‘Home-Schooling’

Oftentimes stress manifests from internal pressures, the pressure we place on ourselves to achieve things exactly as we believe they should be; a spotless house when we invite guests into our home (you know, when we are allowed to do so), an extremely competent child when it comes to home-schooling – Wait, did I say ‘home-schooling’?

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Victoria was one of the first states to take to ‘online learning;’ hence the terminology used by schools, teachers, politicians. Initially, the term ‘online learning’ felt like a spin-off from the actual reality – just as Scomo insists on reporters not using the ‘L’ word, the mere utterance of the word ‘Lockdown’ akin to saying ‘Voldemort’ in a Harry Potter film; utterly unthinkable.

Though it feels like a lockdown (especially bunkered down with 3 kids), looks like a lockdown (bare streets, quiet roads), sounds like a lockdown (excepting, of course, the few reasons we’re permitted to venture out); it’s definitely not a lockdown – Did I say ‘lockdown,’ I meant ‘that word’ as Scomo refers to it.

The term ‘online-learning’ feels equally tenuous. Our children are learning from home, accessing resources from home, establishing their workspace at home; BUT, this is not home-schooling. 

Unconvinced, I used the term ‘home-schooling’ during a Zoom chat with friends. Though learning from home seemed inevitable, this was before any official announcement was made, when most of us were still drifting somewhere between panic and denial.

‘I’m just trying to get my head around whether or not I’ll be home-schooling,’ I said, when asked how I was going. 

‘It’s not home-schooling,’ my friend corrected me, one of those extremely competent secondary school teachers who had been working tirelessly to prepare for the likely event of learning from home.

‘Right…’ I replied.

Having never made the decision to take a child out of main-stream education for the purpose of learning at home, and despite, being a teacher myself – I should have known better, given that I, personally, was not in the throes of designing curriculum or setting up online classrooms for my child – still, I was convinced that what we were about to embark could only be described as ‘home-schooling.’ But here’s why this is dangerous thinking.

I said at the beginning of this piece that a key driver of stress comes from our own set of unrealistic expectations. In the case of our children, sometimes our own undoing comes from the failure to recognise that, despite, perhaps, displaying similar character traits or physical attributes to us, they are, in fact, separate, living, breathing individuals who are working to make their own individual mark on the world.

Hovering over my grade-oner, intently watching videos posted by his teachers, pressing all the buttons on his device, later pointing out all of his spelling errors – while the other two young ones ran around the dining table squealing, yelling, crying – I was clearly was far too involved in the whole affair.

A common frustration among parents is the difficulty in getting children to listen. ‘If I have to tell you one more time…!’ we cry out of sheer frustration. But sometimes, especially when it comes to our own children, parents are the ones who need to be told.

At the end of a well-considered, encouraging message from our School Principal was the final statement, intended as a lingering thought to register with parents, ‘…you are not HOMESCHOOLING your children…you are not responsible for ‘delivering’ our curriculum!’ – A friendly communication, albeit with the capitalisation and exclamation mark deemed necessary.

Then came another reminder from my son, in between mother and son both apologising for expressing our frustrations at one another; ‘I can do this, Mum!’ my school-boy insisted as I begrudgingly released my hold over his device.

And then finally, came the diplomatic words from my son’s teacher said over video conference, I don’t remember the exact wording, only that they were the words I needed. I believe it was something about the necessity of assessing an authentic piece of work – You mean, you’re not assessing me?!

With my three-year-old hammering his half-empty yoghurt tub on the back door, imprinting yoghurt stamps along the glass, my one-year old bawling at my feet every time I attempted to put her down; finally, the message began to sink in. With my school-boy set up by the window (where I could still observe him from afar), ready to write his narrative, I gathered the two little ones as if conducting a necessary evacuation (which, in a way, it was) and set outside to play on the swings. It was there, I achieved the trifecta I was after; two, playful happy children, one focused, very mature little school-boy writing freely at his designated workspace.

Though it came as an epiphany to me; out of all the stakeholders invested in my child’s education, it turns out the only one who thought term 2 was to be conducted as ‘home-schooling’ was me.

