Friday – this week I am grateful for …

Today is Friday again. Here are my top five for this week.


Finally ditching Telstra and setting up fancy answering machine.

I love a good answering machine. I used to have one in my flat in Elizabeth Bay that played Arrival of the Queen of Sheba when anyone phoned! I thought that was hilarious. I was 18.

Recently I have been less than impressed with the rising charges by our nation’s largest teleco and then I received yet another missive from ‘marketing’ telling me they were charging me more for exactly the same service and then offering me more stuff I don’t use for another huge amount per month. So I blew them off. I churned over to our internet provider who do not charge a flag fall – a charge for the privilege of accessing the network you already pay to access! I spoke to no-one, I just filled in their simple electronic form, they did everything and SMS’ed me when it was finalised – brilliant.

I then, finally, pressed the record button and recorded a personalised greeting from the four of us – anyone who would like to phone the baby; feel free to leave him a message if he’s busy.


Long Service Leave

The public service is a wonderful thing. It provides much needed support to the community, makes thing run and delivers what they call ‘public value’. I’ve been delivering public value for more than 7 years now.

After seven years of toil and suffering (believe me being a woman in the Roads and Traffic Authority of NSW had some suffering attached) the public service give you a little gift of paid leave called Long Service; an entitlement which is transferable and thus which travels around if you do, it followed me to Canberra. Long Service Leave is like a sabbatical but with better pay. The time I have accrued is just enough to cover me through to the Christmas week which is great. It means we won’t starve and I can be home a little bit longer with my gorgeous boy.



Last night was the first book club meeting. I tried hard to be nice and not say anything inflammatory – I only knew two of the thirteen people. As they say on Twitter #FAIL

I immediately set the cat among the pigeons by declaring my affections for what they were calling ‘the French book’ which turned out to be Atomised by Michel Houellebecq. They all, to a person hated it. I loved that book. In fact I have loved everything of his I have read – maybe blackness in literature is my thing, maybe I just love French existentialists. After that stunning opening, I also defending idle parenting and twitter. No fans for those either. I made some comments about the characterisation of This Is How and the author M.J Hyland’s style. They while we watched an incredibly pretentious interview with her, I looked her up on Twitter (further endearing me to them by whipping out my iphone.)

Long and the short, I am grateful for book club, because I remembered, thanks to them, that not everyone agrees with me. The notions I accept as reasonable, and some of my still firming parenting views, are a bit ‘radical’ it seems for some people. It is good to remember this for when I am forced to deal with classroom teachers and other members of the education establishment – and other parents who may be slightly put off by idle and free range parenting.


Cook Islands Holiday

It is also Benedict’s first birthday on the 27 December (lucky lucky boy). Robert and I have not been on holidays since 2008. I have in fact only been on holidays properly once in the past 10 years. We went for one week to Tasmania and it was lovely but we haven’t been anywhere for more than a few days since – and an awful lot has happened.

We are going with Benedict to the Cook Islands for a week over Christmas. I am so excited I can hardly breathe.


White jacket and new jeans

I don’t wear a lot of white, the odd linen shirt when it is bloody hot and singlet top here and there. However, when I was pregnant my lovely friend Susan took me shopping in a boutique which stocks Mela Perdie. God how I love that woman’s clothes. I bought a white Chanel style jersey jacket. It is completely fabulous. It’s been sitting in my wardrobe for over twelve months. I haven’t really had to guts to wear much – actually never – it is too white, too nice – but I wore it last night with my new jeans and my ballet flats that Robert bought me. I felt like a million bucks.

Book review – The Idle Parent – Tom Hodgkinson

Why Laid-back Parents Raise Happier and Healthier Kids

Tom Hodgkinson, author of How to Be Idle and The Freedom Manifesto, is described by philosopher Alain de Botton as having written, “the most counter-intuitive but most helpful and consoling child-raising manual I’ve yet read”. Having purposefully avoided reading child raising manuals, with the exception of Baby Love, which was helpful to me in a practical sense, I loved the idea of a book that combined being horizontal with parenting.

I hate the idea of being so worried about Benedict that I can’t take him to the park, or let him walk to school or play with sticks or whatever else could hurt him, injure him or not be good for him. I am appalled at the idea that I will have to watch him assiduously.  I am also concerned about children who don’t know how to entertain themselves, who think that helping with the washing up is optional not expected, and that there shouldn’t be time for adults to be alone and not surrounded by children and their demands. I wanted alternatives to the parenting I frequently see around me, an alternative to the tyrannical infant ordering the lives of its parents.

My interest in The Idle Parent was sparked by the visit to Australia of Lenore Skenazy, author of Free Range Kids. What most struck me was the outrage of parents to her idea of take your kids to the park and leave them there all day. How completely outrageous! What an idea! Leave them alone!  How revolutionary! Skenazy’s visit sparked off another round of public commentary on raising children, modern life and parenting. So to Tom Hodgkinson and The Idle Parent.

Once I had my hands on the book, I happily read the manifesto. It contains sensible ideas, like rejecting the idea that parenting requires hard work, that parents should lie in bed as long as possible, and that time is more important than money. Great! Not working too hard, staying in bed and happily embracing time with the children.

