

In an attempt to regain some control and spurred on by our bi-annual estate agent ‘inspection’ I have engaged a cleaner. Highly recommended. Considered excellent.

There is only one problem. The way it makes me feel and the way I should feel. I should feel glad. Some of the jobs in my life are done by someone else. Great! My house will be clean regularly. Great! It isn’t a huge inconvenience or an issue. Great! Except it is an issue. A big issue.

For me, in spite of myself, and my firmly held commitment to feminism, liberation from drudgery, to being independent, I am still feeling like the act of not doing my own housework calls my womanhood into question. I feel like I should be able to do it. I should be able to take care of my child, cook good food, keep the house clean and have some fun. After all I am not doing paid work. But I can’t. No one else can either! Quick straw poll of my mum friends. Nearly all of them have some assistance. Or a cleaner, a baby sitter, someone to help them.

Maybe then it isn’t a woman problem. Maybe it is a control issue. It could be that I think I can do everything. That sounds more plausible. I do think I can do everything. Alone. preferably unassisted and between the hours of 1 and 3pm when Benedict is usually asleep. This is, of course, ridiculous and will send me insane or to an early grave or both.

Motherhood it seems is about acceptance. Lots and lots and lots of it. Accept yourself. Accept you get the children you deserve. Acceptance that you cannot do everything. Acceptance that you will have bad days where you want to leave home and never return, expose the child on the hillside or drop him off with his father and then leave home. Your hair will get long. Your nails will be bad. Your bed won’t get made. Your house will be filthy – some of the time.

Accept too that you can see your friends. Get a cleaner. Go to mothers’ group. Cuddle your partner. Ignore the dirty house and play with Duplo. Cuddle your baby and make him laugh.

Focusing on the big issues …

My son Benedict has eczema. It is under control. He’s fine. But that fact calls into play a whole lot of associated facts. Allergies go hand in hand with eczema. So after a vomiting episode and hives when he had a bit of cows milk formula we sought some advice.

The extremely expensive immunologist tested my little boy by drawing little dots on his forearm and then placing drops of testing fluid on the spots. So far so fine. Then he pricked the skin under each dot with a tiny lance! Wincing, it was me of course,  holding Benedict’s arm. He tolerated it fairly well. He did however react immediately to milk, to egg and a little bit to peanuts.

While the results were not entirely unexpected, my mind turned immediately to the big issues. OH MY GOD … Easter! Chocolate! Cheese! Cake! and then school! peanut butter! and oh my god I’ve got one of THOSE children. I am one of those mothers who has to watch like a hawk. Who takes her kids to parties and won’t let them eat anything! Who scrutinises labels and interrogates restauranteurs. FUCK!

This was all happening internally. Outwardly, I was calmly nodding sagely and watching carefully as the  immunologist calmly explained that the risk is low. That his reactions are not life threatening and that he’d probably grow out of it. CAKE! CHOCOLATE! FUCK! There was no need for further testing until he is about to start school. I checked Robert’s face. He was calm and nodding less sagely and I sensed him about to ask a lot of questions. CAKE! FUCK!

The immunologist then ran through the protocols and what to avoid. A nd then he did something great. He wrote CAKE in block capitals and drew a little circle about the size of a one cent piece. Most kids, he said, can have a little bit of cake. YES YES YES! Then he drew more little circles and indicated that if the first little piece of cake goes ok then try a little bit more and so on. PHEW.

When I read the full report which came in the mail a few days later I was further reassured. He is allergic. It’s not too serious. There is no need for EpiPens and panic stations at every party. He might not be allergic to peanut but it is best to avoid it. My motherhood was once again about to be tested. I will need to rethink how to feed my child and how to keep him safe. I will have to be vigilant and interrogate restaurants and read labels. Easter, I realised is easy, dark chocolate all the way for everyone. We already know he likes it.

How to go for coffee

Step one – invite three mamas and bubbas.
Step two – take two prams and one babe in arms
Step three – sit at a small table
Step four – swap babies and talk animatedly
Step five – look away when the coffees arrive at the too small table in reach of the baby boy.

Grandparental tour … rescuing ducks

Having safely arrived in Coffs Harbour and spent the night, the trip story has to wait, we were feeling good and about to go visiting our friends.

I had organised everyone, dressed Benedict and was heading out to the front gate to get into the car when I heard car horns and shouting, first from my mother and then from some men – in French.