COVID-19

I have never been the type of mum to become absorbed in crafts, not at the expense of getting in a mess. In our home, we do not have home-made shakers – plastic bottles filled with rice, or sensory stations – stacked tubs filled with sand, macaroni, sea shells or other wonderful sensory play. Save some Lego and a trainset, our toys are not housed according to theme or purpose. I haven’t the patience for sorting little tiny parts into corresponding plastic tubs. No child could possibly follow this system – not when one of the most frequently asked questions by my Year Seven students in their first term at high school was always which colour pen do I use?? 

So, while I admire those mums who provide an in-home kinder program, continually engaging their children in painting and water play and pipe-cleaners – those mums who encourage an inquiring mind, who do their best not to hurry along their child where a learning opportunity exists – allowing their pooch a good sniff before moving on to the next lamp post – for me, fun may come in many forms and it need not be messy. 

Thanks to the outsourcing of messy play at play group and play dates, it has always been easy to let myself off the hook. Neat, eh? Indeed, it was very neat. But now that the structures in which my children largely engaged in messy play are no longer permitted, I am adapting to a ‘new normal.’ 

Building a bank of activities, like a teacher’s toolbox (always a necessity for a Casual Relief Teacher), I’m screen-shotting children’s craft ideas for later use: home-made playdough, scavenger-hunts, obstacle courses, forts out of sheets. Not only am I engaging in messy play, I am actively seeking it out. 

What I didn’t realise, before COVID-19 – before my daily existence included frequent updates of the rising death toll, and the associated worrying of what this virus might mean for my family, society, and well… all of humanity – was that in limiting messy activities I was also limiting the ways in which I engage with my children more broadly; my imagination restricted by the bounds of neatness. 

I am aware that this sense of optimism I am now projecting may be fleeting, and is probably just a happy holiday from the fear and anxiety that most of us have been experiencing. And that still in school holiday mode, I am not yet feeling the pressure to ‘home-school.’ For me, these early days are simply about enjoying my children.

And so, things I did little of, I now do a lot. Outside, I push the two youngest ones on the swings, singing nursery rhymes and ‘We’re going on a Bear Hunt.’ On the trampoline, all three little ones lie quietly, while I sing to them; a song we learnt at play group after which they all jump up full of life, ready to do it all again. I’m playing board games I haven’t played in forever, teaching my eldest son Monopoly whilst attempting to model how to lose gracefully – something I need a little more practice at, especially when losing to a six-year old. At the P.M.’s suggestion, I’m even giving puzzles a crack.

Now, more than ever, I am acutely aware of the need to embrace life’s distractions from the confusing mess of a world in which we now live; From my obsession in checking news media in an attempt to know more in a time when so much is unknown – our six-year-old groaning each time Scomo delivers yet another press release, ‘is Scott Morrison finished yet?’

But amongst all the noise in the bombardment of media, in all its various forms, there is one message that resonates for me. And that is, for our children’s generation, COVID-19 will be their defining moment in history; how we, as parents, chose to react will directly feed into how our children remember this time, forever. Though children are often more adaptable than most adults, it’s often surprising how much they take in.

       *

I overheard my husband tucking in our boys, who both have a habit of using bedtime to engage in long-winded discussions, not uncommonly stringing out bedtime by asking life’s big questions. Tonight’s topic: COVID-19.

‘Will it go on forever? …Will it go on till I die?’ our six-year-old asked as a parting goodnight.

‘No,’ Daddy responded. ‘But it will feel like a really long time.’

Then our three-year-old, who is often in-tune with the thinking of mummy and daddy, gave his analysis of the situation. 

‘We can’t go to coffee-shops, or movies, or out to dinner…’ he said, reeling off the list. ‘No fun.’

 ‘That’s right, no going out for carrot cake…’ Daddy agreed, relaying his own favourite weekend activity, now relegated to a pastime.

But that, of course, is our silver-lining. That in this new draconian way of life where we are urged to stay at home for the very real and scarily fragile purpose of saving lives, we adapt. And in adapting we reconnect with the things that matter most; the playful, messy and surprisingly articulate little people that largely comprise our household. 

A Mother’s Love

Sometimes as we break through into adulthood and beyond – building new relationships, forging new careers, getting married, having babies; all the things that fall under the typical trajectory of life for many of us – it is easy to forget to thank those instrumental to our success.