The central thesis of The Idle Parent is that contemporary ideas of life and parenting are founded in the precept that children need to be moulded and improved. This notion is informed by the Elizabethan idea, Hodgkinson argues, that the child is waiting to be formed into an ‘ideal’ of perfection. Taken together with modern competition and the Protestant work ethic; the idea of perfect children is threatening to crush childhood by forcing parents into ‘improving’ their children with ‘organised team sport’, school, over-stimulation and over-engineered experiences which results in huge stress for all involved. These patterns of thought also confine children to a weak position where they cannot think for themselves, are overly dependent on adults and are only being prepared for their own time on the treadmill of the wage slave.

Hodgkinson’s ideas of The Idle Parent, reflect his own experience and are, in part, derived from his interpretation of the works of Rousseau and Locke, who argued in various texts for leaving children alone and to their own devices. In short in letting them be free. This does not, however, mean that the parents are doing all the work and the children are running wild, far from it. In Hodgkinson’s world of idle parenting, the parent is able to be idle because they have freed themselves, and their family, from the relentless treadmill of materialism and capitalism. Bring back child labour, he cries! By this he means, do not do everything for the child so that they are helpless. Do not make work sound like suffering but organise yourself so that children help and that chores are fun. Play music, take turns, create games out of things that have to be done. Give children responsibility.

While not a path open to us all, he exhorts us to spend more time at home, and less time at work; particularly when the children are little. This provides more time for sleep, meaning you will be less tired and likely to be irritated and cranky and also more time for you to be idle. This does imply a substantial amount of thrift and doing without, but along the way Hodgkinson provides money saving ideas, like not buying expensive battery operated toys, making things at home and living in the country. Like I said, options not always open to us all. Saving money by not buying things children don’t really need is however, something that most parents could easily do.

The key to idle parenting is to get rid of whingeing. All parents want this. In Hodgkinson’s world, the fastest way to achieve this is not to whinge yourself. If your child does not hear you complaining about washing up or chores or work, then they won’t complain either, he argues. Especially, little children who hear and absorb everything you DO much more than what you say. Do it lightly, play music, have fun. Don’t tell them what to do, ask them to join in. Better still, Hodgkinson says, is to teach them how to get their own juice, breakfast or whatever they need so you can stay in bed – a strategy he employs with some success by his own account.

Hodgkinson is a huge fan of children roaming in packs. If the children are to leave you alone to be idle, they must be engaged in something else, or with someone else. He describes his ideal as a party in a field. Adults drinking in a marquee at one end and flocks of children cavorting at the other end. Everyone enjoying themselves. No nagging, hovering, and no whingeing about being bored.

If I have to take issue with the Idle Parent, it is with the relentless middle class assumptions that underlie what is an otherwise enjoyable approach to dealing with the conflicts thrown up by parenting. Working through the book, I found that as Hodgkinson shifted from explaining his ideas to describing how to implement them he was describing a world that was not within the reach of most people, certainly not most people outside the comfortable environment of the southern counties of England. The ideas in The Idle Parent become more difficult to implement, and less practical for all but a few. He argues for a rejection of materialism and the capitalist impulse to acquisition. He also thinks it is a good idea to live in the country, keep animals and home school your children. His reasons for this are all based on a sort of anti-puritan movement which would see children made resilient and robust by discovering things themselves – he waxes lyrically for several pages about activities that strike fear into people – let children outside of the gaze of adults play with matches, build cubbies, climb trees, keep pets. Drag your children out of the house away from television and the internet. End all organised activities, don’t trap them in the car and let children explore and be free. Down with School is the title of one chapter.

Hodgkinson tempers these ideas with practical advice on things like saying no. He quotes Rousseau who writes; “Let your ‘No’ once uttered, be a wall of brass against which the child may exhaust his strength some five or six times, but in the end he will try no more to overthrow it.” Hodgkinson also suggests having only a few important rules so you need say no less often.

Taking the best of Hodgkinson’s concepts, to embrace, really embrace, being an idle parent there are a few ideas to let go of first. You need to be there, you need to not care what anyone thinks, you need to ignore reports from school, reject television or at least limit it to as few hours as possible. All sound advice but best started when the children are babies and not after as Hodgkinson acknowledges.

Putting aside some of the impracticalities of Hodgkinson’s implementation of his ideas, the Idle Parent advocates children fitting in. Parents doing what they want to do and children following them – in most existing families this would be an adjustment. I will start today. I will also say no and mean it when the time comes. I will try to let go of my fear of the sleep-over and embrace children roaming through my backyard because while they are doing that, I can be inside drinking tea and reading a book. - Australia's #1 online bookstore

Friday; things I’m grateful for

I shameless stole this idea from Naomi who writes beautifully here Under the Yardarm. She stole it from someone else and so it goes around and around.

I have been wondering about blogging and have become more than a little intimidated by all the bloggers I’ve been reading. Lots of them write for a living. I have been writing while Benedict sleeps. I have also been thinking I need to diversify the topics I am writing about, lest the blog become; baby, blah blah blah, baby, blah blah, cute thing baby did, blah blah zzzzzzz.