I opened the gate and there was a line of traffic at a standstill, my mother waving her arms and two Senegalese refugees who live opposite shouting and gesticulating on the road. Oh and the four ducks that were attempting to cross High Street in the five minutes that is peak hour in Coffs. The panicked ducks were attempting to waddle across the road and being herded this way and that by the confused and amused Senegalese. I was holding Benedict in my arms who watched fascinated while three adults stood in the road and waved their arms.

Eventually the drake and two of the females made it to our side of the street. One remaining female was stranded and was waddling up and down trying to work out what to do. The men helped mum herd the three ducks into the property next to ours where they made it safely into the backyard under the mango tree and then took off with a frenzy of flapping and quacking. This prompted the remaining duck to panic and run back on to the road. She was shooed across and then she too took off into the sky.

The Senegalese were laughing and shouting Avez-vous voir? Voir les canards? and probably Qui sont ces fous femmes? but I can’t be sure of that!

Robert appeared when all the shouting and gesticulating was over and mum excitedly described the scene. What sort of ducks, he asked. What colour was the drake? Brown ducks and the drake had a beautiful blue neck she replied. Ah, Robert said. Wood ducks. And a mallard drake – they are introduced you are supposed to shoot them on sight! Apparently the mallard drakes interbreed with the wood ducks and pollute the wild gene pool.

So somewhere in Coffs a lucky mallard with his stolen harem lives to quack another day.

What I did today

Here’s what I did today.
Got up at 6am – fed Benedict. Made tea. Made Benedict’s breakfast. Put some washing on. Had a shower. Had breakfast, and gave Benedict his breakfast. Hung out washing. Made the bed. Fed Benedict. Encouraged Benedict to have a sleep. Made some baby food. Did some more washing. Cleaned the mantel piece above the stove and reorganised. Wrote some emails. Unpacked another bag from our trip. Downloaded photos to phone. Hung out some more washing. Dressed Benedict. Drove to mothers’ group. Drove past and got take away coffee and then went back. Had a nice sing along and chat. Met the plumber at 12noon and discussed the leaking shower. Prepared Benedict’s lunch and gave it to him. Put him to bed. Read my emails. Ate some lunch. Talked to Robert. Folded washing and stuffed nappies. Prepared the beef casserole for dinner. Answered the door to the handyman who came to fix the backdoor. Washed up. Played with Benedict. Went to collect the cat from the cattery. Played with Benedict and folded yet more washing. Encouraged Benedict to have another sleep. Tidied up. Did more washing. Read some emails. Fed Benedict. Took washing off the line. Prepared Benedict’s dinner. Fed him. Played with him. Put away his clean clothes. Finished preparing the dinner. Hung out some more washing. Put Benedict to bed after his bath and feed. Ate dinner.  Caught up on twitter. Made tea. Read some of a magazine. Put on more washing.

Where’s the baby? Or operation get the cat

Unlike ‘where’s the baby?’ where you wake up hallucinating that you’ve lost the baby, dropped the baby, squashed the baby or worse, where’s the baby version two, is when you put the baby somewhere and then return to the same spot and the baby isn’t there! Cue hysterical shouting ‘where’s the baby?’

In your absence the baby has flicked over and rolled or commando crawled to behind the couch – out of plain sight. It is enough to give you a serious heart attack the first and second time. By the third time you know that you better first of all locate the cat because wherever she is, the baby has surely followed.

Benedict now is focused on ‘operation get the cat’ pretty much from the moment he lays eyes on Sylvie in the morning til he goes to bed. I’m sure he sits in the car seat wondering where she can be hiding.

Sylvie will be the reason that Benedict started to crawl so soon – he is absolutely determined to get her and grab hold of a handful of fur and skin! Unfortunately, Sylvie, being a cat, is just as curious about Benedict and it seems is taunting him. She sits just barely out of his reach and then slowly creeps away from him as he lunges toward her. She sits on the arm of the chair where he is sitting on my lap. She sits on the outer limit of his playmat – just out of his immediate reach.

We all know where this will end. Indeed I know better than most. I bear the scars to this day from our enormous ginger tom Orlando from the time I hit him with the bannister brush age three. After the cat scratched me, my mother whacked me for whacking the cat! Far out it is complicated. Sylvie, of course, views Benedict as an interloper who in vying for my affection, for my lap and my free time. She insists on asking to be let in and let out and in and out about 32 times a morning as punishment for my divided attention.

If she doesn’t get her way he climbs the fly screen outside the kitchen and clings there mewing piteously – until I let her in again, for the 57th time that day. Benedict employs a much more direct method. Having failed, usually, to get the cat, he just cries until I come and rescue him from behind the couch or under the table or wherever Sylvie has led him. It is the beginning of a long long relationship.