For those blessed with the gift of a mother’s love, there are certain times when a girl needs her mum the most. Often at points when our bodies and minds intersect into an unknown abyss, filling us with curiosity and fear.

A first period; a potentially horrifying event, even when anticipated. In the 1920’s, my grandmother took the arrival of the sudden onset of blood loss to mean her imminent death; because of this, she equipped my mother with the knowledge of what was to come; my mother imparting this knowledge to me years before I needed it. When it happened to me for the first time, both expectantly and un-expectantly, I rang my mother to collect me from school. I remember my brisk walk to her car, the strategically placed scratchy wool of my school sweater, wrapped tightly around my waist in a double knot.

One year prior, my mother, like so many mothers, daughters, sisters within our wider community, had received a breast cancer diagnosis. I could not know how much I needed my mother, how much I would need her still but I remember lying on the couch, sobbing, my kitten nestled down on my chest – my parent’s timely acquisition – her soft fur, the purring of her motor as I held her tight, gripping onto the only reality I knew; a mother who was strong and well. 

On my wedding day, I was blissfully calm, my mother having tended to many of the finer details with her endless cross-checking of lists. I was told it rained the morning of my wedding. I didn’t notice. My sister-in-law arrived to have her hair done, updating me that the flowers were yet to arrive. I was dismissive of her. I was prepared to be Zen. My mother helped me into my wedding dress. She looked at me, at the two loose strands of hair either side of my face not swept up in my hairdo, tucking one behind my ear. 

‘It’s supposed to look like that,’ I said. 

It is likely that every bride experiences this moment when everything, the planning, preparations, seem as though they are about to come unstuck. 

‘This is not you,’ my mother said. ‘This is not how you wear your hair.’ 

I calmed myself, looked in the mirror, and tucked both strands back into my hairdo; she was right.

Approaching the birth of our first child, I was intent on training myself the way one might train for a marathon. I read ‘Birth Skills’ by Juju Sundin. I had a plan for my labour. I would move through each tool at my disposal, visualisation, breathing, until I had nothing left. While lying on the hospital bed – where I had been told to stay put (there goes my plan of moving around the room during labour, I thought) – I transported myself to the Muskoka Lakes of Ontario, floating along its smooth, silky water. Muskoka was the place of my mother’s childhood summers, which became the place of my childhood summers when were lucky enough to swing it. The midwife tracking the progress of my induction, turned the drip up, amping up my contractions and thus the pain. With each incremental increase I switched my practice, from floating to swimming, steadily making my way across the bay. 

My husband, who sat by my side, rather helplessly, looked at me with smiling eyes,‘Where are you now?’ he asked. 

Eventually I replied, breathlessly, ‘Muskoka’s long gone.’ But like a runner setting small, achievable goals, channelling all their strength just to reach the next lamppost, the visualisation of smooth silky water had got me there. 

My mother didn’t just give me the gift of Muskoka, she gave me strength by showing me how to be strong. An incredibly strong woman, with a high tolerance for pain – my mother will voluntarily sit in a dentist’s chair and take the drilling without an anaesthetic. She is selfless in her care for her family, often to her own detriment; up and down from the dinner table like a yo-yo, while struggling to digest her food. She recovered from her diagnosis some twenty years ago, of which I retain only a few strands of memory of this time, because she made sure that my childhood was a happy one. 

I used to tell my mum how beautiful she was. I used to make cards and pictures with pretty flowers and words expressing the far-reaching extent of my love. It is regrettable when you fail to recognise how fortunate you have been; how fortunate you are. 

And so, as I enjoy the friendship of my mother, the strength of her love – while continuing to forge my own path in my own determined way – I recognise that a girl may forever need her mum. Something I recognise in my mum, as she speaks of her own mother, Mary Clare, my namesake, who died months before I was born. A double-barrel name with no hyphen, written in just the same way, because, my parents agreed, no other name would do.

Baby Give it Up

A woman I worked with once described breastfeeding as ‘taking a peg, latching it onto your nipple and pulling back – yeah, that’s breastfeeding,’ she said, recalling her painful – and, by all accounts, I mean painful – memories of almost a decade earlier.Indeed, ‘twang’ is the sound my parents made when recalling my mother’s decision to give up breastfeeding her last baby some thirty something years ago. (Hopefully I received all the added health benefits and extra brain cells before she called it quits). At eight months with our first child, my own painful experience of breastfeeding involved teeth. 