With this in mind I am creating a new category entitled ‘The rest of my life’ to make sure I write about the other aspects of my life. Herewith, the first entry as a trial for a weekly event Friday; things I’m grateful for.


This week I am grateful for Robert. He has many fine qualities but the one that stands out this week is his steadfastness. He stands sure. He never wavers. Even when all the chips are down, being ground into the dirt by someone else’s heel, he’s able to find a tiny glimmer of light, a speck of sunlight to smile about.


Spring. It has cheered me up no end to wear my thongs, to plant some seeds, to be outside while the birds sing (even if I have ranted about the fucking wattle birds, koels calling at night and those damn miners; it is still nice to live in a place with lots of birds.) The flowering annuals and my peony rose which gave me two flowers this year, bring such joy.



My boobs. Sounds odd to be grateful for something that I’ve had for a long long time however bear with me. I am glad to have weaned Benedict. It was painful and emotional and I did not in the slightest enjoy it. Now it is complete and my body is returning to me, I am glad of my bosom and the how it makes me feel – not so mothery any more but womanly nonetheless.


Date night! Our newly formed round robin of baby sitting and date nights has yet to really hit its straps but when it does I can imagine the great excitement of knowing that there is a planned event waiting. In supporting our friends too, we are all contributing to keeping each other sane and to enjoying our children’s babyhood just that little bit more – by leaving them at home with someone else.


My beautiful mama friends. Without them this year would have been impossible misery.

And a plug for my writerly friend Theresa who’s award-winning short story is recognised in this new publication Award Winning Australian Writing 2010

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.

Date night … where to go? What to do?

Robert has a lot of good ideas. He has also been a parent before and he knows secret parenting things that first time parents don’t. Things like how to fit car seats. How to get rid of poo – magically like it was never there. How to do things one-handed. He also knows about baby sitting. And round-robin baby sitting circles. Robert values his family and his relationship. He knows that couples need to spend time together away from their children to stay sane.

So we set up the baby-sitting circle. What a brilliant idea. One couple go out, another mum minds their baby. The dad minds his own baby. The babies get to stay home. There is couple time and then also the bonus of alone time for the other two. Last week I packed my book and my nail file (of course!) and headed over to mind my lovely favourite baby girl for my friends. It went well. The gorgeous baby slept. The was dinner delicious. My nails got done. Their stereo is better than ours – much better. Another bonus, a night off jobs! No work to do at someone elses’ house!

This week is our turn. Tomorrow! I have no idea where to go or what to wear. Not much time now to decide. Adult conversation here we come! Ideas please.


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.

Unexpected moments of bliss in sickness

Everyone is sick. All the mamas and all the bubbas. The Tuesday morning mothers’ group only had five mums and bubs. The babies are snotty and grizzly. It’s Canberra. The weather is on the turn and the wind is blowing.

While we all struggled through the week, on Friday there was a little golden moment of peace and bliss. In the mid morning, Benedict fell asleep on my lap. He hasn’t fallen asleep deeply in my arms since he was a tiny tiny boy. He is now too big to fit neatly but his languorous limbs fall gently over my lap and on to the chair. His little face was pressed into my chest and he slept peacefully for a while. His rhythmic breathing and steadily beating heart were soothing to me as well. I had plenty of time to study his outrageously long eyelashes and sweet features.

The surprise was that he did it twice. On Saturday it was an hour and a half. Luckily I was prepared with blankey and book. Glorious to comfort your child so completely just by lying still.

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.

Keeping on keeping on – Jenn this one is for you!

I promised to blog today. Benedict woke up at 1-30am and then again at 5am. I went in a 5am to find him face down and unable to get himself right side up again. After a feed and a cuddle with mama the day officially started at 06-30.

I took the chance at 08-30 to have another thirty minutes sleep and not have a shower. I knew what this would mean. To have a shower with an awake baby is not easy. I set up a great activity centre in the hall – closed all the doors. Benedict was sitting in the midst of his fun filled hall and I went into the shower. I was all wet when the little hand appeared on the tiles – having crawled in to find me he discovered someone had locked his mama in a glass box and turned on the water! For the next two minutes I tried to have a shower while he wailed and banged on the door. Great! That 30 minutes of sleep though – still worth it.

Now I have been home alone solo-parenting for 5 days. I am tired. My throat is scratchy. I have taken a number of shortcuts. I have stopped changing the night singlet for an under onesie in the day time. One less piece of washing. I haven’t wiped the highchair after every single meal. I left Benedict in the car outside the coffee shop while I got my coffee. (He was in plain sight all the time and the windows were down. He was wide awake and able to scream his lungs out if necessary.) He didn’t even stop smiling.

I had a long chat with the other mums at mothers’ group about our various concerns. To some extent we are all up against it. Even now. Even though some of the babies are nearly 9 months. We are all still learning. Some of us are getting dangerously small amounts of sleep. But we have to keep going.

My challenge at the moment is to keep on keeping on. Or as they say in England – Keep Calm and Carry On.

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.