One of the most supportive things my eldest brother (eldest by a matter of minutes because he is a twin) said to me before the birth of our first child: ‘Don’t feel pressured to feed. You do what feels right.’ A hands-on dad, with two children of his own, my brother was equipped to offer this advice, and I was glad to receive it.

However, there are many, I would suggest, who should resist the urge to put in their two cents worth. Despite being a personal decision, Breastfeeding is a highly politicised issue – the first baby to be breastfed in parliament making history in recent years. It is wrought with pressure. 

The pressure to feed. ‘Are you going to feed?’ a question often asked of expectant mothers (Ah…yes. I plan to feed my child. I mean, I’m not going to let them starve…). 

The pressure to continue. When things are just not working, caught in the undertow of expressing after every feed; Just keep feeding. Just keep feeding is the mantra of a new mother in a zombie-like state, clamping suction cups to her overworked nipples. 

And finally, there is the pressure to stop. As the baby thrives, growing big and strong, (and big!), the perspective of others changes – remember those I spoke of who would do well to keep their opinions to themselves? Despite the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommending ‘…breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond,’ the societal pressure to ‘kick the habit’ sets in well before this milestone.[1]

This stage came rather abruptly for our first baby, born at ten pounds. (Even now as a six-year-old he is the size of an eight-year-old – A big, healthy, thriving boy.) ‘When are you going to give that up?’ well-meaning family members asked at the sight of this oversized baby nursing in my arms. A question put to me well before his first birthday. Probably as a direct result of my response, the question was then softened to ‘How long are you going to keep that up?’

In recent months, I gave up breastfeeding what we intend to be our last child. The decision came fairly easily – comparatively to our middle child for whom I felt much more conflicted in breaking this bond; that special something just for us. With our last babe, however, the timing felt right as I became ready to reclaim my body as my own.    

As my milk began to dry up, our baby, who was really knocking at the door of toddlerdom, happily folded her hands over a bottle of formula, making a sleep-inducing sound of contentment. 

In those final days, I offered my baby a last feed (and one more after that). I told my husband what I had done, quoting the Australian Breastfeeding Association as if to justify ‘my relapse,’ that weaning should occur slowly.[2] That second last feed was exactly what I needed. I sat in our bedroom, alone with my baby, looking down at her being soothed by my milk into a state of bliss.

The very last feed, however, had a different effect. It was affirming. For this mumma and her babe, the time was right.


[1]https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/infant-and-young-child-feeding, accessed 15/02/20

[2]https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bf-info/weaning-and-introducing-solids/weaning, accessed 15/02/20

Attention

Attention is something that seems to ebb and flow. A good speech almost always gives an indication of its duration in the opening lines, allowing the audience to listen to the content rather than wondering half way through: ‘How long is this guy going to talk?!’ As adults, it is quite common for the mind to wander. In meditation, you are told to acknowledge thoughts that detract from your quest for inner peace, ‘acknowledge them and let them go.’ Yet, just about every parent I know, with children old enough to talk, regularly express their frustration at being ignored; ‘He just doesn’t listen,’ ‘It’s like talking to a brick wall.’

As a teacher, in those first staff days at the start of the school year, I sit in an auditorium listening to speaker after speaker – fidgeting in my chair, checking my watch for the minutes left until morning tea – thinking is this what we put our kids through?

Eyes on me. Listening ears on. How is it we have such high expectations of our children, when most of us struggle to start the day without a morning coffee? 

And yet, I feel frustrated. I feel it when I ask the boys to put on their shoes more than once, to stay at the table to eat their dinner; not least, to stay in their bed of a night-time. I feel it when they run a little too far ahead on the walk to school, when they dart down a different aisle at the supermarket. I feel it when my seventeen-month-old lets out an ear-piercing squeal just to test out her vocal chords; mimicking her older brother whose squeal – very much intended for her benefit – is only slightly less offensive and equally obnoxious. 

As parents, we see our children as a reflection of ourselves. Just as we are happy to claim our part in our children’s achievements, we can’t help but feel a sense of inadequacy when they don’t quite meet our expectations. 

But consider that our children feel frustrated, too. They feel it when we serve up their milk in a red cup when they specifically asked for yellow. They feel it when we cut up their sandwich in triangles, when their preference has always been squares. They feel it when we have the audacity to presume, overtaking some seemingly menial task that was always going to be their job; like squeezing their toothpaste out of the tube. 

But this is human nature. In all of us, the mind is prone to wander.

For the second day in a row – after already having a chat about the importance of not running off – our big (usually responsible) school boy bolted down to the pirate ship at school pick up. Stranded with the pram between two sets of stairs, I was effectively stuck until our son chose to return from the playground. 

After a long chat and some consideration, weighing up angry mum versus pirate ship, our six-year-old was, indeed, apologetic, even wishing to consider how we might avoid this situation in the future. 

His suggestion – ‘But…do you think you could write me a note…to remind me?’

‘Sweet Thing’

While my robust, busy boys loudly stomped around the kitchen table, imitating a T-Rex, I observed the quiet, contemplative play of my niece sorting tiny beads into their rightful place. Despite our eldest son and his cousin being quite inseparable – both enjoying dress-ups, make believe and the company of each other far more than that of anyone else – the contrast between boys and girls was so apparent.

Peaceful. Calm. This is how it is to have a little girl, I thought.

At the local swimming pool, our toddler disappeared from the Women’s change-room to explore the disabled toilet next door; scarily close to the pools.  After what was probably only a few seconds, a swim instructor called out ‘Mary Clare… he’s over there.’ With a firm grasp of my child’s hand, I returned to the Women’s change room, exasperated, walking past a sweet little toddler sitting perfectly still on a plush pink towel, waiting patiently while her mother dressed. 

Quiet. Relaxed. This is how it is to have a little girl, I thought.

As the boys roared with laughter, having let one rip at the dinner table, I placed my hand on my then pregnant belly and thought, Thank God, I’m having a girl. Soon our household would experience the gender balance I craved.

‘The third child just goes with the flow,’ other mums told me, ‘they’re chilled because they have to be.’ Carted around everywhere, disrupted sleep, made to fit in with the family’s schedule; this is the reality of baby number three. A chiller and a girl! I thought.

And then…

So, this is how it is to have a little girl.

Our ‘sweet thing’ yanks bows out of her hair, loves her brothers’ trucks and is prone to giggle at fart noises. In fact, she can fart with the best of them. 

Turning around to find my toddler, pretty in pink, gliding a blue marker across our newly laid floorboards, I wonder why I had thought having a little girl would be somehow different. Pulling out power cords. Diving head first off the couch. Sorting through the recycling. Nothing is off limits from the curious mind of our ‘sweet thing.’

As our toddler girl pushes me away in her swimming lesson (her third one ever) or refuses to eat unless she has control of the spoon and the tub of yoghurt, I think, we couldn’t possibly have another stubborn, independent child; that spot is already taken… isn’t it?

And then, our ‘sweet thing,’ utters the word favoured by toddlers everywhere; ‘No!’ and I realise that boys and girls are not so different after all.

BACK TO SCHOOL

#TimetoRead No.9 April 5,2020 https://www.broadcastbooks.com.au/blog-1

As I sit eating a hot-cross bun in January, I think of how quickly we are thrown from one calendar event to the next. The Back to School signs bordering highways, brandishing shopping centres, clogging mailboxes have been preparing me for weeks for the return of a new school year – a cosmic sign grounding parents everywhere (especially the stay-at-homes) in the promise of an easier load between the hours of nine and three-thirty. 

At the end of the last school holidays, another school mum asked me how the holidays were. Apparently, my answer went against the tide. ‘Actually really good. I had two whole weeks at home with three children AND enjoyed it.’ The very next morning I was seen dragging my pre-schooler up the hill, kicking and screaming, after bolting to the back of the oval because it was time to leave the school family picnic – even at this event, moments earlier, I had professed feeling reinvigorated; actually, enjoying this mothering thing.

Now, I’ve learnt not to gloat about school holiday success (a.k.a. actually enjoying time spent with my children) because as soon as you acknowledge that you’re feeling on top of things, you lose your edge. Like sniffer dogs at an airport, kids have a heightened awareness, they sense complacency, the ease with which you parent and like a dog, they piss all over it, marking their territory if only to remind you that yours is an unconditional love. 

Just the other week I heard a mum speak about her darling boy starting high school; ‘and then I’ll be free!’ she said.  I get it, I totally get it. But sometimes I think I’m guilty of guiding my children to progress before they are ready. 

‘What if I can’t find you?’ my eldest son said, more than once, after I suggested we meet at a meeting spot in the school, instead of walking down to his classroom. 

Since it was clearly the instigator of undue anxiety, I quickly retracted my suggestion. ‘I will come to your classroom for as long as you need,’ I insisted, wondering how I would navigate all those stairs with the pram (or, perhaps, I would take the longer route).

‘What if I’m in grade six and I still need you to come to my classroom?’

‘Then, I will be there,’ I said because it’s not so terrible to feel needed. 

The Perfect Christmas

As mums, we share in a sisterhood. Women who have been there, who know what you are going through – sometimes shared in a look; that knowing glance between mums in a supermarket in the midst of a show-stopping, toddler tantrum. This sisterhood is particularly important at Christmas time. On a local mum’s Facebook forum, one mum professed the rocky ground of engaging an Elf on The Shelf, referencing the one night (or many) when having a glass of wine takes precedence (as it should) over relocating an elf.

‘Mum!’ My eldest son comes barrelling into our bedroom, one mid-December morning. ‘Elf hasn’t moved!’ 

Shit. 

Now enslaved by this tradition of Elving, I am compelled to explain myself to a five-year-old; to explain Elf’s inactivity, his doll-like stillness. Unable to cite the many valid reasons for this shortfall, to avoid cataclysmic disaster, I must remain covert. Identify simply as ‘Mummy’ – not a superhuman wonder-woman bringing Christmas joy to all. And when I asked my son, ‘What does Mrs Claus do?’ His response –‘bake cookies.’

Typical.

‘Why did you move Elf there, Mummy?’ our pre-schooler asks, pointing to the elf clinging to the top of a lampshade. 

‘I didn’t…’ 

The next morning, ‘Why did you move Elf there, Mummy?’ our pre-schooler asks again, pointing to the elf peering out of the wine rack. 

‘I didn’t…’

Day three. Finally, the penny drops as intended. ‘Mummy! This one’s a magic Elf. It moved itself there!’ he says, excitedly, gesturing to the elf partially sticking out of an empty box of mince-tarts. 

Cheeky, cheeky Elf.

I am a candle burning at both ends. Not only must I oversee Elf relocation, nightly, I must also rise early every morning to engage in a non-threatening (despite the name) Elf Hunt. Bleary eyed, I slide into my slippers, careful not to wake the toddler-baby in the hope I may return to bed. Engaging in the hunt, I must mirror the children’s excitement (and disguise my own sense of relief) at discovering that Elf has, in fact, moved.

But, mostly, I think, the pressure to make Christmas magical is self-imposed. I am reminded of this at our Play Group Christmas Party, the thought for the day being that the First Christmas was not perfect. Joseph had to decide whether to stick with Mary after news of the Immaculate Conception – that can’t have been easy to get his head around. Jesus was born in a manger – not quite the level of comfort Mary had hoped for. Christmas is not about achieving perfection. Nor, is it about carefully orchestrating the relocation of elves. 

Merry Christmas to all and to all a Good Night.

In Conversation

Recently, I saw Helen Garner speak at The Melbourne Town Hall, presented as the opening discussion to a weekend of events declaring itself to be ‘unabashedly feminist.’ I love it, I thought, as I looked around the audience of mostly women, some visibly emulating the Helen Garner of a previous decade; a self-confessed overall-wearing feminist. 

When I was in grade five, I ran into my grandmother’s old glass door. Running feet first, the glass shattered into my leg, and I fell back into a confetti of glass shards. My dad was in the car, waiting for my mum, who was hanging out washing on the line. Excited by the prospect of a play at the park, I ran through the house, past my grandmother in the kitchen, straight into the door; so clear it appeared open. 

From then on, every time we visited my grandmother, I noticed the white pattern dotted along the new safety glass, painted on like continuous double white lines, there as a warning, ‘Do Not Cross.’ Though the scars do not bother me, tiny splinters of glass still remain, and it is still tender if I experience a hard knock to my leg. I remember laying on the white sheets of the hospital bed, my leg being tended to, people gathered around me. To sooth my pain, I remember my mother promising me – probably because it was the only thing she could do at that moment to feel less helpless –  that when my leg was better, she would take me to buy a pair of overalls. The ones I had been asking for, hoping for, ever since grade five camp. Even at the age of eleven, I was a feminist in the making.

When I think of my mother at the clothes line, my father in the car. I am reminded of the virtue of patience – very much a learned behaviour – and the many ways in which women are forever squeezing just another thing in to their day, be it a load of washing, dishes, making of lunches; one more thing to fulfil their domestic duties.

Another layer of complexity is added when mothers seek to engage in something for themselves. Sometimes the window of opportunity is so small, that we create a circumstance that is less than ideal, just to feel that some part of the day is for us. For me, it was breastfeeding while writing, supporting my baby with one hand, typing with the other. For other mums, it might be exercising while their little one climbs all over them. Whatever the case, perhaps, strange to observe, it is these moments that keep us sane. 

In response to questions about her writing routine, Helen Garner spoke of herself as a mother. As a mother, she wrote when she could. When the baby slept. Between school drop-off and pick-up. She wrote out of necessity because her time was precious. She spoke of how there was a feeling of something like resentment when her child was sick because she could not write. And she is right. Nothing, I believe, gives you greater focus than being a mother. 

Dogs and Children

This has little to do with introducing existing much loved ‘fur-baby’ with precious newborn human baby. It is not about establishing a harmonious household where dogs and children may co-exist, nor is it about the benefits of children growing up with dogs in an age of Dettol and hand-sanitiser. Instead, it is about the seemingly identical ways in which we engage with both dogs and children.  The two are almost interchangeable.

The house is still and quiet. The sudden realisation of this peaceful state quickly shifts into a wired state of angst. ‘Where is the baby? What is she up to?!’ Is she playing with power-cords, tugging at the lamp, or has she found some other dangerous fixation? I hear her gurgling happily, but, worryingly, she remains out of sight. 

I consider that she is likely engaging in some disgusting occupation, like Buddy the Elf eating chewing gum off the sidewalk. I rush to check the toilet, half expecting to see her there, grinning, holding herself up with the aid of the toilet-seat. The toilet is clear. I’m beginning to feel like a cop on a drug-raid. ‘Police! Come out where I can see you! Put down the toilet brush. Step away from the power cords!’

I follow the sounds of the happy gurgling baby. ‘Ah-ha!’ I am relieved to discover what she is doing is only mildly disgusting. As a toddler, I peed on my Aunty’s rug. Sprung, standing in my own wee, I pointed to the cat, stealthily shifting the blame, ‘Puss-cat did it!’ I look down at our baby, Havaiana thong in mouth, wondering if she is capable of such quick thinking. Prying my soggy thong from her determined little chompers and her tightly clenched hands, I am reminded of my husband one morning before work pacing around the house in search of his only pair of work boots; finding them sitting at the backdoor, decimated by dog slobber.

The similarities between dogs and children are not simply limited to the mess and destruction they leave in their wake, or the tendency to put inanimate objects in their mouth, resulting in drool-covered thongs or torn, soggy boots; it also applies to the way they gain our attention. 

From tugging at pant legs, to a ‘Yipe! Yipe!’ or high-pitched kettle-squeal (often resulting in our quick evacuation of public spaces), their tactics are persistent. My childhood Boxer dog, Ike, had a knack for getting pats, nudging at my side, until my hand seemed to naturally fall over him in a pat. 

Dogs and children are especially attentive when there is food around, climbing up while you sit trying to eat a sandwich, mayonnaise dripping out the sides, lifting it out of reach so that your lunch does not become their lunch. Failing the sandwich, they will usually go in for the kiss. Pouting lips or panting tongues, coming at you with all the saliva of a thousand teething babies. Sometimes slobbery. Sometimes disgusting. Dogs and children; be it a yawn, a head-tilt, a sneeze – everything they do is actually adorable.